Sunday, November 19, 2017

Dü the Dü


Currently at your local newsagent or record store, the December issue of The Wire features an essay-review by me of the Hüsker Dü box set Savage Young 

Bit of a nightmare keeping the umlauts consistent throughout the review! I think I missed only one. If you inspect the front cover, you'll see that they actually forgot the umlaut over the Dü.

Apart from umlaut-anxiety, this was a most enjoyable trip down memory lane - taking me back to the mid-Eighties, the moment just before I went professional, and a time when Hüsker Dü was pretty much my favourite band on the planet. They cropped up regularly in my Monitor pieces as a touchstone. Then, after joining the Maker, I reviewed Candy Apple Grey and Warehouse: Songs and Stories in swift succession. Finally got to interview the  not that long before they split up. 

Actually, continuing the diehard streak of reviewing, I also handled Bob Mould's solo debut Workbook when that came out. That review languishes somewhere in my ink-and-paper archive. Never did get into Sugar, though.  

Some years ago I read that Bob became a drum & bass convert and even recorded a whole album in that vein (seemingly following the same trajectory as Kevin Shields).  That seems to have been an exaggeration: listening now for the first time, it seems more a case of an uneasy merger of Mouldian noise-pop and electronica, not unlike that Jesus Jones record Perverse, perhaps, or even Earthling


Also in this issue of The Wire, a fascinating cover story by Rory Gibbs on the post-geographical virtual digitronica collective Quantum NativesBrood Ma, Yearning Kru (love that name!),  recsund, Rosen and others.  

A different kind of electronic collective is celebrated in the freebie CD that accompanies the issue, and it couldn't be more up my avant alley: a compilation of electronic and tape-music pulled from the archives of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Eloquent Rage"

A fascinating oral history convened by Joy Press of New York Radical Women: the Sixties feminist thought-cell and guerrilla theater unit, born in flames of rage 50 years ago, who pioneered consciousness raising, who coined concepts and slogans like "the Personal is Political" and "Sisterhood is Powerful," and who launched absurdist-satiric attacks on the Miss America pageant and Wall Street. Featuring the voices of Robin Morgan, Ellen Willis, Susan Brownmiller, Alix Kate Shulman, Shulamith Firestone, Kathie Sarachild, and more, this is an exhilarating memorial to a group whose ideas + spirit are more timely + urgent than ever in this savagely polarized political-cultural moment.

  New York Radical Women hurl cosmetics and feminine 
    accoutrements into the Freedom Trash Can at the 1968 Miss 
America pageant. Pic by Bev Grant. 

Protesting Miss America again, 1969. 

Hexing Wall Street, 1969. Pic by Bev Grant.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Hauntology Parish Newsletter (November): even Further; The Belbury Circle

Further returns on November 18th, with an evening of ghostadelic entertainment at the Portico Gallery in  West Norwood, London.

Press release:

DJ Food & Pete Williams present the second of their immersive  audio visual evenings at the Portico Gallery, London. Live music from Simon James and a not to be missed A/V set from Sculpture. Get lost in Further's multi projector light and sound show. Food, drink, a record stall from The Book and Record Bar plus plenty of seating.


7.30 - 8.30: Doors open, there will be a record stall with stock picked to compliment the evening by Micheal Johnson from the nearby Book & Record Bar and delicious local food served alongside the fully licensed Portico bar stocked with local beers and ales.

8.30 - 9.15: Simon James - former Simonsound and Black Channels member and one of the foremost exponents in today's modular electronics scene - plays a rare live set with his Buchla 200e Electric Music Box.

10.00 - 10.45: Sculpture bring their incredible live show to West Norwood via Dan Hayhurst's tape loops and electronics and Rueben Sutherland's zoetrope turntable visuals

10.45 - 12.00: DJ Food & Pete Williams (Further) will open and close the evening with their multi-projection Light & Sound Designs.

Tickets available here


Ghost Box have a new release - Outward Journeys, a first and fine full-length from The Belbury Circle - that is to say, Jim Jupp of Belbury Poly + Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle- featuring once again contributions from John Foxx on two songs, in the form of  vocals and synths. Dig also the new style design from Julian House which has the air of Omni about it maybe...


