The 10 Best Moments In Music in 2012
January 9, 2013, 3:50 pm
Filed under: Features, Uncategorized


1. Frank Ocean puts pen to paper, changes r’n’b: “4 summer ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too.”
2. Liars go FULL DANCE.
3. “Why they hide their bodies under my garage?” You got me, chief.
4. Luke Temple dances his way out of depression.
5. This drop: (2:21)
6. This beat:  (2:24)
7. This video:
8. Tom Krell admits he’s all fucked up, asks for help, is offered redemption – over a keening coalescence of viola and cello (2:11) like god’s wolf whistle. In the words of Jack, strangers with this kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one.
9. From No Love’s big hitter, Ride’s voice finally cracks, splintering in hatred (1:44). Madness beckons, but not until he shows us the true meaning of a beat-down.
10. Evian Christ reenters orbit (2:50). One of the tracks of the year from the deconstructive hip-hopper.

Odd Future: Youth and Young Manhood
May 7, 2011, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Features, The Quietus

words_John Calvert

“This connection to rough or coarse behaviour also ties in to modern psychology. In psychological terms, you might think of a person’s struggle with lycanthropy as a struggle to come to terms with – or get rid of – his more primitive nature. When a man becomes a werewolf, his primal instincts, which aren’t necessarily considered to be appropriate, take over.”

Tracy V Wilson, ‘How Things Work’.

Both strange and frightening are the wolf gang.

By around the age of 30 the future begins to look odd, and the next generation even more so. Sometimes it takes a baby-faced, 17 year-old borderline sociopath in a hair salon to tell you your number’s up. Or seven more just like him; a skating band of child demons from Crenshaw, Los Angeles, who right now are the most exciting hip hop act on the planet.

Taking to the LA streets on a cocktail of pills, powders, cough syrup and weed, Earl Sweatshirt and the wolf gang run riot on the video for ‘Earl’. They stack on their ollies, collapse on the pavement, scream, bare torn gums, scrap, and play games with fake blood. They simulate pulling out their hair, teeth, and on one occasion a fingernail, eventually lying on top of each other in a mass heap of overdosed corpses. Both alien and alienating, the promo coveys a world faster, harsher and more dangerously alive than the average pace and weak clarity of normal adult living. It screams ‘We’re next, here’s the door’. Every generation wants to be the last, as Chuck Palahniuk writes. To watch these post-everything, for-nothing teens go at the world, it occurs they might just see the job through.

Fucked for innocence, flush for drugs, “Black Ted Bundy[s]/Sick as John Gacey” (Vince Staples), here lies the homophobic, religion-hating, woman-hating Odd Future. Theirs is a kind of shockcore grand guignol; Droog-rap founded on stubborn, off-sync beats and deformed, bug powder production – elephantine, electric and coursing with ‘all the dread magnificence of perversity’. Imagine if Butthole Surfers hallucinated a purple Jaberwocky with the head of Eminem and the third-eye of any number of trailblazers; Flying Lotus, Madvillain, RZA, Liars, John Coltrane, DJ Screw, PiL, Boards Of Canada – all are ripe for a ‘swagging’.

Sure to inspire universal condemnation is their penchant for a truly reprehensible subject matter. On nearly every cut, and with obsessive zeal, they rap about rape; the fantasies gratuitously detailed, sickening yet sometimes nihilistically comic. It’s indefensible and chillingly inexplicable, and inevitably the hand-wringing will arrive in a torrent. The air of amorality is overwhelming, the pay off quips wince-inducing at best (“It’s not rape if you like it bitch”) but the thrills are endless – if very, very guilty. But, when it comes to living art through your favourite artists, to coin a phrase: ‘Would you rather be a snake or a poisonous snake?’ Odd Future? They’d rather be wolves. Either way, evil always wins, so ‘dominate yourself’ as Pissed Jeans would prescribe. “I’m bad milk” says founder Tyler, the Creator “…drink it”.

In the growing number of interviews with Odd Future they make sure to pour scorn on nearly everyone except their beloved Waka Flocka Flame, taking aim at the Backpackers, black pop, LA’s homegrown ‘Jerk Rap’ craze, gangsta screwfacery, hip hop bloggers and hipsters (“Ain’t no hipster mista/Fuck you in your yellow skinnies”). As Simon Reynolds has pointed out, there’s a likeness to Big Black, who also enjoyed baiting the right-on liberals with repellent content, disregarding the right-wingers as soft targets. Odd Future, however, have a quite different (arguably more deserving) quarry in the faux-hemiam millennial hipster. Their condescension of hip hop culture, evinced by the likes of Spank Rock or The Cool Kids and dating back to Weezer, deserves a response like the Odd Future phenomenon, which in its extremeness defies clever-clever parody. Despite Tyler’s best efforts, though, they will subscribe by the busload, instigating a sort of cultural gentrification. It’ll be interesting to see how far this coterie of cool-hunters and cultural nomads will go before ironic detachment begins to look like tacit approval, when Earl Sweatshirt is writing lines like this:

“Hurry up I’ve got nuts to bust and butts to nut/And sluts to fucking uppercut. It’s OF, buttercup/Go ahead, fuck with us/Without a doubt a surefire way to get your mother fucked/Ask her for a couple bucks, shove a trumpet up her butt/Play a song, invade her thong/My dick is having guts for lunch/…As well as supper, then I’ll rummage through a ruptured cunt.” [‘Earl’]

Spitting bullets from under his salon hairdryer on the accompanying video, adoring concubine fawning to his left (look again and it’s a disembodied mannequin’s head) Earl Sweatshirt is ready to think you out of existence. He is to Odd Future what Jay Adams was to the Zephyr team – the youngest, the most blazingly talented and possessed of god-given flare. He’s also by some margin the most sinister, playing off Tyler’s bludgeoning production with casual, pustular scabrousness. It’s fun to imagine quite how the fat-backed top-earners will approach guest rapping and collaboration with Odd Future, after the teens inevitably go global. In their current form it’s difficult to see where a Jay Z or Kayne West figure would fit. Even Dr Dre would seem out of his depth in the brave new world of OF. Whoever it is that steps up, the chances are their star will be subordinated to Tyler’s uncompromising vision, while the wolves close in from all around. Maybe Miley Cyrus is interested?

