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In Writing

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

... or exchange?

Derek Walmsley

I got a nostalgic rush when a promo CD of the new Streets album came into the office – not a reaction to the CD inside, but the slipcase, which is from (presumably purchased, but who knows?) Music And Video Exchange, the dusty and sprawling Notting Hill second hand record emporium where I used to work for quite a few years. The red sticker in the corner, where they reduce the prices month by month, is the giveaway. As it happens, I'm not the only Wire writer who has passed through its, er, hallowed doors.

I was in the the other day, selling old CDs into the shops to exchange for other stuff. My plan to invest in valuable classical vinyl, in the hope that it will hold its value when the economy goes into total meltdown, was thwarted, though. Their classical shop due is to close any day, and the racks were empty. I wonder, though, with an upcoming recession, if second hand emporiums will soon be booming again, packed with fresh stock from cash-strapped punters.

The beauty of MVE was that you came at music culture backwards. You're surrounded not by usual music that is pushed at you, but the stuff that gathers together at the margins. Outdated music was often more poignant than music which still held its popular currency. In most MVE shops, records never went below 50p – even at that price, the assumption was that someone would have a use for it, even if the root of that use was as kitsch, sample fodder or curiosity value. This was where you found new uses for music. The process is rather like musical compost, biodegrading in its own filth, but providing all sorts of vital micro nutrients to other growths. I used to greedily suck up cheap old jungle compilations, packed with fat hits but with zero cool quotient; hit-it-and-quit-it dancehall 7"s which had been cheapily pressed up in the thousands and were now sitting around gathering dust; random white labels, noone knowing what the hell they are except for a catalogue number; quasi bootleg jazz compilations which nonetheless provided strange trawls through the oeuvres of the likes of Billie Holliday and Charlie Parker.

Recycling all these vast swathes of music culture, you get that sense of the street finding its own use for things, as the saying goes; what The Streets has to do with it, I'm not so sure.


André Avelãs

Nathan Budzinski


Didn't manage to get this posted in time for anyone near London to be able to get to the show unfortunately (my apologies) but André Avelãs's exhibition in the IBID Projects space in East London was a good example of the sculpture as musical instrument approach to sound art.

The small gallery space was filled with a low level whine that sounded as if the air conditioning had gone dangerously awry, the atmosphere having something toxic about it, making the room foggy in the same way a fire alarm can cause a blinkered panic or loss of peripheral vision. The cause of the whine was a number of large balloons deflating slowly throughout the day, their leaking nozzles hooked up to small whistles and a Hohner Melodica. The result being a constant feeling of, well, anxious deflation - the composition a prolonged entropic sighing glissando, though the sight of the giant balloons with "HIGHLY FLAMMABLE" hand stencilled onto their surface offset the droning with a cartoon quality.

With work like this I always wish to see them in some form of a performance. Why create these interestingly odd sculpture/instrument hybrids, then let them idle away their time in the relatively sober environs of a contemporary art gallery? Though, a show he was in as part of last Summer's Tuned City festival in Berlin looked interesting, much more active and dirty.


Approximately Boundless

Derek Walmsley

You're seemingly more likely to encounter the Finnish underground in some dusty dive in East London than in Helsinki. Few artists on labels such as Fonal or Ektro seem to do many gigs in Finland, aside from a few sporadic appearances, and even people into folk/psychedelia in the country tend not to know much about them. Meanwhile, cheap air fares from Finland to the UK have ferried such acts to London on a regular basis. Musically it's a fantastic arrangement for us, although a paradoxical one.

On my last trip to Finland I finally found these artists' work on their home soil – in a museum. The Finnish Design Museum was running a New Nordic Design exhibition, a rather wide and woolly selection of works of which the Finnish underground stuff was certainly the most original. Paavoharju, the group who put the 'freak' into 'freakfolk', had built a strange DIY shelter filled with empty beer cans, magazines and homebrewed alcohol – like a makeshift den in the woods transposed into an pristine exhibition space. Islaja, meanwhile, had a Super-8 type film of darkened woods and the outdoors, her face flashing into frame in the torchlight – a highly evocative bit of work, somewhere between Margaret Tait and The Blair Witch Project.

