Oh, hello, how are you? It's Xmas time 'round these parts, or near enough, as it almost certainly is in your 'hood, too, which means complete madness until approx. the 26th of December. You waiting for another update on Melbourne stores from the '80s/'90s? Me, too, but it hasn't happened yet. The main three are there below for you to peruse; the remaining entries, featuring stores such as Greville, Relic, Gaslight and Collector's Corner, won't be quite as extensive (or possibly quite as interesting), but I will complete them at some point in the near future. End-of-year lists? I used to be a beast for such self-indulgences and sundry list-making, but frankly, they really don't interest me anymore. I couldn't care less what others rank as the great releases of 2012, so do you care what I think? Thought not. I really liked a buncha things which came out this year - yes, living, breathing NEW RELEASES by folks such as Blank Realm, Swans, Actress, William Parker, et al - but you can read about 'em elsewhere.
One thing I'd recommend you watch is this hour-long video footage of Black Flag playing in Philadelphia on the 4th of June, 1982. It's the 5-piece line-up w/ Emil on drums and it damn near knocked my head off... and I wasn't even there! The ferocity of the performance makes its way onto the small screen and makes for pretty goddamn essential viewing. The way the band, at this point, was musically bordering the spheres of animalistic hardcore grunt and sweaty, slo-mo doom-sludge was pretty magic. I find it almost impossible to watch more than 5 minutes of live footage from just about anyone at this point in history, so destroyed is my attention span from the allures of Youtube, but I watched the whole thing in one go: a personal record. You should do the same.
Speaking of SST - we were speaking of SST, weren't we? - you may care to go to this link and listen to the dulcet tones of yours truly wax lyrical on the label and play some fave tunes for your enjoyment. You get Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Saccharine Trust, Opal, Pell Mell, fIREHOSE, Slovenly, Saint Vitus and not a peep from Zoogz Rift and Paper Bag. I was invited onto my buddy Woody McDonald's radio show, Primary Colours, on 3RRR last Monday to pay tribute to the finest musical imprint of all time, and that I did. I think I went OK, even though, listening back, I explained to the world that Charlie Haden's son was curiously also named Charlie Haden, when in fact I meant to say Josh Haden. Got me? I blame it on nerves. Skip to the 40-minute mark of the show if you only want to hear the SST segment, enjoy, and I'll be back again soon.
Sunday, December 09, 2012
1980s/'90s MELBOURNE RECORD SHOP RUNDOWN, PART 3...For moi, there was the Holy Trinity of record stores in Melbourne during my formative years; I've already covered the first two, and that leaves Missing Link (ML). ML has a curious history, and I have an equally curious history w/ the store: I worked there on and off throughout 1999-2001 - interrupted by overseas travel and an 8-month stint of gainful & painful employment at Borders - but I shall discuss that later. For now, let's talk of the history of the shop itself.
Missing Link began life in 1971 as Archie & Jughead's, founded by Dave Pepperell and Keith Glass, as one of the first, perhaps thee first, independent music shop in Melbourne dedicated to hard-to-find imports. A bit of history is required here, and two things to consider: at the time, the Australian music biz suffered from culturally-crippling parallel importing laws. That is, if a distributor or label had the local copyright on a release, or an exclusive distribution right to it, then it was an illegal act to import it of your own accord within a certain time frame after its release. I'm a firm believer in copyright and exclusivity laws, but I'm also a believer in getting records in time (even though, working in "the biz", I know that's not often what happens). So, let's say that label "X"'s parent company in the US has just released the latest Frank Zappa record in 1971 and you wish to procure copies for your store in Melbourne (or anywhere else in the land). You have to wait for the local branch of that company to either license it locally or distribute imported copies before you can sell it. Sounds simple. What's the problem? Don't these local labels/distributors wanna make a buck and get it here pronto? You'd think so, but Australia's music scene was dominated and controlled by the kind of archaic fuddy-duddies whose taste in music likely took a screeching halt at Mantovani. Combine that with incompetence and the kind of foot-dragging mentality major record companies have personified for most of their existence, and you have consumers waiting months to hear a local edition of something even as bleedingly obvious as Exile On Main Street.
For more exotic delights of the era - whether it was the Grateful Dead, Miles Davis or the Kinks - the wait could be even longer. Major-label oddities like Moby Grape and Love, you'd probably wait a dog's age for the local company to get their shit together. As for the even more exotic items of the day, such as free jazz, krautrock and "avant-garde" music of many stripes, the release might never get any distribution, and if so, it would be through a back-shed indie whose fill rate and ordering consistency may be questionable. Regarding Europeans curios, particulary of the avant-prog variety, there was also the legendary "Daniel", an Austrian emigre with highly questionable social/political views (I won't go into here in fear of a libel suit), who ran a stall in a downstairs market on Swanson street at the time and sold such items for the "heads", but more on him later.
I did say there were two things to consider, so I'll quickly mention the second: in an interview I heard on the radio last year w/ Pepperell, he was saying that the standard procedure for record stores back in the day was to register the store, open an account w/ all the local record companies and they would decide what to stock in the store. You had "X" amount of money to spend, and they would nominate the releases they would sell to you. If that business practice strikes you as fairly absurd and fascistic, you may be correct. And thus there came to be Archie & Jughead's...
Both Glass and Pepperell deserve their own entries: there is simply too much to say in a brief spiel as this (and one which isn't even supposed to be about them). Keith Glass has his own Wikipedia entry, and you can browse it here. Suffice to say, as an actor (in Hair!), singer, producer, DJ, label and retail owner, his CV spreads far and wide. I've never actually met him (he's lived in the US for a number of years), although I'm friends with his daughter, Daisy, but Pepperell is a different story. He's a larger than life motormouth who, similarly, has done a lot since he sold the store 30-odd years ago, as a journalist and music retail manager, and I'll certainly never forget his visit to Missing Link on the shop's 30th anniversary in 2001. For an hour, he regalled us w/ stories of the first few years of the store. In short, from the first day it opened, they knew they were onto a good thing: there were hundreds, maybe thousands of music-starved freaks who needed an outlet like Archie & Jugheads in their lives. The music trucked out the door. How did they evade prosecution? That's something you best ask them. I'm not sure as to whether they did at some stage, but the store kept on going regardless.
In 1977, with punk the new thing in town, the store changed its name to Missing Link, and accordingly changed its focus to the emerging local punk boom and the glut (a good glut, mind you) of overseas punk and indie records being released. In 1978, the Missing Link the label was started and would release significant discs by the Go-Betweens, Birthday Party and Laughing Clowns, as well as license popular titles by the Flying Lizards (who went top 20 with "Money"), Dead Kennedys (who also hit the charts w/ several releases) and the Residents. In the early '80s, the shop was sold to Nigel Rennard (who also owned Greville Records at the time and toured the Dead Kennedys in 1983) and I guess that's where I should really begin...
I first went to the store in 1985. At that stage it was located in Port Phillip arcade just off Flinders Lane in the city. Once again, I went there to buy a Sex Pistols record. I'm not sure how I knew of the store's existence - I don't recall them advertising in print or radio - but somehow I stumbled upon it and, along w/ Exposure Records, it appeared to me as a mecca of strangeness. There were racks upon racks of records by bands I'd never heard of, and two scary-looking people behind the counter. The two in question were Debbie "Dinosaur" Nettlelingham (who had a popular show on 3RRR) and Steve "Pig" Morgan (he later being at Au-go-go and Greville: you'll notice his name popping up a bit). I walked up to the counter in my school uniform w/ a copy of "God Save The Queen" (it was all I could afford), exchanged goods and money and was, at the end of the transaction, delivered the line from Debbie, "There ya go, tough guy". I heard Steve laugh in the background. Certain memories from your youth stand out, and that slightly humiliating experience is one of them. Frank at Exposure was always a perfect gentleman; ML introduced me to the world of snotty indie-store retail workers. You're gonna miss them when they're gone.
I went there a few more times to pick up similar items over the next 6 months, though some time around late 1985 or early '86 it moved up the road (a mere 30 metres or so on Flinders Lane), and for the life of me, I couldn't find it. It wasn't until late 1986 that I rediscovered it and bought items such as Damaged and the Dead Kennedys' Bedtime For Democracy (the week of release: a big deal for a 14-year-old putz). By 1987, my musical interests had outgrown strictly hardcore, and ML was a good outlet for the cool and obnoxious scuzz-rock being released: Sonic Youth's Sister and the Butthole Surfers' Locust Abortion Technician, both licensed locally by Au-go-go, but two records I purchased from ML, for whatever reason. Steve Morgan's musical obsessions at the time were in the Swans/Buttholes/Sonic Youth camp, as well as an On-U Sound/dub fixation, and the store reflected it. When I bought Sister I got the response, "Album of the year, mate, album of the year". It's that type of thrilling dialogue at an impressionable age which sticks in your craw.
