Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Name it on the 'boogie' - the genealogy of a word and a feel


BOOGIE
The Guardian, May 3rd 2011

by Simon Reynolds

When I saw the cover of Delta Swamp Rock, my first thought was: "Has Soul Jazz run out of black music then?"   Putting out a compilation of early 70s Southern rock seemed like an unlikely move for the label famous for its Dynamite! reggae anthologies and deluxe box sets like Can You Dig It ? The Music and Politics of Black Action Films 1968-75.

A little reflection cleared up the mystery: Southern rock as a style was born at the confluence of blues, country, and soul, so in many ways it's exactly the sort of white-on-black musical miscegenation that fits the Soul Jazz worldview.  Like Blood and Fire and Honest Jon's, the label belongs to a tradition of British connoisseurs who venerate black American music, a lineage that stretches back through Nineties house headz, Eighties soul boys, Seventies roots 'n' dub fiends, Sixties blues-rockers, all the way to Fifties trad jazz. 

This is one long continuum of white Brits who strove to master black musical idioms and also dedicated themselves to being custodians of black musical heritage through their parallel activities as deejays, discographers, and archivists. The only difference between the Brits and their white Southern counterparts was that the former  had to consummate their passion largely through recordings whereas the latter grew up surrounded by the music and could draw directly from the well-spring. 

Emerging from the Deep South in the immediate aftermath of the civil rights movement, at a time when some politicians still openly supported segregation, naturally meant that the politics of Southern Rock were complex and cloudy.  

There's no better example of this than what may well be the genre's defining anthem, "Sweet Home Alabama". The statement being made by Lynyrd Skynyrd on their 1974 breakthrough hit is confusing, to put it mildly.  The first verse gives the finger to Neil Young (not even a damn Yankee but Canadian) for his recent hit "Southern Man" and equally rebuking "Alabama". Okay, that's just wounded regional pride lashing back. But the next verse is dangerously ambiguous: it refers to George Wallace, Alabama's pro-segregation governor, in a way that could easily be read as an endorsement and definitely falls well short of condemnation. Finally, "Sweet Home" pivots to a celebration of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and its resident rhythm squad the Swampers. "Lord, they get me off so much / They pick me up when I'm feeling blue" exults Ronnie Van Sant. But in a further fold in the pretzel that is Southern Rock, while the Muscle Shoals team played on records by countless black artists (Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, et al) all four of the Swampers were white. 


Whenever I hear "Sweet Home" on the radio, I start out trying to decode what the song is saying, then give up and surrender to the mighty groove.  There's plenty more groove action to be found on Delta Swamp. Like Area Code 615's "Stone Fox Chase": even if the name and title don't click, you'll probably recognise it as the smoky harmonica-riffing theme to The Old Grey Whistle Test.  Hearing the full instrumental for the first time made me realise how near it is to a contemporaneous funk combo like War. Then it goes into an eerie plinky-percussive section that for all the world sounds like something by polyrhythmic postpunks The Raincoats. A decade after its original release, "Stone Fox Chase" became the source of a prized hip hop breakbeat.  Yet Area Code 615 were actually a bunch of Nashville session musicians who mostly backed up country artists.


Another revelation on this double CD is Bobby Gentry's "Mississippi Delta": with its bullfrog horns, rasped vocals and grinding funk, it belongs to the R&B realm of Lee Dorsey and Inez Foxx far more than the pop country world of Glenn Campbell and Tammy Wynette. But Delta Swamp's detailed booklet reveals just how tangled up black music and white music could get in the late Sixties/early Seventies South.  Phil Walden, the man who founded leading Southern Rock label Capricorn (home to Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Grinderswitch, and more) had originally been Otis Redding's manager. Funding for Capricorn came from Atlantic Records via Walden's friendship with Jerry Wexler, the journalist-turned-A&R who reputedly originally coined the term "rhythm and blues".


If Delta Swamp has a flaw, it's that there's a bit too much soul and not nearly enough jazz. The hippie-fusion freak side of Southern Rock that involved 20 to 40 minutes-long live jams (Allmans being the pioneers and prime perpetrators) is not acknowledged.

 Generally, the anthology veers away from the hard rockin' end of things (populist arena-pleasers like Elvin Bishop, Charlie Daniels Band,  Molly Hatchet) towards stuff that has some kind of non-rock cred (Link Wray, Johnny Cash,  blue-eyed soul singers like Boz Scaggs and Billy Vera). I guess soul boys can only go so far into the hard 'n' heavy guitar zone. But does Big Star, a band who'd never dream of appearing onstage with a Confederate flag behind them, really need to be shoehorned into this context?  

Southern Rock overlaps with that broad strip of Seventies blues-tinged rock called boogie, which ranges from ZZ Top to Brit combos such as Humble Pie who toiled on the US arena circuit and became vastly more popular in America than in their homeland. Boogie has a technical definition: a musician friend explains that it has to do with 4/4 being subdivided by 12 rather than 16 notes, with syncopations on the third subdivision of each beat. But the best way of conveying it is to just point at examples: "Get It On" by T.Rex (Bolan's 1972 T.Rextasy-exploitation flick was titled  Born To Boogie), "Slow Ride" by Foghat, "Whatever You Want" by those dependable boys in blue denim Status Quo (who then got parodied by Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias on "Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Boogie").




"Boogie" originally comes from "boogie-woogie", a piano-oriented style of blues designed for dancing, which emerged in the 1930s and filtered into numerous corners of American popular and roots music.  

strange, mobile word indeed to be appearing in all these different contexts:





By the time it filtered into rock, boogie signifies a black-and-bluesy swing, a funky shuffle feel.  What's odd is that boogie today has a third, completely different meaning: it is used by DJs and collectors to refer to an early Eighties postdisco style whose slick, synthetic funk couldn't be further from the low-down earthiness of Southern rock.

The origins of this other boogie go back to the late Seventies when the word started cropping up in the titles of disco-funk tunes like Taste of Honey's "Boogie Oogie Oogie", Earth Wind and Fire's "Boogie Wonderland", The Jacksons's "Blame It On the Boogie" and Heatwave's "Boogie Nights". 







The week before Delta Swamp Rock arrived in the mail, I received a boogie CD-mix from a deejay friend, Paul Kennedy, which he'd titled Juicy Nights and crammed with postdisco gems by outfits like Change and BB & Q Band.  A few of the names were familiar to me from the Eighties, when another deejay pal of mine used to buy U.S import 12 inches, an outlandish concept to someone on a student grant.


