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Without you my live would be boring – The Knife, Pan’s People and pushing buttons

Image

I wonder if the Knife aren’t happy with being famous any more. Heartbeats and Silent Shout burst onto a wider scene than they felt they were right for, and now they’re trying to turn off as much of their mainstream appeal as possible. People are calling the record pretentious nonsense, and they’re putting on live shows that people are walking out of. Something tells me they don’t mind.

I went to see them at the Roundhouse last week, and behind me there was a man who spent a good chunk of the show shouting at Karin Dreijer Andersson to ‘do some singing’. After about ten minutes of pretending to play imaginary instruments made out of papier mache and tinfoil, the ten piece ‘band’ crossed their hands (and drumsticks, and glowstick bows) above their heads, as the music burst on without them.

In case it wasn’t clear, the music was not being generated on stage.

They proceeded to prance about for the next hour and twenty. I’d been forewarned that the show was like a cross between Pan’s People, a cheap theatre school production and “Riverdance for cunts”. All these elements were present. The whole thing smelt of 70s Doctor Who, 80s aerobics, 90s acid and titting about on youtube. The vocal line would be mimed intermittently by different people, to the point where I had no idea if Karin Dreijer Andersson was even on stage, let alone emitting noises from her vocal chords. I have no idea what Olof Dreijer, Karin’s brother and the other half of the actual band, was even in the country.

It was well lit, and it looked like fun. Despite being cheap and amateurish, it was constantly shifting, often disconcerting, and genuinely funny. More than anything though, it was thought provoking. From where I was standing, the man behind me getting increasingly irate at his wasted thirty quid, started to seem like the absurd one.

What exactly are you paying for, when you buy a gig ticket? Where exactly does the authentic experience of live music lie? I’ve seen Matthew Herbert play with equipment scattered around different bits of the stage; in a tent or up a ladder; just so that everything can go wrong and sound horrible, so you know he’s doing it live. I’ve seen Orbital’s so called ‘best live show ever’ that’s basically just a fuckload of lasers and a Belinda Carlisle/Bon Jovi mashup. I’ve heard stories of Aphex Twin delivering live sets that have actually been generated by artificial intelligence on his computer, with him having no input whatsoever.

And most of all, I’ve seen a hundred people, hunched over laptops, with nothing exciting in the noises, and nothing to look at but a glowing white apple, sometimes with a sticker on it for anti-corporate credibility.

And that’s just the electronic stuff. I’ve seen the Born Ruffian’s play with a lead singer who couldn’t play his set because his voice was too broken for high notes. I’ve watched Caribou just be incredibly fucking tedious. I’ve seen hundreds of grumpy long haired teenagers (of all ages) staring away from the audience and doing their mediocre job.

The crowds though, we eat it up. We jostle to get to the front of the stage so we can be closer to the sullen faces of our ‘heroes’. We’ll happily stare at four people on a stage in the same pose as every other four people, going through the same motions. We’ll get pissed off at the tall person in front of us, grabbing angrily at his lustrous curly locks (I get this a lot), despite there being nothing whatsoever to see.

What is a great live show? It’s a horde of arseholes staring at a much smaller group of other arseholes.

This is a lie. A great live show is generally some kind of weird musical feat. Most of the top of my list is filled with people with more than one drummer. The top of my list is occupied by the Boredoms, with 9 drummers. There may be a direct relationship between the number of drummers and how happy I am with a live show. The only time that Caribou show was even remotely bearable was when Dan Snaith briefly got onto his drum kit along with his drummer, and the sound filled out to something with just a tiny bit of depth.

The Knife had no drummers, but two drumkits, and I’m pretty sure someone was hitting the megacello at one point. But it didn’t matter. For me, it was incredible.

I’ve fooled myself into believing that Olof, the sibling responsible for the music, was actually tucked away behind stage somewhere adding some kind of liveness to the soundscapes. Part of me refuses to believe that it was purely a backing track. It sounded too perfectly moulded to the space and the speakers. From a violently reverberating bass exploration at the opening, sounds that tore through your flesh and worried your bowels, to the relentless battering drums of ‘Full of Fire’, the music sounded immaculately present. Backing track or hidden Olof, the music was absolutely the star of the show. The sound was visceral and all encompassing. It wrapped you up and pulled your body around. It was everything I wanted.

So whatever the show looked like, it sounded amazing. Could it have sounded ‘more live’? I have no idea. What does that even mean, in a world where the music is generated not in echo chambers and vibrating strings, but by the twist of electrons on a circuit board? Why do people get angry when an artist acknowledges that they’ve made music that is going to make a dreadful live show if all they do is press the right buttons? Why do we celebrate people for making impossible musical structures, and then get upset that they don’t do a limp-wristed acoustic version in person?

