Thursday, May 27, 2010


So, I went to see Broadcast about two or three weeks ago.

I don’t like ‘em much – in fact, I think “'Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age'” is (one of) the most over-rated album-objects of the last year or so – so I assumed I’d almost certainly hate their live show, but – what the hell – thought I might as well check them out anyway. You never know.

Anyway, I accidentally got, um, stoned prior to the show, which turned out to be a brilliantly counter-intuitive way to approach the whole situation. Anything H-word-related tends to attract theory-heavy reviews n pieces by assorted whitebread bloggers n so forth, so what better way to tackle this than to get slightly trashed.

Band were already on-stage when we rolled up. “Mmmm. Quite like this one,” I said to Farmer Glitch as we looked for a good spot to hang. “It’s a bit psychedelic.” (Well, duh, Kek – Ed.) Actually, I was more kinda surprised n shocked that I didn’t totally detest the music.

“Hrrrm,” he replied, in a post-verbal, semi-affirmative.

Next song, def. not so convinced. Despite high internal THC levels, my onboard bullshit detectors were quickly coming back on-line. All my niggles about their recorded work started to resurface. Couldn’t climb into the music; it was too, ermmmm, mannered, I guess. There was a layer of innate contrivance that thwarted any attempt to connect. Neither danceable, nor engaging/immersive (despite film-show); just not interesting or genuinely weird, beguiling or novel enough for my liking. Too dry / slow / ‘bogus’ / up-tight / boring to draw me in.

((I’m amazed at some critics use of words like “Weird”, “Uncanny”, “Cosmic” when describing stuff that clearly, er, ain’t. Wait, no, H-music is supposed to be ‘weird’ in a terribly English, sub-surface, John Wyndham sorta way. Except that doesn’t really come over when the Contrivance Factor is set to 10. Also – while I genuinely don’t subscribe to Weirdness-for-Weirdness sake lifestyle choices – I can’t help think that maybe some people have just led a bit of a sheltered upbringing. Just please don’t take the W-Word in vain, assorted writerguys.))

Back at gig:

Vocals were annoyingly flat / off-key, and not in a charming way either. Everything soaked in the same pre-set echo.

The thing about trying to recreate certain music-forms, espesh psychedelia / acid-folk is that there’s far more to the music than just the effects-boxes you use; it’s about vibe n mood n intent (accidental or otherwise) as much as texture. Broadcast lack sympathy or feel for the music-forms they’re parodying / pastiche-ing / playing homage to. Without that 'feel', the music sounds hollow, emptied out. A container lacking content.

If they are actually fans of this sort of music, then it really doesn’t show on either the recordings or in the live-performance. The end-product comes off as dry and academic. An ill-fated, 4th-gen recreation of something that was once interesting.

Of course I get that some of these elements are supposed to deliberately come into play when we’re talking about music of a (ptui!) ‘hauntological’ nature; that there should be some sort of, grrragh, ontological ‘distancing’ involved or what K-Punk calls “positive amateurism” (something I def. subscribe to myself)... but – you know what – I just ain’t fucking feeling the music.

It just doesn’t work for me. And if it takes a layer of theories to prop up half-arsed psych-pop parodies or whatever they are, then forget it, folks. The end-point project has to work as a thing in itself. And this didn’t / don’t.

I think I read somewhere Broadcast were influenced by a band called The United States of America. By coincidence I was listening to some USA stuff a week or so ago on an old vinyl I’ve got. I like it. It’s the polar-opposite of Broadcast: warm, engaging, funny, passionate, streetsmart-yet-dumb, countercultural.


This has all got me wondering about the appeal of Broadcast and their contemporaries to certain critical bods. I can’t help think that the layers of irony - the blatant ‘falseness’ of the music - are part of the allure; that despite all the “wow, weren’t the 70’s / sapphire and steel / tripods / public information films weird” talk, all this conceptual distancing of assorted h-word project-objects from their psychfolk / concrete / accousmatic forefathers is actually necessary in order for the dadcritics to climb onboard. This all whiffs of some sort of, I dunno, fear of cultural contamination; controlfreak-o-phobia.

