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The Best Band Ever

Since popular music began the debate has raged at to who is the best band ever. Beatles, Stones, Zep, The Who, through to Stone Roses, U2 (who incidentally are nowhere near being the best band ever), RHCP, B*witched et al.

Various facts, statistics, opinions and reasonings are presented in support of each. Those presented in support of U2 are wrong, as for the rest supported arguments can be made although the general consensus always seems to arrive back at the Beatles.

And, to some extent, rightly so. This is the band that changed music. The fact that St Peppers sounds so unremarkable a record today is testament to its ground breaking origins and the influence it has come to exert on both its contempories of the time and every band that followed in their wake.

The volume and variety of their work is also indisputable and their readiness to experiment and push boundaries sees them as possibly the original pioneers of the studio album as we know it today.

And yet, despite this, I wish to challenge the idea that The Beatles are the greatest ever band. Not because they are not all of the above, because they most certainly are, but by suggesting a new criteria by which a band should be judged.

The Beatles are, arguably, still the greatest masters of their art. But therein lies my case, within the ‘art’ of music. Art is something abstract, ambiguous, symbolic of something greater than simply the presented product. And art usually requires explanation, through either the education of appreciation or, more often, through an effeminate, high brow gentleman with oversized shirt cuffs and wild hair or, sometimes, a nun, telling you what a piece is and what you should think of it.

But even the great masters divide opinion. The differing disciplines, let alone the numerous ‘masters’ of each leave even the most appreciative of experts unable to agree on the single greatest artist.

Should it be that truly great music should be crafted, as with art? Taken from a raw material and hewed through time and effort into something greater than its parts, to be savoured and appreciated in a knowing manner. Or is a truly great band one that can bypass that and simply capture the essence of something far more guttural, far more primitive?

I submit, in defence of this argument, one Led Zeppelin. Note if you will the opening riffs of Jimmy Page on ‘Whole Lotta Love’. Is this something crafted and moulded, made to be more than its parts, to be appreciated on a higher level? Or does it speak the same language our monkey forefathers would have fought and fucked to millennia ago?

Gather a group of cavemen together, either through time travel if available or by taking a train journey to Newcastle. Play them ‘Lucy In The Sky’ and would they get it? Would it stop them picking the nits from each other? Unlikely. But ‘Black Dog’? This is the same beat, the same primitive thump, mined from the earth itself, that these Neanderthal’s would play out as they danced around naked fires in praise of their vengeful and destructive Gods.

In short, whilst The Beatles speak to the mind, the intellect, maybe even the soul, Led Zeppelin speak to the beast within us. To this end they create something more universal, a greater original truth that can be understood by the lowest common denominator amongst us.

The Beatles are, perhaps, the great impressionists. Led Zeppelin are, in contrast, long forgotten cave painters. We look at the impressionists work and the camp man explains the use of colour, shape, light and shade, the subtle brush work, and he tells us it is good.

Whereas, with the cave painting, you look at it and see the stick man throwing the spear at the big fuck-off mammoth. You don’t need the camp man to explain it, it’s already obvious. The man on the cave wall looks no more realistic a man than those in the paintings of Picasso. Yet instinctively you recognise the man in the cave painting. You know what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling, because when you strip away the many layers of evolution from him to us you still understand, from the primitive and primeval sense of self, what’s on the wall. Man; Spear; Mammoth. No amount of intricate brush work or subtle use of colour can communicate this as effectively.

I don’t for a second suggest this resolves the debate as to the greatest band ever. If anything it only complicates matters further. But it may be that it is the debate, rather than the answer, that makes music what it is and what we love. In which case I hope you will welcome my muddying the waters.

Jim Johnston


Book Review: Totally Wired - Post-Punk Interviews And Overviews - Simon Reynolds (Faber & Faber)

Most of you reading this are probably already familiar with Simon Reynolds and his writings. Totally Wired is his sixth book, following on from his collections of articles and anecdotes of Glam Rock, Hip Hop, and everything inbetween. Actually, within the last six months I've read both Energy Flash, which collates the late 80s electronic scene and its sources in some detail and Rip It Up which is a documentation of the late 70s and early 80s. Totally Wired is to some extent a postscript to both these books although a worthy tome in its own right. A collection of interviews with some of the more notable figures of the Post Punk world and a very interesting series of conversations these are, with a cast divided more or less equally between the UK and US, figures as seemingly diverse as Jah Wobble, Bill Drummond, Tony Wilson, Lydia Lunch, David Byrne, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, revealing exactly what propelled them into creating music which it seemed only John Peel, also an interviewee, would ever let us hear.

Reynolds very clearly has a serious knack of persuading his subjects to reveal some or all of their most personal inspirations, and anyone looking for pointers to the artistic, literary and political motivations behind bands such as Scritti Politti, Swell Maps and The Associates will quite definitely find them here. Unafraid of ever recieving a lifetimes subscription to pseud's corner, and possibly carrying one or two hidden microphones about his person, Reynolds reveals to us some near-arcane background noises and at approaching 450 pages that means a hefty agglomeration of atonality and poststructuralist disco rhythms.

The 32 interviewees share a common argot of references and experiences, whether they emerged from Notting Hill squats or Manhattan jazz lofts, and the combination of intellectual statements and rock n roll anecdotage makes for an occasionally bewildering reading experience. The Slits' Ari Up met Jimi Hendrix. Per Ubu frontman David Thomas reveals that the Syd Barrett Appreciation society was based not in Cambridge but in Cleveland, Ohio. The late Tony Wilson describes Reynolds own recording processes, observing that 'there are plants next to us absorbing sound'. Courtney Love was a 16 year old LSD dealer, according to Bill Drummond. Swell Maps were attacked with their own instruments, reminisces the late Nikki Sudden. Paul Morley claims to have invented Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Producer Martin Rushent worked with practically everyone.

