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Eardrum Buzz is an irregular Dubdog feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

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Title: The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks
Author: Flux of Pink Indians
Label: Spiderleg Records
UK Release Year: 1984

2016 sees celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the birth of Punk with a very London centric focus. Halfway into the year and only a couple of months into the festivities, I am already sick of the sight of computer generated ransom lettering, dayglo colours and screened images. Don’t get me started on musical anthems from my youth being used in TV adverts—every time I see that McDonald’s / Buzzcocks’ advert I die a little inside.

But I was late to punk as a teenager, that was more my older brother’s era. I grew up with 2-Tone for my teenage rebellion, before getting into punk well after-the-fact. After getting into the first wave of punk bands several years from when they emerged, I fell for anarchopunk, as much for its political stance as its musical output. If I listen to much of that genre’s oeuvre today I find it embarrassing, but musically I still hold Crass and Flux of Pink Indians in high esteem. Both pushed the boundaries of what they did and challenged their fans to embrace more than just a three chord thrash with shouty animal rights lyrics. Their investigation into social and personal politics stretched to their craft—they were progressive, embracing free-jazz, noise, industrial, electronics, and in Flux’s case, dub and funk.

When, in 1985, I returned home after swapping 8 LPs I’d grown tired of at Colchester’s Parrot Records for Flux’s second album, little had prepared me for the assault my ears were about to receive. I assumed, very wrongly, I would be getting more of the same of their first release: Strive To Survive Causing The Least Suffering Possible. That was a concise metallic guitar/feedback thrash through shouty green anarchist lyrics, pithy and earnest with song titles such as: They Lie, We Die; We Don’t Want Your Progress; and Myxomatosis. It was sharp, to the point, aggressive and polemic. But as I had already fallen in love with the uncompromising artwork and title of their second album: The Fucking Pricks Treat Us Like Cunts, The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks; I didn’t want the music to let me down.

My first impression, (after WTF have I swapped 8 LPs for?), was to ask myself whether I had a miss-pressing? The sound was muffled in places; the tracks didn’t seem to end but bled into each other; overdubbed electronic noises burst in and out; music stopped dead, punctuated with samples from different radio stations; the whole thing sounded like a complete racket. Which it is, of course. The first track  starts with feedback, electronic vibrating noises, then what sounds like the band playing live punches in with several people yelping ‘punk punk punk punk punk punk punk punk…’ The music/noise was as uncompromising as the artwork and title.

So in the spirit of these Eardrum Buzz posts, why have I picked this record out as changing my perspective of just what music can be? Firstly because it taught me the value of not rejecting something on first listen—I learned to love this record. Secondly because it was deliberately challenging and it shocked me out of my then musical complacencies. Thirdly because I got into its experimental nature. This, I thought, is what punk should be all about. Not because it is aggressive, but because it is attempting to explore new ground beyond the conventional, and anarcho-punk, like punk rock before it, had become conventional with their rockisms and formulas.

Fucking Pricks… is punk, sure, but it is also noise, industrial, jazz, and Dada. It is also extremely and unapologetically political. Sure, there are moments of pious preaching when the noise abates and you can make out spoken lyrics. This is as only anarchopunk bands can be, and this is what I have come to wince at when listening back to the genre’s cast. In Flux’s case these are the weaker elements against the sonic overload that is the rest of this album, and these wince-inducing parts become inconsequential against the rest of the musical onslaught. But all that that aside, in 1985 the record felt exciting and it got my heart racing.

As it transpires, on looking back, it was an important record for me. Later I would get into Tackhead’s industrial funk and more recently I’ve been listening to a lot of free-jazz, things I’m convinced this record paved the way for my ears to appreciate when the time came for me to discover them. Fucking Pricks… taught me to give things a second listen, it reaffirmed in me that anything can be music, and that the more you become familiar with something that you don’t first understand, the more it can reward your senses as you spend time with it.

What would I make of it today if I heard it for the first time? I don’t know, I expect I would find it sprawling and in need of editing and honing. But I would still recognise its challenging nature, its uncompromising and brave approach, and its sense of perversion. In listening back to it for the first time in years before writing this post, I thought of it in comparison with the Buzzcocks advert and the 40th anniversary of the first wave of punk that McDonald’s have jumped on. In thinking about this, Flux of Pink Indians need high praise indeed for making something that no corporation could ever appropriate.

Other interesting articles on The Fucking Pricks… :
Uncarved
Public Embarrassment Blues

Eardrum Buzz is an irregular Dubdog feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

Title: Spiral Scratch EP
Author: Buzzcocks
Label: New Hormones
UK Release Year: 1977

With all the talk in the media at the moment about punk’s 40th anniversary and whether Malcolm McLaren’s son will burn his £5m punk collection in protest against the celebrations, you’d have thought that punk only happened in London. Choosing not to mention the stateside influences, and the fact that punk was vital to those living outside of the capital, the London centric aspect of this heritage spectacle is what annoyed me in the first instance when I heard about the forthcoming celebrations.