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Grimey Jeremy

Here's a piece I wrote for i-D on the unlikely love affair between grime and Jeremy Corbyn.

Although written a good while before the Burial essay, they are companion pieces in some ways.

For instance, public transport - specifically, the night bus - plays a role in both pieces.

And Mark makes another appearance.

Parallel text: Paul Mason on broken neoliberalism and the rise of Corbyn:

"If [neo-liberal / third way] social democracy’s strategy was to generate a surplus through a highly financial, globalised free market economy and distribute it downwards as a compensation for stagnant wages and atomised communities, that is no longer possible. The more you try to do it, the more you have to coerce competitive behaviour into people’s lives, from the counter of the coffee bar to the welfare system, to housing, to the process of finding someone to go on a date with.Promise number one of a radical social democracy should be: we will switch off the great privatisation machine. Promise number two... we will stop imposing, nudging and coercing market behaviour into the lives of people and foster instead the human, collaborative impulse that 30 years of neoliberalism suppressed."

Monday, October 30, 2017

chatting with Chuck

This week I'm heading to Palo Alto in the Bay Area to make an appearance at Stanford University:  an onstage discussion with Chuck Klosterman on the subject of nostalgia and pop culture (although I daresay the concept of retro-politics will also rear its head, as it could hardly fail to) followed by Q+A. 

Date: Wednesday, November 1

Time: 7-30 pm (doors open 7: pm) - 9pm.

Location: Bing Concert Hall, Stanford University

Further information here

Stanford borders on Menlo Park, whose Menlo-Atherton High School famously produced Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. And Greil Marcus.  

And then a little ways in the other direction there's 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Spectres of Mark: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning

Here's an essay I did for Pitchfork about Burial's Untrue ten years on. 

It's also effectively a tribute to Mark Fisher, who is a recurring presence in the piece. 

It's intentional that Burial's real name is never once mentioned in the piece - honoring his original allegiance to rave's radical facelessness and anonymous collectivity. 

Below is my favorite out of the post-Untrue Burial output - in some ways the missing chapter from that album.

There were two parallels and precursors for Burial's  ghost-of-rave (as ghost-of-socialism) aesthetic that I couldn't get into as it would have been too much of a digression.

The first: Mark Leckey's Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, which I wrote about here

And the second:  "Weak Become Heroes" by The Streets.

What Burial related through samples and moody orchestrations, Mike Skinner conveyed with words,  describing the flashback of a former raver abruptly set adrift on blissed memories of love and unity on the dancefloor. All the commotion becomes floating emotions...  They could settle wars with this...  Imagine the world's leaders on pills... All of Life's problems I just shake off.” Then he's snapped back to the dreary streets of a hostile and hopeless 21st Century England: “gray concrete and deadbeats... no surprises no treats... My life's been up and down since I walked from that crowd.” “Weak,” in Skinner’s song, means not just personally frail, but politically powerless. The weak became heroes when they became a mass, uniting around the unwritten manifesto in the music: someday there’ll be a better way, but in the meantime let’s shelter for a while in this dreamworld.  What the critic Richard Smith (like dear Mark also “late” now – so many ghosts these days) called “the communism of the emotions” triggered by Ecstasy seemed to prefigure a social movement. But the collective energy never got beyond the level of a pre-political potential; the moment dissipated. 

I love those hardcore and rave tunes because they sound deep, hopeful, for the times, and the people... It’s unbelievable, that glow in the tunes, it almost breaks your heart.” - Burial, someplace, sometime

"The tunes I loved the most…old jungle, rave and hardcore, sounded hopeful....  All those lost producers…I love them, but it’s not a retro thing… When I listen to an old tune it doesn’t make me think ‘I’m looking back, listening to another era.’ Some of those tunes are sad because they sounded like the future back then and no one noticed. They still sound future to me." - Burial, someplace, sometime  

In a way, it's a shame Burial stopped doing the interviews -  he was almost born to do them, even more than make music! He's better at describing his own music and motives than any of his critics, except K-punk himself. I remember Mark telling me after he'd done the interview that he couldn't believe his own ears - the stuff that Burial was coming out with was so poetic and evocative, too good to be true almost. A dream of an interview. Anwen Crawford told me of a similar experience: as I recall it, it was like she was hypnotized, sent into a trance by his voice over the phone. But at same time he was completely real and genuine - somehow down to earth and an ethereal being floating out there at the same time....

