A friend lent me a bunch of stuff, including The Editors, who sound more like Interpol than Interpol, which must make them the Stone Temple Pilots of the current crop. Maybe that’s unfair – but regardless, it seems the ‘postpunk revival’ has officially begun to eat itself.
This has no doubt been expressed better elsewhere, but there is often a kind of aesthetic/conceptual poverty in stylistic revivalist movements. It’s like thethinking has already been done, and all that’s left to do is wait for the cycle of fashion to come round again, caricature the relevant aspects of the clothes, themes, sound. It’s there on a plate for the exploitation.
When Martin Hannett was working with Joy Division, I think they would have been hyper aware of aesthetics of what they were doing, and they clearly had strong influences, like the Velvets, but they don’t actually sound anything VU, even when they cover them. They radically transformed their influences, added their own perspective, and at once were a part of, but transcended, a contemporary scene. By way of contrast, the Stone Temple Pilots ‘complete shit’ factor is, to me, where bands appear to fail to do anything but ape some other band that is already leaning pretty heavily on their influences – where they’re a copy of a copy, if you like. And what the hell’s the point of that?
Maybe I’m being nostalgic/idealist but it always seemed to me the postpunk era was at its core about experimenting, NOT ABOUT BEING POP. i.e. it was not a bunch of bands whose raison d’etre was to cash in. (Note wryly that there are no major label acts making a living by revisiting the more ‘difficult’ Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire – although these two acts ARE enjoying a revival in the sphere of dance music).
Of course there are always plenty of great bands which are able to avoid this vacant revivalist copy-of-a-copy trap, maybe through hyper selfconscious music nerd eclecticism, (LCD Soundsystem), or bloody-minded purism and a decadent/savant/premonitionary vision (Royal Trux), or some combination of these. And jesus, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with re-exploring old forms of music – in fact, it seems that that’s completely central to pushing music to new places.
I do find it a little weird that the current postpunk trend thing involves a cross-fertilisation with emo-punk. I’m just observing this, not criticising it. It’s something that’s present in a heap of good bands – like Interpol and our own Mint Chicks and Die!Die!Die! I suppose (the totally great) Fugazi are probably a pretty obvious bridge between a kind of terse, spare, funky postpunk and the emo movement. Its just that one thing I really like about Joy Div, Go4, Au Pairs, Wire, and Fugazi for that matter, is their very un-emo-ness – they’re so cerebral, but absolutely NO LESS HUMAN for it. After all, we all have brains and think abstract thoughts as much as we have lingering teen angst.
On that note I’m looking forward to the day when my name finally comes up on the library reserves list for Simon Reynold’s postpunk history Rip It Up and Start Again. Incidentally, if nothing else, the title reminds us that the well-known and long since completely crap NZ music rag used once to be the shizz.
Anyway there was also remastered Gang of Four best of, which I had mixed feelings about, having lived with and loved the original versions on wax for many years. The remasters are all super shiny and phat and transparent, and while the songs still kick the ass of anything that’s come since, the updated production values to me kind of cheapened them, or at least robbed them of their original character, as did the largely pointless dance-remixes-by-trendy-rock-bands on disc 2. But in saying this I freely admit to being a snob. I seem to remember a Go4 best of/retrospective coming out just a few years back – “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom” – or some other vaguely inappropriate revolutionary Chinese title. Why do we need remasters as well? They’re not Led Zep. Yet.
I have to also mention a great collection of prepunk and postpunk and punkpunk stuff complied by Jon Savage for a German label, called England’s Dreaming (the collection is not limited to English bands – it’s just the name of Savage’s book) which they have in the Wellington Public Library. Some of it’s pretty hard out, but it’s freakin’ great.
Anyway, the same friend lent me Arcade Fire’s Funeral, which sounded pretty damn great to me, almost a midpoint between a kind of Interpol sound and alt-country (maybe it’s just the violin?) – though that’s probably a glib and crap way to describe it. Point being, it’s a great album.