It is ten years ago today that John Peel died.
I have been thinking about it a lot recently. I have been thinking of how huge an influence he had on my life (not just my record collection), and how therefore his death had a massive impact too. I expect this is true for many of his listeners my age: I still deeply needed him.
I have been trying to write a zine about it, but I don’t feel like I can adequately explain it, especially on a personal level. For a start, I wouldn’t have got into zines without him, meaning I wouldn’t be a co-ordinator for Sticky Institute, and I wouldn’t have made any of the friends I have in Melbourne. I wouldn’t be in Australia in the first place, as I wouldn’t have started writing about the music I loved, and met my wife through it, and moved here for her. I wouldn’t have such a deep belief in DIY culture, I’m sure of it. And it’s difficult, therefore, to articulate the extent to which he changed my life for the better.
Plus, it feels ridiculous saying to an Australian readership that your hero is a Radio One disc jockey. A person whose job it is to play a record, say what it was and who made it, and then play another one.
The group hug on Twitter tonight explains how it was a bit more complicated than that, though. And the main thing I can think of at the moment, bottle of red in hand, is this quote shared earlier on, snipped from between tracks in the 1990 Festive Fifty:
Before I play you the number 10 track, I’ve got a little yellow cut-out elephant, you know the type of thing, that people write notes on and so on, which I’ve been carrying around with me for quite some time. It says, “Hi, my name’s Clara, I’m 14, from Moseley in Birmingham. This is a dumb letter, in fact I don’t even know why I’m writing it, because it’s not like I have contacts with a band and can get special stuff for you: I don’t even know anyone else who listens to your programme. I can’t even phone up on the fluff line because my mum and stepdad would kill me. You’ll probably chuck this letter in the bin, or ignore it completely. Oh well, it’s tough being fourteen.” I know it is, Clara: this is for you.
Thanks for making being fourteen bearable, John. x
Hello, I know I’ve not been here for a while, but since the last time you heard from me I’ve started up this blog’s namesake record label: Fulsome Prism Recordings.
I am almost sickeningly happy with the stuff I’ve released on there so far, including the debut album (I think) from Plastic Knife, the debut single by both Lil Leonie Lionheart and The Newport Dolls and a 30th anniversary tribute to Purple Rain – more of which later.
Just the other day, though, I was going through a handful of old usb sticks from my art school days, and found some audio experiments for an EP I hoped to release that was designed entirely for listening to while lying down. A lot of it, I must admit, was dreck. But there were a few scraps of things I still liked and thought I’d finally let them loose.
I don’t really know what lends audio drone collage, live ambient noise sculpture and an experimental improv orchestra (respectively) to lying down, but they seem to fit. I’m lying down now, for instance. Oh and also, thank you to John for sticking it on Discogs.
Download for whatever price you want here. And I just remembered there was a video to a couple of these too:
Here is my review of ‘Mein Booky Wook’, as written for The Thousands.
In a sense, it’s hard to fathom how it’s taken until 2013 for Smiths frontman, hyper-veggo and indie martyr-complex benchmark Steven Patrick Morrissey to pump out hisAutobiography. As a celebrated literature nut (Wilde is on his side, remember) and a man oft celebrated for his knack with a bon mot, he can’t have gone the last three decades without feeling a book was in him. Similarly, being the (presumably unwitting) spiritual father of emo – and (seemingly) super aware of the devotion he inspires across the globe – must’ve had him toying with the auto-bio format as an outlet for his truth and grief before now.
On the other hand, despite having not always resembled (as he puts it) “Jean Gabin after a good beating”, Morrissey’s gargantuan world-weariness has forever painted him as a man born at 52, the age this tome leads up to. So having to wait until now for his life story, sung his own way, is kind of perfect. Perhaps the main regret from leaving it this long is that the portrayal of the grim and gritty post-war English North that childhood-Moz endured has long been an overly mined cultural trope, in nonfiction and elsewhere. Despite the unrelenting despair and disdain only he can muster, it has less impact than it should.
