Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dinosaur Jr - interviews 1987 + 1991, and Bug review


Melody Maker, 12th December 1987

by Simon Reynolds

[yes this piece was done before they had to add the Jr at the end cos of threats from West Coast acid-rock veterans band of same name!]
They're not much to look at, Dinosaur. It's hard to connect this shaggy, sheepish trio with the tempest they unleash, live and on vinyl. They are unimpressive, and unimpressed — seemingly — by anything and everything, but least of all, by themselves. The rest of us may be enjoying the dawning realisation that You're Living All Over Me is one of the year's masterpieces, but Dinosaur themselves are groggily unconscious of just how good they are.
It's as though the noise is somehow independent of them, that it's chosen them, that they're just motes, broken reeds, in a gust that storms through them. When Dinosaur play live, there's a slackness to J. Mascis' wrist that seems incommensurate to the shock wave, the ridge of pressure, that buffets you as a result of its languid flick. Mascis holds the guitar almost vertical, pointing skyward; there's a certain angle of holding beyond which the guitar ceases to be aweapon (neither phallus nor the cutting-edge of "attitude"), where the fretboard opens up into a firmament, what Stubbs calls "the new guitar air". Dinosaur reach that critical angle, that point where self-projection is surpassed by self-dispersal, where a band is celebrating the noise, rather than using the noise to celebrate themselves. Maybe just allowing the noise.
Perhaps it's as well Dinosaur don't have pride. If they started to hold their heads a little higher, walk tall, they might emerge from the spiritual slump, the crumpled, fogginess of being that, paradoxically, enables them to speed across the horizon. Confidence rarely makes for great music. And Dinosaur are the sound of galvanised lethargy, vibrant despondency. Grey skies have seldom blazed so bright, surged so furiously.
Everything interesting in rock is happening at the extremes — rectitude or lassitude, hyper-motivation (Public Enemy, Nitzer Ebb) or complete unmotivation (Dinosaur, Band Of Susans), militant or dormant. Rigid backbone or wholly spineless. Raised consciousness or floored semi-consciousness. The fanatic's inhuman clarity of vision, eyes wired and wide, or the mystic and the mixed-up's haze, eyes half-closed. The rant or the murmer. The middleground — capability, emotional competence, commitment, continence, dialogue — is completely uninteresting. Against this world of getting on, getting things done, getting (yourself) together, Dinosaur are radically non-committal, untogether. They're supine, but they fly far higher.
To put it another way, Dinosaur don't recognise the indisputable "relevance" of The Staple Singers' 'Respect Yourself', it's not part of their tradition. Not that they muster themselves for anything as concerted as frittering away their potential, just that they lapse, succumb to a subsidence that perhaps only American middle class kids are capable of, become the conduits for an amorphous vastness of sound.
When I meet J. Mascis (the guy who failed to turn up for an interview in New York with me because he lost the piece of paper with the address on), I'm greeted by a dazed, dopey Eeyore grin. There's something boneless about J, something redolent of the halfwit, (or perhaps on even smaller fraction of the full complement). He responds to my questions with genial bafflement, a stymied catatonia: he can't figure out why anyone would want to know, but at least finds the rigmarole faintly amusing. Lou, the bassist, seems to be in pain: Murph, the drummer, unperturbed.
There's some confusion about the name, they've been forced to amend it to Dinosaur Jr. "We got sued by this group called The Dinosaurs, who are comprised of former members of Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Country Joe And The Fish."
The members of Dinosaur started in hardcore bands. What made them start to widen their frame of the sound, stray into wiggy territory?
"They were influences from before then, before the third, second and first generations of punk even. It's pretty standard rock chronology — Beatles, Aerosmith, Sabbath, Ramones, Pistols, Eater, UK Subs.
Hold on… Eater?!?! That LP's my favourite of all time."
Are you a… cheerful bunch?
J (archly): "Of course!"
Lou: "No. Definitely not."
J: "I think so."
Lou: "No."
The whole aspect is somewhat… bleak.
Lou: "Pretty bleak, yeah."
J (mock incredulous): "No! No way!"
Lou: "Comparatively."
J: "We're not starving."
Murph: "Not physically, but emotionally." (Laughs.) "Emotionally, we're starving. Whatever I deal with is a struggle."
That's sad.
Murph: "I try not to think too much." That's the sound of Dinosaur, the mind being wiped clean, returned to a slate-grey blankness.
What's your attitude to life, J?
J (as though emerging from a deep sleep): "What? Oh, I don't want to get into this. I don't even wanna think about my philosophy of life." Minutes seem to elapse. "Paaarty all the time." Unconvincing.
Lou has a strange way with a bass: he seems to be cuffing it, chastising it. "I used to play hardcore guitar, and you really work your wrists. I used to be able to go twice as fast, but my bones have atrophied."
Live, I felt like I was surfing, or standing on a shinglebeach, facing breakers. You feel yourself surging, swaying slightly at the hips. The sound hits you in the face like spray. Murph: "Most of the songs, J will say 'ride on the cymbals', fill out the sound. Otherwise there's too much emptiness."
J: "Smashing on the cymbals swirls everything together."
The other element of flux that leaves the listener breath-bereft and hurting are your guitar effects.
J: They have names like Electric Mistress, Clone Theory, Big Moth, Cry Baby. They're all real cheesy weirdness effects, old and out of date. They're more severe than the effects you get today."
This parallels the way groups like Band Of Holy Joy and Suicide like to use out-moded, primitive synth technology because you get harsher, more alien, fake tones.
"It's all that sounds good. The new stuff, it works on a smaller range, it's designed for subtletiesrather than… harshities."
Murph delivers pizzas. J still goes to college. Lou takes care of old ladies in resting homes and half-way houses. Is Dinosaur the best thing in their lives?
Murph: "No. Probably the worst."
Lou: "It's just the thing, it's part of our lives."
What's your favourite activity, then? Or favourite passivity, even?
Murph: "I used to like skiing in the winter."
Lou: "I used to like music a lot. Hahaha!"
Have you not got one, J?
"It sounds too hard… to sit down… and figure it all… out."
Lou: "It's kind of cool being in Europe and stuff."
You don't sound as though you think it's cool, I say tetchily.
They rally a bit. "Oh no, I really do think it's cool."
Murph: Oh yeah! (adopts showbiz voice) It's-rilly-great-to-be-here-an-we-lurve-Englaaand…"
Do the songs have precise meanings, J?
J squirms, shrugs, looks helpless, lets out a low moan.
Do you prefer not to think about these things?
"Not at the moment. Probably never. It doesn't matter."
Lou: "Doesn't get you anywhere."
Murph: "And maybe you don't want to get anywhere."
Lou: "It takes too much from yourself to think about it, so to preserve yourself, you stay away from it."
J: "Everything's a bunch of mixed-up feelings mashed up together…"
And is the net result uplifting or dejected?
J lets out another low whine of reluctance: "…Either… Or both. Or neither."
Is Dinosaur your favourite band?
"No way".
What is?
Murph: "I like The Good Rats, from Long Island. I still play that record." Ah, that one.
Lou: "I like The Swans."
J (wailing): "Naaa — they all die!"
Not worth getting involved?
Murph: "We had a cat once and my dad took him sailing and he jumped ashore and we never saw him again."
J:"My turtle… ran away. Very slowly, he ran away."
How did you develop your lonesome, creased, Neil Young voice, in a hardcore context?
"I don't know… when I started to sing, I guess… probably through listening to all this rock damage… what can you say? How do you walk? How do you shift? How do you sing? It's hard to get a grip on these things."
What do you think of British bands, their self-consciousness, their grip on what they're about?
Lou: "It's kinda cool, you get a whole package. Like The Jesus And Mary Chain, they created their whole scene. It's okay. US bands just do it, it's more generalised."
US bands aren't into selling themselves…
Murph: "US bands are into the music, rather than the package. Maybe cos there's so much TV, you've got people selling themselves and projecting themselves so much all the time."
Do you spend a lot of money on records?
J: "Not anymore."
Lou: "Used to spend a LOT of money on records
J: "My mom's money. I used to take 20 dollars out of her purse and hide it under a vase or something, and if she hadn't found it after a week it was kinda mine."
If she hadn't noticed it, she evidently hadn't missed the money and can't really have needed it in the first place! This sluggish casuistry seems to sum up Dinosaur — the band who can't even rise too fully-fledged crime.
One of the best "tracks" on You're Living All Over Me is 'Poledo', an eerily beautiful ectoplasmic tone that could go on in perpetuity, created by Lou out of bits of tape, in his bedroom. "It's not a tape loop. I recorded this sound from a piece of classical music on the radio, and made a tape of it lasting 15 minutes. Then I started to layer stuff over the top at different speeds, little swatches of sound over and over again, and I got all these weird overtones and stuff. I've been doing this kind of thing since I was 14."
Will you do it again on other records?
"Maybe. It just fitted there. I don't know whether it'll occur to me again."
What kind of things work you up?
J: "How do you mean?"
Motivate you?
"Huh… hmmm… not having to do… not being in one place all the time… trying to find places that aren't home. I've been there every minute of my life— and it's kinda getting to me. There's not too many rooms in the house."
Dinosaur are husks, but it's better this way. If they imposed themselves, the music wouldn't be so imposing. If they had more of a grip, we wouldn't get blown away.

