Friday, May 28, 2010

(via Unmann Wittering)

The music is Daphne Oram fucking about with a record by drumming superstar Sandy Nelson apparently, sounds like she's using a variable speed turntable and filters

The famously harsh winter of 62/63: wasn't born yet, but I was in my mum's tum.

Monday, May 17, 2010

recent thoughts and replies on the subject of music journalism

1) Do you think that music journalism is a dying trade?

it's evolving. going through changes. as in the black sabbath song 'changes'. which is a pretty plaintive, melancholy song.

2)If so, what ways do you feel the industry has changed?

it seems to be being deprofessionalised, or at least the professional bit of it is shrinking to a hard core and the rest is becoming a sideline thing for most people, what they do as well as their main livelihood

3)Do you think that music journalists still have the influence to make or break an artists' career?

no. but it's possible maybe if they all agree on something (which is very rare these days) to raise something's profile significantly

4)In your view, has the development of the music press affected the credibility of the journalism?

hmmm, not sure i understand this. less and less reported journalism is going on within the music press now, especially as people do email interviews and so forth. but it was always somewhat erratic in terms of its standing as reported journalism, certaily in the UK very few music journalists had been through journalism courses

5) Do you think today's music press lacks substance and depth in its content?

there is such a wide sprawl of music journalism that it is hard to make a global statement. some of the writing nowadays is way more knowledgeable and authoritative in a certain sense that what you used to get in the UK music press in my day -- in part because so much more knowledge is available, on the web. we didn't have any resources like that in the 80s or early 90s -- just a few rock encycopaedias. but in some ways there is almost too much knowledge, getting in the way of an emotional reaction or some kind of take or stance that is bigger than the facts, that aims for truth

6) Given the corporate growth and globalization of the music industry do you feel that market constraints are limiting what a journalist can now write?

no, not particularly. the constraints come now with the way that pop stars and rock stars are cossetted by publicists and interview situations are more controlled. so maybe some of the randomness and fraternising that you used to get in the 70s -- with journos like nick kent being friends with rock stars -- that has gone. but that still exists with your more indie and underground type artists, they seem quite happy to converse with journalists and are often quite influenced by music criticism

7) Has the music press become nothing more than a cog in the industry's promotion machine?

again, depends on what level, what sector, you're talking about. i don't think so, but equally the industry -- and publicists -- have got very very canny about promotion, building a buzz, etc, -- but you know the music press is basically in the same business as the industry/PR, on some levels it's about hype. for me it's fine to hype things if they are actually of substance. you want to further the things you rate and believe in, and music journalism is the art of suasion and
excitement incitement

8) Taking into consideration the music industry's saturation of popular music, do you think that the music press has become a victim of its own success?

did you see the last ABCs for the UK? NME is down to 38 thousand. What success?!

9) What impact has the emergence of MySpace and other social networking sites had on music journalism?

Not sure. I guess we can be bypassed if you want, but it means a hell of a lot of work sifting through stuff. I think the press has a role still as a filter, and also as a meaning-maker. we can still find the significance, make connections, aggrandise it all.

10) Do you feel that blogs and the likes of Twitter are eradicating the need for professional music critics?

i think this relates to 9/, to some extent yes, but there were always fanzines and always fans engaging in critical discourse, and this was always part of the mulch that grew the meaning of music. now it's just more visible and accessible

11/ How have things changed since you have been involved in the industry, what is different?

too big for me to answer. the main thing is the loss of the magazine as a social milieu --in my day (the 80s through to mid90s) you would bring your copy in, not email it or even fax it, and you would hang out at the office, meet the other writers, get drunk, have arguments, ideas would be generated, vibe would be generated and that filtered into the pages. now magazine offices are like ghost ships and most mags don't have that cameraderie and collective energy, the writers rarely meet each other unless they seek each other out.

12) Where do you see the music press going in the future?

deprofessionalised in large part, more and more fragmented,fractious.... it will follow the way music is going


it would be good to steer away as much as possible from the whole steady deprofessionalisation of music journalism/"what happened to it as a livelihood/career?!?!/"doomed, doomed, we're doooomed" issue, otherwise it'll just turn into a grim handwringing session. It's bound to come up anyway, especially during the question time. It would be more interesting to talk about why music criticism might be worth doing even if it's not a good career option -- all the stuff about what's it for, how does it make a contribution to music culture, how to do it well, how approaches have changed in the last decade, what motivates us, what inspires us etc etc.