What defines this  boogie is that it's disco but slower and funkier: 110 to 116 beats-per-minute is the prime range, says Paul, with a strong accent on the second and fourth beats rather than disco's straight stomping four-to-the-floor. It's mostly played by bands, as opposed to being the creation of a producer, but synth-bass, electronic keyboards and drum machines get more prominent the deeper you get into the Eighties. Some of the most famous examples of the style are hits like D-Train's "You're the One For Me", Peech Boys "Don’t Make Me Wait", and Yarborough & People's "Don’t Stop the Music", while pioneers and exemplars include Kleer and Leroy Burgess  (of Black Ivory and Aleem).



Thing is, I don't recall anybody calling this stuff "boogie" back then; they'd just have talked about "club tracks" or  "discofunk".  In deejay Greg Wilson's exhaustiveetymological history of the genre,  the word "boogie" crops up as  a vague reference in the occasional club flyer or record shop section, or as a verb equivalent to "get on down" . But boogie only really becomes a genre tag retrospectively, to describe a kind of music no longer made, and even then only by a small number of London-based soul cognoscenti.  It's really only in the last decade that the term has achieved serious currency as a record dealer and collector buzz-word.



Boogie is a prime example of the creative remapping of the musical past that is rife today, with DJs and compilers retroactively inventing genres that had only the most tenuous existence in their original heyday (see "acid folk, "junkshop glam", etc). 


One of the prime movers behind the emergence of boogie as a collector-prized zone is Joey Negro, the deejay/producer behind the Destination Boogie compilations. Although the primary impetus is enthusiasm for the sound, there's an economic aspect to this syndrome: it reminds me of the way that real estate agents transform hitherto unprepossessing urban zones-- often nameless hinterlands between the established neighbourhoods-- into up-and-coming areas with twee names like, oh, Chisholm Village.  


The ploy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because once the urban pioneers move in, soon shops and restaurants start to spring up. Similarly, once you start looking for "boogie" or some other semi-fictitious genre, you'll find more and more obscure vintage tracks that fit the parameters. 

No harm in that if it unearths some lost gold and reshapes the pop past into entertaining new patterns. I just think they should have fasted on another name beside boogie, which does rather bring to mind long-haired, pot-bellied guitarists from Jackonsville, Florida trading solos for 18 minutes. It could lead to confusion.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bad Brains, Bambi Slam, The Stupids

BAD BRAINS / BAMBI SLAM / THE STUPIDS

Clarendon, Hammersmith, London

Melody Maker, May 16th 1987

by Simon Reynolds 

Live the Stupids are never quite as monstrous as on record. Tonight, hampered by the nonappearance of guitarist Marty Tuff, their frantic thrashing stirred up a strangely immobile cloud of noise that loomed in the distance rather than sweeping over to engulf us. Hard core should drown.
Bambi Slam songs are Pebbles tantrums. Sixties punk with tweaks of feedback and a beat like a little brat stamping its feet on the spot, or the Glitter Band at 78rpm. Interesting, but unfortunately made to seem puny and flat-footed by the noise and majesty of what followed.
Bad Brains double-stun with a tidal wave of their sound and the shock of their incongruity — imagine Burning Spear playing Anthrax. But the link-up of Rasta and speed core is totally appropriate; both sub-cultures have a total vision of the world, as unremitting tribulation and slavery, both imagine liberation in the form of apocalypse. Bad Brains' music similarly seems to consist in absolutes — of gravity, velocity, heat, cold. Blacks invented rock 'n' roll in the first place, so it's fitting that they're here at its outer limits, presiding over its ultimate super-nova, its whitest white-out. Their singer slashes out the beat with an outstretched arm, and it's like he's conducting the orbit of planets.
The shows are slick, as tautly rehearsed, as the Temptations or Zapp, right down to glib inter-song chat. An intensely glamorous bunch — the singer lashes the air with his dreadlocks, the guitarist wears a permanent gape of joy at his own brilliance, the bassist's bug eyes and Clinton eyebrows say "I can't believe we're doing this!" In a way, there's nothing of themselves in the music, it's anti-authentic: Bad Brains take the form of hardcore and perfect (exaggerate) it to the point where it's abstract art.
Such a fastidious assault, so exact, so exacting. Bad Brains are about astounding musicianship crammed within rigid parameters and so blazing all the more brightly. (The singer brings an almost scat feel to the straight-ahead melodies, throws in all manner of swerves and dips.) Similarly the emotional intensity of Bad Brains, of hard core in general, comes from when energy is caged, ricochets off the walls.
Bad Brains were like a visitation, a bolt from the heavens, and the vast sexless apocalypse of their music left even the grubbiest, most lumpen members of their congregation cleansed, elevated, re-born.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Mover + Sick Music / gabba + drum & bass in the 21st Century

THE MOVER
Undetected Act from the Gloom Chamber
Planet Phuture / Boidae
VARIOUS ARTISTS / SICK MUSIC
Sick Music 2018
(Hospital Records)
The Wire, April 2018

by Simon Reynolds


In 1990, the German producer Marc Acardipane released “Reflections of 2017” under the name Mescalinum United – the first of many aliases, among them Pilldriver, Alien Christ, and most famously The Mover.  “Reflections” was the flipside of “We Have Arrived”, a blaring stampede that laid down the blueprint for gabba: the crazy-fast, ultra-hard style of techno that stormed to popularity across Northern Europe and established outposts of fanatical followers all over the world. “2017” would remain a leitmotif in Acardipane’s work, appearing in track titles like “Lightbringer (Escape from 2017)” and as the catchphrase “see you in 2017”.  Back in the early Nineties, 2017 must have seemed far off, a mind-swirl of dystopian mise-en-scenery out of Blade Runner, Robocop, and Terminator.  Fans could imagine the Mover as a faceless rave equivalent to Snake Plissken from Escape from New York: a lone-ranger anti-hero making his way through the chaos of a collapsed society or a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Flash forward to the present: we have arrived, indeed we’ve overshot. The future-now of 2018 is dystopian and apocalyptic, for sure, but in ways we could never have imagined back in the Nineties. Compared with that decade, when he released hundreds of tracks through the Frankfurt-based family of labels he co-founded – PCP, Cold Rush, Dance Ecstasy 2001, etc - Acardipane had a quiet 21st century. His output oscillated between gestures towards credibility (a 2003 album for Tresor) and panders to the remaining gabbers in the Netherlands (plentiful enough to propel him into the pop charts). But there were long silences too. Then last year The Mover remobilized, with high-profile “living legend” style deejay appearances at raves and the remastered reissue of his greatest tracks. The plan was for an all-new album to come out in 2017 – completing the circle – but it got bumped to this year.