Melody Maker, October 8th 1988

by Simon Reynolds

I’ve no time for the fully-rounded character in rock, all those aspiring spokesmen like Bragg, That Petrol Emotion, Sting, Bono, Stuart Adamson, who try to straddle the personal and the political, and divide their energy equally between healthy desire and adult concern. No, the interesting things in rock are coming from one-dimensional characters at either extreme of the spectrum--either the selflessly militant or the dormant self-absorbed. On one side, the fanatic survivalists (Public Enemy, Front 242, Metallica), who are physically and musically stripped down, disciplined and on-the-one. On the other, the defeatists and drifters (Nick Cave, Morrissey, Vini Reilly) or the langorous absentees-from-reality (My Bloody Valentine, AR Kane).

No prizes for guessing which camp Dinosaur Jr flop into. J. Mascis’ lethargy is legendary, verging on cliché, and something he no doubt plays up slightly for the microphone. If Morrissey is “half a person”, Mascis consists of some even smaller fraction of a whole and healthy human. And Bug, basically a slightly more emphatic and vivid replay of last year’s You’re Livin’ All Over Me, is another document of a “life” that seems to be drained and devoid of all the zestful crackle that word usually suggests.

In many ways Dinosaur Jr’s “concerns” are the eternal preoccupations and stumbling blocks of parochial US youth: how to kickstart your life; feelings of claustrophobia; the chasm between Amercan dreams and American reality; vacillation in the face of your obligation to yourself to wrench free in search of something better. These impasses have been “dealt” with (that’s to say, not resolved, just suspended in glorious mid-air between hope and despair), many times before, most superlatively by Husker Du and The Replacements. What’s different about Dinosaur Jr is the extremity of their apathy (for Mascist, the struggle isn’t to get away but to get out of bed) and a particular iridescence that veins their grey gusting guitars, little rainbow refractions in the glum, hurtling stormclouds.

