'Everyone dances to his own personal boomboom'

Poetry, Philip Larkin & All That Jazz

I don't like poetry, much. And I used to be a poet. The readings I've been to remind me of why I especially don't like poetry readings. They take themselves so seriously, as if the fact that someone's allowed them to read to a captive audience automatically elevates their words to the 'worthy' status. It doesn't.

Watching Rhymes, Rock & Revolution: The Story of Performance Poetry on BBC4 last night reminded me that I was once a poet. Yes, even one that read to an audience. Those were the days (early 80s) when 'ranting' was all the rage. Well, I could write and I could rant, so I did, although not quite in the style of Attila The Stockbroker or other comedy/political commentators. Although I tried to be funny. And political. I tried to be 'avant-garde' too by reading whilst backed by an Improv saxophonist and drummer. I'm not kidding.

Well, I was young and fancied myself as a wordsmith. I'd read a lot of Kerouac and Ginsberg. In a classic case of monkeys in the BBC research department the Beat movement was introduced in the programme as one that was 'inspired by Jazz and Be-bop'. Heh-heh! Jazz and Be-bop, different things, right? Well, what do you expect, musical knowledge and all the poetic history? Come on, half of them on unpaid interns. I deduce this from not only the musical ignorance (Jazz-wise) but the omission of The Last Poets, who should at least have got a mention in the section on Gil Scott-Heron, surely. No? Too obscure? Too radical? Wankers.

Talking of Jazz, another programme in the series Contains Strong Language, was Return To Larkinland, in which fellow public schoolboy A.N.Wilson reflected on Philip Larkin in his plummy camp voice, but it was enjoyable; partly because Wilson is so plummy and camp. Larkin loved Jazz and got paid to write about it. I enjoy his writings because he's so stubbornly wrong about modern (50s/60s) Jazz; laughably so. In 1966, for instance, for the Daily Telegraph, under Records Of The Year, he begins: 'Since jazz, as I explained some years ago, has now split irrevocably into Negro Art-Music and Beat, it follows that the best records today are either by failing veterans or reissues.' That's Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter and the rest dealt with then!

Larkin the librarian...like a dark, evil flipside of Betjeman...punk provincial (part-time) spitting at gentility, a written 'fuck' in the face of society, all that suppressed rage surfacing in a line...the suit as a straitjacket which he'd shrug off now and again...unable to commit to one relationship, therefore keeping two women at a distance...dedicated to independence despite once writing of 'The instantaneous grief of being alone' (Conscript)...watching 60s Youth set free, regretting not having been born ten years later, perhaps...Larkin, the literary success who always felt like a failure.

Well, Time, 'the echo of an axe/ In a wood', has pretty much severed Larkin from any chance of respectability. As a man, his name seems to be dirt these days. Racist? Misogynistic? And just a human being with failings, like you and me. Unlike Larkin, my success as a poet was brief...but I understand Jazz better than he did...  

Science Fiction Dancehall Classics - Various (On-U Sound)

Hold tight! On-U Sound in the area - ah yes - Adrian Sherwood at the controls, of course, droppin' science from starship Jamaica via Bristol with all those fat, speaker-busting beats echoing down the years for those of us that were there first time 'round. 

The soundtrack to a riot of council block-rockin', new age-steppin' (not New Age), the post-Punk Hip-Hop funky reggae party, what larks we had - remember the Poll Tax Riot? No? It was a larf, seeing the owners of fur coat shops standing guard over their goods...all the smashed windows down Regent Street...naughty. 

