The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Leyland Kirby Presents V/Vm
The Death Of Rave (A Partial Flashback) Rory Gibb , July 8th, 2014 08:29

"It was an incredible project," said Leyland James Kirby of V/Vm when I interviewed him in 2011. "I still can't really make sense of it." Even by the standards of an artist whose most potent work has explored neural overload and memory loss, The Death Of Rave emerged from a particularly frenzied bout of activity for Kirby, 2006's V/Vm 365 project. It found him working almost round-the-clock to meet the self-imposed condition that he had to release a new track each day via his website. "It was crazy," he reflected in that same interview. "It almost killed me. Then after that, I was at this point where I couldn't really see what I could do for six, twelve months. I didn't do very much, it was basically survival."

It's hardly surprising, then, that The Death Of Rave - just reissued in slimline form, but whose original iteration ran to over 19 hours of audio - sounds so burned out. Crafted right in the middle of that project, at its core is a brilliantly simple conceit: Kirby, who was musically radicalised by his experiences in the early rave scene and drew extensively upon them for V/Vm's most subversive and confrontational work, here subjects these very personal sonic experiences to the same processes of corrosion and corruption that his alter ego The Caretaker imposes upon decades-old recordings of ballroom music. The results are blurred, turbulent, treacherous; almost-familiar snatches of dance tracks roar upward through the mix yet always remain frustratingly unrecognisable. Echoing outward into the air, their reverberations now bounce through empty space, off the walls of abandoned buildings, rattling rusty lift shafts and empty windowpanes. "An audio soup of half-remembered rave anthems featuring all of the hits and the many misses from the golden age of the Northern UK rave scene," Kirby called it at the time. "The rave legacy no longer lives on, the corpse of rave bears no resemblance to those heady days in the late 80s and early 90s."

This Partial Flashback vinyl release, a far more digestible eight tracks long, arrives at a canny time. Over the past few years, 'death of rave' aesthetics - tapping into the residual cultural memory of that movement - have come to permeate sections of dance music, in sound, temperament and discourse. It's a topic that's been extensively discussed by Mark Fisher and crops up in his intermittently excellent new book Ghosts Of My Life (which also contains a reprint of Fisher's sleevenotes for one of Kirby's Caretaker releases); it's a subtext buried within the recent flush of nervy junglist tics and pirate radio tropes in house and techno; there was even a label called Death Of Rave founded in 2012, whose first release was the soundtrack to Mark Leckey's film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore. As such it's fast becoming a contemporary dance music truism, a byword for a cliched set of aesthetic tendencies, something crystallised in this month's unfortunate nadir: Jamie XX's Fiorucci-sampling single 'All Under One Roof Raving'. XX appeared to desire to extract from his source material some atmosphere of deep-rooted "keeping it UK" authenticity, yet managed to batter to death any notion of rave-era radicalism by setting it all to a polite Disney-house flurry of steel pans and coy percussion.

All of which, of course, isn't exactly Kirby's fault. The Death Of Rave was clearly prescient as a project, as well as being an obvious inspiration for subsequent musicians. But it tapped into a feeling that already seemed to be simmering away among many who'd been inspired by the initial gasp-for-air sensations of the initial UK rave movement, and who following the 1994 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act had subsequently become increasingly disillusioned with dance music culture being co-opted as just one lifestyle choice among many in a late capitalist society. On one level you can hardly blame them, and looking at the current capitalist-realist, corporate-dominated nature of international electronic music - both at the levels of so-called 'underground' and 'mainstream' - it's hard not to concede that commentators like Fisher have a point, something Angus Finlayson pointed out in his thought-provoking essay on The Death Of Rave in FACT.

Yet that sense of despond, which even at its most eloquent risks touching a nerve of 60s-style nostalgia for a lost golden age, continues to exert a romantic pull on artists, listeners and writers, young and old alike. This ensures that rave and jungle still hang heavy (and, right now, heavier than for a while) in UK dance music's cultural memory - a perfect storm rumbling on the past's distant horizon whose reverberations are still felt all-too-clearly now. This only heightens the sense of disconnect for those too young to have experienced them firsthand at the time. That's especially the case now, with a fair amount of contemporary dance music breaking from former moulds: new forms are now evolving from the interactions of diffuse networks of producers online, while others are emerging from localised outposts around the globe, including from areas well outside of the typical Western heartlands of dance music discourse.

So listening once more to Death Of Rave, it's still hard for me - as someone who missed out on rave first time round - to take from these tracks quite the same conflicted mix of emotions that Kirby clearly poured in while making them. Yet a subtle difference in the presentation of Partial Flashback - whether intentional on Kirby's part or not - does, subtly yet crucially, shift the emphasis. Compared to the angry, overtly politicised statement accompanying the original 2006 web edition, this release is now framed in the same highly personal terms as his later Leyland Kirby music, which has expanded on his preoccupations with memory and past experiences. Ivan Seal's artwork, of a vase of flowers in muted, dying tones, recalls his elegiac art for The Caretaker's recent releases. Most telling is the fact that, where the original versions were untitled, here he's given the same tracks names that evoke particular people and places - 'Monroe's Stockport', 'Acid Alan, Haggis Scott', 'Big Eddie's Van - Bowler's Car Park'. These artefacts are no longer ambiguous and detached, suggesting a documentary eye (when in actual fact being anything but unbiased); instead they're selected memories from the haunted warehouse, telling of friends, parties, moments of lucidity snatched from long nights spent in waking dreamstates.

With The Death Of Rave reframed as a personal document, the mood becomes closer to muted, resigned frustration, making it a tactile pleasure to wallow through. Kirby's inherent awareness that those nights had to end sometime is expressed as a bitter aftertaste - a metallic, hollowed-out roar of sound, burning off whatever dancefloor fuel was once present to leave behind impressionistic smears of smoke and choking ash. This obscuring of the once-vibrant source tells its own message: it speaks to the challenge, if not the complete futility, of gazing backward as a mechanism for salvaging a future in which dance music's infrastructure can escape its current strictures. Twenty years since 1994, in their own way these eight suites - cropped from that original 200 or so - feel as much like postcards of a bygone era as The Caretaker's delicate manipulations of decaying 78s from the 1920s and 30s.