While I heard much of the original punk shenanigans coming out of my brother’s bedroom door 40 years ago, being only 8 at the time I somewhat missed the (jubilee punk) boat. A few years later when I was living in Mansfield and all my friends were into heavy metal, which I hated, I started investigating punk for myself, despite it being pretty much dead in the water by then. Living in Mansfield with few cultural attractions and a peer group desperate for Americanisms, poodle hair and denim jackets covered in band patches, punk kept me sane, even if at that stage there weren’t really any contemporary bands for me to get into.

I can’t quite remember the order in which I heard things, (tapes from my Sister’s then boyfriend’s record collection muddies the water somewhat), but one week I paid £2.50 of my hard earned paper-round money for a copy of Spiral Scratch EP from a second hand record shop in town. I think by then I had already borrowed The Buzzcocks’ Love Bites from the local library, so I was used to Shelley’s vocals being one of the key features of the band. But Spiral Scratch knocked me for six. I immediately fell in love with Devoto’s voice, who I hadn’t heard up to that point. To this day he is one of my favourite vocalists in all of music’s rich history and I firmly believe he could sing over absolutely anything and make it better.

The music was nervy, uncoordinated, and rudimentary, and to my ears back then, incredibly fast. I don’t think I had ever heard anything so fast before. There was a frantic urgency to the four tracks as if the band were desperate to get through them and didn’t ultimately care about the quality of what they put down. The lyrics that Devoto yelped over the top were very different to Shelley’s which hid stories of homosexual longing and frustration in a overly heterosexual lyrical world. Devoto came across with much more of a sense of distain for sex that made him seem asexual and other-worldly, (that, and the Enoesque hairdo). A sense of nihilism and sarcasm shone through.

For me it captured the spirit of everything I thought that first wave of punk was about, and the Sex Pistols sounded over-produced and over-complicated in comparison, (excepting Lydon’s brilliant vocal delivery—I always thought Devoto and Rotten should compete in a sneer-off). Of the other all-male bands of the time, only Alternative TV came close in contempt for rock musics’ macho formulas and posturing, most other punk bands seemed to allow such vanities within their particular rock schtick. X-Ray Specs and The Slits, by their very nature, eschewed such things, but of the male bands, the aesthetics of sexual politics just wasn’t on their agendas, unlike Buzzcocks and Alternative TV.

The stand out track on Spiral Scratch is, without a doubt, Boredom. This track in itself sums up 1976/77 punk for me—the spirit that spawned it—and all other attempts to encapsulate the feeling of the movement were rendered pointless after this. It is no wonder that Devoto immediately left the band, having laid down the most punk of all records, there was little else to be said and he moved on to even greater things with Magazine. In essence, I suppose he became bored with punk having helped to create one of its masterpieces. He had created Boredom and became bored by it.

And all this from Manchester, not London.

B’dum b’dum.

A Dubdog year in music. No favourites, no hierarchy, but a list of albums that have been bought, downloaded or given and have been returned to for more than one listen. Listed in reverse order from December to January.

Recorded  
Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
Rocketnumbernine – Two Ways EP
Lynched – Cold Old Fire
Julia Kent – Asperities
Kode9 – Nothing
The Thing – Shake
British Sea Power – Sea Of Brass
Alternative TV – Viva La Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Complete Deptford Fun City Recordings 1977–1980
Roots Manuva – Bleeds
Mogwai – Central Belters
Niney The Observer – Sledge Hammer Dub In The Streets Of Jamaica
Sun Ra and his Arkestra – In The Orbit Of Ra
Various – The Wire Tapper 39
Girl Band – The Early Years EP / Holding Hands With Jamie
John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Sons of Kemet – Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do
Various – Trevor Jackson’s Science Fiction Dancehall Classics
Arcade Fire – Reflektor (deluxe extra tracks)
Run The Jewels – Meow The Jewels
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
King Midas Sound / Fennesz – Edition 1
Low – Ones And Sixes
Jah Wobble – Redux: Anthology 1979–2015
The Bug – Zim Zim Zim
AFX – Orphaned Deejay Seek 2006–2008
FKA Twigs – M3LL155X EP
Various – King Jammy’s: Roots, Reality And Sleng Teng
Various – Rastafari: The Dreads Enter Babylon 1955–83
The Mothmen – Pay Attention!
Singers & Players – War Of Words
Beak> – Split EP
Storm Bugs – HKY502
Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
Chemical Brothers – Born In The Echoes
Various – Studio One Rude Boys
FKA Twigs – LP1
Dr Feelgood – All Through The City
Public Enemy – Man Plans God Laughs
The Nightingales – Mind Over Matter
Githead – Waiting For A Sign
Alternative TV – Opposing Forces
African Head Charge – My Life In A Hole In The Ground
Mark Stewart & The Maffia – Learning To Cope With Cowardice (Director’s Cut)
Alborosie vs King Jammy – Dub Of Thrones
Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People
Killing Joke – For Beginners
The Refused – Freedom
The Fall – Sub-lingual Tablet
Killing Joke – What’s This For…!
Linval Thompson – Strong Like Sampson
Burning Spear – Social Living/Living Dub
FFS – FFS
Viet Cong – Viet Cong
The Pre New – The Male Eunuch
Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys
The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ
Wire – Wire
Various – Sherwood At The Controls Volume 1 1979–1984
Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
The Unthanks – Mount The Air
The Special AKA – In The Studio (Remastered)
Polar Bear – Same As You
The Specials – Specials (Remastered) , More Specials (Remastered)
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
The Skull Defekts – Dances In The Dreams Of The Known Unknown
Steven Ball – Collected Local Songs
Bad Breeding – Burn This Flag
Dexys – One Day I’m Going To Soar
The Screaming Blue Messiahs – Good And Gone
The Grubby Mitts – What The World Needs Now Is
Various – The Wire Tapper 38
Andy Moor & Yannis Kyriakides – A Life Is A Billion Heartbeats
Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley
The Pop Group – Citizen Zombie + Versions Galore EP
Sherwood & Pinch – Late Night Endless
Various – Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee’s Early Reggae Productions 1968–72
Vic Godard & Subway Sect – 1979 Now!
Various – Studio One Classics
New Order – Substance 1987
Ragga Twins – On A Ragga Trip
King Champion Sounds – Songs For The Golden Hour
Aphex Twin – Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP
Björk – Vulnicura
The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
Belle & Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
Fire! Orchestra – Enter
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