"I wanted the tunes to be anti-bullying tunes that could maybe help someone to believe in themselves, to not be afraid, and to not give up, and to know that someone out there cares and is looking out for them. So it's like an angel's spell to protect them against the unkind people, the dark times, and the self-doubts" - Burial on Rival Dealer EP / "Come Down With Us"


Actually there's a third parallel/precursor - The Death of Rave by V/Vm, a/k/a The Caretaker - another of Mark's favorites of course... 

This post is dedicated to Carl Neville

Sunday, October 22, 2017

the Love in our eyes

Here's an essay I wrote about The Smiths and The Queen Is Dead for Pitchfork - on the occasion of the record's reissue as a deluxe expanded box set.

Given a lot of space here but feel like I could have easily gone twice as long. Despite the immensity of the writing about The Smiths already out there (including my own quite sizeable contributions) the mystery of Morrissey and the magic of  Marr (+ Rourke + Joyce) feel inexhaustible.  I could write a whole essay just on "The Boy With The Thorn In His Side."

Monday, October 16, 2017

synth gardener

Here's my profile of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for Village Voice.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Tale of Two Simons

Now here is a piece I've been wanting to write for a good while now.

I was delighted to get the opportunity to do it for RBMA.

It's the story of  the first decade of Virgin Records.

And it's a profile of Simon Draper, A&R Director and later Managing Director - the man whose vision and taste made Virgin a contender for coolest label of the Seventies.

Not that other chap, the one with the beard.

(Lol inventing here the industrial / Cosey Fanni Tutti style of trumpet-through-fog  four years ahead of schedule)

(Viv G on the vocals there)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


An old mate I've recently reconnected with, Matthew Worley - now a Professor of Punk - has his magnum opus on 1976-and-all-that-followed out now on Cambridge University Press.

Here's my blurb for No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture, 1976-1984:

"No Future cuts through the stodgy crust of nostalgia, self-serving memoir and fan-boy facts that conceals punk and reveals the truth of youth culture in late Seventies / early Eighties Britain: the internecine battles fought over issues of sound and style were inextricably linked to the political conflicts and dilemmas of that era. Digging deep into the fanzine squabbles and music press controversies that raged across the punk community, Matthew Worley brings to keen life the urgency of a period that felt at once like a terrifying crisis-time and the dawn of a new epoch delirious with radical possibilities. Giving Anarcho and Oi! the serious attention they’ve long deserved, and analysing this tumultuous time through perspectives that range from anti-consumerist boredom and feminist personal politics to media-critique and dystopian dread, No Future is an essential read for punk scholars and punk fans alike."

Next week there is a London book launch for No Future - on Tuesday October 17th at the Brick Lane Rough Trade, starting 7 pm, with Worley in conversation with Steve Ignorant and Cathi Unsworth. 
Something that Worley has been cooking up for next September at the University of Reading - a conference on music writing in which I'll be participating.

nifty groovers

What do these songs have in common?

1/ They come from a time when the gap between rock and black music was really small, compared with the gulf that now exists

Such that you almost wonder what the point of postpunk's vaunted embrace of funk and disco etc was as a gesture -  given that the funk was already so deeply imbricated with mainstream rock music. It didn't need to be added or restored, it's there

So you can  see - if you shove to one side the rhetoric and the clothes and the theory and the adversarial positioning - a continuum of Seventies rock that runs from beginning to end of the decade and that is steeped in black music - following its changes, absorbing its innovations (like the Larry Graham-esque slap bass bit in "Slow Ride" by Foghat... essentially no different as a musical move than scores of postpunk guitarists trying to copy Nile Rodgers )

They loved their Free after all, Go4

Old Wave / New Wave - the difference collapses as more and more time goes by

2/ The other thing they have in common - well, most of that first batch up top  - is that they are used in movies. Something about this kind of groove-oriented early Seventies rock seems to move the action along. These feel-good tunes are a perfect fit for the "up" phase of a film like Boogie Nights e.g. the scene when things are going swimmingly by the swimming pool (they use the Three Dog Night and "Spill the Wine" in that sequence) or the more fraught but still thrillingly kinetic climax to Goodfellas (the soundtrack jumping from "Monkey Man" to "Jump Into the Fire" in a way that will never cease to electrify).

