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A New Nineties

A New Nineties: Epilogue, Or Another Bleeding List
Neil Kulkarni , December 30th, 2011 07:21

Neil Kulkarni rounds off his excellent series of features with a list of recommendations and a promise that he'll be back next year

Listen to Neil's Spotify play list here

OK, I've missed out tons. If you dug some of the music talked about in A New Nineties why not listen to this, stick it on shuffle and explore further. For starters I couldn't find any Magoo or anything off the Wurlitzer Jukebox label... like I said, a launchpad, not a dead-end.

Next year I'm gonna do an American version of A New Nineties, starting with Bitch Magnet who blew me away at the Lexington a few weeks ago. My preambles will be just as long though, so don't worry.

Here I'll keep it short as I can. It's somewhere less than pointless to me to try and discover any modern British music that sounds remotely like any of the music I've been talking about in this series. That would so fundamentally miss the spirit of this music to actually be paradoxical & perverse, and probably end with music that was certainly unlistenable. Let's think about Pram, Disco Inferno, Main, Insides and all the other bands on this playlist, what do they all have in common?

The desire to make songs you'll never forget.

The desire to make music like nothing you've heard before.

The desire to make music that reflects not just their tastes but the state of their heads. And the state we're in.

The desire to make music that's British. Unforgivingly British.

Gimme a band doing that now? No chance. Bands don't say anything anymore. They're too busy playing. So since Britpop's victory, with many of the pop & rock musicians I cared about back then kinda disappearing it's not been indie or mainstream music I look to for that. You go subterranean when bitterly convinced the wrong people are involved from top to bottom. I now almost exclusively find my jollies in rap and hip-hop, grime and dancehall, or at least find interesting music, lyrically & sonically, that does all the above without apology or shame. I'm sorry but no-one with a guitar has really talked about what's been bothering me this year. Look what happened in Britain this year. Then think about what songs reflected that. Not a whimper. Think about whether pop is being equated purely with an escape into the 'personal', why it would need that escape, whether that is predicated on a misunderstanding of how everyday love is so powerfully touched by politics always. Then realise: fuck the complaining fogeys still in hock to the old institutions that inform their listening. If we're gonna play in the ruins, let's get lost beyond the stones and old boundaries. And let's give the 'album' its pinkslip. Get back to rebuilding one song at a time.

Hey, don't get me wrong, listmaking is all a lot of people have left anymore. Critics fucking LOVE it, we sniff the air like cattle every November, scratching our beardbugs and wiping our noses on our sleeves in the dizzying realisation that it's time to start thinking about those End Of Year lists. Those annual chances to prove what hip-eclecticians we are even though we've spent most of the year listening to the colossal din of smugness in our heads. As menopausal men in the main we mentally rewrite/rearrange the year's listening into neat groups of ten, ten chances to prove the hip-range of our aesthetic, the unprickable flab of our affections. Doom-prog, avant-garde skiffle, J-Pop, Yemeni death-metal and y'know, that Professor Green album really is rather good don't y'know or so I'm told. Will that do? This year though you can tell a lot of people's heart aint in it. Starting to feel awfully dated d'ya not think, awfully in thrall to that old-fart fanboys-own-network that still seeks 'quality', 'class' and the thing they can hold in their hand, with the sticker on it that says 'Mercury Nominee'.