From now on, things get a little murky. I was saying this to my friend Edgar Lee just the other day, a gentleman who worked (mostly part-time: he has a long and illustrious career in the public service) in the store from 1984 until it shut a couple of years ago: I don't recall visiting the shop a whole lot between the years 1988-1990. Steve moved to Au-go-go in 1988, a store which became much more of a reflection of my musical interests, and for me ML seemed, well, a bit bloody passe. I was likely wrong in my assessment of it, but its HC/punk focus, or at least that's how I saw it, seemed out of step w/ the good things which were happening in the here and now, which was primarily focussed on labels like SST, Homestead, Sub Pop, Touch & Go and Dischord. ML probably stocked all that stuff, too, but for me Au-go-go was the shop w/ an impeccable range of goodies and its competition was laid to waste.
One important relationship which ML had for a number of years throughout the late '80s/'early '90s was w/ its employee, Karen Leng. Karen had already been on TV as a "reporter" on the youth-oriented Saturday-morning music/culture show, The Factory, on ABC (which actually wasn't that bad: you can see GOD performing live on The Factory here), but she also had a 3RRR radio show on Friday mornings called Station To Station, which specialised in American independent music. Most of the new releases were borrowed from ML, and she advertised it as such. I would often have art class on a Friday morning, and if possible I would take control of the stereo in the classroom and listen to as much of the program as I could. It seems strange, in hindsight, that I was ever allowed to do such a thing, or that my teacher and classmates tolerated the racket emmitting from the speakers, but I recall doing such a thing quite a few times w/out being hounded from the class like a heretic. Sometimes, I'd even get my mum to tape the show for me, bless her. Station To Station was a revelation: every week I'd hear new platters by Fugazi, Wipers, Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr., Swans, Slint, Laughing Hyenas, Bongwater, Killdozer, et-fucking-cetera. Where can you buy these records? Missing Link. And where did I go? Well, half the time, probably Au-go-go, but I certainly appreciated the education.
Martin Lewis started managing the store around 1990, and by 1991 the shop had started to change again. The previous year, Edgar had managed it and put a strong focus on hip-hop. Seems like a strange choice, but I guess one must hark back to the days when hip-hop (it'll always be "rap music" to me) was considered an incredibly exciting musical prospect by white music nerds. I recently had to tell him that that was possibly why I hardly walked through its doors that year. Ha! Sorry, Eddie. Scott Harper, local nice guy/crust-grind king who played in bands, ran a label, booked shows, etc. was also working there by '91, and the shop started to partly focus on the emerging (or fully emerged) grind scene centred on the Earache/Napalm Death family tree. I liked some of that stuff at the time, but not enough to purchase any of it outside of a couple of Godflesh discs. At the least, you could sense the store had a focus: with Edgar working there and co-running the Dr. Jim's label (home of hot bands of the day such as Peril, Dumb & the Ugly, Slub, etc., as well as the ever-popular Christbait and Blood Duster), there was a knowledge that if it was really noisy, fast and weird, ML would probably have it. Also, the store was hep to a lot of Shimmy Disc and K Records items (both of which I dug a whole lot ca. 1991-1992), stocked the likes of Maximum Rock & Roll and Flipside like clockwork, and I was still in there more often than most psychiatrists would deem healthy. In a very real sense, it had a perfect symbiotic relationship w/ Au-go-go, w/ neither of them crossing over too much.
For a few years, it also had Extreme Aggression almost directly across the road, a store owned by the notorious "Daniel" I mentioned earlier in the piece, which was dedicated to grind/death metal. He had previously operated Pipe Imports as a record store in a small arcade about 30 metres from ML for, so far as I know, 15 years or more. In the '70s it was all kraut/punk/industrial music, but as the '80s progressed he went from HC to thrash/speed/death metal and then onto grind and eventually black metal. Pipe was tiny - roughly the size of a small kitchen - but it had an interesting mix. Whilst as a teen I had no interest in the Kreator picture discs he'd hang on the wall, the SPK and Throbbing Gristle albums he'd stock intrigued me. Daniel also owned and operated the distribution service known as Modern Invasion, who were distributing Earache and other such labels at the time. Considering how big that scene was here at the dawn of the '90s, one would assume he'd make a killing, but the store shut down (jogging my memory) within a couple of years and he went back to full-time wholesale.
That brings us to 1993, the supposed cut-off point for this series. Not here... Early that year, I dropped off copies of the first issue of Year Zero to ML. To be honest, I wrote a lot of it when I was drunk and I didn't expect anyone to buy it, let alone read it, but was surprised when I went back a week later to see that the half-a-dozen copies I'd left the previous week had apparently all sold. I enquired at the counter about sales, and Martin raised his eyebrows and said, So you're the guy who does Year Zero? He knew me as a regular customer, but not by name. I was kind of taken back by his response, fearing that maybe he wanted to punch me out for something I'd written (I suspected that, if people actually read it, it might upset some people from the local music scene), but then he just smiled and said that it had caused some interesting discussions in the shop and that he really liked it and wanted more to sell. Huh. That perked me up until the shit hit the fan a few weeks later and I started having my name dragged through the mud by some street-press columnists and fanzines (notably Mailman: a zine which seems to've been solely published to tell me to eat shit). Really, this is all old news and probably not interesting to anyone but my own self-obsessed self, but it happened, by golly, it happened. When I came back a month or so later to check on sales, Martin chatted to me at the counter, telling me that all the people calling me a jackass were useless and that I stuck my neck out for something which needed to be said. When I felt like I was being abused from all sides, I needed to hear that. From that point on, perhaps in a juvenile way, I considered ML as an ally of sorts, and a good place to hang out. Is this all getting too weird? Thought so.
The '90s trotted on as years do... and suddenly it was 1999. In January of that year, I was hanging out w/ Edgar and Martin at a pub, seeing some band, and Martin told me that there was a vacancy for part-time work on the weekends at Missing Link. He then asked if I was interested. I was working full-time as it was, but was keen on giving it a shot, if only to put it down as workplace experience I could put in my CV, and I figured it'd be fun and the extra cash wouldn't hurt. We were all pretty drunk that night, but I recall Martin pulling me aside and giving me "the speech". It went a little like this: Dave, Missing Link is an iconic store. To work in such a shop is a privileged position. Every second kid who walks in the shop wants to work there, but you got it. You can now be a gatekeeper, a tastemaker, you can change lives, maaan!! Now that's only a paraphrase and perhaps an exaggeration for effect, but the basic point was made: working at Missing Link wasn't to be taken lightly. Laugh now, but before the internet started wiping out indie record stores like the plague, it did mean something special. And I never abused that privilege: I was one polite motherfucker, courteous to the pleasant and moronic alike.
I worked there alternate weekends for about 3 months, then went to the US for about a similar period and then came back to no job. I asked Martin about work. He told me a co-worker had gone overseas for a couple of months and I could fill in the hours. All went well, working usually 4 days a week, until the co-worker came back from overseas and I was cut back to approximately a day or two a week. I needed full-time work, Borders offered it, and there I was for 8 long, long months. After 8 months working there, I'd been brought to the brink of insanity, and I happened to be in Missing Link on a day off work, slightly intoxicated after having seen a midday session of The Filth & The Fury at the Kino cinema (yes, as in literally intoxicated. This period is the genesis of what some friends cruelly refer to as my "Charlie Sheen years"). Dianne Rennard, the store's co-owner (Nigel's sister), asked me how things were at Borders. I told her the truth: it was awful. She told me Martin had just resigned to work in the IT field and that if I wanted to work back there full-time, a job was available. I took it, resigned from Borders the next day and started back at ML in a fortnight's time.
Working in the store just over a decade ago was certainly a different time for music retail. I saw the daily figures and Missing Link was doing very well indeed. The biggest weekly hurdle was the phenomenal rent (even for that shoebox), but not only were times good, they were consistently good. Retail these days is up and down like a yo-yo - you can have a disastrous Saturday for seemingly no good reason, and then make a killing on a traditionally dud day like a Tuesday - but back then, each day could be predicted like it was a science: Monday was busy because everyone was back at work or uni/school and felt like beating the blues with a purchase; Tuesday was the quietest, a day which meant nothing to most, as if they were holding off until mid week; Wednesday was busy as people came into the store to pick up the street press and often bought something whilst they were in there; on Thursday, people were getting ready for the weekend and felt like procuring goodies to treat themselves; Friday, people would buy stuff to play on the weekend; Saturday was always full of cashed-up school kids and people from out of town (especially a Geelong HC posse who'd buy up big every week) and you were usually run off your feet; and on Sunday, the store was only open from 12-5, and people would make enough of the abbreviated time to make it worth your while being open. That was the pattern week in, week out, and it rarely deviated. And as a sidenote, please remember that ca. 1999-2001, the Australian dollar was bordering on becoming a Third World currency: it hovered around the 50-cent (US) mark for that entire time, making some of the store's wares very expensive. At one particularly dire stage, when the dollar was at around 46 cents, there were a lot of $35-40 CDs in the shop, with even a number of single-CD imports going for $45 and above. And ya know what? They sold.
