‘Life is short / filled with stuff / don’t know what’s its for / think I’ve had enough / if only I could find some new kinda kick / some new kind of buzz / I’m lookin’ I’m lookin’ lookin’ for / something I ain’t had before’ (The Cramps, ‘New Kind of Kick’). Fuck the Mojo-reissue cavalcade of fart punk/ jazzpoo/morris-dance angular folk felch – the any old shit will do as long as some fat fool beard will buy along with his leather-bound photobook of rare beatniks eating radishes in Golden Gate Park, Here are some so far unreissued, rare and gear-fab vinyl records and/or cassettes that deserve or whatever, I dunno … I’m writing this anyway. Dig it!
The Chills, Brave Words (Flying Nun Records, 1987). Cult New Zealand band with a necklace of cool lo-fi psych-punk pop 45s making their first proper LP. Dumbly entrusted the front cover to some Ritalin-crazed colour-monger, but lo – behold! – inside lies their peculiar coral-reef garage pop. Chills songs are a vast sea swell – a strange, rolling, hypnotic, jerky, surf-dark groove drift, ebbing and flowing with Martin Phillips’s cool breeze of a voice and pop-song hooks. Melancholic and rainbow risen, with psychedelic circus waltzes and short, anti-apathy anthems, this is still dirt cheap in the museums of dusty vinyl. But make yer own cover.
Harumi, Harumi (Verve/Forecast, 1968). Exploitation psych LPs are ginchy sweethearts – studio boffins making ‘far out’ freak music to order, with dumb LSD verbals, swirlathon artwork and every gonzo sound effect they can muster. Always, of course, better than all that professionally honest acid rock. Give me Hell Preachers Inc. over The Doors any day. I have no idea whether the handsomeJapanese dude Harumi was some major-label love-in/cash-in or not, but this is great. Produced by Tom Wilson of Velvets/Dylan/Simon and Garfunkel fame on the usually snobbish artethon that was the Verve label, this could well be some hipster tax-loss trip. Anyway, the first disc is a leviathan of love-tripped psych-pop swathed in that gorgeous, bored-producer prop that was phasing – y’know, that summer-o’-love sound where everything swishes from speaker to speaker in a drunk sailor groove. Lots of that, and all the cheese that a pretend guru searching for satori can muster. We move on to two side Jong tracks and are hit with a far-out ‘Sister Ray’ grind-groove, Samurai sonics and a more Buddhist reflection in Japanese, including, it seems, his whole family in a restaurant with a dog, forks and flutes, and a quest for eternal . . .Oh, you get the picture. (Since writing this, I learnt that Fallout Records have re-released this hippy opus, but I m fucked if I’m gonna delete it because of that.)
Kimberley Rew, Bible of Bop (Armageddon, 1981). Goofy, smiling, skinny guitar god of the fiercely magnificent Soft Boys, whose stinging wasps-in-a-tin-can guitar blitzkrieg stole my heart. He made this eight-track mini-LP with members of said boys, power-pop purveyors the DBS, and his future chart-bound group The Waves (of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ fame). It has a truly stupid yellow and blue cover with HUGE LETTERING. However, a finer power-pop record ye cannae find. Rew’s voice is very polite English, eager with a naive grin, cuppa tea-like.You know the type. But the songs are monster- riffed pop nuggets, harmonies-girls-jangles with added spike (mainly the Soft Boys-abetted ones). ‘Stomping All over the World’ is the jewel – a Big Star positive-vibe beast that could easily be called ‘The Best Pop Song Ever’. All over this mini-child are phased ooh-la-las and bubble-gum bop. Sweet.
Random Rips, We’re Moving to Poland (Spasm Records, 1979). Ex-members of moronic punk bands The Onion Rats and Fuck Hotel. If Nuggets was in musical terms some kind of village-idiot convention in relation to, say, one of Brian Eno’s airport themes, then this lot are still waiting to grow thumbs. This is their only record (I hope), and if it had a mouth it would be dribbling the whole time. Street hoodlums guzzling cheap beer made this set of anthems to the mentally corroded, using badly copped ‘Louie Louie’/Seeds riffs, one-note organs, our- of-tune guitars on nicked amps, and lyrics that both have no connection to the actual songs and are truly stupid. (‘Mick Jagger’s lips / where’s my fish’n’ chips? / I wanna random rips / where do I get my kicks?’!) The rest is not-so-evolved variations on ‘Farmer John’ – ‘Beer and Wine’, ‘l Got Mental Illness’, ‘Bin \Tanking’ and the ballad ‘Cats That Look like Hitler’ (please repeat that line) – fulla slurred words, missed chords, and lyrics about retarded mods, booze and bus stops. And it’s FANTASTIC. If this crap ever gets re-released I’ll eat my shoes. I’ll eat your shoes, it would be worth it. Socks too.
