Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I should paint the [blue] room

There was a time when I immersed myself in electronic sounds. Those synthetic beats and the squelch of the 303. Around then – back in the early nineties - the band I was in [which was mostly in my head] had mutated to a three piece – drum machines, analogue synths, sequencers, tape decks, guitars and dub bass. I would set up elaborate recording sessions – those bedroom beats – emanating from the record deck or sequenced on the Korg – with the Roland Juno 6 providing the arpeggiated pulse of the post summer of love.

I was no Aphex Twin.

But those moments exist – locked down on C60s and C90s – waiting to explode again when I eventually buy the Amstrad Studio 100 from ebay – to reanimate them and revel in more nostalgia. [but i said no more nostalgia rides]

These [acidic] experiments were fuelled by the electronica that was slowly filling my waking and walking hours and drifting ever more into my dreams. I was a postman at this point, in communications you see – after all that degree had to count for something. Being a postman had its pluses – its positives – you get to the sorting office – you sort your letters – pop them in the frame – bag up [I am carry bag man] and get out – the time is then yours – through those concrete streets, that when you wondered stopped you going under.

And at weekends I would fill my head with electronic sounds. In the clubs at volume – through purchases across northern record stores and Nick, Danny, Darryl or Chris’s recommendations

And over the last week I have attempted to listen to The Orb.

It had been a week of oddness, of vagueness and cravings and hallucinations as infections rolled around my face and seeped into my teeth. I’ve felt like this many times – all full of something and reeling. And wanting to paint the house - but not moving a muscle - feeling that draining feeling and not sleeping. 

And I always return to the ambient ways of the techno pioneers. Lying upstairs as Smokebelch slowly beats its 13 minutes into my skull and soothes the gums that swell and provide far too much heat in my face. And then mustering the energy to get down stairs and selecting The Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume Two – whilst putting on Football Focus as Papa Doc Crookes and Robbie Savage banter over Swindon’s form or whether Blackburn deserve it this season.

I think I first heard Aphex Twin on John Peel – Analogue Bubblebath or possibly Didgeridoo - all analogue production and rolling acid lines. That DIY approach – recorded on cassettes and cheap four tracks. I remember getting our first computer – a Spectrum 128+ - Daley Thompson loaded in bleeps and whirrs – and simple programming to make it hold a note. You could get a Cheetah keyboard to link up with it – I coveted that keyboard. Never bought it or received it – but imagined the possibilities of machines making music. Richard D James made the sounds in all our analogue heads – those echoes and arpeggios that soothed the soul and chimed with the industrial backgrounds of steel towns.

Washed out and slow – rhythmic but not precise.  Pure ambient work[s] for the sleepless youth.

But I was talking of The Orb and their ambient riffing. I have been trying to listen to them. Not lots of Orb songs – just Blue Room. The epic prog –ambient tune that made it on to TOTP. It’s 47 minutes long. Taking me back to those days and nights when sleep was not required.

It was the day of my twenty first birthday when Alex and Thrash played chess on Top of the Pops – this odd appearance on a pop show for the teens all awash with dub bass and swirls and squelches. I watched it with Paul and then ventured to The Beefeater on a roundabout on the way into town to buy my own and others drinks as I came of age. Listening to The Orb live was a wonder – a vibrant dubbed up sonic experience for the new age. I remember Kilburn Ballroom – bedecked in laser light and smoke – all dark corners and exchanges as their dub merriment carried us upwards and onwards. Music was opening up back then. We were listening to all sorts – everything and anything went.

Thrown in the mix by the good doctor.

And I guess that’s the same for all the young ones today – as they raid the vaults and collide the sounds into new spaces and experiences for their own long nights and emerging dawns. But these electronic sounds are just as important as Heatbreak Hotel – this chain reaction from machines to man through minds and switches and chains and patches – as musique concrete gave way to loops and moogs and the radiophonic workshop switched us on to the low LFO [the work of the good doctor again – except this was a different one – Alex has yet regenerate]

Thrown out at two o’clock onto Kilburn High Street all disorientated as lamp light beams stretched and radiated glows signalling the way home. We decided not to get the night bus – navigate our way through streets and across roads – back street suburbs and mansions as eyes widened to the dark and laughs and nonsense came readily from our mouths.

The Orb could have that effect – all soothing and safe in their ambient arms. And on this magical mystery tour of North London past Abbey Road and houses with one light on – I glanced a bin bag – a simple black bin liner. No reason to get it in my sights – but I fixed on it nonetheless – as we made our way to Trafalgar Square – when buses could drive all the way around it – and between us we opened this bin bag up – a random sack on the roadside and out tumbled ‘Turtle Crazy’ by The Toy Dolls – all glaring cover in a two colour print.

