July 24th, 2009
As The Muzak Killer once ranted to his hapless hipster accomplice, ‘Music is only cool when it’s old!’ It’s the same with comics about music, which is why this review of Phonogram 2.3 is so late that the next one is even out by now.
And I’ve nothing to say about it really, as it happens, so let’s do bullet points. You know, hip young gunslingers! In with a bullet! Peow-peow!
- Lots about at the moment discussing the death and imminent resurrection of music journalism. Except for, blah blah declining print sales (Plan-B-gone)/fracturing of music genres/bloody old internet and those silly kids, and the sad death of the most remarkable British music journalist for a generation, all this is surely precipitated by the NME’s editor leaving to edit Top Gear magazine, the sad symbolism of such a fact to be so clear and tragic as to be not worth going into. So what’s going to be going on in the world of people who write about music now?
- (Please to note, I am not cool; I do however live in a very cool place and have plenty of cool friends, so the unworthy pleasure of knocking the local record shop phonomancers out by asking for an album they’ve never heard of is one I can still occasionally experience. “Is that Engineerz with a ‘Z’?” No it isn’t.)
- In a recent conversation with one of my cooler friends about how her from drone-folk horrorists Pocahaunted has left to start a band called Best Coast with a likely lot connected to Not Not Fun records (read his post on it here). How did you find this out? I asked – this isn’t the kind of news you get in Top Gear magazine. Oh you know, he said, blogs, Myspace, all that. Your established printies often say that the time they have to gather sources, check facts etc., by which they mean, shill for whataever shit the major labels are plugging that week. (Lily Allen’s Mercury-nominated second album!) Meatbreak proves that the source gathering is best left to the crowds, and finds the finest soundtack to a rainy summer while he’s at it.
- Someone somewhere said that Paul Morley’s new corner of the online Guardian was renewing music journalism for the web. It’s a nice package, a column that’s not quite in columns, hopefully best thought of as a work in progress. The first has some bad flash text, too much of the ‘inimitable’ Morley style, and an interview with Ian ‘I’ll cut yr hanz off’ Brown. He really liked Michael Jackson, apparently. Thinking about it, Bubbles probably made his last public appearances around the time the first Stone Roses album was coming out. If there’s any extra relevance in that, I’ll let you investigate for yourself.
It’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re at.
- The only thing that really sets this first Morley section apart from a million better DIY webspots is access, to the Guardian’s platform and web designers, and to the star interviewee. Which is to say: meh. The idea that a serious music writer would waste an hour arranging and conducting an interview with one of British pop’s least eloquent hasbeens, and pretend to get excited about said old raver’s white reggae (probably) cover of Billie Jean, can only be of any conceivable use as something for people like me to take the piss out of.
- The second Morley Observer Music thing is about Kraftwerk. Fine. We all like Kraftwerk, even though their current heavy influence is now second-time-round. The danger of classicism, of the holy canon, is a problem music journalism is not able to shake in this bold new era. At this stage Kraftwerk are no more fit a corpse for digging over than Mick-or-Keef. (Hypocrisy watch: going to see them in a couple months, should be fucking brilliant. Kraftwerk, not the Stones of course.)
- The third though, is hard to argue with. Old school NME hack teaches himself to read and write musical notation, and even compose a symphony, so that – gasp – he can actually develop a valid vocabulary for talking about music. Well fucking hell: this kind of thing should be made compulsory, frankly. Wasn’t Andrew talking recently about the dearth of actual music-writing abilities among music writers? (linky please ?)
- John Harris (undistinguished 90s music writer turned inexplicable Brownite shill – I mean, fuck, what kind of a cockrot do you need to be? The drummer in Blur?), in a piece germane to the nothing of the current discussion, mentions Loops, a nice new twice-yearly bit of thing giving a big, glossy, and somewhat serious outlet for the old names (Nik Kent, Simon Reynolds, Jon Savage) to drag out a few chapters cut from their latest books. A few surprising and neat touches though , the best of which is Hearken to the Witches Rune by The Wire‘s Rob Young, a mind-blowing piece of cultural archaeology, digging out the links between Gardnerian Crowleyism, the late-60s English folk revival, and retroid kiddies-TV favourite Toni Arthur. (She came to the next-town over once and signed my sister’s book. She is ace.) Point is, Music meets magic – could be some life in that idea.
- ‘…music journalism’s finest traditions of unfettered idealism, syntactical overload, and industrial strength sarcasm.‘ – Loops no1, May 2009
- Certain facts are best transmitted as fiction. The most significant piece of music writing from the last ten years is Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay to 24 hour party people. It’s clear achievements are as follows: 1. Letting indie white boys know that it’s OK to dance. 2. Letting indie white boys realise it’s OK to take pills if it helps. 3. Letting iwbs know that dance music, jazz-rock and even flipping afrobeat are all fine strings to have on your axe. 4. Letting iwb realise that even Ian Curtis knew how to have a good time.
- (Yes of course, the collapse of the superclubs in the early C21 and the need to find new Ecstasy markets, and public USian E-ndorsements from Dre, Missy et al. didn’t hurt the resurgence of dancable electronic music back into the white mainstram either.)
- The most significant piece of music writing for the next ten years should be Phonogram (but won’t because it is just a comic and only idiots read them, and the first two times they’re so pissed they literally can’t remember what happened in them and it takes a month to come up with a review).
- Elastica were an almost platonically-perfect pop band. In a scene famous for its narrow range of influences, they were the only group who appeared to understand what sampling was, giggling when people told them that they were ‘ripping off’ Wire, like Marley Marl had never even been born. One hit album, heroin, dissolution, on to low-key careers in California and Christianity. This classic career template, old as pop itself, has rarely been so honourably adhered to.
- Emily Aster, the least human phonomancer yet met, is somehow the only one at all personable. Even Kohl’s a bit less of a prick these days.
- Mind you, as a school of auto-psycho medicine, phonomancy seems to come with a hell of a lot of kickback – their tricks don’t come off that smoothly. Perhaps it’s the toxic, deliberately careless inheritance of the Battle of Burchill, but our guys get tripped up on some pretty basic rules of thaumaturgy (be polite to goddesses; your past is not a septic limb to be severed). Maybe try a method of personal catharsis that’s a bit less dangerous – extreme bloodletting, maybe.
- Rue Brittania gets a kicking, from its own creators, at least twice in this issue. It’s not that bad, but The Singles Club is a whole new universe of good in comparison.
- Phonogram 2.3 is the best single yet off an album that’s becoming more interesting, exciting and essential with each issue. On its current groove, track seven will be the hottest flexi-book you will hear in 2009.
- Bring on 4 (expect the review by Christmas).