Saturday, October 01, 2011

Just last week I was telling a couple of work colleagues that I virtually never read any music magazines anymore. The fanzine has just about gone the way of the dinosaur (there are actually a number of Australian fanzines around, though given the fact that they tend to mostly cover both new bands I don't care for or old bands I don't care to read the zillionth article about, I never give them a chance. However, I do find it interesting and encouraging that folks in their early 20s are penning articles and 21st-century appraisals on bands such as Simply Saucer and Von Lmo, as well as articles on bands who, for better or for worse, defined ca. 20 years ago for me: Skullflower, Dead C., Sun City Girls, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, etc. Things have truly come full circle Now, please allow me to exit these brackets), and I've found I haven't even been bothered to flick through the monthly issues of MOJO and Uncut which turn up at my workplace like clockwork. In short, I had, until 96 hours ago (you can make that 4 days, if you wish), considered myself burnt out on the concept of reading music periodicals. A colleague, who recently left my place of work, subscribed to The Wire for "work purposes" (on the company's dime), and even that I'd never even pick up for a browse. From the years 1994 - 2002, I read The Wire religiously. The Wire started in the 1980s and was originally a magazine dedicated, more or less, to contemporary jazz and "new music" (you know, Laurie Anderson fans). It was largely a dull read, but at some point during the mid '90s it started covering a broader range of music in greater depth, much of it within my radar of interest. I feel no shame in stating that during the period in which I considered it a compulsory read, it was the best widely-read music mag under the sun. No other publication kept me abreast of what was worth hearing, both old and new, on such a regular basis. William Parker, Krautrock, ESP-Disk', John Martyn, Lee Perry, Acid Mothers Temple, Nurse With Wound, Morton Feldman, you name it, it covered the best music in a manner which got one excited. You knew that in some sense it was up its own backside, but that was OK, because so was I (I probably continue to be so, too). If The Wire was all you read for a musical fix, then I'd suggest that horizons should be broadened, but as part of a Rainbow Coalition of paper & staple productions (which for me included everything from MOJO to Flipside to Browbeat to Popwatch to, err, Black To Comm), it filled a vital hole. Something happened around 2003, and I lost interest. Perhaps it was the internet which killed my enthusiasm (and my attention span), or maybe I got tired of their anorak musical approach and wanted to distance myself from becoming what some friends of mine classify as a "Wire-reading tosspot loser" (their words, not mine). Actually, if you could pinpoint the one moment in time when the mag totally lost me, it was probably when David Keenan wrote the "New Weird America" cover story and I purchased some of his recommended releases (Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Charalambides, etc.), only to be sorely disappointed. They'd just lost their status as taste-makers and for me had fallen into the UK music press trap of attempting to christen a scene for the sake of a story.
Well... as stated, the new issue landed at my feet just the other day, and I decided to give it a go. In the intervening years of my absence, the world of music has changed considerably. Hell, the world of "music journalism" as we once knew it barely exists. There are few writers who hold sway as tastemakers as they once did in the days of yore, and the idea of sitting down and reading a periodical - a collection of articles pieced together and compiled as a snapshot of music worth reading about and hearing - is one almost entirely lost to an entire generation. The Wire has a few of such tastemakers left in their armour: Byron Coley rips out a couple of dozen reviews of recent 7"s here, including a batch from Sydney's RIP Society label, and Edwin Pouncey, AKA Savage Pencil, is still giving props to an eclectic array of artists, including a surprisingly positive review for Wilco's latest album. I only say "surprising" because I've heard it and it very positively bored the complete shit out of me. But I do like the fact that he covered it, just as he gave similarly rave reviews years ago to Radiohead's Kid A and Primal Scream's XTRMNTR, both being records by million-selling "alternative rock" bands I can also vouch for, whether you like it or not (along w/ Beck's incredible Seachange from 2002, a record which bears absolutely no resemblance to the rest of his catalogue, and one which reminds me: I really should do an entry covering such sore thumbs in the contemporary landscape of major sounds). Reading the reviews section has inspired me to come out of my slumber and explore what's going on in the year 2011: the new one by doom uber-group Asva on the Important label sounds right up my alley, and I'd never know of the recently-released Billy Bang 3CD set unless I'd bothered to pick this up. The droll cover shot of sound artist Christian Marclay may give props to the theory that The Wire is all about po-faced adulation of the serious, but there's also articles on ex-Harry Pussy guitarist Bill Orcutt and his recent solo output (records I've heard and find quite intolerable, but I can commend the direction they're coming from), an Invisible Jukebox w/ Chris & Cosey and a guide to "militant tuning" (AKA a certain brand of minimalism, covering LaMonte Young, Harry Partch, Pauline Oliveros, Tony Conrad and others), a lengthy review of the Slayer anthology (not the band, but the Norwegian Black Metal fanzine from the '80s/'90s) and a piece on reggae legends, The Congos. My old buddy Nick Cain (I interviewed him here many moons ago here) is still living in Ol' Blighty, after moving there from New Zealand in the late '90s, and, amongst other things, he contributes a scathing review of Mark McGuire's latest on the Mego label. McGuire is the main guy from hipster outfit Emeralds, an outfit whose guitar/electronics sonics approximate a meeting point twixt Terry Riley, Suicide, Metal Machine Music and Georgio Moroder. I'd consider their music to be generic & vacuous, but not without its charms (there's a rather excellent "introductory" 2CD set to McGuire/Emeralds' work on Mego I could recommend), so I'm surprised that Cain dumps a load on him so hard, but I can respect the fact that someone's giving the guy a bad review (a rarity, given his hallowed status among hipster idiots of a youthful persuasion). So where is all of this heading? I know where print media is, and it ain't pretty, but a thorough reading of the latest issue of The Wire has at least managed to pull my head out of the sand for a few brief hours, and to consume some articles larger than blog posts which paint a broader picture of where music's at right now than I've taken in the last few years. Props to them, I say.

1 comment:

david thomas said...

Triple J started as a fanzine before it became known as a radio station. They used to feature cool stuff like B-Day Party, Grong Grong.

Oh yeah, I'm loving this blog. Please never stop :-D!