It was a sack full of them – unplayed and unplayable I suppose – but a sack full nonetheless - I would say it was a unique moment – but things like that happen when you’re young and fancy free. But finding them in that sack somehow chimes with the Orb’s sense of fun – that playfulness that keeps your feet dancing and your head expanding.

It was good to listen to The Orb – it was good to get back to my electronic roots – and in the midst of revisiting that room in my room – I stumbled on this – what The Orb do best.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Box sets and boredom

I am starting to obsess over lists of records I never play. Cataloguing music that is silent – on the internet.

It never ends – this exploitation of memories. There was an article in The Observer, in the review section – not the main part – the politics parts – badly written but politics nonetheless – no the review section all hip and wise – hanging with the youth [of today] and telling us stuff we don’t know [including what to wear and listen to at the same time]

And here was a disparate piece reminding us that The Smiths had existed and that people had liked them – and that people still liked them. The Smiths are just about to reissue all their albums all Marr mastered and marvellous now – in a box with stuff inside it.

But what do you want to pay?

It seems that the age I have now reached comes with an offer to buy back all my musical youth in new forms – housed in elaborate pieces of cardboard with cloth or replica tickets and photographs of 7 inch sleeves on tea towels. Do you want vinyl with that – that’s extra? That CD of sessions is available as a download with the code from the second set of gatefold digipack releases. All authentic and genuine with liner notes from Everett True [because he knew Nirvana – well Kurt especially and Kurt sells shit – lots of it]

And part of me is hooked – wants an in – a bite of the apple [reissues] yet part of me feels it’s just clogging the system. Okay – I guess at a shove I can appreciate a re-mastered version – a one off thing. And I am longing for someone to re-master the World of Twist’s Quality Street – it needs it – to be the honest the world needs it – but the world doesn’t always listen. I think it’s just the sheer commerciality of the whole enterprise. I own all the Sea of Tunes CDs that document the takes and aches of Beach Boys classics – from scratch vocal to final mixes. Really, there are four CDs for the Christmas Album alone. Four discs – hours of outtakes just for that album – which is an outtake itself. I have not listened to all of them – in fact I have hardly listened to them at all – I do not have this time – I cannot make this time. I have the albums – they have the songs on them – I like the albums. I like most of the songs.

But the boxes keep on growing.

My brother Paul tends to be able to get hold of all these things – cataloguing as we do – so things invariably wind their way to me on CD. All track listed and unlistened to. I know I should care about those demos that The Smiths made, or the lost La’s tapes or the mono mix of Smile. But I’m digging the scene that exists I guess – not raiding the archives for another touch of brilliance. There She Goes is wonderful – can bring you to your knees – it doesn’t matter what the story is of its evolution – it’s development – it is a piece of plastic rotating at 45rpm – it is a song – that we sing. I don’t want an alternate mix or different set of lyrics – I wanna sing the simple songs that make me [dr] feel good. Not wade through CD5 of the b-sides and demos - which I did yesterday – through curiosity and writing this [don’t want to be a hypocrite – I guess] so I listened to the Mary Chain – the Power of Negative Thinking box set – starting with a demo I had never heard and then running through alternate sounds, screams and sighs, feedback and racket and rushes of hate and anger.

But it is not Psychocandy – its the experiments before – the beginnings and whilst interesting – it takes the gloss off. To me the Mary Chain are fucking rock n roll – the Glaswegian Underground all surface noise and internal heartache – all black clothes and colourful souls. Who made a debut album that seemed plucked from nowhere all echoing and resonating with contempt for the MAN. Yet these songs suggest that they had to be written [ and I know they did – I’m not an idiot] but when I first heard these songs – these finished songs – in my bedroom as Paul turned up the volume – it felt like they came readymade – a band just plugged in and played – we have amplifiers, we have guitars and that – we write songs. Do I need William and Jim’s ‘journey’ to be told – to be dissected over the course of five discs?

Do I want another Smile Sessions box set? Wilson finished it – he put it out in 2004 – it is Smile – brought to you from the ears and mouth of the man who wrote it – Van Dyke finished the lyrics – it is over – Smile is excellent – I do not need the Mike Love sneer under the roughly mixed recordings whilst Brian was pushed over the edge in 1966.

I appreciate that they exist I guess.

But don’t dip my wallet because you know we are obsessive. That’s a fucking liberty.