Regardless of the joys of such good taste and its proper filing, it's plainly incommensurate with modern technology and the way most music is heard. Good riddance to the CD, that horrible in-between-format that made vinyl an antique but sounded worse with no compensatory ritual, only a hidden lazer, skips you couldn't fix with a penny or some soap. The MP3 (regardless of its inferiority to WAV), in its singularity, its spacelessness and its portability doesn't just brilliantly free us back to the artistic limits of the wax cylinder & the 7” (artists thinking more about making the hit again – thank god), it pushes us back to a pre-industrial state for music. Cap on the ground, hope for the best, before we come to town, here's what we play. What we as fans can do is stay vigilant for those moments when the old structures & dogmas of the record-biz come with 'multimedia' grinning attached, clamber on to this planet of sound and skitter about, get lost, see what spins our propeller, try and tip generously whenever possible – consequently, like most people I think, this year I haven't had time or money to listen to whole albums. But these things have bossed my daymares and nightvisions, made time a laugh, and reality a dance, been so insistent as to guilt me into sticking a quid in the bandcamp tin to the people who made them. Quite a few of them actually have things to say, many of them sound like nothing else happening in British music at the moment, including each other. They're the best of this year, and names to watch next year, and between my entertainment devices and the walls and wires and the skull they have sat glowering all through 2011, dissatisfied at being number one pop smashes only in my head, needing to break out. These are what modern British pop stars should be like.

They should be called things like TELEMACHUS, who kept the substantial buzz already in place for his forthcoming début LP 'In The Evening' building all year - from the stunning 'Scarecrows' single with Roc Marciano that anticipation has now gone frenzy-like thanks to the unique, sublime 'Sheltering Sky', genuinely infused with the diseased, deranged spirit of Paul Bowles, desert psyche-guitar and a fat rumble of Bedouin-beats slipping into a mirage of pure chilled heat. Jehst on fire throughout, atmosphere, menace, cinema for the neck upwards and the waist down.

They should be called things like RAMSON BADBONEZ and drop EPs like Wordz and LPs like Tales From The Staircase. Their mix-tapes are seemingly lab-conjured from outer-space and inner-heat. A ferociously focussed abstraction.

They should freak you the fuck out with feedback & drone, like RAY VENDETTA:

They should occasionally just get ranty, and when they do amusingly so like STYLAH: “I'm sick of Tinie Tempah fucking smiling all the fuckin time”


They should look like they SHOULD be pop stars, TV stars, superstars, future knights, like BUGGSY:

Or have faces only a mother could love, and lyrics only a mean-minded motherfucker could resist, like JEHST: “The paper that I'm folding is like wet tissue disolvin'":

Given the times we're living through they shouldn't be afraid of being miserable, there's not enough genuinely bleak music being made at the moment. PHOENIX DA ICEFIRE has got the right idea. Antarctic gloom. In sound and syllable:

M9 explores a similarly blissful isolation on this highlight from the staggeringly good Orion's Stencil free mixtape:

But even that was overshadowed by CYRUS MALACHI's stunning Ancient Futures LP from this year, an album that DID hold me captive throughout, that in the clamour of the summer madness offered calm insight remote from the dimwitted din of diagnoses going on elsewhere. “In the glove box... is where the heat's stored ready for drive-bys committed by young minds who idolised what the devil's privatised...“

Bleakness sure, but no tears please. No boo-hoos for the schmindustry all this music doesn't need, no violins for a biz that so often acted in a way as bloated and wasteful as the banks. The way the music industry suddenly shrank in ambition, stopped noticing or following or supporting any truly innovative British music by the late 90s knocked a lot of it's practitioners bandy, sent them to the margins, put the sulks on them. Main & Pram & maybe Insides got over it. DI broke apart. But then as now, it was only dis-empowering if you remained focussed on those things the industry said were the marks of success. If you turned around, thought a while, managed to find a better model of survival, creativity and freedom, you carried on. As a modern maker of British pop has to. DUBBLEDGE put us on some rice and peas:

Of course money's still important to musicians. Just ask RUTHLESS:

But what's been thrilling about the best British music this year is that it's seemed utterly unconcerned with 'sustainability', with making music that's clearly bankable, more committed to scraping stuff out of the system, attacking The System, blowing it's top before it loses its heart and soul. Check GENESIS ELIJAH:


We should wonder why the only pop stars we seem to hear from in the big smoke are making bigger statements with their choice of gym or chihuahua then they are with their music. Who decided that this was stardom? It's the duty of pop writers to offer alternatives to this, to write about people as if they're stars because of what they make rather than how much they make. And since when did London & the home-counties the city-limits of British pop? How come nobody looked up north to Leeds where DEFENDERS OF STYLE were finding new ways to keep in the cold and shoot out the heat:

Or to Sheffield where several astounding things were happening at once over at the truly unhinged Bad Taste Records, including among others TRELLION's stoner-savant sci-fi sickness: “Swashbucklin', potluckin' it, I found a spiral realm and got stuck in it.”:

And WALTER EGO pulling out some South-Yorkshire stained steel:

Still up past the Watford Gap never mind the fucking Roses getting together for a new bankjob, whatabout the ramraid on your reason wrought by Manc's DAYSE & AVER with their stunning 0001 EP, an almost-Cabaret Voltaire (ab)use of deep bass and jittery technology twinned with a fractured, frantic view of the modern malaise so close to home it was like they'd been eavesdropping on your own implosion:

How come none of the tenacious networkers and gap-year gasbags got the fuck out of Zone 2 and swung their lazy asses out west to check out SPLIT PROPHETS, with their Bristol-borne dubbed-out aggravation:

. Or jumped on a Westcoast Mainline and came up to Brum to prod SONNYJIM in the shoulder & ask him why the fuck he came out with something like three billion tracks this year when the stunning 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' & 'Flying To The Moon' were clearly heavier hitters than Yung Jeezy's could ever drop: “Oldskool like Betamax, my ends are crazy on a day to day basis. I'm faced with fascists and racists who don't disguise their hatred of blacks and asians...”


GAPPY RANKS didn't even get a nomination in the reggae category of the Mobos but Alborosie won:

Jessie J swept the boards that night. Industry harried see. Worried. Risk-averse. Obsessed with 'legacy' and award-ceremonies. S'why the 'defining bands & artists of the last decade', and I speak as chief-executive of the BPI, would be Oasis, Green Day, Strokes & the occasionally great Amy Winehouse, all of whom thrived on the dependability of their sources, the comfort of pastiche, the tribute paid, the orisons made. An old thieving industry, now worried cos finally its rosters are ALL, black and white, prone to such thievery by the very fans who should be exploited. With music's bewildered overlords in a locked tic of denial, we've got to talk more, stop bemoaning what's passed and use community above all to link and enlighten us. The diversity of that community is gonna be vital - so much great british music being made right now but we're scared of ourselves, of how good we are right now, of how that sound round the corner might entail the odd derailment. I'm just as bad as any other podule-dweller, I listened to nothing but hip-hop in 2011. Genuinely gonna try hearing a guitar not played by CATS ON FIRE without vomiting in 2012. M.P.s and marketeers want to keep us apart, quiet with the silence you drop inside when everyone's talking, credit card details ever at hand, sealed in your own struggle. Pop similarly in the main aims to keep to its place/demographic and keep saying as little as it can as loudly as it can. Silent about what's being done to us by government and courts this year, silent in the blame game even as it's dragged in, silent about what's actually happening to the people it's for, hopeful it can be another barcoded distraction in their monthly shop. Fuck the consensus that there's nothing new to say, no new ways of saying it, that youth can only care about comfort, careerism & commerce. If the 90s have anything to teach us now it's in finding music that recovers epiphany, that has the fearlessness to be innocent again, the guile not to be gauche but to tear new shapes in the future. (The future came and went? Yeah maybe, I reckon it's on it's way back again.) The music industry's been touching us inappropriately for too long, as it expires its calumnies and skeletal gropings grow ever more frantic. Need to stop the visits. ONOE CAPONOE knows the score. Bloody loony:

Much love to you and yours at years end, much hope that music continues to startle in short blasts as it has in 2011, startle us both in substance & style but also in the odd routes we come to it. Unsanctioned by the old order, and that goes for those citadels crumbling in the capital as well as those within our own secure walls and chosen narrow windows. In the spirit of which, any recommendations in the comments re: what actual guitar bands I really should hear (totally out the loop) much appreciated. Oh, and cos I trust em, gonna check out the Quietus' list now. I'll give em ten seconds to grab me like I do everything. I'm British. I like pop, see.