The ungainly album title Undetected Act from the Gloom Chamber suggests a certain  awkwardness about returning to the fray. Which would be understandable, in so far as The Mover’s ästhetisch / weltanschauung is built around a foreboding futurity that we’ve in some sense gone past. Almost inevitably, Acardipane picks up exactly where he left off. All the things fans like me love, hallmarks of the style some of us call gloomcore, are amply present: the sky-darkening swoops of raven-black synth, the parade-ground snares and thick thuds of kickdrum; the cold cavernous reverb; the piteous melodies and macabre jeering sounds.  Highlights include “Stealth,” an electro-tinged track bounced along by giant smacks of clap and a backwards bass-lurch like a tank’s caterpillar tread churning helplessly in mud, and “Doom Computer,” which drapes sickly drooping melody-riffs over a trudging march beat like a renegade legion of orcs on a dastardly mission.   

The Mover’s first album came out in 1993 and bore the title The Final Sickness; earlier there’d been two Frontal Sickness EPs. That’s my segue to Sick Music 2018, a compilation on Hospital Recordings, for some time now drum and bass’s leading label. Every so often I ponder, as a long lapsed D&B believer, how the genre has carried on for a full twenty years after I stopped paying close attention: a timespan four times as long as the genre’s original heyday of 1993-97. I wasn’t the only one to switch off. Once D&B commanded the attention of magazines like this one, as well as ideas-hungry pop stars like Bowie and Bjork. But now you’re more likely to see a review of a hauntological facsimile of 94-era jungle or darkcore-circa-93 in these pages, than a current exponent of the genre that is the extension of those sounds.

Not that the D&B scene cares particularly. Nor has it suffered from the external neglect. Arena-scale raves still happen regularly, scene elders like Andy C persevere and prosper, new DJs and producers replenish the field.  A stable fixture in the genrescape, D&B has also stabilized as a form, “the full circumference” (as they used to call it) of its stylistic variants long since set out. Andy C’s defiant comment that D&B “isn’t going anywhere” could be read in a less flattering way. On the other hand, perhaps it’s time to give the genre a break, forgive and forget its promises to keep always moving forward. Why judge it any more harshly than all the other vanguard sounds that have slipped into a steady-state?

Sick Music contains a fair amount of the head-banger style that drove me out of the scene in ‘98, although after a long period of abstinence a track like Unglued’s “Bootstrap Bill”, a clattery battery of growling bass and bad-boy beats, sounds rather invigorating. But the freshest stuff by far here expands upon the “musicality” moves of the mid-Nineties: the easy-rollin’ heights (or Haigh-ts) and cruise-control bliss of prime Moving Shadow. The core of Hugh Hardie’s gorgeous “Nightingale” is a reverb-smudgy piano lick whose effect is like a cinematic dissolve, a twinkle in time. Modulating this curl of liquid smoke as if rolling a sip of wine across the palate, Hardie braids the keyboard chords with vocal murmurs, fast-flicker hand-percussion, and soft spasms of double-bass. Who’s to say a stone classic can’t happen during a genre’s middle age, rather than its youth? 

Several of the best tunes here could be designated “lover’s jungle”.  London Elektricity’s tingling and tremulous “Just One Second (Mitekiss Remix)” features a lyric about freeze-framing a moment of rapture - “if this second was my life / I would happily die” – delivered with that characteristically Scandinavian singer’s quality of cold-water clarity by Elsa Hedberg. Kubaiko’s “Playing Tricks” wordlessly transmits a similar butterflies-in-the-stomach sensation, twining a sprite-like vocal sigh with silvery whooshes of texture. Meshing an Amen-break like a bounding antelope with trance-style pulse-work, Seba x Physics’s “Innocence” is repeatedly split apart by the awe and gratitude of a diva’s “you show me how to love.”  And Urbandawn’s “Spare Life” laces dewy synths and unexpected groans of shoegaze guitar over a midtempo groove.

Listening to Sick Music, it struck me that “drum and bass” seems almost a misnomer these days, directing attention as it does to what are now the least interesting aspects of the genre.  The drums and the bass do their job efficiently enough: the former skittering briskly, the latter either supplying pulsing warmth or slicing crossways across the beat as blaring stabs.  What holds and caresses the ear now is everything else going on in the arrangement and production:  keyboards, orchestrations, the wisps and whispers of unidentifiable instrumentation, the overall shimmerglow of the sound design.  Really, a better, more telling name would be “melody & mood.” 

If both these releases show that an elder artist and a no-longer-young genre can still generate strong, exciting, and in many ways absolutely valid music, there still remains a lingering sense that both reached their apotheosis around 1996-7. The Pilldriver anthem “Apocalypse Never” would be both Acardipane’s and gloomcore’s abyssal apex; Adam F’s “Circles” and “Metropolis” arguably stand as twin peaks of D&B’s musical and monstrous directions.

The point of “see you in 2017” - or jungle’s tropes of “living for the future,”  “we bring you the future” etc - wasn’t really about how tomorrow would actually be, sonically or otherwise. The year-date or the amorphous image of  “phuture” created a quickening in the present, as if you and the music being pulled taut by a line attached to that distant destination.  Propulsive linearity was the feeling that ran through all the dancefloor electronica of the Nineties - trance and techno as much as jungle and gabba. A hurtling teleology, a ballistic sense of purpose, felt as a physical sensation: beats got ever more brutal and fractured, tempos accelerated, textures escalated in abstraction and noxiousness. Hearing them through a sound system was an onslaught and an ordeal: a test for dancers, forging new flesh.  And each individual track was a microcosm of the entire culture’s fast-forward drive. Rave was a movement, in the martial sense of a modernist vanguard, but with a hint of political mobilization too. Another reason why The Mover was such a perfect name.