Like most great miserabilists, the limits of Mascis’ voice shape his melodies--which are all chips off the same block, all unmistakeably Dinosaur Jr, all just a little bit déjà vu. The effect is rather comforting, but the samey-ness adds to the feeling that with Dinosaur Jr we never really “go” anywhere.

“No Bones” could almost be a “manifesto’ for the group. When I interviewed them, I remarked on Mascis’ boneless, rag doll sheepishness, on how it was the appropriate demeanour for someone whose life lacked any kind of spiritual spine. But in another sense, Dinosaur Jr are dissolving rock’s vertebrae, as the riff, powerchord and bassline are almost lost in a blizzard of violently serrated haze.

“Don’t”, the last track, is where the caustic dreaminess of their sound is at its most sulphuric and psychedelic. It’s a gorgeous cataract of opalescent Hendrix guitar, through which is blasted the soiling, scorching hurt of the repeated plaint--“WHY? WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME?”--bellowed by what sounds like a voice put through a fuzzbox.

In their strange combination of urgency and ennui, bang and whimper, Dinosaur Jr are the latest angle on one of the oldest rock themes: “I don’t live today.” But understand that this lifeless life, this fogginess of the depths of torpor, this blurry indistinctness of the edges between yourself and the world that comes with inaction--all this is the necessary grey shrinkage of consciousness you must go through before you get to dream up the kind of visionary new colours that Dinosaur Jr drizzle down on us almost absentmindedly.

Melody MakerMelody Maker, 12 January 1991
by Simon Reynolds

It's been two years of nothin' much for Dinosaur Jr.  Maybe,
like me, you lost interest somewhere along the long and winding
way, with the interminable personnel wrangles, and that brace of
indifferent singles. Dinosaur Jr just seemed to be yet another of
1988's constellation to fizzle out inexplicably. In the meanwhile,
British groups took Mascis' ball and ran with it.  With the
Valentines putting a radically androynous spin on that dazed-and-
confused sound, and Teenage Fan Club providing a more literal but
nonetheless superb reiteration of the "so fucked I can't believe
it" stance, it seemed like Dinosaur Jr had been eclipsed on their
own turf. I for one had pretty much written them off.

    But Mascis and co are on the road (to nowhere) again, with a
caustic revamp of the "Wagon" single and a fine album "Green Mind"
in the pipeline. The personnel difficulties have been left
unresolved: J recorded the new stuff himself, except for three
tracks with longtime sticksman/sidekick Murph. According to J, the
last two years haven't been all indolence: "we've been out of the
public eye but we've been doing things, like playing Australia,
trying out different people for the band, talking to record

    Murph: "And we yawn a lot"

    Yawn a lot ?!?

    "No - hang out a lot."

    Just my imagination runnin' away with me. Mascis and Murph have
been vegetating as per usual in Amherst, a college town in
Massachusetts, whose stagnant milieu of kindred lost spirits and
downward aspirants provides the (negative) inspiration for
Dinosaur's blurred sound'n'vision. With Dinosaur Jr and their
lineage of beautiful losers and wasted youth, it's never clear
whether the problem is environmental or existensial. Is this simply
the small town blues, or would the same eternally unrequitable
longings and impasses resurface in even the most ideal location?

     Murph (who's that rare thing, the intelligent, articulate
drummer) frets over this same dilemma.  "After we've been on tour,
I'm totally pumped and it takes two weeks for you to wind down.
But Amherst gradually sucks you in, there's a certain apathy there,
and the buzz wears out. That's why I want to move, cos I want to
see if the problem is me or Amherst. I want to see if I sink into
the same patterns someplace else."

     Dinosaur Jr songs are often about running away, but always as
flight from rather than flight to. "There's a place I'd like to
go/when we get there then I'll know" goes The Wagon, before
trailing off with "baby why don't we...???"  There's nothing to
define this longing, no aim or destination to galvanise the spirit.
Hence that unique Dinosaur Jr vibe: a kind of torpid desperation.
"There never really is a good time/there's always nothing much to
say...  how can you move without a goal?" Mascis drawl-whines on
the exquisitely lugubrious "Thumb", the best track on the album.
All there is momentary transcendence of the limits of here-and-now,
in a melancholic maelstrom of noise, an omni-directional surge.

     Hell, J hasn't left home yet, let alone home town. "I've lived
in other places, but I always come back.  My sister is ten years
older than me, and she still lives at home. I figure that whenever
she leaves, I've still got another ten years. Ha! I'd move if I
could think of somewhere to go. I've been so many places, but
nothing seems any better."

    You didn't form a rock'n'roll band in order to see the world?

    Murph: "Maybe to get out of Amherst, you get so tired of seeing
the same people."

     *         *         *         *         *         *

     The critical consensus on Dinosaur Jr has focused on the idea
that you have a problem with motivation, but that paradoxically
it's this enervation of the will that empowers the music.

    J: "Yeah, but if I wasn't motivated, then I wouldn't do
anything. I wouldn't be sitting here."

    But you've talked before of having to wrench yourself out of
idling away all your time in front of a TV.

   "I'd probably like to be able to watch TV all day, but I can't
handle it, I have to do something else. I'm not man enough, to be
happy with that. If you're happy, you can watch TV all day and be
content. But if you're driven to do something, you can't bear to
sit around all day."

    Driven? (The idea of J. Mascis as a driven individual frankly
flabbergasts me. The way his words just seep indistinctly, barely
enunciated, from his lips, just has to be heard to be believed).

   "I'm driven just to do something. Driven enough not to want to
be bored out of my mind all the time."

    Murph: "I'd say I was a driven, twisted individual."