I mean, God forbid you might actually like some original early 70’s acid-folk records. Y’know, commune-dwellers fucking about with recorders, bongos and bells. Mushroom-munching counterculturals playing a Moog thru an echodek while some naked Spanish bird who’s been painted purple recites poetry in a made-up language. (Actually, that sounds pretty fucking brilliant lol) The problem is, I think, that some critics have a problem even acknowledging stuff like that without, y’know, sniffily taking the piss...and maybe they, you know, even subconsciously worry that the simple act of owning-up to enjoying something like that – something created relatively unselfconsciously in simpler, cusp-of-postmodernist times – might rub off in a negative way. People (and editors!) might start thinking you’re a *eeeeeeeek* Gong-lovin’ pothead-pixie-collaborating wastrel whose (ulp) critical faculties are completely out-of-whack.

Stoners just cannot be trusted to be objective.

If we’re to be honest, acts like Broadcast are a fucking blessing for certain writers. They arrive (almost) fully-formed with their own conceptual / critical niche in tow, one which was quickly colonised by reviewers grateful – nay, relieved to the point of male-menopausal night-sweats – that the band has gifted them an appropriate level of ironic detachment to play with, along with sufficient theoretical ammunition for a couple articles and a symposium at Middlesex Poly. Plus some of them are mates, anyway.

The fact that the music, well, kinda sucks seems to be mostly irrelevant.

Once The Emperor’s New Critical Clothing becomes sufficiently established as a quasi-consensus amongst The Few, then The Many feel, I dunno, peer-group pressured to join the gravy-train. Well, okay, maybe not The Many - this is, after all, not exactly mainstream music we’re talking about here – but, rather, A Few More Than The Few.

What I really don’t like about this strand of music is it’s, I dunno, its ‘archness’.

(The ‘knowingness’, the wink-to-the-camera, the fourth-wall acknowledgement.)

Don’t get me wrong, I celebrate the application of intelligence to music. Intelligence and dumbness and playfulness all have equal cultural weight in my own mythology. But I hate stuff that’s Arch for the sake of it.

Worse, I really, really hate things that connive to be – and this is going to sound oxymoronic / auto-contradictory – Arch and Fey at the same time. (Maybe I mean “Twee” rather than “Fey”, which as a word has some cool, older connotations that I – being a product of my age - can’t quite shake off.) I mean, when did all that bollocks start? Morrissey and the C86 generation have to take a lot of the blame for that mindset / cultural shift, tho I’m not quite convinced it entirely originated with The Smiths. I think it was a symptom of several other things – a reaction to the ‘Maleness’ of a lot of 70’s Rock, a thickening / ripening of certain postmodernist tendencies in Rock n Pop, an intertwining of Art-Rock tropes, Lo-Fi / DIY music n fashion, etc, a celebration of the New Gauche, etc, etc.

Despite its affectations and the technology it uses - some of the music currently tagged as ‘Haunt-o-Logical-cal-cal-cal’ could perhaps be seen as a side-spur – a detour or B-road - taken by a certain strand of UK.Indie, rather than the genuine bastard oddspring of Delia Derbyshire, obscure library-records and The Incredible String Band.

Here’s a question for ya, culture-hounds: what’s the difference (apart from all the theories) between, say, Stereolab and certain releases on Ghostbox? Both camps obv. rigorously adhere to certain vintage sound and visual design strategies. Both camps are crate-diggers, researchers, archivists, enthusiasts, whathaveyou. So, what’s the difference, then – a reliance on certain sampling technologies amongst the newer acts; a more meticulous approach to sound-design by them, perhaps? I’m not sure. Stereolab always had more of a tendency to use riffs / sounds from old LPs of varying obscurity as a springboard to create something else – something new - rather than a specific urge to recreate something. Ghostbox releases presumably attempt to summon up a certain intangible atmosphere that these guys get from cultural objects that predate their own generational base-datum, but I don’t think they particularly succeed in that. I’m not entirely ‘convinced’ by Stereolab either (though I don’t think that’s necessarily the point of them), yet somehow they seem slightly more ‘successful’ – more listenable somehow (tho ultimately their default-position is self-repetition). It’s an oafish, ill-matched comparison all this, I know, but I’m trying my hardest - honest! - to put my finger on why bands like Broadcast don’t hit a spot for me.

