The Wire

In Writing

The Mire: Tangents, threads and opinions from The Wire HQ

The Return of Johnny Yesno

Tony Herrington

As a short British post-punk film noir, Johnny Yesno is in a category all on its own.

Filmed in and around Manchester and Sheffield, and released in 1983, the film disappeared almost immediately and has remained off the radar ever since, the only evidence of its actual existence being Cabaret Voltaire's original soundtrack album.

CV were also responsible for issuing the now ultra-rare VHS of the film, back in 83, on their short lived video label, Doublevision.

But now news breaks that Mute Films are finally due to issue Johnny Yesno on DVD this summer, as part of a box set that will also include additional footage, a new edition of that original soundtrack album, plus notes by author and Wire contributor Ken Hollings (who introduced a rare screening of the film in April 2010 at the Sensoria festival in Sheffield).

The film was directed by Peter Care, who would go on to make videos for Depeche Mode, REM and Bruce Springsteen, as well as oversee a pair of workout tapes fronted by Cindy Crawford (huh?) and film an episode of the Gothic-lite US TV series Six Feet Under. In 2002 Care broke into the Hollywood big time by directing Jodie Foster in the innocuous 'black comedy' The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys.

But Johnny Yesno is something else again, a post-punk morality tale, equal parts Ballard and Burroughs (with trace elements of the Northern post-Industrial kitchen sink realism of Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz), that spirals cryptically through some s(l)ick set pieces full of deviant sex routines and much junkie business. The titles of the cues on the soundtrack album give an idea of the mood of dread paranoia: “Hallucination Sequence”, “DTs", "Cold Turkey”. And sure enough, all the classic noir tropes are present and correct: the psychotically conflicted male protagonist; the catalytic femme fatale; an urban mise en scène of rain-soaked, neon-lit nightscapes (actually, Manchester city centre) and blank interiors (hotel rooms, bars, nightclubs).

Some of this can be glimpsed in a four minute redux mix of the film that was posted on YouTube last October but which to date has racked up less than 300 views.

The redux features a new mix by CV's Richard H Kirk and is a reminder that, in “Taxi Music” and its dub, the original soundtrack contained two of CV’s best moments, a brace of tense urban electro-mantras that are the real night-drive-thru-Babylon deal.

The Wire sez: check it out.

Tags: | | | | | |

Korean internet broadcasts: Where silky pop ballads still roam

Jennifer Lucy Allan

Internet radios spider the internet for stations: algorithms track down broadcasts. Spinning a dial means I don't head for a particular target, I browse. Channel surfing by location, I stumbled (and stuck) to South Korea. Not regional or national stations, but ones that seem to be broadcast from a user generated platform a little like Fnoob, and are called things like Coffee, Music, And Emotion, Little House Under The Stars, and Lamp Of Love. I say seem, because I don't really know much about these stations.

What I do know is that these stations are solely interested in a type of seriously emotional manufactured pop: tales of teenage heartbreak, epic adolescent sagas, and intense melancholic ballads. At least, that's what it sounds like. My radio only goes so far in translating the Korean text (and Google hasn't proved much more useful), so ticker lines and track names get scrambled from Korean into Wingdings-like lines of symbols and letters, with only the station name staying intact.

Sung in my mother tongue I'd be far less interested in these cheesy ballads. Obscured by a language barrier the vocals are removed of the lazy romantic cliches I'm presuming make up the lyrics. Predictable, reliable, and stripped of potentially alienatingly bad lyrics, I really enjoy these stations - the warm intensity of the I-Really-Mean-It key change that suggests a statement of everlasting love; the same chord changes in every track, and a vocalist that always fits the same sonic box.

The tracks all sound the same, and in part it's this consistency that appeals. They wouldn't stand up to close listening, and further investigation might reveal an unsavoury production line of pop artists, or just a lot of terrible albums. I listen to this only in the context of my radio, because it's a mood I tune in to, not a collection of artists whose back catalogues I'm interested in. Even so, I don't seem to have a choice: Coffee, Music And Emotion is as impenetrable online as it is on my internet radio (unless of course, you speak Korean).

