Archive for May, 2008

Hipsterism

The observations are already dated, but that’s what it feels like to live on the razors-edge of conspicuous consumption.

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To the right…

Following Blowjobs election as London mayor, the continued long-slow-slide of the Labour-party into Daily Mail appeasing, authoritarianism and the rise of a reinvigorated Tory party it looks to me like the UK is heading ever rightwards. Indeed in some places it looks like some parts of the electorate are turning into outright nazis, what with places such as Stoke-On-Trent so disenfranchised from Nu-Lab’s technocratic, home-owning, ABC1 guff that they are voting BNP.

It seems to me that this is wholly systematic of a slow creeping fascism that is the result of convergence of several factors that have effected the UK since the Second World War. Principal among these being the process that has seen citizens turned into consumers.

Thatcher’s use of monetarist theory in the eighties, as this episode from Adam Curtis’ series Pandora’s Box shows, destroyed the working class as a power bloc in UK politics.

What eventually came to fill the gap was shopping. But shopping is a greedy, self-interested pursuit. Thus out the window goes notions of society, and the good of all. Nu-Lab never were a party of the left, they were right-wing all along with a bit of PFI social conscience tacked on for good measure. In this sense they continued to appease the the selfish, psychotic side of UK society – the part that doesn’t give a fuck about anyone else as long as it’s OK.

The end result of this will of course end up being something like the culture wars of the USA. Now the Labour movement is dying on it’s feet the concerns of the UK’s underclass can seemingly only be expressed in voting for candidates that promulgate rightwing theories and Worldviews

LIVE SKULL

Official histories always leave something out. They level out contradictions and fail to adequately reflect the tension between competing narratives. History promotes certain aspects of a given epoch while erasing others altogether. Such history, which is formulated at a distance, is inherently hegemonic, conscriptive and myopic. It asserts the primacy of what follows on from historical and cultural events rather than examining what led up to them. This is the history that leads to dangerous and corpulent narratives such as the notion of “the shining city on the Hill”, or “God’s chosen people”.

Despite what the history books might tell you, there are no unique singularities. Everything arises from a history of the contemporaneous. Each historical event is its own end point – certainly just as much as it is the jumping off point for what is to follow.

Which is all really a very long-winded way of saying that it is impossible to talk about Mid 80s NYC post-No-Wave group Live Skull, without mentioning Sonic Youth.

The factors underlying Sonic Youth’s elevation beyond the culture and context which spawned them is a conversation for another time, but they weren’t a unique singularity of the underground NYC art-rock scene. Nothing of the sort, for a host of other groups including Swans, UT, Band of Susan’s, Rat At Rat R and Live Skull were trawling the same waters. Still even back in 1985, with Sonic Youth’s star still to rise, Live Skull’s Mark C felt compelled to distance the two groups. In a interview with Greed Magazine he said:

“Sonic Youth is a lot of different things. It’s a hard-rock band, an art band, and they experiment with pop — there’s a lot of play in Sonic Youth. We don’t have that sense of play. We just go out and concentrate really hard on what we’re doing. Also, Sonic Youth uses all kinds of unusual tunings, and our tuning is just straight, regular tuning. It’s a completely different sound.”

The name Live Skull sums a lot of the bands aesthetic, these songs alternate between shriek and scream; grind and drone. The drums go all over the place while the guitars duel it out, over solid but dankly oppressive basslines. I can’t actually think of one musical cliché that Live Skull fall back upon – and all this using regular guitar tunings. The NY Times was supportive and even Trouser Press, a publication that always seems to miss the point, said of them:

“Droning and dragging rusty guitar streaks and deep stormy basslines as dark as bus exhaust, Live Skull combine great grating sheets of guitar shimmer with deliberately monotonous vocals to create swirling intense tunes that you couldn’t hum if a loaded gun were aimed at your head.”

Lyrically the band deals with the oppressive, the dark and the existential. Bodies fly through windscreens; nameless tormentors stalk helpless victims; people have bad trips; mental cruelty is the order of the day.

