Wednesday, 24 August 2011

a micro-essay worthy of your attention

Here is a link to Tracy's Face, one of my favourite blogs. In this case, our man muses on his re-reading of Moby Dick (my own favourite novel, next to Grass's the Tin Drum). The mini-paper here, is a really generous and honest set of thoughts on the book, identity, our own monomaniacal purpose and inevitable demise. Do have a read HERE cheers.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

an overreaction to the singer outside

It seems to be a converging in my mind of at least two events that spurs me to write something down with the intention of putting it up on this blog. Often when my time would be better spent writing something else I’m sure, but it seems I am, as ever, unable to resist from making public the kind of knee-jerk reaction to something that could well be left alone without consequence. On this occasion it is a young singer and guitarist that was employed to sing cover songs outside the water sports centre that sits benign opposite my house. I was, quite happily spending my Saturday playing Cyril Tawney’s ‘the ballad of Sammy’s bar’ on banjo and mini accordion, in different time signatures, trying to work out the nicest before trying to make a recording of it, when the PA struck up, making my efforts too frustrating to continue with. It’s not for me to sit and make snide comments on the quality of this young woman’s output. It was not to my taste, but she was not without skill. By which I mean, she had what I have often heard described by people who I assume have no real interest in music as, ‘an amazing voice’, which she employed to spew out falsely emotive singer-songwriter versions of a range of endlessly bland hits and standards. I am assuming that everyone reading this knows exactly what this sounds like. Yes? Good. Maybe that is snide, but it is also accurate.

But this set me to thinking about music’s value. Not it’s financial worth, but rather what it is that is valued within musicians, and I fear that often the answer can be found in that ‘amazing voice’. I do not mean just the creeping and hideous legacy of talent shows where the startled gazelles of the public are thrust onto screens across the world to perform meaningless midi covers of songs, chosen by a cold bastard with a snake’s tongue, where the arrangement and meaning seem not to matter at all, but the judgement of the prowess of their vocal chords and their ability to appear moved is all that requires mention, in the forked sibilant hiss of the business. But the almost institutional primacy of virtuosity that leaks into popular culture from the thin and vicious gaze of ‘high’ culture. This is where skill is valued above meaning. But do trust that I am making generalisations here; I do know that this is not a black and white thing. However, I do think that the primacy of virtuosity has had, in it’s way a negative impact on popular musics. Because it is this primacy that has lead Eric Clapton to be lauded while Alex Chilton worked as a janitor. It is what has meant that ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ as valued above ‘Relics’ and why Enya sold more records than the Pogues. What is it really that means the Martin Simpson is so much more successful than Charlie Parr? I can only assume that it is the speed and dexterity of his fingers, rather than his ability to move his audience (which is certainly Parr’s finest skill). Do most of us really prefer to be simply impressed, than to be shattered, made to weep, caressed and put back together again by waves of pathos, empathy, melancholy and understanding? I refuse to believe that. The question then, is of exposure and ignorance (in its prettiest form, that of simply not yet knowing). How can we know a song is beautiful if we have not heard it?

I will not start bleating here about the industry, because surely some responsibility must lie with the artists themselves. What are they doing? The misguided belief that more notes in a vocal line means better, that notion that a certain theatrical demonstration of ‘pain’ means good. I am not sure that this kind of emotion can be deliberately ‘performed’ in such a way, I might come down on the side of Roland Barthes in ‘The Grain of the Voice’ or Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. Integrity and the response it profits must surely come from something real, something occurring within the performance, some substantial physical event steeped in perhaps experience, or perhaps just in the physicality of noise? Which brings me to the secondary event that suggested I write something down. A link to Nick Cave’s letter to MTV, refusing a nomination for an award, in which he expresses a fear that if he engages in this competitive aspect of music his muse will ‘bolt’. He describes the culture of awards as a ‘bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes’. Cave has not always been the most tuneful of singers, but he remains one of the most convincing. If we are making music, we must surely question our motives and the extent to which they impact upon our output. I certainly have of late.

I went out walking until the singing had stopped and then I made a recording of the Cyril Tawney song. I have no place for it in any project I don’t think. I will send it to two of my friends, and perhaps leave it there. I just wanted to learn and sing a beautiful song, however badly. To me there is more value in that than a thousand grace notes or speedy solos. A lesson that perhaps, I should have learned sooner in life, and one that might, if taken on by more people, turn the shape of commercial success upside down. I apologise for not addressing all of the many greys in this line of thinking, but I ask you to question, just for fun if you like, what it is that you like about your favourite songs and singers. Try to locate that intuitional seed that makes you listen or write. Because it has a place, somewhere in the wet chronology of your identity, from the earliest imitations as an infant, and so, try to see past the ‘amazing voice’ and listen instead for yourselves.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

the social network

for some time now, i have been on facebook as lynched recordings. it's a bit of a misnomer, as i have (contrary to my original intentions) been using it as a personal account. my ego is such that i find it hard to resist doing those status updates that i hate myself for. i have tried, of late, to restrict these to just links to music i like or stuff about the label, but preaching about new releases to just my friends seems increasingly odd, as does accepting friend requests from people i don't know, just in case they are interested in the label. i light of these facts, i have now made a facebook page for the label which can be accessed HERE so links to this blog and any upcoming news, from now on will be found there. if you have accessed this from a link to the personal facebook account, please 'like' it, as i will soon be getting rid of it. if you have accessed this from elsewhere, please 'like' as presumably you have some interest in the output? brilliant. thanks. oh, you can also follow the twitter account for lynch(ed) HERE x

Monday, 1 August 2011

hyperbole and raging at the imagined 'future'

I don’t really think of myself as someone who has a great deal to make public about our music industry (much as I may rant to friends almost daily), but I think that today, I have occasion to write something down, because of an event I attended last Friday concerning the ‘future’ of the music industry, and because of the death of Amy Winehouse. Not her death exactly, but just a portion of the reaction to her death, that smacks significant. I could complain at great length about the press, the inappropriate attitudes to addiction, the deeply unpleasant ‘club 27’ aspect of social networking sites. But that should all happen elsewhere. And it is an article that does that rather well that has prompted me to write this down. In fact, it is a comment underneath the article that encourages me to type.