A little like Rollo Jackson in Tape Crackers (if you swap out the Jungle and inner city tower blocks for South Korea's bedroom broadcasters) I don't know the artists being played, and I don't know who's playing them, just the station name and when to prick up my ears for the key change, and that's the way I like it.

Tags: | | | |

Paradise Lost And Found

Derek Walmsley

[caption id="attachment_1316" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Larry Levan working the deck at the Paradise Garage"][/caption]

Not many mixes demand to be prefaced by an hour long documentary, but this is an exception. The BBC radio series Legends Of The Dancefloor: A Piece Of Paradise featured a four hour radio broadcast from the Paradise Garage's second birthday, recorded by the young Lenny Fontana and on his dad's reel to reel tape deck back in 1979. Tucked away on the BBC radio schedules in July to run through the night, it almost passed me by, although perhaps I thought that a four hour recording from the Paradise Garage was just too good to be true.

Amazingly, the set is just as good as you might hope, so much so that it begs the question of how the hell it came to light in the first place, and how it remained hidden for so long. The broadcast was accompanied by an hour long chat between Mike Morin and Lenny Fontana, the latter of whom recorded it from local radio as a teenage disco freak before he was even frequenting the club.

The set and the documentary has now been unofficially archived on the web by Belfast disco freaks Iso Disco and also on Soundcloud by DJ Mixes – now the recording is out of the bag it would be a shame if it were to disappear into the mists of time once again.

What's the set like? Well, the sound quality is fairly good, but more importantly it’s the early years of the Paradise Garage, so the relationship between the DJ and the audience was still in the honeymoon stage, and you can hear the crowd responding to the music and the sense of community. Live PAs come from Sylvester and Loletta Holloway, voices that are so familiar frozen on their landmark records that it's genuinely startling to hear them singing in the moment. You can also hear better than ever Levan's style on the decks. He was not a technically dazzling DJ, but he knew his records so well that the verse of one could segue into the chorus of another. The sensitivity to mood and theme makes the experience something like film or theatre.

Perhaps in a way this mix is too good to be true, because when you're at a club you don't tend to listen forensically for four hours non stop – you tune in and out, you socialise and experience the space. But listening to it now, 30 years later in the comfort of your own home, it's like discovering a lost brotherhood, a better, fairer society from times past.

Tags: | | | | |

110% Dynamite

Derek Walmsley

Spin the dial across the AM airwaves in the UK and you could be forgiven for hearing some oddly familiar sounds, at least for readers of The Wire. Work your way past the 1970s golden oldies stations, past BBC Radio 5 Live's incessant burble of "we want your views", and past the hospital radio broadcasters, and in the unlikeliest corner of the AM band you can hear ice-cold electronics, dystopian hiphop, hauntological echoes, and oddball lo-fi rock. They are all cut-up, layered, and moving gently and untroubled through the ether, behind the vein-bulging voices that boom out on meat 'n' potatoes sports/chat station talkSPORT ("for men who like to talk sport", on 1089 and 1053 AM).

Is this perhaps evidence of a radical change of direction at talkSPORT? A station which has, in the past, stirred controversy when shock-jock James Whale told listeners which way they should vote in the London Mayoral elections, or when presenter Adrian Durham hinted Russian football player Andrey Arshavin shouldn't be allowed be allowed back in the country after helping secure Russia the Fifa World Cup for 2018? The station does seem to have been going through something of a renaissance, perhaps an age of enlightenment recently, scooping Station of the Year and Programmer of the Year titles at the annual radio awards. But the chat on talkSPORT is more or less the same as ever: why the English Premier League is the greatest in the world, is Wayne Rooney a good role model for kids, and should a foreign manager be in charge of the England football team. It's the background sounds that has changed.

