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 Indie is the only type of pop that hasn't superseded poetry.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)


  1. My word is it easy to find articles by critics damning the entirety of the indie ecosystem. I'm not quite sure why. Accusations of insipidity (because of the presence of white middle-class males), insularity (even though metal, hip-hop and dance have far more monomaniacal fans), misogyny (despite the multitudes of bands with indie doyennes), racism (Morrissey damns us all, I take it) and plain old crapness (which happens to any genre suffering from oversaturation). I suspect the ultimate reason is that indie fans have been the most likely consumers of these critics, and what's a trustier technique of generating a response than slamming your audience? However, it does appear to have created a weird, mutually abusive mutual dependency between the critic and the reader. That can't be healthy, can it?

    Hell, is this post part of the problem?

    1. You have a point, and there is a kind of knee-jerk anti-indie bigotry that can verge on a inverse racism, or inverse-classism.

      But you would probably concede that a writer of colour might have a particularly acute sense of the - if not failings, then let's say problems - with indie as culture. Going into gig after gig where there's no one else who looks like him, at all.

      Plus there is something uniquely lame about generic indie, more so than generic anything-else. Something about its half-assedness, diffidence and non-commitment to putting on a show, sub-proficiency on the level of playing / singing etc.

    2. I think what you say, Stylo, was definitely valid for a while in the 80s and 90s, and maybe a bit beyond that in some places. I think that came from a time when the economic model of music journalism was very different, though. Nowadays, all music writing seems much more likely to pander to its audience than to challenge it.

    3. Thinking again, is it really that easy to find pieces by critics slagging off all indie? Certainly back in the '90s, in the music paper context, the voices saying that would be lone figures railing into the night. The bulk of the content of Melody Maker and NME would be giving indie bands an extremely easy ride indeed, sycophantic puff pieces making them out to be way more interesting human individuals than they actually were... After MM's demise, NME carried on this ignoble tradition deep into the 21st C. In this corner of the blogosphere, for sure, the anti-indie position is widespread (K-punk took it as axiomatic).... But in the larger context of music media in the UK, Neil's K stance was and I'd still is counter-consensual.

    4. I may have overstated it slightly, but I don't think by that much at all. I would say much indie-disparagement has been synecdochic, e.g., the onslaughts against Oasis (of which there were many) treating them as a symptom of the malaise infecting indie.

    5. Stylo, I think your complaint is justified to an extent, but I think the key to grasping why indie was attacked in that period is that in the mid-eighties there was a gradual move away from the exciting, dynamic, and politically progressive forward thrust of post-punk, New Pop etc. You can find a good description in (no surprise) the Afterword to "Rip It Up and Start Again", where Simon writes "the heroic phase of the independent movement was past" and describes a few ways that the new "indie" scene was very different than what preceded it-- and in some ways represented a step back. "Indie" replaced "independent" and to my mind it's a critique well worth reckoning with should you happen to love, as I do, some of the bands who are usually cited as marking a regression, The Smiths for example. I feel like that distinction is pretty important. Something did change.

      Personally I welcome attacks like Neil's because you have to respond to them in some way, even if only to defend yourself, to sort out in your own mind the reasons why indie was not actually racist, reactionary, and so forth. Unfortunately it''s not an easy question to settle.

      And backing up Simon's point, above, as I remember it there weren't many voices actually railing against indie. Far more acceptance, even if a lot of it was openly ambivalent, as if you could hear the snoring at the keyboard. I wish Neil had written a few years earlier, maybe he would've saved me some money on all those goddamn British imports I bought hoping indie would live up to its promise.

      Oh, and I also welcome his attacks on indie because they were fucking hilarious. We have to laugh, don't we?

    6. In the Chart Music podcast episode referenced by Simon on Blissblog, with Neil and fellow ex-MMer Sarah Bee, there is a great discussion of the music papers' changing relationship with their readers. In the heyday of the MM (and the NME and Sounds) they treated their readers like adults, and were prepared to challenge them at times. By the end, as circulations dwindled, they were reduced to cringeing pandering, trying to guess what might gratify their readers' already formed tastes and opinions.

      It's a great listen. Find it here:

  2. So good. You might think Sleeper and Kula Shaker are fish in a barrel, but they are dispatched with such artistry and grace they fully justify the effort. In fact, being subjected to a roasting from Neil Kulkarni elevates the otherwise dull and pointless careers of those bands. Hopefully this is how they will be remembered.

    The Drowned in Sound piece is just perfect, too. Especially the last paragraph.

    A huge loss to his family and friends, and for the rest of us, too.


  3. Incidentally, posting here because for the moment the comments on the latest main blog post aren't open: isn't the interview with Rudy Tambala fantastic? So much for the dreampop / shoegaze crowd having nothing to say for themselves and letting their music do the talking. He's amazing!

    1. Yes I keep forgetting that I have to activate the comments on each and every Blissblog post. Can't seem to just have them all open. But it's active now on that post.