I’ve been a sucker of late for any printed work that has the “cyber-” prefix on the cover. I actually do have technical knowledge, so can tell when someone’s trying it on. And I spent large chunks of 1988 attached to the Internet, which was a number of years before you had bloody fashion magazines running articles on how cool it was.
The noise-to-signal ratio on the Internet is worse than the worst zine rack you ever saw — the Usenet generates two or three thousand pages of text a day. Imagine a record shop zine rack where all the zine’s covers looked much the same (once you found the zine rack), but nineteen out of twenty turned out to be Mailman or Spunk.
The only problem with computers is that, despite now being an impossible-to-remove part of the fabric of society and culture, they’re still just too fuckin’ hard to use. (Imagine early cars where the driver had to hand-control everything down to the spark timing and where you had to go through a five-minute procedure before even starting up; imagine everyone having to rely on a completely unreliable shit-heap of a car like the one you drive now.) But as interpersonal communication tools — the international phone network goes everywhere; government-proof encryption is widely available and you can send anything down a phone line — worldwide computer networking is going to be one of the finest things ever to happen for us. (Whether the ‘us’ is actually everyone or just the sort of relatively privileged members of the middle classes who read PF is another matter.)
Oh, by the way — CYBERPUNK: Socially stillborn zit-encrusted nerd who thinks that wearing a backwards baseball cap, reading Mondo 2000 and listening to techno-industrial-lite and Nirvana instead of Alan Parsons and Pink Floyd will get him laid. He’s wrong.
(No listenable ‘industrial’ music in 1994 should have a beat. Metal Machine Music is a suitable rôle model here.)
MARK DERY (ed): Flame Wars: The Discourse Of Cyberculture (South Atlantic Quarterly)
Yep, a good one.
MICHAEL BENEDIKT: Cyberspace: First Steps
Another good one. Particular points to Allucquere Rosanne (Sandy) Stone for pointing out the problems involved in letting adolescent males define your civilisation.
Not too keen on the chapter about the Virtual Reality workplace. The hypothetical worker they’ve chosen is, of course, not a typing-pool battery chook or data-entry robotnik or job-hating wage slave in general, but (heh!) a highly-paid computer programmer. You can’t tell me that a computer programmer is going to be a typical cyberspace worker if all this comes to pass. What I really wanna know is the lot of the cyber-shitworker. That’s you and me in ten or twenty years. Non-technicians don’t seem to exist in this conception.
bOING bOING: The finest cyberzine I’ve seen: intelligence, wit, humour, perspective, really cool technical shit, a life. This is a genuine-article zine — hell, the genuine-article zine — and whips Mondo 2000’s consumerist butt: more text than pictures, more content than fashion shoots (?!), no pretentions (up its arse). Essential. They also hardly talk about music.
MONDO 2000: I had severe misgivings about this one until I saw Wired. Oh, boy. Pretty bloody consumerist and Californian and suffers recurrent techno-sexism (technologically-advanced sexism being, of course, much hipper than and not in the least bit like that old-fashioned primitive sexism), but fundamentally of substance and worth your time. They do talk about lame-ass ‘alternative’ music (Red Hot Chili Peppers?!) just as if it means something, which is a problem.
WIRED: First issue read like something written to a brief found in a lesser corporate marketing guy’s in-tray on a Tuesday afternoon (see Axcess) — hideous cybercorporate mag — though subsequent issues have usually had substance. Corporate + Sincere = Yuppie.
Still don’t know why it has CD reviews. (I have a horrible feeling the music reviewed may actually be just the ticket for the intended readership.) The review section does earn one tenth of a point for Microwave Of The Month — the conductive surface makes CDs even more fun to microwave than records.
Most of the staff of bOING-bOING now have day jobs at Wired, which justifies its existence to a certain degree.
AXCESS: The Pearl Jam of cyberzines. Actually, I’m not feeling that generous. A marketing shithead’s idea of a twenty-something zine. Given to computer design vomit (the unfestive and out-of-season Christmas tree approach to font selection) and transparent ‘gee, wow!’ lack of criticality to blatant hype. (Criticality only puts the advertisers off.) Dumb enough that a few interesting things slipped through the editorial net, but fundamentally a piece of shit. I ignored obvious warning signs and paid money for it. Be sure to feel pissed off every time you see a copy. I do.