So, if you'd have tuned into the [Mark] Saggers And [Mickey Quin] Quinny show before the UK/Ukraine Haye versus Klitschko fight last week, behind their competition to win a signed pair of The Hayemaker's gloves was "Nite Flights" by The Walker Brothers (Scott Walker's whose own hopes for the big fight, as an American living in London, were hard to gauge). Listening to George Galloway talking about a possible amnesty for asylum seekers you might have heard the analogue nostalgia of Ghost Box's Advisory Circle between the callers. There's more: a sick El-P beat last heard on Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein behind Hawksbee and Jacobs, Not Not Fun Italo revivalists Umberto, Demdike Stare. Most remarkably, a summer giveaway to win 250 quids' worth of vouchers for UK DIY chain Wickes was soundtracked by Germanic-Detroit Techno fetishists Dopplereffekt. Somehow I'm finding it hard to imagine Gerald Donald of Dopplereffekt, be-sandeled on his brand new decking, flipping the sausages on a gas-powered grill.

It's an odd meeting of worlds – esoteric strains of underground sound culture filling in the gaps between soundbites of "GAME ON! and "The lads are focused and giving 110%". In truth, it's all sewn together so skilfully that you can hardly notice the joins, and the energy of these pieces of music is pretty much dissipated by the reassuring pitter-patter of seasoned sportscasters. The music perhaps just becomes a kind of pacifier – after all, the one thing you should avoid on radio is dead air, and these pieces of music are the padding that keeps things comfortable. But 4/4 techno beats, 70s Italian soundtrack fare and fourth world sampling have more juice and punch to them than drab muzak, even if it's put in the service of pumping you up for the Merseyside derby or backing advertorials for Sky. talkSPORT is a no-nonsense commercial operation, squarely the business of selling sport as pure entertainment. Yet it's also a comparative minnow struggling to defend it's patch on the radio dial, and if this means its producers and backroom staff find ad hoc ways to spice up their broadcasts, then that might be something fresh on the dial after all.

The Walker Brothers on Saggers And Quinny
Cannibal Ox on Hawksbee And Jacobs
Umberto with George Galloway
The Advisory Circle on George Galloway
Dopplereffekt on Saggers And Quinny
Demdike Stare behind George Galloway

Tags: | |

Synthesthetic Illusions

Jennifer Lucy Allan

At this year’s Mutek, the series of A/V performances (as well as Amon Tobin’s bombastic stage spectacle) were notable for treating visuals with an extra gravity that isn’t often extended to VJs and A/V artists. Across the festival schedule, visuals were brought to the fore and rendered in pin sharp graphics.

Here's a clip of Purform, whose set was most collaborative, with the audio visual elements merged into a coherent package, where neither medium is the prime mover. It's this duo that got me to thinking about the effect of hi res visuals on the audio in an A/V show. Here, the monochromatic visuals were rendered across a three screen array.

The effect of these super hi-res visuals is a sort of synthesthetic illusion, whereby the audio is exaggerated because of the visuals. There's a phenomenon like this in consumer technology: people watching a higher resolution screen think that they are hearing better quality audio than those watching a lower resolution screen, even when the audio is identical. The same phenomena seemed to be happening in the context of the A/V shows too, particularly at Amon Tobin.

Tobin's stage set up was one of the centre pieces of the festival: 3D projection mapping onto a stage set constructed from giant white stacked cubes. The visuals run the gamut from abstract lights and animated graphics to Transformer-like robots and enormous spaceships in starry skies. The extravagance of this spectacle appeared to give the booming of the bass an extra dimension, and at the very least the sound for Tobin was noticeably better than for other artists in the same venue.

The AntiVJ/Murcof collaboration benefited from a similar synesthetic illusion: flexing, angular, monochrome noodles, designed to react according to the frequencies Murcof was pushing, stretched their vibrating coils into the foreground of the broad screen, gave the bass an extra dimension, feeling like it got deeper into my head. It reminded me of the the Lustmord show at Unsound Festival in Krakow last year (also performed at Unsound New York), where curling smoke trails spiralled into blackness.

Whether the brain's mixing up of good sound and good visuals is a real effect in A/V performances or not, generally speaking visual artists at Mutek were treated as legitimate acts alongside their musical collaborators. This doesn't happen often - one reason suggested to me has been that great audio visual shows are suspicious: the more paranoid among us immediately ask what the visuals are distracting us from in the music, like the card trick that distracts you from the fact you've had your wallet nicked. Are the bright lights just a diversion from what's going on somewhere else in our senses, or are we just too used to music being performed with little or nothing in the way of visuals to be comfortable with it being done really well?

