Sunday, January 28, 2024

RIP Neil Kulkarni


Digbeth Institute, Birmingham

Melody Maker, October 21st 1995

by Neil Kulkarni

Indie is in Birmingham. Indie goes down a rapturous storm. Indie makes everyone happy tonight. Indie is lovely. Indie is the fleetfooted reduced to leadboot toetap. Indie is every single embarrassing moment of your life returned to like eternal dog's vomit. Indie's emotional limit is the delineation of when you feel a bit shit. Indie succeeds in this. Indie is tight T-shirts and rhythm sections. Indie is everyone wanting to look like one of the Beastie Boys even though the Beastie Boys have stopped doing this.

Indie doesn't see any point in voting because everything stays the same and comfy. Indie reaps the benefits of democracy and is unwilling to try and preserve it. Indie is communal contentment over mass ecstacy. Indie is an overheard conversation that makes you want to stab in the halfdark.

Indie is four people getting together wanting to create something sublime and immortal having had their lives swallowed by pop and needing to do the same, surveying the infinite possibilities and deciding three guitars some drums and some good songs will just about do. Indie is the scornful look from people your brain could eclipse and burn a million times over. Indie is every single transcendent spirit of humanity withered and died to the desire to succeed.

Indie is musical bigotry, political apathy, casual racism. Indie is a popularity contest that hates shallowness. Indie is revenge. Indie is the class weirdo with their own thrown in the sixth form centre. Indie is the dual luxury of the glamour of alienation coupled with party invitations. Indie is sauce over sex, ignorance over intuition, Gene over Gravediggaz, Powder over Pram and if you think that's petty you weren't here tonight, this was petty-lite. Indie is utterly wonderful.

Sleeper are great and I love them as much as you do. WILL THAT DO ARE YOU HAPPY NOW IT'S DOWN IN B&W JUST REREAD THIS SENTENCE FOREVER JUST FOR CHRISSAKES DON'T TALK TO ME. Indie is the only world in which Wener's cretinous Tory! Tory! Tory! blathering would not only be tolerated but applauded for their "bravery". Indie is the only type of pop that hasn't superseded poetry. Indie is happy. Indie is harmless. Indie is in love. Indie is moving with a bounce and a skip tonight and is proof that nothing is more revolting that the sight of the inheritors of the earth enjoying themselves. Indie has won. Indie will always win. Indie is where your assumption of universal complexity crumbles into the stark realisation that some people really are complete cunts. Indie is dead and buried. Indie is alive and well. The crowd roared.

Kula Shaker

Melody Maker, 14th September 1996 

by Neil Kulkarni

I've just been informed by that porridge-faced wanker, Simon Mayo, that Kula Shaker are "the next Oasis". Of course, the obvious questions don't even get asked. Dissent is useless. Oasis are so big, such a huge commercial fact, they've created their own gravitational pull that sucks everyone below 30 along with them. They're as unavoidable as Coca-Cola or bad government, they're the indie Royal Family, a deadly virus to which there is only one cure: REMEMBER THE MUSIC'S CRAP. What Oasis have done is frighten everyone into a sudden fear of dissing "The Kids". To question The Kids is to miss the point, to be snobby, up yer own arse, a killjoy, a misery; Oasis have hardened The Kids consensus into a towering monolith that everyone must work around, accept, try and understand, try and JOIN. They can't all be wrong so the problem is you, right?

Well, fuck the kids. The kids will put this album at Number One. The kids are wrong. The kids are stupid. And, most importantly, "The Kids" DON'T FUCKING EXIST; the fallacy of consensus is created to pull as many tenners as possible into the slipstream, carried along by momentum and NOTHING ELSE. And this month's high- push-product is Kula Shaker and, Christ all mucking fighty, they're the worst of the lot.

There's enough woolly-minded idiocy and crass contrivance in this one record to consign the whole indie-pop scene into the abyss. But at least they're (open yer hymn books) Real Songs Played On Real Instruments. It's not even as if this could've been made in the last 30 years: Kula Shaker are so scared of '96 (is it a white thing? I dunno) and want SO BADLY to be dead and reborn in 1972 it's fucking ALARMING. Crucially, retro-accusations are less important than pointing out how deadly dull the bulk of this LP is, in a way that only true scumcunt hippies can be: "K" makes you feel genuinely ill, queasy, too much cheesecake too soon. It shits itself in fear of the future (1973) and stinks of living death.