But in the 21st Century, for the most part it feels like development in electronic dance became lateral not linear: sideways journeys across the genrescape, combined with a deepening of sound design and a textural thickness afforded by recurrent upgrades in digital technology.  Although you hear this laterality most in nu-millennium styles like micro-house and post-dubstep, you can hear it in Acardipane’s new work and in Sick Music’s nu-skool D&B producers.   Structurally, in terms of what the beats and riffs are doing, the music has not really advanced. But the sound has a high-definition gloss and dimension to it that’s 21st Century. The the architecture is Nineties, but the interior décor and exterior paint-job are totally now.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Takagi Masakatsu + Boards Of Canada

BOARDS OF CANADA

Geogaddi

TAKAGI MASAKATU

Pia

 Spin, May 2002

by Simon Reynolds

Genrephobes have had it easy lately. It's been a while since electronica coughed up any New Sounds of note.
The only real contender at present is a strain of techno characterized by wistful, rustic melody and occasionally even folky acoustic instrumentation. Unlike the "chill-out" movement of the early '90s, which emerged from rave culture and balm for Ecstasy comedowns, "bucolica" — or, if that sounds too much like a fungal infection, "idyllictronica" — is a product of the more austere Intelligent Dance Music scene. Distilling the pastoralism of Ultramarine and the naive melodies of Mouse on Mars down to their dreamy but desolate essence, it can be a soundtrack for childhood reverie or the audio equivalent of recovered-memory therapy.

Idyllictronica's aesthetic first crystallized on Boards of Canada's 1998 debut, Music Has the Right to Children. The Scottish duo favours smudgy, just slightly out-of-tune analog synth tones evocative of faded home movies and washed-out photographs (like the sun-bleached family-vacation snaps on Children's cover). Geogaddi keeps the flashbacks flowing: crinkle-in-time melodies, crisply textured slow-mo breakbeats, song titles ('Dandelion', 'The Beach at Redpoint') that echo the music's aura of bygone halcyon. It's a thoroughly satisfying album, but surprises are in short supply. The only really new twist is the vocoderized singing on tracks like 'Music Is Math', which adds the sound of a choir of androids to the group's soulfully unearthly palette.

Like Boards of Canada, Takagi Masakatsu loves to sample children's voices, even giving a liner-note shoutout to "kids around the world on many tracks". But Masakatsu's digital vocabulary is more contemporary, closer to CD-skip auteurs Oval or laptop folkie Fennesz. Tracks like 'Eau' and 'Cino Piano' weave birdsong, trickling water, the chatter of kids at play, and the jittery hums of temperamental hardware into a tapestry as roseate as a sunset-drenched skyline. By the end of the last track, 'Videocamera' — an 18-minute mosaic of playground hubbub, music-box chimes, and tremulous electronic textures — it's like the air itself is aching with delight. Pia is the sonic equivalent of Proust's madeleine cake, setting the listener adrift on memory bliss.



Thursday, April 19, 2018

Chuck Warner compiler of Messthetics / Hyped to Death postpunk and DIY CD-R series

Messthetics: An Interview with Post-Punk Archivist Chuck Warner of Hyped To Death
Blissout website 2001?




Q: So how did you get in this lark---doing CD-R compilations like the U.K. D.I.Y post-punk series Messthetics?

A: You can run through the press-stuff at http://www.hyped2death.com/ for my background as a record-label-owner (16 releases in 4 years at a loss of $100,000), deejay, seminarian, astrologer’s helper, vacuum-cleaner salesman… I'd been selling all this stuff --or trying to sell it--for 20 years, though just by mail-order. I started making cassettes in ’97 as a sort of shopping aid--to encourage my mail-order customers to buy stuff that WASN'T already bootlegged on Killed by Death and Bloodstains (many of whose tracks had been purchased from me in the first place). All the cassettes were called Hyped to Death, though they were themed. The H2D numbers ending in -1 or -2 were North American punk [these are now the HYPED to DEATH CDs]; -3 was UK punk & mods [now BAD TEETH]; -4 was American power-pop [now TEENLINE]; -5 was UK D.I.Y. [now MESSTHETICS]; -6 was world punk [briefly PLANET PUNK]; -7 was New Zealand Flying Nun-style gnarlpop/DIY [WIMPLES] or world D.I.Y [GERÄUSCHVERGNUGEN]; -8 was American D.I.Y./punkwave [HOMEWORK] and -9 & 10 varied.



Messthetics in particular? Well, the style, if there is one, has been a personal favorite, since 1980 or so. I’d been in London (a Baron’s Court bedsit for £4.50 a week) for January and February of 1978, but the better bands were all out on tour and there was this awful "power-pop" revival clogging up the clubs--bands like the Boyfriends and the Pleasers–who were utterly tuneless pubrock leftovers in skinny ties who liked the Rich Kids but couldn’t write a tune to save their lives. The closest thing to D.I.Y I saw was Patrick Fitzgerald busking between sets at the University of London the week before "Safetypin Stuck in My Heart" came out. He was brilliant, but I had no idea the Desperate Bicycles, etc. were out there, too. Mostly I groupied enthusiastically for the Soft Boys, who were busily opening up the Troggs reunion "tour." I learned about DIY rather slowly, and after-the-fact as I came across the records over the years.



Throughout the early 80s my major energies went into buying and selling 1960s and early ’70s garage and psychedelic LPs. Much of the American stuff that now trades for thousands first hit the $100 level on my auctions in Goldmine and Trouser Press. I bought collections and store-stock when some shop went out of business, so there were always older punk and new-wave 45s coming in along with the new stuff. I felt no specific allegiance to any one style. But back then it was actually the first Chocolate Soup for Diabetics bootleg that made the most vivid impression. In 1981 I could probably have recited the entire International Artists catalog from memory, but most of the Chocolate Soup stuff-–I never knew it even existed : I was stunned and delighted beyond description…. SO, in a very long, windy, and round-about way, that’s what I want for my compilations… It’s my hope that Messthetics, Teenline, and Homework might bring that same shock-of-the-[old]-new to a few 20-somethings today.

Q: Messthetics and Homework do indeed remind me a bit of the old PebblesMindrockersBack From the Grave etc compilations of Sixties garage punk that I used to buy circa 1983-84, at this point when nothing much was going on in contemporary music. But your CD-Rs are effectively bootlegs, right? Although you give the bands royalties if they contact you, right?

A: Hey, wait a minute. Those were ALL bootlegs. Nuggets was legit (and seriously limited by what Lenny Kaye could pry out of the major labels’ vaults). Pebbles was a pure bootleg series that Greg [Shaw] parlayed into the excellent, mostly-legit Highs in the Mid-60s series as bands started turning up. Mindrockers, if memory serves me, was an example of a quasi-legit thing a buncha people did in ’81-83 or so where they sent letters to the addresses on all the old records and parked royalties in escrow accounts. Tim [Warren] compiled the excellent Back from the Grave series from his legendary cross-country journeys: he’d talked to some of the bands (while he was buying the last of their 45s from them). While they were 10-15 years away from the records they were compiling (and Lenny Kaye was as little as 5), I’m putting the H2D CDs out 20-25 years after the fact. It’s a lot harder to track people down by word-of-mouth or by old addresses and phone-numbers.