Interspersed amongst the verbal are the names of a host of influential artists and writers : William Faulkner, Raoul Vaneigeim, Knut Hamson, Burroughs, Warhol, Bertolt Brecht, Gerard de Nerval. This is what lifts Totally Wired above the lurid exposé it almost is. Artistic credibility is the driving force that unites the disparate grouping of musicians, writers and producers interviewed here, and Reynolds has done a near immaculate job of coaxing detail from individuals whom you might think would prefer that some of their motivations remained hidden. And three postscripts reveal that Reynolds himself has plenty more material to bring to the attentions of anyone too young to remember vinyl. Totally Wired is both an important documentation and a genuinely entertaining read.
http://www.faber.co.uk/work/totally-wired/9780571235490/

Jon Gordon


Book Review: The Alternative Hero - Tim Thornton

Considering the amount of music and writing the UK produces on an annual basis, isn't it a bit odd that while there are seemingly no end of biographies and nostalgic reasessments of 77punk and the late 80s club scene finding publication, that works of fiction set in the music industry are a bit thin on the ground? Because they are. Reading 'The Alternative Hero' found me struggling to recall any similar novels, with only Tony Parson's 'Stories We Could Tell' having any similarities with Tim Thornton's book, and those similarities are a bit superficial. Parson's novel is a semi-autobiographical account of his time spent at the NME in the late 70s, while 'The Alternative Hero' is a touch more lightweight and has more of an actual plot. They read very differently: one is a highly personalised odyssey through a dodgily disjointed London scene where no-one ever has both feet on the ground, while the other is an essentialy good natured romp more in the spirit of a mainstream sitcom than the work of Raymond Carver or Henry Miller.

The plot of 'The Alternative Hero' starts off something like this: fictional late 80s indie stars Thieving Magpies had a both credible and lucrative career up until 1995, when their lead vocalist, Lance Webster, threw a premier league flakey onstage at a very high profile festival gig. Fast forward a decade or so, and Clive Beresford, then an impressionable youth and also a committed Magpies fan, sees an older if not perhaps wiser Lance Webster walking down his street, carrying a bundle of laundry. Determined to uncover the truth about his favourite band, Clive sets about attempting to both contact and interview Lance, and the book details the assorted ensuing debacles that, well, ensue.

Tim Thornton must wonder why no-one else has really done it before. With so many actual accounts of the late 80s club scene around, 'The Alternative Hero' completely sidesteps the raves and traffic jams and concentrates on a no less interesting moment in British music history - the moment in 1989 when practically an entire generation of leathery greebo guitar thrashers suddenly went a bit Duran Duran. This, runs the subtext, was real music, with the Britpop bands of the mid 90s a shower of posey artschol wannabes who never quite got their comeuppance at the hands of The Wonder Stuff and Carter USM, let alone Ned's Atomic Dustbin. Keeping things firmly on the right side of Comedic, 'The Alternative Hero' does read very much like the treatment for a film, and couldn't we all do with British cinema set in a world we'd actually want to participate in, rather than yet more dreary gangster flicks? There isn't any getting away from it, 'The Alternative Hero' is, as a novel, something of a rarity.

Now, there are some tremendous music biographies about. The Pulp biog 'Truth And Beauty' is an indispensable read for anyone wanting insider info on mid 80s indie , and there is now sufficient distance from the actual Britpop world to make Alex Jame's 'A Bit Of A Blur' seem like a real biog and less of an opportunisitic cash-in. Actual fiction set in the music industry though; there isn't any mileage in it, and Tim Thornton has got me wondering why. Perhaps writers, as a species, just find musicians too difficult to write about; 'I'm a writer and always have been' they say, 'I haven't the background to write about the music scene' or something. Pick up any crime novel. The murder victim is never a musician. If Martin Amis' Keith Talent had been a drummer rather than a darts player, what would that have done to the noir-ish amoralities of Amis' 'London Fields'? And while the modern city novella might contain a matey hippy bloke who does a bit of puff on the side, if he has a guitar it will doubtless get damaged during some farcical encounter with the main female character's real boyfriend, rather than accompany matey bloke when he performs a couple of songs at the local platform evening.

Around halfway through his first draft of 'The Alternative Hero', Tim Thornton must have realise dexactly what he was taking on. He must also have realised that, with so little in the way of precedent for a novel such as this, that he could pretty much do what he wanted with it. The result is lively and as far as I can remember historically accurate reminiscence of how we used to live two decades ago, and I laughed out loud at least once. Recommended.
http://www.rbooks.co.uk/product.aspx?id=022408724X
(Jonathan Cape £12.99)

Jon Gordon


The Madness and Magic of Morrissey in Concert
by Jen at Stratosphere Fanzine

Way back when, in 1991 to be exact, I had the extreme delight of seeing Morrissey in concert at The Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey, USA during his Kill Uncle tour. Now, I know that seems like ages ago, but in most respects the “Morrissey experience” hasn’t changed over time, so travel back with me at bit as I reminisce about the most thrilling concert I’ve ever been to.

Our seats were pretty far back at this outdoor arena - not in the “maddening crowd” front – but we figured when Morrissey came out, we’d jump some seats and try to get closer. Then the music started and Morrissey and his band – his gang – took the stage and it was pure pandemonium. The crowd up front instantly surged forward, and I was suddenly glad I was at a distance or I would’ve gotten crushed.

At this point in his career, Morrissey wasn’t in his prime per se; his zenith, of course, was with The Smiths in the 1980’s, but he wasn’t far off the mark. He stylishly camped it up, running around the stage, twisting and turning, writhing in melancholy for some sad songs and then getting all pumped up on the faster songs. We were all with him, every eye riveted on him and his fey ways, singing along and swaying to his mellifluous voice and magnetic presence. Once in a while someone managed to get onstage to hug or touch him. He shook hands with the audience on ‘n’ off, nearly getting pulled into the vortex of seething frenzy each time.

Morrissey’s a performer – an entertainer. He knows the drill, but he makes it all look sweet and thrilling. He went through a few wardrobe changes – sometimes his shirts were torn, or even ripped off him, by is wildly adoring fans. He wore a fluidly thin, black shirt, and then a mesh shirt and jeans. Someone threw a beaded necklace. There were a few gladiola flung through the air in reverence of (and reference to) The Smiths.