3/  They are all nifty groovers


liberation-through-energy artifacts

It's the mundanity of the liberation-through-energy...  its sliced-white-bread, staple background to the times quality that I find interesting.... Most of the above are second-division acts, solid radio providers,  one-or-two hit wonders .... the liberation and the nifty grooviness is a general condition of the era... Even if (as per the kids in Dazed and Confused) the inhabitants of that era feel that the Seventies has fallen from the heights of the Sixties....  They don't know how good they got it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

some of my favorite tunes of the last few years gathered into an (unmixed) mixtape for NERO

Laurel Halo – «Like An L»
Big Sean – «Bounce Back»
D’Angelo – «Prayer»
Young Thug featuring Birdman – «Constantly Hating»
Schoolboy Q – «Collard Greens»
eMMplekz – «Gloomy Leper Techno»
Rae Smemmurd featuring Nicki Minaj and Young Thug – «Throw Sum Mo»
Future – «Fuck Up Some Commas»
Future – «I’m So Groovy»
Naomi Elizabeth – «The Topic Is Ass»
Travi$ Scott – «Goosebumps»
Travi$ Scott – «Antidote»
Migos – «Bad and Boujee»
Aphex Twin – «Original Chaos Riff»
Jeremih – «Oui»
Let’s Eat Grandma – «Eat Shiitake Mushrooms»
Hybrid Palms – «Pacific Image»
Tinashe feat Schoolboy Q – «2 On»
Assembled Minds – «Morris Horror»

Friday, October 06, 2017


Here's a piece by me for 4Columns on Franco Battiato, three of whose early albums - Fetus, Pollution and Sulle Corde di Aries - have just been reissued by the Superior Viaduct label.

Grazie molto to Valerio Mattioli - author of Superonda: Storia Segreta Della Musica Italianaa book about the experimental rock scene in which Battiato was a central figure - for filling in the background to his bizarre career. And cheers to Jon Dale for his revelatory tips on further listens  from within Battiato's close-knit community of associates and accomplices.

Attenzione Londoners! Mattioli dialogues with Rob Young about the Italian art-pop freak-out scene of the Seventies on October 22, 5 pm, at the Coronet Theatre. More details here

Saturday, September 30, 2017


One of the highlights of my recent book tour of Argentina was a visit to an exhibition dedicated to the early days of electronica and la música concreta in that country.


Klang is showing at Centro Cultural Kirchner, or CCK - a vast building in Buenos Aires that was once Argentina's central post office, and later was where Eva Perón based her fundación. 


Klang curator Laura Novoa kindly gave me a guided tour of the exhibition. And of the the building itself, among whose features is La Gran Lámpara - a glowing glass-sided construction (inside of which are two exhibitions halls) that is seemingly suspended in the air, and is situated in this central voluminous shaft of space that goes from the roof to the ground floor.


Argentina was heavily involved in electronic and tape music experimentation from early on in the music's history. It had strong links with similarly minded composers throughout Latin America. Some, such as Peruvians César Bolaños and Edgar Valcárcel came to work in Argentina for a period, as did the Colombian Jacqueline Nova and composers from Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Chile, and Bolivia.   



Conversely, Argentine pioneers like Edgardo Canton, Beatriz Ferreyra and Horacio Vaggione would move to France to continue their explorations at GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales). 


Another important avant-garde emigre was Mauricio Kagel, who moved to Cologne, while the Argentina-born Mario Davidovsky went to work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. 

The exhibition's span goes from the earliest forays into tape music and electronics made by Argentine composers like Francisco Kröpfl....


