25.2.18

From A to Zazou

One of the most interesting aspects of record collecting was finding yourself suddenly "in" the lives of dramatic individuals who you would not, in the normal course of affairs, encounter. It's a little like one of those moments when you are travelling in the third world and you're thrust into radically different people's orbits. I remember a man called Ali Nawpora who I lived with for a week in Kashmir in 1990. Ali taught me how, once you've badly banged a finger, thumb or toe, if you clench the offending digit incredibly tight as soon as you've hit it (it is very painful to do so), it stops the blood rushing to that spot and you get almost no bruising. It's a trick that has helped enormously bringing up children I can assure you.

There's not a huge amount of information about Zazou online. This obituary almost reads like a discography - the best thing out there is this nice article by Oliver Lamm in the Red Bull archives which also points out: "There’s scarcely anything about him online from a biographical perspective, apart from a rather thin Wikipedia page entry and some dazed obituaries."


This ZNR's, "Barricade 3", was put out on Recommended Records in 1976. I suppose at the very tail-end of Progressive Rock there was an increasing porosity, or open-ness, to European rock. That long, almost conceptually static stretch of time between 1967 and 1976 allowed the continent to catch up with the currents in Anglo-American Rock. You could read Punk as, to some extent, a whiplash of insularity, something akin to Brexit with the bachelor throwing his bride from the marital suite.

"Barricade 3" a nice, small record of chamber rock music inspired by Erik Satie.


Simultaneously to the break-up of ZNR, Racaille and Zazou increasingly at loggerheads, Zazou drifted into writing for Libération magazine and tooled his mischievous Marxism into a concept album about perverse sex. I've loved this record for years, but never knew its background in a visit Zazou took to New York where he met Arto Lindsay and Suicide. Reading between the lines perhaps this connection was arranged through the auspices of Jean Georgakarakos? Lamm mentions that "he had met the people involved in the legendary magazine Actuel" which I'm sure was connected to the BYG/Actuel label. Sheer conjecture!

The band's instrumental sound here is extremely seductive, like an anemic, bare-bones, funk version of the Gang of Four. It almost reminds me of the backing tracks for Afrika Bambaata's "Zulu Nation Throwdown" - though less muscular. Atop these locked grooves with their Residents-like meandering, de-tuned rhythm guitars Jeanne Folly, and possibly J.L Hennig proclaim their Zoophiliac and Necrophiliac urges. I don't think Zazou can be singing on this because that doesn't seem to be his trip. My fave track has to be "I love you S..." an exquisite minimal rock mantra up there with Neu!'s finest tracks but the No Wave Melody Nelson revision of "On Dine" comes a close second.


Thanks to Oliver Lamm's piece I discovered that there was a Perversita spin-off, Valerie Gee's Car Band's "Un President Pour La France" a satirical attack on President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing which used one of the album's discarded rhythm tracks and which was apparently a big hit at the time.


I picked up "Noir et Blanc" many, many years ago having, after all, a fascination with concepts of digital and electric Africa. In fact for the longest time I was partially dismissive of it. I always preferred the idea of African musicians making these interventions under their own auspices, so for instance records like Ray Lema's "Medicine" or Wally Badarou's "Echoes", Thomas Frempong's "Anansi Shuttle" or George Darko's "Hi-Life-Time", even if they were sometimes musically cheesier, always seemed cooler, more authentic. This is why the recent Francis Bebey "Psychedelic Sanza" reissue, albeit not overly electronic, was so fascinating too. There's no question of anyone but the legendary Bebey himself being in the driving seat.

There was a whole raft of French/African Electronic interventions in this era which were contemporaneous, or pre-date "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts". Most famously there's Martin Meissonnier's production of King Sunny Ade's majestic "Juju Music" as well as Manu Dibango's monstrous and fantastic "Abele Dance". In the UK there was the epochal Earthworks Addis-Ababa studios Dub mixes of Tony Allen's "NEPA" and Dele Abiodun's "Confrontation" - the Nigerian artists turning to London rather than Paris. I still feel with these that these aforementioned artists there's less intervention - a natural, sympathetic affinity between artist and production.

