Actually an old obsession, revived. Pure Reason Revolution are back:
That’s my Friday evening’s writing tunes sorted, then. Gloriously sui generis—and while I adore categorisation, I nonetheless love things that I can’t easily categorise. I remember being sent PRR’s Hammer & Anvil back in my music reviewing days and being blown away by it, and then being gutted when they folded around the same time as the much-missed Oceansize. (Both bands were on the Superball label, which is also home to the mighty mighty 65daysofstatic—another sui generis delight, and lovely chaps to boot.)
Because, as some observant wags have already pointed out by email, I can’t see Warren Ellis do a thing without having to copy it. But also because I used to write about music all the time, until I didn’t, because my PhD ate my life and a drive failure ate my all-digital music collection (and reminded me, not for the first time, that data which doesn’t exist on multiple pieces of hardware might as well not exist at all)… and because now I’ve finally got to a point where Spotify fits into my patterns of living and working, and where the algorithm has been sufficiently well-trained that it spits up new stuff that I enjoy listening to.
To be clear, I don’t like having to rely on Spotify, which has a very shitty business model as far as paying the artists is concerned… but the prospect of even starting to reconstruct a music collection that once ran to thousands of albums is as emotionally ugly as it is financially untenable, at least at present. And there’s no denying that the ability try out music of all types and genres from almost any era has broadened my listening very quickly, too. It’s been fun for me to go back to the early strata of Western popular music, to which most folk my age were introduced by their parents. My parents were not very culturally engaged; the example I always use is that, with the exception of the safer singles which might have been played on Radio 2 or terrestrial telly in the late 80s, I’d hardly heard the Beatles or the Stones before I left home in 1993, let alone Zeppelin or Fleetwood Mac or the Kinks. So I like that I can go on a bebob binge or a deep dive into the Delta blues, as well as listening to the stuff I loved in my adolescence.
Uncle Warren’s influence manifests in my increased consumption of weird, dark ambient stuff. I’d realised some time ago that postrock—the only genre where I can legitimately think of myself as a player as well as a listener—is good work music because of its lack of distracting vocals. But sometimes even melody is too much for certain sorts of writing and thinking; then you just want soundscapes, kosmiche hypnosis, post-Eno tone-paintings, droning tonal daubings. Of course, a lot of the stuff Ellis listens to is Bandcamp only, but the Cryochamber label is well represented on Spotify, and I’ve been binging on that a fair bit. (Though I note that the unified aesthetic of the label, both sonically and graphically, makes me wonder if it’s not just one or a couple of musicians in a box-room, cranking out album after almost-exactly-one-hour-long album under a dozen different monikers… but hey, if it is, who cares? It’s quality stuff. More power to them.)
This one, though, is a Venn diagram smooshing of [musician whose work I’ve loved for almost as long as I’ve been paying attention to music] with [suitable for getting your head down and working with your thinkmeat]. I actually met Clint Mansell during my period of incarceration in the British public school system, not long after I’d discovered the chaotic collage-work of Pop Will Eat Itself*; we had a brief conversation on Stourbridge high street regarding the merits of different cash machines in the area. (The Midland Bank one was the only one that dispensed fivers.) His first soundtrack, for Requiem for a Dream, is almost as harrowing as the movie itself. The one for Moon, however, occupies a nice spot somewhere between the quieter and more thoughtful bits of late-period Nine Inch Nails, and more typical moods-for-movies material.
I’ve still never seen the film itself, mind.
[ * There’s a very viable argument to be made that this encounter with Mansell made an aesthetic impression upon me that has never faded. Between him, promo photos of Daisy Chainsaw and Fields of the Nephilim clipped from Melody Maker circa 1991, and Craig Charles’s long stint performing the role of Dave Lister in Red Dwarf, the mood board for my enduring look is pretty much complete. ]
I used to go to dozens of live music gigs a year — scores of them, in fact, if you go back far enough. In the last few years, I’ve seen very few. This is partly because [busy], partly because getting home again after a gig is a nightmare, even when said gig is in Sheffield itself, and partly, if I’m honest, because music no longer holds sway over my life as it once did; other obsessions have stolen its throne.
But I’m having a brief flurry of audio activity: Kate Tempest a week or so ago, Mark Lanegan in early December, and Idlewild last night.
Strange to be reminded by Roddy Woomble himself that they were touring the 100 Broken Windows album twenty years ago almost to the date. That was when I discovered them via (I think) the Evening Sessions show on Radio 1, which was the only affordable entertainment available to someone sleeping on sofa cushions in a friend’s tiny Brighton living room, trying unsuccessfully (despite working two jobs, and paying an almost gestural rent to said friend) to pin down sufficient income to get a toe-hold in that city. Brighton was already hideously expensive in 1999, and precarity was already a thing — though it mostly caught the already-poor, plus a few fucked-up refusenik drop-outs with substance abuse problems, into which latter category I fit very firmly at the time.
(I returned to Velcro City with my metaphorical tail between my legs in the early months of the new millennium, defeated by myself.)
So all the more strange to see them twenty years later, having just returned home to Sheffield from a week in Brighton. I was meant to be in Europe most of last week, as mentioned, but a combination of train cancellations and the onset of a vicious head-cold put paid to that; instead I stayed in bed for three days, finally recuperating the immune system overdraft I managed to run up since late June. Turns out momentum can only take you so far for so long… and you end up crashing eventually. That’s a lesson I probably should have internalised back in 1999… better late than never, eh?
Anyway, point being, it was a great show — a solid tour of the back catalogue, with fewer deep cuts than fan favourites, and a new line-up that sees a swing back from the more folky sounds on the late Noughties and early Teens to a thicker, rockier texture. It brought back many memories, bright and dark alike.
I’ll leave you with a personal favourite that didn’t make last night’s set list. The wordplay and narration was always a huge part of Idlewild’s appeal for me, and this song kinda sums that up.
Today, social media enables young people to engage with culture and politics in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with music; from the 1960s to the 1990s, music was pretty much all there was. It seems likely that, in the broad sweep of cultural history, the period circa 1955 to circa 2000 will be a treated as a discrete epoch, and the cultish fanaticism that drove its successive countercultural waves – from Beatlemania to grunge, via punk, post-punk, New Romantics et al – will be seen as an analog-era curio. The regime of production and dissemination was the defining characteristic of the four-and-a-bit decades of its hegemony; the demise of that regime has led, ultimately, to the obsolescence of that particular iteration of pop culture.
(Please read the whole thing before criticising it; one can acknowledge nostalgia without necessarily taking that feeling as an indication that things were actually and objectively “better” during your own salad days.)
science fiction / social theory / infrastructural change / utopian narratology