One girl, with the help of some guys pushing her up, got on to the stage, but security grabbed her immediately before she had a chance to touch Morrissey. She screamed like a banshee, arms out, while the two guards carried her whole body away. Morrissey didn’t miss a beat. Still singing, he crossed the stage, reached out his hand, and leaned towards her, shaking her hand – and she’s in heaven. She’s stopped her wailing and is taken away peacefully. That is the finest moment of the concert.

By the end it all gets way too crazy. Several fans invade the stage - too many for security to control, and suddenly Morrissey is gone, disappearing into the ether, taken into protection against the fans who so dearly love him – because they love him too much; they go overboard, getting carried away in the moment, and we’re left with the darkened stage and the crowd chanting fervently for Morrissey to return. This is our cue to depart before the masses do, so, dreamily floating on a blissful cloud in our ears and minds, we leave the concert and drive away from the madness and magic that is Morrissey.

Jen Stratosphere Fanzine
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine/


To be or not to be: The great singer-songwriter debate
By Stephen Jessep

This summer Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes released his debut solo album, the eponymous 'Conor Oberst'. Now frankly, this has confused the hell out of me. I always though Bright Eyes WAS a solo project. You know, one of these contemporary singer-songwriters operating under band-names? Iron & Wine, East River Pipe, Badly Drawn Boy. Go check out your CD collection and I guarantee you'll find five solo artists you didn't know about, hiding in there like Bin Laden at a ZZ Top gig. Is it fuelled by a desire for anonymity in a fame hungry world or the evil-hand influence of the record label promoter? Who knows (who cares?). But what makes it additionally confusing is the fact that there is quite clearly a band playing on this new Conor Oberst 'solo' record. Drummer, Bassist, Guitarist - it's the same crafty bunch popping up to "help out" on every track.

It's a confusing world these days for the average wannabe singer-songwriter. Back in the sixties and seventies those leading the music world forward were called Bob (Dylan), Neil (Young), or Tom (Waits). In fact, the more boring your name the more guaranteed you were of greatness. Englebert Humperdinck? And he picked that name for himself? Paul Simon? He's got two boring first names for a name - he must be some kind of genius! What's more, you kind of knew where you stood with a Bob or a Paul. You knew you could offer to buy them a pint and they wouldn't attempt to wear it as a hat. However, somewhere along the way all the hippy parents started giving their prodigious children 'exotic' names. Now I have to deal with Devandra Banhardt and Sufjan Stevens? I'm not sure where I stand with a Sufjan? Do I have to take my shoes off when I enter his house? Should I really drink that strange smelling tea he's brought in that I didn't ask for? Does he mind being called Suffa?

Meanwhile all the Jacks and James', the old fashioned Anglo-Saxon names, well now it turns out they're all wankers! They're good mates with Jools Holland, they get regular Radio 2 airplay, they're popular with Q readers! So what do you do if you're a poor confused singer-songwriter who didn't have hippy parents but you know your Jim Morrison from your James Morrison? Come up with a fake band name.

I don't know which side of the fence I sit on this. As bard of sorts myself I struggle to come to terms with my uncool first name being printed on posters, but I'm getting a little tired of reading reviews that (always) start with "Bat for Lashes is actually just one person", like it's something to be impressed by. If Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes came out on stage with a bass drum strapped to her back and a pair of cymbals between her knees like a real one-man-band, then I'd be suitably impressed.

So maybe we've come full circle and Mr Oberst is trying to reverse the trend. Personally I think it's about time.

And in the meantime I'm calling my kids Nebraska and Roulette.

Stephen Jessep


The Art of Shoegaze

"It just feels like it's the right time for it all to be remembered again. I played in San Diego…with Mark Gardener from Ride and Adam Franklin from Swervedriver and it seems all cyclical; shoegazing seems to be ready for a reappraisal. " - Rob Dickinson of Catherine Wheel in Issue 57 of The Big Takeover magazine

...and this article here is my reappraisal of the shoegazer genre – with my picks for best bands, albums, and songs during that heady time in the U.K. in the early to mid-1990’s, when the music scene did a wonderful job at celebrating itself (at least from the  U.K. music press standpoint).

My experience with the shoegazer scene was from a distance (geographically and culturally - from across the Atlantic Ocean, and temporal - late to non-existent album/ep releases in the U.S.). Much of the music I heard I had to buy as imports and all the news, views, and reviews I read were from the British music papers (NME, Melody Maker, Select) who were 'snarky' before the term even existed.

I may not have a first-hand account or accurate perspective of this musical phenomenon - but to me, it's not about which bands were in the Scene (That Celebrates Itself) or what the U.K. music press labeled as “shoegazer” - it's about the music.

Shoegazer music is generally defined as a musical style of certain indie bands that emerged in the U.K. in the late 1980s to early 1990s that used layered guitar textures (hazy, distorted, feedback, droning) and subdued, androgynous vocals that tended to disappear into the waves of guitar sounds.

I'm using the term shoegazer here for the purpose of identifying and labeling a type of sound, for continuity in this article, and because that is what certain bands ("...a loose and ill-defined confederation of bands." - Melody Maker, 1992) were tagged as at the time by the U.K. music press.

These bands were suppposedly given the shoegazer moniker by a reviewer from NME as a put-down because during their performances, band members would constantly stare down at their shoes while playing guitar. The reason behind this was that in order to produce their massive, wall-of-sound guitar textures, the musicians had to concentrate on the effects pedals at their feet.

Many (if not all) of these bands consider the term shoegazer to be derogatory, but over the years the label has stuck to this style of music and has come to represent a diverse array of bands, many of which do not exactly fit the original narrow definition. Even bands that were labeled as such at the time, do not all completely fit the shoegazer mold.

I spent some time looking up information about this genre, and also pulled out all my old albums (well, CDs and cassettes) and gave them another, fresher spin and, listening to the music, um, made me realize (sorry My Bloody Valentine) that my own perception of shoegazer music is a bit different from the accepted definition.

I consider shoegazer songs to be restless entities, constantly shifting in drum rhythms and guitar dynamics, spiraling to ecstatic highs and plunging to mind-bending lows, with emotive male and/or female vocals. You know - driving, distorted guitars, thick washes of atmospheric sound, and airy, ethereal vocals.

