Music has always served as testament to changes in society with a lineage traceable across history. Our relationship to music is inherent to our species, tied to our heartbeats, music has existed before the invention of written language, the first written music; the ‘Hurrian’ Hymn To Nikkal is from 1400 BC.
Recorded music gave us access to the physical analogue then the digital catalogue and, with the advent of the internet, access to any and all music has become ubiquitous.
From when electricity became more than just the thing that powered the amps and the mikes, when the first synthesisers were used as instruments in their own right, digital recording set about superseding analogue and the proliferation of electronic music has taken us from genre by decade led phases of music to sub-genres, to a musical entropy of ideas where anything is possible.
The images displayed here, as part of the 2019 Deptford X festival, are responses to five unique collaborations from the early Seventies to the turn of the century that changed the paradigm of music.
1) Roxy Music; Roxy Music (1972)
2) Talking Heads; Stop Making Sense (1984)
3) Paul Simon; Graceland (1986)
4) Happy Mondays; Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches (1990)
At the end of the trailer for the 1984 film Amadeus, the, not particularly deep-throated, voiceover declares that;
“Everything you’ve heard is true!”
About what exactly?
That the film was based on the Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play which, in turn, was based on the Alecksandr Pushkin 1830 play Mozart and Salieri?
The cause of Mozart’s untimely death is unknown, what is undeniably true is that historians and the authors alike agree that the film bears almost no reality to what did happen. Furthermore, in the late 1700’s there were no live recordings of Mozart or Salieri.
A century later Thomas Edison, the lightbulb guy, patented the ‘Mechanical Phonograph Cylinder’ in 1878. While it is arguable that Edison was better at patenting than inventing, there is no doubt he was great at ‘collaborating’. The Phonograph Cylinder was the first commercially available medium for recording and reproducing sound.
Another century later electronic music began it’s journey to ubiquity. Today any dip-shit with a guitar and a phone, (which is still called a phone for some reason,) can upload their contribution to music to be catalogued online somewhere for no one to listen to for all time.
Cool Babies, Strange but not a Stranger
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
The ability to record music has led to a few of us mere mortals becoming stars, shining, once in a lifetime, captures of essence. ‘The Hit Parade’, record sales, radio, rock and roll and all the names you know.
So where did what we know as modern, popular, music begin?
Before ‘Chuck’ berried, before ‘Floyd’ was ‘Pink’, before ‘Clinton’ called ‘Parliament’, long before Tony Iommi lost the tips of his fingers, the fire ravaged deformed digits of Django Reinhardt changed the fingerprints of music. Before ‘Elvis’, ‘The Beatles’ and ‘Bowie’ had ‘Scotty Moore’, ‘George Martin’ and ‘whoever he wanted’. In 1934, Romani guitarist, Django Reinhardt and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli set up a club in ‘Paris’ called Quintette du Hot Club de France, literally claiming to be the hottest club in France.
Reinhardt is the father of an entire catalogue of genre crossing music. He invented music that lives with us today, and his legacy is built on his many collaborations with the best musicians of the time. None more so than with Grappelli, who in his own, much longer lifetime, amassed a career of collaboration, working with an almost inexhaustible list of the greatest musicians of the last century.
What You Gonna do When You Get out of Jail?
Then there was the second world war. Before the first world war you had a job for life if you were small enough to climb up a chimney. Between the two world wars you could get a job cleaning up after the first one or not be able to get a job getting ready for the second one. There were no ‘teenagers’ before ‘WWII’.
As sure as the ability to kill all life on earth in minutes gave birth to James Dean, now, with twenty years notice before we pull the plug on our own species, our own excesses has given birth to Greta Thunberg and a generational conflict is upon us where our children have been given the imperative of cleaning up our mess.
More than twenty years ago the Deansgate and Salford areas of Manchester started on a long journey of gentrification where today, these are some of the most affluent areas of the city. One of the first steps on this journey was to dredge the extensive canal network that characterises the area. Local hearsay whispered about the discovery of hundred discarded weapons and dismembered limbs of the formerly, notoriously criminal, part of town.
And what of art’s green footprint?
Acrylics, oils, inks, sprays, glues? The production of cotton is as environmentally unsound as it gets. Big budget cinema? The carbon footprint of the ‘MCU’ may not be that good for our reality. This environmentally unsound exhibition is made entirely for your pleasure.
So where do you draw the line?
Judy’s in the Bedroom, Inventing Situations
Of course, not everything was fantastic fifty years ago, two television channels to chose from and precisely no pubs to choose from between 2pm and 7pm on a Sunday.
Today our thirst for information without verification has led to ‘Vaccine hesitancy’, ‘Troll farms’, ‘Donald Trump’ and infinite other versions of gulping down unlabelled bottles of booze from a bloke you never met before in the back of a pub car park.
Once upon a time, not only did you have to wait until next week to see the next episode of your favourite programme, if you missed that episode, you missed it. Today 99% of everything that has ever happened is probably not worth recording and yet here we are, recording 99% of everything. We mislead ourselves in thinking that because something is immediate and easy, there is no price.
Perhaps there is more value in a glass of wine poured by a professional. Perhaps the internet needs a dredging as much as our rivers and oceans.
Or perhaps we should just enjoy it all while we can.
“History is merely a series of surprises,’ I said, ‘It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. Please write that down.”
Maybe we need one night a week where we ‘Ecclesiastes and chill’.
Transmit the Message to the Receiver
Roxy Music Roxy music (1972)
Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno
Formed in 1970, Roxy Music are unique for many reasons, not least a tacit link between the ‘Glam Rock’ era they were borne of and a major influence on the Sex Pistols and the ‘Punk’ era that followed.
“Somehow, in a landscape dominated by Led Zeppelin at one end and The Osmonds at the other, they managed to reach the Top 10 with a heady mixture of futurism, retro rock’n’roll, camp, funny noises, silly outfits, art techniques, film references and oboe solos. And although their popularity has ebbed and flowed, their influence has been strikingly consistent.”
Tim de Lisle
In the same way that The Beatles owed a priceless debt to George Martin, the same can be said for Eno. Martin used orchestral music and revolutionary analogue production, Eno did the same for Roxy Music with the birth of what we know now as electronic music.
With unique lyricism and performance, Ferry was always the driving force behind the band. Eno, as a self described ‘non- musician’ was a pioneer of the art of turning electricity into sound.
‘Eno’ went on to collaborate and produce with, amongst others, David Bowie, U2, and Stephane Grappelli on Peter and the Wolf in 1975.
Stop Making Sense
Talking Heads; Stop Making Sense (1984)
David Byrne and Jonathan Demme
Eno also produce three ‘Talking Heads’ albums; More Songs About Food (1978), Fear of Music (1979) and Remain in light (1980) as well as subsequent collaborations with David Byrne. While Talking Heads can claim many examples of groundbreaking musical firsts, incorporating looped, sampled music, ‘Afro-beat’ and other world music influences.
The success of the band within the band; Tom Tom Club was also quite uncommon yet, by far the most distilled essence of the band was captured in the filming of Stop Making Sense with Jonathan Demme with the first use of 24 track digital recording while employing stagecraft and choreography with cinematic sensibilities, a lamp and a very big suit to the filming of live concert performance.
“I felt from time to time that shooting live music is the most purely cinematic thing you can do. Ideally, the cinema is becoming one with the music. There is little artifice involved. There’s no acting. I love it.
“I try to write about small things. Paper, animals, a house…love is kind of big. I have written a love song, though. In this film, I sing it to a lamp.”
You Can Walk, You Can Talk Just Like Me
Paul Simon: Graceland (1986)
Paul Simon and Joseph Shabalala
In 1972 Stephane Grappelli featured on Paul Simon’s second, self titled, solo album on a track called Hobo’s Blues.
In an unrelated incident, 1984 saw Paul Simon’s marriage to Carrie Fisher fall apart after only a year. Later he made one of the greatest albums of all time; Graceland.
Surrounded in controversy for breaking the apartheid embargo in South Africa, the album managed to evade the most adverse consequences of this by having no political agenda, embracing a joyful purity of musical expression. In crediting artists like Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo he brought these and other artists from South Africa to the attention of the world.
To say that his intention was to change music culture after two consecutive failed album releases and another recently failed marriage would be optimistic. There were no expectations of any commercial success with this record. That said, who else, at the time, could manifest a collaboration between over fifty artist’s, from Youssou N’Dour to The Everly Brothers, who contributed to the record.
The music video ofYou Can Call Me Al, featuring Simon and Chevy Chase miming along in a pink box, while bringing worldwide attention to the album, does now look like being in the mind of the palest white man miming along to black music.
Everything is Divided, Nothing is Complete
Happy Mondays; Pills Thrills and Bellyaches (1990)
Shaun Ryder and Paul Oakenfold
The Happy Mondays formed in 1980 and found precisely no fame until 1988. A band of no note, (none that were in tune anyway,) until the birth of rave culture and ‘Madchester’ Had ecstasy been invented ten years earlier, how would The Specials AKA have turned out?
All credit to the heart, spirit and kidneys of the band, with their first two albums produced by John Cale of The Velvet Underground and Martin Hannett, the ephemeral producer and co-creator of Factory Records. Yet it was rave royalty Paul Oakenfold that produced the finest blend of garage band funk and dance music that is Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches to define the overwhelming underground drug culture that was bubbling up in the psyche of the upcoming generation.
You’re welcome New Labour.
The Monday’s fourth album Yes Please, unfortunately, proved that while you can take the ‘Manc’ out of Salford…
Produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Tom Tom Club, the ‘Mondays’ proved that you can’t make an omelette without turning the paradise of Eddy Grant’s Caribbean home studio into a crack den, selling everything inside for more crack and bankrupting the record label that made you. Still, a quarter of a century later and sober, the record that, just about, came of it is a decent indecent listen.
I’m Just an Animal Looking for a Home
Gorillaz; Gorillaz (2000)
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett
In 1969 The Archies, an American cartoon tv series topped the charts with Sugar Sugar and almost twenty years later the California raisins came dance marching across our screens to Heard it through the Grapevine but it took until 2000 when Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett got together to create the digital culture gumbo of Gorillaz. Hewlett has stated that Gorillaz was conceived as a critical reflection of the ‘MTV’ generation binging on musical fast food and a production line of acts with “nothing of substance there”. This was, of course, lost on the ‘MTV kids’ across the planet, who, just as Dire Straits had discovered fifteen years earlier, were more than comfortable with this criticism and promptly lapped up the antics of 2D, Murdock, Noodle and Russel.
“Accusing us of being a gimmick is a bit like accusing Jesus Christ of having ‘a bit of a messiah complex’. True, maybe, but when faced with the undeniable genius of what we put out, does that really still matter?”
Gorillaz Gorillaz; Rise of the Ogre
Twenty years later the band, with fingerprints on every form of pop culture, have collaborated with an unfathomably long list of genre crossing artists, from Mick Jones to Grace Jones. Special mentions to Shaun Ryder’s unmistakable vocals on the 2005 track Dare and, to this day, Tina Weymouth as the singing voice of Noodle.
These Slippery People
In 1987 Bill Drummond and Jimmy Courty formed the KLF or the K Foundation or the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu or whichever name you prefer for the purpose of subverting the music industry of the day. Due to the spectacular success of Justified and Ancient featuring Tammy Wynette someone thought it would be a good idea to have them as the opening act at 1992’s premier UK music industry event; the ‘Brit Awards’.
Drummond and Courty set to the task of performing a version of 3AM Eternal entirely intended to revile the assembled industry elites gathered in the audience, firstly by performing a ‘grime-core’ version the ‘trance’ classic with Extreme Noise Terror and to finish with a bang, (after being talked out of dismembering a dead sheep on stage and throwing the parts into the audience as well as Drummond toying with the idea of chopping his own hand off on stage in homage to the legend of ‘The Red King of Ulster’,) Drummond settled for finishing the show by firing blank rounds from a machine gun into the audience.
Drummond, Courty and Extreme Noise Terror had been working on an album called The Black Room as a follow up to ambient album The White room, (1991), however, when the ‘Brits’ event organiser, music mogul and now registered sex offender Johnathan King endorsed the performance, Drummond and Courty disbanded the group, deleted the back catalogue and, two years later physically burned all the money they had made on the island of Jura, never completing work on The Black Room.