KID SHIRT

Thursday, May 27, 2010

PRAKASH JOHN!

REALLY NOT THAT FUSSED ABOUT BROADCAST

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.

Real.

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.