From The Pop Group to Rip Rig & Panic and On-U Sound, there's a great lineage connecting renegade soundwaves remixed from a UK perspective. The eclectic ingredients put through the console by Sherwood and channelled into different singers and players are on display here; it's a fine selection by Trevor Jackson. A funky stepper, Ace Of Wands by Missing Brazilians, the mighty Off The Beaten Track by African Head Charge and Fats Comet's Dee Jay’s Program, with that big break favoured by Sherwood whacking you in the ear hole - great stuff! Mark Stewart + The Maffia's Burroughs-sampling epic The Wrong Name And The Wrong Number is included, as is Dub Syndicate's brilliant Drilling Equipment, that rhythm, a fine example of pushing at the limits of genre. That's what On-U Sound did well, nudging things Outwards. It felt so right at a time when we were kicking against Tory rule; we had a soundtrack that suited, something that carried the torch for all the reggae we loved in the Punk era, captured some Sugar Hill beats, spread spirit of resistance, then mashed it all up. God knows we could do with some of that now. An essential compilation.

µ20 - Various (Planet Mu) / In A Moment - Various (Ghost Box)

Planet Mu label is 20 years old - christ! - makes me feel ancient. I met the boss, Mike Paradinas, around the same time Mu was born; he featured as Jake Slazenger on the comp we put together in '96. µ20 is a 3-CD trip through Drum'n'Glitch, Basswork, Tekfoot, Ravestep & other made-up genres. Leafcutter John's KickCut (2001) and Firestar by Vex'd (2003) have aged well. Hrvatski's Glass (2000) is a real highlight (Pierre Schaeffer lives!). Herva's Kila stands out too. Most of it's new to me. Some of it sounds new but is old. Some of it I will have heard and forgotten. What does that mean? I dunno. Just that in the accumulation of so much listening a lot will be lost. Much of this comp holds its value well, but unlike Paradinas I detest Footwork, of which there's a fair bit. In modern music terms, Planet Mu may be ancient but, on the whole, this selection proves it's justified, just about.

The Ghost Box label is 10 years old. Yes, you know, H**nt*logy. It's artists work with history and it will no doubt go down in history as a 'classic label'. A very British sound, you might say, tapping into memories (real or imaged) of a generation raised in a time of test cards and terrifying kids' TV. Since I haven't been an avid collector this comp is a chance to possibly catch up on good things I've missed. Turns out that I have most of what's great. I know you're supposed to be a fan of twee Folksy stuff if you love Ghost Box but I'm not. Imagine a nostalgic love of nostalgia...perhaps this selection offers the chance for just that. To be honest the merry little instrumental melodies don't sound as fresh today as they did when rewriting kids' TV themes was a new idea, but The Mirror Ball Cracked by Pye Corner Audio still sounds healthy (in it's simple retrofuturist groove). The Black Drop by Mount Vernon Arts Lab proves what a stand-out artist Drew Mulholland was/is and Roj is an exception too. The Focus Group are, for my money, the best representation of skewed musical memories micro cut for maximum effect. 

Pierrot Le Fou Jean Luc Godard (Lorrimer Publishing, 1969)

Cahiers: Isn't this kind of liberty in the cinema frightening?
Godard: No more than crossing a road either using a crossing or not. Pierrot seems to me both free and confined at the same time. What worries me most about this apparent liberty is something else. I read something by Borges where he spoke of a man who wanted to create a world. So he created houses, provinces, valleys, rivers, tools, fish, lovers and then at the end of his life he notices that this 'patient labyrinth is none other than his own portrait'. I had this same feeling in the middle of Pierrot. (Cahiers du Cinema, 1965)

A book containing the script to Pierrot Le Fou along with some stills.

Gerardo Iacoucci - Simbolismo Psichedelico / Sheffield Psykick Youth Firm - Memories Of Occupied Yorkshire

Great cover, eh? Gerardo Iacoucci's Simbolismo Psichedelico...such titles sound better in Italian...the first track will remind British listeners of The Clangers, but don't let that put you off exploring further because this 1970 library album is good mood music for modern folk, especially Introversione featuring Iacoucci's piano-playing in the echo chamber of imagined psycho horrors.