That’s not to say Autobiography isn’t uniquely and undoubtedly Morrissian – it is, often overwhelmingly so. Many readers not already hardened on Mozza are likely to find this book rather daunting considering its 450 pages without chapters, its opening paragraph that hurtles from birth (and near-death in infancy) to early schooldays over four pages – and that it’s not until page 75 that we get the first line break to pause for breath. Oh, mother!
Indeed, while the style and heft of the prose may well signal the author’s stubborn refusal of an editor, it also acts as a means of weeding out the non-fanatics, only allowing those who really care to access the, ahem, meat of the work. For instance, the early 10-page tract in which Steven reviews virtually every TV show he watched in his schooldays feels like an endurance test to caution the mildly curious, rather than a burning desire to tell you how great Thunderbirds was. When somewhere in the mid section you read “my only pleasure was to out-endure people’s patience”, you don’t doubt it.
Those that stay, though, are rewarded often with a sublime turn of phrase that, even among fountains of ramble, prove his barbed wit and bleak poetry have been transferred from song intact. In fact, the writing sounds so dramatically like Morrissey that after a while it starts to read as hilariously self-parodic, intended or not. When an anecdote about being turned down for a job as a postman ends with the typically maudlin line “There is now no escape but death”, I wonder whether the guffawing it elicits is what was hoped for.
With this in mind, it’s worth noting there’s no truly shattering revelation for fans here (apart from, perhaps, the details of a two-year platonic relationship with a male companion, or the fact he once attended a taping of Friends but refused to sing ‘Smelly Cat’ with Phoebe). But that hardly seems the point; surely the joy they’ll derive from this book won’t be finally getting to hear Morrissey’s side of the story, but simply getting to read it in his voice. Most devotees will know, for example, that Moz hates the guts of Geoff Travis, the Rough Trade Records boss whose acquisition of the Smiths pushed the label unexpectedly into the mainstream. But the way he finds dozens of new and inventive ways to repeatedly mark Travis as an unscrupulous ex-hippie, tactless and terminally out of his depth, turn re-learning it into a masterclass of the grudge-fuelled diss.
Autobiography is, therefore, everything a Morrissey buff might expect: bitter, uncompromising, shot through with misery but cattily funny. Even when it’s brutally cruel (gloating at the death of Beatles associate Neil Aspinall just because he sent a slightly terse letter once) or unguardedly touching (talking of friendship with Kirsty MacColl, or praising Johnny Marr’s creativity), it’s hard to mistake for anyone else. And the message being said is what all those faithful to the Pope Of Mope already know: life is a pigsty.
The above is a band that I really enjoyed this year. And here is a mixtape of songs that I liked an awful lot too:
Here is the tracklisting. There are links in it. I would recommend clicking them which is why I put them in.
MELT BANANA – Candy Gun (from the album Fetch)
DJ CLAP – Unbelievable (from the album Best Night Ever)
MEGA EMOTION – B R A I N S
SUMMER CAMP – Fresh (from the album Summer Camp)
GRANDMASTER GARETH – The Nobelisk (from the album Magical Sound Shower)
PHOENIX – Entertainment (Dirty Projectors remix)
CURSE – I Love It
MIXED INFANTS – Wouldn’t Blame You (from the Does That Hurt? How About Now? EP)
WEAVES – Hulahoop
I particularly adore that last recording for a number of reasons. I love the song, so much so that I decided to release it this year, and I think the gig itself, at a renovated electrical substation in Newport (as part of the opening of an art/zine exhibition I was involved in) was pretty magical. The acoustics in the vast space meant that Leonie’s music seemed to blossom and ring into every nook of the building, while freight trains occasionally thundered by outside. Plus if you listen very carefully, you can hear one of the curators (Samantha) introducing her boyfriend to her dad.