Male Nurse, British Drugs (cassette, 2001). Euro Roxy, Fall, Monks, punk Kraftwerk, metronomic Eno folk, from up in Glasgow. God knows who I was in that pagan fear-fuck of an appendage – probably to see Yummy Fur play, of which Male Nurse was once one. Too many pills and jumping stupid dude aggravation, sleeping in parks, waking a zombie in a barely alive funk. Drove home listening to this tape and the whole fuzzy,battered city world made sense – raw mental nerves calmed by insistent riffs and ‘grotesque’ junkie- art poetry. ‘German Sleeps in My Bed’, ‘slough Tower’- Moog motorik intertwined with guitar-line godhead sneer. Kids telling mum they take drugs to improve their snooker action. Speed- freak-edged architecture. No Excess. Clean and simple rockabilly robot strychnine. Inner-city kids with nothing to do, veering into poignant, Ashes to Ashes’-era Bowie. This never came out – shame on you, ‘industry’ morons. I still play this tape made by said drummer and walk wonky and building weird.
Kenneth Anger and Aleister Crowley, The Great Beast Begat (Rose and Cross Tapes, 1966 ce). Like a warped Glen Campbell/Bobbie Gentry duet screaming in the dull void. Underground film-making queen Kenneth Anger – whose swell Luciferian pop art put rock’n’ roll sleaze into celluloid before Scorcese’s opening fuck fandango of Mean Streets- was a student to that original rock messiah, Satanist-guru Aleister Crowley, the progenitor-janitor ofLunacy 666. Anger, he went into the Nevada Desert and conducted various alchemical conjurings and twisted summonings to the spirit of Crowley, with the purpose of beating the Stones and all those other arcane infants of Crowley’s way to the mother lode. After two months of sex rituals with wizened old Golden Dawn occultists, the original hip priest came through vocally in camp baritones – like Scott ‘Walker sucking lemons – drifting ethereally, snaking through Anger’s stentorian bellowings of incantational raga-rock sickness. Meanwhile, backwards drums and cheap organs fail and carouse in a Bacchanalian mong-out – the Psychedelic sperm of Yog-So Thoth. Disembodied howls drift in towards the end of this thirty- five-minute demon opera, echoes of hell induced in the murky vortex of dustbowl terror that drift over the desert into the nearby wandering soul of Mr Charles Manson, who’s playing his Beatles records in search of a ghost of a chance and be- comes possessed, thus ensuring the sad massacre of the Age ofAquarius and the onset of the vicious age ofHorus and Bush. Portions of this so-far-unreleased tape have been used secretly as backing in a Mariah Carey record, mixing sympathetically with her awful pagan caterwauling – it’s quite nice. In fact, much of the True Hidden History of rock ‘n’ roll is based on occult hierarchy. Next time, I’ll explain the link between the Rosicrucians/Knights Templar/Priory of Sion/ Golden Dawn and the Velvet Underground/ Monkees/ Cribs …
Blinded as a child by an exploding dynamite cap, Louis Hardin was born in rural Kansas but always considered himself an exiled European classicist. A self-taught composer (he wrote in Braille) and fascinated by a distant Nordic heritage, Moondog, as he named himself (after a beloved childhood pet who howled at the lunar eclipse), dressed in faux Viking garments and became a landmark on the corner of 54th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan. There he would busk with homespun percussion instruments, hand out mimeographed copies of his poetry, and philosophise sagely to anyone who stopped by long enough to listen. An orbiting satellite of early fifties jazz (he cut several 78s, revered Benny Goodman, and was a confidante of Charlie Parker, to whom his eponymous album’s bewitching ‘Bird’s Lament’ is dedicated), Moondog developed a unique musical oeuvre which embraced big-band arrangements, Bach- like etudes, baffling-time-signature percussion pieces and mellifluous canons, rounds and madrigals. His desolately beautiful round All Is Loneliness’ – one of Moondog’s doleful high- lights – was later made popular by Janis Joplin, no less. Typically, this album (actually a con- fation of two turn-of-the-seventies Columbia LPs) refutes pigeonholing, blending, as it does, orchestral works with verite street-corner ruminations and lively – often devastatingly pretty – exercises for small ensembles and female voices. The opening ‘Theme’ is Moondog’s sublime muse encapsulated: brilliantly dovetailed percussion overlaid with precisely administered layers of brass, woodwind and strings that build inexorably in cadences of pure harmony and melody. This is music of timeless, haunting, hypnotic allure, much of it, frankly, absolutely unique. I can’t recommend it (or anything Moondog-related) highly enough.