Talking of horrors, Sheffield Psykick Youth Firm's Memories Of Occupied Yorkshire...no, hauntology's not dead, nor is this an example...or is it? Anyway, another great title and band name, capturing the spirit of both Psychic TV and Sheffield's industrial past, by which I don't mean steel; hauntings, maybe, since post-Punk DIY electronic attitude haunts this album. What does it sound like? Rainphazer is like being in an electro-static storm, if that makes sense. To hell with sense. Imagine the Radiophonic Workshop's most nightmarish noise times ten plus some bird calls. It's not all noise, it's brief and I like it. Costs just £4. Only 50 made, so hurry over to here if you want one.

Black Gull Bookshop

Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?
- Henry Ward Beecher

Henry never got to use Amazon; it would have severely tested his ability to resist buying books, wouldn't it? Yes, we are weakened even more by the ease with which we can consume, these days. One click - done. But as great as online shopping is, a bookshop still matters. Therein lies the rub: the lure of a seemingly endless selection versus the limits of the physical world. 

London, like most major cities I suppose, has seen its independent bookshops rapidly disappear, thanks largely to online shopping. I'm as guilty as the next book-lover of helping bang nails in that particular coffin. Yesterday, though, I went to Black Gull Books at Camden Market, where the woman behind the counter reminded me that they had a store in East Finchley, so I went there today.

Yes, it's a proper second-hand bookshop, stacked with goodies. I had to stay strong so as to emerge without having done too much damage to my bank balance. I know the owner, Chris, from when we had a stall at Camden Market, where his shop started, in the early 90s (I think that was before the Finchley shop). Back then the market was still, just about, an interesting place to browse, but the owners were gentrifying it fast and hiking the table rent prices accordingly. 

Nowadays it's a lot of food, crap tourist paraphernalia and the occasional worthwhile independent stall, as far as I can tell. I never stay long on my rare visits, having already endured the endless t-shirt/hat/tat-selling high street merchants to get there. And the tourists, who have always gone there, of course, but perhaps they now seek the ghost of Amy Winehouse and the booze 'n' drugs-fuelled spirit of Indie Camden! I don't know. If you're in London, however, go to the Black Gull bookshop at the market, or this one in East Finchley. The art book selection is superb so give in to your weakness and help keep the place alive.

MP3 Shuffle: Five From The Library

Don't ask me why. Perhaps you'll hear something new and like it. Hope so. Here's a run of six. From Basil Kirchin's Soho sleaze soundtrack to the radiophonic wonders for Doctor Who, swinging London and on into space. Screen grab titles are here because no video exists.  

Untitled, Conrad Schnitzler

Music: Der Zyklus / Adrian Moore / Laurel Halo

What will the future sound like? That was decided decades ago in a collapsed city called Detroit, where the ghosts of former industrial glory were banished in blips and beats emanating from sonic scientists's laboratories...perhaps...or Berlin's brave new post-rock utopia a decade earlier...or the legendary studios of supreme boffinry born from tech progress in the 60s/50s WDR, Columbia-Princeton, the Phillips studio...back in time...zoom forward to now and Gerald Donald keeping faith with super-clean precision of how The Future typically looked and sounded in the popular imagination of the space age. Axonometric may be retro-futurist today, but to these ears it sounds a bright and brilliant as it ever did. Even funky, as on the slow robo-grind of Isometric Projection. I like to imagine Der Zyklus in his nuclear-proof bunker, isolated, immune to trends in music and intent on making his own future for as long as he's around.

Adrian Moore's Séquences et tropes on empreintes DIGITALes offers an alternate future, sonically-speaking, again it's in a tradition, this time electroacoustic, which like Der Zyklus has remained immune to trends because it's above and beyond them...it's far off on another sonic planet, the gravitational pull of which is worth succumbing to, although it's easy to resist, this being sound rather than music...and we know how easy that is to dismiss...but you'd be stupid to do so...and you don't want to appear stupid, do you? Electroacoustic sound-makers aren't stupid; they're proper technicians who may not be much good at shopping, or cooking, although I don't want to suggest that of Alan Moore...but the impression I get is that they absolutely live for sound, the sounds in their heads transcribed by technology in fine detail...as can be heard on this selection from 2012/13/14 - but dates don't matter, except to signify the relevance, ongoing, of this artform, exemplified by Counterattack, which follows The Battle, but what kind of warfare is being conducted? Is it between brain cells? Or next century viral microbes in the war for our minds? Either way, Moore's creations will rearrange the stuff between your ears. Listen hear. Here's Adrian talking about what he does...