The best songs, to me, are characterized by solid, structured song-craft, anchored in melodic guitar and vocal lines, contain tempo-changing drumming, sonic lulls and squalls, and a dense, layered wall of guitar sound. Many songs are soft, ephemeral, and hang in the air or drift amorphously away, but many other songs are sonically abrasive, with feedback-fuzzed guitar discord.

Those types of songs can take the listener far away to new emotional heights, transporting him/her from the mundane reality of the daily grind. Those types of songs inspire the emotions of the listener - creating a flood of sound to ride along with and be carried towards the unknown.

That's my definition of shoegazer music, at least, because this type of music stratospherically soars above the cacophonous or insipid fray.  So instead of waxing lyrical about what the shoegazer 'Ideal' is or isn't, I'm going to get on with it and list My Top 10 Shoegazer Bands, which albums of theirs I consider to be in the shoegazer style, the key songs of the bands listed, and lastly, my most favorite shoegazer songs.

Of the bands mentioned, I feel that only one band consistently captured the shoegazer sound over their entire career (Secret Shine) and only one band epitomized the sound (Slowdive) for most of their career.  My list is based on my specific listening experiences and is not a complete overview of this genre. There are bands that, if I had heard more/any of their songs, I would probably include in this countdown (Chapterhouse, perhaps?). The descriptions of the bands are based mostly upon the early part of their careers, because many of them changed their sound as they evolved.

My Top 10 Shoegazer Bands:

1. Slowdive
2. My Bloody Valentine
3. Secret Shine
4. Ride
5. Catherine Wheel
6. The Boo Radleys
7. Lush
8. Pale Saints
9. Curve
10. Swervedriver

1. Slowdive - epitomizes shoegazer sound; wave-like, expansive wall-of-guitar sound, climbing to grand heights; with dulcet female and dusky male vocals.
Key Album: Blue Day ep
Key Songs: She Calls, Slowdive, Avalyn 1, Morningrise, Shine, Catch the Breeze, Primal, Brighter, Souvlaki Space Station, When the Sun Hits, Alison, Sing, So Tired, Beach Song, and Take Me Down.
Best Song: She Calls (the sound of the battering, buffeting waves of a stormy sea and distant, possibly lost, love)

2. My Bloody Valentine - strikes precarious balance between sonic beauty and noisier, warped sound; androgynous male and sweet female vocals.
Key Album: Isn't Anything
Key Songs: You Made Me Realize, Feed Me with Your Kiss, When You Wake (You're Still in a Dream), Sueisfine, Only Shallow, Loomer, When You Sleep, I Only Said, What You Want, Several Girls Galore, Nothing Much to Lose, and You Never Should.
Best Song: You Made Me Realize (bruising, careening, crushing, pulverizing guitar/noise sonics)

3. Secret Shine - driving, atmospheric wall-of-guitar swoon towards the sky (with My Bloody Valentine motifs running through a few songs); angelic male and female vocals.
Key Album: Greater Than God ep
Key Songs: Liquid Indigo, Ignite the Air, Deep Thinker, Elizabeth's
April, Each To the Other, Loveblind, Wasted Away, Wish Coming True, Into the Ether, Toward the Sky, Temporal, and Underworld.
Best Song: Deep Thinker (if My Bloody Valentine were more direct, but delicate, with sweeping highs, they’d sound like this)

4. Catherine Wheel - fuzzed-out rush of guitar dynamics and anguished, heart-on-sleeve male vocals.
Key Album: Ferment
Key Songs: Black Metallic, Bill + Ben, Shallow, I Want to Touch You, Indigo is Blue, Texture, She's My Friend, Crank, Chrome, Strange Fruit, Ursa Major Space Station, Free of Mind, and Intravenous.
Best Song: Black Metallic (because it's just so *epic*, although I'm also partial to Bill + Ben and that whirlwind of a guitar solo break about 2/3-way into song)

5. Ride - rawer, less-produced, layered-guitar sound with pale male vocals.
Key Album: Nowhere
Key Songs: Leave Them All Behind, Vapour Trail, Like a Daydream, Taste, Chelsea Girl, Drive Blind, Close My Eyes, Dreams Burn Down, Decay, Paralysed, Nowhere, Mouse Trap, and Chrome Waves.
Best Song: Leave Them All Behind (a classic of layered guitar sonics and softly propulsive dynamics and male vocals)

6. The Boo Radleys - classic Beatles-type melodies dressed up in My Bloody Valentine-esque blasts of burnished noise and guitar dissonance; light, sweet male vocals.
Key Album: Everything's Alright Forever
Key Songs: Smile Fades Fast, The Finest Kiss, Does This Hurt?, Sparrow, Firesky, Buffalo Bill, Spaniard, Sunfly II: Walking with the Kings, Boo! Forever, Lazy Day, and Paradise.
Best Song: The Finest Kiss (starts off with warped melody that turns into burnished guitar frisson, with catchy, light male vocals)

7. Lush - spiky to ethereal, depending on song; structured songs, intelligent lyrics when discernable, bright, chiming guitars, and sky-high female vocals.
Key Album: Gala (compilation album of eps)
Key Songs: Sweetness and Light, Starlust, Nothing Natural, For Love, De-Luxe, Breeze, Superblast!, Laura, Downer, Ocean, Kiss Chase, and Undertow.
Best Song: Nothing Natural (aero-guitar dynamics, propelling drumbeats, and Miki's and Emma's sweet, high vocals riding along the mix)

8. Pale Saints - fluid, stately guitar-based textures with ethereal female and androgynous male vocals.
Key Album: In Ribbons
Key Songs: Half-Life Remembered, Featherframe, Hunted, Liquid, Blue Flower, Throwing Back the Apple, and Thread of Light.
Best Song: Featherframe (fluid guitars and liquid 'n' placid vocals by Meriel)

9. Curve - dense, wall-of-guitar and electronics sound with arch, cool, darkly seductive female vocals.
Key Album: Pubic Fruit (compilation album of eps)
Key Songs: Coast is Clear, Horrorhead, Fait Accompli, The Colour Hurts, Galaxy, Die Like a Dog, Cherry, Clipped, and Already Yours.
Best Song: Coast is Clear (Toni's cool, despondent vocals against hollow, round guitar notes and washes of guitar and noise)