And the odd trip to see a band at a venue or festival. In alphabetical order.

Live
Marc Almond
Belle & Sebastian
Martin Carthy
Ezra Firman
The Pop Group
Portishead
The Savages
Sleaford Mods
Wire
…and a friend’s heavy metal covers band whose name escapes me, (sorry Scott)

Eardrum Buzz is an irregular feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

Title: Venus In Furs
Author: Velvet Underground
Label: Verve
UK Release Year: 1967

Hearing Venus In Furs was a major musical milestone for me and I constantly wish I could hear it for the first time again for the revelation it caused.

Aged 15 I had at some point taped Lou Reed’s Transformer after borrowing it from my local library. Just seriously getting into Punk at the time, on hearing other’s say that Reed was its godfather, I couldn’t quite make the link with the glam I heard on his second solo LP, (excellent as I thought it was). And older friend with a wider musical knowledge than I had Diana Clapton’s Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground 1982 biography which I loved flicking through whenever I visited. It was this book that introduced me to the Velvets, or at least to their myth, prior to hearing their actual music.

On the back of this, one week I used some of my wages from a Saturday shelf-stacking job and took a punt on buying a 6 track import Velvet Underground sampler. The gatefold sleeve contained a stapled in booklet in either Spanish or Italian, with lots of photos of the band—despite not being able to read it, the photos alone made me think it was worth the £3.99 I paid. Although I wasn’t aware of the Velvet’s discography, I later found out the album collated together 6 tracks from Velvet Underground’s first three LPs. I can’t remember exactly what tracks, but can recall both Sister Ray from their second album and Pale Blue Eyes from their third were on it.

All I can now remember of putting the album on for the first time was the incredible effect hearing Venus In Furs had on me. I had not heard a single thing like it before in my 15 short years and it put my head in a spin. Those viola stabs and background drone, the laconic out-of-kilter drums, the chiming guitar and those ever so strange lyrics that were drawled poetically from Reed’s lips. And dropped into the middle of all of this, that uplifting chorus that all too soon, and seamlessly, reverts back to the repetitive atonal noise of the verse. This changed everything for me. I was unsure whether I liked it or not but felt compelled to listen to it again, and again, and again. As it became more familiar to my ears I became more intrigued with it, and more intoxicated by it.

I am incredibly grateful to this song for opening up my ears to vast new musical possibilities. Literal lyrics and actual tunes suddenly didn’t seem as important as they had moments before. And I now realise as I look back that without this song there is so much that I now appreciate and enjoy that I would never have given a chance, dismissing it simply as tuneless and unmusical prior to this experience. But Velvet Underground’s Venus In Furs didn’t just widen my musical perspective, it also opened my mind to looking at many things from a non-mainstream stance—art, politics, philosophy, you name it. In challenging my perspective on music, Venus In Furs made me question my views on many other things; views that were formed purely on a narrow experience. Ultimately it taught me the value of exploring different possibilities beyond the limitations of what was popular, what other’s deemed ‘acceptable’, and what mainstream society presented as culture.

Eardrum Buzz is an irregular Dubdog feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

AfricanDubCh3

Title: African Dub, Chapter 3
Author: Joe Gibbs and The Professionals
Label: Lightning Records
UK Release Year: 1978

“What the fuck is this?” is not the exact phrase that would have been going through my 10 year old brain. The ‘fuck’ has been added by my 47 year-old self to emphasise the strength of reaction I had to hearing African Dub, Chapter 3 for the first time.