In order, then: Hendrix in hell forced to tutor a disinterred Northside ("Hey Dude"); Cream at their most hideous ("Knight Of The Town"); Zep at their folksy worst ("Temple of the Everlasting Light" - I'm not making these up); fucking barbershop raga that's beneath contempt ("Govinda"); a repellent Madchester autopsy on Steve Marriott ("Smart Dogs"); a three-song burst of acoustic beardiness ("Magic Theatre", "Into The Deep", "Sleeping Jiva"); the two worst singles of '96 ("Tattva", "Grateful When You're Dead"); what you hope is gonna be an old-skool acid track but turns out to be more of the same ("303") and a closing fade-out ("Hollow Man") so stomach- churningly repugnant you feel like strapping suicide bombs to your body and marching straight over to Jo Whiley's house.

The trouble is it isn't that easy. Turn on MTV, open the NME, turn on the radio, walk into a record shop, and you'll be told that this is the way it is, this is what being you is, that this is a good thing, that we all feel the same way. Fuck that. This isn't the way things are or the way they have to be - this is living in FEAR of being young, this is a bad thing, and we here all AIN'T happy as can be, all good friends and jolly good company.

Don't be a sucker to this lame game. Time to tighten up and party.

Ten bits of advice from someone without a clue – the Neil Kulkarni guide to being a record-reviewer...

Drowned in Sound, 2009

Love language. To the point where you wonder where it stops and you begin.

Realise where you stand. Not in relation to the record but in relation to the record business. You’re something less than the shit crapped out by the maggot that feasts on the shit crapped out by the rabid dog that is the music biz – if at any point you start thinking that what you are doing ‘matters’ in a bizness sense you’re fucked, if at any point you reckon you’re anything more than a piddling-peon in place to rubber-stamp or reject product, then think again. The biz will use you if you say what they want, if you don’t they won’t – be mentally clear about your own utter irrelevance before you even start or be ready for a steady diet of disappointment your whole working life. Might seem such pre-emptive knee-chopping action on your ambition might wither the writing down to meekness – quite the reverse: only by first accepting your inability to change pop, your lonely impotence amid the cogs and gears, do you realise that your words shouldn’t be measured, considered, or anything approaching reasonable. The self-abasing degrading shame of being a critic doesn’t paralyse, it frees you up to write what the fuck you want rather than what you feel the ‘job’ demands, disconnects you from anything approaching favours, but keeps your overarching pomposity (for if you don’t have this what the fuck are you doing being a writer anyhoo?) in check. You have no favours to grant, no friends to keep, no partner to find, absolutely nothing to lose except your own idea of yourself, your own relationship with your style, taste and ego. This has nothing to do with whatever PR has sent you the record, whatever ‘readership’ your publisher is aiming for or any ‘help’ you can give to a band or artist you deem worthy of your reverse-Midas messing. This is between you and the plastic and the mirror you have to look at yourself in and nothing else. There is no career ladder. Only a downward spiral from the first thrill of seeing your name in print.

Be honest about your own dishonesty. Don’t lie, or at least make damn sure your lies are real. Delusions of grandeur aren’t gonna fly unless they’re not delusions, unless you can make the words vibrate with enough energy to create yourself the illusion of godliness. Tricky thang to create – conviction, the feeling reading that no matter how purple the prose it is still ineluctably connected with the life and soul of the writer. But record reviews are not really places to ‘affect’ anything – make sure your affectations are life-sized and real before you start unpacking them across the page. If you’re going to be a primping self-obsessed prima donna in print then make damn sure that self-image is intact and whole and the drama you’re throwing out and around yourself is rock solid, is firmly based in the time and space you find yourself right fkn now. If you’re going to shame yourself do it shamelessly. If you don’t regret what you’ve written after you’ve written it, or find in revisiting past work an occasional INTENSE embarassment (and equally intense pride) you’re probably not doing your job properly. But if ALL you feel is a faint embarrassment (and equally faint pride) then you’ve been writing needily, you’ve been writing to get friends you’re never going to meet, and you’re the next editor of the NME. Congratulations.

Teenagers. Read. By which I mean devour. Listen. By which I mean hollow yourself out until you only exist in the spaces between the pop you love. Then, try and find yourself again, or at least create something tangible in the gaps. Find the unique thing you have to say, the unique way you have of saying it, and hone the fucker until you can hear yourself talking on the page, until you can recognise yourself a line in. Your voice is easier found with a chip on your shoulder and a pain in your heart. Think about those writers who you feel weren’t just writing for you but who come to live in your life, a constant over-the-shoulder presence yaying or naying the choices you make. If you don’t want to be that important to your readers get out the game.