Tags: | | | | | | | | | | |

Drowned City

Derek Walmsley

It's not surprising that there's relatively few films made about pirate radio, when being collared with illegal broadcasting equipment or running a station can land you in jail, with an unlimited fine, or, in the infamous case of DJ Slimzee, receiving an ASBO banning you from the upper floors of buildings in London. Drowned City, a documentary by UK filmmaker Faith Millin that's been gestating over the past year or so, is an attempt to rectify that situation. From the title I was expecting some apocalyptic, Ballardian essay film – the name, it turns out, comes from a track by Dark Sky – but viewing a selection of rough cuts suggests the opposite. It's a personal, intimate film dealing with those who risk their livelihoods (and lives) keeping the pirates on air. Some of the stories are familiar from urban myth or recycled anecdotes – driving around for places to put aerials, shinning up pylons – but this is one of the first times the pirates speak for themselves, albeit often with hooded faces and under the cover of darkness.

The narrative of Drowned City is the familiar one of people doing it for the love of the music, but it's no less emotionally engaging for that. One pirate recalls picking up secondhand broadcast equipment and messing around with it with mates in the back garden, culling what he needed to know from YouTube and the net. There's footage of pirates shinning up electricity pylons overlooking London and the surrounding counties and accessing power for transmitters by breaking into electricity substations (surely cast iron proof that they're not doing it for self-interest).

Of more direct political import are accounts of pirates getting placed on lengthy periods of bail after arrest, and having their partners questioned for supposedly supporting their activities. From these anecdotes, the behaviour of Ofcom, the quango that regulates radio and telecommunications in the UK, seems odd – they expend serious money and police resources to keep small pirates off the air, with relatively little in the way of explanation. "They disrupt the vital communications of the safety of life services, particularly air traffic control," runs one rather shaky-sounding argument on the Ofcom website – surely air traffic control doesn't rely on the FM band?

The film is apparently still evolving as more figures from the pirate underworld are drawn into the film; as yet all that exists in the public domain are some relatively brief teasers, essentially just standard trailers for the forthcoming film. But judging by the work in progress, Drowned City could turn out to be an important document. The intimate conversations with the pirates show you some of the toil, the dirt under the fingernails, and the scars of those who struggle to keep pirates on the air. "They take from, rather than contribute to, the communities they claim to serve," states the Ofcom website. Drowned City looks like it could offer a positive counter to that argument.

Drowned City teasers:

Tags: | | | | |

Collateral damage

Jennifer Lucy Allan

Kenneth Goldsmith's Epiphany in the May issue of the print zine is the first in a series of essays about digital cultures and their effect on the music industry: what they mean for listeners and creators, the change they bring about in cultural currencies and obsessions, and the moral and monetary issues surrounding freebies and filesharing.

The discussion continues in the current June issue with a response to Goldsmith's piece from ReR label head Chris Cutler. Both essays, and all forthcoming essays, will be published online. Traditionally, this goes against the rules of digital publishing: replicating content online for free devalues the print zine, meaning readers are less likely to shell out for the hard copy. In effect, we're filesharing our own content. So why are we doing it?

No other content from The Wire's printed page – bar our monthly listings – gets uploaded to the site (archive editorial content is drawn from back issues that are sold out). However, the subject matter of the essays by Goldsmith and Cutler demand that we make an exception. What's the point of an essay about the effect of the internet if we hold it back from the online communities that are part of the digital paradigm shift we're discussing?

Writing about the impact of new technologies on the economy of music too often boils down to one of two things: a new tech or digital sales pitch heralded as the saviour of the industry or (as is more often the case) its imminent demise. The reality is not so simple. The digital landscape is inherently fragmentary, meaning we're all looking on this scene from a different angle: what's destroyed one has often brought another success, and so keeping these essays within the confines of the magazine limits any hope of turning snapshots into a coherent picture.

In short, this is not a discussion that belongs on the printed page, but one that should be a part of the digital cultures it examines.

