Our friends Standard Planets recently issued a super-limited lust object – a collaborative EP with psychogeography icon Iain Sinclair, individually signed and each with handwritten postcards by Iain and three art prints. The EP is called Overground.
We asked the band if they could do a guest mix themed around the London-observing EP. This is what Ben from the band had to say about it:
This mix features our favourite songs about the pickled corpse that is London. It’s a plotting of the controlled demolition of ambition, social mobility and class dissemination, by eight years of a straw-topped man child who can’t keep his over-privileged winky or wallet in his trousers. This mix shows you the London that once was, – if only to its own tragic romanticists – and what it could’ve been, before the creeping virus of Thames-side condos with key-pad security dreams, matt-grey designer gyms and underground carparks of unknowing sociopaths; their car boots littered with dead sex workers and empty wraps of teething powder.
Although the slowing of 20JFG posts over the last couple of weeks wasn’t caused by it (honest), it has coincided with the final part of this writer’s favourite video series. So it seems appropriate to post today about Dark Souls 3.
Doubly appropriate if you consider that we spend a great deal of time musing on how old things are reconfigured into new. For while all of the Souls games have had entropy at their heart (from being set amongst collapse and ruin to the very mechanics of the game forcing you to constantly contemplate loss), Dark Souls 3 seems to embrace the remix.
While the graphical overhaul from one generation to the next is totally a thing and everything looks nice and pretty, what’s significant here is the way that locations from the first game are reused for the last. The sun-kissed beauty of the gothic city Anor Londo is revisited, this time draped in snow and cool blue light. Rooms that housed painful, exhilarating memories of death (many, many deaths) are returned to and the sorrow is palpable. For a series that revelled in showing you locations after a collapse, the walking tour of these same locations after a long, long time is…emotional.
But the remix, the remix here is significant. It’s the remix of self. The Kate Bush Director’s Cut. The David Bowie Toy. This is a backward looking game in many ways but it isn’t regressive. It holds up its original form to the harsh light and forces you to play through its environs, to appreciate them anew, but to know that this is a cycle. This is a series that must end because, like all the heroes that have passed through its stories before, to continue is to repeat yourself. You died? Repeat. Your triumphed? Start again. You want more? Here’s two biannual sequels. Dark Souls 3 uses the remix not to make the old more palatable to the new, but to kill it with sadness.
In 2013/14 The Knife went on a farewell tour ostensibly in support of their album Shaking the Habitual. Bringing along a dance troop, obscuring their presence on stage and mixing their ‘live’ performance with album playback, they were accursed of self-sabotage.
In 2014 they released an 8 track EP called Shaken-Up Versions which contained the versions of tracks played on the tour. On it was the Shaken-Up version of one of 20JFG’s favourite songs of the 2000s, We Share Our Mother’s Health. We were running a club night at the time it came out and that song is inseparable from all that was good and holy and banging in that dank basement.
On Shaken-Up Versions, The Knife strip We Share Our Mother’s Health of its deep percussion and bounding synth melodies. In its place are hand claps and sub bass and a rattling drum edge, spinning round what I presume (and hope) is the original vocal. It’s exhilarating. It’s as if the memory of the 2006 version is conjured and held in place while the Shaken-Up Version is assembled anew around it.
And when it’s complete the 2006 banger has been sealed from the dancefloor.
You can get Shaken Versions on CD from Juno. It’s also on all streaming services if that’s more your thing. The vinyl’s probably going for loads on Discogs but I dare not look.
In Billboard history, who is the black artist that has scored the highest number of weeks at #1? Michael Jackson? Prince? Whitney Houston?
Louis Jordan, mate. Though he may be less well known than Stevie Wonder (his nearest challenger for the most number of weeks at #1), Jordan, in his day, was second only to Duke Ellington and Count Basie in sheer popularity.
And as well as being a peerlessly a charismatic bandleader, Jordan was also a musical innovator. His two-part 1950 hit, Saturday Night Fish Fry, is regarded by some as the first rock ‘n’ roll record.
But before he invented rock ‘n’ roll, Louis Jordan was the driving force behind a music known as ‘jump blues’.
Jump blues, and Louis Jordan’s jump blues in particular, was exciting, sexual, funny. It retained the scale and instrumentation of the big band but injected it with adrenaline.
It was also personality-driven music, both Jordan and Harry James – the white bandleader who recorded the first jump blues single One O’Clock Jump/It’s The Dreamer in Me in 1938 – carved out careers as motion picture actors alongside their flamboyant stage work.