24–SEVEN: Like Axcess but worse and English. Whereas Axcess tries to link ‘grunge’ with the cyberculture, 24–Seven’s preferred music is techno, it has even less technical content and is actually dumber. (The bad Swedish disco pop of cyberzines.) Luckily I spotted the symptoms early and avoided actually buying it.
Most rock books are utter and irredeemable rubbish; some are average (the best of the worst or the worst of the best); a very few are actually pretty good to great.
What ones are any good? The Lester Bangs one was great in terms of opinionation, even if everything it said about Metal Machine Music was goddamned lies. (It is actually a musical record ... certainly as musical as any trendy Japanese noise specialist.) The Radio Birdman one is excellent and recommended, and has the lyrics in a separate section to the main text! (If only ... that Hendrix one.) A lot of rock books have a decent go at it, but end up only making the correct approach apparent; e.g. Paintwork, on the Fall, which was actually a reasonable cobbled history, but showed clearly that the real book on the Fall will be the complete lyrics and nothing less; and the history is interesting in passing, but isn’t really important — the Fall not being glamourpusses, the work itself is actually the focus.
Joe Carducci, Rock And The Pop Narcotic is an excellent, important and highly recommended book that is comprehensively full of shit in many places. Overground rock’n’roll in America wiped out not by capitalist leeches, but in horrifying fact by a conspiracy of limey fag wave Tin Pan Alley haircut bands and hippie liberal rock critics? Amazing book, though. Get it.
Press-clipping collections are pretty good in that, instead of a redigestion, you get the original sources in all their contradiction and can allow for time, place, the original cretinous journalist, etcetera. Alas, copyright forbids their wider circulation.
Books of historical data (e.g. Chris Spencer’s) are as good as their subject — given care and attention to detail — and the facts, being historically fixed, can be finalised over a number of editions; you don’t have to get everything in one burst. (Though you’d better get 99.8% or else.) But these are a different species to the band-specific books.
Possibly the best format for a band-specific book would be some sort of computerised hypertextual creature combining the standard cobbled historical rehash with full text of original research and clippings, doubts and contradictions being noted and full referencing linking the two sections. This format fits in very well with the Doctrine of Total Information (there is no such thing as forbidden knowledge), which we at PF hold dear. An issue of Party Fears along these lines would presumably consist of both edited, annotated transcripts (what you see now) and original interview recordings (so you can hear how much I actually crap on in interviews). Record ‘reviews’ will be the actual sound recording (no more groping for poxy descriptions of fundamentally intangible musical associations! It’s all there in front of you!) plus historical notes (this requiring a much greater rigour in historical reference on our part, but that should be a lot easier if we assume the sort of advanced information environment all this would require). Book reviews will be the full text plus notes on good bits. Live reviews will remain unchanged; venues don’t fit into hypertext systems, after all. Opinion pieces such as this will spew forth as usual. Letters worth printing will continue to arrive once in a blue moon.
Oh boy it’s fun having a ten-disc CD player. It actually says “CD Changer” rather than “CD Player” on the front panel. And all those buttons! The Sony CDP-C10 — what an impressive-looking technological monolith. Now all I need is the manual.
JOHNNY CASH: American Recordings (American Recordings, US CD)
The thing I’ve always loved about Johnny Cash is that he can sing any bloody song and make it sound brilliant, because of his voice — but, when other people do his songs, they still sound brilliant. This new record is just him and guitar, mostly in the studio but with a couple of live tracks. Every song is excellent. Three or four chords is all you need if you know what you’re doing. I’m probably becoming a country convert.
Not available outside the US due to American’s legal wranglings with Phonogram over non-US distribution rights, particularly with regard to the UK but the fallout hitting Australia. Obtain a copy any way you can at whatever expense — this record is class itself.
DAGOES: Supreme (ind CD)
Compilation of all sortsa tracks and live stuff. Not a complete works — “Heartbeat/Hey Man” is missing, f’r instance (and “Heartbeat” was one of my favourites!) — which is odd given that it has room (sixty minutes total). Comes in a 5” pizza box with the tray glued inside. Cheap, but only five hundred around.