... through the work done at of El Estudio de Fonologia Musical (founded by Kropfl) c/o Universidad de Buenos Aires


... then onto the wonderfully 1960s-in-vibe sound design / graphic design developed by the advertising agency Agens, as part of an integrated corporate identity project for the manufacturers SIAM Di Tella



... before winding up with CLAEM aka el Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales, the most advanced electronic music laboratory in South America thanks largely to the innovations of fellow called Fernando von Reichenbach.


As well as the main room with its timeline and walk-in sound-booths with hyper-spatialized audio and often equally disorienting visuals, there is a separate room displaying a variety of  early synthesisers and sound-generating contraptions, scores, and documentary footage on loop.








Muchas gracias to Laura for a fascinating time travel trip to el futuro perdido latinoamericano!


For further information about Argentinan and Latin American electronic music, check out this essay by Ricardo Dal Farra. It comes with an enormous playlist of compositions which I have so far only managed to get about one-fifth of the way through - revelatory stuff. 


Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Shock Doctrine

Coming out late October on Zero, Punk Is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night is an anthology of punk texts edited by Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix. Participants include Simon Critchley, Judy Nylon, Tony D, Tom Vague, Jonh Ingham, Penny Rimbaud,  Barney Hoskyns, Nicholas Rombes, Jon Savage....  our lost dear boy Mark Fisher ....  and yours truly. My contribution is an essay looking back at punk, but not from the present: "1976/86" was written in spring 1986 for the final issue of Monitor and simultaneously participated in the spate of 10th Anniversary retrospection (mostly hand-wringing: what happened, where did we go wrong?) while also examining the retrospective discourse itself. Far from punk being something long-long-ago and absent, I felt it still loomed over the landscape of British music, which if anything was over-determined by punkthink. In a way that essay is the acorn that after a long interval grew into Rip It Up and Start Again, although "postpunk" as currently understood was just one of  many after-punk pathways traced in the piece. 


"Punk as outrage" was another of the trajectories pinpointed and dissected - the vileness and Vicious-ness lineage, a/k/a "I killed a cat" = Doing It My Way *. Thinking about that reminded me that I've been remiss in not flagging up here another very interesting Zero publication -  Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right -  although it's got so much attention this summer you've almost certainly heard of it already. Indeed it's rather a controversial book, with some on the hardcore edge of the Left seemingly viscerally offended by its thesis, which asserts that there is a commonality of psychology in the desire-to-shock, whether manifested on the far right or far left of the political-cultural spectrum. 

In Nagle's words, "the ideologically flexible, politically fungible, morally neutral nature of transgression as style" - tactics of outrage and taboo-testing provocation - gradually migrated from the old counterculture to the new   contra-culture of far right trolls. That shift represents both "the co-opting" and "the triumph of 60s left styles of transgression." The scabrous truth-telling and refusal to self-censor of the Yippies, Lenny Bruce, counterculture publications from The Realist to Oz,  and pretty much everybody in that entire Fifties-Sixties gang, which then evolved through punk (especially the Malcolm McLaren wing) to become the Sixties-turned-inside-out of industrial culture - these attitudes and techniques have found a new home on the far right. The target is the same as it always was - the prudish / prudent bourgeoisie - but the nature of the taboos and the ideas of what is bad conduct have shifted: there are new norms to break, new normies to appall. As the most infamous exponent of the new style - now disgraced for going too far - has put it, the dominant culture to be countered is "the nannying and language policing and authoritarianism of the progressive left - the stranglehold that it has on culture." **

In the horrendously polarized, high-stakes moment that is now, you can kind of see why Nagle's thesis might offend; it does slightly resemble the old wet-liberal canard "you can go so far to the left that you end up on the right".  But I have actually had a couple of conversations in the past year with online strangers who claimed that they know people on the radical left who have switched to the right - not because they shared the values particularly but because that's where the new cutting edge was, in terms of irreverence and iconoclasm. The buzz of shocking, the rush of causing offence - this was more important than the actual political positions and their real-world implications. This is the punk of today, in other words.