Jump blues reconciled the seemingly opposing dance musics of big band jazz (opulent, excessive, meticulous) with boogie woogie (stark, minimal, spontaneous)
Jump was known for being even more lascivious than its more popularised grandchild, rock ‘n roll – which cleaned up the lyrics while dirtying up the music. Apparently, Jordan’s Show Me How You The Milk Cow isn’t even about a cow!
Ella Mae has a great big fat cow A good looking cow I would say What I want to ask of her now Is a favor if I may
Show me how, show me how Show me how, you milk the cow Oh bella mia, oh bella mia
Tell me please, what you squeeze when the milk goes woosh woosh woosh Oh bella mia, show me how you milk the cow
I don’t know what’s the matter, I try and try and try But every time I go woosh, the milk gets in my eye
In possibly one of the most alternative-musical-canonical posts we’ve ever done, today I’m going to talk about Brian Eno and The Velvet Underground. Two entities that exist at that warm fuzzy point of critical consensus. A safe space where we can all find something to love. And that’s a gloriously post-modern thing.
The Velvet Underground and Brian Eno — as titans, stalking the archival halls of the record industry — don’t exist, obviously. In the same way as the reputations of all amazing music endeavours will ultimately consume their creators. They are illusions we convince ourselves of because we need The Velvet Underground and Eno to be real. We need the brief time we spend with them to be tangible, infallible and true.
Which is why Brian Eno covering the (post-Cale) Velvet Underground bought me to tears on Saturday.
The Velvet Underground’s song I’m Set Free, as every acolyte knows, appeared on their self titled LP in 1969. In it they orbit an almost religious awakening: whether actually religious (in a beautiful double bluff); a moment of release from a relationship; or a moment of sadomasochistic ecstasy. Whichever reading you chose, Moe Tucker’s gloriously spare drumming hypnotises. With the repeated guitar melody and euphoric chorus the whole thing creates a space for your consciousness to escape, if just for four minutes.
And so we come to Eno’s cover, the final track on his new album, The Ship.
Two moment break my heart.
The first is that very first note. Echoing out and back through his ambient work. Moonscapes and deserts, topology and airports, rush through the pleasure centres of my brain.
The second, moments later is that soft drumming. Not the primally spare drumming of Moe, no, but a signal that marks the entrance of pop-Eno. Nostalgia for a time a good few years before you were born is an intoxicating thing. Partly because of the way that you retrospectively construct the impact of the music when you do discover it. And that will always be more potent than the indifferent reality.
And so, I’m Set Free is here to link Eno to Eno to The Velvet underground. To hear Eno’s glorious voice, slow but ecstatic, is to feel loss for his contemporaries, for moments in time that we never experienced, for people we never met, for titans of our musical universe that were and are only illusions.
“Western swing,” suggested country legend Merle Travis, “is nothing more than a group of talented country boys, unschooled in music, but playing the music they feel, beating a solid two-four rhythm to the harmonies that buzz around their brains. When it escapes in all its musical glory, my friend, you have Western swing.”
In 2011, western swing was recognised as the official state music of Texas. Paula Evone Jungmann, the activist who petitioned for the official recognition describes the genre thusly:
“Western swing music is infused with songs from many cultures. The Anglo-Saxon fiddle (or violin if you wish to call it), came to Texas from the British Isles; jazz, blues, and gospel from our African-American population; mariachi and conjunto from the Mexican people; the polka and waltz beat from our German and Czech ancestors; and the Cajun French Fiddle and accordion music from Louisiana. Perhaps because of it’s multi-ethnic origins, Texas Country music appeals to a wide variety of people from all generations, races and ethnic groups and is appreciated all over the world.”
Possibly the whitest derivative of jazz ever, western swing did share some musical similarities with the “gypsy jazz” contemporaneously innovated in Europe by the Belgian-born Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt, but its lyrical sensibilities were unmistakably “down home”, and some of the genre’ key composers, such as Jimmie Rodgers, were also among the first wave of country musicians in the 1920s.
The kings of western swing were Milton Brown and Bob Wills, who formed the first “professional” western swing band, the Light Crust Doughboys, in the early 1930s. Interestingly, this has to be one of the earliest examples of a band being manufactured primarily to sell non-musical product! The Burrus Mill Flour and Elevator Company president and future Democrat senator, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, had a vision of advertising his company’s Light Crust Flour on the radio – a relatively new marketing arena – and decided the best way to go about this would be to write some songs of his own and hire a group of musicians to perform them in a regular segment on his radio show.