It's a bit dispiriting that the 'wildness' of the Finnish underground has itself become a kind of commodity to the design world, and that it should be encountered in a museum, the precise antithesis of the kind of naturalness that's the inspiration for good Finnish DIY stuff. For me, the obvious platform for Finnish underground music would be outdoor gigs, something that's extremely popular over there. Considering how much blandly pseudo-academic outdoor sound art there seems to get art funding, surely there's space for Kemialliset Ystävät to play a gig on an island by a Finnish lake, or Lau Nau or Islaja to do their wood-folk thing actually in a wood? Maybe someday.

For now, events like the Approximately Infinite Universe tour, which has just completed a successful UK tour, selling out at the ICA, will have to do.


Cocaine rap blues

Derek Walmsley

A new album in the office from the Re-Up Gang, the Clipse affiliated hiphop project. Cocaine rap is the hole this stuff gets pigeoned into, and the sleeve is predictably dusted with white powder. Despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of supposedly serious content, the lyrical form is often that much more impressive – shorn of conventional narrative and characterisation, the syllables and rhymes become super tight (you don't get many couplets like "I still feel belittled sittin' here spittin' riddles/Amongst clown ass rappers who tend to give me the giggles" anymore)

Nonetheless, I was devastated this week when one Clipse rhyme turned out to be not half as imaginative as I'd built it up to be. One of their rhymes started off something like "just waking up in the mondrian". Amazing, I thought, this line which subtitutes the almost-soundalike "mondrian" for "morning", thus giving this vivid feel of the primary colouredness of a really bright, burningly intense morning sun.

Turns out The Mondrian is a hotel. Indeed, the late Pimp C of UKG was actually found dead there.


minimal markets

Derek Walmsley

Can't remember which album it was of the many that cross my desk, but it was weird to see a shout-out on a fairly mainstream dance release recently expressing solidarity with those who have been sticking with it through "tough times in the last year" – presumably a reference to the economic climate. It's a strange idea to me that the perceived success or otherwise of a music venture should be predicated on such a fickle factor as economic confidence. This may have been just an aside on an inside sleeve of an album, but it seems to acknowledge that this is first or foremost a business venture, that they are speculating to accumulate.

When I first used to glance at the credits, acknowledgments and copyright info on CD sleeves, I imagined more of a cottage industry model, where the names that were namechecked were simply those responsible for getting those notes in the air and sticking them on a 5" silvery plastic disc. There was no reference to the prevailing economic conditions, any more than a football team would talk about the international markets when buying a star striker. Obviously the economic outlook for a lot of labels is poor at the moment – and it's obviously the small labels we should worry about – but referencing the international electronica market in your album sleeve seems a bit like a great painter blaming poor weather for a rather dour set of canvases.


Silt Deposit

Derek Walmsley

The reactivation of the Siltbreeze label has brightened up the office this year. Tom Lax, the boss of the label, brought his evidently bottomless 7" record bag to the WFMU studios recently. The fluff build up on the needle reaches dangerously high levels at points, but it's essential listening if you want to reach the dark, fuzzy place they're coming from.


This Is The End

Derek Walmsley

I'm pretty melancholy to see The End nightclub is to close. Unusually for this kind of news, it's not a financially dictated decision – the management just feel that after 15 years they want to move on.

For those who don't know The End, it's down a dead end alley in central London. Once you're in and down the main staircase, there's a bar on one side and the main room on the other. But the main room isn't a large open space – it's divided by a central partition into two long tunnels, and with the lights from the DJ end rather dim at the far end of the room, you can feel completely lost in the gloom down there. You're never submerged into a large crowd because of the way the room is divided up, you just feel scattered amongst small groups of ravers. At the back of the room is a second set of speakers, so even if you can't see the DJ, you get a full, primal blast of whatever he's playing. So you're both physically disconnected and totally plugged into the music.

For me the effect of being in a rave has always had a kind of fight or flight psychology; you face the DJ, because you feel a bit exposed if you don't, and you feel totally switched on, attuned to the space. The End was great because the space felt so complex and fluid, it didn't feel like you were just in a crowd. Every space in the crowd felt particular. If there was a subtle sense of chaos there, but the music was always fiercely strong. I remember DJ Krust playing "Warhead" down there, and the bass felt like the roof was going to lift off. In later years, dubstep and Grime events have been pretty terrific, too.

