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Give me music and give me noise....

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Don’t do it Sid’s way

On my way home from work each evening I pass a design/marketing company of some kind and through the window I can see a large print of Sid Vicious. Well, three Sids actually. It’s done in one of those post-Bacon, post-Warhol, brightly-coloured screen-print ways. Three “mirrored” versions of the same image - a topless emaciated-looking Sid with his skinny leather trousers and biker boots, legs splayed inwards like he’s slightly deformed.

I suppose it’s “iconic”. Punk par excellence. It adorns a biggish meeting room in the company’s office - it looks as if that’s where they have their brainstorms, their “creative thinking” sessions, all that jazz. Hmm. Should I care? No, I guess not and actually I don’t. But then again …

Back when I was 14, hanging out with the kids in our street, Vicious’ death had some impact. There was a friend of a friend - about a year younger than me - who had one of those “Sid lives!” lapel badges to accompany the safety pins on his Wrangler jacket. Even then, though, I remember thinking: “That’s a bit crap. It doesn’t make sense. And Sid Vicious was an idiot anyway”. Yep - I was ahead of the game even then.

Sid with dickie (pic: Brocco Lee)

Actually, I think a lot of late-70s teenagers weren’t overly impressed by Vicious’s cartoonish buffoonery, particularly when we’d seen the heavily McLaren-ised version from The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle film. Yes, in general we might have wanted a healthy dollop of pantomime rebellion, some Tiswas-style antics with our pop music fun, but there was still a place for smartness - some Lydon-esque edge. As the years have rolled by this teenage instinct (or whatever) has rounded out into a grudging respect for all of the poor Pistols - harried and manipulated by devious old Malcolm - but also settled into a view (well my view has) that Lydon was where much of the creative action was, albeit with lots of important input from McLaren, Glen Matlock and Jamie Reid. Sid Vicious? No, pretty much just a mascot, a cipher in a leather jacket with a padlock around his neck.

Recalling the affection people actually had for Vicious - Lydon, Jah Wobble, Viv Albertine etc - it’s easy to appreciate that there might have been something “loveable” about poor old John Ritchie. The lost soul, the good heart, the grinning idiot - whatever. But apart from being something of a dead weight in the post-Matlock SPs, he was also a regular fight-starter who liked to play it dirty (swinging biker chains and belt buckles at people’s heads) and someone who may have murdered his own girlfriend.

Which ... makes it kinda curious that supposedly “cutting-edge” design companies think it “cool” or whatever to decorate their walls with his skinny, white-torsoed image. (Cool? Yeah, totally). I suppose you shouldn’t expect too much depth from companies operating in Shoreditch’s “Silicon Roundabout” zone, but still, every evening that stupid print on the design company wall irritates me. I tell you what kids, next time you’re in a blue-sky brainstorm session, take another look at Sid’s cartoonish snarly face and see if you can find any inspiration for your next marketing campaign. Come to think of it, knowing what the marketing business is like, they probably can …

Friday, 18 January 2013

Game of life and bread, Podcast #89 (Dec 2012)

If I worked in PR (which I do) I'd probably say "Yeah, if you really want to bury your podcast then go ahead, stick it out late on a Friday night. Just see what happens. That way you won't get ANYONE noticing it".

Thanks for the advice. 

1: Bitbasic, Your unnecessary flombe
2: Yasiin Bey, I don’t like
3: Ben Seretan, My one true love
4: Game of life and bread
5: Solid Attitude, Smoking sheets
6: Herman, To the fields
7: Pouffe, Hallway
8: The NSJ Crew, The nellie
9: Läjä Äijälä, Nuclear war disco
10: The Andrews Sisters, One meat ball
11: Tigercats, Banned at the Troxy (Chameleon, Nottingham 8/12/12)
12: Two Fingers, Fools rhythm
13: Staatskapelle Dresden/Theo Adam, Endlich loge! (Wagner)
14: Scratch & The Upsetter, Zion blood
15: (Punjabi)
16: Oh! Belgium, Bracelet of stars
17: Chilly Gonzales, A minor key Christmas melody
18: Lazy, Party city
19: Much listening
20: The Bug, Tune in (version)
21: Howie Mitchell & Charlotte Williams, Red clay country
22: The Continental Co-ets, I don’t love you no more
23: Madcat, Puff da cig
24: Towns, ? Old Blue Last, London 18/12/12)
25: Moodie, Zimbabwe dub
26: The film stars of Warzaw
27: Warm soda, I’m waiting for my man
28: Metá Metá, Ora iê iê o

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New Order: the Pinky & Perky remix

Big day today! I came home and reorganised my records.