Laurel Halo's back - did you miss her? I did. Now she's In Situ (Honest Jon's records) and sounding fine, still wonky...wonkier than before, perhaps, which is good; she can't get too wonky for my liking and having shifted from Hyperdub perhaps she'll be even more free to create crazy rhythms, to go half-stepping away from anything like Techno (or whatever tag she's been saddled with) because, you know, she's worth it, more than being genre-bound, I mean. Some of the sounds are familiar - well, it all sounds like her, but a little more Out There, still with some bass bumps to boost the skittering percussion and still, to me, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's fingers grafted onto those of Lonnie Liston Smith then transplanted to a robot space lady with the soul of Nina Simone - that sort of thing. Nah? The track Nah is a bundle of fun, like Autechre remixing The Commodores' Machine Gun (he says, half-jokingly). Time-splitting, rhythm-splicing Laurel's future is here and now, in her head and in yours if you know what's good for you. 

Nice: We Did Wanna A Holiday In The Sun!

Nice, France, it's not just nice, it's fantastic - everyone's been, including us (that's me and the artist LJ) and by 'everyone' I mean everyone I've mentioned it to since coming back, which includes the woman behind the counter in a Crouch End charity shop who hasn't been since she was a child, therefore expressing surprise that there was a tram which runs top to bottom of the city, or even bottom to top if you want to go that way. And the woman next door, who said she loved Nice. Of course she does, you can't help but love it. It's got a tram. It's next to the sea. It featured in one of the greatest French films ever made, Jacques Demy's La baie des anges (Bay of Angels), in which Jeanne Moreau finally cashed her chips at the casino. Here's the bay photographed by me... 

...despite being filled with rollerskaters and joggers, these days, it retains its majesty, partly because more people still prefer Shanks's pony as a method of transport, which is only right because The Bay was made for parading along at a leisurely pace with the milky-blue-turning-deep Med on one side, the rush of traffic and plush hotels on the other. Here's the Old Town snapped from the roof of Le Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, my favourite art museum in the world...

...an obligatory beach shot...

...that's not Nice...it's Beaulieu-sur-Mer, where we swam a few times before walking along St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to the little town where a dove wouldn't stop pestering us, desperate for a peck of the savoury nibbles that accompanied the best Martini blanc possible because it had added orange peel. The law states that Martini blancs must be drunk when in France...in our kingdom anyway...and you'd be mad to flout it. I'm not usually negative...

...Nice is famous for it's architecture, especially from The Belle Époque era, but close to where we were staying we couldn't help noticing this modernist masterpiece by Guillaume Tronchet from the early 30s...

...so that was Nice...hard to believe we were there not long ago and now back in chilly Britain. Was it all a dream? 

John Coltrane's A Love Supreme

John Coltrane's A Love Supreme was released 50 years ago (Feb '65) but I don't recall any fuss made about the anniversary - perhaps I missed it. Perhaps fans lit candles and flooded the internet. I don't know many Jazz fans. The one I know best left Britain, but when he lived here, in the early 80s, I converted him to Jazz via a series of sermons held in my bedsit, one of which would have involved playing A Love Supreme, for sure.

Playing music you love to others doesn't guarantee appreciation, of course, but we picked up so much through friends in those days before the internet. I once started to play Astral Weeks to a friend but he protested so much we had to turn it off.

A Love Supreme is one of those albums, you know, the kind that turn up on lists compiled by critics who don't listen to much Jazz. It's broken through the barrier, out of the Jazz ghetto, you might say. At times I've cursed these casual fans but these days I don't care. What does it matter? Jazz is easy to get sanctimonious about, especially in the case of such a 'religious' experience as this. Such was the case for Coltrane anyway, but like great Gospel music, you don't have to believe to believe in the music.