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LiveSkull-BHTB

The first (and best as far as I’m concerned) period of Live Skulls career encompasses their self-titled EP, first full album Bringing Home The Bait, second album Cloud One and a live album, Don’t Get Any On You In actual fact it’s on Don’t Get Any On You, a live record that Live Skull reach their zenith. Next to this record Live Skull’s studio output seems almost tame and ethereal). On these records Live Skull maintain a perfect balance between duelling guitars, menace, boy/girl vocals, the Dionysian chaos of No Wave and the failed transcendentalism of hardcore.

Panorama

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Things became more downbeat when Thalia Zedek joined the band. Mark C said at the time that the group wanted to create a record that had “a more relaxed, laid-back feel”, and in these terms Dusted is a success. However what is sacrificed is some of the wanton chaos of the group’s earlier records

It could also be said that Zedek’s cigarette-ravaged tones unbalance the equilibrium of the tracks, with the music seemingly being simplified to accommodate her.

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It’s no surprise that original bassist Marnie Greenholz left after the six-song Snuffer EP. I suspect that in someway she missed the vocal duties which she had partially fulfilled prior to Zedek joining the band. This seems to be borne out by a comment from Tom Paine after Zedek first joined the band: “Marnie misses it (singing), I think. She sang for different reasons than we did,”

Sondra Andersson (Gleen Branca’s cousin and former basis in Rat At Rat R, replaced Greenholz for the Final Live Skull album, Positraction. Compared to what proceeded it this is a positivistic and affirmative record, which once again isn’t to say it’s bad or even mediocre – it’s just that it doesn’t make your hair stand on end like the best Live Skull records do.

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After Positraction Live Skull disbanded and in the process seemed to become just a footnote in the stories of Sonic Youth and Thalia Zedek.

Sadly it seems like this was even the case when Live Skull were at the height of their powers. Said Mark C:

“Not enough people know that Live Skull exists. More people would like our music if they only knew about us — plenty of people are sick of what they’re listening to and would like something different.”

And of course this is the tension/contradiction that so many groups were faced with at the end of the 80s. Live Skull weren’t the only group trying to walk the tight-rope between accessibility and purity of aesthetic vision. You only have to read Michale Azzerad’s book on the eighties underground to realise that. Of course we all know what followed: Alternative Nation; the Year that Punk Broke and the whole-sale sell-off of the underground. Sadly it’s a pity that many of the groups that defined and brought so much to the aesthetic and culture, that went on to mainstream success in the 90s were erased from the picture.

Live Skull on MySpace

An abridged version this article appeared in #5 of Another Catastrophe Zine.

Just Like Nothing

I found these clips from the Getting Close To Nothing video zine the other day. I have to say that the clip for Single Bullets is particularly poignant, recalling a world where you had to rely on yr wits a bit more and things weren’t so prescribed and self-aggrandising.

I seem to recall the sleeve notes of Huggy Bear’s final 7″, Main Squeeze saying: “the scum floats to the surface in days like these.”

How ironic then to find Kate Nash saying in an interview with HARP, that:

“I like Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, but my boyfriend says that Huggy Bear is the best out of all of them,” she says holding a copy of Huggy Bear’s 1995 album Weaponry Listens to Love. “They’re really hard to get a hold of because they’re out of print. Thirteen dollars… I’ve got to have it.”

Still it does illustrate the point that the fact that a compilation of Huggy Bear material has never appeared since the band split is actually rather heroic.

Single Bullets

February 14th

No Sleep Til

Her Jazz

The whole of the Getting Close to Nothing videos can be found on HalfSquirrels Youtube Channel.

P.S – This woman is a moron.

Individuality must die

Listening to the corporate drones on the train talk endlessley about their work; watching the yuppies tap away on the keyboards of their Air Macs; reading about how great Agyness Deyn, Daisy Lowe and Lily Allen are in The London Paper; reading how immigration, tax and poor people are the root of all evil in the London Lite,. All these things underscore, for me the fact that, the World has transmogrified into one consumerist mall filled with wrong-headed people, unable to act rationally. It makes me want to revisit Adam Curtis’ brilliant four-part documentary, Century of the Self.

The Century of The Self Part 1 of 4 from Kia Ora Media Group on Vimeo.

The Century of The Self Part 2 of 4 from Kia Ora Media Group on Vimeo.

The Century of The Self Part 3 of 4 from Kia Ora Media Group on Vimeo.

The Century of The Self Part 4 of 4. from Kia Ora Media Group on Vimeo.