Saturday, 29 March 2014

Street Style by Ted Polhemus

Starting with the premise that style is something you live, whilst fashion is just something you wear, Ted Polhemus's magnus opus is an analyse and catalog of all the major western (and the occasional eastern) youth movements across the 20th century. Nominally focused on what people were wearing and doing it is an invaluable collection of brief histories of the varying Youth Tribes (his term) and how they interconnect together, giving a brief overview and history of each scene whilst focusing on their core concepts and intended statements.

The work goes through the birth of the Style movements at the start of the 20th century (where people were trying to stake a claim for who they were through what they wore, instead of identifying status or station), the birth of the Teenager as a social concept, the myriad of 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's movements and their tension (internally and externally) between "Dressing Up" and "Dressing Down", through to the "Gathering Of The Tribes" in the late 90s, and the "Supermarket of Style" and the dissolution of the Youth Tribes that has emerged in the aftermath of social, economic and technological upheaval of the 2010's. Whilst each section is brief they are all vividly presented so that you are clear what is being discussed, and the definitions offered are sufficiently broad and identified that the core concept is indisputable. There are also extensive 'further reading' sections for those who wish to find out more, and a willful admission that not every nuance has been addressed that should put community insiders at ease that these are broad brushstrokes of ideas rather than reductive statements. There is also a happy sense that all scenes are somewhat nebulous and impossible to define with accuracy.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in popular musical movements or in street/consumer driven youth fashions. As a starting point for defining the genres it is a invaluable tool, and on a less anthropological level the "Gathering Of The Tribes" and "Supermarket of Style" concepts are fantastic explanations as to just what the hell happened in youth culture over the last 20 years (giving answers to the questions first proposed by John Robb). It's also just a great read, giving a historical insight into youth movements that shows a reverence that is often lacking in a general, rather than genre specific, review or study and an amazing history of the fashions and the reasons behind the fashions of everything that has come before and, in the post-modern recycle machine, will invariably come again.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Dave Brockie, gone but never forgotten.

The news broke today that Dave Brockie, lead singer and creative force behind The Dave Brockie ExperienceX-Cops, and GWAR, had died at the age of 50 on March the 23rd. The cause of his death is currently unknown, but that isn't that important right now. What is important is that a great musician & performer is gone, and we are unlikely to ever see anyone else like him for a while.

In someways the Weird Al Yankovic of metal, in many ways just a great entertainer and lovable character. He was able to observe the absurdities of heavy metal, and produce something that highlighted it excesses, ridiculing its excesses with mock revelry, but also tapped into the core positive sensibilities of community, freedom, and escapism from the dull realities of the world. Yes, his bands all wore exceedingly silly costumes and did overblown theatrics (often featuring 10+ performers on stage at any one time) with insane lyrics. But its easy to forget that each of the projects was simply an extension of what was already being done in the scene anyway, and rather than taking the music to the logical extremes of death-metal or black-metal he took them in the direction of the illogical, and far more accessible, extremes of Saturday morning cartoons.

With GWAR misogynistic sexism was replaced by impossible levels of perversion (often with the female characters coming out on top), stylish disinterest in the audience was surpassed by a wish to destroy the planet, suggested violence was bypassed with regular death on stage (always including major celebrities, normally picked form the local to cause maximum upset), and a hip-upbringing story was replaced by galactic myth and outright bullshit of the first order. All done with a massive respect for the rest of the world and a total appreciation that what they did was ridiculous but, most importantly, that that didn't make it any less important or stop it from being wonderful. And they could play, be it sleazy fast rockfunky dance metal, songs about killer penguins, possibly the most metal song ever, or 70's classic AOR, because no-one gets to do something for 30 years unless the basis of it is solid skills and talent. Always bubbling away at the edge of social acceptability with Grammy nominations and Beavis and Butthead mentions (even managing to get a gig on Fox News for a while), they have always been too out-there to break big yet always great enough to always be unmissable. Sadly Brockie's death is likely to give them the fame they always deserved, mostly because with such an unpredictable band its going to be safer playing the tapes than letting them into the studio.

Meanwhile X-Cops (always criminally underrated IMO) was the answer to the question "what happens if a bunch of pissed off police formed a band" (and also 'how badly does a band suffer if they are their own support on a tour") when tracks like "Cop Killer" were all the rage and the LA Riots were still kicking up a storm of dissension. It was antagonism and ridicule at its highest, as well as tapping into the raw politics of what you could and couldn't sing about as a rock band. The Dave Brockie Experience was just weird, with simple, almost punky, little tunes about things like being a squirrel because why the hell not. Minimal irony or post-modernism, simple good fun.

So 'Thank You' Dave, for three of my favorite bands ever, and for an unrelenting willingness to be utterly serious about doing things for a joke. Thank you also for one of my favorite live performances ever, which much like your death ended abruptly and with me (and others) hungering for more. You are gone too soon, and we will miss you.