So it was the combination of affordable CD-R gear and the Internet that gave me a better idea. Unlike vinyl or glass-mastered CDs, where you're limited to a minimum pressing of 500-1000 (you can get fewer, but the cost is no different), you can duplicate CD-Rs to order, so I didn't have to worry about how well power-pop or American or UK D.I.Y. would sell, at least in terms of carrying expensive inventory. And I could start off with a catalog of a dozen titles, instead of just one or two. More importantly, however, the CD-Rs meant I could be in a perpetual state of upgrading and rearranging. Like with the Messthetics series, where I’ve been very slow to get organized. There are half a dozen new tracks and-–at last—liner-notes just within the past six weeks.



The internet lets me maintain the newest versions of all the notes and links where fans and bands can easily get to them, and the Hyped to Death website gives them an easy way to reach me. And the H2D website gives the bands hype and appreciation, a way to turn up on search-engines, a chance to tell their story in the context of the styles and scenes of ’76-82, and plenty of links to anything they want advertised. I’ve talked to well over a hundred bands to date (and installed links to many more) and not one so far has asked to be taken off of the CDs. Although more and more bands are learning about H2D from folks who own the CDs, a majority of those who find us do so because they’ve typed their band-name into Google or Metacrawler or Dogpatch (or is it Dogpile?). There’s usually 3 or 4 a week that come in that way.

I send sample copies of the CD to any and all band-members, update the liner-notes with whatever dirt they’re willing to share with me, and add links to reissues, fan clubs, personal pages, new bands, etc. There’s no money involved, but I do tell them as soon as there’s any real money being made, we’ll figure out a way to share the wealth.



But the "bootleg" approach is important. (1) it’s a completely "above-ground" bootleg –like you say, anyone who wants money can find me and get it, but what’s more important is (2) I get to start off with absolutely the best collection I can put together. That’s what bands hear as their first impression: their song sounds great and everything else sounds great, too (especially if they remember how crummy the original vinyl pressings sounded: I frequently spend hours cleaning and restoring individual tracks with a couple of digital editing programs.

 Q: So is there a collector's market for original postpunk DIY singles? What kind of prices are being asked? And do you sense a resurgence of interest in that era? There seem to be a bunch of bands coming through, from Life Without Buildings to Erase Errata to Liars, who reference that period.

A: Over the years I was occasionally able to sell that stuff for $10 or so, but only rarely. 90% of the market and 99% of the upward pressure on prices these days seems to be spill-over from punk-collectors who’re buying stuff just because it’s rare and it’s been bootlegged on vinyl. I’ve always had a half-dozen collectors who’d dutifully pay $50 for the weirder stuff because I told them to, but I didn’t have the feeling there was a bigger market waiting to happen.

I’m thrilled that interest is building. And it’d be great if the enthusiasm was more musical than principally archival and/or mercenary, the way Killed By Death has been, or Pebbles, etc, at least until the garage-revival thing got rolling in the early 80s. As I’ve been deliberately ignoring my mail-order business since starting the Hyped2Death CD thing, however, I can’t say I’ve had an increase in collectors wanting to buy DIY.



Q: Messthetics is organized alphabetically, but starts more than half-way through the alphabet, and is quite micro-focused -- Messthetics #1 is R-to-Si, Messthetics #3 is Th-to-Va. Seems like you'll have around thirty or forty volumes of Messthetics if you see the project through to its end!

A: Twenty anyway. More if I can rehab some of the cassette-only material before it all self-destructs in people’s basements. (I’d love to hear from people who still own a DIY cassette-releases: NO ONE imported that stuff to the U.S. Better yet, I’d like to hear from the bands who still have the master-cassettes or tapes…)

Q: Although the series title references Scritti Politti--the name is taken from a track on their Peel Sessions EP--most of the stuff you've collated isn't really from that post-punk vanguard sound that one associates Green & Co with: i.e. the funk/disco/dub-influenced, self-deconstructing, anti-rockist, politicized/theorized strand (Gang of Four through This Heat to Lemon Kittens). You also shy away from the proto-Goth sub-Banshees/Killing Joke end of things. Mostly you've gathered up the sort of Swell Maps-y/Desperate Bicycles/TV Personalities scrappy-scratchy D.I.Y stuff and lotsa Buzzcocks/Undertones-wannabe pop-punk. It even gets a bit mod revival in flavour here and there.

A: I wasn’t a fan of the stuff with horns back then, and I’ve always loathed the lesser Goth/bat/death combos. That said, the Pop Group-wannabe subspecies of D.I.Y sounds better all the time: I’m mentally compiling and searching for a title even now. For the moment, though, I am indeed focusing on the punkier end while mixing in what I think of as the most coherent of the other/outer DIY stuff, like Nigel Simpkins or Take It, and my favorites of the honking and ranting variety, like Vital Disorders’ "Let’s Talk About Prams" or the Stolen Power track I just added to Messthetics #2.





I make a distinction between "post-punk" and "DIY" that’s more useful taxonomically than historically. Post-punk-–sorta by definition—looked at punk (and major-label punk, at that)…and decided to be something different. D.I.Y., on the other hand, just did what was easy and cheap: it was a reaction to the expense and corporate control, but it never set out to re-define or improve on what had come before. 90% of the time it was everyone’s first band, and 80% of the time it was their last, as well. Everybody did the best they could even though they knew other people could sing and play a whole lot better…

Q: What do you think are the defining differences between UK D.I.Y and US D.I.Y?