I had a fun time there, met lots of nice folks, many of which I'm still friends with today, and even felt a sense of pride in curating a shit-hot range of avant-jazz titles the shop stocked (and sold!), but by September 2001 I was bored and felt some sort of imminent, premature midlife crisis on the horizon: I can't be turning 30 next January whilst working in a punk rock music store. In hindsight that sense of panic seems completely ridiculous; after all, why not spend your whole damn life working in a punk rock music store?, but I wanted out and did exactly that.
In 2003 or '4, ML was moved to a big basement premises on Bourke Street, as it had been making a killing from the "punk boom" of the tough-guy HC/Epitaph/pop-punk/emo vein (none of which thrilled many of the employees, but when we were riding its coat tails and it was keeping the store nicely afloat, we weren't ones to judge) and needed a bigger space. I always loved the cramped, dark atmosphere of the old Flinders Lane address, and never really cosied to the Bourke Street store. Too big, too bright; for me, it lacked a certain warmth. Things were pretty hot there at ML for a few years onwards as they had the right staff who could focus strong sales on certain titles the store would get behind and push, and there was still a nice gap they could fill, musically speaking, for genres and styles of music which weren't being covered well elsewhere (stoner/doom, grind, noise, contemporary HC, etc.). Scotti from Au-go-go had moved there in 2002 and kickstarted its mailorder business into a serious proposition, and it felt like there was a strong scene surrounding the store which drew customers into its web. Everyone who worked there - and boy, for a year or two there were a lot of them: too many, in my opinion - was involved in bands, labels or zines in some way. There was a sense of reciprocation w/ its customers: you help us out and we'll support what you're doing. There were also some righteous instore performances during this period, such as US punkers Rambo and Eddy Current Suppression Ring. ML the label was even reignited, releasing some good and not-so-good punk/noise/grind discs. Later on, it got to the point of self-indulgence: the counter would be full of CDs, records, tapes and fanzines on display, nearly all of them promoting something a staff member was involved in. At the risk of rubbing a few old friends the wrong way, I don't think that sends the right message to customers, bordering on a cliqueish mentality.
And there begat the strength of the internet and everything went tits up. It was fun while it lasted. Again, I could point fingers and hypothesise about what went wrong, but I won't do it in this public forum. In the late '00s, Collector's Corner came to share retail space with ML - literally - as an attempt by both stores to combine their talents and halve the crippling rent. In a fairly short time, ML started really struggling for various reasons, and Nigel basically closed up shop for his side of the business late last year. Collector's Corner still retains the ML moniker and remains an impressive shop dealing mainly in vinyl for all strains of sound (although they've lost a lot of their local garage/punk market to others, I'd hazard a guess) - it's semi-officially [who knows?!] known as Collector's Corner-Missing Link - but in reality, Missing Link doesn't really exist anymore. You still reading this? Good. The end.
Monday, December 03, 2012
1980s/'90s MELBOURNE RECORD SHOP RUNDOWN, PART 2...For myself, and probably for many others, there was no greater record store in the land circa the late '80s/early '90s than Au-Go-Go. I first discovered the store in 1987, soon after it opened in its first location at the end of a dingy-looking arcade (actually, more of a hallway, as there was nothing else down there) in Little Collins Street in the city. It was like a hidden treasure chest. There was no store frontage, and was tucked away to a point where you had to know it was there. You wouldn't just stumble upon it. Again, it was a daunting experience: the shop was pretty small (although I'm told that the back area was quite large, housing stock for distribution/export), was cluttered with vinyl both on the racks and on the floor, workers were in and out all the time and everyone seemed so busy and, uh, important. Wow, there's Leapin' Larry L, 3RRR "comic celebrity", behind the counter! At the time, Dave "Dog Meat" Laing and Max Crawdaddy (another well-known 3RRR dude) were working there - and I knew who they were - although I didn't know what they looked like. It was a hive of activity, enough to do a shy and retiring 15-year-old music nerd's head in, truth be told, but luckily the first employee I encountered and engaged with was Bevan Roberts, a New Zealand emigre and serious collector who'd landed a job there after a brief career as a civil engineer. Bevan is still a good friend, a complete music maniac and renaissance man who went on to co-run the Death Valley and Afterburn labels with Scotti (more on him later), manage Polyester Records and Sister Ray in Fitzroy, then had a number of years back at Greville before starting up Dragonfly Discs in the city with Matty Whittle (ex-GOD and former Au-Go-Go employee), a budget-oriented outlet which closed a couple of years back. But I'm getting ahead of myself here...
Au-go-go, as you may know, started off life as a record label in the post-punk era, notably releasing records by the Scientists and the Moodists, among many others. Bruce Milne and Philip Morland were the originators, although Morland left in the early '80s and (perhaps wisely) exited the music biz. Coincidentally, Philip had his own office for his filing business next to mine in 2004 when I was renting a small storage space as a place of work, and we became friends the moment music was brought up and he told me his history. Philip: one day, when we meet again, I will give you back your Essendon Airport LP and fanzines you leant me. Au-go-go branched out into distribution, mailorder and export, and by 1987 the time was right for Au-go-go the store.
In 1988, the shop moved to bigger premises, a two-story building not far away on Little Bourke Street which became a goddamn mecca for music junkies. I'm told the building used to house a gun shop. Upstairs was secondhand and collectibles, and downstairs was new stock, t-shirts, fanzines, etc. By then, the label had had a major indie hit w/ GOD's "My Pal", licensed happenin' titles by Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers and Big Black and would soon go onto sell a bucketload of Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr. LPs (and later on it would do very well w/ the Meanies, Magic Dirt, Spiderbait, Jon Spencer, et al). "Grunge" and its associated brethren (the SST/Touch & Go crowd) was a strong focus of the store, as well as the hot domestic music of the day (Hard-Ons, Bored!, feedtime, King Snake Roost, the kinda stuff covered in B-Side, etc.)... or maybe they were just my focus. Like their "sister" store in Sydney, Waterfront Records, Au-go-go had its finger firmly on the pulse of the best underground rock & roll of the era, but Au-go-go was also eclectic and likely covered a lot of good music I was completely oblivious to at the time.
Without pissing in anyone's pocket, for me, what set the store apart was the quality of the staff: lifers such as Bevan (a guy who'd always note what I was buying and make recommendations of other discs I'd dig); Irish transplant Dom Molumby (Australia's biggest VU devotee, bar none, and so much more besides); resident comedian, ex-Missing Linker and future Greville employee Steve "Pig" Morgan, who was also managing Ollie Olsen's No at the time and was known for photographing every second gig in town; Glenn Terry, who went on to found the hardcore-collector-oriented Vicious Sloth outlet 20-odd years ago; Scotti Campbell (commonly known at the time as "Scotti from Au-go-go" or "Scotti from Resistant Harmony", as no one ever knew his surname: the guy is a goddamn saint, always encouraging me in my pursuits, collaborating on projects and basically being the kind of selfless, committed mofo the world needs more of); and later, people such as ex-Perth vet, Pat Monaghan (ex-Dada dude who's been at Basement Discs the past decade); Synaesthesia avant-monkey/demi-god, Mark Harwood, who flew the flag in the upstairs secondhand dept. for a while; Richie Ramone (future Tote co-owner, along w/ Bruce Milne, and now proud owner of Homeless Records); Matty Whittle, who ran the mailorder division for years; Tom Larnach-Jones (Trifekta Records label), an old Shock workmate of mine who worked there in the late '90s... but again, I'm going outside of my allotted time frame of 1985-'93.
Purchases? I had but many. I recall acquiring mind-benders such as Double Nickels On The Dime, the Meat Puppets' first 3 LPs, Milo Goes To College, Thug, Badgwearer, Half Japanese, Swans, Wipers, Die Kreuzen, Twin Infinitives, My Dad Is Dead, Pere Ubu, Naked City, Chrome and many others from Au-go-go. Forced Exposure? My first exposure was via Au-go-go. There's one piece of the puzzle I haven't mentioned yet: there was actually an Au-go-go store in Geelong in the early '80s (a seaside regional city 50 km from Melbourne, if your grasp of Victorian geography is lacking), I'm told, though I never visited them, and from (and I'm jogging my memory here) roughly 1990-'92 there was a second Au-go-go outlet, situated in Malvern. Malvern is an unbelievably dull, very wealthy suburb in the inner eastern suburbs, a place of lush trees, large mansions and wide streets where absolutely nothing ever happens. I'm still not sure why Bruce and co. (he was running the biz w/ his partner, Greta Moon, at the time) decided that opening such a store in a squaresville burg like Malvern was a bright idea, but it obviously wasn't. Hey, I didn't mind it being there - it was relatively easy for me to pass through on the way home from uni or work, and if I was mooching a ride off someone, it was much cheaper and easier than trying to find a park in the city - but the good people of Malvern just didn't understand. I recall talking to an employee at the time, and they said their biggest problem was the inordinate number of people walking through the door looking for John Farnham CDs. Au-go-go just wasn't the store for them. I still recall - like I said last time: I have an amazing memory for the things in life which don't really matter - buying Die Kreuzen's Century Days there in mid 1990 and Chrome's Half Machine Lip Moves/Alien Soundtracks CD a couple of months later - so even if the store could be considered a failure from a financial/cultural point of view, it did provide some crucially important services to yours truly.