The whole performance seemed to be asking for someone to provide a definition of ‘authentic’, ‘live’ and ‘performance’. Infamous for incredible audiovisual shows, creating an atmosphere and having intricate lasers, the punchline was felt at the end. They played Silent Shout and revealed they still had the incredible laser box of their last tour, they just chose not to bother with it. The tone of everything changed as people gazed upwards into the intricate patterns etched into smoke by the perpetually re-arranging lights. It felt like a rebuff: ‘This is what our last live show was like, and it was just the same as this, distracting nonsense’.

A live show with something to look at is fine. A live show that may not be live is fine. A great live show is nothing more than a presentation of some music. If that music affects you. If that presentation takes you somewhere, mentally, then the live show is a success. Particularly if it takes you where the band want you to go.

That’s art. And you probably don’t get your money back if you think it’s shit.

Maybe the Knife have destroyed their reputation as a great live show. Maybe next time, they won’t sell out all their venues in an hour. Maybe next time they’ll tour smaller venues, and be left with a hardcore of queers, freaks and weirdos that still love them whatever.

And maybe that’s the other point. This was a show that felt aimed at some kind of subset of Knife fans. The ones who get the genderbent artifice of the whole thing. This wasn’t one for the hipsters. Or this was one for the hipsters, depending on your point of view. Or where you keep your hips.

It’s possible that I only got to enjoy the show because I had been forewarned. If I’d gone expecting lasers and darkness and I got Pan’s People and glitter, maybe I would’ve been pissed off. But then, I once hitched to Germany to watch their opera, which they weren’t there for, and it was still incredible. Maybe I’m the problem here. Maybe I just refuse to believe I wasted a healthy chunk of my meagre income on going to watch an episode of Top of the Pops.

But part of me knows that it was a brutal, powerful, intense and dark experience.

Part of me was transported, and that’s all I’ve ever asked of music.

Illustration by Daniel with many thanks.

A slightly different version of this piece appeared on themonitors last month (when the phrase ‘last week’ was still truthful). You should probably follow them for music news, because theirs is still new.

Not quite unstruck enough.

I kinda wanna post this because I like it. But I wasn’t sure if it was good enough, so I used the end as a seed for the final post on unstruck.

But I wanted my thoughts recorded, even though they’ve been chosen as not good enough for the main site.

Not that this place is now my second favourite (though with the excitement of the new, it blatantly is) and so only worthy of unwanted trash.

I still love you guys.

I’m just excited by the new project a lot. It’s pretty exciting. It’s great to feel creative again, and to not just feel like I’m waffling inanely to myself. Which is what I do here. Mostly.

Anyway, here’s the original draft, for the sake of posterity:

q: Is it sometimes good to lie?

I’m severely in danger of sounding like Polonius here.

Though marginally less poetic, no doubt.

I’m a quite thorough devotee of honesty. Particularly in the big things. Having done the wrong thing many times, I made a promise to myself to be honest.

Honesty can hurt, but it normally means the pain is justified. If the truth hurts, at least it’s the right hurt. The one that should be. When a lie hurts, it’s doubly wrong, and cannot be justified.

But obviously there are times where honesty hurts heedlessly. These are the times I feel conflicted.

When I discuss this with people, I’m always under attack from talk of the little white lies. The flattery that is called for and must be given. Of course your bum doesn’t look big in that.

(I might ask, what is wrong with a bottom looking large? And not just because I like big bottoms, but simply because it seems somewhat unimportant, what someone else might think of your bottom. Someone who judges you inadequate on the basis of incorrect posterior volume is someone not worth knowing. Of course, at the same time, I am hopelessly vain and concerned with what other people think of what I look like, but also have a spectacularly pretty bottom. So perhaps that stance is in itself dishonest.)

So is it okay to boost someone’s ego? Or are you still misleading, taking astray?

I don’t entirely have an answer.

In my case, I am often helped by the fact that I don’t really think before I speak. My brain has a thought and before I know it the thought is in the air, vibrating towards other ears.

I often don’t have time to consider lying.

This gets me in trouble.

Honesty is sometimes noticed. It allows you to be trusted, if not always liked. It helps if you honestly hold positive opinions. The best of both worlds.

In fact, being able to hold two contrary opinions simultaneously makes virtually anything possible.

How about internally?

For me, lying equates to a pain in the gut and a fear in the chest. I know I am doing something I shouldn’t. This is shared with a certain glee when I’m pulling a prank of some sort. Misleading to entertain. But I almost always confess immediately.

But there’s the rub.

There is a time when it is good to lie. Great to lie. Great lies can be wonderful.

Because they are stories.

As the man with a letter for a name said: ‘Artists use lies to tell the truth.’

And that’s what we are doing here.