Opening with a heavy accented Jamaican voice declaring at volume, “They wan eya killa killa killa killa killa”. This echoes off into the sound of a deep bomb blast, immediately before impulsive snare rim-shots set the rhythm to follow; some opening to an album! Then a snare roll cuts through the heavy atmosphere, cavernous and tinny—how can something sound so thin and so loud?—before the powerful hook of THAT bassline underpins everything. All this within 15 seconds and we are truly on the way—the album has started.

Until this stage, my musical appreciation had been, in order: The Wombles, Sweet and The Beatles. Not exactly the musical diet that would have prepared me for such a heavy dub record, (not that I knew what ‘dub’ meant aged 10). “What the fuck is this?” indeed.

What followed is now so well known to me, but to my young ears this was difficult to comprehend as music. Questions abounded: Firstly, why were there virtually no human voices except for the odd call of ‘killa’ or ‘murder’ or ‘I wanna dub you’? Where was the verse/chorus set-up I’d become familiar with? Secondly, why the repetition? Apart from the odd fill-in, once a track had truly started, it was essentially the same thing repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, (as I heard it back then). Thirdly, why did some instruments keep cutting in and out, as if lost, only to reappear some 20 seconds later? And lastly, what were all those sounds that echoed in and out all about? The doorbell; the science fiction type noises I’d heard on Blake’s 7; the snapshots of a horn section, gone in an instant; and the odd vocal addition.

All these questions confused and excited my young mind. But what drove through all of this strangeness was the high fast rhythms cut by the drums, and the low, low, low bass hooks.

The accompanying sleeve intrigued also—if the music was revolutionary and somewhat threatening to my ears, the sleeve created a heavy visual accompaniment. Those dark brooding guys on the front joined as one staring directly at me, the unfamiliar architecture in the background line illustration, the red, gold and green jagged shards blasting from the sky. And the title! Who was the band? Where they called African Dub, or Chapter Three? And what did All-mighty mean?, a phrase I’d only previously heard at dreaded Sunday school, (no pun intended).

The context to this musical mayhem I was experiencing: A family gathering—maybe Christmas, maybe Easter—packed into my Grandmother and Uncle’s council house in Carshalton, Surrey; the front room barely big enough for the congregated mass there-in.

This album, more than any other, has had a massive impact on me. Not just on my musical tastes, but also on my inquisitiveness for discovering new sounds. I wasn’t sure I liked African Dub Chapter 3 when I first heard it. I certainly didn’t understand it. But it did intrigue me.

In terms of bands/music I’ve liked over the years since first hearing this record that I can draw a clear linage to, then my immediate patronage of Two-Tone as ‘my music’ when it hit the charts a year later is an obvious association. The b-side of the 10” Black Market Clash, with the dub versions of Armagideon Time and Bankrobber, was at one stage pretty much glued to my turntable for weeks on end a few years later. It wouldn’t be until my late teens and early twenties thought that I’d discover the delights of other dub producers such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Niney The Observer, and obviously King Tubby. Later, World Domination Enterprises, Meat Beat Manifesto, Mark Stewart and The Maffia, Tackhead, The Bug, and Kode9 and the SpaceApe, amongst many others, would be opened to my ears because I could trace aspects back to this album.

I will leave the final words of this post to Woebot, writing for The Wire magazine’s The Inner Sleeve feature, (August 2010, issue 318, p79): “The music is analogous to the artwork: visionary, bold, visceral, but also conjured from the barest essentials. This record as [a] physical entity has always functioned as a desire-creating machine. In his epic reggae study, Bass Culture, Lloyd Bradley told how the demand for it was so strong that the first UK copies were stolen overnight from a London shop before they even hit the racks. The disc’s power [is] undiminished with the passing years”.

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iPhone Music montage screengrab

This blog, Dubdog, carries the strap-line: On art, design and music—mostly.

However, on closer examination a reader may come to the conclusion that in truth it is actually ‘mostly’ about design in one form or another. The music bit generally gets sidelined to lists of what I’ve been listening to at the end of any particular year. But recent thoughts have led me to consider adding a semi-regular feature that will address this.

Let me explain… I’ve been thinking a lot about music recently, partly prompted by corridor conversations with work colleagues and discovering a joint love of a particular band; but also through meeting new people and finding they have cross-over tastes to mine, but who then reel off a huge amount of band names or artists I’ve never come across. This has led me to ponder on how I have arrived at my subjective musical ‘tastes’.

I’ve never been a fan of pigeonholing. As a teenager, like many others, I had a perceived need to belong to something and thus create an identity for myself, usually based on a particular youth culture that followed the fashions of a particular musical ‘tribe’. As I matured I rejected this need to identify myself by the music I listened to, just as most people do when they distance themselves from their teenage years. But even when I was pigeonholing myself to the outside world through dress codes, I felt at odds with assigning myself to just one particular style or genre of music. When I was wearing bondage trousers and spiking my hair I was listening to far more than just The Clash.