Now that I'm almost grown up, have a real job, a mortgage and a family, I rarely frequent record stores. I simply don't have the time, and I learnt very early on that there's nothing kids find more boring than accompanying a parent whilst they shop for something they're totally not interested in. It drives them nuts, and when they're driven nuts, it's contagious. But certainly back in the pre-'net world (and likely still now: I don't mean to imply that this relationship doesn't still exist today for many) visiting fave record stores was a goddamn primary focus of one's life. I visited Au-go-go weekly for many years. During the summer of 1991 I worked a temp job in the accounts department of a life insurance company for extra cash over the break. The money was great, the work sucked. Visiting Au-go-go every day at lunchtime, as it was just a block from the office, gave me a sense of liberation from the zombified atmosphere of my dunderhead work colleagues, and coincidentally, I blew a small fortune in the store that season. Why didn't I just ask someone there about a job? Because I was a schmuck.
One thing which has changed in the past 20 years of independent record stores is their ability, if the release in question is right up their alley, to sell vast quantities of key releases. It's not out of the question that an indie music outlet can still sell decent quantities of certain titles, but when the bricks & mortar store was the only outlet one could procure much-desired releases from, a shop could sell hundreds of copies of the hits of the day. Mudhoney, The Hard-Ons, Bored!: these kinds of bands trucked out the door in the hundreds. Suicidal Tendencies' Join The Army, not so much so. When it was released in 1987 there was much anticipation upon its release - hell, I loved the first album and I wanted to hear it - so Bruce specially ordered 200 copies from Virgin at a good price, expecting to race through them in no time. Thing is, the consensus on the album was that it sucked (and did it ever), and Au-go-go was stuck with a mountain of the thing, stinking up its bargain bin like a pair of dirty socks for a long time thereafter. You win some, you lose some. In mid 1992, the store suddenly had a few racks full of imports going cheap, and it was a bounty. I was informed that a store in Canada had gone under and Bruce had bought the stock. Yo La Tengo, My Dad Is Dead, The Scene Is Now, Mofungo, even the original pressing of Simply Saucer's Cyborgs Revisited: all brand new and all going out the door at dirt-cheap prices. Out came the vultures...
There were also the live instore performances to consider. I'd like to consider them, except, to be honest, I can't recall that many memorable ones. The problem with instores, I've found as both a consumer and someone who's been behind the counter, is that, whilst it may happen to bring in many people to the store (or at least hopefully it will) - people who may or may not purchase something whilst they're there - it can also halt trade whilst the instore performance is taking place. Case in point being when the Geelong Fugazi-worshippers, Food, played there in, what, 1993 or so? They had a disc on the Au-go-go label, so there's certainly no reason why they shouldn't have played there, but I didn't wanna see them. I just wanted to buy some records and, err, probably the latest issue of Maximum Rock & Roll. But I couldn't because the employees had placed sheets over all the racks to prevent theft. I wound up leaving, going down the road and buying something at Missing Link instead. The point of this story? There is none, none at all.
The store and label haven't existed for nearly a decade. Bruce Milne sold his half of the business in the late '90s and it was subsequently owned solely by Greta Moon: soon thereafter, things started sliding. It's not up to me to say who did what wrong, but I can only assume that, at least financially, it wasn't getting the love it needed. During the late '90s, Missing Link, which was just down the road, was booming by having rode the wave of the "punk revival" and being the sole focus of the hardcore scene, but Au-go-go was stumbling badly, not having the available funds to get new releases on time or at all, and a vicious cycle like that is a hard one to recover from. In its last few years it moved down the laneway to the second floor of a building, and its loss of street-level space only made matters worse. Its last few years were a pretty depressing experience for all involved, and I visited it infrequently, knowing that, the occasional secondhand acquisition aside, I wasn't likely to find it much different from the past half-dozen times I'd passed through its door. When Scotti left in 2002 to work at Missing Link, I knew it was all over. He'd been there since 1988, and wouldn't leave if he hadn't seen the writing clearly on the wall.
As early as 2003, downloading and other factors started to affect music retailers, and compounded with their other financial problems, the store couldn't go any further and called it a day. At the risk of sounding callous, or even mean, I'm not being dishonest when I say that few people mourned the passing of the store when it finally shut. Or maybe it was just me who didn't mourn its passing. It'd been running on empty for a few years and it was almost like a dying horse whom you were glad to see put out of its misery. Not the best way to go, but the music business is one of the cruelest businesses of them all. Greta is, I'm told by several people, actually training to be a neuropsychiatrist these days, and is still involved in the wine business - one of the most unexpected and successful mid-life career changes I've ever heard of - Bruce still has his fingers in several pies and deals in rare and secondhand records and other ex-staffers seem to be doing OK. Somebody forgot to ever take down their web site (it hasn't been updated since it shut!), and you can relive the memories right here.
Monday, November 26, 2012
1980s MELBOURNE RECORD SHOP RUNDOWN, PART 1...This post has been directly inspired - no, let's just admit it: it's ripping off - by a recent entry from Jay Hinman's Hedonist Jive blog. His post in question is here. What I would like to do is share w/ you, dear readers, some of my experiences and impressions of the primo independent music retailers in Melbourne circa 1985-1993. Why these years? Well, I'll start in 1985 because that's when I began seriously frequenting indie music stores and buying their wares, and I'll cut it off at 1993 for no particular reason other than that's the year I turned 21, was selling my own fanzine to the stores in question and my relationship w/ these store folk changed from mere gormless consumer to active trader and even friend of many a retailer.
I should state a caveat here: as you read on, you will notice that I am still currently friends w/ many people I speak of. It is in fact my job to speak to some of these people on a regular basis, although I only began such a job description a decade back (exactly a decade ago this week, in fact). Got me? So, don't expect too much controversy. All of these people are still alive and well: I'm not here to titilate you w/ salacious gossip; I'm simply here to relay some stories and inform some young(er) whippersnappers of what life was like before the internet struck us all down w/ terminal onset autism.
However, let me add this: this is not meant as an excercise in misty-eyed nostalgia, mourning the "golden age" of the record store. For one thing, and I've been reliably informed several times by friends who oughta know: despite the stories you hear of the death of the record store and the impending doom of "the biz" as we know it (both of which are largely true on a worldwide scale), Melbourne has enjoyed quite a huge renaissance and resurgance of record stores the past 5 years and actually holds the current record of the highest number of music outlets per head of population in the world. Most of the newer stores are only dealing in vinyl - both new & used - but they're still flying the flag for the bricks & mortar outlet, that special meeting place where socially-challenged folks such as myself, all those years ago, congregated and came to the realisation that they weren't the only freak in town. Has the customer/shop relationship changed? It certainly has. The store owner is no longer the gatekeeper to another world, although I'd like to think that a good store can still be used as a filter which cuts out all the extraneous material and instead creates a unique focus on what it deems worthy. These are personality-focussed stores owned & operated by seasoned tastemakers, and in my opinion they're the only ones which will survive in the long run.
Let us begin in 1985... the first "cool" store I began hanging out at was Exposure Records in Kew. I first went there a couple of times the year prior, although 1985 would mark the first year I actually bought anything there: it was the Sex Pistols/New York Dolls Before The Storm bootleg. It makes me laugh when I think back to this, although I'm sure many of you share similar experiences, but visiting a "strange" music store, as I viewed Exposure when I was 12/13, was one hell of an intimidating and scary experience. I only learnt many years later what a mild-mannered gent its owner was, but at the time, dorkily standing there in my school uniform asking about which Dead Kennedys record to buy, I was a bag of sweat and nerves. Exposure was, as stated, situated on Cotham Road near its intersection with Glenferrie Road in the posh, leafy confines of Kew. It hardly rates as a minefield of bohemia - Kew is strictly whitebread, upper/middle-class and hopelessly square - but it's also easy to access from both the outer east (Ringwood/Nunawading) and the inner city, and was a popular stop-off for people on the way home from work or high school (such as was the case for me: it's right near a major junction close to many of the state's private[!] schools). Other than Exposure, there was absolutely no other interesting retail outlet in the immediate area, believe me. It was a destination point for many, and after-school hangout for who were often dubbed at the time as "private-school punx" *cough*.