Getting song titles and lyrics right can be less important than nailing your feelings, your real feelings that occur before your mind has a chance to process them, the feelings a record puts in your brain and body before you feel the need to justify or back-up those instant instincts. If you can’t think of anything to say about a record you’re in the wrong place. Ditch this bitch of a non-job and get yourself a plumbing degree, s’where the money and the happiness is.

Stop dithering. You should be able to lash down a 600 word record review in an hour. Read it, change it, read it again, change it again – keep going until it’s inarguable. Be the most brutal editor you know – knocking shit down from EVERYTHING YOU THINK to a HINT of what you think will give you only the choicest shit, the toughest sense, the most committed nonsense. When writing always think Ed Gein – cut out the fanny.

Listen only to those colleagues whose writing you respect. Ignore pips on shoulders or being overawed by another’s ‘position’. Be willing to write anything for anyone but always try and pleas(ur)e yourself. In this day and age you have less and less to lose.

Be poetic be prosaic but if you’re gonna crack wise, be funny – remember what Fitzgerald said about exclamation marks being ‘like laughing at your own joke’ – if you’re gonna wank-off be concise. Get to the heart of your dreams and delusions quickly and convincingly – don’t waste time apologising or stage-setting. And if at any point you look on a paragraph and think ‘Mark Beaumont could’ve written this’ stab yourself in the eyes cut off your hands and drown yourself in the bath for the sake of Our Lord Jesu Christus himself. For the children dammit.

A difficult one this but NEVER Google yourself. Ignore compliments, avoid slaps on the back. Suck up criticism, it’s probably half-right. Be unfailingly polite and well-mannered in all your communications with PRs and labels (nothing’s quite so repulsive as a rude-cunt hack), watch what bridges you’re burning and keep on keeping on.

Accept that everything you say will be forgotten and ignored but write as if you and your words are immortal. Don’t just describe but justify – make sure the reader knows WHY the record exists whether the reasons are righteous or rascally. And always remember you’re not here to give consumer advice or help with people’s filing. You’re here to set people’s heads on fire.

scans via Nothing Else On

Snippet from Neil's recent-ish review for The Wire of a Xenakis box set (via Dissensus' s Version)

Monday, January 22, 2024

RIP Paul Rambali


I was really saddened to learn last week of the death of Paul Rambali, one of the main writers at New Musical Express during its postpunk heyday, and later an editor at The Face

I met Paul some years ago in Paris, where he'd moved and continued to work in the media. I was there to promote Retromania, I think - at any rate after whatever it was we were doing together (a radio thing?) we had a lovely chat over lunch, during which he told me interesting stuff about how the music press worked back in those days and just how widely read the papers were, thanks to their phenomenal pass-on rate (many eyes looking at each copy). Some years later, I quoted him from memory in this tribute to the music papers I did for Pitchfork (have a look here, but hurry before it disappears behind a paywall,)

When I was a boy reading the NME every week, I used to have a handful of heroes whose by-lines I'd look out for and who I'd read virtually every single thing by. And then there were the other writers, the bedrock of the paper, who I'd read when they wrote about something I liked or was intrigued by. But when I returned to the music papers for Rip It Up and read through years and years of NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, and some of the monthly magazines too, I found myself more impressed by the work of the writers who weren't attention-seeking show-offs. At NME, writers like Angus Mackinnon, Paul Du Noyer, Dave Hill, Lynn Hanna, Andy Gill, Paul Tickell, Cynthia Rose, Graham Lock, Richard Grabel, many others....  and Paul Rambali. I appreciated the intelligence, clarity, and directness of what they did. It's not that they lacked for passion or incisive opinions or ideas - not at all. But they tended to also do the journalistic work of finding out the facts, telling the story. Which I probably took for granted at the time, but now - as someone undertaking the second draft of history as it were -  I found incredibly valuable. (The same went for their equivalents on Melody Maker and Sounds). 

Rambali in particular did some fantastic work on groups like Pere Ubu and The Pop Group, amongst many other key bands of that time. 