A: Sort of the same as with punk. The UK has the dole (and sometimes even things like the G.L.C): it seems like 70% of the guitars are owned by the unemployed. D.I.Y there (i.e. putting out a DIY record) was incredibly empowering and freeing-–a perfect and really satisfying piss-off to the world of commerce and pop charts. In the US, meanwhile, 90% of the guitars are in the suburbs, and the teenagers among their owners all either have after-school jobs or they don’t need them because mom and dad are generous with their allowance. The ’Stones’ "What can a poor boy do / ’cept for play in a rock’n’roll band?" was apt enough in the U.K., but it’s pure pose here in the states. (The better equivalent would be a poor black kid from Newark hoping to make it as a basketball star. It’s THE way out.)
All kinds of class boundaries DO exist here, but the American promise--and the American problem—is that we’re proudly ignorant of them. Most bands dream of being rich and famous, but it wouldn’t occur to any of them that it’s their only chance to be rich and famous. We vote for Republicans who promise obscene tax-breaks for the rich because we all expect to be rich ourselves, somehow, someday. So showing how cheaply you could put out a record is definitely not part of an American mindset: no matter how crummy certain stateside records sound, those bands spent every penny they could on making them sound that way…



So despite your kind comments below about superior drumming in these parts (suburban Yanks can afford proper drum-kits and nice dry basements to practice in?) I think the main hallmark of American D.I.Y is a realistic appraisal of one’s musical talent. (So it’s the same as the UK thing, just without any sociological import or awareness.) Somewhere around 1978 (it may have been all the howling about "punk is dead"), folks started thinking it could be fun to sing and play and maybe put a record out even though they KNEW they’d never get signed and be stars. The instruments are the same in Cleveland Ohio as in, well, Cleveland County: whatever’s lying around, anything that makes a cool wheezy noise, and-–if you’re feeling really brave—whatever you used to take lessons on when you were 12. It’s about unselfconsciousness. But I think, far fewer bands here put out records (at least in proportion to their overall numbers).




Q: Although New York was very much in line with the UK post-punk vanguard and there were other weirdo outposts like Cleveland/Akron with Pere Ubu and Devo, or the San Francisco scene with Ralph Records, Residents, Tuxedemoon, Chrome, etc., generally speaking the American stuff is a lot more convincingly rockin' and rollin': there's a bottom-line proficiency, especially in the rhythm section. Whereas the UK stuff can seem really amateurish and rhythmically shaky (that's part of its charm, I guess). Generally it seems like US post-punk wasn't so determined to destroy rock as the UK vanguardists were. "Anti-rockist" was a British coinage, after all.

A: The thing about all of the first-generation, pre-1978 US bands you mentioned except maybe for Chrome is that they were part of an ART scene. Whatever their failings as vocalists and musicians were, those failings (which they were, by-and-large, almost pathologically self-conscious about) became part of their artistic statement…. Pere Ubu used their vocals. Suicide used their limited musicianship. Later Homework bands--and the Messthetics crowd--were often arty but they’d gotten over worrying about their limited skill-sets. The breakthrough Ohio bands for "real" D.I.Y were the Mirrors and the Electric Eels (and later, down in Kent, the Human Switchboard).






la lotta continua...

Monday, April 16, 2018

24 Hour Party People

24 Hour Party People

(director’s cut [ho ho] of review in Film Comment, summer 2002)

by Simon Reynolds

No British city has a greater sense of self-mystique than Manchester. Populous enough to swagger convincingly as a counter-capital to London, yet still eclipsed by the latter’s concentration of political, financical, and media power, Manchester has developed a retaliatory superiority complex: Northern suss and spirit versus those smug, effete "Southern wankers." Near the close of 24 Hour Party People--Michael Winterbottom’s lightly fictionalized movie about Factory, the legendary Manchester post-punk record label---TV presenter and Factory CEO Tony Wilson explains his motivations in terms of "civic pride". This peculiar provincial patriotism is the heart of the film, but like so much in Party People, it’s so thinly fleshed out it’s hard to see how someone not familiar with A/ the Factory story and B/ Britain’s class-inflected regional antagonisms, would even notice it.

Along with its damp climate and post-industrial grey decay (much improved since the 1976-92 period covered in Party People, thanks to urban regeneration funding), Manchester is justly reknowned for music: a series of epoch-defining bands, from Factory’s own Joy Division (and its successor band New Order) through The Smiths to Stone Roses, Happy Mondays (the other legendary Factory group), and Oasis. 24 Hour Party People’s cardinal flaw is its failure to convey what made Joy Division and Happy Mondays special, why they transcended local cult status and captured the national imagination.

Music qua music has always been a challenge for the rock movie, which is why they tend to stick to the ‘Behind The Music’ dirt ‘n’ drama of interband conflicts, mismanagement, drug abuse; the dream of fame-and-fortune achieved only for it to turn nightmare. Neither music’s germinal mysteries (jam sessions, the intracranial moment of inspiration) nor its raptures (the solitary listener’s bliss, the crowd’s collective fervor) lend themselves to narrative.

Nonetheless, for a good thirty minutes, Party People seems to have pulled it off. The reconstructions of the Sex Pistols 1976 performance at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall (attended by a scant 42 people, who became the kernel of the local punk scene) and of an early Joy Division show transmit the real rush of rock’n’roll history in the making. And the film seems to have struck an inspired balance between docudrama realism and postmodern self-reflexive wit. Wilson, played by the brilliant British comedian Steve Coogan, addresses the camera Alfie-style, narrating his own story and helpfully pointing out when things have been distorted or made up for extra mythic impact.

Almost immediately after Joy Division enter the picture, though, Party People begins to unravel. The group’s vocalist Ian Curtis (Sean Harris) was worshipped at the time as a seer who tapped into the currents of dread and anomie pervading post-punk Britain. In Party People, you get no real sense of this complicated, troubled figure. Approaching Wilson for the first time at a punk gig, Curtis greets him with the words "you’re a cunt". For no explicable reason, the movie leaves out what he said next, "’cause you haven’t put us on television": a reference to Wilson’s So It Goes, at that time the only TV show featuring punk bands. So instead of demonstrating Curtis’s ambition and hunger for stardom, the movie creates the impression of aimless, loutish aggression. Similarly, Curtis’s epilepsy (a latent trait he seems to have somehow harnessed for the convulsive trance-dance of his stage performance, only for it to get out of control) is not set up at all, and his suicide is botched, appearing as a seemingly impulsive act. In a typically pointless gesture of historical fidelity, we see Curtis watching Herzog’s Stroszek’s on TV a few hours before hanging himself---just about the only hint of Curtis’s true artiness. As a result of all this, when Wilson gazes at Curtis in the chapel of rest and declares "that’s the Che Guavera of rock there," the eulogy seems comically overstated and utterly unsubstantiated by what we’ve seen so far. Still, Curtis fares better than Joy Division’s other members, who aren’t even formally introduced by name.