Exposure was started in 1978 by Peter Bakowski, somewhat of a legend in the poetry circles down here, a softly-spoken gentleman with an absolutely awesome knowledge of music who later worked at Gaslight for many years and now runs the jazz section at the renowned, classical-focussed Thomas' store in the city. The exact date I don't know, but a few years later it was sold to one Frank Falvo; he later went onto start Shock Records w/ David Williams and Andrew McGhee, and made a lot of money running their export division until it went under a couple of years ago (a victim of the downturn in music sales and the strong Australian dollar). Life can be strange: when I was 13, I was shopping at Frank's store; when I was 23, I was working for Frank at Shock; and by the time I was 30, I was living down the street from him (and still do: he's about 75 metres from me). But anyway! Exposure was a really great shop back in its hey-day: Frank kept the stock tight & interesting, w/ an eclectic range of goods. Unlike many other indie stores who flew the shabby-chic flag, it was also very neat, clean and tidy. I'd often see Frank in there fastidiously vacuuming the carpet, something I got a feeling other outlets didn't do too often. I purchased some crucial platters by the Dead Kennedys (Plastic Surgey Distasters), Black Flag (Nervous Breakdown, TV Party), Bad Brains (Rock For Light), Circle Jerks (Group Sex), Minor Threat (Salad Days), Husker Du (Land Speed Record, Everything Falls Apart) and Cramps (a real fave of his) discs there early in the piece - he had a pretty good "hardcore/punk" section - and I also bought all my Flipper records there, both 7"s and LPs, throughout 1986/'87, but he was (and is) also a big fan of '60s punk of the Nuggets/Back From The Grave variety, Suicide, NY Dolls and other east coast punkers, as well as "incredibly strange music" a la Morricone/Baxter/Denny, and such sections were stocked tastefully. Australian punk/Detroit rock & roll was also firing at the time, and I laid my hands on early 7"s by The Hard-Ons, Lime Spiders and the Psychotic Turnbuckles (!!) within its confines when I was but a 14-year-old spud. I also used to buy my issues of B-Side, Maximum Rock & Roll and Flipside at Exposure: he had his fingers on the pulse.
In 1988 or '9 - maybe even later - Frank sold the store to Jason Reynolds, owner/operator of Summershine Records. Jason's taste in music was much more centred on the English/shoegaze/indie-pop side of things, and it was reflected in its range, and hence it became of less interest to me. To regurgitate past rants, I was in absolute contempt of UK indie music back in the day and all its NME/Melody Maker hype-of-the-week BS (and still am!), and by then Au-go-go, who were much more in tune w/ my Yankified taste in post-HC rock of the SST/Homestead/Touch & Go gene pool, became my main focus. Still, you remember the little things: in 1991 I bought Fugazi's Steady Diet Of Nothing at Exposure a week before it was available anywhere else, as Jason had struck some sort of special deal w/ Dischord, and around that period I also purchased from the store two lifelong faves: Unrest's Imperial ffrr and The Scene Is Now's Tonight We Ride (the latter from the bargain bin... and I reissued the damn thing!). I really do have a brilliant memory for the things in life which don't really matter.
In 1993, Jason sold Exposure to work at Shock as a label manager. He'd left by the time I started there in 1995, moving to the US to work at Sub Pop. He sold the store to two gentlemen who were, unfortunately, staggeringly clueless. Their names escape me, but one was roughly 50, whilst the younger one I'd guess to have been in his late 20s. They didn't stand a chance. They'd bought the name, good will and stock from Reynolds and relocated to Swan Street, Richmond, a few kilometres closer to the city. Richmond was all a-buzz at the time, and the store was near the "legendary" (actually, it is) Great Britain Hotel, the focus for rock & roll in Melbourne at the time, but these guys just couldn't get anything right. Not only did they not know that a lot of the stock they'd purchased was essentially "dead", to use the parlance, but they didn't even have their heads around the concept of consignment stock. I knew when they gave me cash up front for my fanzine - as opposed to the consignment model which every other local store frustratingly but wisely insisted on - that they were marked for a short ride. They were. I think they barely lasted 6 months before they closed up shop. That was the end of Exposure. For a lot of folks it seems a distant memory, but I now raise my glass in respect to Exposure Records' critically important role in educating and molding the slightly less socially-challenged individual you are reading this very moment.
Coming soon: Greville Records, Au-Go-Go, Collector's Corner, Missing Link, Gaslight and Relic Records...
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Nostalgia for music one was never even into at the time? That's an odd concept, yet certainly not unthinkable. Galaxie 500 are one such example. In this regard, I would peg them alongside the likes of My Bloody Valentine. Not sonically, mind you (though there's definite similarities), though the original time frame that these bands were "hot" - approximately 1989-'91 - my musical head was elsewhere. SST, Die Kreuzen, Wipers, Bored!, Helios Creed, Fugazi - whatever - I was still in the midst of a post-hardcore/SST hangover, and I needed music w/ grit. Galaxie 500 didn't make the grade. Too mannered, maybe too collegiate, and worst of all, they were critics' darlings in Ol' Blighty. Hell, I even thought they were English for a day or two. They were merely from Boston via New York... and attended Harvard ferchrissakes! I'm also a recovering Anglophobe - did I mention that? But all of this isn't to imply that I disliked 'em. Being a Kramerphile, the fact that he - Kramer, that is - happened to produce all of their albums didn't hurt. There's also that kickass version of The Rutles' "Cheese & Onions" on the Shimmy-Disc comp', Rutles Highway Revisited, possibly the best track on that estimable compilation of songs. And "Blue Thunder", the single off their second album, 1989's On Fire, got some heavy rotation on the video-clip TV program, Rage, at the time: and I did indeed like that song a great deal. It's got that warm 'n' fuzzy Kramer production, like everything was wrapped in warm blankets in the studio, and it's even got a bit o' blazing sax c/o Tin Huey's Ralph Carney. The album itself was licensed to Festival down here, so it got a semi-push from all involved (or the best a quasi-major could do down here pre-"alt-rock revolution" when they were probably staffed by clueless incompetents and under the helm of management who likely didn't even know the band existed), but it was all for nought. Galaxie 500's US label, Rough Trade, went under right around the release of their third and last LP, 1990's This Is Our Music, and the band called it quits when singer-guitarist Dean Wareham (an En Zed transplant!) left the group. That left the duo of Damon Krukowski on skins and Naomi Yang on bass and vocals. They went off on their own w/ two members of the great Massechussetts psych outfit, Crystalized Movements, to form Magic Hour, as well as having released a number of stripped back, melodic and often deeply psychedelic records as Damon & Naomi. Dean Wareham went on to form Luna, a band who were kind of a big indie deal down here in the '90s but never budged me an inch. But back to Galaxie 500. I bought their 3 albums on CD about 3 or 4 years ago. Why? The urge just hit me. They were there, they were cheap and something in the back of my mind had me thinking I mighta missed out on something the first time 'round. The conversion is belatedly complete. The band released the three LPs between the years 1988, 1989 and 1990 - Today, On Fire and This Is Our Music - and they're pretty near perfect. As has been said before, whilst the rest of Underground Amerika was trying to be the Stooges, Galaxie 500 eschewed the macho "rock swagger" (it had to be said) that HC had wrought across the land (I'm actually talking "grunge") and created a very ephemeral, dreamy music. You might even take a deep breath and call it feminine. They had more in common w/ the shoegaze set from across the Atlantic (one of the reason I briefly mistook them for Limeys at the time) than Mudhoney, and now that flared tempers have settled, Galaxie 500 are a band I can enjoy w/ aplomb. The three LPs don't really differ from each other much at all. In fact, production techniques aside (the 3rd is slightly less murky), they're fairly interchangeable. The sound is pure Moe Tucker tom/snare tribal beats, Sterling Morrison strum and Wareham's boyish, slightly atonal vocals. Wareham didn't always hit the right notes, but in a Jonathon Richman/Daniel Johnston scheme of things: that hardly matters. The band doesn't work w/ singles, not because there aren't strong individual tracks (the debut, "Tugboat", "Blue Thunder" and their reconfigured cover of Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste" are highlights), but because it's the overall feel of the long-players which weave their magic. As with The Feelies, who were actually a big-league band in my head ca. 1991, Galaxie 500 were most certainly one of the best VU-damaged bands of their day. Listening to their discs 20+ years later is confirmation of that. Their catalogue is in print, easily attainable and I suggest you attain it w/ ease.
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Until recently, I had a couple of boxes in the spare room gathering dust. These boxes contained books - "punk books", to be exact. The books are now on a shelf. There's nothing like having a library of punk books at your disposal. This internet thing is pretty handy, but flicking through the pages of an old tome of yore and having flashbacks to the days when not every morsel of information was at your beck and call somehow makes that bit of information that more precious. There was a time when the book known as Hardcore California was perhaps the reference point for all things in regards to early west coast punk rock. Originally published in 1983 by Last Gasp Press, it has, so far as I know, remained in print ever since (it's certainly still in print as I write this). I was given a copy by my parents for Xmas, 1986. They knew damn well I wanted the thing. I'd been eyeballing a copy of it at Minotaur Books (a well-known outlet in Melbourne dealing in "cult culture" [my term, sorry] of many breeds for over three decades), and made it known that the expensive (at the time) coffee-table book was something I not only wanted, but needed.
There were few, if any, other widely available books at the time which documented the crucial early period of west coast punk and new wave. "New wave" still makes me cringe - it makes me think of session musos in skinny ties - so I'd prefer to use the term "new music". As Claude Bessy said: new wave don't mean shit. But if anything, Hardcore California showed that Bessy was right. The book almost entirely ignores the forgotten skinny-tie bands, but instead shows how punk created a diaspora of many differing styles beneath its umbrella. You get neo-rockabilly, goth, power pop, cow-punk, synth-wave, paisley underground, noise and, yes, punk and hardcore, but there is precious little page space wasted on transient new wavers.
