Being On A Major Label

Newsgroups: Date: Sat, 23 Dec 2000 12:00:38 +0000 Organization: Bzangy Groink

“Rod Penguin” wrote:

“How would you feel if EMI came along and threw hundreds of thousands of pounds at a no-sale artist that you like?”

Ey up, this sounds vaguely familiar to me…

Hmmm… Being on a major label…

In my bizarre experience, you can’t be on a major label and make artistically uncompromised music. Even if you’re dead famous (which I wasn’t), there’s always some cloth-eared A&R telling you the kick drum sound needs more oomph. They don’t really think this of course, but how else can they justify being employed without sticking their oar in?

So you end up with art made by committee. Not intrinsically a bad thing since this is what democratic-type bands do anyway. But at least they’re all musicians.

Personally, I don’t see why non-musicians should tell musicians how to make music. Maybe I’m being prejudiced but if they’re that fucking clued-in, why don’t they sign themselves and have a string of no. 1s?

It’s not even the old joke about buying a dog and then barking yourself. Major labels buy dogs and then are surprised and annoyed when they don’t miaow.

But major label money is *very* nice. You can sign off, or quit Uni or finally tell your boss to fuck off. You can buy recording gear that’s actually new. Treat your mates to trips or presents they could never afford themselves. Maybe have a studio that’s bigger than a boxroom. Create music with a wider set of resources than you ever had before. Which doesn’t automatically mean it’s better, just that you’ve got more choices in its creation.

So you have two choices. The first is to shut up and take the money and be resigned to fighting your label over every tiny fucking detail. You might still make great music (despite the label interference) that millions of people get the chance to love and hear. But every time you see *that* cover or hear *that* mix that you hated but the label pushed through, you wince and die a little inside. But hey, the fans really love it and don’t know how great it could have been… If only…

The second choice is to take the money, get dropped and then become a one-hit wonder. Then carry on making music you totally love which will probably never trouble the charts or radio again. You’re insanely proud of every release but every Christmas your Dad looks at you sadly and asks you when you’re going to have another number one.

Hmmm… mince pie, anyone?
love and kisses,

Major – My Mood

(Disco Volante DVA-5005-CD)

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 15:13:52 +0000
Organization: Bzangy Groink

‘My Mood’ opens with the cess-hymn ‘Get High’ and I don’t know why cos I think it’s one of the weakest tracks on the album, both lyrically and musically. I mean, it’s *okay*, it gets your head nodding and there’s nice plinking percussion (courtesy of 23 Skidoo) but as a whole, it’s nothing special.

Track 3, ‘Million Miles’ is far better, starting with a grand string theme and, like a lot of the tracks, croaky Nine-style half-sung, half-rapped vocals. Track 6, ‘Dark Dreams’, is very trip hoppy, co-written and with a lead vocal by Tahira Jumah.

The best track is ‘4 Shoes’ which has some lovely menacing strings courtesy of Izzi Dunn and Stella Page and another Tahira Jumah melodic vocal. The rapped vocal is very gruff and Chandleresque. I like the feel of this album (mixed by Special Ed) and it’s very ambitious. Sometimes it works, sometimes it over-reaches but at least it’s trying. Buy this album if you’re not particularly in a party mood. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for something light and frothy.

The Original Modern Lovers

(BOMP BCD 4021)

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 15:13:52 +0000
Organization: Bzangy Groink

Okay, I’m being a completist here as I have most of these tracks on various Richman comps but I had to buy this CD when I saw it. It’s billed as the original band with tracks recorded in session with Kim Fowley in 1972. But as Richman himself says in the notes, that wasn’t the original lineup and a lot of the tracks are from a later session.

Whatever, you get great performances of ‘Road Runner’, ‘She Cracked’, ‘Girlfren’ and other Richman classics. Can you imagine writing a song as insanely brilliant as ‘Road Runner’ when you’re only 18? If you haven’t got any Jonathan Richman, this perhaps isn’t the best intro to the breadth of his work but for me it’s a must-have album, crackling with energy and thumping, cranking geetars. Buy this album if you love simple, open pop songs. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for Yes-like layers of mystical shite.

Kid606 – PS I Love You

(Mille Plateaux MP93 EFA 08093-2)

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 15:13:52 +0000
Organization: Bzangy Groink

Now, this might not be the newest Kid606 CD (though it’s new to me) cos I can’t find a date on the bugger anywhere, apart from a 99-00. Still, compared with some electronic releases, I’m just glad it’s got a title and artist printed on it.

