Been all busy with exams and other stuff, so here’s something a bit different to get me writing again. Going to look in less depth at some stuff I’ve been listening to in the last couple weeks, things I’m currently interested in, etc.
This week, following a repeat viewing of the film 24 Hour Party People, a lecture on the emergence of rave culture, and a second successive week at the Sticky Feet rave in Warehouse (recently voted 55th best club in the world, not too shabby), I’ve been looking into lates 80s/early 90s EDM culture. I’ve also weighed in on the new My Bloody Valentine album, 20 years in the making.
Happy Mondays – Pills, Thrills ‘N’ Bellyaches
The seminal Mondays album seems on some level to epitomise the moment where the lines between rock and dance music were blurred, a proper band making something recognizably dance for crowds in clubs. The album is filled front and centre with roaming, muffled basslines sprinkled in gospel, funk, and the Balearic sounds of the European clubs that were spreading their influence over the UK. Shaun Ryder’s lyrics are ambiguously, lazily alluring in their celebrations of drug-related and sexual hedonism, but they’re simultaneously raised to some kind of spiritual, religious significance: “God rains it E’s all on me”, “I had to crucify some brother today”. The overwhelming impression left by Pills ‘N’ Thrills is a kind of narcoleptic, drug-fuelled dance party, where all the lighting is strobe lighting and everyone moves in slow-motion. Twisting my melon, man.
The Prodigy – Music For The Jilted Generation
Jilted Generation is an 80-minute sack of bricks to the face, a journey through the murk and bliss of the UK underground circa-late 80s/early 90s, and a reaction to the death of the rave scene as it was dragged into the mainstream and legislated against by the government. It encompasses a huge number of different styles and genres – opener ‘Break & Enter’ transforms along its 8 minute length from skeletal, mechanical drum ‘n’ bass to a gurgling reimagining of acid house interspersed with beautiful, woozy vocal samples. ‘3 Kilos’ is some kind of twisted disco funk, while ‘No Good (Start The Dance)’ is pure rave bliss, all huge bassy drum hits and stuttering, airy synths. Politics aside, Jilted Generation is unfiltered musical ecstasy, the best kick in the balls you ever had.
New Order – Power, Corruption and Lies
My first proper foray into New Order aside from the classics everyone knows, Power, Corruption and Lies is a bit of a mixed bag. For every “Age of Consent”, “The Village”, or “Your Silent Face”, there’s another slower, more aimless track that feels like it’s struggling in the shadow of Joy Division. The temptation to skip “We All Stand”, for example, with its slow, droopy baselines, is sometimes just too much after the pop perfection of the albums opener. But the skittish drums, baritone guitar lines and unforgettable chorus of that song all suggest that Joy Division were really only a change in key and a synthesiser away from something entirely different, and it’s fascinating hearing the band reborn in such a striking manner. Next up – the hits compilations.
My Bloody Valentine – mbv
So much has been said about the context surrounding mbv – the first album from My Bloody Valentine in 20 years and the follow up to their untouchable classic Loveless. But putting all of this aside, mbv as an album is a staggering achievement. It distils the essence of the band’s sound into something simultaneously more accessible and more challenging, pushing sonic boundaries at the same time as it coats your brain in a thick layer of gooey, almost-but-not-quite hummable melody. If Loveless was about the tension between noise and pop, background and foreground, then mbv is about the way those things can be brought together and condensed into one gloriously sticky melting pot. No songs here explode like “Only Shallow” or “When You Sleep”, instead they glide and twist into grooves and patterns like a dense, effortless fog you can lose yourself in. Perhaps the greatest example of this is album highlight “If I Am”, which locks into a psychedelic, flanging riff and then shifts through a number of different tones and moods until Belinda Butcher’s breathlessly alluring vocal refrain comes in to round it off: “Even if I am…”. And then there’s the albums final three tracks, each a different kind of percussive experiment owing much to the rhythms of jungle and drum ‘n’ bass. The albums steady climb reaches its peak with closer “Wonder 2”, which sounds like My Bloody Valentine in the midst of a plane crash and throwing all their instruments out the window. Its intense, and the kind of song that’s likely to ask questions of listeners who’ve become acquainted with the MBV template. But after 20 years of speculation, album delays, and cancelled projects, the only real question we should be left with mbv is: “did it have any right to be this fucking good?”