Moondog is available on a Sony (SMM) CD. There’s also a somewhat highfalutin biography – Moondog: The Viking of Sixth Avenue by Robert Scotto (Process Books).
The Kills, ‘U.R.A. Fever’
Considering the time Kate Moss beau Jamie Hince spends dodging the paparazzi these days, it’s amazing he gets any real work done at all. So, hats off to him and co-Klll Alison Mosshart for knocking out this minor gem. Clocking in at a lean and wiry two minutes fifteen seconds, ‘U.R.A. Fever’ finds The Kills continuing to inhabit the skankier end of neo-glam – and to considerable purpose. Forget the band’s more obvious competitors, this song wilfully tilts at the atmosphere of Prince himself, were he obliged to spend time hanging around garbage-can-strewn alleyways instead of plush plaza suites. Some of the dual-voice, traded-verse lyrics may be just a little too trashy, but the chorus clinches like an angry lover. It’s thin and taut but with a hook that hangs in the memory – Suzi Quatro would have given her right tit for it back in the glory days. Not typical at all, then.
U.R.A Fever is released by Domino.
My Favourite 7″s
The Kingsmen, ‘Louie Louie’. An iconic song which first came to me through the Stooges’ version. Recorded as part of a recording company studio session but clanged out with such solid assurance and a loose kind of tightness that even the vocalist’s mistake around the third verse is an essential element.
The Sex Pistols, ‘Holidays in the Sun’. What a great intro – transports me to the back seat of my parents’ blue Vauxhall where I first heard it on Radio One in the winter of 1977. This
had a huge impact on my twelve-year-old self, instantly rendering my Black Sabbath pirate tapes passe. Great artwork idea poached from Situationist International.
The Fall, ‘It’s the New Thing’. An art-punk gem from 1978; again, it takes me back to my first experience of hearing it – at my friend and musical mentor Pip Lofas’s house after he got it mail order from Small Wonder Records when it first came out. Crappy Bontempi organ intro, beaten into submission by the brute rhythmic militarism of this fantastic original incarnation of The Fall. Features Karl Burns’s drums and Martin Bramah’s nasty guitar menacings – Carl Perkins via Salford with a killer beat.
Bob Dylan, The Drawn Blank Series
Bob Dylan once wrote a song called ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ – a wry essay on elusive ambition and the incommutability of the human spirit. As long as we have yet to attain our shining goals in life, it implied, we will strive enduringly onward. If the work collected in The Drawn Blank Series is anything to go by, the sixty-six-year-old Dylan has a good fewyears left in him yet.
A lavish, 288-page, full-colour monograph printed on sturdy paper and bracketed by some learned-sounding if somewhat fawning essays by Ingrid Mossinger and Kerstin Drechsel, it will be a must for Dylan obsessives – though the art world may find it considerably less indispensable. Published to accompany a German exhibition featuring Dylan’s watercolours and gouaches, apparently completed in a few months, but based on sketches collected over the last two decades, Dylan’s recurrent themes tell you something about his recent life, shackled as he is, like an elective crew member of The Flying Dutchman, to the so-called ‘Never-Ending Tour’.
A succession of hotel interiors, balconies, city roof-scapes and idiosyncratic figures (mostly unidentified women) reclining in cloistered interiors, Dylan’s images are immortalisations of on-tour ‘downtime’. Whatever their aesthetic qualities, you inevitably squint at them through a patina of melancholy, for these are the idle daubings of a man whose colossal fame means an anonymous stroll through the streets he depicts beyond the balcony is an impossibility, a quiet beer in the local bar down below but a dream. He’s effectively a prisoner of the globe’s presidential suites; his world reduced to furniture, fittings and the inevitably fleeting liaisons of the itinerant super- star troubadour.
As a draftsman Dylan is slightly ham-fisted, and as a colourist mediocre, though there is a raw, Ben Shahn-like quality, an ‘everyday lyricism’, to some of the works here, especially the reclining female forms of Two Sisters and the immutable, self-explanatory Truck. Much of the rest resembles a clumsier Dufy, a Chagall sans enchantment, a simulacrum Matisse . . . Dylan’s ‘masterpiece’ is certainly not here.
In 1970 Dylan issued a (slapdash, quota-fill- ing) album called Self- Portrait which consisted entirely of cover versions. The title was a knowing misnomer; Drawn Blank is not. Whatever the voyeuristic frisson, these images will tell you little about Bob Dylan the man, aside from the monotony of his touring routine. A blast of Blood on the Tracks, or a scan through his outstanding Chronicles autobiographn will tell you a good deal more.
The Drawn Blank Series published by Prestel Verlag.