As I think back on my life’s musical journey, one important thing it has taught me is to be open-minded to new experiences. As an addition to this I learned not to define something as being ‘music’ or not, especially as I learnt about, for example, Industrial Music, experimental sound artists, and more recently, Free Jazz. As a result, the term ‘music’ suddenly seems as arcane as the concept of dressing in the same style as the people in the bands you like. As I have heard new sounds, whether that be through chance happenings or someone directing me towards a particular artist, I can pinpoint key moments in my life when I’ve heard something for the first time and it has fundamentally altered my mind about music. I’m not talking about just hearing a new band, I’m talking about moments that have made me question my preconceived opinions and have taken me on an exciting journey of discovery. To use the term ‘paradigm shift’ is not too strong a term to use here in relation to what I’m trying to express.

Obviously context is everything. There are certain pieces of music that I’ve heard that if I’d come to them earlier in life I might not have been able to accept them—not having had preceding musical experiences I might need to get to that point of acceptance. A good example of this is the first time I heard Venus In Furs by The Velvet Underground. To my 15 year-old ears this blew my mind and I couldn’t stop playing the track on rotation for several days as I soaked up this incredible sound; a sound that I can’t recall having heard previously. Had I first heard this at age 10, my personal experience would likely be quite different. Equally, the situation I heard something in for the first time may also have bought a lot to the experience that outside of that situation it may not have had the same effect. Others who may already be familiar with a specific work which I signify as a paradigm shift in my conscious understanding of music may not consider that it the best example of that specific musical approach. This doesn’t matter as this is personal to my experience, and besides, if they are right, I will generally work that out for myself anyway as I explore further. And while I may come to the realisation that what I’ve heard is at the tame/lame end of its particular spectrum, the fact that it opened my world still holds a significance for me, and therefore I would still hold it in high regard, (albeit with accepted caveats).

As these considerations on music that I have been ruminating on recently have continued, I’ve started listing all the key works that have prompted a real paradigm shift in my musical appreciation. Over the coming months I will revisit some of these pieces and subsequently write about them here. Some will be very well known and discussed at length in other forums, but some will have slipped off the musical map and no end of searching online will uncover them being given any serious attention, (I can’t wait to write the post on Flux of Pink Indians’ The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks, for example). They will all, obviously, be personal to me and my experiences. But equally, some readers may discover new music they haven’t previously experienced or re-evaluate something they had previously discarded. As an exercise I hope to find this personally enriching, but more than that, as I consider music in more depth and the phenomenon of the effect it can have on an individual, I hope to learn a little more about what music is, and the power it can wield over and above subjective appreciation.

As a sneak peak, first up will be a key album that has shaped much of my musical appreciation from a young age and that has aligned my tastes for many years to come, right up to the present day in fact. That album is Joe Gibbs and The Professionals—African Dub All Mighty: Chapter 3. Search it out on YouTube and give it a listen, I’ll be writing about it here soon. Until then, I’m now off to trawl the BBC Glastonbury website, while the festival goes on many miles away from my home town, in order to search out some new acts I’ve never heard of before. Who knows, I may be writing about them here in a few months time.

This series is titled Eardrum Buzz after the track of the same name by Wire.

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A large corner of my loft is stacked with vinyl records, mostly 12″ LPs, but there is a smaller pile of 7″ singles. They are going to stay there, save for the odd time I want to change the artwork in my three album-art frames that deck our landing. It is fair to say I haven’t jumped on the supposed vinyl revival—there’s already enough nostalgia in the world, I don’t need any more.

What I do miss about vinyl is the sleeves, hence my love of my album-art frames. Unfortunately 7″ single sleeves were never quite as explorative and there are few I can recall that deserve being displayed; a couple by The Clash, Sex Pistols or The Smiths maybe, but generally the design of 7″ single sleeves wasn’t anywhere as near as engaging as their LP counterparts, being more of a disposable commodity. But that’s certainly not the case with the recent Secret 7″ exhibition at Somerset House that I accidentally stumbled on last week when visiting Pick Me Up 2015. Secret 7″ is a project in its third year that chooses 7 tracks and presses each to 7″ vinyl. The organisers then invite designers and artists to interpret the tracks as they see fit and submit a cover, displayed anonymously, which the public can then buy for £50 apiece. All money goes to charity, and this year the chosen beneficiary is Nordoff Robbins, who are dedicated to transforming lives of vulnerable children and adults through music therapy. Like similar secret postcard projects, you don’t know whether you are buying a future collectors’ piece by a famous creative, or something whipped up by someone’s 5 year old daughter, (which could equally be a future collectors’ piece, of course).