You can find the motherlode of Rambali's punk and postpunk era writing here at Rock's Back Pages

An interview with Joy Division 

Text of that interview here

Here's his review of The Pop Group's Y

And here is a famous cover story he did with Captain Beefheart (with famous shots by Anton Corbijn)

When I have a bit more time I will try to dig up some other pieces by Paul. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Paul Morley - The Poptimist Trilogy (live reviews February 1982)

In February 1982, Paul Morley reviewed live concerts by three groups across three weeks - Haircut 100, Altered Images, Depeche Mode. Groups generally deemed among the flimsiest of the New Pop offerings of the time. The review trilogy was aimed as a series of goads goring the sober-sides of aging Clash fans and grey overcoats still mourning Joy Division.  It's a tour de force of provocative - and genuinely thought-provoking - transvaluation, celebrating surface pleasures, frivolity, disposability,  while gleefully rubbishing ideas of substance, seriousness and durability. Note the appearance of the word "post-rock" in these reviews, meaning something quite different from what it would in the '90s.

It's interesting to think what became of these three groups and how unexpected some of their trajectories would prove to be from how they appeared in '82.  Thoughts about that below, after the Morley reviews... 



New Musical Express, February 6 1982

by Paul Morley



Hammersmith Palais

New Musical Express, February 13, 1982

by Paul Morley


Hammersmith Odeon, London

New Musical Express, February 20 1982

by Paul Morley


To conclude my important three part examination of the wonderfully unbrutal and irrationally enchanting post-rock teenEEbop ideologies... BOYS AND GIRLS, the living resonance, the no mere ornament, the fresh air, the dashed flair, the motiveless action, the living plasticity of Depeche Mode Boys say go! A rejection of all forms of elitism! So sure of their salvation! An eclectic imagination that celebrates the untrammelled future! The fine delight!

Seen from one direction, Depeche Mode's 'innocence' and 'innocuousness' must seem a particularly irritating and sterile little thing: a tiny thing, an almost invisible, unnatural thing. Those very ill people only ever look at things from one direction and so as usual they miss out on all the special side-effects and glorious incidentals that make new pop groups like Depeche Mode so joyous and luminous and EXTREMELY INCONGRUOUS. I have learnt to look at groups like Depeche Mode from at least 100 directions: but then, I'm not ill, and I will not let Depeche Mode get me down...

I see that they are helping break down conventionalised responses to the world, re-working and revitalising with a soulful, sighing skill the impulsive, frivolous qualities of the traditional pop song, reflecting sarcastically on their own role and image of themselves, overcoming spectacularly the dismaying rockOH dogma, learning to love ironically the technology that gives them their means and gets them earning. When I look at Depeche Mode I see strange shapes, angelic precision, diamond brilliance, infinite possibilities, in actual fact I see a very NATURAL THING... sort of — and I wouldn't want this all the time, of course — an art without suffering, spiritually healthy, unceremonious, not mournful and yet confidingly friendly, an art which exists in terms of it's utmost familiarity with mankind. I don't say that Depeche Mode are making heroic efforts to extend human application: but their playful nonchalance — very Dada, don't you think — and their exaltation of love as the supreme manifestation of the pleasure principle is one hell of a smack into the eyes and teeth of the mediocrity of the universe.

As you can see, I will not let Depeche Mode get me down. I leave that to The Resigned, who bow to a very strangled kind of necessity. Superficially tidy, the surface hides much that is authentically doubtful and unpredictable — just below the surface of Depeche Mode are very valid and uplifting energies. Depeche Mode — as with all post-rock teenybop groups — are empty ONLY TO EYES WHICH DO NOT KNOW HOW TO DISCERN THE HIDDEN PATTERNS i.e. those very ill people, who someHOW remain dead earnest amidst the gleaming, audacious, defiant, redemptive power of groups like Depeche Mode I say this: Depeche Mode and their particular MIRACLE OF SIMPLICITY is enough on its own to fill me with some kind of enfolding radiance — let that be known!

Anyone who could sulk all the way through Depeche Mode's kissing, tingling, IMMEDIATE show at Hammersmith Odeon must be very ill indeed: and of course their sulks don't make a damned difference, to the life inside Depeche Mode, to the new waves of energy Depeche Mode are contributing to. There is no absence of wit when Depeche Mode are on stage. "Life," they imply, "is neither good or bad: it is original " Based in this premise, their songs are preoccupied with unpredictability, surprise and discovery and underpinned with an almost comic jauntiness. The songs have young bodies and an intense vivacity. Depeche Mode have refined as well as anyone the pop choreography of transience. For the moment: only a moment. The reds, greens, blues, pinks, yellows go flashing by: the fleeting moment, the kaleidoscopic light of changing environment and circumstance, the kaleidoscopic speed of changing perception... Depeche Mode songs are thoroughly on the brink of 'a' — rather than the — next moment. So absolute: so arbitrary.