10. Swervedriver - heavier, grungy driving-guitars sound with druggy, laid-back male vocals.
Key Album: Mezcal Head
Key Songs: Never Lose That Feeling, Duel, Girl on a Motorbike, For Seeking Heat, Blowin' Cool, Last Day on Earth, Ejector Seat Reservation, Bring Me the Head of the Fortune Teller, and Single Finger Salute.
Best Song: Never Lose That Feeling (from Adam’s deep-tone, soporific vocals, to the grittier, driving guitars, this song epitomizes casual cool)

Jen of Stratosphere Fanzine music Yahoo Group
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine/


Postcard From Sweden - Part One
by Dave Procter

The following question probably crosses everybody’s mind more than once during their life “what would it be like living in another country?”. It certainly crossed mine more than once over the past half decade. The doubters amongst my associates will tell the story of how often I mentioned that I was going to live in Sweden and yet never made it over here and fair enough as I was a doubter too given the odd way things have panned out of late. Imagine then my surprise when not only did work say I could go, but I could tie it in with an MRes in Electroacoustic Music and also get some pay, a bit of a bonus given that I was going to take 6 months off with nowt to my name monetarily. Very good. So here I am in Stureby in the south west of Stockholm, I’ve been here for most of February and have sorted out an apartment in record time according to the Swedes and non-Swedes I know over here, living 7-12 minutes away from all the happening stuff in the centre. The music and arts’ scene here is ace – there’s so much going on it’d be very hard to get bored, and as public transport (remember that?) is so reliable and runs all through the night generally, there’s not much excuse. Last weekend, I went to a 24 hour dronathon at Fylkingen, which is the venue above the place where I am studying. I should add I didn’t do the entire gig, but there were people present who certainly did. I only did the last 6 hours, but I wish I’d gone for the full whack. Some nagging and internal organ shaking stuff from artists from Scandinavia, America, the UK and Germany, ace. Next week, I should start doing some English teaching and soon after that Swedish intensive classes. Swedes love practising English, but when in Stockholm, do as they do, prata svenska.

 


Ten Reasons I Love…KRAFTWERK
By Chris Stanley 

1)       They invented all dance culture – Maybe a case of damning with faint praise, but four middle-class blokes from Dusseldorf managed to change the face of all popular music just by pissing about.  Their innate sense of pop perfection combined with a classically-trained background meant they bought a symphonic sensibility to electronica, leaving behind their avant-garde roots and boiling down all their training to rhythm and melody. Kraftwerk were an LED in an age of valve amps and huge keyboards, and their influence pervaded new wave, the birth of house music and rave culture and even found itself bastardised as backing tracks for Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s Hit Factory. Nearly forty years after first getting together, Kraftwerk still stand head and shoulders above their imitators. 

2)       Their sense of humour – Germans aren’t noted for their sense of humour, but in their own way Kraftwerk were a wry, sarcastic bunch. Aside from the constant downplaying of their roles to make them appear mere operators for their electronic orchestra, they came up with songs like ‘Ananas Symphonie’ from third album Ralf Und Florian, which was a pastiche of Hawaiian hula music named after pineapples and came complete with plinky-plonky ukulele. Appearing on Italian telly, they forced an incandescent Julio Inglesias to get changed in a corridor after they were accidentally allocated his opulent dressing room. Convincing everyone they were robots was perhaps a step into the pretentious, but they found time to incorporate laddishness behind the plastic exterior – not content with getting chewed out by a German countess for leching at girls on their first tour of America, they changed the words of ‘The Model’ at a soundcheck to “now she’s a big success I’d like to fuck her again.” They don’t take themselves nearly so seriously as you would imagine. 

3)       They’re more entertaining doing nothing than Pete Doherty manages with every court appearance – Kraftwerk in their current incarnation don’t do interviews, or press, or tours, or albums. In fact, it appears they don’t do anything but drink coffee and cycle about the place a bit. But the mystery adds to the aura, which is the way they always wanted it. Their music and the band are strictly segregated and the fact that they don’t play two festivals a year, or even a decade, means that when they do venture out they make Howard Hughes appear as laid back as a hippie in a field full of home-grown. 

4)       They’re funky as hell – Electronic music, especially in the early days, was a hit and miss affair. As late as the mid-eighties, New Order were complaining that they had trouble keeping their sequencers in tune under stage lighting. Not only did Kraftwerk invent all their own stage equipment, they always wanted to take it a stage further so they could move around the stage. Pet Shop Boys came on stage and stood their like Thunderbirds puppets set into concrete; as early as 1976, Kraftwerk were pioneering a ‘drum cage’ so they could dance in time with their tunes. Dance pioneer Derrick May imagined his ‘Strings Of Life’ to be an approximation of “Kraftwerk and George Clinton trapped in a lift together.” That’s quite a compliment. 

5)       They’re one of the last gangs in town – There are only two original members of Kraftwerk left, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider; in fact, they WERE the original members. In keeping with their original forty year old template, all members were dispensable, secondary to the music. They refused overtures by Michael Jackson and David Bowie to work with them at the height of their success. They cut out original drummer Wolfgang Flur at the start of the nineties and soon after dispensed with percussionist Karl Bartos, and have only released three albums since, including a live album. But this is no Axl Rose-style malaise; rather they don’t feel the need to rush material. Kraftwerk are aware of their place in musical history, and as such don’t need plaudits and awards to keep them happy.  

6)       They’ve never gone up their own arse – People might point to the obsessions with cycling, trains, cars and robots as a conscious decision to mystify critics, but this is a combination of a private sense of humour and a genuine love of subject matter. Kraftwerk have never been about social comment or technological advances – they found ways to make the music they wanted to make, and write songs about things they find enjoyable, and still find time to go clubbing even though they are nearing their sixties. They made concept albums without actually having anything to say. 

