Monday, 29 April 2013

‘Arc’ by Everything Everything


Point is: music can reflect the past and still be valid. Some may see it as history repeating itself, for others it’ll be brand spanking new. If you don’t think Peace are as rejuvenating as a wash of zesty orange juice over a crushing hangover then you’re beyond help. As Britain suffers from youth unemployment and economic crisis, our greatest currency is the chime of a golden tune. Peace have delivered 10 of them. So what if they’re a bunch of pirates and not pioneers?
This is their time.”
(Concluding paragraph of the NME’s 9/10 review of Peace’s debut, as brought to my attention by Neil Kulkarni.)

This is their time?

Maybe it is. Maybe this moment in history, when here in the UK the supreme accomplishment of the last century, the wonderful, vital, heartachingly admirable beacon of hope and humanity that is our National Health Service has been thrown to the wolves of private sector profiteering and will never be the same again, yes, maybe this moment belongs to a foursquare indie band called Peace.

This moment, when our higher education system, envy of the world and nurturer of critical thinking, has been privatised and told to nose out not enlightenment but cash.  When the poorest and most vulnerable in the country have been kicked to the kerb and aggression towards them has been deliberately fomented by the privately-educated millionaires and scumbag media who decide what goes in this town. When disabled people are getting shouted at in the street as scroungers and penniless, traumatised refugees are being blamed for financial privations that the ruling class have created. When making comments on social media can be parsed as thought-crime and punished with custodial sentences. When students who’ve been beaten up by riot cops have to prove in court that they’re not the aggressors. And when the mainstream left seem as utterly incapable of raising a decent response to these horrific, repressive, calamitous times as they would a piss-up in a brewery…

Maybe the present really does belong to hopelessly low-horizoned backwards-looking non-entities such as the predictably pointless Peace.

Maybe the rest of us are truly beyond hope…

So I am very glad Everything Everything exist. I’m glad they say their influences range from Destiny’s Child to Slint and I’m glad they’re not afraid to be cerebral and ridiculous as well as shiny. I’m glad their stated intention is to avoid cliche, or the cliches expected of white men with guitars from Manchester: amen to that! God, I’m so glad they want to be pioneers not pirates. And I’m glad that, despite being pop musicians, they’re not so daft as to believe that right now “our greatest currency is the chime of a golden tune” but that, on the contrary, the very least they can do in the face of this political shiteheap is to reflect the present. Anything else is doing Neo-Liberalism’s dirty work for it.

Fuck the past! Seriously, we don’t have time for that shit right now.

Arc turns out to be magnificent. Ambitious enough to be documenting a moment in history rather than disinterring someone else’s. Or rather, documenting, as is Art’s wont, how it feels to be alive right now, here at the crest of the wave when the world is clearing its throat (the album starts with a “cough cough”) and experiencing the hopefulness/awfulness something about to break.

The words come tumbling out of Jonathan Higgs’ mouth like so many bright bees, clouds and clouds of them buzzing about, so numerous and sharp such that their ingenuity, volume and ambition remind me of Joanna Newsom’s meticulous verses. He conjures up drone strikes, billionaires, footballers’ wives, broken war-heroes, landmines, volcanoes, rioters, pterodactyls, post-apocalyptic landscapes, revelatory visions. Not a waistcoat in sight.

Vocals range from falsetto to grainy keening to rich choralling, constantly on the point of breaking, full to bursting like water balloons or rainclouds. It’s as flawed and as sexy as fuck. I’d use the achy scuffed tone of Higgs’ voice to counter the criticism of EE that they’re too clever-clever to engage with, much (to my ears) in the manner of XTC, where cleverness smacks of wackiness, detachment, even privilege (of both class and gender). Making intricate choppy moves because they can. Too many notes. Too many words. EE are not Ramones by a long chalk. But that voice! Those words! They’re used because no others else will do. No fewer will work to catch the complexity.

The stream of Higgs’ lyrics is often interrupted by voices that counter or question it. Its narrative is provisional, subjective, non-authoritative. ‘Armourland’, for example, ostensibly about a love affair, is punctuated by other voices and contradictory imagery; “end, end!” it goes in a most unromantic way  and closes with the words “I’m sorry”. EE are maximalist because the world is huge and strange and confusing. They can power up a tumbling Sigur Ros-sized anthem (cf ‘Arc’) only to shoot it down with jarring synths, jabbering voices, scattered beats.  ‘Cough Cough’, with its panicky/exhilarated refrain of “I’m coming alive!” is both a man and a country waking up to change – to something terrible, something revelatory, something new. ‘Duet’ is all riots and looting and confusion but accompanied by sweetly skipping strings and anti/romantic imagery. “But of all the dead volcanoes on Earth, you just happen to retch and roll through mine… ”

Arc bursts with wit and life, it’s dazzling and bewitching, full of urgency and technique. It slams, quivers, dances, rails, shouts, cajoles and teases. It feels like NOW, so much more than Peace with their rehashed indie tropes or the fuckwitted fauxlk of the recently laurelled Mumfords, whose success in the face of EE’s very existence is baffling to me. I am glamoured by its cleverness, in lust with its cerebral flicker.