Tags: | | | | |

Funky Accordions

Derek Walmsley

"Accordions are banned from the office," comes the judgement as yet another lame East/West dance fusion disc gets abruptly slung out of the CD player. Like any rules, there's exceptions of course, and I'm sure we'll be giving this new Pauline Oliveros album a spin at some point. But It did get me thinking about funky accordions, and in the mid-2000s it seemed you could hardly move for sick beats busting a squeeze box.

Roll Deep "When I'm 'Ere", produced by Danny Weed. This sent the Roll Deep producer spinning like a dervish through a million takes on this style.

Cut-up accordion action!

But not as amazing as this remix, beatless in parts, that surfaced around the same time, just an accordion riff ran backwards and forwards (Eliane Radigue eat your heart out) over a minimal beat. On pirates around this time they would mix two copies of the records so they could just stretch out the beatless intro for minutes at a time (and the MCs could take a breather after a heavy set of bars).

A couple of years after "When I'm 'Ere" first appeared Danny Weed returned to the theme with the amazing "Heat Up". What struck me about these accordion tracks was that a couple of years earlier violins had been all the rage. Somehow the more incongruous the instrument on a grime track the better - synthetic string quartets, fake hoe-downs. Like the use of Eastern melodies on Grime tracks, producers were teleporting themselves out of the ghetto with sampled exotica. A year or two later Wiley was sticking bluegrass fiddle on his tracks.

Of course, around this time, Madlib was rocking an accordion too, and Doom even manages to make a rhyming couplet out of it.

The push-pull nature of the accordion makes it a clumsy beast to play or to sample, and it's hard to make it sing. But like a jazz violinist, when you find player or producers who have the knack, they're rare gems indeed.

Tags: | | | | | |

Feeling Listless

Derek Walmsley

The last thing we need is more record lists, right? Well, maybe. No doubt we suffer from a glut of rock-lists. Glossy consumer mags use lists of all types as selling points ("you need these in your life"). When it comes to UK music monthlies, it usually means the same old rock albums, reinforcing the canon with each iteration. Books and websites are now adding to list-fatigue: sites divide lengthy lists-of-the-best-ever into several pages, thus increasing their click thrus but making for fractured reading (the very opposite of what a list should do); meanwhile, those godawful 1010 Records To Hear Before You Expire books conflate musical experience with the dying of the light.

Of course, the idea of a record list is inherently problematic. It immediately raises questions: records of what type, and limited in what way? What and whose criteria are we judging by? The very existence of a historic list presupposes a musical 'record' of some kind, which rules out the vast majority of music experienced by homo sapiens since time began.

Yet lists are worth celebrating, especially now. Lists are rarely about completism. Only a tiny minority of those who read a record list attempt to collect ’em all. Instead, a list provides a rough-and-ready survey of how the land might lay, and what waypoints on the map might be significant at the present time. Like an old style maps with sketchy outlines of countries and continents and uncharted waters beyond, they are open to correction by the user. And like the notion of music genre, the flaws and exceptions of a list are as important, notable and (crucially) useful as the inclusions. The very idea of a list of records is an acknowledgment that we're in a state of constant change.

A select few lists have been crucial in The Wire's world, and several others have been crucial in setting the agenda since the internet expanded the music world. The Nurse With Wound list is still a thing of wonder with over 200 way-out records (Airway, Brainstorm, Come…) that, contrary to rumour, do all genuinely exist. Thurston Moore's Free Jazz list for Grand Royale magazine contained such obscurities – private press releases, European releases by US exiles, loft sessions – that at the time I thought it could be some kind of jazz head’s wet daydream. "Seeing as there’s no “beginning” or “end” to this shit I have to list as many items as possible," Moore wrote, suggesting that free jazz, far from dead, was still resonating in global after shocks. Alan Licht's minimalist top 10 ("I like minimalism because it ROCKS.") was crucial because it posited minimalism as the hidden wiring of whole swathes of underground music. His original list mentions Niblock and Palestine, but in a third instalment for Volcanic Tongue (which goes all the way up to eleven) he knitted in Harry Pussy and Earth to the minimalist pantheon.