As with every year I wanted this mix to fit onto a CD (look I still like them ok) and so I’ve had to leave some absolute corkers off. Therefore here’s some other audial things I would recommend to you from 2013:
I really really love the band Crotch who formed this year, and their brilliant song ‘Disgrace’ is here - also one of them is Point Bluff who released this good thing. The Lightning Bolt single from above was from the Adult Swim singles club which has some other awesome titbits in it (Run The Jewels! Metz! Autre Ne Veut! Dan Deacon! Madlib! Miguel! Etc!). Ergo Phizmiz continued to churn out genius nuggets somehow including a slew of free albums, for instance the album Idiot, I have no idea how he does it. After making the impossibly feelings-inducing Love Is Not Rescue album, and having toured his interpretations of AA Milne poems for a couple of years now, Chris T-T went electric again and brought in The Hoodrats to make a new ‘rocky’ album The Bear, of which this is the title track - meanwhile the artist formerly using the moniker Pagan Wanderer Lu released another album as Andrew Paul Regan, namely this one.
While I like Melt Yourself Down, some blistering skronk closer to home was The Impossible No Goods, they unleashed this a few months ago. Jacques Greene did a cracking remix of an already brilliant ‘Body Party’ by Ciara, meanwhile Oscar Key Sung covered Miguel really nicely. That guy hit it so far out of the park that it was in a different postcode on more than one occasion – here’s the video for ‘All I Could Do’, for instance.
That Pixies song was alright, I guess. However, even though it’s only three seconds long, I listened to this preview of (hopefully) future Mutya Keisha Siobhan single ‘Boys’ possibly hundreds of times (for nearly a year now – get your finger out, MKS strategists). It sounds like it could potentially be ‘Freak Like Me’ levels of amazing.
Loads of people I saw live were great this year but have little or no web presence. I’m looking at you, Pretty Good Sex – googling your band at work is mighty risky. Sort of relevant is that Gilbert Fawn did something modestly wonderful around Melbourne this year to seemingly promote a smashing EP thing that appears to be loosely based on a TV programme about fishing in Perth, I’m not sure where you can get it online though (his older stuff is here). I’ve still not quite got my had around that The Knife album, I hope I do, but ‘Full Of Fire‘ was still magnificent. Oh and ‘Wrecking Ball‘ was great, obviously.
I hope you enjoy listening. Best of luck to you and yours in 2014, bud.
Have you ever seen a piece of art that changes the way you see other art that you’ve already seen before? Sorry, I know, of course you have. You’re not a robot. But anyway this is an example of that which happened to me recently.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to see I Finally Accept Fate by Johannes Kahrs in real life. Not that I was going purposefully to view said drawing, as before I stumbled across it I didn’t even know it existed. It looks like this:
What does your mind process when you encounter this image? Kahrs’ works are a blurry and chiaroscuro-heavy attempt at photorealism, like the subject is being painted from a paused TV screen or fuzzy monitor. But within a few seconds the interpretation of what I was seeing shifted so dramatically it was like the canvas itself had been pulled into focus.
Having only seen a limited number of Kahrs’ paintings before, I knew he did some figurative work, and wondered whether this was a collection of hand sketches on black that had been blown up and ‘promoted’ to a proper work in itself. This interpretation may seem a strange conclusion to automatically come to, but it was in no small part influenced by having also seen Nicolas de Largillierre’s Étude de Mains recently too:
However it’s very quickly obvious that the sparse and scattered positioning of the hands – and it is only hands – cannot be serendipitous, that even the ones not touching are reacting with each other. So my next response when viewing the entire composition was that they were reaching forcefully, but just to touch rather than grab – as if it were a display of urgency restrained by politeness. When I read that the image is actually of Al Gore and wife Tipper descending a staircase moments after hearing that he’d lost the US presidency to George W Bush in 2000, that interpretation made a lot of sense.