As the one on the panel who's been around since the dawn of time I've noticed differences from when I started, or from the first half of my career, to do with the disappearance of the magazine as a social nexus, a milieu. When I started out, email didn't exist, fax machines were scarce and bloody expensive, so you brought your copy in personally, by hand; that meant you hung out at the magazine, so you got to know all the writers, there was a lot of socializing, drunken discussions, arguments. A thing I've noticed on the very rare occasions that I go to a magazine office is that they are like ghost ships. There's hardly anybody there, absolutely no vibe. Cos everyone sends in copy by email, editors I think would actually discourage anyone from coming in person, cos theyr'e so overworked it's a distraction. So one thing I sense is that the music writer lifestyle has become more solitary and that it is harder for a magazine to have "vibe" in the classic sense of Creem/NME/etc. Obviously writers do find each other and socialize, hang out, etc. But that's not quite the same thing as when a magazine functions as a kind of social milieu, because you would also rub up against writers/people you don't like and disagree with as well. Friction creates sparks. Of course there are online surrogates for writerly community like ILM etc but they have their own problems.

Another is the rise of musician-critic. Obviously there have always been super-smart, articulate, hyper-aware musicians (Eno, Green, Lunch, Malkmus, et al) but… there seems to be more of them now. I'm thinking Dirty Projectors dude, Vampire Weekend (who worship Momus who is an extreme example of musician/critic), Daniel Lopatin , Ghost Box dudes, Drew Daniels, John Darnielle, etc etc. and even in dance music you have super-eloquent types like Burial or Villalobos. I kinda half-feel like they're encroaching on our territory! There's a little bit of hmm what's my role now, cos they know they're trying to do/what they've achieved. At the same time these musicians have grown up reading music criticism and so you could say that it shows that what we do actually has some kind of effect. Anyway I wondered if you agreed that there's more of these hyper-conscious musicians around now, and also if this is a development that's been accelerated by blog culture. At times it can be a little suffocating almost, the musician presents a very well-laid out map of what their music is about.

the topic of tl; dr will have to come up at some point i expect!

speed-reading seems to be imposed by the nature of the web and data/culture overload

it is interesting how these changes in structure and reception affect the mode of writing, at one point some years ago before the web really took off it seemed like music writing in print magazines was getting more congested because word-counts were being reduced, so it was like people were trying to cram 800 words of data/argument/reference into 400 words.

on the web there's no limit to space but there's the different pressure of competing with all the other text and media out there, everyone being in a hurry, so maybe there is a pressure towards brevity/impact

i seem to be unconsciously resisting it by generating ever-vaster pieces
struck me that some of the reservations I have with the nu-IDM/nuum-IDM/nuum-not-nuum zone are basically down to the fact that it is the 14th year of Neurofunk

Check the argument here and here -- from "some of the year's most striking and accomplished" dance music to "yet leaves me cold" to "not generating any potent cliches, just a series of subtle tweaks and involuted nuances"

it's all horrible applicable

the sallow faced engineers, the middle class boys trying to talk street

you could even cast funky house as the speed garage in this scenario

except this neurofunk mark 2 is smart enough, has learned from the mistakes of drum'n'bass, and is trying to assimilate some of that funky energy into its everywhichway eclectoid thang

the cul de sac that it is heading into is not the cul de sac of purism

but a paradoxical cul de sac of impurism

somehow all these different sources and inputs are pulled in and yet still somehow isn't that varied, that surprising, that new

a paradoxical hetero-homogeneity of texture and vibe

all this energy, inventiveness, litheness and yet it all ends up sounding pretty much the same
If I'm reading you correctly, you're saying that the complaining about the malaise in music is actually part of the same malaise. You have a point there. My increasingly laboured attempts to refine and pinpoint this vague dissatisfaction of mine do seem to mirror the music: over nuanced, fiddly, somewhat arid, lacking the original spark. But don't you find this same airless, turgid quality everywhere in the writing about this area of music? It just seems to be what the music demands! The boosterish, echo-chamber stuff is worse, to my mind, because it's coated in this sheen of unconvincing positivity. My very occasional contributions to the discourse aren't even meant to be inspiring, really. Sobering, more like. Which is a bit dreary, but someone has to do it.

I don't think there will be any new ideas or real energy in the writing on this area of music, from anyone, until the music enforces it.

The reason I am resorting to these ever more tortured formulations is trying to get to grips with this paradox which is that -- the problem with the writing is the same as the problem with a lot of the music, which has something to do with the fact that it is well-written/well produced but... missing something.

Maybe it's partly to do with the nature of journalism now, which is that it is information processing, people stuck at computers, doing interviews by email, listening to mixes they've downloaded. They might well be out in the clubs and on the scene but none of that is seeping into the writing. And because of that you can do this kind of writing perfectly well without having the slightest contact with the scene.

Also the other problem with it is that it is nearly all of it sub-theoretical, operating just below the level at which new concepts are created, or large connections made to the social realm.

So the writing is neither buzzed up on the energy of the social/experiential/adventures after dark (EMPIRICAL) nor is it creating new ideas and patterns (THEORETICAL)
re the nu-IDM / nuum-IDM

so much of it sounds like music from the mid-90s. like subeena -- sounds like something that would have been lucky to get a lukewarm review when I was doing a round up of 12 inches in Melody Maker. Like it could have been on some San Francisco electronic listening music label

what's with the greena, subeena, mosca, ikonica ting of an 'a' on the end.... as if trying to remind you of 'electronica'

Mosca 'nike' is a microcosm of the whole genre-not-genre/scene-not-scene flux-of-now.... i think the beat is carrying a kind of ideological message which is that infinite flexibility/receptivity = only way to survive late late capitalism ....

so it's the opposite of militant.... whereas funky (particularly those boombastic devine tracks) still has a bit of soldier in its beats

the way it ('Nike') shifts the groove in this frictionless, non-jarring way did seem to be almost like a sonic manifesto for what this not-scene/not-genre is all about, which is 'we can assimilate everything' and I think that is the ideology of the global information-processing, fully networked class of which most people in the postdubstep world are actually members…

been kicking this idea around for a while and then found some support for it in the ideas of Bloch who sees utopian ideas of the future as being pushed by the coming bearers of society -- i.e. it's the rising class, not the ruling class (which always justifies itself by reference to the past -- antiquity, tradition, harking back to a golden age now fallen)

in other words 'utopia' is always an expression of collective narcissism, the self-mirroring of a class

Jameson also has some useful comments on postmodernism, "its progressive endorsement of anti-essentialist multiplicity and perspectivism also replicates the very rhetoric of the late-capitalist marketplace as such"

Mutation, flexibility, transversal, polymorphous perversity, and the negatives (rigidity, rigour, solid, sedimented, etc etc) : all these buzzwords of the wonky-thinkers seem very 90s and very much of the Wired/Mondo 2000/illbient era, i.e. pre the Crash, pre 9/11 -- "the irrational exuberance" of the info tech boom
What is the attraction of extreme music? What can "extreme" even mean
nowadays, when the outer limits in every conceivable direction seem to have
been probed? Besides, extremity depends on context and expectation. If
"extreme" has any meaning at all,shouldn't it iin reference to extremity of
affect, the intensity of what the listener experiences? But then, as we can
all surely attest, it's often the softest songs, the most gently seductive
and caressing sounds, that cut you up most cruelly. Bursting into tears is a
pretty extreme reaction to a piece of music, but I can't think of any noise
record or avant-garde work that has done that to me. Whereas Al Green's "I'm
Still In Love With You" or The Smiths' "There is A Light That Never Goes
Out" infallibly devastate. The most recent thing to make this grown man sob
was Kraftwerk's "Autobahn", an innovative piece of music on many levels, but
not really "extreme" or noisy, on the contrary, all euphony and Beach
Boys-like honey to the ears. What choked me up wasn't the poignant melody
but the sheer aesthetic majesty of it, the spirit behind the work.
Conversely, I once fell asleep in a Diamanda Galas concert (and I was a fan
and admirer of her music!). The singer was aiming to conjure Old Testament
levels of affliction, abjection and grief (the work was inspired by AIDS as
a modern day plague). Yet the undifferentiated pitch of mind-rending anguish
had the effect of lulling me into a doze. On the level of affect, Galas's
work was on the same level as Mantovani. Or a mug of Horlicks.
well rockism is easily traceable, it was coined by pete wylie of Wah! Heat in an NME interview in 1980, he meant something rather different i think than how it's come to be theorized

it was a term that was in a lot of currency in the early 80s, faded a bit but never completely died away all through the late 80s and 90s and then really blew up in those I Love Music/Freakytrigger/New York London Paris Munich circles in the Noughties, all those disputes about pop and M.I.A., and people thinking they were very cool liking Abba (as if the Spin Guide to Alternative Rock hadn't already included Abba in 1995, and it wasn't a particularly fresh, contrarian thing to do even then!). and then rockism just went viral didn't it -- so it would be hard to track as it's always had so many users

>Plus: is there also an umbrella term for the mistrust of >sophistication and >musicianship that has sort of >become pro-forma in anti-rockist stuff ? (Prog hate >?) A good example of this was the Julianne Shepard and Jessaca Hopper vilification >of the first Vampire >Weekend album on the grounds that they knew how to >play >their instruments, and "could probably read sheet >music."

i think that would have to be called "punkist". it's the same as e.g. ageing punkie howard hampton (a buddy of greil marcus) saying in new york times circa kid A that Radiohead were just like Pink Floyd. the return of prog as this horrifying spectre, when

-- in alt/indie music, proggish tendencies have been seeping back in since.... well there was Slint and math-rock, but Paul Leary in buttholes was if not quite prog then certainly doing virtuososity and guitar-hero type soloistics

and yeah you are right there is an equation of technique with gentrification with the upper middle class, that collapses on lots of levels:

often working class music (e.g. a lot of black or ethnic minority musics) are totally about slickness, skill, sounding tight, .... but also metal, there's a big emphasis on technicial skill and complexity, blast-beats, hyper-fast playing, contorted song structures

prog's following, certainly in the UK, had quite a strong working class contingent i think (esp in liverpoool for some reason, where they would love to get stoned and listen to zappa and floyd)

also what could be more connected to the collegiate and upper middle class than lo-fi, mumbled vocals, amateurish playing, etc etc ?

i think that's what's interesting about vampire, dirty projectors etc is that they've broken with those constructed notions of the authentic as the sloppy, intuitive, etc
In response to

so your argument is that everything else around is lame, so how could hip hop escape the general lameness?

there's an element of truth to that but the fall from that Missy/Timba/Neptunes/Jay-Z/dirty south peak is much steeper and dramatic than e.g. indie's steady-state through the decade, or dance's endless plateau (i actually think indie has got a lot more interesting/adventurous -- and actually higher in profile with vampire at #1 billboard -- in the last few years -- but totally agree that dance music is no more innovative or mainstream-dominating than hip hop -- in fact i made similar 'death of dance' arguments back in the early noughties, to similar upset from people who were scene-boosters -- and dance's decline from its nineties peak was undeniable, the whole superclub/supsterstar dj thing had plummetted circa 2002-3, the top 10 hits for dance trax weren't happening . the analogy with what happened to hip hop later in the decade is very close -- booms do lead to busts, generally speaking!)

re the 1989 argument, judging by sales will never give any real benchmark of cultural impact -- i don't know how old you are or whether you were conscious then, but De la Soul and especially Public Enemy had a cultural profile way way in excess of their sales (which weree't minor, PE had UK top 30 hits with rebel wtihout a pause, welcome to the terrordome, bring the noise etc)

there's nothing in the current hip hop demi-underground that has anything like the talked-about-ness of De La Soul, PE, jungle bros, etc -- magazines were all over that shit, at Melody Maker we had these people on the front cover -- and MM was an indie/Goth paper in large part

actually i wasn't even that keen on the Native Tongues type stuff, for me the 86-88 stuff was the killer phase, rap's first golden age , def jam, eric b rakim, mantronix, LL/beastie, early salt n' pepa, tons more.... all that stuff was sonically cutting edge AND commercially successful, it wasn't underground at all either by ambition/mindset or in chart reality, and it was the most cutting edge stuff give or take a Marley Marl (who i'm sure sold way more than Gonjasurf or whoever nowadays)

90s was a pretty steady upward graph line w/ -G-funk,, cypress hill/house of pain, wu tang etc and then boom, another commercial-yet-avant-garde, street-yet-futurist golden age late 90s/early 90s with the above mentioned

what's striking now is how conservative the underground in rap is, same old glitchy prefuse 73-ish stuff, or digging in the crates type antiquarianism, i mean it's niiice, some of it, Dilla obviously

as i say i don't know how old you are but it struck me as a symptomatic piece of writing in so far as to big up the present required downgrading the past, denying there were ever these peaks and surges.... and then equally the argument for hip hop being still vital turns out to be that nothing much else is that vital so why should poor old hip hop get picked on...

you're right though that there's no timekeeper for pop -- black music of one kind or another (usually US, sometimes jamaica) always had been the energy pushing pop -- it was what was generative of new forms and expressive modes ... but that's gone now, seemingly.... the question is if anything will replace it, or can replace it?
2007 conversation with Mark Fisher of K-punk re Bring the Noise

I've noticed that
the 22 pieces about music from the current decade, only two - those
to Radiohead and the Arctic Monkeys - could be said to be about rock
artists. It's like rock has faded out by the end.

It felt like the right time to do a collection of all this stuff I’ve done over twenty years—and this is just a fraction of it, I’ve been churning the stuff out. There didn’t seem much point, though, in overlapping with Energy Flash, itself based on all my rave and electronic music journalism of the Nineties, so I decided to go with the idea of collection oriented around the two other things apart from rave that I’ve mostly written about, ie. alternative rock and hip hop (the latter understood as including its sister R&B and its cousins grime and dancehall). So Bring the Noise touches on dance music glancingly, when it connects to the theme around which the collection is organized: the relationship between white bohemian rock and black street music, these alternating phases of musical miscegenation and sonic segregation. The result works as a kind of history of the last 20 years in music—there’s certain gaps, and a definite slant, but the reader gleans a pretty good picture of what happened in those two decades and what the really critical issues were.”

“You’re right, there’s only a few pieces from the 21st Century that relate to rock—Radiohead, the Animal Collective, Arctic Monkeys—and that partly reflects how consumed I’ve been by the black street music end of things, especially grime, but partly has to do with how lame alternative rock has been in the age of retro. White bohemia really needs to get its shit together, because sonically speaking it’s been lagging behind black music for a decade, maybe a couple of decades. That said, the black street end of things has lately reached a similar kind of impasse. Indie rock and hip hop feel equally deadlocked. They’re both traditions, set in their ways. They can be redeemed every so often by an artist with personality and verve and vigour—a group like Arctic Monkeys, or in rap many would currently say Lil Wayne. But neither genre seems to hold the possibility of surprise.”

The obvious first question concerns your rehabilitation of 'rockism'. You
situate the book as picking up the story where Rip it Up left off.
Obviously, the attack on 'rockism' originated with post-punk. Is the
reclaiming of 'rockism' an unlearning of post-punk orthodoxy, or can your
take on rockism be seen as in some ways continuous with post-punk?

A complicated area. Obviously, the idea of rockism as a bad thing, a blinkered mindset, was a really useful initiative when first mooted in postpunk days, and it carried on being salient and productive for some time after that. There are many aspects of rockism that remain worth attacking—privileging of the electric guitar; any approach that fixates on the song and sees rock as form of surrogate literature, the songwriter as story teller; limiting notions of authenticity, et al. I would agree with those who argue that rockism actually limits one’s understanding of rock music itself, of where its power lies. And those died-in-the-wool rockists still lurking out there who dismiss disco/rap/techno/etc aren’t “real” music are reactionary fools who deserve our scorn.

That said, the anti-rockist polemic that resurged this decade seems to have developed a kind of runaway momentum, a malign logic that some people followed through to absurd places. You started getting people arguing that singling out a figure like Timbaland as an auteur and an innovator, that is rockist. Or that if you allowed your sense of the artist’s personality—their intent and integrity—to interfere with your enjoyment of a record, that meant your mind was still shackled by rockist hang-ups. There seems to be a drive towards eliminating all axes of judgement beyond pure pleasure, the supposed purity of the consumer’s unmediated experience of the pop commodity. The distinction between “urgent” and “trivial” is obviously a no-no for these heroic anti-rockists, but you even get people seriously debating whether distinctions based on quality --good/bad—are rockist and should be jettisoned.

The most recent test case figure for this lunatic fringe of anti-rockism is Paris Hilton. When you’re developing elaborate validating analyses of Paris Hilton, that ought to be a sign that you’re gone too far!

So I began to realize a few years ago that it had moved beyond an attack on the idea that guitar rock alone had a special claim on seriousness, art status, rebellion, etc
to the rejection of those ideals altogether—the whole complex of values to do with innovation, edge, danger, difficulty, subversion, disruption, notions of music as underground or oppositional, as either “art” (vision, expression, etc) or “folk” (social energy, collectivity, the real). This is all stuff we’re supposed to jettison, not just as something no longer applicable to the current situation, our scaled-down expectations,
but as something that was never valid, was always fraudulent. I started to feel like I was quite comfortable with the idea of being a rockist, because all the eras and genres of music that have meant the most to me—Sixties psychedelia, postpunk, rap, rave, grime—are riddled to the core with those values. They might not have electric guitars or husky-voiced vocalists but they are all based around what are apparently irredeemably rockist ideals.

I would diagnose the more fanatical end of anti-rockism (commonly known as
Poptimism or Pop-ism, as opposed to the more sensible, if tepid, generalist position that a lot of professional critics adopt, a/k/a non-commital eclecticism), I would diagnose it in terms of generational ressentiment. It’s directed at the Sixties, at postpunk, at rave, at the early pre-corporatized days of rap—there’s an impulse
to discredit all these moments when music really was a cultural force by invalidating the terms in which they were understood to matter. Yet all those moments are truly why we’re here having this conversation. Anti-rockism started as a self-correcting move within rock discourse, a way of restoring a kind of suppleness and open-ness to an ideology that had become calcified and restrictive; it really means nothing outside that context. New Pop was out-growth of rockism in the largest sense that I now envisage (the whole apparatus of importance, relevance, seriousness, music as a force for change). New Pop was an evolution out of postpunk, as postpunk was the next stage from punk. I would describe myself as a “New Pop”-ist, as opposed to—and in opposition to—Pop-ism. New Pop involved creatively autonomous units working within pop, it’s part of a line that includes glam, but also the Beatles, Kinks, Syd Barrett’s Floyd. There’s a vast gulf between Scritti/ABC/Madness and Take That/Sugababes/Girls Aloud. That’s not to say that the producer/manager/song-doctor/stylist driven puppet-pop machine doesn’t occasionally churn out brilliant things, but… you can’t rely on it.

Pop-ism in its most extreme form seems like an attempt to accommodate to, or actively accelerate, the coming of a world where “it’s like rock never happened”.

Embracing “rockism” is helped enormously by the fact that I love rock. The bulk of the Rock Canon as far as I’m concerned is thoroughly worthy of veneration; I also have a lot of time for rock in its most hard-rocking, masculinist sense. I would say there’s also a musical significance to “rockist” in the sense that phrases to do with rock—“let’s rock”, “rock the crowd”, etc—are part of the slanguage of most of the music I like, rave to rap to reggae.

Your version of rockism is very tied up with a 'vanguardism': an
of the mainstream. This depends upon a distinction between the underground
and the overground that, as you suggest in the intro, is less and less
sustainable. There's no underground (pop is ubiquitous, there are no
marginal spaces anywhere) but there's no overground either - a series of
niche markets have replaced a mainstream which could be subverted. Is this
kind of vanguardism possible any more then?

This sense of the death of subcultures and the idea of “underground”-- all this was becoming apparent as early as the mid-Eighties, at the start of the period Bring the Noise covers. It was clear that the media and the record industry, having learned from punk and being caught out, had become so nimble and vigilant about new trends that it would almost instantly co-opt any new subculture and, even with the best of intentions, effectively snuff it out through over-exposure and mainstreaming. We used to write gloomy jeremiads touching on these ideas in our mid-Eighties fanzine Monitor. What’s surprising is how undergrounds have managed to occur again and again despite this ultra-alert media machine/record industry always on the lookout for fresh blood, “the next punk”. Jungle existed in genuine media darkness for a surprisingly long period. There are others like the various metal undergrounds, the free folk and noise scenes, all kinds of dance music scenes. But they have to make a fairly concerted effort to stay underground, pursue obscurity, this often expressed in a kind of handicraft approach to their releases. And they do often have a specialist press servicing them, and sometimes supporters within the mainstream media.

I think the classic sequence of underground>breakthrough>mainstreaming has become more complicated. Grime for instance doesn’t fit that model/narrative. The genre starts at the top of the charts, with So Solid Crew and Oxide & Neutrino, then dips away from the mainstream for a bit, then comes back through blogger and journalistic support circa Dizzee Rascal as this critically approved vanguard, gets tentatively embraced by the record industry, but then pretty much tanks in the popular marketplace. Now it’s in some kind of ghastly limbo between underground and mainstream, this sort of passed-its-moment, post-hip purgatory.

The other thing that immediately occurs to me, given the ToC, is the
white-black relation. One of the later pieces is about white and black pop
no longer talking to one another. Is the breakdown of the relationship
between white and black pop one of the stories of the last twenty years,
why has it happened? Course, one interesting thing about the 70s and 80s
the white influence of _white_ pop on black pop. (Chic citing Roxy as an
influence, Grace Jones covering all those art rock songs, Scritti
the template Jam and Lewis would tweak for Janet Jackson's control.) That
seems completely unimaginable now.

That is another aspect that perhaps indicates I’m a creature of a particular era-- this idée fixe that white rock needs to have some kind of engagement with black music and black culture. Perhaps no one cares about this idea anymore, or a lot less people—maybe because the idea that this sort of musical mixture augurs any kind of broader culture advance in terms of multiculturalism or the end of racism, that seems a shaky proposition. Weren’t there studies a few years ago that indicated that the UK is as racially divided as ever? Jungle seemed a really positive development, it was a music that genuinely seemed to be creole. But grime seems to be seen as much more as a purely black thing, although in actually fact the members of Roll Deep, say, are a real rainbow coalition, with some members being really jumbled-up mix-race types.

You do occasionally get black musicians today talking about their love of certain white performers--bizarrely, Timbaland seems to think Coldplay are geniuses, and more sensibly has talked of admiring Bjork. Then there’s Dizzee Rascal with his love of Nirvana and Sepultura, and he’s done collaborations with Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen. But there does seem to be a bit of a go-our-own-way, unconscious segregation impulse at the moment.

Going back to the white-on-black thing, I think that there’s just as many white listeners who are obsessed with black music as ever there were and who identify with it, but what’s changed is the confidence of thinking you can add anything to black music has faded significantly. In the Sixties, the whole British rock movement really starts with mostly young middle class men obsessed with the blues. I recently watched a documentary on John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers, which was like this academy that produced people like Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie…. There was this massive British blues boom all through the Sixties, once psychedelia passed it was bigger than ever for the last few years of the Sixties, and it’s true the music sounds pretty dreary to our ears and redundant in so far as very little of it is adding that much to the original black blues (although there was a progressive current within it that led to Led Zeppelin etc). But in its favour, it did show a sort of fearlessness on the part of white musicians that they could do this music of black origin.. There was a consumer-to-creator movement goingfrom admiring and loving the music to actually doing it. A confidence, even some gall. I don’t see anything like that in respect to hip hop. There’s much more hesitation and feeling like it’s black property. The UK things that have engaged with hip hop have mostly been on the rhythm front, like jungle.

One other narrative that the book tracks is hip hop, and particularly a
white audience's relationship to it. When you were writing about
Public Enemy and the Skinny Boys in the mid 80s, it made sense to fit hip
hop into an avant garde aesthetic. Hip hop was openly anti-humanist and
anti-organicist (c.f. that great quote from Hank Shocklee you use in the
intro). Now if there is a mainstream, it would be hip hop. Hip hop has
dominant for nigh on twenty years. I think it is now far more tired than
dinosaur rock ever was in the 80s. What's your take on this?

That was one of the best things you wrote on your blog, I thought: that hip hop was now the problem. It seems exhausted yet incapable of either renewing itself or being dislodged. It’s like rock just before punk, this thing that started as a movement of emancipation and has become an entertainment industry. But hip hop hasn’t been able to generate its own punk, for some reason. Hip hop now makes me think of this line Greil Marcus came up with in a great piece he wrote on the Death of Rock, circa Nirvana. He wrote something like “rock is dead but the money’s too good to quit” and then nuanced the comment to something like “maybe the cause of the anguish isn’t that rock is dead but that it refuses to die”. The rap industry is so massive, there’s so many economic interests tied up, it’s just going to perpetuate itself. As I said earlier, there will be artists within that who offer a flicker of originality or spark of vision, just as there will now and then be a conventional rock band that has something going for it. But the vast bulk of it is cultural living death. The fact that we recently heard elder spokesman types in rap like Jay-Z saying “rap’s corny now” or Timbaland saying “hip hop is boring, my own stuff bores me”, that seems awfully telling. Or Nas with his Hip Hop Is Dead album…

How does the 'rockist' position you adopt in the introduction square with
the position you were arguing for at the time of Blissed Out? Some of the
pieces in the book date from the time you putting Blissed Out together. Is
there a tension between the emphasis on jouissance, texture and
meaninglessness you championed then and the 'rockist' rhetoric of
significance, authenticity and subversion you favour now?

Obviously, part of it is that the writing in Blissed Out was done seventeen to twenty-one years ago, it was a response to the music around at the time, filtered through where my head was at (in terms of being addled by all this French theory). So it was totally bound up with what seemed to be worth championing musically and what also seemed like “the enemy”. A whole bunch of factors encouraged me to take this particular sensibility/aesthetic to a real extreme, this fixation on jouissance and ego-loss as the be-all and end-all of musical experience. Now that seems both a rather narrow vision of what music offers, and also distinctly adolescent.