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It is interesting to browse the racks not knowing who produced what and trying to guess the track. Many are clearly ‘just’ artworks that make no attempt to represent or link to their musical content. The fact that no title or band name is displayed obviously separates these sleeves from a standard 7″ sleeve—while some designers of commercial records have previously and deliberately not listed a band or track title on a cover, it is still the case that the vast majority of record sleeves do have this information adorning them, as obviously the reason d’être of the 7″ single from a record company’s point of view is to sell as many units as possible. But seeing so many sleeves displayed in one place with no typographic indication of band or title, I felt does reduce this exercise, in some cases, to appealing to an artist’s vanity and results in purely aesthetic outcomes rather than embracing communication—much like Pick Me Up, I felt there was a fair amount of style over substance. Regardless, taking a standard form and asking a plethora of people to work within its confines does lead to some interesting and innovative outcomes.

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I was personally taken with those creatives that had worked with photography, especially as the vast majority of the sleeves were illustrative. As a result, the photography pieces did tend to jump out to my eyes.

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Alongside the rows and rows of sleeves, seven designers were asked to create a bespoke poster for one of the 7′ tracks chosen. These posters were also available to buy for £50 but limited to a 100 print run and included submissions from Erik Spiekermann, Craig Ward, Spin, The Counter Press, Peter Bankov, Felix Pfäffli and Bread Collective.

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Unfortunately I’m writing this post on the last day the exhibition is open. However, the sale of the sleeves doesn’t start until tomorrow, 4 May 2015, so there’s still a chance to grab a 7″ single sleeve and give money to a good cause. Go to the Secret 7″ website for more details.

Secret 7″ 

The selected tracks for 2015 are:
The Chemical Brothers—Let Forever Be
Diana Ross and the Supremes—Reflections
The Maccabees—Go
Peter Gabriel—Sledgehammer
The Rolling Stones—Dead Flowers
St. Vincent—Digital Witness
Underworld—Born Slippy (Nuxx)

Secret

And while on the subject of singles:

No lengthy introduction to my annual music round-up this year due to illness at the time of posting. My highlight releases and re-releases of the year, (those that I’ve returned to the most over the course of the last 12 months), have been, well, highlighted.

Most important band of the year? It can be none other than Sleaford Mods. Why? Well, for many reasons—because they are aesthetically the antithesis of Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Farage; because they have zero pretensions; because they are not a ‘protest’ band; because not even 6music can play them despite desperately wanting to jump on the bandwagon; because they were the only band worth seeing live in 2014, (which is lucky as they were pretty much the only band I did see besides reggae superstars Jimmy Cliff and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry); but mostly because of so many great lyrics, such as: “I can’t believe the rich still exist, let alone run the fucking country”; “The smell of piss is so strong is smells like decent bacon”; “Cameron’s hairdresser got an MBE, I said to my wife ‘you’d better shoot me'”, and, well, if you’ve heard them you’ll know. If you haven’t, scour YouTube.

Lastly before we get to the list, RIP SpaceApe. You’ll be sadly missed.

Kasai Allstars – Beware The Fetish
Laetitia Sadier – Something Shines
Swans – To Be Kind
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Dels – Petals Have Fallen
Mogwai – Music Industry 3, Fitness Industry 1. EP
Sleaford Mods – Tiswas EP
Robert Wyatt – Different Every Time
Fugazi – First Demo, End Hits, Instrument
Bo Ningen – III
Tony Allen – Film of Life
Hacker Farm – Poundland
Dead Rat Orchestra – Pearl Fishers / Boat Notchers
Kate Tempest – Everybody Down
Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls – Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls
Various – The Wire Tapper 36
The Pop Group – We Are Time / Cabinet of Curiosities
Kode9 & The Spaceape – Killing Season EP
Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin – Mynd
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard – Here Be Monsters
Mary Gauthier – Live at Blue Rock
Manic Street Preachers – Futurology
Rapeman – Two Nuns And A Pack Mule
Hacker Farm/Libbe Matz Gang – Crass In Africa
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Apex Twin – Syro
Big Black – Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape
Shellac – Dude Incredible, At Action Park
Liz Green – Haul Away!
Killing Joke – In Dub
Augustus Pablo – Born To Dub You
The Bug – Angels & Devils
Viv Albertine – The Vermillion Boarder
Fun Boy Three – Fun Boy Three
Mogwai – Come On Die Young / appendix
King Creosote – From Scotland With Love
Morrissey – World Peace Is None Of Your Business
Various – Studio One Dancehall, Sir Coxsone In The Dance: The Foundation Sound
Various – Frontline presents Dub 1975–1980
Various – Frontline presents Roots1975–1979
Edvard Graham Lewis – All Above
Eno . Hyde – Someday World, High Life
Cabaret Voltaire – #7885: Electropunk to Technopop 1978–1985
Death Grips – Niggas On The Moon
Various – Hyperdub 10.1
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Back At The Controls
Plaid – Reachy Prints
Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
Tune-Yards – Nikki Nack
Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit
Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold + Tally All The Things That You Broke
The Bad Plus – The Rites Of Spring
Steve Ignorant with Paranoid Vision – When?
Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust
Various – Wire Tapper 34
Sons of Kemet – Burn
Polar Bear – In Each And Every One
Liars – Mess
Iggy Pop – Zombie Birdhouse (thanks Ken)
Metronomy – Love Letters
Deadbeat & Paul St Hilaire – The Infinity Dub Sessions
Sleaford Mods – Chubbed up. The Singles Collection.
St Vincent – St Vincent
Various – Inner City Beat: Detective Themes, Spy Music and Imaginary Thrillers
Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
Beck – Morning Phase
Various – Evolution Of Dub Vol 8: The Search For New Life
Various – Studio One Rocksteady
The Upsetters – The Good, The Bad And The Upsetters
Young Fathers – Dead
The Move – Anthology 1966–1972
The Ex – How Thick You Think/That’s Not A Virus
Various – Songlines Top Of The World #98 +
Actress – Ghettoville
Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
Warpaint – Warpaint
Mogwai – Rave Tapes
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
Fire! – (Without Noticing)
The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock – The Brutal Here And Now
Primitive Calculators – The World Is Fucked

