Words and Chaos

Month: June, 2013

The Mediocre Can Make You Lose Your Mind

“I guess I’m just an over-the-hill, forty-year old, curb-muncher who’s totally lost the plot”

– Henry Rollins

[Foreword: I wrote this sometime ago for a different blog I was working on in University. That blog is now abandoned. I’m sticking the article up here because if it’s going to rot in a hole on the web, it’s going to rot in my hole on the web.]

Roughly an hour into ‘Up For It’, Henry Rollins switches track from warring on the KKK, into a rant on rave music. The former vocalist of Black Flag, with a singing/shouting voice like an eternally pissed off Robin Williams, is a notorious figure for opinionated tirades. While Black Flag, for me, was a fairly hit and miss group, Rollins is arguably one of the most influential people in punk rock. He often has some interesting things to say, so I listen to some of the spoken word routines every now and then. Some of it is arguably divisive, but being divisive isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so I’m all for it. That said, his material often needs to be taken with a fistful of salt. Rollins talking about ‘rave’ music is one such topic that requires a particularly large fistful.

The problem is that Henry Rollin’s comes off as surprisingly uninformed where electronically produced music is concerned. Jungle, trance, and hip-hop all get tarred with the same brush. That’s a significantly broad stroke, so you have to question just how much music falls under his personal subheading of ‘rave’? It seems extremely narrow minded to dismiss so much music simply because it’s made on a computer utilising synthetic instruments.

Consider Pendulum in contrast to the likes of Fatboy Slim, or The Prodigy. Neither one sounds like the other. They’re identifiable because they have specific sounds. They’re all producers of electronic music – using the term very Rollins-esque width, but there’s distinction and talent there that, regardless of your musical background, cannot be dismissed off-hand. Admittedly these are three of the most notable artists going, but they serve as a good reference and illustration point. There is a lot of electronic music that isn’t just the product of guys ‘sitting around in their house one day, dicking around on a Macintosh’.

But I sympathise with Rollins. The number of bars or clubs I’ve gone into, over the last few years, where the same mix seems to playing, is ridiculous. Often, four or five hours into a night out, I suddenly become aware that somewhere between six and ten songs have gone by but I haven’t noticed because they’ve all merged into one homogenised, bland, sound wave of repetitive loops. That’s what I find really depressing.

“When you find out its six different bands, that’s what’s really bad,” comments Rollins. He’s right: maybe it’s just a current trend dictated by idiots in suits looking at charts, but so much of what gets played in clubs sounds the same. You’ve got to wonder what is it that allows a lot of things that should be tossed into a bin, to get picked up and shoved into a space that could be better used to showcase music with some integrity. As it is, one song sloughs unidentifiably into another. This is genuinely hard to achieve if you spend about five minutes customising the sound output of the most basic synth. Add to this the recurrent use of the repetitive 4/4 stomper beats – ‘uhn-tss-uhn-tss’ – that one. I repeat: it’s depressing.

As a drummer I’ve noticed a frightening trend. The producers of 95% of what is played at the average bar or club, will put this one, most basic of beats into the software and run it through the whole song from start to finish. It takes less than thirty seconds to do that. Similarly, you will get the actual tune and it will be a really simple track looped over and over again. If you’re lucky they might actually switch things up for a chorus before going back. In this way you can produce the “dairy free” content that Rollins is ranting about, at roughly thirty minutes a song, and no effort required.

Electronic music will never take the effort to make that music on real instruments does, that’s a basic given, but when ‘music’ takes no effort at all, that’s when it is less music and more auditory virus.

You can watch the rant on youtube (NSFW):

Closing the Gap – Live Music Crowd Interaction

The other night I covered the Bo Bruce gig at Shepherds Bush Hall, for The Upcoming. She did something I really appreciate in a music performance: Got down off the stage and performed Holding the Light in the middle of the audience.

I like it when musicians/singers/etc do that. It’s cool to see the space between band and crowd destroyed. To be fair destroyed is the wrong term, she just sort of meandered in the center and sang. She did that without the microphone, and that in my opinion was actually sort of a mistake because I don’t think her vocal style was loud enough for that large a space. But it’s cool, and it seems like a number of people are doing it these days if the last couple of weeks have been anything to go by.