With "Noir et Blanc" you're very much dealing with a Congolese singer over an electronic backing by Guillaume Loizillon and Claude Micheli (known as CY1). However, in fairness, as is pointed out in Phillip Sherburne's Pitchfork review of the recent reissue, Bony Biyake told Zazou "of his interest in krautrock and Stockhausen". Also, as I've got older I've come to care less and less about what's "authentic" anyway. Furthermore, and most saliently, CY1's riddims are entirely in keeping with the Congolese aesthetic.

Tastefulness is largely a disparaged quality in music, victim of an intellectual reverse snobbery, but actually what "taste" translates to in the real world is "empathy" - and there should be no price placed too high on that. Given how readily Loizillon is glad to pass over Zazou's top billing to him; Zazou must take credit for that: “Sure, he was not the one playing synths, sure, it’s not him singing, but he was the one who saw that uniting the two was going to create something special. Without him the project would simply never have come into being.”

In many ways a low-key LP, which it seems somewhat out of place to "glow" about with too much efflorescence - it's still at the same time startling and gently revealing of its charms. My highlight has to be the lovely "Mama Lenvo" with its bubbling Korg pattern in the background like a mirage on the horizon.


Less well-known is Zazou's subsequent "Reivax Au Bongo" which again features Bony Biyake and Kanda Bongo Man. Not electronic it's still very nice in its cheerfully atmospheric way. Billed as the soundtrack for a photo novel directed by the photographer Xavier Lambours. It's the second in the, once discarded, now very hip Crammed Discs "Made To Measure" series which was often comprised of soundtrack music - or in that Barry Adamson vein, soundtracks for films which were never made.

Subsequently Zazou became best-known for this style recording with "projects" like "Sahara Blue" and "Chansons des mers froides" which according to Lamm often afforded themselves greater production values out of sheer scurrilousness. I've not heard any of these works and so next week I plan to dig into YouTube and remedy that. Hector Zazou, I salute you.

11.2.18

Woecoin


Announcing the brand new digital currency WOECOIN.

How does Woecoin work?

Investors pay Woebot Inc for vinyl records which are kept safely in the carefully curated, legendary Woebot record collection.

How does Woebot Inc protect my investment?

The record you invest against is protected in a high-security storage room monitored by an alarm-system. Some portion of your investment is kept in the encrypted Woebot liquidity fund - the rest is parceled up and prudently invested.

Why should I invest in Woecoin above other digital currencies?

There are a only limited number of records in this legendary collection which means that Woecoin is, like Gold, a finite resource and therefore extremely valuable.

What do I get for my money?

With other digital currencies you only get a digital string, Woecoin on the other hand matches your investment to an actual physical product kept in our high-security storage room - a transaction which is comprehensively certificated. Therefore Woecoin is the 21st Century's answer to the gold standard.

This sounds amazing! How do I send you my money?

We accept Bank Transfer and Paypal. Just specify the record you'd like to match with your investment!

How do I sell my investment?

Partial withdrawal can easily be made with 28 days notice.

Woecoin is not regulated by the Financial Standards Authority.
As with any other financial investment you risk not getting your original capital back.

10.2.18

Do you wanna be in my gang?

What are you doing when you buy a record?

You're buying membership entry into a gang, a cult even. It's the music business's model for monetising alienation. If you own the record it's suggested that you're an initiate in the way someone who doesn't isn't. They might get to enjoy the music but until they own some merchandise - or perhaps see the groop in concert - they're supposed to be on the outside looking in.

The irony is though that you, the buyer, are also on the outside looking in. However much you buy, however many limited edition twelve inches, you're still on the outside. Your face is just pressed closer to the glass. And you love it, you big dummy...

Mechanical reproduction in its unfettered digital incarnation has been a disaster for the music business. Streaming, a catastrophe. Because they erode that fundamental concept of ownership and its relation to belonging. Certainly, the wagon still continues to roll, but that psychological contract is weakened. This is where blockchain may come in. The use of a blockchain "removes the characteristic of infinite reproducibility from a digital asset". It's the dawning of a new digital era.

I'm not particularly transfixed by this lady Imogen Heap, and I'm underwhelmed by the rhetoric she has built around the Mycelia Music blockchain software: "To empower a fair, sustainable and vibrant music industry ecosystem involving all online music interaction services" - yawn, it sounds pretty dull. But there's something happening here.