Big’n, Discipline through Sound
Big’n- a band known to few and probably liked by less – made a significant impact upon me with the release of their second album in 1996. Discipline through Sound had a slightly larger distribution than their first full-length album, Cutthroat. This was due to the combined forces of the German label Gasoline Boost and the infamous SKiN GRAFT Records, the home to many no-wave-influenced bands. Big’n are driven by a super-tight rhythm section, underpinned by the most muscular bass, that has led to comparisons with The Jesus Lizard. The guitar sound for such an intense band never develops into predictable channels of distortion; it has a defined space within each song. The other notable quality that differentiates Big’n – and is likely to be the principal cause of discomfort to many – is the style of singing. It is a unique rasping growl that is both deep and sharp. At times the lyrics are spoken with a low growl; at times they are unleashed with devastating brutality. This complements the tone, as a feeling of frustration embodies the ten tracks. ‘Dying breed’, which appears halfway into the album, epitomises Big’n at their peak. Delivered at a steady pace, this brooding and mean song increases only to then abruptly stop, fading out with a gentle and infectious bass line. A triumph of inner turmoil expressed aggressively.
Grayson Perry, Recipe for Humanity
I came across Grayson Perry’s Recipe For Humanity in an exhibition called ‘The Charms of Lincolnshire’. The artist had visited various archives in the county and grouped together a number of ‘curiosities’ with his own work for the show Perry had obviously looked at lots ofreligious samplers and then created his own – that he hung among Victorian originals. I like the ditty that appears on it. I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but the message is clear and has good intent, particularly the line ‘Live life now and act with love’ – it lifts my spirits above the quandaries of life and makes me feel like striding out. I love the cheeky way that the dapper young man presents his potent erection to his love, complete with bow tied around his glowing bell-end. The pregnant lady wears a flame-red and yellow dress. The stripes passionately curve around her voluptuous figure, and the couple’s fertility ascends the tree to where psychedelic patterns and symbols erupt into fauna and flora. The wry looks it received from visitors who may not have been expecting such an interpretation made me smile. For me, it reaffirms what to prioritise – love, sex and fertility.
Kutland Ataman, Kuba
The path to Kutlug Ataman’s Kuba was signposted through the derelict space of New Oxford Street’s sorting office by spray-painted arrows – new graffiti covering the old. The arrows led up a stairwell to a vast room populated by forty tired-looking televisions, careworn, chairs, electric heaters and a cacophony of buzzing voices. Each TV screen showed the face of an inhabitant of Kuba, a settlement of outsiders near central Istanbul founded in the sixties by Kurdish radicals. Ataman spent two years there filming video portraits of its people, mapping an unmapped place by the testimony of its community. Kadriye, a murderer, talked of the first tirne he saw his wife she was wearing plastic shoes; when they married he bought her new ones. Mehtap, a young woman with many children, described when she was a virgin and still had dreams. Ataman’s work explores those living in the margins of society he has filmed terrorists, transvestites and murderers. Through these video monologues which are recorded over long periods oftime he develops trust and intimacy with his subjects, who then reveal themselves in honest, moving ways. In Kuba concerns of love, pride, anger, sadness and ambition are revealed concerns I recognised and understood. Kuba worked because it reminded me that where we are from and what we do doesn’t change how similar we are.
Kutlug Ataman’s Kuba was at New Oxford Street Sorting Office in March 2005.
Christoph Buchel, Simply Botiful
A friend said to me that if I liked Paul McCarthy’s Pirates installation I should check out the Christoph Buchel exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Coppermill.
I signed a health and safety disclaimer and entered what looked like a reconditioned refrigerator shop. I thought I’d taken a wrong turn but continued into the sprawling, deserted recycling camp. It was unlike any exhibition I’d ever been to before. Everything I saw made me question my own sense of reality.
There were countless dead ends to explore through a graveyard of old fridges. I encountered festering live/work containers, a seedy anthropological-themed reception room, and a warren of concrete bunkers awash with porn and kitted out with stained mattresses littered with discarded tissues. I didn’t like what I was finding or feeling and felt angry that the artist was manipulating my emotions, but the voyeur in me had been unleashed.
As I climbed into an old Indesit trunk freezer and down a rotting wooden ladder, I wondered how many people had doubled back at this point? A makeshift tunnel led to an apparently unauthorised archaeological dig – a Mammoth excavation. I felt like I’d taken some serious hallucinogenic.
It was art imitating life imitating art at its best, and I’d been hoodwinked. I hated it. It haunts me.
Christoph Buchel’s Simply Botiful was at Hauser & Wirth Coppermill from 11 October 2006 to 18 March 2007.