I’m not a fan of her kind of music. I can appreciate it, but my background is primarily in metal, and that’s mostly where I draw my experience. I was at a small show a year or so ago, I think Lucky One Dies First were headlining, though don’t quote me on that. It’s just the only name I remember. The first band was this sort of crust punk influenced act, and the stage was so small that none of the vocalists, throughout the night, could fit onto it with the rest of their bands. So there were about ten people in the crowd when they came on. Because the vocalist couldn’t stand on the stage, he just prowled back and forth screaming into everyone’s faces. It was great. It was a real shame there were so few people to soak that energy up.

Another gig I was at, one the bands covered Hatebreed’s I Will Be Heard by demand of the crowd. The stage was another one of those tiny things that was at best a half a foot off the floor at the front of a small pub. The crowd just fucking stole the song – that mic got passed around this ball of screaming humans for a couple of minutes  – I think the actual front man had it for about thirty seconds total. They were blown away, and it’s probably one of my favourite gig memories.

I’m not the most massive gig connoisseur – I just don’t have the cash – but I’ve always liked it when groups and crowd collide.

GCHQ and the NSA are raiding the datastream.

The fist post is going to be about politics. I was hoping for something less heavy, but OK.


What did they find? The internet likes porn? Tumblr’s full of whiny people who are obsessed with that bloke from Dr. Who, Deviantart is full of furries, reddit is the most hilarious collection of neckbeards ever seen, and 4chan is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Also Dwarf Fortress is the future Skynet. The following is mostly ad-hoc, probably badly informed, and based on personal observations dealing with the UK. Take it with a handful of salt.

In all seriousness, people should be somewhat pissed at this, but it’s not a case of ‘this is bad’ as much as it is a case of “What the do we do about it?”

We should know precisely what this spying is going towards, what they actually have access to, what they’re doing with the information, and how it benefits us. If it doesn’t benefit us then either the people react to this, or we all stay static and grumpy and the invasion gets increasingly worse as we grow increasingly apathetic and accepting of it. That’s something we’ve become really good at, myself included.

The people either act or they don’t. But I’m not entirely sure how they are supposed to act or what they’re supposed to be acting for. The obvious instinct is just to become blindingly enraged and Molotov a bunch of government organisations in response. But how does that help us? Not only is that a fairly stupid idea, mostly based on fantasy, but also the last time we attempted violent political protest we demonstrated that we weren’t remotely good at it. We weren’t interested in the targets we apparently hate. Supposedly London went nuts because of the bankers. Did anybody attack a bank? Nope. Instead we raided footlocker and a Nandos, and then burnt a fucking mattress store. Nice one, London.

We’re still not supposed to blame the bankers. They have yet to pay a single penny back to the economy they ruined, and the people who bailed them out (was anybody actually given a choice in the matter?) yet persist in awarding themselves giant bonuses. But we’re not allowed to bash the poor bankers, because they’re so fragile behind their giant fortresses of money.

Would peaceful protests and marching, etc, have any effect on a bunch of spooks? I don’t know. Do they care about what the public think? Probably not. More importantly, do we have the bigger picture? Probably not.

There’s the world stage to think about: The UK is a former world dominating power that is now trying to match pace with the United States of America, China and everywhere else. We don’t really have too many resources, so unless anyone’s interested in revisiting the empire, it seems like a ‘take what you can get’ situation – which is apparently something we’re very good at because taking what we can get has kept us in some form of political clout. I’m not a humanitarian and I’ve never pretended I was one. I’m pretty damn sure we don’t want the UK to fall too far behind on the world stage. As to what that means in terms of liberal values… I couldn’t say. 

We lack the information required for good action. I suppose then that if we truly wanted to do anything about it, other than use it as an excuse to get pissed off and then piss off down the pub, we’d need to hack the hackers – on both sides of the pond. I’m not saying anybody should trust them, but long story short: If you don’t know what’s really going on, then you can’t act in any effective manner.