As for the label's other two geniuses, Martin Hannett (Andy Serkis), the maverick producer who had so much to do with the eerie spartan Factory sound, comes across as little more than a foul-tempered drunk, while not a single shred of evidence is mustered to sustain Wilson’s repeated claim that Happy Mondays’s singer Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham) is the greatest poet since Yeats. What is actually depicted--sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rave’n’roll--makes the Mondays look more like a Mancunian Motley Crue.

Wilson hogs the screen, with much time devoted to an initially hilarious but steadily diminishing running joke about the trivial stories he’s obliged to cover on his TV show (midget zoo keepers, a duck who can round up sheep). Yet Wilson’s own complexity is sold short. Cambridge-educated Wilson was steeped in the renegade canon of anarcho-surrealist literature and politics, peppering Factory output with allusions to Lautreamont and naming his nightclub The Hacienda after a Situationist slogan. The movie gestures at Wilson’s underlying seriousness, but only in a mocking, borderline anti-intellectual way. Mostly he comes over as an odd mix of buffoon and visionary, a naif-with-integrity whose contracts (signed using his own blood) declared only that the bands retained ownership of their music and were free to leave whenever they pleased.

Party People jumps swiftly from Curtis’s 1980 death to the reign of Happy Mondays as house band at The Hacienda, during the 1988-91 "Madchester" period when the club was an Ecstasy-soaked mecca for ravers across the land. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Factory is how it survived for so long given the sporadic nature of Wilson’s A&R skills (he passed on The Smiths, for instance, and between JD and Mondays signed an awful lot of undistinguished bands—Kalima anyone?) and his lack of business acumen. New Order’s 1983 hit "Blue Monday" was the biggest selling 12 inch single of all time, but lost Factory a fortune because its lavish Peter Saville cover cost more than the label’s profit margins. When it comes to Factory’s eventual collapse (partly caused by Happy Mondays’s profligacy), the movie glosses over the real pain and humiliation this must have involved. Instead, we see Wilson closing down the Hacienda with a massive shindig and inviting the revellers to ransack the offices for computers and other strippable assets.

Like so many post-Trainspotting Brit-films—think especially of the ill-starred rave flick Human Traffic—Party People is relentlessly lively, as if convinced that the youth market will not stand for stillness or sombreness (essential, surely, if you wish to convey a sense of Manchester’s Ballardian desolation in the 1970s, so crucial to Joy Division’s atmosphere). Characters are constantly shouting and swearing, and there’s barely a scene that doesn’t involve drink or drugs. On the plus side, the movie has plenty of gags, energetic hand-held camera work, and some striking set-pieces---like the scene where the teenage Shaun Ryder and brother poison three thousand pigeons on top of an apartment block. It’s quite possible, especially if you have absolutely nothing invested in the idea of Joy Division or the whole post-punk era, that you’ll find 24 Hour Party People highly entertaining---a feel-good movie about suicide, drug fuck-ups, and business failure, yay! Then again, to actually follow the film on even a basic narrative level, you’d need to know a lot about Factory already. Here is Party People’s paradox, its Achilles heel of "negative crossover": the movie is sure to irritate the only people truly equipped to watch it, while those with no real emotional connection to the subject will most likely be confused and leave the theater having gleaned little sense of what was at stake in Factory’s struggle.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Chuck Klosterman

dialogue with Chuck Klosterman about But What If We're Wrong: Thinking About The Present As If It Were The Past
The Guardian, 7th June 2016

by Simon Reynolds

 Simon Reynolds: Your new book But What If We’re Wrong? is a series of thought experiments that try to “think about the present as if it were the past”. The concept really speaks to me as a fan of science fiction, but also as someone fascinated by discredited knowledge: things like the late 18th-century belief that infantile masturbation was a terrible, health-damaging problem that required drastic preventive measures, or the 19th-century pseudoscience of phrenology, using skull measurements to assess the character of people, their criminal tendencies … What led you to this subject – the precariousness of human knowledge, the disquieting thought that most of what we feel certain about today will ultimately be disproved and that the future will scorn and deride all our ideas and beliefs?

Chuck Klosterman: It happened sort of gradually and yet suddenly. Over my last few books I’ve been thinking about the history of thought, but it really came from watching Fox TV’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series. I particularly enjoyed the animated clips about these hinge points in scientific history, when everybody thought a certain way but then one individual puts forward this new idea and everything shifted after that. Coincidentally I was reading about how Moby-Dick got mixed reviews at the time, Melville ended up leaving the writing profession, and it wasn’t until after world war one that the culture shifted, the book was rediscovered, and it became the Great American Novel. But What If We’re Wrong? really took off from those two things.

Reynolds: Those are two different kinds of “knowledge”, science and the arts. With science, there are new discoveries and theories emerging around them, but it’s a much harder kind of knowledge. With changing ideas about what is valuable in literature or music, about who belongs in the canon, that’s soft in the sense that it’s driven by taste, by fashion, by social shifts. It’s much more up for debate and revision. Given enough time, nearly everything that’s highly regarded will drop down in eminence, while once-minor things from the past may get elevated. In one chapter you discuss how it’s impossible to know who will come to be regarded as the defining writer of our time. And you speculate about who will be the future’s Kafka – a writer virtually unknown in his own epoch but who later becomes retrospectively epochal.


Klosterman: My thought process with that started with the idea that whatever seems like the most obvious answer will probably be wrong. I build that into my thinking. The obvious example that many people would give for a contemporary author that will be remembered as defining our era is a figure like Jonathan Franzen. So I remove that from the equation. So then it came down to one of two possibilities. Someone who is known and successful but not that respected – a writer who is considered a commercial hack. The other possibility is that it will be somebody who is completely unknown today – like Kafka. Someone who will be discovered later on and that discovery process itself will validate that writer. So the challenge I set myself in that chapter was trying to narrow down the possibilities of who that currently unknown writer might be – what aspects of their career, their identity, their writing. An impossible task. But I try, because that’s what I like to do!

Reynolds: There is an industry – in publishing, in music reissuing, in the arts generally – of rediscovery, repackaging, cultural archaeology and curation. There are so many examples of once hopelessly obscure figures who are now deemed far more central and essential than they once were. Other figures who were deemed central and essential, by critics and the intelligent reading (or listening) public drop away – George Bernard Shaw, Graham Parker. And then there are whole areas of the culture that were once considered beneath consideration, but now get taken seriously. Your example of that in the book is wrestling.