You could argue the need for yet another publication about punk. The ‘1976 and all that’ narrative has been told so often now that it reads like a dull pantomime with all original relevance of the story bled dry through over telling. There have been some publications in the last few years that have gone beyond this nostalgic rehash, such as 2012’s excellent Punk: An Aesthetic, but recently published The Truth of Revolution, Brother: An Exploration of Punk Philosophy (Situation Press) focusses, as the title says, on an area of the punk phenomenon that has largely been ignored.

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Produced by Lisa Sofia, Robin Ryde and Charlie Waterhouse, The Truth of Revolution, Brother, taking its title from a lyric by UK’s Crass, mostly examines second and third generation punks that took the early rebellious attitude and DIY beliefs and formed life philosophies of them. The UK anarcho-punk scene is more of a starting point for many of the very personal stories told throughout to book, and specifically Crass are cited by many as being influential to their world view. But this book is much more expansive than that as the authors travelled the globe to interview those they thought carried the spirit of ‘Do It Yourself’ and who looked for alternatives to accepted societal belief systems. Interviews with Crass‘ Penny Rimbaud, Steve Ignorant and Gee Vaucher, Subhumans’ Dick Lucas and the Poison Girls’ Vi Subversa tell the tale of alternative living and libertarian leanings in the UK. What punk meant to those on the other side of the Atlantic is represented by American comic book author and singer songwriter Jeffrey Lewis, producer / musician Steve Albini, straight-edge pioneer and Fugazi guitarist Ian MacKaye and Dead Kennedys‘ Jello Biafra.

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Penny Rimbaud

Similar themes emerge throughout the different interviews, from being anti-war to championing vegetarianism, from environmental concerns to resolutely rejecting the ideology of government and control. While this may be a book about philosophy, personal politics and taking responsibility for your own actions is really at its heart.

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It is incredible to see what impact a small music scene from the UK, (in anarcho-punk), has had globally, for this isn’t just a tale of Anglo-American agit-prop. Einar Örn Benediktsson, (from Iceland’s The Sugarcubes), and Jón Gnarr formed the Best Party as a protest against Iceland’s 2008 economic crash which resulted in Gnarr becoming Major of Reykjavik in 2010—both cite punk as major influences on their attitude to politics. When it was set up the Best Party declared it would dissolve itself and as a result, after 4 years in power, Gnarr stepped down as Mayor this year after successfully running the city on anarchist principles. Benediktsson, who was a City Councillor says: “I’m an anarchist and people say, ‘But you’re not an anarchist because you work within the system. You are part of the system now’. Okay, I may be part of the system, but what I learned through punk was to listen and to take on board ideas, to try to understand and not make up my mind that things should be only one way.” After also stepping down after his first term, he goes on to say: “I don’t want the power. It’s not mine to own. It is everybody else’s so please, please come in, use it, be part of it because it’s ours to share, to feel good. I don’t think it’s naïve to say it.”

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The interviews running throughout the book are interspersed with topic heading such as Disruption; Construction; Distraction; Creation; and The Dark Side of Punk as monikers to discuss different philosophical attitudes that emanated from punk. Anarchy as a political theory and personal practice is interwoven throughout, and shining through all the interviews and discussions is a positive attitude to humanity and wanting to make life better firstly through self-determination and secondly through not wanting to rip others off. As a result, at the heart of this is a very humanist world view, one that believes living by a personal set of principles is as important as trying to shake things up.

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There are several new pieces of artwork featured throughout as well, from the likes of Gee Vaucher, Jeffrey Lewis, Dominic Thackray, Gaye Black and David King, among others.