Yeah, feel free to mock me as you see fit. But, given that - following a frankly inspired insight - I've switched from my life-long use of a "spine-on" system to a "face-front" arrangement (see photo), I think I can allow myself a few brief moments of satisfaction.

Also, having culled about 100 records (amongst other things, I think I was only fooling myself with those Joe Loss & His Orchestra LPs) I now have better access to the good stuff.

Meanwhile, it's also true that I now have to make slightly troubling mini-decisions about which LPs and singles will end up at the front. Which lurid covers will stare out at me, needling me, reminding me of (ill-advised?) purchasing decisions from decades ago. (Hmm, The Clash's This Is England is not exactly "working"; a switch to Combat Rock can partly save face here. And, I have to say, my anti-love affair with Strummer & Co continues, this time with an unregretted dumping of Sandinista into the bulging reject bag. C'mon: it's just second-rate reggae. Reggae-lite. Contents may contain elements of reggae ...).

Ahem. So no, I make no apologies for my little record "display". Say what you want, there's something a tiny bit heart-warming about walking into the room and catching sight of (for example) the globular, melting-wax heads on the cover of PiL's Second Edition. Or (even) the cheesy-but-still-fairly-good radar screen design of Status Quo's Rocking All Over The World.

To paraphrase (the excellent) Headcoats song, you might even say that these shabby squares of alphabetised cardboard are the A-Z of my heart. No, that's ridiculous! But give me a system and I'll ... possibly get all excited by the possibilities for reorganisation. And anyway, what's wrong with having New Order's Thieves Like Us 12" nestling next to the Pinky & Perky Have A Party album?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Not music for airports

Here's a postcard-sized post from the rain-soaked runway, the drizzle-drenched airport apron ...

It's a coffee-drinking-length capsule of pure bitterness. About one of my favourite topics: music and commerce. The traffic in sound as a product, and as a means to shift product. Pile 'em high, crank up the Spotify playlist.

Anyway, what I'm talking about is the co-option and "absorption" of the energy/aura of music by endless cycles of marketing. Yeah, I know, it's a hackneyed theme. (But nevertheless ...). Like commerce and capitalism itself, this process never tires (No sleep till the till) and never quite ceases to appal.

For example, my teeth were gritted all over again yesterday by the sight of an "executive"-style coffee bar at an airport (in the UK) adorned with "iconic" band names - The Beatles, Motorhead, The Sex Pistols. Yep, choke over that as you try to swallow one of their over-priced sandwiches.

This Hard Rock Cafe memorialisation of music is well beyond a death knell. It's the reek of the dying flowers in the music mausoleum. Post-death. Heritage's after-life.

Except ... I reckon the raw power (ahem) of music is not quite tameable in this way. The owners of departure lounge coffee franchises might see the value of a few rock posters and band tags to help sell their crappy products, but even 10 loud seconds of  Bomber or Pretty Vacant would upset the staid, highly manufactured "atmosphere" of these sterile places. (Good).

I think music actually played out loud (rather than silently represented with photos etc) is always potentially a bit too "heavy" for commerce. Or rather, while music's used ubiquitously on TV ads or in clothes shops, a lot of the most powerful music is, I reckon, just too "excessive" for the lightweight business of selling. Adele might work for Topshop but I don't think heavy abstract acid-house would. Ditto Jerry Lee Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Iggy & The Stooges, Crass, The Fall, Melt Banana, Bolt Thrower, Uncle John & Whitelock, Gum Takes Tooth, The Rebel ...

Or am I wrong? Capitalism is famously able to appropriate anything and everything, recyclying even the sternest challenges - the fiercest music - and playing it back as the mere soundtrack to its own money-making world. So yes, I can quite easily imagine Anarchy In The UK blasting out of the tacky shops along Oxford Street, the familiar Rotten snarl chiming with the bleeps of card scanners and the self-satisfied chat of the shoppers. Neutered, neutralised. Just another of Oxford Street's many aural ghosts.

But I can't quite imagine the creepier PiL stuff being used in this way. Lydon's sinister whining from Fodderstompf put on the soundsystem to help flog cheap tops and shiny shoes? (Even though by all accounts McLaren originally saw the SPs as exactly this: a vehicle to help promote his clothes shop and ... sell over-priced trousers). No, somehow this music is not quite the ticket.

And back in the deadened, oxygen-restricted atmosphere of the airport departure lounge, even a few chords of serious music are too much for this sterile place. (I think I did hear Queen being played yesterday, but this is a non-music and doesn't really count). Instead, what we're left with is the faintest of faint traces of what the music once was. And all this might, it's true, prompt bitter thoughts as you stir your bland, milky-excuse of a coffee. But don't despair! There are also a few soggy crumbs of comfort down at the bottom of that oversized paper cup. Music doesn't always sell that well. And not all music is suitable for airports.