In feel, it’s much more, er, “techno” than BoC, more groinky and zingy. There’s loads of fluttering hi-hats, dolphin clicking and white noise bursts. It’s also generally more up-tempo through the nine tracks. Melodically, it’s quite sparse, with none of the plaintive hootings of BoC or, say, Cylob. It’s quite dancey, even though it’s bass-light. Though it’s mostly bleeping there is some sample mangling going on, most notably on ‘Twirl’ and ‘Strum.’ But mostly, it is crunchy, vastly aliased rhythm sections with chordal spelunking.

My fave track is ‘Whereweleftoff’ cos it’s the funkiest, sounding a little bit like fast Funkstorung. Most unlistenable track is the last one, ‘Fuck Up Everything You Can Before You Plan On Slowing Down’ which is six minutes of Boyd Rice-like noiseathon without the bells. Hmmm.

Buy this album if you’d like to dance like Tik & Tok round your sitting room. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for singalong pop classics.

Boards Of Canada – In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country

(Warp WAP144CD)

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 15:13:52 +0000
Organization: Bzangy Groink

This is a very lovely four track single.

The first track, ‘kid for today’ starts with soft organish chords, some thwacking and a squodgy bass drum. Then a very BoC melody comes in, very low and understated. To be honest, I’d love BoC whether they used synths or guitars to make their music as long as they had their sense of melody. I guess because, like Kraftwerk, it’s a very minimal, non-jazz melodiousness that’s more Debussy or Satie than Wagner.

The first track is my overall favourite but the others aren’t fillers. I guess my next fave would be the eponymous track which features kid giggling and what sounds like a Cylon reading a travel brochure. All the tracks share that kind of elegaic sadness that BoC seem to have copyrighted. They do demand time and attention to get into, like classical music, but if you give them time you’re rewarded by subtle restatements and modifications of the themes, plus a growing urge to do bad ballet.

Buy this single if you’d like to spend an hour or two staring at the rain and sighing. Don’t buy it if you feel like taking purple hearts and pogoing on your bed.

Various – The Ecstasy Of The Agony

(Alternative Tentacles Virus 252)

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 15:13:52 +0000
Organization: Bzangy Groink

This is another AT comp featuring 30 tracks for about a fiver, depending where you buy it (it’s got ‘Pay no more than $5.99’ on the front).

There’s a wide mix of artists and genres on here and along with the songs there’s spoken-word excerpts from heroes of mine like anarcho-syndicalist Noam Chomsky, Black Panther Angela Davies, Mumia Abu-Jamal and other notables. I personally love these interludes but if you’re not a lefty, they’ll probably just annoy the crap out of you. As for bands, well, you get tracks from NoMeansNo (the fab ‘Hello-Goodbye’), Pitchshifter, Jad Fair, Pachinko, the Dicks, Victim’s Family, Half Japanese and loads more.

Really, at this price you can’t go wrong if you’ve ever vaguely liked any guitar music – there’ll be enough on here to justify the price. There’s even a track by Ant Chapman favourite, Wesley Willis, ‘Termites Ate My House Up.’ Now I’ve heard him, I think I’ll be buying more 🙂

Buy this album if you’re dead stingy and want to have a load of happenin’ new music to listen to for very little. Don’t buy this album if you hate lefty preaching.

Aesop Rock – Float

(Mush Records – can’t see a Cat. No.)

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 15:13:52 +0000
Organization: Bzangy Groink

I just bought this taking a risk, never having heard of either Mr. Rock or Mush. I’m pleasantly surprised. I guess musically the tracks sound like Premier in terms of jazzness and starkness. But they’re not copies, they have their own style and ambience, mixing bizarre loops with naked 606 snares and low bass synths. The loops are all fresh and all, umm, pushed in different ways. Even if you recognise the source (for example, cheeky rips of Blade Runner), the way they’re integrated is original and not obvious. If anything, you want to hear more.

‘Breakfast with Blockhead’ is just a 36 second interlude but it’d make a killer track. Overall, the sound is very close, clean and bare. My fave track is ‘Skip Town’ because it’s the perfect mix of music and rapping. And the rapping is *good.* Unlike a lot of new hip hop, AR isn’t trying to sound at all Wu-Tang or Master P. There’s a lot of multi-line, fast, staccato rapping interspersed with slower, looser flows. Closest comparisons would be Masta Ace or perhaps Del. Buy this album if you like hip hop that’s trying to push ahead rather than copy success. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for another g thang.

Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers – Like A Mother Fucker

(Jungle Freud CD 044E)

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 15:13:52 +0000
Organization: Bzangy Groink

Yeah, it’s dead old, ’77 *rock’n’roll* but I haven’t heard some of these tracks in years and I’ve forgotten how much they, er, kick ass! There’s not a duff track on here, they all have choruses to kill for and splendid guitar rifferama. ‘Born To Lose’ opens and the brilliantly hoarse, shouty chorus sucks you in.

I guess if you don’t like classic punk, you’re not gonna like this. Even as a straight-edgeish bloke, I can’t avoid singing along to ‘Chinese Rocks’ (a Ramones cover or co-write, depending who you believe) cos it’s so fucking catchy. Honestly, it shows how pale and insipid most modern schmindie bands are. They may have better recording technology but they just haven’t got *soul*.

Buy this album if the Ramones are your idea of perfect pop. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for sonic cathedrals of expensive reverby plinking.

The Nation Of Ulysses – The Embassy Tapes

(Dischord 124)

Date: Thu, 07 Dec 2000 15:13:52 +0000
Organization: Bzangy Groink

As it states on the back, this is a recording made at the NOU, er, Embassy in 1992 and it sounds pretty much like a live, room-reverby recording so don’t expect Limp Bizkit production values. But do expect noisy, pumping, shouty, unintelligible agit-prop from the Situationist pranksters. Sometimes, cos of the recording, even though they’re really going for it, the result is sadly a bit subdued compared to ‘Plays Pretty For Baby.’ But the songs are still the NOU gonzoid thumpers we’ve come to grow and love.

My fave is the 1.38min ‘Gimme Disaster’ cos I can *almost* singalong. Ten tracks for ten quid, all of them better than the shit that passes for punk nowadays. All the songs are about *something*, even if they are insane. Plus , you get a whole load of NOU mad rambling on the cover, full of needless Situationist CAPITALS for NO GODDAMN REASON whatSOever.

Buy this album if you’re an Ian MacKaye completist and believe that people should hammer their guitars hard enough to make their hands bleed. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for hi-fi friendly, corporate-punk air-punching anthems.

I’ve Got Straight Edge!

Minor Threat

The other night I listened to a documentary on the Steve Lamaq show about Straight Edge. This is the scene that’s grown out of bands like Minor Threat who became disgusted at the waste and un-focussed excesses of punk rock, specifically the drinking and drugs.

They believed that you couldn’t be a rebel if you smoked, drank and did the same drugs as your parents (and maybe even grandparents) did. Perhaps in the sixties experimenting with LSD was revolutionary but by the eighties it had become a mark of conformity and ultimate hippy apolitical sluggishness.

Why bother changing the reality around you when you can just avoid it for a few hours?

The documentary showed that Straight Edge has some negative aspects. What started off as a personal, positive, life-affirming choice seems to have become, for some, a new religion. And all religions are intolerant, exclusive and arrogantly judgemental. What started out as “I have the right to be different” has become “I’m *better* than you.” But, as was pointed out in the documentary, that isn’t all straight edgers. In any scene or movement, whatever it is, you’re gonna get jerks. There’s eco jerks, anti-war jerks and probably even Buddhist jerks. That doesn’t automatically invalidate the original movement’s aims and it certainly doesn’t mean you should judge it by a handful of extremists.

I’ll admit I’ve got a personal involvement here. I started drinking when I was about 13 and, like most young lads, spent every weekend trying to get served in pubs. I’ve lost count of the number of hours I spent hanging around outside off-licences waiting for illicit cans of Red Stripe.

I tried smoking as well but I just couldn’t see the point of it. It was expensive and made you cough. I had also seen what it does to lungs. Both my parents are doctors and I’ve grown up with medical magazines lying round the house, often with pictures of cancer-eaten lungs or smokers with multiple amputations due to thromboses.

When I left school at 16 (in 1982), I went on the dole and soon worked out that I didn’t have enough money to buy records *and* drink. I chose to buy records and gradually I stopped drinking altogether. I even stopped accepting drinks from mates when we’d be out because I knew, eventually, it’d be my round and I couldn’t afford to buy it. (Well, I *could* but I chose to spend that money on records instead.) I also noticed that I didn’t need to be pissed to have a good night out – I could just act as if I was pissed.