Put together by Peter Belsito and Bob Davis, two names who don't often figure in the history books of Californian punk rock, these older art-scene vets (Bob Davis was the sound engineer for Laurie Anderson), despite their pedigree as art-scene vets, somehow manage to get it right: the energy, the music, the ideas, the personalities. Consisting mainly of high-quality photos by the likes of Glen E. Friedman, Ed Colver and F-Stop Fitzgerald, as well as album cover and flyer reproductions, all put together with brief descriptions of the bands, scenesters, burn-outs, desperados and legends which made up the two main scenes - the book is divided into Los Angeles and San Francisco - the combination of texts and images is near-faultless. What are the faults? I've been flicking through it the last 45 minutes, and I can't seem to pick any obvious ones.
The book gives you a clear indication of the unique musical flavours of both cities: the post-glam meeting point called the Masque, the centrepiece of LA's musical renaissance in the late '70s; the birth of Slash and Flipside; the onslaught of suburban hardcore as Black Flag, the Adolescents and the Circle Jerks' fan base left its city confines and the musical fallout that followed: everything from Redd Kross to 45 Grave to the Dream Syndicate and the Gun Club and the Blasters to the embryonic Bangles. And that's (obviously) just LA. San Fran always struck me as slightly older, art-damaged and drug-affected. There was a heavy dose of all three elements in LA, too, but San Fran's music always appeared to be more self-conscious, a description which doesn't lessen the greatness of its main protagonists: Residents, Avengers, Sleepers, Crime, Flipper, Dead Kennedys, Chrome, the Target Video gang (an important piece of the puzzle in the VHS/Beta/pre-internet days), Survival Research Labratories, Search & Destroy-RE/Search, et al. The SF HC scene started slipping by '83, as imitators like Bad Posture and Code Of Honour started making a dent, but thus ends Hardcore California.
At a time when the punk rock scenes of New York and London were considered almost exclusive owners of the punk copyright, Hardcore California laid out a map to a state's music scene which was not only much better than either city's contributions to "the new music", but one which encapsulated the suburban, bourgeois alienation I felt as a teen (*sniff*). The preface states the case: "This is a book about people who did it themselves. Kids who established their own sub-culture and created a recognisable style and musical sound to identify it... They took what they needed from these previous movements and drew momentum from their contemporaries in New York and England. But, the Californian hybrid takes youth's traditional stance of defiance into the eighties with a renewed sense of desperation." If you don't already have it, you need it.
PS - my copy of We Got Power: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980s Southern California is in the mail.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about the Ganelin Trio, the incredible improvising jazz outfit from Russia ca. the '70s/'80s. I'm not even going to reference it, nor look it up: I simply know that I wrote about their Poco-A-Poco CD on the Leo label w/ great reverence. It is reverence well justified. I'm currently on a bit of a Ganelin Trio kick, and at some point in your life on earth, I'd recommend you do the same. Their music will blow your fuckin' head off.
Russia, at least as it was in the former Soviet Union, is not exactly the kind of place you'd consider to be a hotbed of blazing jazz action. That may be because you consider the Russian people too austere, too serious, too unswingin' to be jazz people (you'd be wrong); or it may be because you're under the impression that just about all forms of fun, especially subversive fun like RADICAL FREE JAZZ would've been outlawed by its former communist government (that is mostly true). However, the leader, Vyacheslav Ganelin, was held - and is still held - in great esteem by the music community in Russia and hence played and recorded his music relatively hassle-free.
The "classic" trio also consisted of pianist Ganelin, saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin and percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. This line-up was solidified in 1971 and blew minds for a couple of decades. They started releasing albums - pretty much all of them live - in the late '70s for Russian emigre Leo Feigin's Leo Records imprint, and began to play jazz festivals in western Europe. Jazz critics worth a bean hailed them as the best free jazz group in thw world. They mighta been right.
A few weeks ago, my buddy Predrag from Perth told me he was selling off a bunch of his jazz records for a bit of extra cash. He listed four Ganelin LPs up for grabs. Original vinyl, good nick, $10 a-piece. I told him they were sold. My desperation levels hit Def-Con 4 and I decided then and there that I needed them. Don't ask me where this desperation came from: I hadn't listened to my other Ganelin CDs in over half a decade... but sometimes it all comes flooding back to you and you realise a revisiting is in order.
I got my hands on 1981's Con Fuoco, '83's Con Afetto, '84's Strictly For Our Friends and 1988's threeminusoneequalsthree. The latter is a duo 2LP set between Cekasin and Ganelin, and is equal to any of the trio LPs, alhough it veers more into contemporary avant-garde territory: more AMM, less Coltrane.
I once described, possibly in the pages of this very blog, the Ganelin Trio as sounding like a basement-dwelling eastern European version of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. There's some truth in that - the use of "small" and unconventional instrumenets in the mix, for one - but whereas the AEOC looked towards Africa for inspiration, Ganelin Trio are pure Euro avant-garde, mixing up folk melodies, Russophilian classical motifs (I doubt that's even a word...), hard-arsed improv of the FMP/Incus school and a real swing, the kind of momentum you only get from players who really understand jazz and that it's supposed to move.
Ganelin even plays synth and electric keys on occasion, and it absolutely works within the music. Chekasin's sax work closely resembles Ornette's late '60s/early '70s playing - high-energy blasts which rarely delve into Ayleresque screech territory - and Tarasov's percussive experiments are totally engaging in their use of all manner of kitchen-sink materials. Engaging is exactly what this music is. It never stays in the same place for too long, and the manner in which it combines what sound like familiar melodies w/ hot-wired improv is the stuff of the gods.
All of these albums are currently in print, cheap and available via Leo Records' web site. The music of the Ganelin Trio is something which should be known far and wide, certainly outside of its contemporary listenership of Wire readers and hopeless jazz nerds (both spectrums of which cover me adequately, thanks). You don't wanna miss this boat: they're totally worth it. Vyacheslav is still musically active today, making vital sounds 30-40 years later. You can check out his current group, Ganelin Priority, right here.
For something completely different, check out the clip below from Englishman David Munrow.
Munrow died in 1976 at the age of 33, though in his time he did more to popularise the music of the pre-Renaissance era - "early music", if you will - than just about anyone else in Ol' Blighty (or indeed the world). His biography, his importance, is massive, although he is consigned to a footnote to all but select boffins in the 21st century. In his time, he worked with directors Ken Russell and John Boorman, as well as Shirley and Dolly Collins, and tragically took his own life as a young man. His Art Of Courtly Love set, is considered a must, but given its currently scarce status, it remains from my grasp. Easily-obtainable CDs of his music are well within your grasp.
My friend Neil Sweeney, an American who lived in Australia for roughly a decade and now resides just outside of Baltimore, has got me hooked on this guy. Neil is a music obsessive who, when he gets his claws into a genre, must wringe it dry for all it's worth, and I mean that in a good way. His obsession with this music has made him an expert in little time. He is currently in the process of setting up a shop-within-a-shop, Alte Werks, which is to be based in the Baltimore record store/performance space, True Vine, an outlet which also happens to be co-owned by an old buddy of mine, Jason Willett (who used to run the Megaphone Records label, as well as being a member of Half Japanese and Jad Fair's band who toured here in 1997 and '99).
His mission is to convert the rock slobs of this world to the wonders of music before the concepts of Enlightenment and Reason became popular notions. I suspect that he, just like David Munrow himself, may actually be the ultimate pre-Renaissance man. If you're ever in the area, you may want to check it out.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Here's some proof that my head isn't terminally stuck in music's past: a few positive reviews for some records made and recorded in the here and now (or near enough). Not only that, but both of them are positively aimed towards a youthful audience. Well, there is no "target market" as such, but let's face it: the average fan left the womb much later than I did. Let's cut to it...
The artist known as GARY WAR has been floating around my brain the last few years, but only in the last 6 months, when his Jared's Lot LP/CD was placed right in front of me for persual, have I taken the plunge. It was released earlier this year on a newish operation run by Emeralds' John Elliott, the Spectrum Spools label, a side imprint of Editions Mego, which is essentially a resurrection of the old Mego label from the 1990s. Taking notes? Editions Mego has proven itself to be an eclectic and prolific stamp of approval in the 21st century, and I, for one, am keeping mental notes of what it is they do.
Gary War is from Cambridge, MA, and now makes NYC his home. He has a few other discs out on Sacred Bones and Captured Tracks, and there is little else I can fill you in regarding his music biography. What I can tell you is this: I really like what he does. What he does do has obvious precedents: Chrome, Screamers, Nervous Gender and many others mining the veins of what is known as "synth-punk". Yeah, I know, it's all so 30-35 years ago, and in any sense of the word, it lacks musical innovation. It's not creating anything new, it's simply apeing a well-worn path in a very good way. Should you ask for more? I can't think of the last time I felt that contemporary music was truly moving forward, and in this day and age, I don't even ask for it, and I certainly don't demand it.