7)       Their inventiveness – It may seem unbelievable now, but at the time Kraftwerk moved into electronic music, there were literally a handful of synthesisers they could buy, including the already-obsolete Moog keyboard. Their first sequencer cost more than a top-of-the-range Volkswagen Beetle, and Wolfgang Flur built a drum machine from scratch using MDF and stainless steel off-cuts. Until the early nineties, when they had to upgrade their studio Kling Klang to digital, they made, recorded and toured with home-made equipment and as such should have at least won a barrage of design awards as well as musical acclaim.  

8)       They create perfect pop music – Kraftwerk were not always pioneers; they revered The Beach Boys and their breakthrough hit ‘Autobahn’ aped ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ with a play on words, “…wir fahr’n, fahr’n, fahr’n auf der autobahn…” All of their albums clock in at less than forty minutes and none of their songs outstay their welcome, and remarkably for a band that uses synthetic instrumentation, their albums can be listened to all the way through without you wanting to put your head through the floorboards in apathy. 

9)       They don’t give a shit about MySpace – Been there, done that. Back in 1981, they released Computer World, an homage to the home entertainment system we all know and love. At a time when a home computer cost more than some family homes (okay, in slum areas, granted), Kraftwerk had seen it, played with it, dissected it and spat it out. They don’t need to fall in love with a faster processor – they’re probably working on a concept album about space stations on bloody Jupiter that no-one else but them knows about. 

10)    Their fashion sense – Think of Germany and invariably you’ll settle on two things – Lederhosen and drab green uniforms. Kraftwerk wore uniforms in a sense, but they were natty for the day. In their free-form days as proto-jazz artists Organisation, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider had long hair and wore flares and brilliant white espadrilles. In 1975 that all changed, and the new Kraftwerk insisted on uniform dress, namely cut suits and ties. Loose trousers were banned, and all hair was short and styled. Before you complain of Nazi overtones, let me add that they were looking for fashions that would be good under disco lighting, and as such led the way for both New Romantics and the recent wave of indie bands. Franz Ferdinand owe them a huge debt. 

The album you must own – The Man Machine (1978) The year Sex Pistols split, Kraftwerk released a concept album about robots and technology that has aged better than ‘Never Mind The Bollocks…’ Containing solitary Number One ‘The Model,’ ‘The Man Machine’ has a delicacy and an economy hitherto unseen in German popular music, brilliant cover art influenced by Russian artist El Lissitzky, introduced the famous robots, and the title track builds so perfectly you’d think Deep Blue figured it out of an algorithm. Essential. 

The under-rated album – The Mix (1991) Five years in the making, history has been unkind to this collection of updated Kraftwerk classics, mainly because the rave bubble had burst all over its day-glo face and the name of the game was earnest garage rock. Basically a reworking in digital of thirteen of their most popular tracks, it has an energy and inventiveness most groups would struggle to match, and the versions of ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Computer Love’ are far superior to the originals in their layers of sound. 

The tricky album – Autobahn (1974) The album that garnered their first American hit, this has become famous for both the cover art and the title track, but with five songs with no real concept beyond trying something new, their free-form origins are still apparent. Chief culprit is ‘Morgenspaziergang’ (‘Morning Walk’), which twitters and meanders like they’ve just taken the packaging off their new Casio digital watches. The title track is not as exciting as Tomorrow’s World remembers it, either. 

The album to avoid – Radioactivity (1975) There’s only one song worth hearing on this concept about old-time radio, with a vague link to the nuclear power industry. ‘Radioactivity’ is hardly a classic in itself, but it’s the equivalent of a Burt Bacharach tune compared to the random collection of blips and feedback designed to make it sound like you’re back in the 1930’s. The cover art was changed when their chosen radio was found to come complete with a Nazi insignia – they ought to have stopped there, really. 

If you only own one track…Tour De France (1983). This is available as a single or a bonus track on Tour De France Soundtracks (2003) and it still rocks. A three minute wonder and a theme tune for Channel Four to boot, this paean to the “cattle on bikes” (copyright A. Partridge) that inexplicably takes over a huge country every year combines kinetic energy, an infectious riff and manages to completely knacker you out by the end of it. Perfect for those high-intensity gym workouts.  

Chris Stanley


So You Wanna Name Your Band? My Guide On What Not To Do
by Jen
Stratosphere Fanzine
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine

1. Don’t pick a common word for your band name.

If you choose a name that is too ubiquitous, then it will be difficult to find information about your band online (well, unless you become mega-famous and get listed #1 in computer search engines). Take, for instance, the otherwise wonderful Australian band Hydroplane – try looking them up online, at Yahoo.com natch, and all you’ll get are references to motorboat racing. Same goes for the highly influential UK band Prolapse. You really don’t want to read what comes up when you type that name into a search engine. So please don’t name your band Couch (someone already has anyhow) or potential fans will be left to troll through La-Z-Boy and Pottery Barn adverts in a vain attempt to find out more about your band.

2. Don’t pick an unintelligible band name.

On the flip side, just for aesthetics’ sake, refrain from choosing an off-the-wall band name (it can be absurd, but not nonsensical – refer to Alice In Wonderland for details). So toss that Toad The Wet Sprocket in the garbage can (although I do love their song All I Want) – and what is a Green Apple Quickstep anyway? The band members of Red Jumpsuit Apparatus apparently picked random words out of a dictionary for their name – sheer lack of imagination or genius? I leave it up to you.

3. Don’t make your band name difficult to spell or unpronounceable.

Do you know how embarrassing it is to go into a hip, decrepit record store and ask the masters of their domain if the new Kyuss, Saosin (supposedly pronounced “say-ocean”), or <<rhinôçérôse>> album is in stock, or, even better (well, worse), Sun 0))), or !!!, or +/-, or ooioo??! Laughter will abound my friend…and it won’t be inclusive. Or how about trying to look up a band name like Einsturzende Neubauten (well, unless you know German, then it’s easy), or Apoptygma Berserk, or Gorky's Zygotic Mynci (well, I recently found out that's Welsh for Gorky's embryonic monkey; you learn something new every day, apparently)? That’s no mean feat.