At Melody Maker we were in a kind of bubble--I was on salary but able to do what I wanted, I wrote from home, came into the office when I liked, living this dream life of listening to records, going to gigs, thinking and talking about music, nonstop. I enjoyed it so much the first year on staff, 1987, I didn’t take any of the five weeks holiday I was entitled to. Also in my personal life I was young, free and for a good part of that time single. So everything encouraged this kind of maniacal, messianic type mindset. I wouldn’t say I was a particularly grounded individual at that point, for better or worse! Anyway we at MM -particularly me and Paul Oldfield--took these ideas (basically a mish-mash of psychedelia and French theory) and certainly in my case developed them into a kind of mystical nihilism. It was rockist in the sense of being squarely in a certain tradition that sees rock’n’roll as Dionysian and chaotic--that line that goes from the early rock’n’roll celebrated by Nik Cohn in his book Awopbopaloobop through the Doors/Hendrix/Stooges/garage punk and psychedelia--i.e. music as headfuck and freakout. You could extend that into rave music, which in some ways was the continuation of the blissed-out line of thought. In another sense, though, it was anti-rockist, because it was opposed to the dull’n’worthy rockism prevalent in the Eighties that venerated Springsteen, Costello, Tracy Chapman, the side of U2 that led to Rattle and Hum--song as story or statement, roots, soul, etc. Or that led to indie-rock in its most puny, regressive, retro-reverent sense. In Blissed Out, I represent the side of rock that I liked in terms of Gnosticism and the dreary rockism as the church--orderly, sanctimonious, doctrinal, etc.

In a lot of ways in the bliss-phase I was reacting against post-punk which was so bound up with meaning, lyrical messages, significance, conceptualism--against that I was proposing this mind-less rapture, a more intuitive and less super-ego censored form of musical creativity. And these ideas were not coming out of nowhere, they were totally shaped by the kind of music being made at that time--Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Loop, Butthole Surfers, it was all neo-psychedelic, about “the chaos of desire”. Those groups were in a sense laying out these theories too with sound, but also in their interview statements, which had this sort of curious quality of being articulately inarticulate.

And that relates to the contradiction at the heart of Blissed Out, which is that while I’m railing against Meaning in that particular rockist dull'n' worthy sense I'm obviously treating “bliss” as intensely significant and even having a kind of disruptive political power. Likewise I'm talking about being "lost in music, lost for words" while generating reams and reams of extremely wordy prose!

If I was to attempt to somehow unify this blissed-out, neo-psych set of values with the approach of probably the last ten years, it’s that maybe that the jouissance and the significance can be united under the sign of “intensity”. The serious-as-your-life of aesthetic rapture, the seriousness of taking music and the discourse around it intensely seriously, reading a lot into music. Maybe to the point of mania or fanaticism, where you’re taking the interpretive mode to the dizzy limit, achieving an ecstasy of exegesis. As you said on your blog recently this seriousness is not opposed to pleasure, if anything it is an intensification, enrichment, extension of it. It is however opposed to frivolity and to cynicism--which may well be two sides of the same coin.

In the Arctic Monkeys piece, you suggest - contra my continued emphasis on modernist breaks - that we might be entering a new phase where rock innovation is substantially at an end, and that we might have to accustom ourselves to that. Wouldn't accepting this be an admission that rock is far less culturally important than it used to be?

It could be that rock has now become like jazz, in the sense of carrying on, being active and bustling with subgenres, but simply no longer commanding the leading edge/center of music culture role it used to have. Jazz when it arrived was revolutionary and feared in just the same way as rock, and it was also the site of intensity, exactly the kind of seriousness and obsessiveness that we think of as being characteristic to the rock era. There were all these jazz clubs in the UK where intense young people (mostly male) would listen to all these obscure jazz sides and debate the merits of such and such a player, gauge innovations, etc. That apparatus of taking music seriously and hunting and collecting it obsessively, that then shifted its focus gradually to the blues, and that was a major tributary into the emergence of rock.

It could also be larger than that, though: it could be that it’s not a specific genre but music as a whole that has ceased to be at the driving center of the culture. That is something I find hard to get my head around, but you could certainly argue that’s something that’s been creeping up on us for a long while.