Depeche Mode left the air mild, but spinning with colour and sensation. They wrecked the cliché that an electronic group can only be bland and wistful on stage, or that a synthesiser group empties life of spiritual content, through the sheer suggestive consistency of their transmission and the energetic business of their presentation. They did Gerry and the Pacemaker's 'I Like It' as a third encore and everything fell into place.

They are the boys who want tomorrow, with the best will in the world.


So what become of these transient thrills of '82, New Pop's annus mirabilis? 

Depeche Mode had the most surprising shift of direction, the most unexpectedly long-lasting career. All their dinkiness seemed to depart with Vince Clarke (into The Assembly and Erasure, shudder). Depeche quickly became a Serious Band, inheritors of the Clash and Gang of Four, railing against Thatcher and money-minded values and almost methodically ticking off the boxes of Big Issues  to Tackle (they did racism and other-hatred, religion). They deconstructed the Love Song and critiqued Love as a distraction, in the very Gang-of-Four-y "Love, In Itself". They flirted with transgression: the Swans-gone-synth of "Master and Servant", the God-renouncing "Blasphemous Rumours". As the lyrics grew ever more serious, the music grew ever more sophisticated. Live, they became a kick-ass band, rocking huge crowds at American stadiums like the Pasadena Rose Bowl (capacity 70 thousand). Then, in the early '90s, Depeche veered in an outright rocky, blues-grinding direction around the time of grunge; Gahan became a junkie in the most cliched rock'n'roll LA way. Depeche turned out to be one of the most influential bands of their time - big everywhere but especially huge in importance in Central and Eastern Europe.  

Haircut 100 had the briefest career. Yet in some ways, right from the start, they were the most rockist of the bunch. They could really play, and some of the band had clearly been listening to things like Average White Band and Steely Dan, even if the template for Pelican West is pretty much Talking Heads '77.  In NME, Danny Baker - champion of Chic and Earth Wind & Fire, scornful sceptic about whiteboy discofunksters like A Certain Ratio and Gang of Four - gave Pelican West a rave review - said these boys really had their chops down. Nick Heyward went solo while the residue released a second H100 album, Paint and Paint, which disappeared without a trace. Heyward later on winded up recording for Creation Records of all places - the most rockist, or more precisely, rock'n'rollist of labels.  

Altered Images did a second album in their bouncy fizz-pop mode and then went for a drastic make-over with the sexed-up, glammed-up, all-grown-up Bite and its singles "Don't Talk To Me About Love" and "Bring Me Closer". Then it all fizzled out, and to be honest I'm not really sure what happened to Clare and the boys after that. But of these three groups, it's their songs - "Happy Birthday", "I Could Be Happy", "See Those Eyes" - that I'd be saddest to never hear again.  


Morley comes back for a second bite of the live cherry with this review of a bizarre lineup that combines Bauhaus and Clare's crew. 

The Bauhaus is also a second go-round (sort of kind of part of the Poptimist Trilogy, or an extension to it, were the belittling live reviews of Peter Murphy's lips and Kirk Brandon's ears). 

Morley savagely retracts - bitterly retracts - biliously retracts - his previous esteem for the pop genius of Nick Heyward upon the arrival of the lad's solo debut in October 1983, North of A Miracle fair suppurating with soft-rockism

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Julie versus punk(s)

Julie Burchill had loudly left the NME for greener pastures by around 1981 - but she could be coaxed back for the occasional assassination. 

Here, in a single issue, May 28 1993 - and in fact, as printed, on a single page - she sticks the shiv into two punky old fools she must have rubbed shoulders with down the Roxy many a time: Malcolm McLaren and Siouxsie Sioux

Although for a long while a grieving punk epigone herself, insisting that nothing could ever compare to Sex Pistols, by around '83 JB had moved firmly into the acceptance stage of mourning and espoused the view that a properly adult usage of pop would be as an aural after-dinner mint, things like Sade that served as background sounds for grown-up conversation, or sex.  

(via NME 1980s)