As well as acidly iconoclastic, the collective are hyper-creative. Of a total of 250 tracks available on Tumblr, around 150 are sensational, especially that of the sub-2 minute efforts – dislocated, coarsely effective offensives, super-charged by a ‘try anything’ love of experimentation attributable to their tender ages. They design their own art work, which ranges from the innocuous, to obscene porn shots, bloody-nosed babies and cracked-mirror images of little girls. The fissures are reminiscent of scars from extensive brain surgery, or the blurred vision which results from prolonged exposure to their tumour-activating beats.

So, how to make sense of Odd Future? Post-YouTube teen cynics with little left to discover at an early age, they bear the scars of an anomie endemic to a generation of hyper-connected childhoods. Which, from the evidence of OF’s music, makes those 90s-born kids pretty combustible. It’s almost like ‘idle hands’ syndrome, which incidentally is the very same theory served up by baffled sociologists to explain the monstrous acts described by Odd Future.

Beneath the horror stories, though, you can detect the cold facetiousness peculiar to middle-class American kids – a trait perhaps less prevalent amongst their underprivileged peers, whom prematurely burdened with adult responsibilities live the trials of hardship through ‘4real’ hip hop, rallying behind talk of overcoming adversity and ‘thug life’ authenticity. When asked by Syffal what he wants to promote, Tyler’s answer was simply “hate” (and his act). In the Southern rap tradition they’ve exchanged reality for the beyond; regional identity, oppression and the acquisition of wealth for Ritilan and Jeffrey Dahmer. There’s little talk of smooth sexual prowess and Lamborghinis. There’s no objective to speak of at all, in fact, or anything approaching legitimate disaffection. Only a cruel contempt for generally every human being they’ve encountered in life or online – part and parcel, you feel, of the inured, hard-edged disposition native to big city adolescence.

It might be argued they’re just a bunch of teenagers playing at a effectively meaningless type of hooligan art. But that would be remiss of how anciently primal Odd Future sound. The more you listen, the more Tyler grows in stature, and the longer his shadow, the evanescent wickedness of young masculinity arousing before finally raging. It’s the type of senseless black culture bomb that would have Alex Haley turning in the grave Odd Future are about to dig up. Whether the product of advanced desensitisation or the modern disease’s final disaster (“Plenty of us are bastards. Most of us.” Hodgy Beats told the New York Times), what argument can there really be against the zeitgeist? Either way they’ve touched a nerve this last year – a naked lunch served cold to the establishment and the hop-hop royalty in equal helpings.

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All are Tyler, the Creator (aka Ace, evil alter ego Wolf Haley, The Creator), screwed down dranker Mike G, the blunted-out Domo Genesis, star-in-the-making Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats and Left Brain (whom together are Mellowhype), singer Frank Ocean, The Super 3 aka The Jet Age of Tomorrow and producer Syd. Each party have released solo albums, available free on Tumblr (eleven between them in the last year including the covers heavy Radical and the original self-titled mix-tape). An even greater mystery than the whereabouts of Earl Sweatshirt (missing, presumed grounded) is the last name on the list – a silhouetted figure rumoured to take the form of a female. All but uncredited on the site but glimpsed on the periphery of their videos, she plays an unspecified but reportedly despotic role in production. In a recent interview Mike G described ‘Syd the Kid’ as “the brains of this shit.”

Currently trending on Twitter and set to debride contemporary hip hop in the next year and all years, here’s eleven of Odd Future’s best. Enjoy your immolation, let it hurt… the future often does.

1. Tyler, The Creator (featuring Hodgy Beats) – ‘French’

Less of a promo and more of an uprising, the spectre of Larry Clarke looms large on ‘French’, as the kids, basking in moral misery, partake in a kaleidoscope of abject skulduggery. At only one minute and 44 seconds long ‘French’ remains one of the great lifestyle introductions in video history, rubbing shoulders with the likes of ‘Nothin’ But A G Thang’ and ‘Lap Dancer’. When Tyler explodes onto screen you get the creeping sensation you’re watching history in the making. One of the best ‘What the fuck was that?!’ moments in recent memory.

The “Oh No, Mister Stokes” line is in reference to Chris Stokes, the music producer alleged to have molested Raz B and other members of R&B boyband B2K (of ‘Bump Bump Bump’ fame) when under his stewardship. Mocking your revulsion, Tyler simply turns his eyeballs backwards into a rather disturbed noggin.

2. Earl Sweatshirt – ‘Earl’

Produced by Tyler and Left Brain, the second track from the prodigy’s 2010 album requires a strong stomach, even for the most hardened of death metal lyricists. For all his puerility, though, the school-age rapper weaves phonetic pyrotechnics into his producers’ bellowing, toneless overdrives. A speaker-busting tour-de-force.

3. Mellowhype – ‘Gram’

From their impossibly strong BlackenedWhite collaboration, on ‘Gram’ Hodgy Beats and Left Brain feed their brand of stoner-funk macabre through a fitting Wurlitzer with the batteries dying. The discombobulated cycle of snares, kicks, and a pitched-down dog sample represents the avant garde side of Odd Future; more Flylo than Eminem.

4. Tyler, The Creator – ‘Splatter’

Reams of nightmarish imagery, Tyler at his most venomous and fat beams of Cronenburg-ian horror synths churning in the background like Wendy Carlos unconscious on her Moog – it doesn’t get any more squeamish than ‘Splatter’. “Someone tell Satan I want my swag back” Tyler growls before bringing matters to a merciful close with a leering ‘Abracadabraaaaaaaaaa”. If you can’t be good, as the old adage goes, at least be good at it. Thrilling stuff.

5. Domo Genesis – ‘Kickin’ It’

More studio trickery from Left Brain (with Tyler in tow). Domo Genesis’ heavy-eyelids flow dovetails perfectly with the production on ‘Kick It’ (christened ‘dystopian weed rap’ by The Fader), reminiscent of Outkast’s ‘She Lives In My Lap’ and co-produced by the besuited dwarf from Twin Peaks. Genesis has been been likened to both Curren$y and up-and-comer Wiz Khalifa, whose forthcoming album is also titled Rolling Papers, sparking accusations of plagiarism from Tyler on Twitter. The situation was quickly resolved, however, after Khalifa sampled Alice Deejay’s ‘Better Off Alone’ for chart-bound ‘Say Yeah’, prompting widespread laughter and some pointing.