There's 8 tracks on Jared's Lot in under half an hour of tunes. That may sound skimpy, but for this kinda schtick, it's perfect. The propulsive electronic drums, swirling keyboards, heavily treated vocals and occasional guitar (sometimes just used for texture, sometimes for punkoid riffing) never outlive their welcome. I've chosen the track "Superlifer" as a preview. I could've picked any of them: they don't vary all that much.
Parts of Jared's Lot remind me a lot of some of the latter, and albeit dodgy, Chrome records, even post-Helios Creed Chrome, when Damon Edge kept the name to release a slew of fruity and not particularly great albums in the '80s. In the midst of my Chrome obsession back in 1990/'91, I even bought a couple of said discs (and still own 'em!), and, like I said, whilst they're not exactly records of any great quality, they've got a strange, robotic, almost European electroid vibe which works a certain magic in a chintzy way. Gary War is a little bit like that, but he's also a little bit of many other things. As a stew, a brew, what it is he's doing is something I want to hear. It's an ace, retro-futuristic, psychedelic and electronic combination of all of the above: the songs come and go on Jared's Lot, but the songs are good. It works because it isn't pure schtick: there's some craft in here, too. I'm impressed, and I want to hear more.
But wait, there's more...
The pundits are telling me that the interwebs is going to render all of us - perhaps barring tech-heads and Amazon warehouse grunts - redundant within a decade or two, and I'm almost starting to believe it. I was tossing up the idea of a vaguely indepth review of this 2CD set by Oneohtrix Point Never, Rifts, a record which compiles the first three LPs into a handy, shiny piece of metal and plastic... seemed like a good idea. A preview track seemed an even better idea. Who needs a preview track when the whole goddamn 2 1/2-hour set is right here on Youtube, deeming the entire concept of musical criticism/evaluation redundant? The idea of anyone filtering anything is becoming similarly redundant. You don't need my opinion when you can just hear it for yourself right now and be the judge, but that's never stopped me before. Me? I'm late to the party - heard an earlier Oneohtrix Point Never disc on the Editions Mego label a few years back and dismissed it as proggy noodling - but Rifts (No Fun - that's the label) has won me over. Oneohtrix is Brooklyn-based (as they all must be) musician/synth wizard, Daniel Lopatin, and like Gary War, his music is retro-futurism, but w/out the punk/rock angle. Oneohtrix's music is a cloud of synth washes and drones, some of it in parts edging close to late '70s/'80s Tangerine Dream (once they'd lost the spooky Krautrock vibe which made their earlier albums so damn good), a reference which doesn't usually float my boat, but like Blues Control, reviewed below a few entries, its sounds manage to make vast improvements on what could otherwise be a queasy musical proposition. Got me? Oneohtrix's music sounds to me to be mostly improvised, and whilst the prospect of a 2-hour+ release detailing solo synth noodling sounds like a slog, or maybe even pure torture, depending on your tastes, Rifts is rarely anything less than engaging, and a lot of the time it's good, even great. If you like Zombi, John Carpenter's electronic scores and Tangerine Dream's soundtrack scores, but you want music which drifts, then you and I could do much worse. Oneohtrix Point Never is music custom-made for the Vice/Pitchfork generation, but that doesn't mean I have to hate it.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
I'll be back to writing up some "proper" posts soon, I swear. Life/work/responsibilties have held me back of late. I do have something to share w/ you, though. Right here is a link to a radio show I appeared on just this Monday gone. It was on Woody McDonald's - one of the nicest and most right-on guy in the biz - Primary Colours show on 3RRR. I was asked by him to come on the show and play my fave 1940s/'50s blues/R & B/rockabilly tracks, and you know as well as I that I'll bore the tits off a cow at 20 paces if given the chance to wax lyrical on such shit, but thankfully I kept the yakking to a reasonable level. There's some cool tracks by the likes of Amos Milburn, Elmore James, Jerry McCain, Papa Lightfoot, Champion Jack Dupree, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Johnny Otis, Al Ferrier, Maddox Bros. & Sister Rose and more. Dig it.
Friday, October 19, 2012
RIP - David S. WareAvant-sax giant, David S. Ware, very sadly passed away this week at the age of a mere 62. I've written about him before in this blog, both here and here, so I don't feel any great need to add to the eulogising. Best leave that to the people who knew him best. Watch, listen, enjoy.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Another Ace comp' rundown... this one covers the early singles from the Jin label, a Louisiana-based imprint, started in 1958 by Floyd Soulieau, which released some of the finest - if not thee finest - swamp-pop records of its or any other day. 'Swamp-pop?', I hear you ask... Here's a Wikipedia definition:
Swamp pop is a musical genre indigenous to the Arcadia region of south Louisiana and an adjoining section of southeast Texas. Created in the 1950s and early 1960s by teenaged Cajuns and black Creoles, it combines New Orleans-style rhythm and blues, country and western, and traditional French Louisiana musical influences.
Now, I'm aware of the fact that quoting Wikipedia is a sign of the permanently braindead or those quickly approaching a zombified state, but the above description sums up the basics better than I could. I guess what you need to additionally know is that swamp-pop is a broad church. Some of what others may call swamp-pop you may call rockabilly or rhythm & blues or simply Cajun... are you still awake? Good. One of the interesting aspects of the music - one obviously born from the inter-racial realities of the area and the fascinating musical hybrids such a state of affairs can give rise to - is that many of the white performers of the swamp-pop scene sound black. And I don't mean in an Elvis-mistaken-for-a-black-guy way - AND WHAT KIND OF DUMB FUCK EVER MISTOOK THE MUSIC OF ELVIS AS BEING THE PRODUCT OF A BLACK MAN??!! The King's sound was pure white-trash hillbilly; he might've loved his R & B, he might've even said it influenced his own music (it certainly influenced his live performances), but... anyway, I digress... - but rather, the music, the delivery and the vocalisations of some of swamp-pop's greatest "white" (often mixed race but passing for "white") performers sound like real-deal New Orleans R & B hipshakers. The great Joe Barry, not featured here (there's an Ace 2CD covering his crucial early sides), was pure Fats Domino rip, as much of the balladeering work on this very CD are, but the world was no worse for it. I've come this far, and yet I still haven't thrown around the term "melting pot". My point is this: swamp-pop doesn't mean one thing, or perhaps it ultimately means nothing, but that broad church I spoke of all those words ago is wonderfully covered in this 30-track 2003 comp', one which mixes up the different styles of music falling under the swamp-pop banner: the overtly Franch/Cajun-flavoured tunes, primal rock & roll and steamy R & B. Alas, there are no tracks by Cookie & The Cupcakes (I'm not making this up), perhaps thee best swamp-pop ensemble of them all, but again, they have their own essential CD on the Ace label covering their wares. You get the goods from swamp-pop superstar Johnnie Allan, Jivin' Gene & The Jokers (some of the best cuts here), Rockin' Dave Allen, Chuck Martin & The Honeydrippers and more. All of these were originally released on 45 RPM singles between the years 1958 - 1961. That's an incredible strike rate by anyone's standards, and one of the reason white record collector types - some paunch-prone, some socially challenged in varying ways - 50 years later still rave about such things. As a snapshot of a regional music scene at a certain point in history littered w/ a variant of musical gems, The Early Jin Singles is the bomb.
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Better late than never, I suppose. I was given this CD, I guess, back in 2009. That's when it was released on the Consumer Productions label, the imprint run by one half of The Native Cats, and I'm assuming that was when said label owner, Julian Teakle, gave it to me. I've known Julian since the late 1990s or thereabouts. Great guy: you don't need me to tell you that. What I might need to remind you of is the fact that: A) I very rarely give bad reviews on this blog (you don't need to be told about all the crap records you shouldn't buy in this lifetime: that's a waste of my time); and B) If a friend gives me a record in the hope of me reviewing it in the blog, and then I never do, then there's probably a good chance that the record in question simply wasn't my bag (or let's be honest - maybe your record just flat-out fucking sucks, but we can still be friends). There's also a third possibility that I might happen to like the recording in question but just don't feel any urge to put fingers to keyboard regarding the product. Are you still with me here? After that spiel, do I actually still have any friends left?? Good. On with the show...
So, Julian sent me the CD - Always On - via Australian Post three or so years back. He lives in Tasmania; he may well be the King Of Tasmania. He's certainly one of the reigning monarchs of the music scene on that picturesque isle, having played in bands such as the Bad Luck Charms and The Frustrations, as well as being a radio dude and vocal spruiker for all good sounds which spring forth from the Apple Isle. The Native Cats came highly recommended by all and sundry, and yet at the time it didn't make a dent in my psyche. The instrumentation - the music - didn't work for me. It seemed too sparse, too cold, too something, and it didn't connect. I saw them play a couple of times back then and the reaction was the same each time. Last year, I caught them at the Tote. A dent was made, or at least a scratch. The set was a killer, and I saw the way the individual songs were constructed and performed and began to make some sort of sense of their approach. Skip 12 months later and here I am, after they made their initial musical penetration of my stuck-up defense mechanisms, playing the thing on a daily basis. The band is currently in the US of A, having played shows on both coasts as well as a set at Gonerfest in Memphis. I've been following their trails via Facebook - where else? - and it got me curious enough last week to at least dig out the shelved CD for a well-worn spin. Hell, it was judgment day.