4. Don’t punctuate your band name.

What's with the rampant use of punctuation these days? And by these days, I mean the past 20 years or so. The misplaced exclamation mark seems to be a favorite for the likes of Panic! At The Disco, Against Me!, Alaska!, You Say Party! We Say Die!, and The Go! Team. At least the band Therapy? have a reason for their question mark… But what about Controller. Controller, Adult., and Bitter:sweet? Those are just head-scratchers to me…

5. Don’t deliberately (or mistakenly) misspell your band name.

I know, I know - The Beatles made it cool to mess with proper spelling, but really, if you think about it, most misspelled names just look silly, ie., Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, The Kaotixx, OutKast, and The Lymbyc Systym - although I do have a penchant for Weezer – now that’s just too clever to frown upon.

6. Don’t choose a lengthy band name.

Come on, you want your band name to fit on a t-shirt and on the CD cover, right? So don’t get all pretentious and *wink-wink* with us and call yourselves …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead or I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness. Besides, your hand is going to get tired really fast when you end up writing your band name on various items (you know, like fans’ t-shirts and flesh, programs, the lot). So I suggest Ever Since The Lake Caught Fire shorten itself to Lake Caught Fire and The Beautiful New Born Children should...ahhh, just change their name.

7. Don’t paint yourself into a corner with your band name.

What I mean is, don’t fence yourself in geographically, politically, religiously, or historically because you’ll be forever associated with the ideology of your name. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin takes the cake and then some, with The Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club not far behind. Russia and Canada seem to be all the rage these days for band names, with Boards of Canada, Canadian Invasion, and Of Montreal making in-roads, and Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia and The Russian Futurists somewhere out there. Then we’ve got VietNam, Beirut, and Eyeless In Gaza…and Jets To Brazil, New Mexican Disaster Squad, and Portugal The Man (can Portugal be a man?). Let’s not forget Napolean IIIrd, Hot Club De Paris, and Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. And what about Dustins Bar Mitzvah, The Silver Jews, and Guards Of Gethsemane?

8. Don’t pick a sound-alike band name.

You know what I’m talking about – Wolf Parade, Wolfmother, Wolf Eyes, Guitar Wolf, and Wolfie. Motion City Soundtrack, Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Desert City Soundtrack, The Sounds, Sound Team, and Dub Narcotic Sound System. Stereolab, Stereo Totale, Death By Stereo, Stereophonics, and Low Frequency In Stereo. Subways, Submarines, and Subdudes. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hot Hot Heat, Death Death Death, Blah Blah Blah, and Run Run Run. Peaches, The Moldey Peaches, and Peechees. Radiohead, Portishead, The Propellerheads, and The Futureheads. Autolux and Autodrone confuses me every time. So does Midlake and Clearlake. And Lamb and Lambchop. Phoenix and The Phoenix Foundation. Hot One and Hot Chip. Even penguins get in on the action with Mile High Penguins and Lost Penguin. Don’t even get me started on the word “black”…

9. Don’t falsely advertise with your band name.

Do this and your listeners will end up being severely disappointed. I think The Barenaked Ladies drives the point home. As well as The Ladies (a band made up of two blokes) and The New Pornographers (supposedly they only play obscenely catchy pop songs). Cake is not comprised of flour, sugar, and eggs. High On Fire are neither high (well, maybe…) nor on fire. It’s really not possible to have Happy Mondays unless I’m on vacation or when I retire. The Aliens are, in fact, humans. Presidents Of The United States Of America boast no such thing. End Of Fashion is always touted in the press, but is yet to come. And Last Great Hope had better not be.

10. Don’t pick a trademarked product to use as your band name.

You don’t want to get sued from the get-go, right? So be careful in choosing a band name like Final Fantasy. I’m just sayin’.

11. And since the amps go to 11, don’t alienate listeners with your band name.

Unless there is a specific audience you are aiming for (say, some to most 15 to 25 year old guys), don’t go naming your band the Butthole Surfers or the Dead Kennedys. I must admit, however, that some band names that can be taken as offensive or puerile, are also quite clever word-wise, like Morningwood, Bassholes, and Jack Off Jill. Ummm, I think I’ll stop here and not dig myself in too deep. LOL


With The Lights Out
- One Fans Look back at Kurt Cobain and the albums of Nirvana

The band Nirvana (well, mainly singer/songwriter/guitarist Kurt Cobain) are either hailed as saviors of the rock/punk/independent spirit of music or held up as harbingers of the 'Grunge Rock' movement, a type of music and lifestyle that seemed to be created and over-hyped by the music press (and that quickly devolved into diluted, de-clawed bands trying to copycat the original 'sound').

Nirvana essentially mainlined one young man's torment, passion, rage, vulnerability, and paranoia to a generation (or two) of disaffected youth (tagged with the 'teenage angst' label) who formed an emotional connection to Kurt. Kurt's personal outlet was through his music and lyrics - and in the same manner, his listeners (not all of them being 'kids') found a connection and outlet through his songs and lyrics.

I have a strange relationship with Nirvana/Kurt. I'm attached to the raw emotions more than the musicianship and song-craft. While I don't believe Nirvana descended from the heavens, I do think that Kurt's acute pain, paranoia, and bleeding heart were real - and that struck a chord in me.

Kurt was a tortured, conflicted person - reaching out - and lashing out - and that is mainly what has stuck with me over the years. Not that I 'know' anything about Kurt for sure - these are just my impressions from what has been strained through the music-press net.

Kurt could be a fantastic song-writer - at times - but I don't think he was consistently creative. The body of songs have a hit or miss quality (lyrics can lean towards obcure, 'what is he going on about?' puzzle-pieces of his mind-set, music can be too 'verse-chorus-verse' simplistic or a noisy, unpleasant muddle...). His best songs are either delicately-balanced, melancholy, and melodic (About a Girl, Come As You Are, Something in the Way, Been a Son, All Apologies) or caustic, rockin' freak-outs (Scoff, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Territorial Pissings, Stay Away, Aneurysm, Scentless Apprentice, tourette's). In these latter songs, Kurt seemed to funnel his physical and emotional pain into unbridled anger and aggression (something vital that seems to be missing from the live Mtv Unplugged session that is imprinted on most peoples' minds).

Kurt was erratic and made up of various facets, just like everyone else, and his music and lyrics are reflections of that. He was painted as a victim and an underdog (and in certain ways he was), but like any individual, he was more complex than those labels (if you've read his published private journals, you'll definitely see what I mean).