On Friday evening I questioned glibly whether the music industry was not flogging a dead horse, but rather dressing the dead horse up in a period waistcoat and fucking and eating it at the same time. (There may have been worse and more stupid language, I don’t recall exactly).  It was clear to me that the future of the music industry has not really occurred to the industry yet, because arguably, the future of the music industry is already happening without them.  A certain manager of a certain era, told us charming anecdotes about his roster’s drug use, and wild parties before enlightening us with his groundbreaking model for a ‘new’ industry, which was, to do exactly what every single DIY or cottage industry or even small independent label has always done. Ie/ don’t spend loads of money on PR, radio plugging, booking agent fees etc, Do It Yourself.  Basically keep everything in house until you’re act is famous enough to sell on to a major.  ‘Level 3’ he called it. This demonstrates to me the sort of fear that seems rife within the industry. And it is fear, ‘Oh shit, they might realise that they don’t need us!’ How can the businessmen continue to make a living from musicians?

The relationship between industry and artist has always seemed to me to be a bit like that of the female and male Angler Fish. Mutually parasitic, but without which there is no possibility for breeding in the Abyss. What is unclear now, is which is which? Is it the artist or musician of plays the role of huge female that the male attaches onto, fusing blood stream and dolling out sperm in exchange? It seems to work either way. Which cannot be right can it?

The point is, I suppose, that people don’t buy as many records any more. That is why the ‘crisis’. Most often it is ‘illegal downloads’ that are blamed for this. It seems quite reasonable. But I’m not so sure that that is the issue. Being of the age that I am, I used to have cassettes. Blank cassettes, hundreds and hundreds of them. Compilation tapes, stuff recorded off friends, John Peel shows taken off the radio. Everyone I knew had tapes. I still bought records, I even bought cds, but I had a lot of stuff I hadn’t paid for. Nowadays, the only stuff I haven’t paid for are mp3s my friend Daniel sends me of rare soul 45s or hardcore he likes (other stuff sometimes too), or stuff that bands are giving away, because they have realised that digital music in itself has little commercial value. I find it hard to accept that piracy is the cause for the bottom falling out of the music industry. I’m sure it’s a factor, but I am starting to feel that there is something less tangible at work, something more moral, something about the results of greed….

I think that it is conceivable that the search for product, the attempt to recreate those rare iconic sparks that we flock to see, has rendered popular music without fiscal or emotional value. We have made our stars so disposable that we cannot respect them, let alone be awestruck by them. We don’t care about songs, but their dresses, their lovers, and most importantly their flaws. We are bullying jackals snapping the heals of those more impressive wolves because we just don’t like ourselves to let them be slightly larger. Which brings me to Winehouse, underneath Laurie Penny’s article that quite rightly condemns the tabloids for their hypocritical part in Winehouse’s life and subsequent demise, someone has written this,

Are we seriously arguing that AW is ranked up there with the soul greats such as Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder?’

This is striking to me, not because it is right or wrong, but because it suddenly seemed that it was inconceivable that anyone at all might be ‘ranked up there’. So temporary and trite has our culture become. Nothing seems to be around long enough to earn a place among our pre-existing immortals. And if they are we hate them and mock them for it.  But why should Amy Winehouse not be ranked up with those greats? Her voice is iconic, her songs vital and raw, spawning, in their wake a whole host of slightly Spectory, saccharine sound-alike women. (See? Product. Whatever special thing that gets through and moves people is cast again and again each time a little sweeter and easier to swallow. A little easier to ignore. There are surprisingly few steps from Kurt Cobain to Ricky Wilson, but who could possibly believe in the latter? It’s not Wilson’s fault of course, he’s just been mispackaged, sold as rock when in fact he is Bucks Fizz in a blazer. A vile and unhappy Brundlefly of the corpse of Indie culture and Cheryl Baker). But Winehouse seemed to me to have made in ‘Back to Black’ a properly classic album, definitive of its time, whether you liked it or not. Influencial and copied, setting the tone for what followed. Give her a position among those other icons I say.

Just because we have cheapened and made demonic or own culture to the point where acknowledging that something is good physically sickens us, and we laugh in the face of Stacey Solomon because we don’t like to conceed that we put her there, on the television, because in the morning we look in the mirror and see the tortured faces of Jedward staring back at us while they fist fuck each other in public just for another chance to be humiliated on some Panel show, because we cannot bring ourselves to part with money any more for the obscene music that we have made and demanded, that we know is shit, doesn’t mean that we should not bow down to those rare moments when somebody does something beautiful or real, that secretly and wonderfully we all understand. They still happen, and the future of the music industry is simply to not forget that fact.