    Is playing music when you're at your most happy?

    "No, I'm usually at my most psychotic then. Usually because of
stress.  J does pretty well under stress. I get very tense and

    What else do you flee boredom into, apart from the stress of

    "Like J was saying, when I'm happy, I can be content just to
watch TV, or listen to music, or hang with my girlfriend, or take
a drive in a car and look at the scenery.  She and I saw a cow give
birth the other day. We drove by and noticed this huge placenta
hanging out, so we checked it out.  That was one of the highlights
of my summer, actually."

     J: "Getting charged by a herd of cattle was pretty intense. We
were on a cross-country ski, and we heard this rumble, and turned
round and saw these cows racing towards us. Everyone cruised and
jumped over this fence, 'cept this one kid couldn't make it, and
he's just sitting there, crying. All the cows just ran up to him
and then stopped a foot away. Then they drifted away except for
this bull who just stood there staring the kid out, with a ring
through his nose."

     *         *         *         *         *         *         *

     Let us imagine that for some fantastical kind of medical
reason, you were forbidden to touch a guitar or make music ever
again - how would you feel, what would you do?

     "Not too good, I guess. I guess I'd have to come up with some
hobby.  Boxing." (This provokes much mirth from all present).

     How repressive would things have to get before you took up
arms against the state?

     Murph: "It would have to get pretty bad. If Amherst enforced a
curfew, like 'if you're not indoors by ten o'clock, you will be
beaten to a pulp', then I would definitely find someone who knew
about demolition and then try to blow up the police station."

     J: "That's like too bizarre and heavy a question for me, man."

     Murph: "I think about stuff like that, actually."

     What's a typical day like for J. Mascis?

     J: "In the morning,  I'm on the phone for hours. Phones are
pretty cheap in the US, but my bills are pretty heavy. My phone
bill was $500 last month, which is a lot of calls in America.
That's like 2000 minutes. An average phone bill is like fifty or
eight dollars."

     From what I gather, American kids conduct their friendships
almost entirely on the phone.

    "Some people you can deal with on the phone better than in the
flesh. I've got a friend who lives in a shared apartment, and she
has her own phone.  She calls up her flatmates to talk to them.
And it's a small flat, y'know.  She's too lazy to get out of bed."

     Murph: "I used to be really deeply into smoking pot, and a
friend and I used to spend two hours on the phone each night just
talking and getting obliterated."

     What can you have to talk about, if you talk every day?

    J: "If you talk to someone every day, you connect on a
different level. You don't have news, you just babble on. It's
weird  but it really does work that if you talk to someone once a
week you can have nothing to say to each other, but if you talk
every day, there's no end to it."

     What do you find the most aggravating part of existence?

     Murph: "I find bodily functions really agitate me. Just having
to sleep, having to go to the bathroom - that's stuff I really
don't want to deal with.  I have a lot of trouble sleeping. Eating
too - I hate cooking. And there are so many days when I don't
really want to go out into the world and see anybody.  It's really
hard to even go out and eat something, and deal with ordering the
food and shit.  So I get really bent out of shape. I usually like
do something to change my mood so I won't be as agitated, like I
put on a record or go for a drive, and then I'm ready to to eat."2

     So 'Astral Weeks' would put you in the right frame of mind to
go buy a slice of pizza.

   "Maybe. Depends."

    Isn't cereal always an easy option for the hapless?

    "No milk.  I don't buy groceries.  And when I do buy groceries,
half of them just spoil."

     Doesn't the fact of your eventual, inevitable death make you
feel you should be cramming every day of your life with vivid
experiences and variegated intensities?

     J: "I wish...."

     Murph: "I feel that a lot, but I can't muster up the energy to
deal with that feeling."

     J: "There really isn't much you can do that you don't already

     You'll kick yourself on your death bed, for all the time
wasted in listless lassitude.

    "Nah! I just think if I can do it, I'll do it.  Like I flew
over to Holland just to see The Rolling Stones play live.  I'd
never seen 'em, and they're definitely one of my favourite bands,
so when I met this guy who could get me into the gig, I just flew
out there. Some people freak out at the idea, some people aren't
capable of blowing that much cash for no reason, but I had the
money and I thought 'what the hell'".

     Was it worth it?

     "I don't know. It cost me $500, and I happened to have the
money, so I did it. I wouldn't say it was worth it, but it was
pretty good. I went to Las Vegas, on the way back from LA.  That's
a scary place.  There's a lot of really depressing looking people
gambling, and weirdoes.  Anyway, I saw Frank Sinatra while I was
there. He's getting pretty old.  Forgot half the words.  But it was
pretty good though.  You have to see these bands before they pack
it in.  See Frank, The Stones."

     *       *         *         *         *         *         *

     Have you ever considered going in for some "self-realisation"
therapy, to deal with your "dysfunctional attitude" to life?

    J: "A lot of people I know are into shit like that.  There's a
point that a lot of 'em reached where you're so baked -"
(translators note: baked = unhinged) " - that you get into some
form of therapy.  And it does help. I've gone to a psychic, and
they do make you feel better.  And we know people who are heavily
into meditation."

     What makes you feel pride about yourself?

     J: "That we got on a K-Tel record. This is true. They had a
really bad compilation of alternative music. It didn't even have a
TV ad like the other K-Tel records."

     No acts of extravagant kindness or good turns?

     Murph: "That's the only thing that makes me truly happy  -
when someone is really upset or there's some real bad
confrontation, and I can help to make things better."

     And what's the most shameful thing you've done?