Something’s missing.

Why do I like the Mordant Music stuff more? I dunno. It just seems to have more ‘bite’ to it. A bit more ‘presence’, more focus.

I didn’t warm to Broadcast much as a live band. They came off as...well, arrogant is too strong a word. But the tone of their minimal inter-song banter didn’t exactly endear them to me. “Bloody musos,” muttered Bren, later that evening.

I dunno, sometimes live-show nerves – and they were running a fairly tech-heavy performance – can inadvertently make the most easy-going of people sound a bit dickish. I’ve been there myself. So maybe it’s unfair of me to even comment.

A couple of their tracks I thought, “Hmmm, okay-ish, I suppose” while others were just plain awful. It was a bit ping-pong / yin-yang, but the good bits just weren’t that good, tbh. The penultimate track was their best: it was a lot chuggier, stretched-out, looser-feeling. But it just didn’t take off.

“Hmmm, okay-ish, I suppose” just don’t cut it, especially these days.

The last track I knew / recognised; shamefully, I can’t remember the bloody title – or even be bothered to look it up and remind myself - tho I’ve heard it before. I guess I’m just not interested enough.

It was all kinda blah.

Unsurprisingly, they showed a bunch of films by Julian House.

“Is that an old Korg, over there next to his laptop?” asked Steve about 15 minutes into their set. And somehow that seemed to sum it all up.


At 9:13 pm, Blogger Martin said...

Hauntology's just another boring style, isn't it? The same bloody reference points bleeding into the same bloody sounds. It reminds me of the psychogeography craze in London, when everyone was going to brave the labyrinth and excavate the Smoke's going to the same area in East London. Nobody bothered with Tufnell Park, High Barnet or Hammersmith.

In the same way, Britain's 'weird' past wasn't two evenings of sci-fi drama / OU programming on BBC2 one rainy night in 1973.To hell with the Ghostbox 'aesthetic', can't we have some calypso or ska-infused hauntological weirdness? The 1980s were fucking weird, and probably host to the biggest congregation of street nutters this country's seen since the English Civil War. Why does it always boil down to nuclear research physicists in frocks, teasing analog equipment (in a studio next to a garden with a statue of Pan outside) (and a public information film playing in the background)?

How about Elizabethan bodice-ripper historical romance hauntology? With a glam rock twist?

Also, wasn't there originally meant to be some political point to this whole H thing? Something about lost alternative futures and how you could invoke them into the present? Or do people just like doing impersonations of 1950s newsreaders?

Sorry, banging on a for Broadcast, I think they're OK in small doses. "America's Boy" was good. Hardly 'weird' though.

At 9:38 pm, Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

These are all good /excellent points, Martin. Bang on as much as you like...

Every decade is 'weird', innit? It just depends on how you look at life. I think you're right, tho: this stuff is all getting a bit narrowband (and tired) very quickly. Same ol' smallish group of peeps looking at the same ol' sstuff from the same direction and getting props from the same ol' critics. *Yawn*

"can't we have some calypso or ska-infused hauntological weirdness?" My God: yes please!

"Something about lost alternative futures and how you could invoke them into the present?" Yep: all time and space is a playbox, etc, etc; the idea of invoking histories that never happened; intertwining imaginary pasts n futures ticks a lot of boxes with me. But quite a bit of the stuff I've heard over last 2/3 years seems to be stuck in a, I dunno, latethirtiesomething generational rut.

Yeah, yeah, okay, I know I'm grossly oversimplifying it all, but if this is the best the left-of-centre under-middleground has to offer, then it feels like a colossal failure of imagination, misplaced intellect and misdirected art.


At 10:22 pm, Blogger Martin said...

Yeah, I agree, especially regarding "same old props from the critics" - unfortunately that also translates as "know exactly what to expect from the next Ghostbox release, and the next".

The only GB release I ever got on with was the Mount Vernon Lab 'Hobs Lane' one (though think that had been recorded a long while before), which at least had a bit of atmosphere and a sense of something happening.

