LIVE REPORT: My Bloody Valentine
, March 14th, 2013 14:53
Chris Roberts heads to MBV's final night of their UK tour and finds himself pondering linguistics and culture while stood in their volume wind-tunnel
I’m a bit deaf in my left ear, shivering, have blurred vision and my walking’s a little shaky. Yet still I set off for the My Bloody Valentine gig, regardless. Some of the scaremongering about the brain-mangling volume has been rather intense. When you get there it is ridiculously, preposterously loud, but because your expectations have been suitably hyped it’s manageable (with the provided earplugs). It’s a bit like when everyone’s told you a scary movie has the most horrible, gross scene imaginable, and eventually you see it and you’re all like: "oh, is that it? That wasn’t so bad really."
It doesn’t make sense that I like My Bloody Valentine. And I do. I was very much among those who bigged them up first time around in the halcyon era of Melody Maker back in 1553 AD, but if you want to talk tin-pot aesthetics, then, on many levels, My Bloody Valentine are everything I shouldn’t like about “alternative” music. I want to be seduced, not assaulted. I worship the skill and sensitivity of Al Green or the Bee Gees. Talk Talk and David Sylvian, for example, challenge(d) the structures/strictures of sound without yelling. If you have to shout or crank the volume up, you’re not alluring, you’re trying too hard and YOU’RE USING BLOCK CAPS with more than one exclamation mark. When it comes to art I am inordinately obsessed with the intricate interplay and co-dependency of words, voice and music: the text, if you will (and MBV don’t have one, they are wilfully textless). And, let’s face it, they’re not big believers in glamour.
Nevertheless, there is something magical about their white (has there ever been a more white band?) noise. Its curves and warps and twistiness, its breathing patterns and swoons and swoops and barrages. Insert something about Steve Reich and Philip Glass here. Maybe we could argue that they do abstract painting, that they are making Jackson Pollocks and one shouldn’t be looking for Caspar David Friedrich.
I had an epiphany once long ago watching a firework display on Primrose Hill with Isn’t Anything on my Sony Walkman, a bottle of whiskey in my belly and a recent heartbreak in my bloodstream. Ah the innocence of youth. So anyway the former label-mates of The Primitives somehow became the lost gods of Atlantis for the “alt” or “indie” fraternity (which is amusing considering how much MBV’s missions and motives are so thoroughly and comprehensively prog). Their not making an album for twenty-odd years was hailed as proof of genius and perfectionism rather than an indication that someone somewhere was hanging out with Primal Scream. And then, in 2013, back they come, with a new album which nobody will send me and which repeats and perhaps slightly develops the key themes of Loveless (from what I gather). Which means more gigs and more histrionic reviews.
Tonight is rather impressive. I had been wondering what the point of the notorious extended “holocaust” section in 'You Made Me Realise' was: why is it necessary, if you’re any good, to turn it up to a million and eleven? What are you hiding? Why do you want to inflict discomfort on people? Do you really want to hurt me? Do you really want to make me cry?
Thankfully not everybody thinks like this, and there are people eager to “get down the front”, to get “level with the speakers”, to increase the likelihood of their getting migraines or vomiting. I can’t understand this, and couldn’t when I was younger, but, y’know, live and let live, as long as you don’t hurl all over my shoes. Seated upstairs we are relatively protected. Those standing downstairs are lambs to the slaughter.
The “holocaust” section goes on for about ten to fifteen minutes and it is louder than war. As is the whole set. With your earplugs in you hear mostly the bottom end and it’s fine, because My Bloody Valentine do have a groove: their terrific rhythm section remains underpraised. Take them out and the hissing, whistling, screeching wind-tunnel of the top end engulfs you and scrapes the lining off your cochlea. The vocals can’t be heard at all. On some tracks a trance-like repetition takes over, a mantra, and you can pick out little flecks of melodies and refrains and it aspires to the state of beauty. One would love to focus on these aspects more – abstract painting is a marvellous and worthwhile pursuit, after all - but the volume thing is so completely dominant and aggressive and intimidating.
It is extraordinary, and in a world of ordinary that is to be applauded. When it’s like a big plane crashing into the bridge of your nose and ferreting around in your skull it’s akin to a thousand banshees wailing at your soul and an army of rogue unshaven angels defending you with explosives. It initiates an altered state, for sure, and those are rare in our “culture” these days. Perhaps there is a text after all. And if so, it’s: there is nothing. This is all there is. Noise. Babble. Language is dead.
It made me think about stuff like that, and I sort of hoped language wasn’t dead. But then when I was woken by road-works and drilling this morning I did not think about stuff like that.
Endlessly and unquestionably, though, we need such provocateurs to exist.