These answers are fabrications. The illustrations more so. They are beliefs. They are ways of expressing ideas. And I think I am still being honest here. But  not necessarily by speaking bare truth.

But that method of building something. It is built on lies. It is built on artifice.

And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

So sometimes it is good. Yes.

Lie for the truth.

Experiment – Unstruck

Just a note that if you miss my words I’ve got a new project going on at http://unstruck.wordpress.com/.

I’m remaining enigmatic about it for now. But basically we’re running a two week experiment that may continue or change after a while. Will be updated about once a day, as I can manage it, and possibly not all weekend days.

And don’t worry, I’ll still maintain this place, and will update, but it is likely to remain quite sporadic.

Illustration by Lucy.

Three Part Harmony – Different Songs Though

Edie

So this is a dias de los muertos post, in memory of a fine young lady whose died today last year. Tomorrow I picnic with her (weather permitting), and today and tomorrow I will spend thinking of her and others I have lost.

Dying young is clearly a tragedy, but it sometimes makes it easier to remember how brightly some people shine. Maybe it’s a trick of the light, but the two good friends I’ve lost prematurely (both 19 at the time of passing) seem like two of the brightest stars I’ve ever met.

My memories of Edie are almost entirely filled with laughter, the title of this post counting as one of the happiest moments of my life. As we strutted down an autumn path, damp leaves and puddles scattered underfoot, we belted out, myself, Edie and another dearly loved friends, three different songs simultaneously. Edie didn’t know the words to Multiply, so she chimed in with the Postman Pat theme music, Lou had something else on her mind entirely, and sang something different.

The rhythms just about worked, there was a lack of tunefulness, but there was so much joy and absurdity that every time I look back to it I smile, laugh and feel warm inside.

We all need to remember that the world is silly, and we normally need to work to encourage it to be more so.

There is room for emotion and excitement everywhere. That’s something I’ve learnt. It’s okay to feel and it’s okay to express it.

It’s okay to miss people, but it’s better to remember the joys you felt with them. Admittedly, that’s what you’re missing, but never forget that that’s also what you got.

Every moment is valuable, and anything that happens could easily not have. I am incredibly lucky to have known such fantastic people throughout my life. I have acres of memories of connection, contact, love and joy. This is the gift people have given me and it is something I carry with me forever.

Contact with people creates a large part of who you are, so nobody truly disappears. We live on in the people we touch, and the people who touch us live on in us.

That’s beautiful.

I think I’ve mentioned all this before, and this next bit too.

Apparently Marconi believed in his latter years that sounds never ended, they just got quieter and quieter until we could no longer detect them. He hoped to use appropriately advanced equipment to listen to the Sermon on the Mount.

I’m just happy to believe (or even to just hypothesise) that it means that as well as the ripples we leave in other people, there is some part of everything we’ve done out there. The sound. It’s humbling; reminding us that we leave a mark. We must be accountable for our actions, but also, we never lose anything.

The same is mirrored in the Conservation of Energy. ‘Life is not ended; only changed.’ Or something like that.

Anyway, somewhere, possibly, drifting into the ether, is an incredibly quiet (and incredibly disharmonious) three-part harmony, three different songs, clashing merrily.

That makes me happy.

Love you Edie, love you Will, Love you Julie, Love you Nan and Gramps (both Gramps), Love you Alison, Love you Harry.

Love everyone I’ve known and lost. And love everyone still here.

 

 

 

—————-
Now playing: Pan American – [Quiet City #07] Het Volk [foobar2000 v0.9.5.2]
via FoxyTunes