     J: "Mine is ripping off this lady. I was mowing her lawn, and
I told her I did it more than I did. So she gave me more money.
And she knew, and I knew she knew, but I couldn't stop the lie. I
was 14 or 15, but I still think of it all the time. It still haunts
me. She used to get me to do all these tasks for her. I could give
her the money now, I have the money now, but it wouldn't help.  It
would have to be something more than that. See, she never called me
after that. She knew all along, in fact she told me she did."

     I think you can probably forgive yourself for this heinous
crime now, J, I say, suppressing a sob.

     "Nope. Can't do it."

     Murph: "With me, there's just too many things. When I was into
smoking pot, I'd do anything to get high. I would rip people off, I
just didn't care. It's a blur, that period."

     When did you give up the demon weed?

     "My parents forced me to quit.  They were were over-worried
and I was into getting away, so I went through rehab. I was also
really interested in psychology at high school and thought it would
be really cool to go live with a bunch of fucked people.  It's
similar to 'Clockwork Orange', what they did to me: a kind of
behaviouristic conditioning, but they did it emotionally rather
than through chemically induced bad association. It really fried me
out.  Afterwards, whenever I tried to get high I got these extreme
feelings of guilt. They just told me continually that I was bad,
drugs were evil, and after two months you're brainwashed.  Now I
can get high, I've overcome the conditioning. But all that period,
the getting high and the cure, that was five or six years ago. It
was interesting, I don't regret it. I was into the idea of being a
psychology, and any panalyst has to go through therapy anyway.  But
as I got older I realised that my problems were enough, and that to
hear everybody else's situations would be overwhelming.

     J: "I think I could maybe be a therapist. That's what I might
do if I quit music. I can usually talk to psychotic people pretty

     Murph: "I'd like to work as a psychologist with little, little
kids. Cos that's the age where you can nip it in the bud, and after
that it's just too late.  But too often the problem lies in the
family structure, you'd have to cure the whole family to do any

For all the f***ed-up children of this world, we give you… Dinosaur Jr.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

DJ SS, in-house producer of Leicester's Formation label, is one of jungle's most undersung figures. 1995 was a banner year for both SS and Formation. They dominated the drum & bass dancefloor with a series of killa trax -- MA2's "Hearing Is Believing Remix", Sounds of The Future's "The Lighter", SS's "Rollidge" and In Between The Lines' "95 Rampage" -- all SS-produced, and all revisited/revamped on Highly Recommended.

"Lighter" starts daftly with the rinky-dinky melancholia of top classical piano tune "Fur Elise" (better known as "Theme From 'Love Story'"), then drops into a ragga-tastic swagger and pummel; the VIP remix injects a feverish stutter and stammer into the rude-boy "lighter!!" chant. The LP mix of "Hearing Is Believing" adds a squelchy bass-drone that mimics or maybe even samples "Public
Enemy Number One" from PE's debut album. The original's portentous
hunting-horn fanfares are timestretched so they wilt and waver like Salvador Dali's melting clocks, while the irresistibly surging bass-flow has been displaced by a metallic, sproinggg-ing B-line, like a bouncing, giant-sized ball-bearing.

The revamp of "Rollidge" is astonishing; the breakbeats ripple and undulate like they've been liquidified, and the original's reversed-diva is slowed and processed 'til it's like a baritone drowning in the bath. 

Even more startling are the voice treatments on "95 Rampage", where the diva-vocal is extruded into a long thin streak of laser-intense light, then a single syllable is isolated and
oscillated into a spasming percussive tattoo.  Less familiar tunes are also given a vicious going-over.  Black's awesome VIP Mix of "Black" features some ear-confounding dub-FX--a snatch of MC chatter is shattered into syllables, each of which is scattered through a sonic hall-of-mirrors.

While 'intelligent' drum & bass (Goldie, Photek et al) seduced the ears of non-junglists and music press readers, "Highly Recommended" is an essential(ist)document of where the real action was in jungle '95, i.e. the purist strain of drum & bass known as 'hardstep'.  This compilation's title says it all.

Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

1995 was a banner year for DJ SS. 25 year old Leroy Small dropped a bomb-load of  monster tunes-- "Hearing Is Believing", "The Lighter", "Smoker's Rhythm", "The Rollidge", "95 Rampage"-- that tore up the hardstep dancefloor.

Then again, there's never really been a slow year for SS. He's been at the frontline of  hardcore since 1991, both as co-founder of Leicester-based hardcore label Formation and as a prolific tunesmith operating under myriad aliases (Sounds of The Future, International Rude Boys, Rhythm For Reasons, MA1 and MA2, etc). As Formation's in-house producer, he's had a hand in all but 5 out of the 65 releases to date.

SS started DJ-ing at the age of 13, working his way up through school discos, soul, hip hop, early house, in a "natural progression" that took him to hardcore rave. "In the rave scene I saw so many hooligans I knew that were happy and dancing". This rave-revelation co-incided with SS's alienation from hip hop: the British rap crews weren't really happening, while "Public Enemy and NWA were preaching the wrong things, harking on about past crimes against black people, captivating the audience in the wrong way. Recently I've got back into the more groovy stuff in rap, like Wu Tang Clan, and I've always had hip hop flavour in my music, with the breakbeats. But I don't like the gangsta element, that's too like the ragga gunshot thing".

Ragga-jungle is something that Formation have consciously distanced themselves from. "In '94, the ragga thing was big but I wasn't  into it. I took the basslines and a stab of ragga vocal but I refused to do a full-on ragga chat over my tracks". SS doesn't like the vibe ragga creates. "Jungle just got too dark, too intimidating. There's been a lot of trouble in the Midlands, shootings. People don't want to worry about treading on someone's toes or giving someone a funny look. It's the promoters' fault, they should bar them kind of people from coming to their clubs, but they're just interested in money. DJ's and producers are to blame too, for putting gunshots in tracks."