I'm pretty sure one of the earliest 'hauntological' concerns was about the dark side of life in the 70s/80s, particularly Fordism and the Miners' Strike. Now, I could just be misreading it, but it seems that, since the David Peace stuff became popular, that whole angle was jettisoned in favour of the more Penguin book cover/Bagpuss/Stone Tapes vibe. Regardless, it's all become lacklustre. long, you reckon, 'til somebody puts out an OTT Ghostbox parody release?

At 10:47 pm, Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

I think some of the satellite outfits / releases are already starting to turn into self-parody :-)

One of the things I was / am deliberately trying to do with the OU comic-strip was send up / satirise some of the H-stuff (along with old guard post-industrialists, apoc-folkists like NWW, Current 93, Coil, and all usual artistic pretensions that continue irregardless of decade/generation)...but the rate we're going the strip will be a hauntological phenomenon in its own right some time in

At 10:59 pm, Blogger Martin said...

Oh OK...must admit, I found OU most perplexing when I last looked at it. Just had a check now - but tell me, WHO is that hippy woman on the right of the photo of the guys sitting on the wall?

At 11:09 pm, Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

A young Dagmar Krause in pre-Slapp Happy configuration....!

The OU Tumblr stream is intended mostly as an idea / image dump for
2ND.Fade and I to underpin the OU comic-strip. Or something.

BTW: there's talk of *me* doing a Jah Beaky illustration for you sometime.

At 11:40 pm, Blogger Martin said...

Oh fuck, I'd better finish writing it then.

Wow, Dagmar looked quite...interesting back in the day. First glance, I thought it was some time-travelling witch who invented Ecstasy. And who appears with her bootboy gang whenever you wake up from general anesthetic, taking a draw on her fag and rasping, "Heh...he's back", before disappearing.

At 9:10 am, Blogger Loki said...

with you on Broadcast, Kek... the contrivance gets between your teeth; i'm sonically interested in the initial bursts from hauntology but i'm drawn more towards the stuff that sounds 'accidentally' hauntological... i thought accident was kinda crucial, but i might have misread/misunderstood/missed...

and also with you on the early hippy folk stuff... the guilt associated with liking that kind of thing in a non-ironic way has dragged it's way through my writing/thoughts... it doesn't even work for me at an intellectual level... purely emotive, id music, utopian... maybe ridiculous at times but a kind of ridiculous that's easy to buy into...

maybe it's a country thing? too simplistic and patronising an idea perhaps but there's something a little (accidentally!) off about living in the sticks, causes a casual merging of ideas without having a 'scene' around you to solidify the ideas... i remember how weird it was going to a gig in London where everyone was into the same band/ knew all about them / had the t-shirts and the haircuts - and seemed to be getting the same thing... it was a truly disorientating experience when you'd been used to going to see everything with everyone and taking what you could... even in Bristol, there wasn't enough knowledge to form a coherent impression beforehand...

I... Fuck it; I think I'll write about this on my own blog...

thanks for your time...

At 9:56 pm, Blogger jjc said...

Actually, Dagmar is the one with weird, Felix Kubin-ish hair, number two from the left. The one on the right is Inga Rumpf.

(Good rant about Broadcast by the way, I think I would have reached more or less the same conclusions if I had ever cared enough about them to give it so much thought. I mostly remember them as one of the first signs of Warp regressing, really).

At 10:14 pm, Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

Yeah, sorry, JJ - having a bit of a senior moment there; duh! 'course it's Inga! - a big fave of mine and a much underrated vocalist.

There's an Inga dump here:

At 12:32 pm, Blogger Jake Smith said...

for some odd reason your review makes me want to check out broadcast live. The thing i find annoying about H music apart from it not delivering sonically is that we live in the weirdest of times right now and I crave music that reflects that... not crate digging collages of more old stuff... new sounds required NOW!

At 3:15 pm, Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

"we live in the weirdest of times right now and I crave music that reflects that... " - Jake, I so totally agree with that!

Considering the background technology open to us and the ridiculous number of options / artistic pathways, why is everything so damn conservative / derivative right now?


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