You Made Me Realise

Each day on Facebook I post a link to that day’s Bagging Area blogpost- I like to keep Mark Zuckerberg updated with music from the last few decades although he never comments himself or thanks me. When I published Tuesday’s post- Galaxie 500’s Blue Thunder from their 1988 On Fire album- a friend thanked me for reminding them of the song and album and posing the question ‘why was 1988/89 such a fruitful time?’ I replied and then thought about it a bit more.

The reason for the explosion of dance music and acid house in the years 1988-1989 has been well explored and well documented. In summary, in the north Mike Pickering had recently returned to Manchester from Belgium and headed Factory’s A&R. He was also given control over the musical policy at the Hacienda. Dave Haslam’s Temptation night was growing but from opening in 1983 the nightclub was often largely empty (and open almost every night). In its first few years it was more gig venue than nightclub. Pickering began to play the music that excited him, the new music coming out of the USA, house music from Chicago and techno from Detroit. At a similar time Shaun Ryder and friends developed a sideline to being Happy Mondays, importing ecstasy and selling it in the Hacienda. The combination of music, nightclub, youth and drugs quickly gathered steam. In the south a similar revolution took place but this time starting with four friends (who were also DJs) who spent a summer in Ibiza dancing to a wide variety of tunes, including some of those early house records, in open air nightclubs under Balearic skies fuelled by the same pills the Mondays had discovered. When they got back to the UK they decided to try to re-create this scene in London in the autumn- Paul Oakenfold, Nicky Holloway, Johnny Walker and Danny Rampling. Within months Spectrum, Shoom and The Trip opened. Acid house ensued.

The reasons for guitar music entering such a fruitful period between 1987 and 1989 are maybe slightly different. The bands putting records out in the late 80s were at the tail end of what had started with punk, in particular a model of Do It Yourself. An entire system of independent record labels was well established with a distribution model that got records into shops all over the country while avoiding the majors. In the US the bands inspired by punk had spent years criss-crossing the states building up a network, playing gigs in clubs and bars, meeting promoters, fans, fanzine sellers and the DJs from late night regional and college radio stations. In the UK John Peel existed as an outlet for even the most experimental and outlying bands and getting played by Peel was a reasonable ambition. The weekly music press (three papers remember, Sounds, NME and Melody Maker) had pages to fill, with opinionated and passionate writers and they held real sway and influence- NME Single Of The Week felt important. The post-punk period of roughly 1978-83 extolled being experimental, sounding like yourself and independent, leftfield, leftwing values. Technology was available and cheapish so recording a decent sounding demo tape was attainable. Cassettes were cheap and easy to reproduce and could be sent off to Rough Trade or Creation or 4AD or whoever. By 1988 this was all well established and bands had a mains to plug into, plus the back catalogues of the psychedelic groups of the 60s, the girl groups, the proto punks of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, Nuggets and punk and its aftermath found cheaply in second hand shops or taped onto cassette with hand written inlay cards.

I think there are two other explanations- bear with me, if you’re still reading and I fully understand if you’ve clicked off and gone elsewhere- and which are specific to the 1980s. Firstly (and Aditya agreed with this on Facebook) one reason for the boom in guitar music was state funding of bands and music- the dole and to some extent the student grant which sent young people from all backgrounds to university or polytechnic or art school. The dole and education grants gave people the income which bought them space to create. It wasn’t much, there was just enough income to survive week to week but it was guaranteed as long as you met a few basic criteria (turn up at the job centre once a fortnight and sign on, turn up at lectures and hand an essay in once a term). Many of the British bands of the 80s came from dole culture. Some of the labels were funded by Thatcher’s enterprise culture- there are several who got a business grant or loan to start up. As Aditya put it on Facebook yesterday ‘You need a guaranteed income if you’re going to try anything highly speculative, such as writing a 20 minute white out in the middle of You Made Me Realise’.