HARDHEADS: The Long Goodbye (Spear Tackle CDEP)
If these songs were done acoustic and without the vocal affectations (hard-rock grunts and “ah-a-a-a-ahhh” harmonies), they’d sound like the Robert Forster songs on Send Me A Lullaby. And I bet no-one’s ever said that to them before. As it is, it’s a ’60s-rocking band edging into hard-rock that nevertheless may have a tape of a Go-Betweens album lurking somewhere in its room. It sounds like it’s trying to sound dumber than it is: smart chords in ‘dumb’ songs. “Burn” and “Thanks For Nothing” are just about okay. Not great yet, but I’ll hold on to this one just in case they come out good. (PO Box H14, Hurlstone Park 2193)
MAGIC DIRT: Signs Of Satanic Youth (Au Go Go 2x7”/CD)
Having a double-seven release gets this (and the label) a lot of points. They don’t radicalise my life — and, truth be told, I wasn’t thrilled seeing them live; dull-OK, but Adalita dancing to Verona lost ’em a few points — but it’s good pop music with loud guitars and a good sound (one of the better usages of a female voice I’ve heard on a conventional rock’n’roll record) and the guitars are grungy but not ‘grunge’ in the ‘classic’ sense, which means it’s got a future. The Magic Dirt backlash doesn’t start here. Best song is “Redhead”, one of my faves this week. There is a thirty-six-minute hidden bonus track on the CD (consisting of one tape loop) that makes the seven-inch a great idea.
SNOG: Lies Inc. (Id/PolyGram CD)
I know no-one reading this will want to know about this record, but this is the first full-price new album I’ve bought in 1994 (the only one in 1993 was Urge Overkill, and that took me until November) and I like it. Bought this for the singles, which are basically the best things on it. Techno-industrial pop with primary-school Situationist lyrics, i.e. industrial ‘lite’. (Any musical form that goes metal is set to die soon after — Ministry heard a Big Black album and a Metallica album and fucked it up for everyone — and going metal and pop at the same time means it’s definitely the day to pull the plug.) Strictly disposable, but fun for a while. I’ve also bought all their singles. CD loses points for having a clear tray with no picture behind.
TELLERS: Limited Movement (Siren CD)
Mainstream Qld rock/pop band goes ‘grunge’ and puts “fuck” in a song. I’d rather see the Stump Mittens than listen to this again. File next to Hipslingers, Meloncholiflowers, Ape The Cry, Valiants, Ivy Bridge, Enaergia, Many Faces, Richard Mortimer, Studio 52, fuck there’s a lot of the turds. They’re always the ones who phone you three times to follow up, too. There are much, much worse things than bad alternative music out there. Do you know any irredeemable suburban non-entities who think they’d like to be musical stars and that reading songwriting and music industry how-to books is the way? Only someone with a terminal case of Wenner’s Syndrome would allow these things space to exist. The sort of ‘indies’ that make a bit more major-label quality control seem like a pretty appealing idea. Fuck these people for wasting even ten minutes of my life.
VARIOUS: Fast Product: Rigour Discipline And Disgust (Fast Product/EMI, UK CD)
Fast Product was a Scottish post-punk label running from 1977 till 1980 that, like many Britishers of the time, had a list of artistic theories, ideals and pretensions that were almost more important than the music. Bob Last: “... an idea about a way of approaching things. We refused to accept that any part of the whole chain of making cultural products lacked significance; the entire chain generated meaning. We embraced this distortion enthusiastically. If it was a record, we recognised that the packaging was not a device to sell the record but was itself something we were selling ...” Which would be a marketing statement so suspect as to be ludicrous in 1994, but was just the ticket for music in the late seventies. “Speed was vital here: slipping through the net, you could say what you wanted with a minimum of mediation ...” Ah, those innocent and confident days.
(As it turned out, this confidence became hubris; and, after the artistic collapse of one of the finest and most productive indie scenes ever seen, British music never recovered its quality. Spare me please: Primal Scream and Blur are Pearl Jam and REM.)