Monday, 17 March 2014

False Face - God Module

An evolution in musical style and approach is normally an essential thing for any band that wants to keep things going and not rest on their laurels, so  False Face, the latest album from God Module is a logical progression of the band. It has all the basic elements that have become the hallmarks of their sound: solid beats, spooky soundbites and a bunch of horror themed happenings, but developed into a more listener friendly sound which shows off the bands pop leanings and a more easy paced, delicate sound to it.

Opener "A Good Night To Die" is classic Seance era sillyness, but the rest of the album soon calms down with tracks like "Through the Noise" and "Faith Is Fragile" going so far as having a old school EBM feel to them (with some VNV Nation touches at times). It's not as immediately evocative, and definitely not as mental, as their previous offerings so I can't say I'm going to ever love it as much as their last album but it gives scope for future albums to see further evolution, which is far better than them getting stuck into the rut they could easily and quite comfortably have made for themselves. It should certainly get them more plays in the clubs and radio stations, so whilst they may lose some listeners I think it will gain them far more in return.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Titans Remain - Cronos Titan

Cronos Titan have a formula: make a great sounding, solid, deeply thumping, darkwave/EBM track, filled with energetic riffing guitar and elegant keyboards (along with the occasional beefy clang), and then play a series of religious themed soundbites over the top of it. It's a perfectly viable schtick, which they do with great style and aplomb, and it will go down brilliantly on a club whenever individual tracks (like "Inside The Giant Iron Cross" or "In Times Of Passion") get played. It's joyfully dark and brooding, it's perfectly 'on message' for the scene, and it's utterly danceable.

However as in album form, like their Titans Remain! release, it doesn't hold up that well as you are left wanting a bit of diversity and some new dynamics thrown in to shake things up. "I Am A Machine (Parts I-III)" shows promise by having a bit more of a sci-fi feel to it (and at 16:19 long is a great workout or driving track) but beyond that it's all a little samey and quickly all becomes a bit background. If you like it you'll love it, but if you don't you'll cherry pick out a few tracks (I'd be surprised if you can't find one you like) and discard the rest so it's a case of hit up their BandCamp and make your choices.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Shapes Of Screams - LostAlone

Fancy some sing-along-rock goodness that has plenty of edge and heavyness whilst keeping a melody-based pop-sensibility? Then Derby based trio Lost Alone have an excellent new album called Shapes of Screams coming out on the 7th of April, and it has the potential to becoming quite the mover for the UK music scene as it has comfortably one of the most adventurous sounds I've heard for a while. Part Wildhearts chugging singalongs, with power-riffs and heavy breaks flying around when needed, but also part Hanoi Rocks meets Queen glam showyness and complexity. It also has moments of brazen Supergrass pop-rock out, which could all of ended up being a a mess but manages to end up being something new and quite powerful.

The two singles, Scarlet Letter Rhymes and The Bells! The Bells! give a taste of what is to come, both blending some serious metal guitars with classic rock and pop-punk touches. This is big music with some big ideas to get across, and it is a bigness that expanded on album tracks like "Hostages" (with full classical strings section) and "Breathing in the future exhaling the past" (which should come with a lighter and a stadium). There are no real bad tracks on the whole album, just a couple ("Requiem" and "Apathy") which are more subdued and straight forward than the others so seem a little out of place. Almost all the tracks have got accompaniment to them, going from layered and interwoven guitars to orchestra and sound-fx, so whilst the album sounds great I'm not sure how what it will come across when it's just the three of them.

Overall it's big, its bold, and it's fun with shout along choruses. It's got appeal to the classic rock, the heavy metal, and the pop-punk crowds so should find more of a following. And, very importantly, it's trying to do something new and does it rather well.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Beyond Planets - Naked Lunch

Miss the burning white-heat of cutting edge late 70's sci-fi and electronica? Think that life went downhill once computers got smaller than a room and synths didn't come in kits? Then you are in for a treat with Naked Lunch as Beyond Planets has clearly been airdropped in from some part of the curiously English 80's goth/electronic sound that everyone else had left well alone.

What we have here is simple beats, simple electronic instrumentation, and simple song construction that combines into a surprisingly meaty mix of driven, powerful sound. There are no tricks, nothing is that flashy or overplayed, and that makes tracks like Glow and Weekend Behaviour all the more hypnotic and compelling. It's has a nod to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark without being as poppy, the guitars have a touch of Sigue Sigue Sputnik to them whilst being more of a background wash than an overdriven foreground noise, and it is doesn't try to modernise itself as they clearly know that sometimes less can very much be more. It also surprisingly doesn't sound like an attempt at false-retro, it's just a band that has found it's thing and has been perfecting it while mostly ignoring whatever else has been going on as it would just get in the way.