You Made Me Realise

Today’s young people have to pay for their further education and the Tories have completely monetised university education, made it a financial transaction- what you are going to earn and how you are going to pay it back are the primary considerations. Leaving home to go to a new city, do a philosophy course, form a band, mess around and take your time doing it, are no longer possible (or valued). Trying to exist on the dole while putting together guitar, drums and bass seems increasingly unlikely.

The second explanation could be this- the 1980s were a polarised and confrontational period. You picked your side and it informed all your decisions. I saw a Tweet recently from someone disgusted by Morrissey and his appearance on US television wearing the badge of a minor British fascist organisation. The Tweeter said something along the lines of ‘in the 80s The Smiths were my gateway into an outsider life, of books, music, cinema and politics. Morrissey formed my adult life’. As an aside the fact that The Smiths had split up in 1987 possibly also accounts for something here, a gap where they had been now existed. But to get back to the point, the polarised world of the 1980s meant that making experimental/challenging/lo-fi/home made/trippy/weirdo/out there/leftfield music was a way of life and a basic requirement. The mainstream was the enemy and to be avoided at all costs. Rick Astley, Phil Collins, Queen, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel- whatever you think of these artists now (and I still can’t understand why some of them have been allowed back in)- were to be repelled and pushed away from. Bands defined themselves by this, by being outsiders, by taking a stance. Every town had a nightclub that had an alternative night, usually a Monday, when it would otherwise be empty. The music was an alternative to the charts and the mainstream. Lionel Ritchie or My Bloody Valentine? Stock Aitken and Waterman or Creation, 4AD and Factory? Queen or Sonic Youth? Tango In the Night or Surfer Rosa? Bad or Bummed? Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s America and the glossy, bright, mainstream culture that it spewed forth brought about cultural reactions- the guitar groups instinctively knew this and responded in kind.

Ten years later this oppositional approach was gone- guitar groups, especially Oasis, sneered at what they saw as small time bands and a lack of ambition and wanted sales, number ones and stadium gigs. Naked ambition and a mainstream sound was in- Morning Glory and Urban Hymns are mid-tempo, smooth-edged, mainstream rock, rather than that gateway into a hidden world the Smiths fan I mentioned earlier found with guitar music.

Here are some Pixies.

Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf Mix)

Soon

My Bloody Valentine made the four piece indie guitar band sound like something else entirely with their 1988 album Isn’t Anything. There were other bands in a similar area- Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth for two- but they don’t really sound like what Kevin Shields, Colm O’ Ciosoig, Belinda Butcher and Debbie Googe were doing.  MBV’s 1990 single (and a year later Loveless album closer) Soon is another thing again.

Soon

Shields found a new way of playing and most people assumed it involved tons of pedals but apparently not. Shields mainly just used open strings and tunings and the tremelo bar. In the studio (or multiple studios in the case of Loveless) Shields sent his guitar through one amp, his and Belinda’s vocals split through different amps and mics and made a huge sound. The drums on Soon sound sampled, played by Colm but in pieces and then sampled to make drum tracks. Shields got into sampling while recording Loveless but says he was mainly sampling the guitars, feedback and distortion mostly, while the vocals were often done early in the morning after being up all night recording. In 2007 Shields said that what you can hear on much of Loveless is ‘the sound of the guitar bending. What you hear is the sound between sound.’

Soon is a stunning song. The video, a little dated now perhaps, manages to do it some kind of justice, a low budget hazy and washed out approximation of what Soon sounds like.

Wine

The series that I am not calling Foodstuff Friday moves on to wine. With two reggae posts earlier this week it makes sense to start with Tony Tribe in 1969

Red Red Wine

Red Red Wine was written by Neil Diamond in 1967. After he left Bang Records they released a version with a choir added without Neil’s permission, so the song was something of a sore point with him and the single version has never subsequently been released on a Neil Diamond album. Tony Tribe recorded his two years later. Both were then trumped in the chart stakes in 1983 by UB40 who had a massive hit with their cover. Tony’s version is the one for me.