This CD contains everything the label released that wasn’t a compilation (nothing from the three Earcom audio-zines — sorry, collectors!) except the Dead Kennedys, plus some Fire Engines stuff from Pop:Aural, Last’s follow-up label. Bands featured are the Mekons (first two singles — raw punk with a sense of humour and something to say), Scars (raw-recorded pop songs with tunes — heaps better than the crappy 1981 album), the Human League (early synth-pop experimentation days — “allying technology with humanity and humour” — “The Dignity Of Labour” correctly anticipates, as the sleeve notes point out, ambient house music, not that you or I care), 2.3 (young punk-scene band, not particularly wonderful and not particularly punk), Gang Of Four (“Love Like Anthrax”, “Armalite Rifles” and “Damaged Goods” — it’s a fascinating exercise to hear all three songs you knew off by heart [except “At Home He Thinks He’s A Tourist” or whatever its proper title is] as a New-Romantic-by-default in the early eighties actually placed in their proper context) and the Fire Engines (“Candy Skin” is always worth having another copy of, particularly on Convenience-Disc).
They had ten thousand theories about why they were making this goddamned fantastic music, but every one of the theories was wrong, because the theories kept going when the music started sucking. The flipside of modernist revolutions is glass and concrete buildings, the aesthetics of freeways and a sterile environment.
(Actually, we can get into all sorts of stuff here — a cultural phase-change to a complex, vibrant, volatile liquid state under the heat of modernism; the change to gas and dissipation as the heat was kept on for too long ... complexity theory and the precise point at which the bubbling stew is ‘interesting’, rather than too solid or too fluid ... Deleuze and Guattari ... keep all this in mind for later, OK.)
This comp is a great bit of history and entertainment — not just for the music, but for Jon Savage’s sleeve-notes, a detailed history of the label and an excellent slice of the heady days of British post-punk in the late seventies. I’d also like to quote a chunk that I found interesting, having bought the anti-major-label issue of Maximum Rock’n’Roll the same day I got this: “Soon after the release of the first ‘Earcom’, Fast Product sold their catalogue to EMI. This was a controversial move within the emerging ‘independent’ network ... ‘We were against the idea that alternative was radical: it always seemed that the mainstream could happily accommodate any number of alternative ghettos. In fact by setting itself up as an alternative the sector simply gave succour to the establishment’s hollow liberal fantasies.’”
Or, back to Jon Savage: “You could say that for all that period’s speed, wit and passion, the drive of the media industries was unstoppable; and you would be right. Or you could be graceful and bathe yourself in the noise.”
BLACK TO COMM #19 (96pp quarto): BtC was always one of my favourites in the world of no-holds-barred art-Nazism for HIGH ENERGY ROCK’N’ROLL — a zine for people who understand that, when deciding on how to spend your money, you can only eat a given piece of food once whereas you can play a record any number of times — but with this issue, Chris Stigliano’s gross homophobia (it’s an official BtC stance) and right-wing political opinions have finally made the magazine almost unreadable. He seems to have decided that, since his rock’n’roll sense (still sharp as ever) and his political solutions (there’s an editorial rant seriously praising Dan Quayle on his anti-Murphy Brown stance — you think I’m joking, don’t you?) both exist in the same head, they must therefore be two views of the same thing; and that rock’n’roll is an integral part of his personal comprehensive aesthetic of life and culture, and you must be a liberal (US) or a faggot or not lower-class to disagree.
I would previously have recommended this zine as compulsory reading for all (from school age on), but must now mark it as only suitable for those who already know they’ll like the music — others may be put off so much by Stigliano’s political crap (and that of others like him) that they end up thinking that being a lower-middle-class reactionary, and proud of it! follows naturally from the music, and hence never bother with the sounds.
Stigliano’s (and, for that matter, Carducci’s) view that a certain set of right-wing politics follows naturally from a given excellent musical form is as fallacious as the view that a certain set of left-wing politics follows naturally from a given excellent musical form. (Mediocre musical forms may actually have association to political opinions, since they fail as music anyway.) Art and interpersonal relationships are different things. Art is the only consideration in art, but life is more important in life than art is.
