Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I've moved from Bethnal Green

There's a wonderful excerpt here on Pitchfork's site from a new book about the No Wave scene that coalesced in downtown New York in the late 70's. Reading the quotes from various movers and shakers in the scene from that extract, including the obvious suspects - Lydia Lunch, James Chance, various members of Mars (pictured above) etc. - the biggest impressions are how cheap it was to get buy (I couldn't help but smile at this quote from Glenn Branca: "I had a 1200 square-foot loft for $180 a month"), how readily available space was, and the inherent possibilities opened up as a consequence. I suppose comparisons could be made with Notting Hill and Portobello Road earlier on and at the same time as No Wave, with it's countercultural ripples and a squat scene that took in Hawkwind and (later on) The Raincoats. It makes somewhat depressing reading given the contrast with both cities now; it's hard enough to maintain a steady living in London even with a job, if it's not one that pays especially well (as a glance at this testifies). Lower East Side now, where the No Wave musicians congregated, closely resembles in some ways Shoreditch, but I would imagine LES - and certainly not the latter, with it's steadfastly increasing prices - can hardly be considered bohemian anymore, if the definition of bohemian is an area where an artistic community can make a living on a modest budget. A flat viewing in nearby Whitechapel a while ago told me all I need to know: greedy landlords are ripping us off in London. The rent was easily in the £400+ per month bracket - for a flat at the top of a block, with no lift.
So I've moved to another part of London now. Along the way, as I've navigated my way around the city I've noticed that most new residential properties that have sprouted in London look exactly the same. It only confirms just how much landlords in this city couldn't care less about aesthetics: why worry about beauty when demand outstrips supply and you can pack in as many people into as small a space as possible? After my previous post about the closure of the Spitz, we can now look forward to the prospect of Turnmills closing down, as the arts scene in London becomes more and more a casualty.
What strikes me about reading that extract is what a unique period the musicians were in: no doubt NYC must have been a nightmarish place to live in sometimes then, but around the areas that the scene converged, it nonetheless offered endless possibilities; an energy that produced genres and ideas that hadn't become compartmentalised and spun off by endless lifestyle magazines, where there was real possibilities to explore different strands of arts while not being shackled by lucrative rents. If there's any equivalent these days, it's probably elsewhere: Berlin, for one, or Montréal.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hello there everybody, and sorry for the long delay in replying - a busy December and all that, including the All Tomorrow's Parties shindig hosted by Portishead. Most ATP's that I've been to have had their fair share of madness - has anyone actually had a completely sober ATP? - but Sun O)))'s ludicrously OTT set on a seriously gruelling Sunday - Boris, Earth, and Sun O))) on the main stage, various metal-looking bands on the Reds stage, Black Mountain on the Pavillion stage - pipped the competition. With a 'singer' that looked like the an extra from the Tree People in the Lord of the Rings, more dry ice than a Sisters of Mercy gig, and a general air of ludicrousness, Spinal Tap-style, mixed in with genuine excitement from the audience, they arrived twenty minutes or so late, having assaulted (I'm assuming it wasn't real) the audience with automated fire emergency building evacuation tannoys. The following two hours (a very long two hours) eschewed all the traditional signifiers of metal - pounding drums, ludicrous lyrics about "the beast" (or some such), flashy guitar solos accompanied by headbanging - leaving a sheer magma-like trail of earsplitting guitar noise and sub-bass keyboard 'notes' combined with sheer theatrics and a sublimely pantomine-like procession of Dark Ages-looking characters onstage dressed in robes. I certainly got my money's worth, if anything else, and there was also an inter-band punch-up at the end for good measure.
Meanwhile, am I the only one who thinks that the new material during Portishead's set sounded like Broadcast meets electroclash? Perhaps they've been hanging around The Macbeth / Jaguar Shoes / the Mother bar or whatever place in Shoreditch plays electroclash these days.
Other great memories of the festival: a wizened Jah Shaka of Jah Shaka Sound System (which consisted of Jah Shaka and, well, his soundsystem) babbling repeatedly at his Echo Deck (or whatever it was) about "Bablyon" and "Jah", at which point I took the picture above; the singer of wonderful folk-rock act Lucky Luke quipping about hangovers in the middle of their set while facing an audience entirely lying down (this being 12 noon on a Sunday); Onedia and their excitable drummer; Glenn Branca (picture above) conducting his guitar orchestra that included Thurston Moore, Adrian Utley, one of Fuck Buttons, and many others; Polar Bear bringing Sun Ra vibes to the Reds stage; Julian Cope's surreal end-of-set rant about "the X in Exmoor" and religion in general; the bar staff beyond despair during the 'metal day' (as Sunday was christened); the Aphex Twin mixing in the Grandstand theme tune with his set, and finishing with an undanceable gabba noise finale, topped off with the sound of someone saying "Motherfucker" a lot, as well as a sample of a track by Whitehouse (possibly "A Cunt Like You" with William Bennett yelling "look at yourself - have some fucking decorum!", though I could be wrong); ludicrous freak-out double-drummer improv rock by Damo Suzuki with Fuzz Against Junk; A Hack And A Hacksaw playing in the middle of the audience; and Simeon of 60's primitive electronics outfit Silver Apples - a man whose probably took more acid than the entire line-up of Jefferson Airplane a few times over - resembling your Dad doing karaoke onstage; Om taking ages to kick in the distortion, at which point the bar staff look terrified; Chrome Hoof in their silver-plated glam-rock stomp pomp...I could go on.
Disappointments: not being able to find the ATP cinema (where the fuck is it?). The toilets in the Pavillion Stage. Françoiz Breut not turning up and the staff not telling us until we've waited for 45 minutes, facing an empty stage. The empty nightclubs due to late sets by bands...anyway, I'm off to Flickr.