Mycelia, or its successor, will only triumph when it taps into all those horrible emotions. It will triumph, not out of respect for the little guy, but out of greed and envy. When only 100 people can own that exclusive track. Imagine if The Beatles had stopped issuing White Albums at 624570.

It's hard to imagine against the backdrop of streaming music how this could map out - essentially a step backwards to downloading. But it's acutely possible. Also, and this is perhaps controversial, but I would think that, re-shackled to irreproducible talismans, or at least partaking of some kind of exclusivity, people will once again find music touches them more profoundly. Sad but true.

4.2.18

reminiscing mark


teen alone
in vaseline and overcoat
saw fall at hammersmith odeon
year was 88
singer looked like budget nosferatu
in brown leather
lager was vomited

year was 93
empty glasgow backstreet
pseudo spaghetti western scenario
scab student outgunned
by high-shouldered
hip priest
"i am damo suzuki"
"no, i am damo suzuki"
"i am damo suzuki"
"no, i am damo suzuki"

last week
mass media in morbid reaction
one man banned
dies before he gets old
at 60
record companies plan monetisation
blogger fashions mimetic hagiograpy
no future remains to predict

3.2.18

The Adventures of Winston Churchill

 
 

I had a moment of déjà vu with Big Shaq's "Mans Not Hot" because I had the idea first way back in 1996. I keep meaning to get round to blogging this.

In response to an advert in the Guardian I posted this very comic to a TV production company in Stratford. I was picked up at the station by Ann Wood in a Rolls Royce and driven to the then unseen Teletubbies set. Commisioned to write two scripts which were deemed not suitable. Maybe I'll post my storyboards here one day?

Brap. Brap.

Collecting and addiction


[John Cale's "Paris 1919" in various formats from the author's collection.]

Collecting is one of those things that, I suppose, is generally advisable not to take TOO seriously.

Facing oneself in the mirror there are enough things in one's life which are, in holistic terms, a bigger "issue" - like for instance air travel, or eating meat or one's attitude to capital in relation to people living in, say, Bangladesh. Does it really matter very much that one is a little fixated upon stockpiling recorded music? And occasionally in multiple formats?

I stumbled across this fascinating article about "Obsessive Record and CD Collecting". The heavily garlanded Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA. is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. Mark clearly knows a thing or two, not just about collecting music, but addiction itself. I reckon he's probably going to have to reconcile himself with being my NBF, at least in my fevered imagination we're going to have extensive conversations about what links The Beatles and The Velvet Underground.

Mark's view on collecting comes in the very last line of the article:
"Yes, I love music and it takes up a lot of my life. However, I am not addicted. My obsessive love of music adds to my life rather than detracts from it—and on that criterion alone I will happily be a music collector until the day that I die."
and this on the basis of his criteria of addiction:
For any behaviour to be defined as addictive, I would expect there to be specific consequences as a result of the person’s relationship with the behaviour. More specifically I would expect to see all the following things: 
- Salience (when a particular activity becomes the most important activity in the person’s life) 
- Mood modification (the use of the activity as a way of either getting a ‘high’ or ‘buzz’ and/or using the activity to escape, de-stress or numb) 
- Tolerance (needing more and more of the activity over time to feel the mood modifying effects) 
- Withdrawal symptoms (psychological and/or physiological consequences such as excess moodiness and irritability if unable to engage in the activity) 
- Conflict (with other activities – such as work and hobbies – and personal relationships, that may lead to a loss of control) 
- Relapse (i.e. returning to addictive patterns of use following a period of abstinence)
Naturally this is something which I've given a lot of thought to over the years. Surely you'd be disappointed if I hadn't? On one level it's strictly comic, indeed over the years I have riffed on this. Mark must be an altogether healthier individual than me because I manifested all of these points:
Salience. Gotta admit, almost in shame (lol), that very, very occasionally collecting records has nudged its way into (possibly) being the most important activity in my life. If only for brief windows... perhaps. Check.
Mood modification Oh puhlease! Of course. Those peaceful moments when you're combing through the racks, in "the zone" blissfully oblivious of all your problems. Check.
Tolerance Ha, ha, ha. No longer content to leave a record shop with one record? So it's got to be two now has it? Check.
Withdrawal symptoms Yeah, probably. Or certainly, at least, exhilaration upon resumption after a self-enforced fast. Check.
Conflict Pshaw. In trouble? Skint? The Mrs (or Mr) annoyed with you. We've all been there! (looks around at an empty room). Check.
Relapse Again, I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to stop buying records. And failed ;-p Check.
There are two books which have particular resonance with regards to collecting records. Evan Eisenberg's "The Recording Angel" starts with the author visiting the collector Clarence:
"Clarence opens the kitchen door and you enter, but just barely. Every surface - the counters and cabinets, the shelves of the oven and refrigerator, and almost all of the linoleum floor - is covered with records. They are heavy shellac discs, jammed in cardboard boxes or just lying in heaps; crowning one pile is a plate of rusty spaghetti. In the far corner are four shopping bags full of sugared doughnuts. There is a stench."
Lol. I mean, great to put my own issues in a wider context, and all that. No stench in my study, no sirree... The other good book, and a personal favourite I often return to is "Collecting: An Unruly Passion." Psychological Perspectives by Werner Muensterberger. Favourite bits include the chapter on Tulip mania (which has particular relevance in the era of Bitcoin - hey, have you noticed how people who have just bought Bitcoins can't wait to tell you all about it? Hook the next sucker innit) and also the story of Gloucestershire's own Sir Thomas Phillips who set himself the task of collecting "One Copy of Every Book!" (Sir Thomas, like many of the great bibliophiles was not much of a reader).