BtC has always been a bit of a test of the mental filters, but I’m having trouble with this one. Like trying to filter gold-bearing shit. I was so excited when I found this in Au Go Go ... The noble lower classes, eh? Love ’em. (714 Shady Avenue, Sharon PA 16146, USA)
M4: Where are all these punk/metal zines coming from? Think I’ll have to start rating ’em on the PF Dead Horse Quotient™, a measure of word fatigue versus life and freshness. The aim is to score zero. Extreme youth gets some slight concessions, but not many. Dead horse quotient here is pushing 50–60% in detail and 90%+ in overall outlook. The failure mark on this scale is around 30%, unless the rest of the zine in question is really good. This isn’t. (PO Box 263, Melton 3337)
PAGAN GRIND #1 (36pp A5): “Punk, Hardcore, Death, Grind, Grunge, as long as the music is honest and interesting I’ve got time for it.” Bands (Infected, Suiciety), opinion pieces (the horses flogged being a mite smelly, but hey ...), artwork and cartoons, live, recordings. It’s fine for what it is ... dead horse quotient around 20–25% ... tho’ far as I’m concerned, any punk zine I get now has to measure up to Underdog Zine. (Don, 14 Russell Street, Fremantle 6160)
THE SKILLS OF DEFENSIVE DRIVING #4: The Car Ahead (26pp A4): A music zine in basis, though they’ve realised you need more. I’m not keen on their unashamed use of ‘post-modernist’. Tumbleweed interview, excellent live reviews (“Here Carl continues in his never ending search for God knows what. Hope he finds it.”), some records, a review of Leyland Brothers World (five stars for total insensitive cultural exploitation), a huge pile of stuff on Pacific islands and how to have a holiday on one (excellent again) and a piece on hunting the Ugly Australian. It’s charming, witty, intelligent and aware, it scores a clear zero on the dead horse scale and, what’s more, it’s free. Dunno how they manage that one, but get one while you can. ($1.50 post per issue; Ben Richardson, Ben Life Press, PO Box 394, 22 Central Avenue, Manly 2095)
SPUNK #2 (64pp A4): What a thoroughly objectionably bad piece of shit. Wishes it were Juice. Standard mainstream-number-two bands, shallow and consumerist questions. Editorial ends with “Remember, lo-fi sux.” You can’t tell the editor works in the promotions office of Festival NSW, can you? (Except by how he sent out the promos for the first issue with a Festival ‘with compliments’ slip.) I’m reliably told that he’s the nicest guy ever, but nice guys grow on trees, just like bad zines.
SPUNK #3 (28pp A4): Imagine if someone convinced Pearl Jam that a ‘lo-fi’ album would be a useful career move.
THIRSTY AND MISERABLE #1 (40pp A5): Done by the same guy who did Detox a couple of years ago and of the same musical concerns. Bored!, New Killers On The Block, D.O.A. (“I personally recommend avoiding their output from 85–92”), Hippy Knight (Cousin Creep was actually offered the Australian licensing of the first Nirvana album — he turned it down ...) and a pile of pretty together record, zine and live reviews. This is pretty damn cool. (Richard Stanley, PO Box 666, Indooroopilly 4068)
UNDERDOG ZINE #1 (68pp A5): The zine arm of hardcore label Underdog Records, spun off from the label’s newsletter. I guess punk is not dead after all; or, at least, the people have life and vitality and a future. This is a slice-of-life communication from what seems like a helluva nice bunch of people presumably intended for us to read as equally nice people. It’s well-written, well-produced and provides insight into how others live life as well as they can under our societal circumstances. Contents include a Chicago cheap motels guide, a group of people each describing one day of their life from start to finish, reminiscences of life, a tour diary (8-Bark in Canada), the corporate world, a punk adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, some Underdog band histories, Underdog adverts, opinion pieces and some silly stuff. Not one droplet of doctrinaire rubbish. The people writing it have warmth, humour, humanity and fun; reassuring to see. Recommended. (US$1 cover; I’d guess about US$3 to Underdog Records, PO Box 14182, Chicago IL 60614, USA)