It makes me want to dance and fuck and react and think and fall in love.

It’s the sound of portents and miracles, the sound of being messily human in the midst of chaos and destruction. It wouldn’t know what to do with authenticity. Its heart beats pop.
It sounds like walking down Piccadilly in the aftermath of a demo, past pink and yellow and orange paint ball splats on the fascia of the Ritz. Like anger and danger and the potential for change ringing in the air with the shouts of the mob. Like the magnetic pull of the black hoodied kids throwing sticks towards the riot police line, waking you up, stirring you up.

It sounds like walking from your lover’s bed in the drizzly pre-dawn, head a-buzz with fireflies and thrills, against the work-going tide, plod and skip at odds.

Like National Geographic films, like geological wonders, like the slow crunch of tectonic plates and the murmuration of starlings, like both laval creep and the iridescent compound eyes of insects.

Like snow in April and ever more surreal horror on the news.

Like being seduced by revolution despite deep trepidation.

Like working out that everything , everything, is more complicated than it first appears.

Like stuttery heartbeats propelling blood around a body.

Like being awake, like coming alive…

And why, now, would you want to sound like anything else, be anything less than everything?

Dear Bobby Gillespie | Re: ‘It’s Alright, It’s OK’: it’s actually really not

primal scream - it's alright, it's OK

Dear Bobby Gillespie,

Re ‘It’s Alright, It’s OK’: it’s actually really not.

Not at all.

Look, someone needs to tell you! No other fucker seems to have done it so I guess it’s down to me. I appreciate that you’re trying to invoke the spirit of ’69 with the B&W footage, the haircuts, the sound, the words… but this is 2013. I know – because you’re opinionated and articulate enough to shout about how despicable the Tory cunts running the country are in interviews - that you’d welcome change. But it’s not going to happen by rifling through faded snapshots of the glory days of protest and holding them up to view, hoping that some of the cool of those mediated images of counter-cultural youth will rub off on our hopelessness and inertia.

I don’t want to go back to the 60s and 70s, however cool they look from here. They were also sodden with homophobia, sexism, racism, every other ism in the book. And despite the cosmic threads dude, I wouldn’t want to be a mini-dressed flower girl or a doe-eyed muse: the archetypes open to women 40 years ago are beyond stale. Let’s not pilfer from the past for our revolutionary ideologues, be they hippies, striking miners, riot grrls or Suffragettes; let’s acknowledge them, incorporate their more pertinent points, learn some lessons and move the fuck on. Find some fresh ones. It truly is the only way we’re going to set anything ablaze.

The way things are now is new. The way people are being controlled, set against each other, demoralised and bled dry may have much in common with past eras of repression but let’s have some historical specificity here; this moment is unique and terrible and needs unique and terrible action to counter it. Retro-gazing is counter revolutionary, Comrade. Get with the programme.

Plus, really? *That* sound again? Make something new. Please. In that Guardian interview you speak passionately about how you see music as a revolutionary force, as psychic resistance, but that there song is the sound of utter resignation, the sound of middle-aged people giving up on sex. It’s the sound of a life crunching to a halt in the acknowledgement that anything glorious that it has ever been is behind it and it’s only by the eternal pointing out of that one shining moment when it thought it was astounding that prevents it from sinking into the mud of mundanity. It’s leather trousers worn by men in pubs. It’s an OAP still piling the remainder of his hair into his Teddy Boy quiff, which has over decades thinned to the point where it’s just a flimsy hint, a ghost of a style. It’s a desperate gathering of youthful signifiers to shore one’s existence up against death. (Which does not, in case you were under any illusion to the contrary, work.)

It is NOT the sound of revolution.

Fucking hell.

*rolls eyes*

Not OK at all.

