Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Was thinking about Simon Reynold's account of post punk, Rip It Up And Start Again - although the majority of the book is based on the U.K. scene, there's a fascinating chapter on the downtown New York No Wave scene that coalesced in the late 70's and early 80's. No Wave was an interesting scene, and especially with bands such as Mars and early Lydia Lunch's stuff with the Teenage Jerks, as it represented such a break with anything from before. The section on Mars recounted how they used to visit loads of record shops and plunder the world music archives and 'ecstastic voodo music' - something that might sit strange at first when listening to their atonal workouts. However, you can hear the influence on closer listen, with the song titles ('Outside Africa') and the strange quasi-tribal drum beats, alongside the metallic racket. This (perhaps ephemeral and patronizing, but still...) world music obsession was seized on by Talking Heads, of course. Amazing band - Mars, I mean, not Talking Heads. Well, some of TH's stuff is good too.

I'd wager that nowadays the closest relative to Mars is something like Gang Gang Dance - the spiralling tribal polyrhythms and uncoventional marriage of no-wave noise with dub rhythms and unconventional microtonal vocals on 'Revival of the Shittest' has more in common with Mars than any of the scratchy post-punk bands with their 'angular' guitar riffs around at the moment.

The chapter focuses not only on the music - Mars, DNA, Lunch, James Chance, Glenn Branca (albeit only briefly, sadly), etc. - but also on the socio-economic context of a city entering the 80's Reagen era, which when taken to the extreme would eventually be reflected in the likes of 'Wall Street' (you know, the Michael Douglas one) and 'American Psycho' as the decade went on.

It struck me that this late 70's/early 80's period - where the dividing line between the NY downtown art-rock scene on the one hand and the city's jazz and disco scenes on the other - became blurred and in a state of flux in a way that the present day London music scene owes a huge debt to. Nowadays it's common to have disparate musical strands on the same line-up, but it wasn't always thus...

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