Lee Hazlewood was a wine drinker. Summer Wine, a duet with Nancy Sinatra, is off his Nancy And Lee album (a record everybody should own).

Lee knew his way around a tune . His Cowboy In Sweden album also gave us this one…

Me And The Wine And The City Lights

In 1987 My Bloody Valentine put out the single Strawberry Wine, still edging their way towards the sound that made Isn’t Anything and Loveless two of the definitive records of the late 80s and early 90s. Strawberry Wine is trebly, bright and poppy, a mid 60s Byrds influenced song, with sweet harmonies and Belinda on lead vocals for the first time.

Strawberry Wine

Royal Trux were Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema, a couple who made earthy, growly, noisy indie rock ‘n’ roll in the 90s. When they separated in 2001 Jennifer went her own way and for a while made records as RTX. Cheap Wine Time is a distorted, rough and ready, nicotine stained song with guitar solos that sound like they lost their way in the early 70s and eventually wound up in Jennifer’s flat, drinking in the daytime. Warning- it starts suddenly.

Cheap Wine Time

The photograph at the top shows our son Isaac, in a French supermarche a few years ago, stocking up on vino. Longer term readers may remember that Isaac was born with a genetic disease, a life limiting illness that affects him in many ways, physically and mentally. He spent his early years in hospital and in many ways we are lucky he is still with us. Today he turns 20 and tonight glasses will be raised in his direction. No wine for Isaac though- he is strictly a milk or blackcurrant cordial kind of man. Happy birthday Isaac.

Feed Me With Your Kiss

A very different part of 1988 today compared to Monday’s Ofra Haza song and yesterday’s 1987 early UK house music. This is the noise and melody and headspinning WTFness of My Bloody Valentine. Isn’t Anything has many moments. The lead single off it, Feed Me With Your Kiss, is one of them. Feed Me… has a monstrous, pile-driving riff, cavernous rock drums and then that trick Shields developed of the male/female vocals seeming like they’re from another song, just enough out of sync to make it sound very odd on first hearing. And on later hearings too. By the time they got to Loveless he’d more or less buried the vocals completely (most of which seem to be about sex, S&M sex or sex while on drugs), hiding the human voice underneath the layers of sound and distortion they cooked up in a endless sequence of recording studios in London. The eps that they released on Creation between 1988 and 1991 contain an embarrassment of riches, songs that anyone else operating in the guitar and noise area would have killed to have written and produced- Slow, Drive It All Over Me, Emptiness Inside, Glider, Don’t Ask Why, Off Your Face, Swallow to name but seven.

Feed Me With Your Kiss

Fear

Flaming June eh? How come it’s nearly half way through 2016 already? Today’s offering is a treat for noiseniks from 1998, Kevin Shields remixing Mogwai and their already fearsome Mogwai Fear Satan song. Shields goes for broke with this sixteen minutes long song, adding flute and what at one point sounds like bagpipes to the guitar feakery. The first play of this on 12″ when it came out made me wonder if the stylus or stereo were broken and although the breakdown section at around nine fifty is pretty beautiful it’s probably not best served at a family barbeque. Credit where it’s due, thanks to DH for his photo of a forest in the Lake District taken at the weekend.

Mogwai Fear Satan (My Bloody Valentine Remix)

Slow

Just a year or so after making (yesterday’s) Strawberry Wine single MBV were going further and deeper, as this beauty from the You Made Me Realise ep shows- the bass riff is like, erm, trippy sex. The picture shows Kevin Shields’ guitar pedal board. I saw him when he played with Primal Scream once and on some of the songs his hand movements had no obvious relation at all to the sound his guitar and amp were making.

Just plug that in there, stamp on that knob and off you go…

Slow

Strawberry Wine

Oh dear, back to work. It’s only when you have time off and actually relax that you realise how consuming your worklife is.

It’s funny that My Bloody Valentine sounded like this in 1987- sing song and 60s and lightweight.

Strawberry Wine