Two record lists stood out in the early internet era, and became, if not bibles, then certainly user's guide to the hidden depths of record collecting. Kirk DeGiorgio's Hall Of Fame (which has more or less disappeared from the internet, but can still be just about browsed here) was a list of primarily soul, funk, jazz and disco, but its forensic ear for producers, engineers, session men, arrangers, songwriters and other unsung heroes meant it elevated David Axelrod, Arthur Russell and George Duke to visionary status in their knitting together of black music, white music and everything in between in the 1970s.

Woebot's 100 Greatest Records Ever, is wonderfully playful despite (or because of?) its pompous title. His list makes a mockery of the idea that the album is king, with white label 12"s from Ruff Sqwad, and places Joni Mitchell and Pere Ubu next to Acen and David Lewiston as the true geniuses of modern music. Woebot's list is rough and opinionated, making you alternately snort with derision and wonder where the hell he found such riches.

Consumer guide record lists can weigh you down, but a good list should open things up. The lists above are about sharing the riches. One of my best musical experiences ever was a week-by-week record swapping session with a close friend, working the way through our respective top 50 albums. This is what the best lists do – facilitate an intimate engagement with someone's world. Despite the proliferation of lists, we need good ones more than ever.

Tags: | | | | | |

Erotic Neurotic: (not so) slight return

Tony Herrington

After that last post I got into an extensive email correspondence with Amanda Brown during which she made some clarifications regarding her 'sex and sexiness' comment and which it seems to me are worth noting here, if only to fill in the picture a little more.

In one mail Amanda states: "I guess when I told Simon I wanted to be sexy and invest in sexiness, I said it because I feel like women are so afraid of that now in the underground. It's like, don't look at me like I'm sexy, look at me like I'm a man. Which we aren't, obviously..." In another mail she writes: "I think it is time for women who don't dress sexy or don't sing about sex or project themselves as sexy to reclaim sexiness, as soulfulness and sensualness."

The message here seems pretty clear: attitudes towards female sexuality that prevail in the underground are as oppressive and distorted (which is a point I made in my previous post) as those that dominate in corporate pop (which I didn't mention at all, as the fact of its industrialised and fascistic porno-projections of what constitutes a desirable female sexual identity should be obvious to anyone who has ever seen a Pussycat Dolls vid), and both need replacing by less uptight, more inclusive attitudes and representations, and that this is the real nature of Amanda's 'investment'. So for her it is political, a consistent polemic that runs underneath all the donning and discarding of stylistic masks and poses that define the shifts in the NNF/100% Silk aesthetic, and I'm talking visually here as much as sonically, from Noise to drones to psych to dub to synth pop to disco to House and so on.

Maybe confusion, or ambiguity, regarding the political dimension of Amanda's artistic project stems partly from the fact she is also heavily invested in this type of conceptual or stylistic mutability, that has fast become the norm in the lo-fi underground of course, and which makes all these musical forms equivalent, invests them all with the same weight, so effectively reducing them to the level of camp or kitsch, ironicizing the fact that once they were not only mutually exclusive but mutually antagonistic, freighted with opposing political, social and cultural meanings and associations (that have now all been screened out). Perhaps it is hard to reconcile a consistent political agenda with an aesthetic that seems so relativistic and post-historical. Or perhaps both myself and Simon (who raises similar caveats in his article) are suffering from a form of generational myopia, two fortysomething critics applying the values of earlier, more ideologically-determined pop epochs, yearning for the old boundaries and binaries around which we used to rally, and which appear to have been so thoroughly dismantled, collapsed by pop culture's own acquiescence to the illusion of neo-liberal 'end of history' propaganda.