Definitely no gunshots, then, but boombastic B-lines, eerily warped vocals, portentous hunting-horns and shlocky intros of classical music all figure as hallmarks of SS's style. "Hearing Is Believing Remix" and "Rollers' Convention", in particular,             
brilliantly reconciled avant-garde edge with crowdpleasing groove-power. As such, SS is a prime exponent of 'hardstep', Grooverider's term for the purist drum & bass style that cuts a middle path between rudeboy ragga and 'intelligent'. "Hardstep's got no ragga in it, but people step hard to it," says SS. "See, my only qualms about intelligent is that musically it's wicked but often it's sounds weak on the dancefloor. Formation tracks have got to be rolling." As his hardstep peers, SS gives the nod to Roni Size & Krust,  Dillinja, Hype, Andy C, Pascal, and Ray Keith ("his stuff is so simple, but it works!").

That said, SS is looking for Formation to get more "musical" next year, with real vocals and songs, as with the forthcoming cover version of "Free".  "People buying our stuff know what they're getting, we've got a little predictable and it's time for a change". Okay, but don't get too 'musical', SS, please! Because right now Formation have hit their stride with a perfect blend of complexity and minimalism, which can be heard on  "Highly Recommended", a compilation that revisits and drastically remixes highlights from the label's brilliant '95. 

[big up to Derek Walmsley for his lovely piece on DJ SS's myriad aliases in the recent theme issue of The Wire (June 2015) about alter-egos, pseudonyms etc as artistic strategy]

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Angel Dust
Melody Maker, June 1992 

by Simon Reynolds

NEVER liked them, and still don't "like" them, if you know what I mean. Faith No More's dominant emotion seems to be sarcasm, a sardonic, gloating reveling in the slimy side of life. They're retards, nasty little boys probing a finger in the gooey innards of reality, driven by a sort of gynecological nihilism. Like all adolescent nihilists, they project their feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing outwards, onto the world.

But "Epic" was undeniable - pop Nietzche, the latest take on the "we want the world and we want it now/ don't know what I want but I know how to get it" rock tradition of impossible demands and limitless desire.  The video for "Epic", with its Darwinesque life/death struggle imagery suggested that a corrosive intelligence was at work, as did such twisted, sick-fuck statements as Patton's "Masturbation is a lot easier to do than relating to someone... With sex, no matter how great is is, there's always something missing".

And "Angel Dust" is just immense. Imagine "Never Mind The Bollocks", produced by Brian May, if Steve Jones had grown up on Sabbath and King Crimson rather than The Faces. Pomp rock motored by punk disgust. Symphonic bombast, scrofulous with detail. Visionary venom, misanthropic majesty, grotesque grandeur.

 Aesthetically and philosophically, "Angel Dust" is profoundly, putridly offensive, but I keep coming back to it, like a scab. The outstanding element here is Mike Patton's voices, which I find skin-scrawlingly repellent and endlessly mesmerising, Patton is multi-tracked into a myriad. maggoty throng, or, within songs, flits between schizoid array of idioms: baroque histrionics,"soulful", slimy croon, punk declamation, funk-metal sneer, not to mention his menagerie of hiccups, belches, yodels, mewling and poking.

On "Midlife Crisis", he starts with a snide, sibilant rap, swoons upward in a jazzy, Al Jarreau-ish arc, then slugs it out in a close combat cut and thrust that's pure hardcore. The lyrics lash and lambaste some middle class, lard-ass, play-safe type who's built up a cocoon of security and comfort (key negative concepts in the FNM world view). The line "Your menstruating   heart" - doubtless aimed at "wet liberals" and people who profess to care a lot- is deeply revealing. For FNM, feelings of tenderness,empathy and solidarity are threatening, female and fluid, o loathsome discharge. "R.V." is a waltz-time spoof-monologue by a redneck reactionary whose final words to his kids are "What my daddy fold me 'You ain't never gonna amount to nothin'".

On "Smaller And Smaller", Patton's a funk-metal Billy Mackenzie, surfing a sturm-und-drang that abates briefly for a ghostly interlude of sampled Aboriginal chant, before Patton lets  loose this amazing arc of wordless aria. "Everything's Ruined" is sort of Black Flag meets Aha, objection and uplift; FNM make a melodrama out of a (ecological?) crisis. "Malpractice" again recalls mid-period Black Flag, although Patton's singing is closer to the hardcore seat of Bad Brains' H.R.; an almost Julee Cruise interlude and maddened Balkan strings make this the most outre prog-metal since side two of "Ritual De Lo Habitual". "Kindergarten" has the most unsettling, ghastly / gorgeous chorus; the song seems to imagine the adult world as no real advance on the unbridled State Of Nature that is unsocialised infancy, still populated with bullies, sycophants, geeks and outcasts. Patton wonders " When will I graduate?" (to a higher kind of life-form).

 "Be Aggressive" could be a cartoon anthem for Nietzsche's will-to-power, complete with a chorus chanted by cheerleaders, but it's hard to tell: throughout the album, diction is not one of Patton's priorities, and the vocals are buried in the garish murk of FNM's sound. "Crack Hitler" jump-cuts from torrid funk to a Gary Glitter stomp- "Jizz-Lobber" is a grueling Sabbath grind, Patton's apoplectic fit of vocal fed through a fuzz unit and sounding more like a guitar than a larynx. Finally, one moment of unalloyed; sentimentality, a straight and rather stiff reading of John Barry's sublimely melancholic "Midnight Cowboy". But maybe this is a sick joke too.