Klosterman: The pro-wrestling thing to me is a weird example of how culture works. All these wrestlers from the 80s are dying now, like Dusty Rhodes, and they are being lionized by people who have this memory from watching them when they were in high school or junior high. When they write about them now they tend to inject them with some kind of secondary meaning – almost a transgressive meaning – and they overlook the fact that at the time, nobody took wrestling seriously, including themselves. But somehow they create the feeling that there was always a sense of it being taken seriously. And more generally this seems to be the way that obscure art becomes venerated – by generating a political meaning for these long ago things that matches what is happening in the political present tense. So if you’re trying – like I am in this book – to find out what will matter in the future, you have to project a visualization of what the future will be like, what people will care about.

Reynolds: Although you’re hyper-conscious about the fragility of cultural convictions, you do still muster enough certainty to make a few predictions in the book. One is that television, as an entertainment format, will shortly not exist. Explain the thought process behind that prophecy.

Klosterman: I started with thinking about the relationship between radio and television. It feels like there should be a continuum there, that TV simply adds a visual component. But in fact TV was a huge break – which is why we don’t aesthetically connect what television drama does and what a radio play does. I think that’ll happen again – something will come along technologically that adds another component to the entertainment format that makes it something completely separate. It could be some kind of virtual immersion, where you’ll be inside whatever show you’re watching, or it’ll relate to the mobility of it, which is already happening to some extent with watching TV on your phone, but it might be even more completely fluid, such that you can slide in and out of the program you’re experiencing. I don’t know what it will be exactly but I think when it comes it will be a cut-off that freezes television as we currently understand it as a period that goes from its inception in the middle of the 20th century to whenever the new thing takes over.

Reynolds: So it’s not that television is going to go extinct exactly – more that it will evolve into something so drastically different it’ll effectively be something else?

Klosterman: Television is already the most dynamic technological experience when it comes to entertainment. The experience of watching television now is drastically different from what it was 20 years ago. Whereas with music or reading, certain elements and aspects change but the experience of hearing a song is – from a physiological standpoint – the same as it was 200 years ago. Reading is a static thing fundamentally. But TV is taken so seriously now, it has really changed the experience completely. Joyce Carol Oates wrote an essay for TV Guide about Hill Street Blues in about 1980 and it starts with her saying how embarrassed and ashamed she is to admit that she and her smart friends find themselves often talking about this TV show. But now it’s like, Emily Nussbaum just won a Pulitzer prize for her New Yorker TV criticism. When something becomes that meaningful, it changes the experience of watching it. TV used to be relaxing. Now you have to concentrate.

Reynolds: Yes, watching the box used to be almost like an opiate or a tranquilizer – idle skimming through the channels. You’d have the desire, or need, to watch television in the abstract, and then look for the least tedious specific thing that was on. Now you make appointments. You manage your viewing and stockpile it. You binge an entire series. And you have to pay close attention, for fear of missing a key bit of dialogue or a narrative twist.

Klosterman: With TV in the past, there was no expectation you were going to have to concentrate. And if you missed an episode of a TV show, you just missed it – no big deal. Nowadays just about the only thing people watch to unwind still is sports.

Reynolds: Another section of the book that struck a chord with me was when you write about dreams – the way they’ve been demoted in the culture. For most of human history, dreams were considered highly significant – they had oracular meaning, they warranted being interpreted. In the early 20th century you had Freud and Jung analyzing the symbolic language of dreams, and an artistic movement, surrealism, that drew inspiration from dreams. But even as recently as the 1970s, books about the meaning of dreams were popular. As a teenager, I kept a detailed dream diary. Maybe it’s just our family, but it doesn’t seem like my kids ever talk about their dreams. It’s just not something people pay much attention to anymore. Why is that?

Klosterman: Freud and Jung were the apex of looking at dreams seriously. But more recently you have scientists who map the brain, like these two guys at Harvard who came to the conclusion that dreams are just leftover thoughts from the day. There isn’t a narrative there, it’s an avalanche of emotions that we reconstruct as a story – because we can only understand things through storytelling. The conclusion of all this neurological research was that the content of dreams is worthless. It’s just an oddity of the mind and how it works when we are sleeping. Those ideas have filtered out to the secular, intelligent public and the general view now is that dreams are a waste of time to think about. The idea that they’re significant is a really fringe, borderline New Age thought at this point.

In the book, though, I wonder if this is something that we could be wrong about. It’s a third of our life almost where we’re having these metaphysical experiences. Sometimes they’re lucid and we know we’re in a false reality. Sometimes we can’t tell we’re in a different reality. Part of the problem is that we are so limited in how we can study them, there’s no way to see or hear or feel someone else’s dream. So maybe we are just going to keep on going down this path of thinking it’s just electrical impulses in the brain, just biomechanic. But I wonder if that’s a huge misstep. I understand the rational argument against dreams, but something feels important to me about them.

Reynolds: One thing I wondered was if the downgrading of dreams as a cultural interest had some relation to digital technology: video games, the internet, computers generally. Has the virtual displaced the oneiric? It’s hard to imagine an art movement like surrealism emerging that was invested in dreams and the unconscious as a source of inspiration. Contemporary artists are more stimulated by digital technology and internet culture. Do we no longer pay attention to dreams because we are so involved with digitally enabled zones of make-believe and magic? And does that also affect a different kind of dreaming that we do in our waking hours – daydreaming? Overall, it feels like these interior and reflective mental activities have declined in the scheme of things – and that this must have something to do with the rise of the internet and social media.

Klosterman: The amount of time we’re looking at an unreal image on electronic screens is so much greater now. Just waiting in line for the bank, nowadays I would always look at my phone. My mind is attached most of the time to something specific. But once, waiting in line, I would have daydreamed – my mind was elsewhere. Perhaps those five or 10 minutes of daydreaming had value.

Reynolds: One interesting thing about your writing style, which is unusual in arts and culture writing – perhaps more common in popular science writing – is the way you reason out an argument. You set out a proposition and then logically follow it through, methodically raising the counter-arguments, the evidence that contradicts it. Mostly in cultural criticism, the writer does that in private and then presents the results to the reader – often bombastically. But you lay out that process in real time, almost, and bring the reader along with you.

Klosterman: What I hope is that when someone reads what I’m writing, that they feel like they’re writing the piece with their own mind. The sequencing of the thoughts, the obstacles you encounter intellectually along the way – I want it to be like a real-time transfer of my mind. I want it to look like it’s easy, so that the person reading it almost feels like they could have written that. Which is kind of a trick, because that’s not what is going on! The hardest thing about doing this kind of writing is creating the illusion that anyone can do this.