It's strange to reminisce about The End and compare these thoughts to a recent Resident Advisor list of The Top 100 Clubs In The World. Although I appreciated the sentiment of the list, to have somewhere so impersonal and physically intimidating as Fabric at number two just seemed to miss what's special about the dance music experience, ie the subjective, personal space that can be created in a nightclub.


On The Wire

Lisa Blanning

So any regular readers of the magazine will know who Steve Barker is, but anyone who doesn't live in the UK may not be aware of the extent of his coolness. He recently turned 60 and is a grandfather (sorry, Steve, I've outed you!), but is still incredibly enthusiastic about music and wholly involved with it. He was at that infamous Bob Dylan concert (in Manchester's Albert Hall) in '66, he met pre-fame Bowie and he still manages to help get gigs in China for the likes of Kode9 and The Bug.

The reason I bring all this up is because he's been hosting a radio show for BBC Lancashire for nearly a quarter of a century. They regularly get guest mixes in and after Steve provided a brilliant mix of Chinese music for our own Resonance radio show (check it out here), he asked me to return the favour. It aired this past Saturday, but you can listen online here. Tracklisting of my mix (done in three 20 minute segments) as follows:
(segment 1)
Gal Costa - Barato Total - Cantar - Philips
Jay Tees - Buck Town Version - Studio 1 7"
Strategy - Future Rock - Future Rock - Kranky
Out Hud - Jgnxtc - Out Hud/!!! split remix 12" - Zum
Suicide - Che - Suicide - Blast First
(segment 2)
Zomby - Spliff Dub (Rustie remix) - Mu5h - Hyperdub 12"
Henry Flynt - Jumping Wired - Hillbilly Tape Music - Recorded
OCS - Oh No Bloody Nose - 3 (Songs About Death And Dying) - Narnack
MF Doom - Tick Tick (feat. MF Grimm) - Operation Doomsday - Fondle 'Em
Microstoria - Dokumint - Init Ding - Mille Plateaux
Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band - Sunshower - Kid Creole: Going Places, The August Darnell Years - Strut
(segment 3)
Little Howlin Wolf - Sunny Come Early - Stranger Mon' - Beacon 7"
Tsèhaytu Bèraki - Bezay - V/A - Ethiopiques Vol. 5 - Buda Musique
Wasteland - Emerge And See - October - Transparent
Appleblim & Peverelist - Circling - Soundboy's Ashes Get Hacked Up And Spat Out In Disgust EP- Skull Disco 12"
Mint - Phonogram - v/a - Kompakt 1 - Profan


12 hour party people

Mark Fisher

Uber Germanist Owen weighs into the debate on minimal:

It rather pains me to say this, as Berlin - with its healthy contempt for the work ethic, and its still extant left activism - is a far, far saner city than London, and by several leagues more pleasant, more rewarding a place to live. And yet, when - as seems largely to have happened in much of Mitte, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg - an entire chunk of a formerly working city becomes a playground for an international of 'creatives', something odd happens. One often got the sense in Berlin that whatever was happening, it didn't really matter, nothing was at stake: pure pleasure becomes boring after a while, as does the constant low-level tick-tock of a techno designed seemingly for little else than just rolling along. German techno seems fastidious, but not glamorous. An executive music for people who can make a living off DJing or curating here and there is a bizarre phenomenon, as is a futurist cottage industry. The restraint of the music is the effect of a culture with no restraints.

This perhaps makes sense of the link between minimal and hedonism that Philip Sherburne often insists upon. On the face of it, minimal is an extremely unlikely candidate to be considered a pleasure seekers' music. It's worth noting at this juncture, that, as Derek pointed out after my last post, there is very little 'tasteful' about a Villalobos, Luciano or Hawtin set – what appears tasteful at normal volume becomes something different when put through a club PA. Nevertheless, even at high volume, there is a certain restraint at work here – or perhaps it is better construed as an avoidance (of hooks, big riffs etc.) It could be that this avoidance of the hedonic spikes, the pleasure peaks, of music is the libidinal cost of distending pleasure over the course of a twelve hour party.

Berlin has in many ways become a capital of deterritorialized culture, a base for DJs and curators whose jetsetting lifestyle is indeed a "bizarre phenomenon". If hauntology depends upon the way that very specific places – Burial's South London Boroughs, for instance – are stained with particular times, then the affect that underlies minimal might be characterised as nomadalgia: a lack of sense of place, a drift through club or salon spaces that, like franchise coffee bars, could be anywhere.