The best bit, however is the section where he looks at collecting's roots in tribal behaviour, specifically head-hunting. Ethnography always produces the most revealing perspectives on "modern" human activity don't you think:
"These head-hunting expeditions had various purposes, the most important belonging to the initiation rites of the pubescent boys, culminating in a circumcision ceremony in the course of which the youth sat on a skull during the actual operation. This last instance is particularly descriptive because the entire procedure literally makes the young novice the possessor of the power-imbued skull. Here we must remember that the verb "possess" comes from the Latin potes (able) and sedere (to sit). I do not believe that any other demonstration of what it means to possess could be more explicit, starting with predatory expeditions and climaxing in the ritualized act of taking possession of the soul-substance or life-force of the slain victim. It is an unqualified enactment of ownership and triumph."
Yikes! So gory. Love this. Great as a means of understanding the whole notion of recorded music as "souls trapped in wax", of collecting as an activity driven by sublimated desire for power and enlightening too with regards to music industry's fixation on the scalps of dead stars: Jimi, Janis, John, Jim and Ian. Also, you gotta reflect, if this is collecting's root and source, a not entirely healthy preoccupation.

Record Thief and his mates

[Click to engorge.]

I was a bit surprised to notice that I've never before posted this "classic" (ahem) comic of mine from 1997. Quite amazing to reflect upon the entirely different pre-mp3, pre-Audiogalaxy, pre-Sharity blog, pre-Spotify universe from which it hails. Many people, I would imagine, view their physical collection of records (and CDs) as an encumbrance they'd gladly rid themself of. Of course the price would have to be right, but this still in the context of vinyl's supposedly "magic" resurgence.

Art Kassel's "Hell's Bells" is, of course, a Robert Crumb fave and all this wave of comics I made were inspired by Terry Zwigoff's "Crumb" movie and my vision of myself at that time as a "neo-Crumb". A month or so ago I bought a copy of the DVD and watched it again for the first time in twenty years. Such a deeply affecting movie. One thing which I think evaded my twenty six year old consciousness however, is the depth of Robert's "craft". Amid all the talk of family madness, perversion, LSD and cosmic inspiration that's something which can get lost by the wayside.

In the film seeing Robert working with his son Jessie to improve his drawing technique is a tantalisingly brief window into that neglected side of the Crumb genius; Crumb, the master craftsman. Many of the comics I did, like much of the early Woebot blog entries (er, until about two years probably, lol), were fast and loose. Generously you'd say this output was driven by an "electrified urgency" (true!) but on the other hand things could get a little sloppy. From that point-of-view it's always nice to discover my old work like "Record Thief" that's more carefully executed, even if this was actually drawn, unplanned, off-the-cuff and without any corrections.