In his article Simon invokes the tense conditions that prevailed in American pop culture in the mid-80s, when the Hardcore underground existed in direct and violent opposition to corporate pop, and compares them to the laissez-faire attitudes in effect today, typified by Amanda's comment that she has no issue with the existence of Justin Bieber. (In their interview, and to her great credit, Amanda meets all of Simon's caveats head on, responds to them with extreme good grace, but this comment still feels a bit like Siouxsie Sioux saying she has nothing against Rick Astley. Or Lydia Lunch announcing she is very relaxed about Luke Goss! There's an irony in invoking Lydia here, as she had links to the art world project, and that is definitely the right way to describe it, that I would argue was the moment that US Hardcore went from being a form of active and antagonistic combat rock to being a branch of inert and laissez faire conceptual pop art, ie the release of Ciccone/Sonic Youth's The White(y) Album. It is no coincidence that in Kim Gordon SY included at least one member who had previously worked as both an art world critic and conceptual artist. And as Simon points out, Amanda is typical of the post-SY generation of underground musicians in that she seems to think and act like an ultra-smart but hyper-detached theorist-cum-'audio artist'.)

Here's another, even earlier historical parallel. When the UK's post-punk agitators made the move from DIY messthetix to chart pop aesthetics (a trajectory traced in outline by NNF/100% Silk's recent releases), it was proposed and discussed as a political as much as a stylistic shift, and depending on which side of the divide you were on, was seen as either a retreat from the frontline of the culture wars, or a subversive attempt to plant an entryist cell behind enemy lines. Either way, the argument goes, it had implications beyond the simple question of making aesthetic choices. Now, when a musician like Amanda makes the shift from Noise to dub to disco it feels, as she admits, more like a random stylistic shuffle, a conceptual flick of the wrist, more a consequence of waking up in the morning and thinking, who do l feel like today, Ari Up or Sade? Do I feel like making some animal Noise, or do I want to make some slinky grooves? On one level you could say this is a more liberated, less dogmatic process, a more 'natural' and instinctive way for an artist to go about things. But at the same time you could argue, as Simon does, that it is one that is devoid of any real or wider consequence because it strips music of any meaning or context beyond itself, as it no longer involves the negotiation of any underlying social or cultural tensions, no longer requires any political alignment or engagement, which is maybe why it is easy to miss the political dimension Amanda claims for her project, why that "How Would U Know" vid still feels more like a carelessly provocative 'whatever' moment than a subversive feminist statement.

In another email Amanda refers to the response (or lack of it) to the image of her on the cover of the Psychic Reality/LA Vampires split LP: "When I was topless on the record with Psychic Reality no one said a word - it was the most silence I've experienced - but that shower scene in the video (in which I'm OBVIOUSLY not topless or naked at all) has got a lot of comments, mainly because I'm joking or mocking. On the record cover I'm serious and I think people hate that, or at least don't want to talk about it because it's odd or frightening."

But unlike the shower scene in the "How Would U Know" vid, which flirts, in a very conceptual pop art kind of a way, with a typical and titillating contemporary soft porn scenario, that cover feels more like an atavistic throwback, an anthropological relic, that is undoubtedly powerful and self-determining (rather than odd or frightening - unless those qualities amount to the same thing when it comes to women taking ownership of their own images) but only limns female sexuality on its way to implying another kind of archaic experience (which is something it shares in common with the cover of The Slits' Cut, which is one obvious precedent). As Iggy Pop put it in The Wire 189, talking about what he learned from studying anthropology at the University of Michigan in the 1960s: "In Stone Age or primitive societies when people get out there or get musical they also get naked." Which is the other reason I didn't mention it, because it already feels more like an archived historical artefact than a part of Amanda's present reality, ie a visualisation of the raw, primal, red in tooth and claw vibe of Pocahaunted and the early LA Vampires sides, and so not an image that would sit too well with the music on a record like So Unreal, which as Simon suggests feels lush and groovy, more mid-80s Compass Point than late 70s Cold Storage, and whose cover, appropriately enough, features Amanda dressed up like Madonna circa Desperately Seeking Susan.

Maybe if she had switched those two covers, so Amanda-as-Madonna was wrapping the feral distorto Goth-dub of her side of that split LP, and Amanda-as-Ari Up was wrapping the seductive 'n' sensual metropolitan synth pop of So Unreal, then that would have set up more of a dialectical dynamic, ruptured the conceptual consistency to allow us old timers to glimpse, if only for a moment, the political agenda beneath the vertigo-inducing aesthetic shifts.

Tags: | | | | |