6. Tyler, The Creator – ‘Oblivion’

From the Radical album, here the self confessed “depressed emo faggot” chokes up something altogether unique. A throwaway, two-and-a-half-minute descent into loathing and overt self-loathing, ‘Oblivion’ is driven by an relentless beat, turning the screws rightly. Part sadomasochistic atonement, part primal reverie – after the bizarre and distressing opening skit, Tyler proceeds to reverb his voice into nothingness (or ‘oblivion’), yet continues with a desultory stream-of-consciousness rap.

Most unnerving is his voice, which appears somehow different – gruffer and more intense. In other words, he sounds possessed. Stranger still, all his talk of conquering white meat, taking white drugs, murdering his manager with an iron, and his unexplained declaration “I’m just a white boy with no remorse” concludes with “I just need someone to talk to”. Extremely creepy. And they say Kayne West is conflicted. With Hodgy Beats in tow, the teetotal, fiercely atheist 19-year-old made his national television debut on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon this February the 16th past, performing his new single ‘Sandwitches’. As was predicted the notorious green balaclava received an airing.

7. Earl Sweatshirt (featuring Vince Staples) – ‘Epar’

Runner-up for best cut on Earl, ‘Epar’ contains the very best line from any Odd Future track hitherto – the much-quoted “You’re Fantasia and the body bag’s a fucking book”. By way of explanation, the lyric comes after Earl spots the remains of Vince Staples’ latest kill, stashed where he hides the “marijuana in the condom”. Staples warns him “Don’t touch it, or even look/You’re Fantasia and the body bag’s a fucking book”; the former X-factor winner is reportedly illiterate. M.I.A since July and due to miss Coachella in April, it remains unsure if and when Sweatshirt will turn up, but a ‘Free Earl’ t-shirt will shortly be available on the Odd Future site. And in case you didn’t twig, ‘Epar’ is rape spelt backwards.

8. Tyler The Creator – ‘Yonkers’

More abandonment angst, more schizophrenia, more vomiting. Released by XL Records who signed the teen on Valentine’s day, ‘Yonkers’ is the first single from Tyler’s imminent LP Goblin. Amassing 100,000 views per day since its unveiling, the accompanying video is written and directed by the teenager, a young man not yet old enough to know the meaning of compromise. With the cockroach and the telepathic (or ‘intra-diegetic’) rapping there’s a tang of William S Burroughs about it, while the spry arrangement fits perfectly with the verité touches and clean monochrome. Winner of best line goes to “Swallow the cinnamon” or the ‘sin-of-men’.

9. Mellowhype – ‘Dead Deputy’

Another inspired cut from BlackenedWhite, the exhilirating crunk lite of ‘Dead Deputy’ showcases Hodgy’s rapping and Left Brain’s signature production style. Incorporating singing and melody, the LP is comparatively leavening, but grimy enough to accommodate the dark influence of Tyler on two tracks. Left Brain energises the verbose rhymes and crunk-holler “Kill ‘Em All, Kill Em All” with a technical sophistication lightyears beyond his age.

10. The Jet Age Of Tomorrow – Journey To The 5th Echelon

Jet Age’s spangled, retro-futurist 5th Echelon has more in common with Odd Nosdam than Insane Clown Posse. Tonally in diametric opposition to the future as predicted by their associates, but no less odd, this subtlety beautiful album of acid-fried circuits and listless grooves reveals Tyler to be a shrewd scout and Odd Future as an act with both eclectic dimension and a seemingly endless supply of talent. There’s some rape and murder on there too, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. From a 19-song giant, the highlights include ‘Want You Still’ featuring a star turn from skeezy sweetie-pie Kilo Kish, and warping candy cloud ‘Her Secrets’.

11. Tyler, The Creator – ‘Sandwitches’ (live solo performance)

The Odd Future anthem, performed last Christmas in The Roxy, LA. Setting the tone for the punkish pow-wow that ensues, it begins with the Marshall Mathers-esque line “Who invited Mr ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’/Who cries about his daddy on a blog/Cause his music sucks’. It’s another disquietingly candid slice of self-laceration from Tyler, whose father left home when he was a baby. Factor in the menacing build-up (worsened by the stage lighting, illuminating the black hole where Tyler’s face should be), that abominable two-note motif, and the crowd’s chant of “Wolf Gang…Wolf Gang”, the cumulative effect is something akin to The 1933 Nuremberg Rally, with Christmas decorations. There he was, Mr Hitler, ablaze with consolidated power and on the crest of total domination. The similarities are uncanny.

Tyler, the Creator’s next album Goblin will be released on XL Records.

Plutonium Blondes: Apocalypse Playlist
May 7, 2011, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Features, The Quietus, Uncategorized

We’re trying to work here, and talk to girls, but all we keep thinking about is World War Three.

To get you up to speed – it’s Friday, it’s Spotify-list time, and not accounting for wind direction, almost everyone east of Marrakesh will be dead by Thursday lunchtime. The good news is – that includes Magaluf.

I’m exaggerating, of course. But every now and then, you get a feeling it’s only a matter of time. “Heaven knows what keeps mankind alive” as David Byrne sang on ‘Home’. There’s India and a smugly nuclear Pakistan at logger-heads after the Mumbai massacre; there’s American reconstruction financiers circling an unstable Iran, while Ahmadinejad enriches uranium like stirring mother’s hot jam. Then there’s Obama’s new NPT provision,which runs roughshod over accepted rules for pre-emptive nuclear war. And to cap it off, Africa is fucked and global world terrorism has increased seven-fold since the invasion of Afghanistan, and then there’s this. North Korea’s first attack on civilians in the South since 1953 certainly pushes Quietus’ doomsday clock a couple of minutes closer to midnight. We’re trying to work here, and talk to girls, but all we keep thinking about is World War Three.