I don’t have the original image, and I don’t recall seeing it in the papers at the time, but I don’t need to. As soon as you know what the photograph is, as soon as you know the moment and the historical significance captured within, you can easily fill in the blankness around the hands. You can see the look of defeat behind the smiles of Al & Tipper, walking with repressed resignation through the throng clapping, snapping, straining to shake hands with them, being held back by security as they surge towards the couple. Or, as the text next to the work put it, Kahrs has left “only the tension and disorder of highly expressive decontextualized gestures which contain a mute violence.” As soon as the viewer is given the political event to align the part-obscured image with, the emotiveness of the situation falls into place.
But did I need that piece of information? My brain seemed to make certain gut reactions about the emotional charge of the moment taking place before knowing what it was, all just from the hands. Was it just coincidence that this reading of their positioning was sort of right? Or – and this is coming from a fervent non-believer in chiromancy – can certain feelings be expressed with neither the viewer nor the viewed consciously intending them?
I ask because, shortly before finding this drawing, I was thinking about the work of Perth-based artist Anna Dunnill. Despite (or perhaps because of) being a multimedia artist, Dunnill’s work always strikes me as being collage, even when it technically isn’t; much of the detail in her art is striking but scattered, like intricate fragments spread out in a way that makes whatever surface they’re on feel like a dense, blank void. And in many cases those details are hands.
Having seen Kahrs’ work, I suddenly realised I’d been making certain assumptions about the hands in Dunnill’s pieces without being consciously aware of it. Take the above image, a detail from Notes Towards A Universal Language. Perhaps because they look like they’ve been sourced from elsewhere, I didn’t assume that the hands were autonomously roaming Addams Family-style around the landscape Dunnill has constructed for them, and their photographic-looking nature meant I involuntarily wondered what the whole image they had been sourced from might have captured. But I wasn’t aware my brain was doing this, nor that it had automatically come to the conclusion that the hands emerging from the depths of the page were…well, desperate. Urgently but desolately lunging out for a hand to grab them back. I had gathered, basically, that they’re the drastic reaches from someone drowning in the work.
Why the hell did I think that? Why the hell did I even think that when viewing the above work from the Transitional Objects series, even though it looks like the hand is grabbing onto something, thus suggesting a glimmer of hope? And why the hell did it take until seeing I Finally Accept Fate to question why I even assumed that at all?
Let’s compare it to, for instance, John Heartfield’s The Hand Has 5 Fingers:
Even before you know the historical context and importance of Heartfield’s work, and before you know what the poster was trying to persuade the viewer to do (i.e. vote for the Communist Party), I would be surprised to hear anyone say the hand look desperate. It feels assured, imposing, aggressive even. It feels bold even before you read the text below it: “with five fingers, you can catch the enemy.”
Or does it? Being so used to seeing Heartfield’s collages, and knowing their significance during that period of 20th century Europe, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t associate his work with confrontation and defiance. Was the size and shape of the hand, its gesture separate from the body and dominating the composition, enough for me to read such feelings into it? Or did I take on the image and associations simultaneously before really being able to judge the hand’s gesture by itself?
These are, effectively, the same questions I ask when considering Dunnill’s work, because I first became aware of the hand motif in her practice after reading her zine Okay Ampersand #4. It is, by the way, an incredible zine. It’s the zine I now think about whenever I even slightly start to wonder whether spending so much time on ‘defending zine culture’ is actually worthwhile, because it quickly reminds me that it totally is. And because of its content (which I won’t go into here, as it feels more appropriate to let the zine explain for itself), it is utterly emotionally devastating. It’s about reaching out and holding on, and makes the way my mind interprets the hands in her work feel entirely fitting.
So, I’ve forgotten which came first. Do I react to the hands in Dunnill’s work as desperately stretching out into emptiness for help because that’s something I also found in the zine? Or did I see it in them before I had that association forever inextricably linked? I don’t know, it’s too late to recall. And probably too late for you too, now…sorry about that.
Well, this isn’t a review of the above zine, but just a shout-out to the lad Felix for reviewing Fifty Unused Zine Titles in his latest zine without a title. If his parents are watching, I’m sorry he had to read words such as ‘Fuck Batman’.
Anyway, I love this, here it is:
- What will you be when you grow up?