Love from Lucy

Friday, 5 April 2013

Kate Nash interview

Ah, it’s easy to take potshots at Kate Nash! Who is she trying to be, what is she trying to say? Is it any good?! When I interviewed her recently about her new albumGirl Talk and – here’s the thing – her newfound feminist image, I didn’t find the answers straightforward, however sweet, well-meaning and friendly Nash was when we spoke; there’s a whole mess of uncomfortable contradictions to square.
It’s all about context.
Her 2007 hit single ‘Foundations’ was a little gem, its sharp, unflattering picture of a failing relationship bubbling with resentment and as gawky as the couple it depicted, but – context - Nash was stuck firmly in her mate Lily Allen’s mockney-sass shadow, and, frankly, one precocious/privileged metropolitan teenager doing hoppity-skip sarky pop songs seemed quite enough, ta.
Kate Nash, 2013 version, is still a bit of a chameleon, although she’s mostly playing a riot grrl rather than an Estuary-vowelled BRIT kid. Not everyone’s thrilled about it.
Let’s start with the feminist credentials. On the one hand, Kate Nash is a woman who releases her own records, plays with an all-woman band and hires women to work on the promotion and distribution of her music.
On the other hand, so do lots of women. Every day, across the world, in lo-fi, punk, post-punk, grunge, even, goddamn it, pop, dance and electro bands, women are working with women and it ain’t no big thing.
Kate Nash doing those things is mostly remarkable because it’s not the script she started with; you don’t expect a young, conventionally-marketed female pop star to shake off the traces quite so consciously (although who’s to blame for those expectations?). And deliberately choosing to work with women is within an industry still skewed along gender lines is an admirable identity-building act: “When you’re younger and growing up and everyone’s trying to fit you in a box, it’s like eeeeugh! Now I’m liberated, more in control!” she tells me.
But, on another other hand, she is doing all that from the position of a conventionally pretty, white, privileged in-all-kinds-of-arenas singer who makes shinybright pop rather than breaking radical new musical, aesthetic or sexual boundaries. She’s not Beth Ditto. She’s not Johnny Rotten. She’s not even La Roux.
There’s also the fact that while twenty years down the line the apparently epoch-defining Riot Grrl movement is being discussed in books, at conferences, on radio programmes and documentaries everybloodywhere you look, its direct influence on current mainstream pop is manifest by exceedingly few people. Kate Nash being one.
But… Riot Grrl’s influence is made messy flesh a thousand times over in the lower, scratchier strata of rock’s firmament; there are hundreds of bands doing the noisy girl thang; it’s hardly original.
And as Nash says “it’s important for girls of today to create new scenes, have new labels”; they might “admire the influence of people like Kathleen Hanna and Courtney Love… (but) things need to change… it’s a different world now”.
So why make music that sounds like 1991? You’d think there were no other ways of being a feminist musician.
Not that I mind pastiche done well. Last summer’s ‘Underestimate The Girl’, written and recorded in a day, so irked listeners with its scrappy grrlishness that hundreds of them took to the grubby depths of the Youtube comments section to berate her furiously. Her fans seemed to be steamingly cross that the new material sounded different to the songs of five years ago: less bubbly, less obviously chartpop and more (“How dare she?!”) obviously old-school indie, in fact. Fans of said old-school indie meanwhile seemed full of some kind of pompous pique that she was pilfering from their past and showing her workings-out so clearly.
Ah, some people are so taken with indignation when spotting a familiar sound or style that their ears can’t tell whether or not the thing is being employed in such a way that the song works. My first reaction to ‘Underestimate The Girl’ might’ve been a knee-jerk “That’s Courtney’s schtick, give it back before she decks you!” but actually I really like what she’s referencing; it’s my music, goddamnit! OK, the song doesn’t sound particularly original, and OK, you can read its influences as if they were ingredients on the side of the packet, but it makes a ferocious noise and has a nice, spiky, satisfying hook. She’s not scared of the tuneless screech either. It’s a really fucking good song, OK? Anything else you might say about it seems unnecessarily axe-grindy.
Girl Talk is saturated with the sounds and mannerisms of early-nineties girl-heavy indie rock as signifiers for DIY grrl power: Breeders, Bikini Kill, Pixies, Le Tigre all present and correct. Kim-ish basslines throb and saunter all over the record, complementing lovely dark grungey guitars. Nash’s chameleon voice curls itself into American sneers and growls as well as the familiar bright London-girl tones of old.
Yes, she’s cherry-picking the bits of Riot Grrl that suit her (Courtney Love’s screech but not her fucked-up dirty edginess; Kathleen Hanna’s guitars but not the ferociously confrontational sexual politics; Kim Deal’s up-front basslines but not her peculiarly plain cool… ) but taken at face value Girl Talk has some pretty good pop moments. Of course, Nash’s songs have none of the discordant teeth of a Talk Normal, Tunabunny or Trash Kit, bands much more obviously the heirs to the grrl throne; Nash’s riot is an act, a canny assumption of cool and a nudge to her influences (which also include surf rock and Brit pop).
This is no bad thing; music has always rifled through the dressing-up box, picking and choosing its clothes. Nash is putting on a costume as she’s putting on the snarl, just as she did with the snarky kid persona on Made Of Bricks. It’s clear that her cheerful appropriation of Riot Grrl’s tropes is related to the way Nash sees the world: “once something’s already existed it becomes more of an image than a reality”, she tells me.