Nagle references The Sex Revolts a couple of times during her thesis. That book is a bit of an orphan in the oeuvre, indeed there have been quite long periods when I've completely forgotten that Joy and I ever wrote it.  While I can't quite reconstruct the head that came up with the over-arching thesis on which the thing is scaffolded and which I'm not certain stands up anymore (that was the peak / swan-song of my infatuation with French theory), whenever I've looked back at a specific portion or patch of it  - the stuff on grunge, or Siouxsie, or the whole section on psychedelia - it still seems on the money. 

Probably the sharpest part is the stuff that relates to Nagle's book - which apart from anything else is a very handy quick-read recap of recent history / guided tour through the online sewers of discourse, from the social injustice warriors of the alt-right to the anti-feminist virulence of the manosphere (or should that be men-of-fears?). That is the Revolts chapter that dissects the masculinism of all the immediate precursors to rock rebellion - the Beats, the Angry Young Men, James Dean, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, et al - during which we bring up "Momism", a concept coined by Philip Wylie in his 1942 book Generation of Vipers.  Wylie identified a form of new American decadence in the growth of consumerism, mass media entertainment like radio, and suburbia, which he linked to matriarchy and domesticity: American virility, the frontier style of rugged martial masculinity on which the nation was founded, was being smothered and enfeebled by over-mothering, comfort and niceness.  The Sex Revolts mentions Robert Bly's Iron Man as a modern-day, therapeutically tinged and New Age-y resurgence of the Momism critique, a sort of Jung Thug Manifesto. But, published in 1995, our book was a year too early for Chuck Palahniuk's  Fight Club: angry young men reacting against metrosexual consumerism and sensitivity, an insidious decadence weakening them from within, and coming up with solutions that recall Nietzche's "in a time of peace, the warlike man attacks himself."

Fight Club was the book that coined the term "snowflake," and the novel has proved to be a prophetic parable. The ugly contorted face of anti-Momism today is the paranoid impatience with political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc - the new proprieties that are felt as intolerable constraints, restrictions on the male right to spite. Hillary Rodham Clinton, with her uncatchy catchphrase "America is great because America is good," is Momism incarnate for the new angry young men, the symbol of a stifling virtuousness, a tyranny of good behaviour. So instead of Nurse Ratchet, they elected Andrew Dice Clay as President, on a ticket of Tourette's as a style of governance, reactive as much as reactionary.  

Underlying it all is the crisis of a masculinity that doesn't know what it's for anymore, in a demilitarized and post-industrial era where women provide for themselves or are the high-earning member of the family. Hence the fixation on imagined threats to gun ownership, on rapacious extraction industries like coal and the removal of protections for Mother Earth (always struck by how "fracking" sounds like the violating act that it is - how's that for "libidinal economy"?).... hence the hankering for macho foreign policy postures (waving that big "stick" around) and Theweleit-on-the-Freikorps redolent Walls and dams against contaminating floods.....  these and so many other psyche-fortifying issues are all of them proxies, props, displacements, compensations for an eroding and increasingly irrelevant style of manhood.   


* The really acute essay on punk in that issue of Monitor is the piece by Hilary Bichovsky (then writing as Hilary Little) on a recent retrospective exhibition of Jamie Reid's art, including his work for the Sex Pistols, in the course of which she wryly but implacably picks apart the impulse-to-outrage from an unsparing feminist perspective. One of the things she comments on is the "Who Killed Bambi" artwork - the slain deer, an actual living thing sacrificed for an edgy concept, for a image that will shock. As with Vicious's "to think / I killed a cat", as with names such as Stiff Kittens and Kill My Pet Puppy, the underlying idea is that softy furry things made you soft inside.  Killing soft weak things, even symbolically with sick humour, makes you hard.

Sex Revolts actually started with a sick joke. We went out for dinner with a friend - this is early Nineties, East Village NYC - and he'd brought along a friend, someone who'd been in various noise bands (including this one).  During the meal, the musician told a joke:

Q: What's the worse thing about raping a child?

A: Having to kill her afterwards.

I guess it was a cool test - if you laughed, you passed. We flunked the test. Later, walking home, Joy and I started talking about why, at that time, there were such a lot of underground-rock bands with songs about killing women. Three hours of fevered discussion later, we had a book mapped out.   

**  For further Nagle reading, try this Baffler essay about the breakdown of manners and self-restraint in public discourse.