If you haven’t been following the ‘Inter-Korean Crisis’, here’s how the numbers stack up so far. After definitely not torpedoing South Korean warship Cheonan in June, on Tuesday, North Korea – the world’s only officially nuclear dictatorship – raised a couple of dozen buildings on neighbouring South Korean island Yeonpyeong, killing four and injuring scores, with many fleeing the island by, uh, ferry. In response, the goodies, ha, sorry, I mean the South Koreans blew off some rounds too, dropping eighty or so shells onto significant military targets beyond the maritime border. Boys will be boys, eh? North Korean casualties remain unknown, mostly because it’s arguably the most perfectly realised Totalitarian state in history, a ‘hermit kingdom’, which means no one really knows exactly what is going on in the nation’s capital, Pyongyang.

It was all hands on deck in the ensuing hours, with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-Young squaring up with the sinister “Enormous retaliation should be made to the extent that [North Korea] cannot make provocations again”. And in a slightly more childish statement, North Korean overlord Kim Jong-Li (little guy; think Elton John in video for ‘Sacrifice’) threatened retaliation “If the South violate its sea border, even by 0.001 of a millimeter”. Ha. It’s also worth noting Fox News’ immediate response. On their segment show ‘Fox and Friends’ (sounds like a children’s talk show) a guest ‘expert’ advised the Stiffler-like anchorman (more of a wrestling commentator) that America should ‘take out’ the entire North Korean naval fleet. God bless the BBC, is all I can say.

Both countries have been eyeing each suspiciously since Tuesday, with the rest of the world calling for restraint after Seoul scrambled fighter jets, declaring a state of heightened alert. Britain chided politely, Germany and France tendered their interests and Japan deployed Samsung-owned snipers on their western coast in fear of Korean refugees approaching from the Sea of Japan. America have pledged support for South Korea (the eighth largest exporter in the world – it makes good business sense) whilst China, the primary benefactors to North Korea (handy for buffering a land war) responded with the diplomatic equivalent of “Sorry, what? Nah, missed it mate. Nice lapels, by the way. EVERYBODY RUN. SCARPER LIKE FUCK!”

Of course the North Korean threat has always loomed on the horizon of the South’s unrelenting economic growth. They even wrote a film about it, symbolised by the gun-metal coloured amphibian in Southie Blockbuster The Host. Recently however, North Korea has made a few changes in personnel, and the new management are a cause for concern. Coinciding exactly with the recent unrest, is the ascendency of Kim Jong -Il’s successor and youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, introduced to the world at last month’s ICBMs & Pringles mixer in Pyongyang. Because analysts can only speculate to the political stability of North Korea, the attacks could either be Junior’s way of getting the country’s hard-line military on board, or more worryingly the military have rejected the succession are are challenging his authority. Either way, there’s a bad moon rising, or a bad Un, if you like.

So, cannibalism has broken out in Iceland, marshal law is declared in Dublin, and Sarah Palin has another shot at the presidency in 2012. Here in Northern Ireland conveyance solicitors are washing cars on my street to make rent, our yellow ‘library express’ bus has been converted into a suicide ambulance, and I’m out of coffee. American casualties in Iraq surpass the numbered dead on 9/11 (3,500 as of this October past, though nothing compared to the 1.3 million Iraqis) and Simon Cowell is immortal. What better time, then, to put your feet up and enjoy The Quietus’ very own exit strategy, our apocalypse-themed / Inter-Korean inspired extravaganza of bad puns and bad headed pop. John Calvert

“You can’t fight in here gentlemen. This is the war room!”

L7 ‘Wargasm’
Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’
Can ‘Mushroom’
Future Of The Left ‘Real Men Hunt In Packs’
Delta 5 ‘Mind Your Own Business’
Bauhaus ‘Double Dare’
Salem ‘Asia’
Magazine ‘Shot By Both Sides’
Outkast ‘B.O.B.’
Burial ‘Southern Comfort’
Yoko Ono & Jason Pierce ‘Walking On Thin Ice’
Pere Ubu ’30-Seconds Over Tokyo’
The Jim Carroll Band ‘People Who Died’ Pixies ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ (UK Surf)
OMD ‘Enola Gay’
Portishead ‘Threads’
Vera Lynn ‘We’ll Meet Again’
Minutemen ‘Paranoid Chant’

From Slave ships to Spaceships: Janelle Monae and Afrofuturism [feature for the quietus]
September 12, 2010, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , , ,

Against a pop climate beset by fraudulent marketing plans on two shiny legs, John Calvert argues that Janelle Monáe brandishes the acetylene torch for radical Afrofuturism

Janelle Monáe is the new Bowie – or so The Guardian would have it. But it always registers as suspicious when the PR personnel wheel the art-pop colossus out. More often than not it’s spin for some rainbow-chic indie release and, on more than one occasion, a starlet’s directional mishap come album No.3. Also available is the ‘New Kate Bush’ for the wacky gals and ‘New Prince’ for the multi-instrumentalist guys.

Bowie transformed on an album-to-album basis, always with a reverence for the LP as a self-contained statement. Bereft of imagination, idealism or even just a sense of romance, today’s pop shape-shifter has little regard for aesthetic logic. We are expected to swallow Beyonce as the gangsta’s moll, faithful subordinate and sassy post-feminist all within 50 minutes of reel. It has a way of decontextualising the songs – that most alienating sin of manufactured pop. The only thing behind the face is some champagne-popping execs and a big dollar bill. Pop is simultaneously out of control yet inert; a kind of hyperactive stasis.

So, let’s say the industrial revolution replaced everything beautiful with something practical: the proverbial ‘flowers in the dustbin’. In the digital revolution, the first casualty is the artist’s mystique, followed swiftly by the subtext. And it’s here where Janelle Monáe earns her press. The Atlantan is tangible proof that the idea for every great pop icon begins its life as art, and cements the conviction that Bowie’s morphing was in itself genuflection to art as pathway to self-actualisation.

Across an Iliad-esque concept which takes silent-era epic and Marxist allegory Metropolis as a narrative foundation, Monáe has made a conscious effort to restore Afrofuturist cosmology to the forefront of urban contemporary music. Not since RZA’s spirit-world Staten Island has black music produced such a fully-realized example of therapy-by-fantasy as that contained on the cinematic The Archandroid. While Santigold and MIA travel the world plastically atop their magic mixing desk, Monáe only has to relocate to her so-called ‘Palace Of The Dogs’ (a kind of Valhalla for black artists) to assume her multifarious alter-ego. The resultant Afrofuturist ‘E-motion picture’ that underpins her debut is intrinsic to Monáe’s rightful claim as an auteurist pop star with real import. She’s an agent of change, and we’re not just talking robot emancipation here.

‘Slavery stripped blacks of almost every possible form of identity. National, familial, religious, and tribal identity was completely wiped due to the slave trade. At that point, what history do you have left? Not much of one, right?’

Blogger Arri Acornly, Berkely

Where do you go when you don’t have a past? The future.

When Andre 3000 imagined himself saved from deep-space lonesomeness by ‘The Prototype’, Janelle Monae was surely what he had in mind as a mock up. On a purely visual level, Monáe sports a protruding afro somewhat like an alien antenna reminiscent of DJ Ruby Rhods’ in The Fifth Element, and in tribute to Metropolis’ Art Deco milieu she wears a Gatsby-period tux. The garb is simultaneously a nod to ‘post-human’ androgyny and a symbol of class mobility, while her alignment to the 20s holds particular resonance – an era described by social scientist Frederic Jameson as the “last moment in which a genuine American leisure class led an ostentatious public existence, enjoying its privileges without guilt in full view of the other classes”. The Egyptian headdress she sports on the cover of The Archandroid (plumed with the copper-green skyscrapers of Metropolis) is in homage to free-jazz pioneer Sun Ra (the moniker ‘Ra’ taken from the eponymous Egyptian sun god), who also declared himself a messianic saviour and whose aesthetic was the first example of a black musician overtly appropriating sci-fi iconography. For him, Sun Ra was an alien abductee – and, through the prism of the African diasporic experience, so was every black American in a literal sense. Meanwhile the Egyptians – an eon-ruling race of beautiful and technologically-advanced African aristocracy – represented supremacy and recaptured empire.

Even pre-dating Sun Ra, glimpses of embryonic Afrofuturism entered black music as far back as a sci-fi infatuated Jimmy Hendrix painting low-flying UFO’s in arching brushstrokes of gain, while in his 1995 essay Black To The Future, Mark Dery cites the techno-psychedelic nature of Dub Reggae’s studio trickery “made out of dark matter and recorded in the crushing gravity field of a black hole”. After Sun Ra, the aesthetic was pushed ever further into the mainstream by George Clinton on Parliament’s 1975 album Mothership Connection. A year previously though, drawing from The Stooges’ mechanistic proto-punk, some forward-thinking Germans suddenly presented the Afrofuturists with a very real future.

In the wake of Kraftwerk’s seismic Autobahn, British synth pop and industrial the emerging Detroit techno movement (and laterally New York electro) created a whole new dimension in which Afrofuturism could spread its wings. Again there was a discourse revolving around notions of empowerment. It was the idea of turning white-owned science back on the creators, a political act which Dery calls the “retrofitting, re-functioning and wilful misuse of techno commodities”. In fact, Dery’s definition adequately describes the invention of acid house, with its use of a “disposed oddment” in the shape of the Roland TB-303 in ways unintended by its maker. It was this siphoning of the resources prohibited to them by the technological oligarchy which had them cast as cyber-punks, or “techno rebels” as Alvin Toffler theorised in Future Shock.

Secondly, there was the connection between Afrofuturism and class elevation, which again originates with The Belleville Three who reinvented themselves as sleek aristobots, playing to affluent black kids bedecked in chic European clothing brands. Detroit techno engaged with the European sophistication implied by Kraftwerk’s composed minimalism, which was completely drained of the American blues element, yet expressed the melancholy the students felt permeated post-industrial Detroit. It is worthwhile noting that even before the EDM outbreak, disco was repudiated by black funk musicians as synthetic, unnatural and rootless. Subsequently so was its direct descendent – the Moroder-informed Chicago house, itself an ostensibly denatured and bracing variant of the disco genre. More recently, culturalists have alluded to DJ mixing as an extension of Afrofuturism in the way hip-hop DJs use turntable technology and sampling to reposition, decode and reassemble, in uneasy commonality, a half-century’s worth of American narratives: “Travelling by synecdoche,” as Afrofuturist devotee and illbient producer DJ Spooky terms it.

The head-spinning genre conflation on The Archandroid is the beachhead of Monae’s Afrofuturism. Speaking with The Quietus about Monáe, Marlo David, Afrofuturist scholar and professor of Woman Studies at Perdue University, points to the ancient tribal ritual of “playing mas”; a febrile act of spiritual rhapsody which involved assuming multiple guises around the fire. It’s the same process that empowers the Afrofuturists to “shift personae in ways that counteract the limitations of identity imposed by the hegemonic gaze of race, gender, class, and religion”.

Monáe’s appropriation of the historically ‘non-black’ genres of rock, electronica, MGM musical orchestration, cabaret and folk music allows her to transcend ideological borders – as she told The Quietus, “I learned to embrace things that make me unique even if they make me uncomfortable sometimes”. What strikes you most on The Archandroid is Monáe’s impossibly malleable voice which toggles though so many different tones, timbres, modes and methods as to be almost machine-like; or, at least, non-human. It’s the Android 57821 flicking settings on a sternum-embedded control panel, yet organic and native to the 24-year-old’s age-old soul.

While the genre-trekking on The Archandroid plays out in the foreground of some beautiful production, it takes more than special effects to be a bona fide afronaut. After all, with a bit of synth and a green-screen even The Black Eyed Peas can be futuristic, while everyone from the Daft Punk-sampling Kanye West to Martian M.C Lil’ Wayne flirt with Afrofuturist language – verbal or otherwise.

“To me, Janelle Monáe truly captures the idea of Afrofuturistic music,” argues David, “which is more than the use of digital technologies, calling yourself an alien or having music filled with blips and glitches or Autotune, although these elements are important”. For David, it’s Monáe’s use of both cutting edge production machines and futuristic styles (i.e the ‘non-human’) and her adherence to the like of James Brown and more ripened forms (i.e the ‘human’) which is key. This ‘inexplicable mashup’ – the call-and-response between past and future – is what distinguishes the Afrofuturist from your garden-variety ‘black musician into sci-fi’ and brings to the fore perceptions that African-Americans have always symbolically been human and non-human: “In the era of slavery, people of African descent were human enough to live and love and have culture, but were nonhuman to the extent that they were ‘machines’, labour for capitalism”. This duality imposed on them by slavery is what David believes Monáe and other true Afrofuturist artists are confronting. By manipulating these symbolic references of past and future, a kind of third entity emerges which David describes as “a cyborg identity, in resistance to that involuntary binary”. Or, as Monáe has it on ‘Cold War’: “I’m another flavour /Something like a terminator”.

“In a post-human universe governed by zeroes and ones, the body ceases to matter”

Marlo David

“I’m a cybergirl without a face a heart or a mind,
(a product of the man, I’m a product of the man),
I’m a saviour without a race (without a face).”

Janelle Monáe on ‘Violet Stars Happy Hunting’, from her debut EP ‘The Chase’

Others perceive Afrofuturism as in conflict to the idea of even being human, which music critic Kodwo Eshun describes as a “treacherous category” for the Afrofuturist. If you aren’t human neither can you be “subhuman” or “nonhuman”, common descriptions in civilised societies for ‘the other’ i.e the marginalized ethnic classes, the impoverished and the homosexuals – the “semiotic ghosts”, as William Gibson saw it. It is part of a rejection of “black humanist” culture in favour of a new subjectivity which jettisons the traditional image of “black bodies in pain” expressed in blues and soul. Thus, if you’re “intergalactic funkadelic” (as George Clinton liked to put it), no longer is ‘the self’ defined reactively by the freedom struggle against white oppressors, who are allowed a presence by inference and thus are free to over-determine African-American culture. As one blogger and Berkeley history graduate Arri Acornly interprets this: “Black women can explore the physical expressions of her feminine form without being sexualised and animalised. A black man can just be a man and not a black man.”.

“Eyes look to the moon,
Avoid a world so sad,
Ruled under the hate,
Where there is love.”

Janelle Monáe on ‘Babopbyeya’ from The Archandroid

The rebel android Cindy Mayweather is sentenced to retirement for falling in love with a human; a black woman defying societal mores by falling for a white man. As Marlo David tells The Quietus: “Janelle offers her narrative of a futuristic world where certain kinds of love are forbidden, via a simulated or mechanized but still racialized version of her self”. This method of projection has a long history in Afro-American culture. “Black people have always been masters of the figurative,” writes the prominent black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. “Saying one thing to mean something quite other has been basic to black survival in oppressive Western cultures.”

From chain-gang songs – encrypted condemnation on the jailors – to Chic’s bliss-wrapped afront on Black hedonism, this “metaphorical literacy” is innermost to Black American music. Furthermore is the theme of superhuman customisation, which of course in art is a well-worn act of resistance to limitation. In interviews Monae relates the dystopian cityscapes depicted in Metropolis to the boarded-up projects of poverty-wracked Kansas, while on ‘Cold War’ she constructs the perfect sci-fi metaphor: “Below the ground’s the only place to be/ Because in this life you spend time fighting off the gravity”. It’s a common thread in black sci-fi literature – that notion that the frightening future imagined by white sci-fi writers is a reality for the majority of African America; ‘the now’ rather than prophecy. It’s Monae’s android upgrade as Cyndy Mayweather that grants her the means to battle an oppressive regime and liberate the ‘have not’s of society. Consider that the word ‘machine’ is thought by some to be derived from the Greek word for remedy.

Back in the real world, contempt for the fan’s capacity to discern between innovation and re-branding is rife. Neither are we trusted to assimilate anything beyond that of immediate sensation, like maybe a bottled-lighting concept, substituted for whole banks of jobbing outsource producers and star guests. The finished product isn’t ‘multifaceted’ or ‘eclectic’, it’s an exercise in narrowcasting, a portfolio of products, inflationary, shrilly exacting. If every pop star is all things to all people in the space of one release, then what you’re really talking about is the illusion of choice. Follow the money, as they say.

If ever you’ve been pushed to draw the line between ingenious reconstitution and sausage paste, The Archandroid seems every bit the polymorphic quantum leap squabbled over by Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Pop’s greatest art-impostor, Gaga been heralded as everything from feminist icon to master surrealist, and who in musicologist Alexandra Apolloni’s opinion posits the “debilitating burden of fame [and] the stereotype of the female body as both object of desire and a subject of shame and discomfort”. High-minded praise indeed for some savvy image hooks, electroclash stage-garb, a piss-poor impression of New York performance art and one woman’s quest to let everyone know she works out. Behold the difference between transgressive and publicity-rigging.

Maybe it has always been this way, and in the final analysis a good tune is paramount. Never, though, has pop felt so recursive, so amnesic, or so self-perpetuating. It’s kind of like that vacuous Lexus car factory in Minority Report, where in near-future industry self-sustaining automatons work tirelessly to make machines of their own.

Although The Archandroid’s ’60s soul grounding is unlikely to induce the musical shock of the new, there is a real spirit of effervescent discovery permeating here. And, by unlocking the imagination-firing power of speculative fiction and her own desire for self-determination, Monáe has ushered us towards a hidden escape hatch we forgot was there. Vive La Revolution, Metropolis 2010. John Calvert

Incoming: Comanechi (AU Magazine, Issue. 62)
December 29, 2009, 11:57 pm
Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , , ,
MEMBERS: Akiko Matsuura, Simon Petrovitch
FORMATION: Hackney, London. 2008
FOR FANS OF: Black Sabbath, Melt Banana, Sonic Youth
CHECK OUT: Debut Album, Crimes Of Love, out now on Merok

So you have a stocking to fill, but what do you get for the music fan who has everything? Why not try a couple of new-fangled sub-genres? Some Neo-Shitwave-Substep for those early morning commutes. Perhaps some cross-over Anti-Wonk-fi for the modern city gent. For the on-the move executive, a handy travel-sized introduction to Post-Spazz Opera-core, and…well are you getting tired yet? For little Akiko Matsuura, Comanechi’s resident drummer, vocalist and walking one inch punch, the answer is simple -“Comenechi! It’s how you say, pure”.

Big, brash, bold, frenzied and rudely awesome, Comanechi’s brand of bad-taste punk stupefies as often as it electrifies. Oscillating between heavy grunge, sludge metal and riot grrl scuzz, their perfectly realized debut Crimes Of Love subsumes the listener into AkikoWorld – a garishly-lit interzone of broken hearts, cheap drugs, great parties, degenerate art, sex obsessed fashionistas, shit-or-bust nihilists and one deceased cat. Sooner or later the listener is spat out again, the proud owner of a chloroform hangover and a tender back entrance. Utterly depraved debauchery is the effect; cathartic bliss coupled with septic shock. It is as Akiko puts it, pure. No Afrobeat hybridization here, just the sound of ruthlessly distilled insurrection.

“I want music scene not to suck, you know?”. She may have a scrambled take on the English vernacular but when it comes to the universal language of Punk Rock, Akiko’s a lingual Liberachi. “I love the attitude of Punk. Comanechi is real; we didn’t have enough money for pedals to make a different sound, or a big studio. I’m from nothing, no rich family, no rock star parents, and no connections in London. Music you hear in taxis… it has nothing in common with me”. Spoken like a true old hand – the enduring appeal of making Punk music for this and a thousand generations to come. If you don’t understand the world, better just to bash the fucker over the head. It’s all about empowerment; “I feel on stage it’s where I belong, I’m confident, happy, I can express myself. I love it”.

Of course, behind every great woman there’s a great man. Harbinger of burning Peavey amps and un-evolved, sinful riffage, guitarist Simon Petrovitch defecates abominable slabs of noise that would penetrate 11 inches of reinforced glass, and you’ll think he’s discovered the meaning of life. “He’s passive but in a really good way” remarks Akiko, “He just lets me be me. We’re opposites in every way. I couldn’t have another Akiko in the band, I’d just fight with her!. For a time now, the twosome has been a tape-hissing wrecking ball systematically flattening the Greater London Area in concentric circles.

Put simply, Comanechi are an act with a firm grasp on the artistic power of puerility, and with a dedicated autodidact in Akiko they look to an array of transgressors for inspiration, leaving the music rich with reference points, all muscling for prominence within the splurge. “I like Richard Kern (Photo eroticist and documentarian of New York’s bare-brick underbelly), Yayoi Kusama (Japanese sexual surrealist), my brother, who got me into Nirvana, and Bruce Lee!” In terms of taboo-embracing iconoclasts, though, there’s only one man for Akiko “I love John Waters’ films. The stories are fucked up and its kitsch and colourful, cool, low budget but inspired”, which could be a succinctly rendered blurb on Comanechi’s sound.

In between fronting London Noise-Rock Band Pre and supporting The Gossip, The Klaxons, and Siouxie Sioux And The Banshees with Comanechi, Akiko has an increasingly lucrative sideline in the shape of next-gen shoe gazers The Big Pink, with Crimes Of Love released on the Merok label, founded by Milo Big Pink. “It isn’t punk but its something I can show my parents. I’ve never really explained exactly to them what I do over here and, like, how messy I get, I dunno if they even know what Youtube is (there are videos, it does get messy). The Big Pink played Summer Sonic (Japan’s Glasto) and they saw me on these huge monitors from really far away and they cried’ she beams.

The band name is in reference to iconic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who perfect ten’d the shit out of the 1976 Olympics. So it’s like a symbol of feminine power, right Akiko? “It’s the pervert point of view”. Come again? “It’s like she was only 14 but she’s wearing these skimpy clothes and all these people watched her and admired her body – pervert point of view. Like, I wear skimpy clothes on stage too”. It seems that the next time he spots Akiko on a monitor; Pop Matsurro will have a very different excuse for a good cry. John Calvert

Classic Albums: Metal Box (AU Magazine, Issue 61)
November 16, 2009, 1:22 am
Filed under: Features | Tags: ,


Words_John Calvert

Post-Punk looked to the black music trajectory for a clue to the future, with many bands fetishizing of the power of the bass guitar. Few would extract its visceral energy quite as sadistically as those titans of art-rock fusion, Public Image Limited. On their tour de force of a second L.P there contains a terror-ride, an eternal bad trip and the most unforgiving deconstruction of Rock’s pat creative routines ever consigned by a guitar band.

What could only be the product of radical thinking, Metal Box was the total realization of John Lydon’s vision of an “anti-music”; something so very inconsumable, psychologically repellent and downright radical in comparison to anything heard before, not least on Never Mind The Bollocks.

After losing Sid Vicious to heroin, his mother to Cancer and his soul to the global press, Lydon’s bleak disposition pervades, merging with an overwhelming sense of the decay and airless electrical throb of Seventies London. It offered no amnesty in the form of Punk’s cathartic fury and clearly defined apportioning of blame. For many it was the revolution that punk posited but could never fulfil -a sonic one. In 1979, in an end of year review, Paul Morley declared Metal Box to be “truly what Miles Davis had in mind when he said he could put together the greatest rock n roll group in the world”.

Metal Box encopasses Neu’s metronomic, monochromatic psychedelia, Dub-Reggae, Can’s spayed white Funk and Disco, which for Lydon was more efficient and honest in its functional inanity than the meaning we are supposed to take from Rock’s bullshit posturing. Alternating between Chic-worthy funk and Reggae’s low-frequency voodoo, Jah Wobble’s propulsive basslines stand sentry under guitarist Keith Levene’s free-form tablature. The finished product Lydon refashioned with the techniques employed throughout Jamaica’s sound-system culture to achieve the queer spatial realms concocted by pioneering producers like Lee Perry.

On opener ‘Albatross’, a ten minute colossus of bad feeling, Wobble’s subsonic pump contributes a sinister playfulness as Levene’s neo-classical scything runs riot with a perverse devotion to the wrong (but somehow right) notes. Levene’s performance is leviathan, a virtuoso incarnation of terrible beauty, sucking and drawing, alien, body-less and glowing with a plutonium energy; his ‘vicious graffiti’ as the NME described it perfectly at the time.


PiL perform 'Memories' on the Old Grey Whistle Test

‘Memories’, the closest thing the album offered by way of a single, sustains the quickest tempo of any track for a manic floor-filler. Lydon, forever the futurist, derides the rancid nostalgia implied by reviving Mod culture.

A disorienting, hellish threnody, ‘Death Disco’ is the record’s zenith. Truly a gruelling experience, Lydon sees his beloved mother dying over Levene’s prolapsed rendition of ‘Swan Lake’. True to form the former Johnny Rotten mocks indulgence; he’s repulsed by his own self-pity, simultaneously though he delivers a startling expression of insurmountable bereavement.

The track fades while Lydon repeats the line ‘Words cannot explain’. As became a standard in the post-punk era, vocals were reinvented and for years were distorted beyond recognition. Lydon’s were no different yet were uniquely blood-chilling, as evinced in ‘Poptones’ which recounts the story of a rape (and murder?) from the perspective of the victim. Her mind just can’t rid the memory of the banal pop songs he played in his Japanese car on the way to the woods. Wobble’s water-torture bassline is circled by Levene. The guitar’s flailing stream of consciousness calcifies into one perpetual onslaught as the victim begins ‘losing body heat’. Lydon’s lyrics are horrible, the vocals otherworldly and grotesquely twisted. With bizarre intonation and he drawls: ‘I can’t forget the impression you’ve made /you left a hole in the back of my head/ I don’t like hiding in this foliage and peat/ and the cassette plays Poptooooooones’.


This chiaroscuro juxtaposition of skanking bass and Levene’s immense noodling, neither compliant to the other on the mix, renders Metal Box both subterranean and something which arches over the listener like the gothic monuments comprising the skyline of the band’s hometown. It’s a musical compound rife with paradox: serated but sensous, inert and rampant, European and North American, White on Black. Primarily, its the way in which Levene’s guitar closes its cold fingers around Wobble’s repetitions that gives the record its unnatural sound, one trembling with intensity but suggestive of pin-pupiled trances.

Metal Box’s legacy has emerged in dribs and drabs ever since, usually when artists look to forge a working interface between black music and art rock, but also dwelling in the sounds of acts as disparate as Primal Scream, R.E.M and the Manic Street Preachers. Like many of the British Post-Punk bands, Pil informed much of what would develop throughout the Eighties in underground America and then by the Nineties, Trip Hop’s atmospherics were being directly lifted from the disquiet conjured on the Metal Box. Most recently you can hear its influence on Dubstep’s oppressive art-Garage, including that of Burial’s desolate evocation of nocturnal South London. Ultimately though, it was Metal Box’s guitar sound which travelled the farthest distance from its origins, pinched by U2 so they could anesthetize whole stadiums of happy folk. The irony being of course, that Levene had the most diabolical of intentions for his sound, planning horror for the minds of those very same contented people. A comforting thought to cling to the next time Bono’s telling you to be nicer person over a glacial guitar chime.

PiL have reformed for a string of seven arena dates throughout December beginning with Birmingham’s O2 academy on the 15th.

Incoming: Wild Palms (AU Magazine, Issue 61)
November 14, 2009, 7:12 pm
Filed under: Features | Tags:


MEMBERS: Lou Phillips(Vocals), Darrel Hawkins(Guitars), Garth Jones(Bass), James Parish(Drums).
FORMATION: Southgate, 2007.
FOR FANS OF: The Cult, These New Puritans, Banhuas, Gang Of Four.
CHECK OUT: Debut Single ‘Over Time’.

Legend has it that in the last days of Rome, shit got a little bit crazy. Erecting downy neck-hair at AU this month, Wild Palms are that perfect anarchy of ideas fit to see off the crumbling empire that is the Noughties. In a matter of weeks the great beast will sinks prostrate into the sea of history in a shroud of dayglo apparel and dog-eared copies of Gang Of Four for Dummies, but if Wild Palms debut single ‘Over Time’ is anything to go by, there’ll be dancing in the streets. As we await further instructions for Decade #2, it’s important we familiarise ourselves with the how’s and why’s of their stinging brand of Gothic-Glam, in case it comes in handy for the impending apocalypse, like bottled water or tinned food.

“I was studying English at Brighton Uni when I met Gaz [bassist Gareth Jones], who was studying fine art painting” explains vocalist Lou Phillips. “He was doing this absurdist, abstract thing and doing it very well. It so happened I was doing the same type of thing with my writing and we ended up living together, so it became our approach to making music”

On return to London the pair teamed up with childhood friend and No Wave fanatic, drummer James Parish. Guitarist Doug Hawkins completes the line-up. Wielding a ferocious talent, Hawkins dark anti-matter, dispatched in lacerating shards across the five available Myspace tracks, really has a way of focusing the mind.

The product of their combined efforts splits the difference between the nervy censure and frigid economy of Post Punk’s most acute acts and the rocking pompadour-Goth of The Cult. It wasn’t long before Dazed and Confused and like-minded tastemakers were posting gushy write-ups, resulting in an a prestigious slot on the BBC’s Emerging Proms showcase, last month.

Despite their artistic background and a former incarnation as Ex Lion Tamers (after the Wire song), Lou is at pains to avoid the art-rock label. “Our art rock pretensions amount to lugging around Gaz’s paintings as an backdrop to the gigs. We’re very serious about what we do but we aren’t going to dictate how people consume our music. We do take inspiration from the likes of Can, Captain Beefheart, The Fall, and [the band’s firm favourite] Billy Childish, but for their hard work and dedication to living for music.”

‘Deep Dive’ a song about escape, that most un-Art-Rock of subject matters is according to Lou, most representative of the direction they are taking. “No matter what people say we aren’t a nihilistic band. Nihilism is a cop out, I think you need to take action . It’s all about the melody and the hypnotic guitars on ‘Deep Dive’. That’s the starting point for us. “Instead of attack, attack attack” he continues “we’re concentrating on what we don’t play. Every night we’d watch [tour-mates] The Warlocks take the smallest of components and build elegance. We started with Post-Punk foundations but the process has dispersed”.

So try and keep up if you can as Wild Palms jerk away from our grasp, leaving us only the impression of a band scrabbling for something unprecedented. They begin Decade #2 by recording a debut album in January. The itinerary is typical of their adventurous spirit. “We are going to Poland with a man we found asleep at our studio. It turns out he’s a genius producer”. John Calvert