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Jeffrey Lewis, 2014

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David King, 2014

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Dominic Thackray, 2014

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Gee Vaucher, 2014

Co-author Charlie Waterhouse, a graphic designer and photographer, has ensured that the book is beautifully typeset avoiding any punk aesthetic clichés. This helps to set this study firmly in the here and now, deliberately steering this away from coffee table book nostalgia and ensuring the reader sees this text is about the relevancy of punk and its myriad of associated philosophies to today.

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Gee Vaucher

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Each of the authors have been affected by punk as a musical force in different ways. “Charlie’s life was derailed when he heard the Fall’s Lay Of The Land on [John] Peel'”, declares the acknowledgements. While, “Lisa’s DJing career was almost strangled at birth by Steve Albini when she cued up her first record by Big Black at the wrong speed,”…and “Robin cut his teeth on punk music at the age of 13 by sneaking into UK Subs and Stiff Little Fingers gigs”. It goes on to say: “Although none of them knew it, The Truth of Revolution, Brother was always going to be the result of their friendship.”

For myself this book has allowed me to reflect on my days as a punk and the attitudes and beliefs that sprang from reading bands’ lyrics as I listened to their music. This went on to shape my personal view of the world and my sense of responsibility to those around me and society in general. One of the things that bands like Crass did for me was to teach me not to just be anti something but to also consider my role in shaping the world. As such, my vegetarianism, environmental considerations and distrust of hierarchical structures and elites comes very much from my time listening to Crass and associated bands in my late teens and early twenties. While I haven’t called myself a punk in years—I haven’t needed the youthful obsession of creating an identity for myself and thus labelling my whole persona for many years—this book has made me think again about punk as a proud term, the philosophies I adopted in my youth that have stuck with me to this day, and how this has shaped my outlook on life. And for that, I am very grateful to Lisa, Robin and Charlie, and to all the contributors to The Truth of Revolution, Brother.

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Truth of Revolution back cover

The Truth of Revolution, Brother and a number of prints of photographs taken while conducting interviews can be purchased directly from Situation Press

Below, Crass’ Bloody Revolutions, the last line of which gives this publication its title:

Cover

“You’re not an artist, you’re a wanker,” or so Viv Albertine claims her husband said to her in her brutal and honest autobiography: Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. Neither the former nor latter are true, actually. The latter is proved wrong in the book’s opening with Albertine claiming in a chapter dedicated to the subject that she has never masturbated; the former isn’t true as her story is one of struggling for self-expression against the many obstacles life has thrown at her.

Viv Albertine is most famous as the guitarist and co-songwriter in the all female punk / post-punk band The Slits. But Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is about so much more than this brief period in her life. It obviously covers her growing up as punk emerged around her, and her friendship with some of the key characters, not least showing a fascinating insight into Sid Vicious’ character. But as the book moves on from her being a central character during the early punk years, it covers her struggle with her own creativity as a film maker, surviving cancer, being traumatised by IVF treatment, domestic boredom, to finally to her throwing away all of her comforts in exchange for feeling creatively fulfilled again. This is the story of an artists’ struggle to survive as a creative individual regardless of the worth of her output, as she readily accepts the flaws in her work, but champions the need for expression and taking her own path far beyond any desire to be deemed ‘good’ at what she does. As a result she demonstrates a real bravery and determination that should be a tonic for any aspiring artist.

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Sid Vicious and Viv Albertine circa 1976

The book is raw throughout, with Albertine being nothing but completely and refreshingly open. She never attempts to glamorise her experiences and keeps coming back to her lack of self-esteem throughout—the constant tension between lack of self-belief but determination to do her own thing provides a driving force to the narrative all the way through the book. Her matter-of-fact tone adds believability to an extraordinary life story that could otherwise be read as a movie script. Sex, drugs, blood and bodily functions are spoken about as easily as discussing record deals and famous associates. Her thoughts on domestic boredom in a stale marraige are laid bare alongside tales of battles against sexist attitudes that she has encountered in all areas of her life. Despite this, Albertine’s deep routed feminism never displays an anti-male agenda, but it does expose her experiences with individuals that left this male reader with a sense of disbelief that such attitudes still exist in the twenty-first century. But ultimately, her story is one of trying to be an individual—to be herself—and the fact that she is female has just thrown the added obstacles of sexism and misogyny into the mix.

I initially picked up Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys because I loved The Slits first album ‘Cut’. But the book gave me so much more than just a history of the group and the evolution of punk in mid-to-late 1970s Britain. I would go as far to say that this is an important story that even goes beyond Viv Albertine herself. See through the shock / marketing tactics of the publishers putting a chapter about masturbation at the very beginning and read a book that is focussed on the quest for individuality and artistic endeavour against the odds of a lack ‘natural’ talent and closed worlds. Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, in my opinion, should be on the national curriculum as an honest account of individualism, determination and refusing to accept your lot.

Below, Confessions Of A Milf, from Albertine’s 2013 album The Vermilion Border

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