O’Daniel would later tour with the group and use them as a springboard for his political ambitions, but by 1933, both Wills and Brown had departed, fronting Milton Brown & His Brownies and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, respectively.
O’Daniel, meanwhile, would go on to find fame in unsubtly fictionalised form, as ‘Governor Pappy O’Daniel’ in O Brother, Where Art Thou!
Western swing bands would perform swing-esque rhythms, but in smaller ensembles, and with the band led almost exclusively by fiddle rather than horn. Finger-picked banjos – popular in hillbilly music, but uncommon in jazz, which favoured strumming – were also the norm here, and the genre marks the first appearance of Hawaiian steel guitar in country music.
Once musicians began electrifying their steel guitars – initially by figuring out how to play them through radios, or so the story goes, we see a new innovation in 20th century dance music: amplification.
Although we’re still some way off from acid techno here, previously all dance bands had performed acoustically – and loudly – to get their audience’s feet moving. Electric guitars were here now, opening up the potential for a certain hybridisation of hillbilly honky tonk and African-American boogie woogie that could change everything.
Drums, too, had a renewed purpose in western swing – nailing down a strong backbeat that would only became more pronounced and central with further evolutions in dance music.
And unlike the heavy balladeering of country, this music was dance music through and through. It proved phenomenally successful in pre-war America, which saw crowds of up to 10,000 throng at western swing dances in California.
America’s involvement in World War II had a curtailing influence on western swing and much musical development (dance-related or otherwise) during this period, as many of the key musicians enlisted, and a brutal wartime tax on nightclubs made public dances largely untenable. In retrospect, the genre now scans like something of a peculiarity – a kind of “cowboy jazz”, uniquely appropriate for the dialled-up quirkiness of Coen Bros movies – but it’s mostly fun, inventive and overlooked stuff that, like O Brother…, also makes a strong case for miscegenation rather than separatism as a driver of culture and innovation.
Certainly, country music would never again sound so informed by African-American music. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys included WC Handy’s St Louis Blues in their repertoire – would the late 20th Century equivalent of this have been Garth Brooks covering Public Enemy?!
After some time of deep work with any technology you stop thinking about the results as a discrete output, but as stages in a process, the process through which technology becomes embedded in you, and you become embedded in the technology: together, you are building a cybernetic system for solving problems and creating things. If you only focus on those things – the discrete outputs – then you are taking the narrow view. The longer-term impacts, and the most interesting stuff, are happening at the level of the system, where new forms of life are constantly being created and evolved.
A stronger understanding of the fundamentals of the system, unmediated by layers of abstraction, intensifies the integration, and the scale of what can be accomplished through mutual adaption of human to device and device to human.
This is why the work of electronic music researchers like the ones we are featuring today feels so powerful and direct. They have removed the digital interfaces and representations standing in the way between them and sound, and in doing so, tapped into something primitive, the ancient foundations of our technological present, a folkways of subatomic cultures. This is also why their music provides an excellent soundtrack for your favourite cyberpunk epiphanies.
Indeed. When we listen to its opener, Inward Fathoms, we are reminded of the psychedelic sketches of 1970s library music, or even Basil Kirchin’s symphonies for an industrial age, but playing over the the operations of a multi-dimensional linear programming operation which, upon being solved, allocates R&D funds in a way that enhances productivity, preserves the environment and guarantees the quality of life of industrial workers.
Imagine William Gibson’s hallucination of cyberspace, but sang in machine code instead of new wave english. Or even better, buy the album from Dark Entries, and flip out.
We ourselves did substantial levels of flipping out in response to Palmbomen II’sRVNG release some time ago. Here was a soundtrack for the emotions cracking through the black ops circuitry of an X Files universe, or the fucked-up psycho-tech dynamics of a Bladerunner sequel directed by David Lynch. His Center Parcs tape collab with Betonkust continues in the same vein, melodies full of innocence interspersed with beats brimming with dissonant danger and distorted threat, fairy tales to prepare childroid algorithms in for a world of hacking bogeymen, corporate takeover step-mothers and ravenous werewolf super-intelligences.
Meshes of Voice was a bulletproof pairing of two artists who are undeniably at the top of their game right now. Jenny has a new project about to drop anytime now, while Susanna has already fired back with her new album, Triangle. Norwegian improv legends Supersilent also guest on this magnificent piece of work.
Here is a sampler for it:
Susanna has also contributed an exclusive mix for us: