How NOT to write about music – 44. The Young Gods

the young gods

I’ve always hated choice.

You follow one pathway, myriad others close down, and not always immediately.

When I arrived at Melody Maker, tail end of 1988, some would argue the paper’s halcyon days had already been and gone. Some would argue that my very arrival at the paper would bring about their imminent demise. The days of Swans, Pixies, The Young Gods and My Bloody Valentine. The arsequake league. The music that through its focus on low-end bass frequencies and malevolent, whispered acid grooves – its magical use of smoke, mirrors, warp sampling and volume – caused the nether regions of the body to wobble uncontrollably. Very male.

There was this, but I am not sure where this fits in with your time scale.

There was this, but surely this came at the tail-end of all the goodness?

By tail-end, all I mean is that somewhere along the line I stopped listening so closely.

I have no idea how different my life would have been if I had followed the paths of those who went (briefly) before me, continued sauntering down the fluid grooves and fertile, fecund sampling of Switzerland’s The Young Gods – maybe I too would have ended up locked, lost within the stifling miasma of NiN (one direction), post-rock nothingness (direction two), U2’s belching guitar drone (direction three) or maybe I would have taken on a happy daze and gone wafting down every last groovy hate fuck dance fest I could delirium dance my way through (four direction). Been a slave to Audioslave or dyed my pubes black.

Maybe I wouldn’t have.

Maybe I would be in precisely the same spot as I find myself in now.

But I do know that I shut down some vibrant enticing illuminating possibilities by refusing to engage directly with my new colleagues’ critical consensus – however magnificently argued, however richly flourished and explained – and by trying to strike out to find my own pathways. Fuckers.

I’ve always hated choice.

This one sounds like Soundgarden, but with a deep vein thrum basis.

ET’s 30 favourite songs of 2018

Low Double Negative

I know it’s three weeks into January. Shit’s been going down. I know 2018 was not the greatest of years for me. I wanted to document it nonetheless.

These are in no particular order, and I know I have missed loads but I was not writing for large periods of last year. Here it is anyway, and I kinda like it.

Oh, not all of these came out in 2018 either.

1. Suburban Death Twitch – A Layer of Fat and Mold
One dear friend saw Brighton’s Suburban Death Twitch perform recently and found himself dismayed and more than a little angry that such casual, soulful brilliance should go unrecognised. He has little recourse to publicity like many of us, so he used what he could. He bought a copy of their new EP for me, knowing that I could not fail to love this beautiful, soulful music (like a general scouring in the area that involves ABBA’s break-up albums, the mould at the back of your fridge, half the towns of Hastings and St Leonard’s, the three-point acerbic harmonies of The Roches, the wayward belligerent swagger of Band Of Holy Joy, #metoo, friends that still cannot grasp why half their world seems to give up soon as they have a steady revenue and a person, any person, to fill the void, and so forth).

There’s comforting cello and trumpet, or something. There are harmonies to kiss for. There is intelligence and awareness, so much of it painful. (How can this be nostalgia when it hurts so bad?)

2. Nadia Rose – Skwod
My friend comments, “like who would give a shit what i have to say about that”. I write back, and say that’s the point. That’s the whole point. I ain’t qualified and she ain’t qualified but… wait a fucking second WHO THE FUCK IS QUALIFIED? someone who gets paid fuck that shit… Anyways, if you know you’re not qualified it liberates you to write what the fuck you want again. See also, the fact I know NO ONE gives a shit what I have to say about anything any more.

That’s to the good. That’s liberation.

Like I don’t understand freestyle? Like I can’t dig and groove to rhythms and shake my head Like I can’t appreciate attitude. Like I can’t do this.

3. Corporationpop – Ted Hughes
Observational, despairing, witty. Suburban beat poetry for the disenchanted, disinherited, atonally dispirited generation. Authentic in a world where the word has lost all meaning. Altruistic – she gives of herself and sprinkles magic. Of course she reminds me of my new suburban Southern sweethearts.


4. Tracyanne & Danny – Alabama
I love Jonathan Richman. I love Go Violets. I love Nadia Rose. You think you understand, but you really don’t. There is nothing else. Nothing. Not when I slip into this somnambulist dream world and for a few precious moments can tear myself away from the grey mundane and chase stars in my head. During times like this – and with no reflection on my kids who I would right now step in front of a lorry for – music is more important  than eating, breathing… my reason for existing and loving and failing. This is why I am still able to fall and laugh and fall again, even through the grey, unbearably lonely, single existence. This is the stuff that haunts my dreams and whirls round my head on meaningless train journeys and endless car rides. Nina Simone, Dexys, Beyoncé… FILL IN YOUR OWN NAME

5. Cardi B – Be Careful
This is the shit I like.

My reading of her is different to yours. I’ve never been into champagne unless to wash ladies’ feet. I like her music in small bites, like my older lovers. I ain’t cool or stuck in a dead-end job or pretty ass or transgender or female or American or blessed with financial clout or holiday somewhere. Wish I was. Wish I did. I ain’t macho or don’t aspire to be macho either. I don’t get off on aspiring to be part of her brand, I don’t want to exchange sweet nothings with her bodyguards, I don’t get my kicks from her bragging or use of profanity or delicious sense of timing. I like all of them sure, but they ain’t the main reasons I keep returning to Invasion Of Privacy. There is a feeling of fragility at the heart of the toughness and poetry, a gaiety and playful way round the beats, a sense of fragility that fuels the name calling and spooked sounds. Here a glimpse of a heart best treated carefully, there a glimpse of a heart shattered, everywhere a fragility. A rub-a-dub-dub.

6. Janelle Monáe – Make Me Feel
Adult, but not dull given-up Haywards Heath half-cut hair salon adult. Sexy MF adult, alert and alive and appreciative of all of life’s possibilities and twists and graveyard turns. ‘Pynk’ is a salacious drool, a knowing tease that straddles the line between fantasy and reality with a wicked knowing wink. ‘Make Me Feel’ takes it all to a next level that even Radio One DJs can understand and that is some fucking trick I can tell you, take it to a level that even Nick Grimshaw does not feel uncomfortable discussing. Sex. This video haunts my dreams in a way only Amanda Palmer has managed. At least, I wish this video would haunt my dreams in a way only Amanda Palmer has managed.

7. Crayola Lectern – Rescue Mission
This is beautiful, beautiful music. Sinister, compelling and so welcoming. The four names I have typed out are Roy Wood, Neil Innes, Robert Wyatt and The Addams Family but if you want the truth of it – and why the hell wouldn’t you want the truth of it? – none of the four names means as much to me, have ever meant as much to me, as the music from Mr Crayola Lectern, even with its woozy space-age proggy leanings. Especially with its woozy space-age proggy leanings. I finished up Neil Gaiman’s spellbinding spell-encrusted The Graveyard Book two days ago, and this music feels like my head playing catch-up. My dreams are no longer filled with wonder and mostly the realm of bleakness does not allow me the luxury, the necessity of music but if it did… this would be my succor, this would be my balm, this could be my beautiful Gothic dreaming.

8. Suggested Friends – I Don’t Want To Be A Horcrux For Your Soul
It’s all mid-American mid-1990s twin guitar interplay swagger (yes, Blake Babies I am looking your way) except it is what London and Leeds and it is 2018 and I really should stop eating these packs of Asda Mint Imperials like they’re rice cos I think my teeth are gonna fall out before the hallucinations and sugar rush kick in.

9. Totally Mild – Today Tonight
Please accept this. Beauty is found in the most mundane of places. Your smile, your eyes. This is like Nick Cave fully realised, his songs performed the way he always intended them to be. This (incidentally) is absolutely nothing like Nick Cave. However futile these words may be. The important thing here is document and eyewitness.

10. Jorja Smith – Blue Lights
This cut through the inane banter on Nick Grimshaw’s Breakfast Show this morning like a ice-blue blade through rancid butter. Desolate, chilling. Bleakness filtered through forgotten council estates and crumbling tower blocks. Sirens wailing. Neosoul. Nostalgia for an age when it was perceived there was not so much of a need to be nostalgic. Painting a portrait of paranoia and alternate realities.

11. The 1975 – Give Yourself A Try
Every time, Daniel goes “You like this song don’t you dad?” as I’m negotiating another two cars parked on a blind corner, cyclists holding up a line of 30 cars treating the country roads like their own personal gymnasium, horns blaring in fading frustration, another couple of hundred quid added to the bodywork bill. And I’m like, “NOT NOW DANIEL” and then realise how I am too late and stutter an apology for my grumpiness, my lack of good humour. He’s right, I do like this fucking song. A lot. Killer guitars, Killer riff. And now I’ve listened to it eight straight times on YouTube I like it even more – smart lyrics. Smart, smart lyrics. And in the context of Nick Grimshaw’s Breakfast Show it’s a near-miracle. Moonlight in the palm of your hand.

12. Goat Girl – Cracker Drool
The NME has it about Goat Girl that, “The four piece’s debut album is a grubby, clattering thing that takes its lead from 1980s LA punk trailblazers like X and The Gun Club” [delete rest of sentence for a) not being entertaining and b) not adding anything to the dialogue around the music that cannot be summed up in the one word ‘scrappy’ even though that one word is misleading]. I do not mean to devalue my colleague’s writing by spiking the sentence even though I wanna throw in the screamer “she drawls like Courtney Love when Courtney stops pretending to be Stevie Nicks for one moment”, cos mostly what she has to say is relevant. I do however want to bang the heads of the rest of my colleagues together for spouting cliché after cliché about “girl gangs” and “Brixton” and for overlooking the Courtney Barnett influence on ‘Country Sleaze’. Thing is though, by bringing in the NME quote, as staple as it is (not an insult: you need staples in your music reviewing, otherwise how can you music review?), you have a sense of where the music of Goat Girl is coming from, even a little cultural and attitudinal context – context that would be greatly increased if a) I could be bothered to put links in to their forebears and b) you could be bothered to click on them but a) I can’t and b) I know you won’t, so we will leave it there for a moment, shall we?

* Uh, you do need to be aware that X and The Gun Club were not punk in the way most people understand the word.

13. Jimmy and The Worn Out Shoes – Bramble Path
I love Jimmy and the worn out shoes.

I love near everything about them*, the way Jimmy dances, the way Jimmy’s moustache hangs there droopy and gentle, the soft shoe shuffle, the unassuming but so smart lyrics and deadpan way round a harmony, the presence of other musicians, the lack of presence of other musicians, the chugging rhythms and self-deprecating putdowns, the idea he communicates simply by being there that we should not give up however stupid and unfriendly the odds against us are, the slender soft shoe shuffle, his height, the laconic melodies, the box drums and skiffle beat, the fact he shoves dodgy recordings of songs about Viv Albertine out on YouTube and you can’t understand a single word even though you know that if you could understand even a single word your life would be enriched in so many different small ways, the way he’s from Brighton but a Brighton you were always attracted to not a Brighton you wish you could turn your back upon, the way he used to be in a band that released possibly the greatest Christmas single ever, the empty beer glass, the way half his songs could be doubling for Clive Pig or O-Levels B-sides from 1985 or 1981 perhaps, the stupid soft shoes shuffle, his fondness for chips, the way he understands nostalgia should mean more than marketing, the whistling, the wrong shoes the wrong shoes the wrong shoes the wrong shoes…

14. Eminem – The Ringer
Shortly as I was coming up the final approach to Haywards Heath, a new track started up. Didn’t pay too much attention, then I started getting into the nasty-ass lyrics and obstructionist worldview, the steady flow of invective, the aggressive double-speed rap and… damn, I was just loving the flow. I sat there in the car outside my house, engine running, lights on, neighbours beginning to peer out their windows, while the track built inexorably to its cussed climax. I wanted to know who it was (although it was clearly Eminem). I wanted to know what it was. The volume kept building. The invective kept flowing. Damn, it shook my late Thursday evening up.

15. Wolf Alice – Don’t Delete The Kisses
Wolf Alice remind me of two favourites from the early 2000s – Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia and Life Without Buildings. With some Northern Gothic leanings and bog-standard indie guitars thrown in, obv.

16. Amyl and the Sniffers – Westgate
Wow. OK.

Clash magazine has it that Melbourne band Amyl and the Sniffers are “a bunch of deviant children enjoying illicit behaviour and the odd pineapple juice”. Beat My Bones says, “Their songs are as fast as the Ramones with the obnoxious smuttiness that the Sex Pistols had”. It is not in my nature to quote other writers when it comes to hyperbole but OK. Wow.

Watching Amyl and the Sniffers at The Windmill in Brixton yesterday evening is what I imagine it must have been like going to CBGBs in ’75. Not that there’s anything four decades old about Amyl and the Sniffers. Not even vaguely.

17. The Legend! – Live at the Haunt
I owned that stage, for what it’s worth. I had a backing tape of desolate beautiful disturbing violin music supplied to me by Maria because she could not make the show, and that fed into the isolation and sense of bereavement too. As did my divorce, and the fact I could not find a single friend to accompany me to the show.

18. Yoko Ono – Teddy Bear
Now, you tell me. Was I wrong to put my faith in Yoko all these years?

19. Let’s Eat Grandma – It’s Not Just Me
Within seconds of listening to the luscious ‘Hot Pink’, I’m reminded of Gothic Americana popsters, the sisters CocoRosie, with a much more immersive understanding of EDM. I am not trying to pull Let’s Eat Grandma down by making this observation (also, this is superficial, based around a certain Helium trill in the intertwined voices and love for esoteric slightly jarring sound) – just pointing out the danger of calling something like “nothing else in pop right now” (thank you Pitchfork) when a statement like that is more revealing of the writer’s own lack of immersion than the music itself. Indeed, the description Pitchfork applied to Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut album could so easily be applied to Cocorosie’s early work, “If anything, I, Gemini’s everything-at-once psychedelia spoke directly to the feeling of being a young teenager—a kaleidoscope of unknowns, as terrifying as it is cool.”

That’s not to say it’s not a great line. It is. It’s a great line, especially the phrase “a kaleidoscope of unknowns”

20. Flight Of The Conchords – Father & Son
So, Isaac. Hello.


What is it that you like about this song?

“It’s quite funny.”

How so?

“I don’t know.”

Is it something about the self-deprecating way the two singers tackle the subject material and their downbeat wry manner, or is it the delicious delight of the (vaguely taboo) subject material itself, the way the duo sometimes throw in an unexpected sting at the end of a line, the understated pathos that is none the less sweet or moving despite the fact the song is satirical (like all the greatest comedy it holds truth), the underplayed but heartwarming musicality, the way the song builds up into mini-crescendos and dies away again, passion momentarily spent, the smart interplay between the two disjointed narratives, the smart way “Trevor” rhymes with “live together”, the wry nastiness of some of the more ostensibly throwaway lines, the way the song becomes funnier and funnier with familiarity and repeated listens, the unmusicality of the voices as the song draws closer and closer to its climax, the gentle chugalong of the rhythm and melody, bodies swaying gently in the spotlight, the…

“I don’t know. Er. Sorry. Something like that.”

21. Robyn – Honey
Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn!

22. Kristin Hersh – Lax
This new album – her 10th studio album, it says here – is so full. So fucking full I cannot begin to muster the energy required to equal it with words (thereby failing RULE NUMBER ONE OF MUSIC JOURNALISM: always be more entertaining than the music you write about). Everything claimed for her former 4AD soulmates The Breeders, obv – but without the cosy familiarity that helps so often when confronted with casual genius, the intimate stranger. Brooding. Broody. Squalling. Squalled. Mysterious like Lyra Belacqua. I am just pleased that I am not the only one unable to measure up here.

23. Noah Cyrus, MØ – We Are…
Brexit is fucked.
The government’s fucked.
We’re all fucked.

24. Ariana Grande – God Is A Woman
I come at pop not from a teenage girl perspective (that would be absurd) or even a middle-aged white dude perspective (although undeniably this must influence me). In 2018, Ariana is first and foremost a diva, and one that has been greatly affected by tragedy and heartache. (Think Judy Garland, for the archetype.) I come at her music from a gay perspective.  I wrote an article for The Stranger about this once – I can’t find the original, but I reference it here.

25. Big Joanie – Fall Asleep
Nice nice nice, but decide I fractionally prefer the production on the old songs more. Prefer them (a little) more when the guitar sound reminds me of The Petticoats. I do like the way the YouTube algorithms take me immediately on to Hole (first time), Solange (second time), Beyoncé (third time) and Skinny Girl Diet (fourth time) following this song.

26. Little Mix – Strip
What if you have long thought that Nicki Minaj is way more entertaining and imaginative and creates (I dunno) way more adventurous noise pollution than anything the more feted rock and avant-rock and doom metal and whatever genres have thrown up in decades?

What if you started believing in stars like Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn again?

27. Rosalia – Di mi nombre
She’s from Catalonia in Spain, she’s 25, she has a grace and style that I find bewitching, she spends a lot of time in hotel rooms doubtless, dreaming. The music sounds steeped in tradition. Interesting it should feel like that (to me). Signals and noise. I first encountered flamenco singing on a visit to Athens, Greece in the 1980s – the heat was oppressive and the noise and fumes even more so. I was tasked with uncovering the English-speaking Greek rock music scene when all I wanted to do was listen to flamenco at open-air concerts and watch the flames flicker, the dancers shift. I know little of the tradition it encapsulates and am content to be watching on the sidelines still, the dancers shifting shape and form around me, ribbons fluttering. The music here is not overstated.

28. Clean Bandit – Baby (feat. Marina & Luis Fonsi)
I feel like I’ve slipped over the edge of the vortex. It’s dark here, and full of unfamiliar smells. (Is this what cultural appropriation smells like? The smell of pine disinfectant?) Clean Bandit belong in the same category as Dua Lipa as Calvin Harris and Jess Glynne, the anonymous pop stars who have risen without trace. Found yourself stuck in a loop listening to the same 90-minute segment of Radio One over again, unable to differentiate between any of the music being played (or banter, or jokes, or “human interest” pieces, or competitions)? Blame these artists: pop Polycell designed to clog up any living, breathing arteries: there to muffle the not-silence and blare of headlights streaking towards you down darkened West Sussex country roads; the smile is not on the face of the tiger. The rise of sad pop. Not melancholy, just sad.

29. Christine and the Queens – 5 dollars
I do not know why I am starting off by talking about passion, about desire here. This is not how I hear this song. To me, this song is a beacon, a full-beam headlight steering me away from the ever-looming rocks – or maybe it’s towards, I cannot tell – a ray of hope, of understanding, that even as the grey and tumble of detritus threaten to overwhelm me, remind there are still Voices out there that can aid, inspire. Her music has feline elasticity, supine grace. Oh no… wait. I mean the opposite of that.

30. Mitski – Nobody
Nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody moves me like Mitski does right now. 100,000 of those 2.8m listens are from me.

How NOT to write about music – 43. Bikini Kill

bikini-killYou know, it’s odd. I’ve never written about Bikini Kill.

(The following is reprinted from Collapse Board, 2011. I have no way of ascertaining these days whether any of it is accurate, relevant or indeed True.)


After having posted that excerpt from a Melody Maker letters page, it occurred to me that this following post might be offline. Thought I better rectify that, and fast. The following was originally published on my old Music That I Like blog. I haven’t actually checked the myriad of featured links, so if any of them are dead please let me know and I’ll fix that – Ed]

So … I thought I’d put all the parts of the Riot Grrrl interviews I did with Julia Downes for her PhD thesis on DIY Queer Feminist (Sub)cultural Resistance in the UK in one place. I’d never really gone on record about any of this stuff before – but I trusted Julia because I liked her contribution to the Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now! book, published by Black Dog. So I answered at far greater length than I’m sure she required. Anyhow, Julia kindly gave me permission to reprint my answers, which I’ve done.

melody maker riot grrrl

P.S. The hand lettering on the MM cover reprinted above was actually done by me – meant to indicate a ‘fanzine’ style of design. The effect is somewhat lessened by the addition of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Right Said Fred as drop-ins.

P.P.S. The answer I gave regarding my role at Melody Maker is specific to the three months surrounding the height of coverage given to Riot Grrrl in the music press. I can remember one conversation with Simon Price vividly, where he was trying to engage me in informed discussion and I kept repeating, “Which side are you on?” Clearly, I couldn’t have felt like that the entire time I worked at MM…  although, even now, I have considerable sympathy with the views stated below. Indeed, some might regard both Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B Magazine as natural end-results of holding those views. [And possibly Collapse Board as well – Ed]

1. How did you hear about riot grrrl?
“Oh jeez. So long ago. I used to travel to Olympia whenever Sub Pop flew me out to Seattle – it was one of my great, secret pleasures: turn up there, sleep on Calvin Johnson’s floor at The Martin (first time I visited there, I even recorded a single with Calvin and Tobi Vail in the garage at Tobi’s parents’ house), berate him for the Skrewdriver poster on his wall, drink hot chocolate and go to all-night dance parties, and delight in the fact alcohol didn’t seem to exist in Olympia. How little I knew! My early friends there were Nikki McLure, Calvin, Al Larsen, Lois Maffeo and Tae from Kicking Giant. I delighted in visiting the K warehouse – which was in a tiny apartment above a garage shop or something right near the Capitol Theatre – and avariciously buying up every last cassette and fanzine and seven-inch single Calvin was distributing, on Melody Maker expenses.

I can’t actually recall buying the Bikini Kill cassette and fanzine on one of those visits, but I certainly did. I think it was before I moved in with Jon and Jo (became their landlord) in Brighton, start of ’92. My timing is all weird over these years, so who knows? Tobi has a better memory of these times, I think: I’m fairly sure I didn’t buy two copies, but I may have done – cos Jon and Jo were my long-standing best friends (I’d known them since they were 15 or 16) and I knew they’d like it. I certainly would have played it to them. I knew I liked it – and it fitted in with my whole Pacific Northwest focus I was going through at the time.

Riot Grrrl would’ve been used as a phrase in the fanzine I picked up… but wait, earlier than that, I was corresponding with Donna Dresch about her using an article I was writing about alcoholism for her queercore fanzine Chainsaw (it never got used, much to my chagrin – I always suspected it was because I was by then part of the ‘mainstream’ media). And that fanzine was one of the early inspirations behind the early Riot Grrrls.

When did that Bikini Kill tape come out? Was it before or after the IPU?

I’ve read that Courtney Love passed it along to me and to Huggy Bear, and that’s not true. She was an initial enthusiastic and loud champion (also a primary influence for Kathy from Bikini Kill) while she still thought there might be something in it for her (it was also a way of gaining Kurt’s approval) but she dropped it pretty fast… and I can’t help feeling she gained almost all her information about Riot Grrrl early on via me (not vice versa). It was via Calvin I discovered Bikini Kill (Beat Happening was one of my favourite bands ever at the time), but I already had encountered many of the initial prime movers.

Unlike grunge – which was a term I unwittingly popularised via my writing in Melody Maker – Riot Grrrl came fully-formed (so it seemed to me) and thought out. By the time Jon and Jo had moved in with me in Brighton – start of ’92 – me and Jo were having all-night conversations about feminist language and doctrine and behavior. Before Huggy Bear discovered Bikini Kill I think they were out-and-out cutie. It would have made sense they were, knowing my friends’ musical preferences. Encountering Tobi, Kathy and Kathleen’s writing and songs politicised them.

And let’s not forget the influence of Sonic Youth…

2.  What, in your opinion, was riot grrrl about (feel free to talk about any aspect you like e.g. fanzines, music, gigs, audiences)?
Riot Grrrl was Nikki McLure going for walks through the forest, able to name every flower, and attending Swap Meets and Pot Lucks; Riot Grrrl was Stella Marrs and her indelible array of homemade postcards; Riot Grrrl was never supposed to be static, definable, but ever-changing, fluid – a movement in every respect of the word. My take on what got called Riot Grrrl was straightforward: I was reared on the female underground cartoonists of the Seventies and the post-punk Rough Trade music of the last Seventies (wherein it seemed entirely natural women should be treated as the equal of men in every respect). I never understood the need for differentiation but certainly I believe(d) in positive discrimination – to those who decried the need for women-only shows, for actively encouraging and favouring female musicians and critics over male (but obviously only if each were worth encouraging and favouring) I would say, “Just look around. Look at this patriarchal society which for years, decade… fucking centuries… has been structured in such a way it favours male over female every time.” Every fucking time. And they’d begrudge the scales tipped fractionally in the opposite way for a brief period of time? Jesus.

In 2006, NME placed a series of stories across the national media stating how cool it was Beth Ditto had made their Top 10 ‘Cool’ List – that, finally, women were ‘cool’. Which fucking century were they living in?!! UK magazine Word ran articles proclaiming “The Rise of The Indie Hottie” in 2007 and no one seemed to bat an eyelid. And people still think Riot Grrrl was needless…?!

Riot Grrrl was basically about female empowerment – females doing stuff on their own terms, separate from men, making up their own rules and systems and cultures. Sure, men were welcome, but they had to understand that for once they weren’t going to be automatically given first place. (One of the reasons my own role in the gestation of Riot Grrrl as a popular cultural movement became so confused was that after a certain period of time I began to listen to those around me – female musicians, activists, artists, human beings – who felt that having such a high-profile male associated with a fledgling female movement was counter-productive. Agreed. This is the first time I’ve spoken to anyone since then.)

The music of Riot Grrrl was a distraction: its purpose was never to give the music press another handy catchphrase to pigeonhole and thus dismiss a certain type of music. I always perceived it went far deeper than that: penetrating every aspects of lifestyle. I never once trusted or particularly liked the hippies of the Sixties – despite having much sympathy for some of their beliefs – because they were so male-dominated. I cannot place my faith in any movement that just dismissed half the world’s population without a second thought.

3. How did you reconcile your role and responsibilities as a music journalist with your relationships with those involved with riot grrrl, e.g. members of Huggy Bear?
Ah fuck. Yeah. Well, first up – the only reason I avoided seeing Huggy Bear from the off was because I was worried that I’d really like them and that if I really liked them I’d have to write about them and if I wrote about them it was going to cause an awful lot of trouble. I was fucking itching to start a revolution from within. I used to walk into Melody Maker (a paper which, let’s not forget, I was both a primary writer and Assistant Editor for) at the height of Riot Grrrl and have five different journalists screaming at me simultaneously.

I can remember a train journey to Brighton with another music critic which was composed entirely of him shouting, “You’re just a fucking music journalist!” No I wasn’t. I was Everett True. I could change worlds. If I hadn’t believed back then I could change worlds I wouldn’t have been writing for Melody Maker. It would have been a gross abuse of my responsibilities and (minimal) power. I was actively engaged in trying to bring the UK music press down from within (there was one editorial I wrote on the letters’ page which personally attacked three different journalists from my own paper). I was trying my hardest to fuck shit up.

I saw my responsibilities as a music journalist in a very different light to those around me: 1) entertain above everything, 2) compromise is the Devil talking, 3) provide alternatives, provide alternatives!, 4) make folk jealous of me, 5) get rid of the stinking rotten patriarchal mess called rock music and replace it with something far more challenging and entertaining and right-thinking.

I was aware to the point of… Christ knows… about my relationships with musicians (not just Huggy Bear)… I would go out of my way to slag friends off in print, just to prove I wouldn’t let friendship get in the way of my opinion: and I never pretended not to know someone. It was common knowledge I lived with Huggy Bear: indeed, I suspect a lot of their ideals and terminology came out of conversations they had with both me and Sally Margaret Joy (who is still about the most brilliant writer I’ve encountered). I never saw any sort of contradiction or wrongness in the fact I chose to hang out with musicians and record label bosses and not other music critics – surely that was the point, to immerse yourself in the lifestyle to such a degree that you come to represent the lifestyle?

But yeah, it rapidly got very weird. I made a major error of judgment by asking a journeyman US critic to interview Bikini Kill for the first British music press interview (instead of me) – he was so crass on both the ‘phone and in the resulting article, he pretty much put Kathleen off the mainstream music media for life. (So maybe he did serve a purpose after all.) When Bikini Kill came over to tour, I pretended not to know them – despite having recorded a single with Tobi – and didn’t attend any shows I felt I would be unwelcome at. Likewise, other Olympia musicians, some of whom only knew me from second-hand accounts and were wary of this almost mythical UK music critic who was on first-name terms with some very famous people, seemed to embody everything anybody thought of the UK music press, and yet still claimed to be down with the underground, the insurrectionists.

When Huggy Bear went off to tour the US, Jo was still living in my house – and was one of my best friends, difficulties and trauma caused by my enthusiastic championing and coverage of Riot Grrrl in Melody Maker notwithstanding. I never saw her again! (Well, once, actually.) It all got remarkably bitter, remarkably fast.

4.  Considering the conventions, structures and pressures of British rock music journalism in the early 1990s and what you knew about riot grrrl at that point, how did you and Sally figure out a way to make riot grrrl comprehensible for Melody Maker readers?
Um, that first Riot Grrrl cover… the picture of the two females fighting, covered in mud, drawn from one of the Re:Search books series of Incredibly Strange Music or something. The hand-lettering on that cover is my own, done in such a way to make it look more ‘fanzine’. I chose that image – and it’s a very strange image, in retrospect – cos I knew it would make an impact. ‘Do you wanna play?’ I believe was the tag-line. Music press readers are far more intelligent than editors and publishers give them credit for – if they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t be reading the music press. They like to think of themselves as ‘cutting edge’. So you appeal to that side of their tastes: our editor approved of my championing of Riot Grrrl because he understood (male-dominated) punk rock and he thought it was punk rock for females. Of course it wasn’t.

Sally supplied the ideas and I – being by some distance the most loved and loathed music critic at the UK music press at the time – supplied the focus. We tried to leave them in the originators’ voices as much as possible. We tried to make the stories entertaining and exciting, and also played the ‘alienation’ card as much as possible: if you’re not with us, you’re against us… but if you’re against us, you’re a total fucking square. I was in a position of power at MM at the time, my presence there was adding to sales and so of course others would listen if I said something was a good story.

It was rumoured at the time that the video-snatch cover of Niki from Huggy Bear performing live on The Word, emblazoned with the slogan “This is happening without your permission!” – what a great line! – was the best-selling non-promoted MM issue of the Nineties. I think I made that rumour up, but who knows? Sally’s cover feature on Huggy Bear’s television appearance was fascinating. It totally wound up male – and female – critics at the music press, by being straight reportage. They were expecting something way more sensationalist, but that’s cos they were still thinking in terms of Riot Grrrl being the female punk, which it wasn’t – cos punk was defined on male terms, and Riot Grrrl is defined on female.

Looking back, I’m not sure we particularly cared whether it was comprehensible or not. I knew I certainly wanted to alienate many of them. I can’t speak for Sally (obviously). She’s the one who should be talking about this.

Oh… and duh. The phrase “Riot Grrrl” is incredibly emotive. It’s incredibly easy to latch onto, even if you have no knowledge of what lies behind it.

5.  What impact did the music press coverage of riot grrrl have upon the British riot grrrl movement?
Um, the British Riot Grrrl movement didn’t exist before the music press coverage of it. Or if it did, we’re talking matter of weeks: everything happened and was hatched at once, for better or worse. That’s why that recent Black Dog book was great – so many varying viewpoints – and ridiculously revisionist, especially when it came to discussing the British music papers role in Riot Grrrl (UK – not US). The two sides fed off each other. It was fucking great that tons of fanzines (and also places like Girl Frenzy and Ablaze!) saw Riot Grrrl as their own and sought to exclude the ‘mainstream’ music press. Good on them. Totally. That’s one of the many, complicated, reasons I withdrew myself from the dialogue in ’93 and ’94.

But if we’re talking about initial impact… well, I’d go as far as saying that – outside of a very small clique of hipsters based round London’s White Horse and Brighton – the music press coverage of Riot Grrrl defined the British Riot Grrrl movement. For better or worse. Of course, whatever Riot Grrrl turned into rapidly outstripped such beginnings.

6.  In the oral histories I’ve done you have been constructed as some kind of music press spin-doctor, whilst others have emphasised your genuine excitement and enthusiasm about riot grrrl. How did it feel from your position to experience the media backlash against riot grrrl and the subsequent anti-media mood which saw many involved in riot grrrl distance themselves from yourself and the media?
I think there’s an element of truth in both perspectives. I’m a crap spin doctor though: I never end up with the money! I wasn’t at all surprised by the media backlash against Riot Grrrl because… look, this is what happens at the music press, the whole legendary ‘build ‘em up, knock ‘em down’ syndrome. It doesn’t actually exist, or rather it does – but it’s not as premeditated as that. What happens is this…

New band (or movement) appears.
Its handful of champions ardently and enthusiastically bring it to the outside world’s attention. All the initial articles about said band or movement are written by these folk.
Time goes by. Either new band or movement tamely disappears back into the mire from whence it came, or it becomes more popular – and hence editors need other people to write about it. These aren’t going to be the band or movement’s enthusiastic early champions: these are going to be the cynics, the critics, the ones barely bothered by music at all… those with different taste. So negative reviews start appearing…
And so on.

No, of course I wasn’t surprised by the media backlash. After all, haven’t I already stated I was actively involved in trying to bring down the institutions from within? Of course you’re going to defend your own. I only saw the backlash as proof that what we were attempting was vital.

Also, such a long time has passed since then, that those who did initially try to distance themselves from me and the media have since come back around to me again. (I’m talking about those from the first generation, not ones that came after. The reason I make this differentiation is because the former knew me, and the latter don’t.) Of course, your research might prove otherwise but ultimately… if I really cared about what strangers thought of me, there’s no way I could have been Everett True for so long.

Plus, I could sympathise with those who sought to distance themselves from me and the media – I would have done exactly the same in their stead. Fuck Everett True! At the height of (the initial media furor around) Riot Grrrl, Melody Maker was printing letters comparing me to Camille Paglia and Valerie Solanas. Whatever. I was just as confused and fucked-up and wanting change as those around me.

7. What did you learn through your involvement with riot grrrl?
Um, tons of stuff – but nothing that can be summed up in one soundbite, sorry. It’s not like it came as a surprise to me that women were just as able to create music or alternative ways of living as men… it’s central to my entire existence.

Considering the conventions, structures and pressures of British rock music journalism in the early 1990s and what you knew about riot grrrl at that point, how did you and Sally figure out a way to make riot grrrl comprehensible for Melody Maker readers?

You talk about how you wrote riot grrrl articles with Sally (“you’re with us or against us”) and how you put the first riot grrrl cover together. I was wondering if you could talk more about the other kinds of music press conventions this coverage also relied on – like making lists of essential riot grrrl bands, fanzines, quotes, influences etc. It just seems that, even though you had a really good grasp of riot grrrl as a structureless, flexible and undefinable movement, you still had to make riot grrrl comprehensible to your readers through using lists – which ultimately simplified and fixed riot grrrl as an identifiable property.

Back then, as hard as it may be to believe now, the rise of the Top 20 wasn’t endemic, lists weren’t everywhere. They were still overused however. But of course you’re right. We were using certain conventions with which to communicate with our readers: we were concerned with trying to make it as easy as possible for our readers, specifically female (we hoped) to be able to access the information we were providing. This was in the pre-Internet days (by a few years) so it was a concern for us to provide reference points, contacts.

We were aware that we were introducing concepts outside the frame of reference of most of our readership (even allowing for their heightened knowledge of music) and we didn’t want to fuck around and withhold information just to make ourselves seem cooler then them (a common trick among the media) – we wanted everything we knew about, pretty much, to be available to our readers. We presented that information in the form of lists simply cos of space restrictions (and yes, because it also pandered to the expectations of our colleagues). It’s possible that by doing so we ultimately simplified Riot Grrrl – but ultimately that’s true of any form of documentation, however open-ended and however wide.

The book you helped compile for Black Dog last year will be used as a benchmark for Riot Grrrl far more than our couple of original, incendiary articles ever were. It too will be used to impose structure on a structureless movement. I’m sure that wasn’t your intention any more than it was ours. Our intention was to share information. We didn’t want to be seen to be leaders, not at all: we were trying, seriously, to be selfless in our passing along of knowledge. I would have loved to put in those original articles everything else I believed Riot Grrrl stood for – most of it not musical – and we did touch upon that, but ultimately we were writing within the structure of a music paper. All we wanted to do was inspire – females specifically.

It’s worth remembering that we were very aware of the restrictions placed upon us by the medium which is why, at the end of the major Huggy Bear feature we ran in MM, we stated that the interview the reader had just finished reading was only part one of the article – part two was a fanzine they could obtain free by writing in to Sally or myself. And we dutifully, or rather Sally dutifully cos I always was fucking lazy, photocopied about 80 pages or some ridiculous amount 100 times, and sent them out to everyone who requested a copy.

There’s also aspects of tourism and rules in that first article too e.g. where Sally gives tips about visiting the embassy “Here are some tips if you ever decide to visit the embassy: (i) Don’t take ham sandwiches – they’re vegetarians; (ii) Alcohol is a big no no; (iii) As are illegal drugs – “murderous commerce chaired by the government”, says the Nation of Ulysses; (iv) As is sleeping, in case capitalism comes up and poisons you in the night”.

I’m not trying to opt out here, but I’m sure you appreciate it when I say I cannot speak for Sally. Didn’t Sally write ALL that first article? I can’t remember. I think I was only in the background giving advice (I had the musical knowledge required), but obviously I wasn’t going to tell her what to write. Sally had agendas of her own she wanted to follow – as do all individuals. That paragraph you quote above (and I really need to see the context) looks like her attempt at humour to me. Just because you support a movement doesn’t mean you have to be down with every aspect of it.

Sally was not familiar at all with the musical heritage of Riot Grrrl (that was where I came in) – she comes from a very different background that I don’t want to presume I know that much about. Any description of a foreign country is always going to contain traces of tourism, almost by definition. I wouldn’t have written it like that, but I wasn’t the writer. Ultimately what mattered was the impact achieved, not the means used… although the means used do fucking matter obviously.

Also there’s a lot of effort in describing how angry riot grrrls are: “young angry girls”, “talk about what’s making them angry”, “all-girl assaults” and Kathleen Hanna as “the angriest girl of them all” and simplistic demands such as “girls must rule all towns” and “all girls must be in bands” etc. I don’t know Everett but it just seems to undermine the diversities of riot grrrl experiences that I’ve been hearing and writing about and there’s a historical tendency to position feminist critique as irrational anger whose demands can therefore be easily dismissed by the majority.

Dude, seriously. Riot Grrrl DID NOT EXIST IN THE UK before our articles (at least not outside of my house, pretty much – and wait a minute, I love both Amelia as a person and musician, but where she gets this idea that Heavenly were a proto-Riot Grrrl band I have no idea, cos they sure weren’t at the time). So I’m not sure how Sally could have been undermining experiences that hadn’t actually happened. (Of course there were plenty of females around who could have been termed Riot Grrrl before the tag took hold, but is it right to call them that before the movement actually existed?) Sally was bitterly aware at the way any strong-thinking females are inevitably dismissed as ‘crazy’. She had been dismissed that way, time and time again, herself – particularly by our male colleagues at the music press. We wrote a series of articles debunking the archetypes back then – you have read them, right?

Again, the paragraph above might have been an attempt to present the argument in a language music press readers could relate to, for “young” and “angry” substitute “new”. I think Sally was trying to channel anger into a tool for expression and revolution, I don’t think for one moment she was trying to undermine Riot Grrrls by giving the media an easy tool with which to categorise and thus dismiss them. This language is Sally’s not mine – and again, she was the outsider trying to describe what she experienced in as fair and explanatory manner as possible. Again, I don’t feel too easy talking about someone else’s views. Ultimately, I suspect any revolutionary movement is built upon a welter of contradiction, misinformation and passion.

So yeah, what do you think?  Why did these lists happen in the coverage even when you knew that riot grrrl wasn’t so easily definable? What’s with the tips? Why do you think anger had to be at the forefront? What effects do you think highlighting anger in this way did to the perception of riot grrrl by the Melody Maker readership at that time?

Well… again, I can’t speak for Sally, but I’ve always been very aware of both the advantages and limitations of my chosen art form. Honestly? I never expected people to dwell on these articles, let alone ask me about them 15 or more years on: they need to be read in the context of the time, as a launch-pad for something far more interesting.

Overwhelmingly, we could see that something was – and still is – rotten to the very core of the music industry (inbuilt sexism). And we wanted to tackle that. And we saw Riot Grrrl as a tool with which to tackle it, so we used it – the idea was that Riot Grrrl would then use us, and move on. We always knew we would be turned upon and set upon by all sides, taking such a chance. It was something that I’m sure neither of us regrets. You’re focusing on the lists. It’s a fair point, but you could equally focus on a thousand other aspects of our coverage (and I think people did back then). We focused on the anger, yes – but as I say, I think you need to read that focus in the context of where we were writing, when we were writing. Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear, the main musical focuses at that point, were unequivocally angry.

Did that mean did we helped create a fatally flawed movement? Um. That question can only be answered in the affirmative if you believe Riot Grrrl to be fixed to one point in time, to be static – and I know you don’t.

Riot Grrrl is a myriad of contradictions. And that’s to the good. I hate folk who aren’t.


How NOT to write about music – 42. Mitski


My God. I am so late. My god. I am so lonely. My god.

Inexcusable, the lateness. I mean, I can offer excuses – isolation, bewilderment, depression and living among the half-empty hair salons of Haywards Heath foremost among them – but these are neither here nor there. Nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody should be missing music like this. I have been aware of Mitski before (I recall writing “this is music I used to love to listen to, back when I had the choice”) but I do not recall being so enraptured, blown away, flabbergasted, wonder-struck, caught in the groove, desirous to know everything and everyone and *possess*. Nobody nobody nobody nobody should have to miss out on music like this – can you imagine hearing this once, in full, and then forgetting it, letting it pass you by, letting life pass you by, not going for the little squidges and gasps of emotion and loneliness, not falling into the groove and swooning, not wandering around the house and skip-singing the chorus and refrains to your cat and the cooking, not feeling yourself so uplifted by the gorgeous chorus and helpless adoration and the way everything steps up a gear and begins to take on new shapes, fresh dimensions, a wonderment of pleasure palace cavalcades and shit? Nobody nobody nobody should have to suffer that. A song that makes you want to start screaming. A song that makes you want to start scheming. A song that makes you start dreaming what life might be like if you could stop FOR JUST ONE FUCKING SECOND all that feeling sorry for yourself and START just for one second enjoying all the glorious art and music and dirty washing up and move – POW! – through more friends’ lives and move – POW! – through more strangers’ lives and move. Pow. As someone wrote on YouTube, “The key change is like a depressed person suddenly walked into a disco and I love it”. The key change is always when a depressed person walks into a disco and starts grooving and loving it because why else, what else should you do but dance and scream and know that loneliness is eternal? The video in itself is a pure delight, especially (as someone else remarks) her facial expressions during 1.11-1.19. Everything changes. Everything flows. Heaven, heaven is a place where nothing ever happens. This song is greater than the greatest thing ever that happened in a series of great lifetimes. The song speeds up. It slows down. It speeds up again. It stays the same. It modulates. It fades. It crescendos. It slows. It ends. It sends me crazy with desire. “I know no one will save me/I’m just asking asking for a kiss/Just one good lovely kiss and I’ll be alright.”

Nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nobody nodoby nobody nobody nobody moves me like Mitski does right now. 100,000 of those 2.8m listens are from me.

You need just one song for your lonely dance party tonight.

How NOT to write about music – 41. The B-52s

the b-52s

This is so what I want to hear now. Music that bounces and prances. Music that struts and sidesteps and makes weird bird noises every few seconds. Music that’s funky and music that’s chunky. Music that does not make you feel like a flunky. You can taste the sweat, feel the pressure on your feet. You move cos you got to move. Ecstatically, clumsily, wonderfully alert and on edge. Nerves jangling, but at ease. Music that yowls, prowls and sideways scowls. Music with brass, music with class, music that knocks you straight on your ass. Infectious beats, strange rhythmical haircuts. Bongo breaks and sax solos that rightly refuse to stray from one or three notes. Oohs and aahs. Sweat then stretch. Sweat then stretch. Repetition in the music and we’re never going to lose it. Lose it. A cold sweat. A hot flush. A star turn. The B-52’s ascendant and in all their glory. Lost in music. Caught in a trance. Taut, taut, taut. James Brown? James Brown. A song for future generations.

Move along now. Nothing else to see here.

Thanks to Scott Creney.

(Scott comments: “I can’t help hearing the bird in the song as a harbinger of death, and as a result, I find this song terrifying. The first AIDS vigil in the country occurred two weeks before this performance. The New York Times ran its first front-page story on the crisis two weeks later. At the time of this video, RIcky Wilson had less than two years to live.”)

How NOT to write about music – 40. Gwenno


Let’s see where we go with this. (Nowhere. My brain is too tired. My body is physically exhausted. I can barely function but somehow I do. Somehow I still push through. Last night I had a dream I’ve had several times before where I am effortlessly flying above the streets and fields, just me, not in a plane or anything, clothed, natural, free from any potential harm or attacks, but able to view everything as it is. Not places I recognise, I’m not flapping my arms or anything. I’m floating but moving. I have control. I can dip down low and fly up high. I can encourage others to do the same, and learn.) This music is soothing, at least it would sooth me in all its sparkle-infected glissando harmonics, in its dreamy somnambulist haze and casual sprawl of beauty, but I am too tired for even soothing to have an effect. (My body is fatigued. Is this what fatigue feels like? I have no way of judging because usually when I work hard it does not feel like work. I feel myself dislocated, disconnected, idly wondering how long I can go on like this before I break down. I cannot remember yesterday. I do not recall having conversations with friends. I wander how long this state of being will last. Floating in my dream tank feels wonderful, but the state probably only lasts one or two seconds in reality. Maybe it’s Nina the cat, the way she likes to snuggle middle of the night. Man, I would love to snuggle middle of the night.) It’s beautiful, yeah – soporific, but in no bad sense. Beautiful. Sparkly and magical and possessed of alien intoxication. Like travelling slowly over Sunderland Bridge just after twilight, like that secret dead pond in Bedford, like the state of being rested, content. Is this what it feels like, not being stressed, being in company, happy? I have no way of judging. (Slip-sliding along, slip-sliding along. Companionship is a wonderful thing, please do not dismiss it so lightly. I view myself almost with dispassion wondering how long routine and sleeplessness can continue to keep me functioning. Last night I slept for five hours. That felt like cheating. Usually, it’s far less. Often the grey doesn’t just overwhelm; it’s all there is left. Unless, those one or two seconds where I fly/float effortlessly. Unless, these four or so minutes where I listen to Gwenno on a loop, more and more familiar. Yet still it fails to comfort the fatigue, the mental unrest.) Psychedelic, baby. Yeah. (In my dreams, I am the one wearing the red dress.)

[Ends] [Does not end].

I’m using all the wrong words.

How NOT to write about music – 39. U.S. Girls


I cannot get a fix on the following, it has disorientated me.

The descending cadences, 2018’s fondness for squeaky-high voices, the proliferation of words and its latent underlying anger… if I wish to show my age, I could say it reminds me of this. You may care to disagree with me. You may decide the fluid elasticity and spiraling afterthoughts do not match, although you could hardly deny the left-leaning focus. We are all born in flames (not true) but some of us grow up screaming, some shouting, some dancing… and some just do not fit in. To this day I have no idea what Meghan Remy looks like, and to this day I have no desire to break the taboo. Her music is about rhythmical intricacy and the splendour of isolation and collaboration, and I see no reason to fuck with that. She is like a grown-up MGMT but I do not mean that in a negative way, quite the opposite.

One publication titled a profile on U.S. Girls as The Entire History of Female Pop Music in One Woman I consider that signposting reductionist and patronising (would anyone term a similar male profile that way?) and untrue, so much so that I cannot be bothered to provide a link. (She also gets called eccentric – wow! – and compared to David Lynch if he was Madonna, which is fucking stupid.) Her music is prog, ain’t it? I have never had the same problem with female prog as I did with male prog. Gender does matter.

I am late to the protest. The Guardian has compared her to “classic 60s girl group and disco-era Blondie” but that is so simultaneously true and not-true it makes my head spin.

For a start it makes U.S. Girls sound incredibly accessible. U.S Girls are so NOT incredibly accessible.

In the same way Animal Collective once sounded like the “skipping-CD Beach Boys” – like someone spilled some coffee on a CD of The Beach Boys’ greatest hits and so every time it was played it again it was doomed to repeat the one cracked and warped loop, so U.S. Girls are to the above-mentioned. Or something. Your call. I couldn’t give a fuck. As I say, I am late to this party. I like the way she sticks one finger up to authority, pisses on male uselessness.

YouTube recommends Billy Corgan, The Doors,  Garbage, The Temper Trap, Maroon 5 for me. I find this odd. YouTube does not recommend U.S. Girls for me. I find this odd, also.

How NOT to write about music – 38. Christine and the Queens


She shimmers with passion.

I do not go too far into the depths of what she’s communicating – if her second album is about her newfound obsession with sex as she has claimed elsewhere then I think I will start running scared because if there is one thing lonely 57-year-old men living in Haywards Heath do not understand and cannot even begin to comprehend it is the illusion of attraction, the carnality of desire, the rules of the game – but I understand this one simple contention. She shimmers with passion, you can almost hear her shaking with lust on Chris. She shimmies across the dance-floor on spikes and sweat. She is self-contained, assured. This is very attractive to lonely 57-year-old men living in cold Haywards Heath watching reruns of Fargo and mainlining Ribena, although frankly any step in the dance of seduction is very attractive lonely 57-year-old men living in cold Haywards Heath watching reruns of Fargo and mainlining Ribena if I stop and give myself time to consider it, which of course I do not, too concerned with playing out my performance of being a…

Yeah, you got it.

I say this, not for sympathy (there are far more attractive ways of gaining that) but for clarity.

I do not know why I am starting off by talking about passion, about desire here. This is not how I hear this song. To me, this song is a beacon, a full-beam headlight steering me away from the ever-looming rocks – or maybe it’s towards, I cannot tell – a ray of hope, of understanding, that even as the grey and tumble of detritus threaten to overwhelm me, remind there are still Voices out there that can aid, inspire. Her music has feline elasticity, supine grace. Oh no… wait. I mean the opposite of that.

I understand what it’s like to strut around the house in platform boots, singing. I understand what it’s like to have never come to terms with your own gender. I understand pain, confusion, passion, sex. I just choose to try not and think about them, s’all. I sure as hell know what it’s like to feel vulnerable, and not in a good way.



How NOT to write about music – 37. Clean Bandit

clean bandit baby

Oh, fuck.

I feel like I’ve slipped over the edge of the vortex. It’s dark here, and full of unfamiliar smells. (Is this what cultural appropriation smells like? The smell of pine disinfectant?) Clean Bandit belong in the same category as Dua Lipa as Calvin Harris and Jess Glynne, the anonymous pop stars who have risen without trace. Found yourself stuck in a loop listening to the same 90-minute segment of Radio One over again, unable to differentiate between any of the music being played (or banter, or jokes, or “human interest” pieces, or competitions)? Blame these artists: pop Polycell designed to clog up any living, breathing arteries: there to muffle the not-silence and blare of headlights streaking towards you down darkened West Sussex country roads; the smile is not on the face of the tiger. The rise of sad pop. Not melancholy, just sad.

And yet. And yet. And yet…

Reasons to hate Clean Bandit 1: that beard.

Reasons to love Clean Bandit 1: the presence here of Marina singing like a Welsh Mariza. (That makes it sound like I do not appreciate her performance here. I LOVE her performance here. I am just trying to point out the obvious for those unfamiliar with fado.)

Reasons to love Clean Bandit 2: the presence here of Marina. She is so wonderful, has always been so. (Stupid to compare her to others.) The way the tune modulates, and its whisper of flamenco guitar. It’s very Eurovision. You’re looking at me like that is a bad thing. How is that a bad thing? That is not a bad thing. A love for Eurovision indicates a love for cutting loose from common boundaries of decency and taste. Nothing wrong with cutting loose from common boundaries of decency and taste. Marina sounds pathetic. Not bad pathetic but sweepingly gorrrgeous beautifully pathetic. I love Eurovision when it sounds like this, when it cuts into the abyss and hastens my descent. Oh my fucking GOD. I am recommending a tune that features Clean Bandit. Kill me now. Please. Kill me now.

There is pointed heartbreak in the hook. As the lady sings before being counterpointed by a Spanish swooner, “Hard to say it’s over, but I’m already someone else’s baby”. Not right that something so trivial should be made to sound so earth-shattering.

Reasons to hate Clean Bandit 2: they’re no Ariana Grande. But what is, right now? What is?

Rolling Stone sums it up reasonably:

Singer Marina (formerly Marina and the Diamonds) explores heartbreak and a new sound with the help of a UK electro-op duo and a Latin-pop superstar.

I didn’t know electro-op was a thing.

I’ve slipped over the edge of the abyss. I am praising a song Clean Bandit are involved in (but of course, they are only the conduit, the enablers). And I don’t give a fuck who hears me as I scream.

How NOT to write about music – 36. Rosalía


I have never viewed it as my task to do research for other people. If I carry out research, it is either for my own benefit – because it enables me to understand music some more: throw a light into the grey: it is amusing – or because I have been paid to do so. I like the music of Rosalía. It seems an age since I stumbled across her (it was in an end-of-the-year list; it was not an age, just a few weeks ago) and now I am content to know that I enjoy her music, and that it soothes me. And that is enough.

Flamenco and R&B.

That’s it. She’s from Catalonia in Spain, she’s 25, she has a grace and style that I find bewitching, she spends a lot of time in hotel rooms doubtless, dreaming. The music sounds steeped in tradition. Interesting it should feel like that (to me). Signals and noise. I first encountered flamenco singing on a visit to Athens, Greece in the 1980s – the heat was oppressive and the noise and fumes even more so. I was tasked with uncovering the English-speaking Greek rock music scene when all I wanted to do was listen to flamenco at open-air concerts and watch the flames flicker, the dancers shift. I know little of the tradition it encapsulates and am content to be watching on the sidelines still, the dancers shifting shape and form around me, ribbons fluttering. The music here is not overstated.

I have little more to add. I wanted to post this up before the end of 2018 because then I could include it within my round-up of 2018 but now that 2019 has rolled in I find myself with little or no interest in writing same. My favourite music last year was silence. (Favourite is not an appropriate word to use here.) Silence. Always silence.

Many people have written eloquently and movingly about their own depression and isolation. I find that when isolation takes you it is easier to write nothing.