If 1992 is the year that punk finally happened in the US, if Nirvana are the Pistols, L7 are the Ramones and Hole are The Slits, then Faith No More are.. . The Stranglers, a bunch of fundamentally unsound,  misogynist, misanthropic, crypto-muso interlopers who have profited from the perennial male teenage consumer demand for nastiness and menace. A gust of sour breath that feels strangely fragrant to me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Flying Saucer Attack

celebrating the return of Flying Saucer Attack   - a review and an interview from twenty years ago

Melody Maker, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

Some things you should know about Flying Saucer Attack. They're the Bristol
based duo of David Pearce and Rachel Brook, and their records are released in the
USA by Drag City and over here by the latter's English affiliate Domino.
Stereolab cite FSA as a current fave alongside LaBradford, US visionaries
operating in a similar lo-fi-meets-ambient zone. FSA always feature lovely
photographs of pastoral idylls on their sleeves. Their last CD, the singles
compilation Distance, bore the legend "CDs destroy music". FSA are the only band I've ever heard of who claim to be influenced by Popol Vuh, obscure
Krautrock band. And on their self-titled debut, FSA built a wall-of-noise around
Suede's "The Drowners".

All this makes Flying Saucer Attack very 'cool' indeed. But we're not
interested in 'cool', folks, are we? Our sole criterion for a guitar-brandishing
combo in 1995 is that they unloose enough memory-dissolving beauty to flood all
of Rock History's multiple precedents out of our overstuffed heads, right? So
that we're drenched, drowned, in the Here-and-Now. It's no piece of cake, given
the sheer amount of guitar-malarkey extant in the world. But FSA do it, in

That said, there is one reference point I shall dredge up, if only because
FSA have themselves cited it. Pearce & Brooks are possibly the best
effects-pedallers since prime A.R. Kane. At times, their music's drifting
tendrils of halycon haze are uncannily redolent of early A.R. Kane bliss-bowers
like "Haunting". Even though they use a 6 track studio, shun hi-tech such as
samplers, and detest digital sound, FSA belong with the post-rock posse, because
(like Alex & Rudi) they avoid riffs and powerchords and instead pulverise rock
into billowing parabolas of harmonic motes. On Further, their third
long-player but second Album, they've even lost the backbeat, thereby shedding
their last vestiges of r'n'r earthiness.

The result is a sort of kosmiche folk. FSA's formula is to situate voice &
acoustic guitar up close, against a bliss-scape of delayed, distorted,
open-tuned, fuzz-haemorrhaged guitarstuff. The effect, on songs like "In The
Light Of Time", is like sitting at the feet of a folk-minstrel (say, Nick Drake)
who's strumming and murmuring at the top of a hill, silhouetted against the
blazing glory of a West Country sunset. At times, the delicate songcraft is
utterly overwhelmed by the chromatic chaos. "For Silence" starts idyllic, a
forlorn melody swathed in guitar that trails a slipstream of reverbed
after-images, then the stream turns to weir-of-noise, a foaming torrent in which
you hallucinate a myriad fleeting melody-shapes. The white-noise slopes of "Here
Am I" induce snowblindness of the ear; if I have one criticism of FSA it's that
sometimes their sound is too overloaded, and that now and then they could afford
to make a little more room for emptiness.

A 12 minute instrumental, "To The Shore" is FSA's zenith to date--their "Bel
Air" or "Sun Falls Into The Sea". Imagine Krautrock-in-dub, or a less
inhospitable Main (isolationism, but you can bring a friend). It starts slow
and eerie with gong-like metallic percussion, breaks into a canter with
percussion so reverbed it seems to trip on its own tail and a vapour-trail of
cymbal spray, then escalates into an almighty on-rush and out-gush of timbral
mayhem, like a levee breaking inside your head and flooding the plain of
mundanity with wonder. Finally, the track subsides into a twinkling, dew-stippled
dawn-scape, like the world seen afresh through cleansed, newborn senses.

Further is the best pure-guitar LP since Royal Trux's Cats and Dogs.

Melody Maker, 1995

By Simon Reynolds

The setting is spot on-- a pretty Putney park near the Thames, on a gorgeously sunny day in almost-September. White clouds scud across oceans of azure, but there's a crisp chill in the air, a poignant premonition of autumn. Perfect Flying Saucer Attack weather, in fact, matching the way their music fuses the idyllic (wondergush guitar-chaos) and the melancholic (forlorn folkadelic melody).

We're sitting crosslegged, in a triangle, and Rachel Brook and David Pearce
are telling me how the early singles of A.R. Kane are a founding moment for the
Flying Saucer Attack aesthetic.

"When Up Home came out," says Dave, referring to the Kane boys' first Rough
Trade EP, arguably their finest fifteen minutes. "I thought, 'Yes, this signals
the start of something new'. It's the way that the guitars had these free, random
elements running against the structure. It was liberating to listen to, and yet
there was such beauty of sound. I felt, 'wow, there is still work to be done with
the electric guitar". A few years later, I felt the same about the first two
Main EP's--probably the best things Robert Hampson ever did, in Loop or later."

Bliss-rock revelations notwithstanding, Pearce's musical history starts
somewhat earlier. Now in his late twenties (Rachel's 22), he must be surely one
of the very last musicians coming through who were thunderstruck by the Sex
Pistols as they actually happened.

"In early 1977, it really seemed like society was going to fall to bits. I was
about 10 or 11. Then bands like Magazine and Wire came through..."

Which brings us neatly to FSA's new single, a cover of Wire's classic
"Outdoor Miner". Pearce was actually one of the select few who bought the single
at the time, propelling it to Number 52 in the charts. So is there an element
here of giving the finger to Menswear and Elastica, both being, shall we say,
re-interpreters of the Wire legacy?