Whilst A Love Supreme helped spark the kind of devotion that others understandably find a little sickening, I can't play it today without the spirit being reawakened. From the opening drum pattern played by Elvin Jones before that bass line from Jimmy Garrison and Coltrane's entry, I reconnect with something of the feeling it inspired over 30 years ago.

What 'feeling'? Awe, I suppose. Growing up with Pop as most people do before exploring, let's say 'heavier' music, nothing prepared me for A Love Supreme. What could? Most music I'd heard depended on rhythm, riffs and songs. Now here was rhythm, even a tune and almost a song (the chant), but together forming something else, from another world, so it seemed.

Jazz was always from another world for me, growing up in England. Not just geographically, but somehow psychologically; a past world that was foreign and mysterious, cool and hot. Defiance in the face of segregation, the style, attitude and determination to make music, whether swinging or swerving off the rails; it all proved inspirational. Whilst Punk echoed the realities of my frustration and anger, Jazz provided a way out, far out - an escape to a place away from the numbers and into music that could not be tainted, co-opted by The Man. It's more approachable works have long been appropriated for commercial use, but so much remains untouchable. Despite its appearance on Rock critics' lists, A Love Supreme is one such example.

Carter Tutti Void - f (x)

Hold on - here's a great album to kickstart 2015 - whaddyah mean, the year's nine months old? I know, it just feels like this is the first Great Album of the year. Great Albums...are they redundant, these days? Is the idea of a great album redundant when all we seem to do is click and pick tracks, sometimes even listening to the whole track? 

(I'm improvising. Sorry. That's all right, no need to apologise, you're not writing for The Guardian. And you're talking to yourself.)

I think Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Nik Colk Void improvised when they recorded these tracks in Chris and Cosey's Norfolk home. Then it was all post-production...messing around, shaping, editing, cutting etc, a bit like Teo Macero did with some Miles Davis tracks, but with FX, or f (x)

I'm not long back from Nice. They say the past is a foreign country, well so is France, unless you're French, of course. And I come home to this. It's like coming back from a warm sunny place to a motorway up north, which you don't drive on, but get sucked along in the tail wind of an articulated lorry from the future which runs on recycled Disco beats from a nightmare Giorgio Moroder had in 1975 which involved producing I Feel Love as sung by Satan, who demanded Death Disco beats and mind-altering effects. Or it's nothing like that.

Hold on. I'm listening...

The speakers are throbbing with the first track, 2.4, loud. Listen loud. Like they used to tell you to do on albums. I would hate this album just because it's the kind of album The Guardian says you should listen to, but I can't. I would hate this album if the fact that I hate 'serious' albums which get reviewed and praised by Indie-related media and mainstreamers wasn't overwhelmed by my pleasure in hearing it. I'm hating this album because it will be on everyone's Best Of The Year lists, especially Rock critics, who long for an album like f (x) so they can appear to be in tune with the modern world - bah!

Even Chris Carter is surprised by the success of this trio. He's almost bitter about the fact that the 'important' tastemakers haven't paid them (Chris and Cosey) enough attention, the kind that generates sales and helps them pay the bills. I don't blame him. You slog away for years them BAM! - you create something that gets attention. That's how it goes, isn't it? Then, perhaps, you do something different...and 'they' don't like it. I can't see CC and CFT becoming trapped in a formula for success. Too...individualistic...? 