So fuck authenticity. I don’t care if a song wears its influences on its sleeve if it makes a fine show of doing so.
Nash even talks about feminism in terms of image and style. You might, as I did, wince a little at her excitement that feminism in 2013 is “getting more popular, it’s on Tumblr; feminism is a more fashionable thing now with stuff like Rookie mag and Tavi Gerritson” but it’s true that feminism is much more than an academic pursuit:  “it can be about studying and reading books, but as I get a bit older – I mean I’m 25 now –I feel like it’s actually just about life experience and you make your own version of it really”.
Hmm, I dunno… surely feminism is less a fashionable, personalised bolt-on to an identity than an on-going revolutionary process that engages fiercely with a structurally inequitable world? It’s not a self-development tool or “just like something to have in your life to give you confidence and make you appreciate women and realise the struggles that women face. And think about what you can do to improve that and live your own life.” Ouch.
Ah, poor kid. I shouldn’t pick hairs; in the end actions speak louder than words. As well as her proactive practice in the industry, Nash is also enthusiastically involved inRock School For Girls, an organisation that teaches girls to play rock music.
“I’ve nurtured a bunch of teenage girls, I’ve encouraged and worked with them and I’ve watched them go from a bunch of shy, angry kids that didn’t really know what to do with their feelings to performing at QEH, shouting and knowing how to express themselves, feeling confident and being able to be involved”.
This is a very good thing.
Kate Nash writes some smart little pop songs and (dread compliment) she is trying; I can’t help but feel fond of her. She’s working hard at being a creative and technically-savvy musician: “I’ve always been in control, I’ve always co-produced but with this record it was really guttural and emotional and instinct-led, so I was perfectionist about every snare hit and every sound.” These – context again – are noble aims.
And she’s clearly having fun. She’s flicking the Vs at the industry-approved career path which would’ve had her boxed-up and smoothed out by now. The truth is that she’s trying to walk the talk: maybe that’s more important than the fact that renowned rebel girls Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift were top of her list when asked about women she admired. She’s young. That’s the music business for ya. I’m sure she knows who Pussy Riot are really.
It’s revealing that the most animated she got in the interview was when we talked about fame, celebrity and the press. Yes, so this is her frame of reference. Growing up as a teenager in the public eye and being critiqued publicly and nastily on one’s appearance and choice of boyfriend must be singularly destructive of one’s self-confidence; no wonder she picks out the empowering aspects of both feminism and playing music as particular personal themes. When I ask her how negativity affects her, it all comes out in a furious rush:
“I think it’s bad for the world, not just for me. I don’t really mind it because I’ve got a thick skin, I’m over it: people have said every mean thing you can think of on the internet and in magazines so I’m not really scared of it, but after doing work in schools it does piss me off because, you know what? You might not be affecting my life but you’re affecting fourteen year olds and warping their minds, making them think they have to look a certain way and be a certain thing and be perfect princesses! I’ve interviewed almost a hundred teenagers who hate themselves and think they’re too ugly and fat to be a musician. So now I don’t have any qualms about saying “Fuck you!” to those magazines that do that.”
That’s it: we live in a culture where girls don’t think they can play music because of what they look like. It’s fucking heartbreaking. Enraging. Never the music crit, the fact that Kate Nash works directly and effectively with girls at Rock School to counter that appalling message is immensely commendable.
Here’s some context from me: five years ago I was watching a children’s cabaret at a festival and three different groups of kids (all girls) chose to sing Kate Nash songs. Which, I guess, was significant and surprising enough in itself. There was one little girl, eleven or twelve at the most, slightly plump, pony-tail, glasses, her voice shaking with nerves as she started to sing, but my god, it was amazing when she did, the lyrics of ‘Mariella’ tumbling from her mouth with a heartbreaking mix of pride and terror. You could tell that every word - every single word - was being dragged from a depth of momentous identification with the song that perhaps only the very young are capable of. All the lines about fitting in, about being clumsy and loud and opinionated, about Mariella glueing her own mouth shut in protest… that girl’s rendition was then – and remains – one of the most moving performances of any song I’ve ever witnessed. I wasn’t alone either; the marquee was thrumming with emotion. And when she bounced happily down from the stage she was a changed person, flushed with achievement, as clear an example of the transformative power of music as I’ve ever seen.
It was awesome.
Out in the world, being lived and loved by people to whom Kate Nash rightfully means a great deal more than she could ever mean to me (grown-up beyond the age where her articulation of the gloriousness and shittiness of being stuck on the cusp of maturity could ever be more than mere appreciation) her cocky little songs have quite a resonance.
So say what you like about her, oh you mouth-frothing Youtubers, those little girls singing her songs were right there with her, doing with music what ought to be done.
Kate Nash gets a hell of a lot of Brownie points for that.

(First published on Clash Online)