The line-up is: Julian on bass and Peter Escott on vocals and various electronic gadgets and melodica. Peter is apparently a highly-regarded comic in his hometown, although his deadpan schtick doesn't give this talent away. Aided and abetted by a drum machine and a Korg synth for rhythm tracks and electronic treatments (although I'm sure I've seen them play w/ nothing but a bass, microphone and mobile phone as a set-up), you can hear some reference points: Teakle's bass lines are most definitely from the Joy Division/Fall school of low-end, dramaturgical rhythms, and Escott's no-nonsense vocals and strictly-personal lyrics possess a dry humour and a spoken, enunciated approach (once again) born from many an evening kicking back to the dulcet tones of Mark E. Smith. The music itself has a heavily Angloid kick, too: I'm thinking most definitely Young Marble Giants, but there's also elements of This Heat and even early New Order, and the last two tracks, "The Image Of Annie & Ivan" and "Survival House", have a cool Suicide-style drone buried in the mix. Here's the catch: none of this is playing copycat, it isn't "electro-punk", and it rises way above the quagmire of being merely record-collector rock. The Native Cats are very Australian - Escott never loses the Aussie twang - and more importantly, this is very Tasmanian, existing within its own place and time and sounding little like anything else currently in thrall w/ the ungeneral public. There's 9 songs in under 40 minutes, and there's not a track I don't like, not a track I skip. Pulling a totally neglected CD off the shelf - one you hardly ever even gave a spin in the first place [I cracked the seal on two killer Thomas Mapfumo CDs just a couple of weeks back, which had been sitting there collecting dust for 3 or 4 years, and they've hit me so damn hard I might even write about 'em one day] - and finding yourself hearing something you never picked up on before, something good, something which connects. Ride The Snake Records (go here) in the US has issued another disc of theirs on LP, and I may very well need it. Ahem, Julian?...
Now here's one fruity release which shouldn't have been sitting on the out-of-print shelf for so damn long. Thankfully, the good folks at Future Days Recordings/Light In The Attic have amended its sorry state of unavailability. Let me take you back to the dark ages of pre-file sharing, Youtube and other luxuries of contemporary life: in the late '90s, I befriended one Richard Mason, a kind Englishman about 10 years my senior whom I became acquainted w/ via Perfect Sound Forever (a site we were both writing for at the time). He later wrote for Ugly Things and then disappeared for about a decade but recently came back into contact w/ moi. Anyway, he made some nice tapes for me back in the day filled w/ Can, VU, Michael Hurley, Screamers and Desperate Bicycles rarities (all probably now available through the 'net after a 30-second search), but unfortunately never shared tracks from the '60s/'70s Annette Peacock and Peacock/Bley albums he would rave about in emails. I was aware of Paul Bley's eclectic career (I wrote about him just below in the Jimmy Giuffre review), but Richard's spruiking made me stand up and take notice: Paul Bley and his then-wife, Annette Peacock, collaborated on various screwy and impossible-to-find platters which would allegedly make my brain melt from my ears, and I must track them down. And then I forgot about 'em, until now.
Paul Bley plays on a few tracks on Peacock's 1971 meisterwerk, I'm The One, and his presence is felt. By the late '60s, Bley was screwing around on various primitive synths and Moog keyboards, and this obviously rubbed off on his Mrs. Or perhaps that's selling Peacock short: she'd been hanging around the avant-garde since the early '60s - she briefly played w/ Albert Ayler and was married to Ayler bassist Gary Peacock at the time - and likely didn't need the coaching. Born in 1941, she was over 30 when I'm The One was released, and it possesses the same bizarre sense of crazed oncoming maturity and confidence felt on primo Yoko platters such as Plastic Ono Band and Fly. In fact, those are the two closest reference points I could make, and the two most accurate. Press-release pensfolk often throw in Betty Davis' name in there, too, and that's close to the mark: Yoko never got this funky. Originally released on RCA, back in the day when it was trying to get hip beyond its monthly Elvis paycheck by signing the likes of Lou Reed and David Bowie (Bowie in particular was obsessed w/ her and asked to collaborate: perhaps you don't need me to tell you that anecdote) to its roster, it's one of the great major-label oddities of its or any other day. Of course it sunk in the marketplace, but that was to be expected. Some people took notice, and Peacock resurrected herself once more during the punk/new wave era w/ the slightly more accessible/successful X-Dreams, but for many, I'm The One is the pinnacle. That title track - listen below - is unbelievable. Peacock's wail is both alluring and frightening, and the roar of her voice never sounds like an art-school disaster (to borrow a Biafraism, if I may) pitched to annoy. The mixture of her vocals, sultry funk and synth whirls flying in and out has me rating this as one of the best single tracks to have graced my ears since the last time it happened, and whilst the rest of the album never reaches these heights, it ain't no slouch, either. Track three, "Pony", similarly possesses an Ono/Davis hybrid meltdown, and on "Blood" you can hear the screech of a teenage Diamanda Galas discovering music which would fry her mind forever more. Peacock's career deserves more than a mere blog post - she even recorded for ECM and is still active today - but for now there's I'm The One, once again available on LP and CD, you need it much more desperately than you imagine. Hopefully we will see Dual Unity from 1970, a collaborative Peacock/Bley disc, featuring Han Bennink, get a similar reissue some time soon.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
I then sobered up, figuratively speaking, and decided that such an idea was a bunk. I have no qualms w/ selling off records or CDs I feel I don't need anymore - if such a move is regretted later on, it's relatively easy to purchase them back - but fanzines? Once they're gone, they're gone.... more or less. So, sticking w/ me they are. And that nonsense introduction brings me to the subject, the latest issue of Human Being Lawnmower drawn, wriiten and published by Brooklyn-based artist, Avi Spivak.
I'm lucky that my day job has me conversing and dealing w/ many good people from around the globe on a daily basis. Two such people I occasionally deal w/ are Miriam Linna and Billy Miller from Norton Records They don't require any introduction. In the latest shipment from Norton, which arrived in my place of work yesterday, they threw in a couple of free copies of the latest issue of Human Being Lawnmower (HBL), issue # 3, so I gave one to a workmate and took one for myself. Last night, I got all cozy, put on the horrendously cliched soundtrack of a few Back From The Grave comps (there ain't nothing horrendous about those comps besides...), and read the damn thing cover to cover. I'm convinced. I'm convinced that the fanzine isn't a dead medium, and I'm convinced, despite my admitted ignorance, that HBL is one of the best currently existing underground music publications out there.
It's slightly larger than A5 size, comes printed on quality, thick stock and is 70-odd pages long. Its focus is u/ground, punk-centric rock music from the last 50 years of recorded sound. That means you get some cool interviews w/ the likes of The Sidewinders (a previously unknown Boston power-pop band from the early '70s whose sole LP was produced by Lenny Kaye: he's interviewed, too); Cock Sparrer (interviewed is original member from the '70s line-up, Garrie Lammin, from when they were a punk/pub-rock-derived rock & roll band. They reunited in the early '80s to jump aboard the Oi! bandwagon); an article/interview w/ the New York Niggers, an obscure late '70s shock-rock punker outfit; an interview w/ Jay Mala, a NYC veteran from the '60s/'70s, who started out in the garage/psych band The Koala (whose Loise Cane went onto form to great Sir Lord Baltimore) in the '60s and went onto play w/ punk/rock/glam bands Revolver and the Magic Tramps in the Max's/CBGBs '70s; an article on the long-running Finnish rock band, The Hurriganes (again, previously unknown to me); a funny guide to some of Lou Reed's solo LPs; a Troggs comic (written by Billy Miller, drawn w/ Spivak's distinct style); an excerpt from a rare promotional Dr. Feelgood comic (!) from 1975; record reviews which cover everything from an Artificial Peace reissue to the Primitive Calculators; an interesting interview w/ a member of Index, another obscure one, this time from late '60s Detroit... and lots more besides. The writing is sharp and enthusiastic w/out ever devolving into sub-Meltzerisms or gushing fanzine-speak (two crimes I should've been locked up for many moons ago), and I found this the most educational music read I've had the pleasure of devouring in an eon. My enthusiasm for the music of MX-80, Von Lmo, Electric Eels and Simply Saucer remains unabated [you may think this is a dig at a certain person; au contraire, this man's publication introduced me to the greatness of some of these artists decades ago], although my desire to actually read anything more about them has shrivelled like old fruit. I've had my fix. New York Niggers? Try here. Early Cock Sparrer? I quite like this tune. The Hurriganes? Check out this killer. In some sense, HBL is somewhat like a cross between Black To Comm and Punk 'zines: it possesses the archeological/historical aspects of BTC w/out the rants, and has the snotty comics-&-humour style of Punk, except that the humour & comics within are actually "good" (nail me to the cross: I never liked Punk mag and its bozo/rockist/disco-sux angle). Last night I got myself an education, and what an enjoyable experience it was. Get it.