It helps that CTV are two-parts living links to an industrial music legend like Throbbing Gristle. Back story cred for music hacks. But whilst TG were obviously urban offspring, CTV, from a Norfolk wilderness, reconnect with some of that. Unintentionally. But they were never about to produce a pastoral, ambient album, thank god. I think 'urban' because f (x) is a relentless voyage into the dark heart of the night, the kind of nights when it never stops raining, you're lost in a maze of luxury apartment construction sites where guard dogs bark as if to remind you that these homes are not for you and the sleeping cranes loom as if about to lay you into the foundations of wealth whilst distant traffic races to and from the city of dead roads....and all the time the beat goes on, the bump of a bass drum worse than any headache you ever had...and the guitar fret gets scraped like a surgeon's saw biting into your skull...and someone's almost singing but you can't distinguish her words, the siren of the Void, luring you into an abyss where things makes noises...they squawk, howl, hiss, groan, murmur, vibrate, echo...this electronic voodoo...an industrial dance of death during which you cannot help but twitch, nodding your head as you slip into darkness...consumed, going half-crazy but ecstatic...and the beat goes on as if banged on drums by a legion from some hellish alternate Studio 54 in which the white horse eats Bianca Jagger alive...do not get down and boogie but drown instead in a mix of pleasure and pain from which there's no escape...even the pause button seems to be beyond reach from where you sit, eyes half-closed, brain battered, motionless save for your innards quivering here in The Zone where Carter Tutti Void pipe sounds through empty streets as the berserk time machine twists a tornado of centuries...the whole structure of reality going up in silent explosions...(after WSB)...

Venetian Snares - Thank You For Your Consideration

Aaron Funk's down on the press (don't blame him), down on the music industry (why? it's wunnerful!) so you know he's an angry man, reclusive, apparently. What's all that got to do with his music? Nothing? Everything, perhaps; explaining why he makes the noise he does in spite of all the changes continually happening on the electronic music scene (whatever that is). Thank You For Your Consideration has kept me wide awake this afternoon whilst working on some art. That's my art, this is his - there may be a connection, although I'm reluctant to make one, not knowing Aaron. Outside operators. Whether you think this 'old hat' (!) or not, don't deny the seriousness with which Funk goes about his business. Nor the sheer energy, the concentrated rush of details that spark every track. Burgershot is a favourite of mine. 09sept09 proves he can do 'atmosphere'. I'll stop before I fail to resist describing anything. It's on Bandcamp, pay what you like. Interview here.

Fruit Cup magazine, 1969 (Beach Books)

Bought this on eBay a few weeks ago. One of many interesting small magazines of the 60s. The Hippies weren't all bad. The collages reminded me that Punk zines weren't the first to past up images in a casual, seemingly random fashion.

Art: Redemption / Music: Head Dress - Crawl, Take

Blow up detail from a piece called Redemption. Full picture over on the art site, which I've reset to allow closer inspection of all the pieces (you can view them large now). 


Ted Butler, from LA, as Head Dress, on the Cønjuntø Vacíø label, out of Barcelona - what a wunnerful inter/outernational world we inhabit! Have you noticed? Global goings on at our fingertips, so many sights and sounds, enough to turn your brains into a grey slush puppy. Tweet to the world! I did just the other day, mindful of the fact that I have millions of followers, many of whom are musicians and music-lovers. I asked them to suggest some new electronic music that wasn't ambient. No-one responded. Not one. Perhaps because I only have just over 100 followers in reality - that place can be such a bore sometimes, unlike fantasy land, where millions do follow me, including Sun Ra (do they have the internet on Saturn?) and pay keen attention to my every word. I wish they did because I'd tell them to stop encouraging the creation of beatless music. Not beatless per se, but that stuff that just drifts nowhere. I won't go on because I've aired that grievance before.

So not having any recommendations I chanced upon this Head Dress album when Nick Edwards recommended another on the same label. Thanks Nick. This comes correct. It has rhythms, the kind that sound like you're hearing them underwater. And effects, smears of sound, distortions, wibbles and wobbles cohesively packaged. Actually, Crawl For Me has a hint of Ekoplekz about it and that's no bad thing. It chugs along for 9mins but with enough interesting texture to sustain the time frame. The whole album's beautifully scuzzy, especially Take, which starts like a Death Metal band trying to play a number but getting it wrong, stopping and starting again. It progresses in an evil mood, Hauntology gone hardcore; a deep space transmission signalling your imminent death in a black hole. Wonderful. Get it here.

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