"Oh yeah! What would have been nice, though, would have been if our version
had been any good."

Come now, it's pretty fine. The only real flaw is that the original's most
sublime moment is missing: the counterpoint melody-line that Graham Lewis
supplies towards the end, those Byrds-like backing harmonies that crush the
breath out of you.

"That's cos we only had a four-track to work on," confesses Rachel. "We just
didn't have enough tracks for double-tracking the voice."

It's nice the way you bury the solo in a fog of cotton-woolly guitarhaze,
though, so that the ear can barely pick it out.

"Yeah, it has that 'Interstellar Overdrive' quality," says Dave. "I remember
reading somewhere that 'Outdoor Miner' was Wire's Syd Barrett side coming

Elastica and Menswear and that lot have only picked up on Wire's New
Wavey-ness: the stop-start herky-jerky rhythms, Colin Newman's Mockney
pseudo-prole accent. Whereas you're working from Wire's under-acknowledged
psychedelic side.

"On the Chairs Missing LP they were using sounds that maybe you'd never
heard before, which is possibly the link with psychedelia."

Then there's "Outdoor Miner"'s aura of blessed serenity, and the lyric "in
fact it's the Earth/which he's known since birth"--which chimes in sweetly with
Flying Saucer's pastoral yearnings.

"The pastoralism comes down to the fact that as a child I used to live in the countryside, in the Cotswolds. And being a shy, quiet person, I prefer the country, 'cos you can wander off on your own. In the city you get aggro and hassle all the time."

On their three albums and innumberable 7 inch singles so far, FSA have
consistently, nay, obsessively, deployed cover images of idyllic Nature: cloud-
castles in the sky, scintillating seascapes at sunset, lakeshore trees reflected
in limpid water, ebbtide beaches at dusk. Then there's the song titles: "Land
Beyond The Sun", "In The Light Of Time", "To The Shore", "Standing Stone",
"November Mist", "Oceans"... Bit of a thematic thread, here: impressive
metereological phenomena, vast remoteness, solitude, the scent of Eternity...

"Anything that isn't to do with anybody else in the human race, basically!",
chuckles Dave. "I'm not deliberately antisocial but I do feel uncomfortable in
the company of people. I don't suffer from depression, but I get waves of feeling
utterly alone. I've had 'em since I was about four years old. When we were doing
Further, I gathered together the 50 percent of the tracks we'd recorded that were any good, put it on a cassette and then listened to it as an album. It was a bit of a shock! I thought: 'am I really that miserable?".

FSA's combination of neo-folk rusticism with misery-guts life-stance and
softly-softly singing echoes two of Dave's personal faves: Nick Drake and Roy
Harper circa Stormcock. Another huge and even more arcane influence is the
kosmiche folk of obscure Krautrock combo Popol Vuh.

"I don't class Popol as part of that Can/Faust/Neu axis, cos they weren't
so rhythmically based," says Dave, "Having finally managed to hear practically
everything they released, some 18 albums, I'm amazed at the sheer breadth of
Popol's music--massive percussion stuff, Moogy electronic proto-ambient, flowery
pastoralism.... In the late '70s they got really dark with lots of ritualistic
chants. Then they did all these records with cavernous-sounding, distorted
electric guitars. But the real key is the incredible 24 minute long track track
with the church organ on In Den Garten Pharaos: if you're a bad moood that
track sounds really evil, but if you're in a good mood it just sounds angelic."


Generalising wildly, you could says there's two camps in post-rock; those
whose orientation is overtly technological (Laika, Techno-Animal, Disco Inferno)
and those based around an overt avoidance of state-of-art hi-tech (Stereolab,
Labradford, the Dead C). It's in this latter zone, lo-fi-verging-on-ambient, that
you'll find Flying Saucer Attack.

"I hated that '80s rock sound, and it's sort of spilled over into an
irrational hatred of digital," says Dave. "I don't even own a CD player. I just
can't relate to CD's. It's not so much the way they sound as the things
themselves, those horrible plastic boxes".

"A piece of vinyl is a physical object, you can see the songs," concurs
Rachel. "With a CD, it's like a satellite's beaming the music into your room."

"I am a very miserable person, right," says Dave, in his peculiar mix of
forthright declamation and self-deprecation. "Records are your friends. You can
look at the song you're hearing, it's physically there in the spirally groove."

For all their four-track recording fetish and ever-so-slightly hypocritical habit of putting slogans like "CD's destroy music" on the CD version of their LP's, FSA are not total Luddites. They like some digital music, in particular Mo' Wax style trip hop. On the B-side of "Outdoor Miner", you'll find "Psychic Driving"--for FSA, an unusually rhythmic outing verging on a guitar-noise/trip-hop amalgam.

"Sometimes we just like to do something a bit silly, throw some ideas in the
air. I started with this sound like a cymbal, but it's actually a snare fed
through a distortion box. It sounded a bit like the Aphex Twin so I thought 'hey,
a dance track, why not?'. Then Rachel salvaged it."

In just over two years, FSA have put out four albums (two studio LP's
plus a pair of compilations of singles/B-sides/oddities); in the process, they've
pretty much honed to perfection their thang, the beatific noisescape. Now they
seem aware that it's probably time to veer sideways out of the potentially
entropic cul de sac of pure ambience, and embark on a new, more rhythm-oriented
direction. When it comes out in November, the fourth LP/second compilation
(provisionally titled Distance 2) will serve to wrap up their work so far,
closing one chapter of FSA and leaving the future wide open.

But back to the present. Any last words for Menswear?

"Colin Newman is onto you."