I learnt to turn that confidence/stupidity on and off at will, without alcohol. I’d talk to people and they wouldn’t believe I was sober because I was so chatty and relaxed. 1982 was the last year I was drunk and the first year I started consciously thinking about how I chose to live my life. A couple of years later I got involved in organised Trotskyist political campaigning and I see that as directly leading from my early decision to give up drinking, to give up being ‘normal.’

If you don’t drink or do drugs, you have no escape, you deal with life straight. A lot of my mates from school went on to shitty, low-paid office jobs which they hated, joining the white-collar working class. I’d see them out years later, doing the same shit in their mid-twenties that we did when we were kids.

It’s a vicious circle:

I’ve got a shit job/life —> so I blot it out every weekend by getting wasted —> which costs fucking loads —> so I need to do this shit job to get the money to get wasted…

And they all smoked as well. It’s not enough that you’re skint and can barely afford your rent but then you choose to have this monkey on your back where you’re burning money everyday and inhaling the results which are provenly toxic. Why? “Because it de-stresses me.” No – it only lessens your symptoms of withdrawal which you wouldn’t have if you didn’t smoke in the first place. You’re hitting your head against a brick wall because you love the relief from pain when you stop. I guess that’s one way to live your life but not one I’d choose.

The sad thing nowadays is how many women smoke. Through the nineties, female smoking seems to have exploded. Despite all the dire health warnings and already elevated cancer risks, a lot of women are choosing to ingest a known carcinogen. Why? Some of my female friends say it’s because fags suppress their appetites. I can’t believe this – can women really believe they’re immortal to this degree? Does it matter so much what you look like on the outside that you don’t care about the clumps of cancer cells you’re breeding on the inside?

I’ll admit, as a marginalized, abnormal person, I can’t think of one reason that sane, educated people smoke. I don’t want any of my music used to advertise cigarettes and some has recently, without my permission. I’ve asked Universal how this has happened and asked them to stop the usage but I’ve heard nothing in reply. Another reason not to deal with major corporations – they don’t give a crap about their artists’ ideals.

So does the above rant mean that I call myself a Straight Edger? No. For one thing, although I love Minor Threat and punk in general, modern SE hardcore leaves me totally cold. It’s basically metal, with loads of widdly-widdly soloing and indecipherable bellowed or grunted lyrics. And it’s insanely aggressive and macho. I prefer my music a lot gayer (in both senses of the word) and intelligible.

Although the political people in the scene say they’re anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic, the scene is white, male and very, um, straight. It’s a teenage boy’s ideal of manliness, all chest-beating and air-punching. I’m 34, I know that being a man is only partly about aggression and strength. As for being better than drinkers – how is getting pissed and getting into fights with your mates any worse than going to a gig specifically to mosh and kick the shit out of people? I’m not saying all aggression is wrong but I do dislike this very laddish, corny, macho-man shit.

I also have a problem with some of the imagery and aesthetic of the modern hardcore/SE scene. All this ‘True till Death’ crap, all the rhetoric about ‘purity’and ‘strength’, it’s all a skip away from classic Nazi and fascist imagery. Although the politics are meant to be the opposite, the feel is scarily similar. Now, if there were a few SE bands around with names like The Gayboys or Big Girls Blouses, I might feel a little happier. But the names are nearly all one word markers of heroism and strength.

So I’m in the weird position that I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs (and haven’t for the last 18 or so years) but I choose not to call myself straight edge. Oh sure, I’ll use it as shorthand (saying, “I’m straight edge” is a lot shorter than saying “I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs but it’s for philosophical not religious reasons”) but I’ll always qualify my usage of the term. My basic thing is that these are personal, political and philosophical choices I’ve made, for *myself*.

If you’re reading this and you’re a smoker/drinker/toker, don’t think for a minute that I believe I’m better than you. I know I’m not. I’ve just chosen to live my life differently. I do believe that if people chose to live a drug/drink/smoke-free life that they’d be happier, but when it comes down to it I’m not gonna preach because I could be totally wrong.

It’s certainly a harder path to follow because you’ve got no crutch to fall back on, no sweet oblivion to escape to if things are going badly. But just cos it’s the harder path doesn’t mean it’s the better one, I’m not a fucking monk thinking my hairshirt makes me holy.

I’m an atheist. I believe I’ve got the one life and I’d like to experience it as clearly as possible.

(For more info on straight edge, please click here)