Older, I expect.
I don’t know what I will be, but I know things I would like to be. I think I’d enjoy being a Renaissance Man – i.e. with some perspective and an illusion of depth. (Little art joke for you there Eugenia.)
- What makes you happy?
I know things that have happened to me in the past that have made me happy but whether they can be ‘re-staged’, I’m not sure. Lots of people I know make me happy – for reading this you’re likely to be one of them. I know that if I feel unhappy I’ll watch Harry Hill DVDs and roast marshmallows in the spare room over a tea light, but that probably doesn’t count.
- What is happiness?
I don’t know, sorry.
- Do you prefer the great outdoors or the great indoors? What do you do there?
I prefer the indoors I think. And maybe that’s why I like the city because it’s a big collection of indoorses. I tend to spend a lot of time there thinking “I should get out more”.
- Do you look at or avoid mirrors?
I don’t purposefully avoid them but I tend to forget to look in them, subconsciously or otherwise. Therefore I tend to turn up at my place of work not knowing how crap I look. I’m sure if you drew cartoon genitalia on my face in my sleep I wouldn’t know about it until I accidentally caught my reflection in the office espresso machine.
- What’s your favourite colour?
- Tell me about a song OR scene from a film that evokes a particular time, memory, experience, story for you…
I’m not much of a film person and I often find it difficult relating to the characters, so I guess the thing movie scenes usually evoke for me is that time I was sat watching them. So maybe I’ll do a music one.
OK last week I’d booked some DJs for a clubnight and then one of them, who I’d not met before, played ‘Je Veux Te Voir‘ by Yelle, and it reminded me of being at university and listening to it loads on headphones in my room of the house-share I was in, hiding from the ketamine addicts I’d accidentally ended up living with, thinking “I’d really like to be at a club where this is playing”. It took six years but when it happened I lost my freaking mind.
- What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?
I’d say the face of my baby sister the first time I made her laugh with one of my jokes. I say joke, it was mainly me rolling around on the floor going “WAAAAAAH!!”, but y’know that’s pretty sophisticated for a six-month-old audience. And compared to the rest of my material.
- If you have travel planned for the future, where will you go and what will you do there?
I’m going to the UK for my cousin’s wedding. We’ll do what people regularly do at weddings, I guess. Usually drink, usually dance, usually bubble.
- Ever wanted to know what it’s like in another person’s shoes? Who would you consider swapping a day in your life with? Why?
Not really, to be honest. There’s people in my life I really admire and aspire to be like, but I think that’s different from wanting to go through their experiences. I know a lot of people who have dealt with terrible shit in their lives and I think it is being sym/empathetic to appreciate that whatever it was, I do not want to know what it was like going through it. If you had the capability to give me the chance of experiencing someone else’s life the way they perceive it then yes, I admit I would be curious. But I wouldn’t be so desperate as to insist you create the contraption that could achieve this. So stop asking me for funding.
If I did though, I’d quite like to try out the life or an artist I like, but someone who doesn’t have a formula about what they do, who tends to just find ideas ‘happening’ to them. Does that make sense? I can’t think of a great example right now…this isn’t one, but I’m thinking of that story where Paul McCartney allegedly dreamt the melody for ‘Yesterday’ and had to wake up and write it down, but didn’t have any lyrics yet, so just called it ‘Scrambled Eggs’. Regardless of the lack of words, I wonder what the hell it must feel like waking up to find your brain has just farted into your mind one of the most popular songs ever written. Is it like an instant revelation, or something you acknowledge has promise but you’ll have to work really hard on to get right, or do you shrug it off and only appreciate it later? Do you know what I mean, Eugenia? Let’s swap lives for a bit, go on.
Oh, unless you literally mean, would I literally like to spend the day literally in someone else’s shoes, which would be a ‘no’ too. I like my shoes. I tend to give my shoes names, for that personal touch. The ones I have on right now are called Mulder & Scully.
Thomas Blatchford, firstname.lastname@example.org