Poignant – G and the Velvet Underground

My Angel Rocks Back and Forth

My friend G has decided to say goodbye to Brighton by staring intently into my wall.
A cheery surprise at my door, it quickly emerges that he has drunk a few pints, won some games of pool and taken about half a gram of horse tranquilliser. As we discuss, and go through, the process of coffee making, he becomes incoherent. In the space of three sentences his eyes have glazed over and the words slowly slid apart.
In the time it took me to type those last two sentences he has fallen backwards. I know there is no need to check, he grunted recently his assent to the idea of sitting in the living room, and this tells me he is in the usual coma.
If he times it just right his coffee will be at a drinkable temperature by the time he’s conscious enough to drink it.
I don’t disapprove of this, but it’s an odd visit. This will be my last memory of him in Brighton, for now at least. He’s heading back to Bideford, the place he fled three or four years ago.
That was when I first met G.
I will go and check on him anyway, though I know he’s fine.
He’s fine.
As I was saying. Bideford got too much for G a few years back, mostly due to the emotional cliché of woman trouble. Now he returns there, as Brighton is too much for him. The emotional cliché of woman trouble, possibly exacerbated by the drug filled squat subculture.
He said he was fine. Or rather, he said yeah when I asked. As he stares at the ceiling of my tiny galley kitchen, I notice how brightly the light is sparkling in his eyes.
G has always had incredibly pretty eyes.
Elsewhere G is more haggard and scruffy and dirty and typical of a punk squatter K-head. Though from the right angle he has a majesty in his features, and as someone who knows him, I can’t deny just how beautiful he is.
While this all happens, I’m still involved in expanding my understanding of the Velvet Underground. Yet again, a classic band, that I’d nod and smile whenever someone asked me if I liked them, without ever having investigated beyond the cliched hits. I could probably even name a few albums at a push.
Now I find myself lost within the varied voices swirling around me. I’m bad at picking out individual threads of language from the hubbub, so the meaning of the poetry here is lost to me, but the interleaved vocals of this Murder Mystery is swimming around me. Flooding me with something between unease and involvement.
I feel close to G now, with my back to him as I type about him without his knowledge.
Am I ignoring his suffering?
I doubt he’s suffering, but ti’s disturbing.
Unease and involvement. I wonder if there is a word for it, the way you are drawn close to something that scares you.
No, It’s not the Uncanny, I don’t care what Freud and Nick Royle say.
I feel like I’ve broken the intimacy of this writing with that line. That self conscious attempt at intellectualism. I think I lost the purity of it all at least half a page ago.
G has woken, I think he’s using the toilet.
On the other hand, he may have just left.
For good.
For now.
We’ll see.
This has been a love song, in case you didn’t notice.
Thank you for your attention.

Metaspirational – The Princess Bride

Okay, so.

Seriously, if you want to be a writer, or even if you want to want to be a writer, you need to make sure you’ve read the Princess Bride. I’m a big William Goldman fan ever since a good friend lent me the book ‘Which Lie did I tell?’ about his adventures as a screenwriter. On the back of that I fell in love with most everything I’ve seen of his. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid remains one of my all time favourite films.

But the Princess Bride, this really is what writing is all about. It’s been nonstop inspiration to me during this months nano, though I’m keeping it in the toilet so I can only read it either on the loo or whilst bathing. That way it doesn’t interrupt too much.

I know, I know, too much information…I’m that way inclined tonight it seems.

Anyway, basically, the whole metanarrative structure just can’t help but make you think about the way the book is written. (For those who don’t know, the story behind the books creation is that it’s actually a abridgement of a historical tale by a Florinese writer called Simon Morgenstern, for given values of the word ‘actually’. Goldman’s father told him the story as a child, skipping all the boring bits, and then, once grown up, he took it as a labour of love to find a copy and abridge it, including inserts on why he cut certain bits, and retelling elements of his own father’s telling of the story).

Everything draws you into to thinking about the writer’s thought process, and, to the wary reader, points out the subtle artifice at play throughout. But it does this without distracting from it.  In fact, throughout, the whole thing is littered with little rhythm and rhyme games, little teases and distractions. The rhythm of it is nearly always perfect, which makes it a dream to read out loud. I can’t wait to read it to my kids once they exist. And the ‘truth’ behind the book’s creation emphasises this moreso. By jumping us in and out of the narrative, our eyes our drawn in certain ways. Our attention is gained, and then sucked in, right in, until you’re in so deep that you’re crying or laughing almost steadily throughout. I’m on my third re-reading, and it’s still a thrill (not to mention the fact that I’ve seen the film about eight or nine times, I know the plot inside out). And it’s not even just that fondness of familiarity. It’s noticing more and more the games being played by the text.

I don’t want to start plucking examples out of it, because they work best within the context, and that context is so carefully constructed.

I dream of one day writing something as good as this, it demonstrates a mastery of storytelling on so many levels.

And everytime i read I learn lessons. It is a perfect guide to teaching how to make stories, because it is simultaneously a story about stories, and a story about tellings of stories.

There’s a lot of layers to that onion there. Turtles all the way down.

But seriously, read it, and you’ll want to write a book. In the same way that someone (Eno?) claimed that everyone who bought the original vinyl of the first Velvet Underground album started a band, or whatever rock apocrypha you want to talk about.

 

It’s inspirational, in so many ways. It’s also about real humans and real emotions, despite it’s fantastical fairy tale world.

And it’s all incredibly nano. The asides, the jump cuts, the self awareness. It’s how I most enjoy writing, and I just wish I could pull it off nearly as well as Goldman.

 

Whenever people ask me about my favourite book, I hope I remember to include Princess Bride, because it really is, for a whole bundle of reasons.

If you haven’t read it. Go read it. If you live in Brighton, I’ll lend you a copy as soon as I’ve finished reading it again. I’m almost there. Probably just one more bath or so.

The Argument

Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.

-William Blake – The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Der große Rote Drache und die Frau, mit der Sonne bekleidet

The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

– William Blake – A Memorable Fancy