Bleach was the debut album - not fancy or polished or over-produced. Songs have a gritty, raw, bass-heavy feel, and are simplistic in nature (nothing here musically hints to the complexity of Smells Like Teen Spirit), seemingly stamped with a similar blueprint throughout album, with Kurt yelling (with not much modulation, yet not the full-on hysteria of a Territorial Pissings either) through the jagged, churning guitars and primitively-thumping drums.

Nevermind, their massive-breakthrough album, is one of those anomalies, a well-produced (maybe over-produced?) rock-pop album chock full of varied, fully-formed, melodic tunes (anthemic rockers, slow- burners, and paranoid rants) that struck a chord with the music-listening masses. Why/how did this happen? I have no clue. Could the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit been that influential on the general populace?

Incesticide came next, a decidely uncommercial-type album full of cover songs and b-sides that is half-interesting and half-crap, in that order pretty much (just my opinion!). Kurt shows his vulnerable side and his respect for The Vaselines by covering Molly's Lips and Son of A Gun - and gets to flip out on Aneurysm.

Their next album, In Utero, is a struggle to get through (for the listener and maybe for the band). In a way, song structures seem like they're going backwards to when Nirvana had a more pure 'rock' sound, like on Bleach, except In Utero is less straight-forward and filled with esoteric and barbed lyrics and a pained, almost ragged-sounding Kurt spilling his guts. There are melodies among the grating, sharp guitars and vocal flailing, but they are sometimes hard to pick out.

The live acoustic Mtv Unplugged in New York, album, while a success commercially, never bowled me over. Ooh, look, it's Dave brushing his drumkit, backed by strings, and Kurt in (too) subdued mood, constrained by the format and his voice not in fine form (wan, straining for the notes, too twangy). The best songs performed are the covers - Lake of Fire (Meat Puppets), The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie), and Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Leadbelly - and the only time Kurt actually *howls* near end of song).

What everyone should have bought instead of the Mtv Unplugged album was their live plugged-in album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah. This is Nirvana. This is "the band". This is their sound. Strong, raw, alive, volatile, solid, significant, and representative of their abilities and sound.

That would have been a fitting end to their career, but after Kurt's death, all the retrospective compilation albums came out - including the supposedly comprehensive 3-CD, 1-DVD With The Lights Out compilation. My problem with this extensive look back at the odds 'n' sods of Nirvana's career is that it does not illuminate Kurt's genius and creativity.

Nirvana (Kurt) has always been about the contrasts - soft vs. loud, harmony vs. discord, passive vs. agressive, clear-eyed coherence vs. blindly-raging paranoia, 3-to-4-minute catchy pop/rock song vs. long, rambling messes vs. short, edgy rants, straight-forward lyrics vs. symbolic musings, light vs. dark - musically and emotionally. With The Lights Out is a very dark compilation. It's a tough, gruelling listen. It's not pretty. Or well-developed. The demo songs are *really* rough. The song Nameless, Endless is just that, and not in a good way.

In light of Kurt's death, you want With The Lights Out to be a harrowing journey and a guiding light into his psyche, but it's just sloppy - musically and emotionally unfulfilling, and only the obsessed fan would want to divine any meaning or purpose from the songs. It's mostly filled with atonal singing, sharp, angular guitars, rudimentary drums, not-really-memorable songs or fragments of tunes, bad production or recording - basically this set is for the hardcore Nirvana fan.

Jen
Stratosphere Fanzine
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Stratosphere_Fanzine


Terrorist or freedom fighter?
By Dave Procter

In these exceedingly “dangerous times” as John Reid likes to call them, I sit back and reflect on the use of language in the media by politicians these days and the inherent hypocrisy and double standards applied. Recently our cuddly bear of a Home Secretary, who clearly thought Blunkett and Clarke too moderate, has upped the ante regarding scare tactics for public consumption. He claims “Europe faces a “persistent and very real threat from terrorism” and “The world was faced by a form of ‘intolerant and violent totalitarianism’, he added, which was “subverting a religion, Islam, whose very name stood for peace”. Now looking at his first point, being a mere member of the public and being expected to believe anything politicians tell me, I assume he’s not lying, although I think he may be exaggerating just a bit, as bombs don’t appear to be going off “persistently” in Europe tonight – you’d think the news programmes might mention something about it.

Let’s move onto the hypocrisy side of things – Osama bin Laden had weapons and training supplied by the US amongst others and was happily blowing up Russian troops who had invaded Afghanistan - he was called a “freedom fighter”. Once of course he changes sides, he’s now a “terrorist”. Subtle use of language, don’t you think?

Ok, at this stage before everyone gets very hot under the collar and starts a witch hunt for Procter, if your eyelids are still open, let me make this next statement very clear indeed – anyone who kills civilians deliberately for political or economic reasons whether state backed or otherwise is a bastard. There, it’s been said, I may be accused of backtracking later by something that may be misinterpreted, but it’s been said and that’s what I think.

As stated earlier, Reid says that Islam, whose name means peace (I’ll take his word for it, as I’ve heard several other meanings for that word) correctly says it has been subverted. I assume in all religions that looking after your fellow man and doing him no harm would be a fundamental issue of faith – I don’t know, I’m an atheist and don’t need an “invisible friend” to tell me how to treat others well and who to apportion blame to when I don’t. And I’m no expert on religion whatsoever, but remember kids, this is a rant, ok? Ok? Good.

The 6th commandment of Christianity is Thou Shalt Not Kill – I have taken this next bit from a Christian website – “Kill, in the context of the commandment, would refer to the premeditated taking of the life of one or more innocent persons. Innocent in the context of the commandment “thou shalt not kill” would refer to someone not guilty of a Biblical capital crime”. Why therefore, is there not similar outcry from Reid about the wholesale carpet bombing of Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, by a so called Christ fearing President Bush and his ever faithful lackey Prime Minster “we prayed together” Blair? Why is this not terrorism, but a suicide bomber blowing up innocents is? Does either act kill innocent people? If the answer is yes, then surely each act is an act of terrorism? Why is a Palestinian suicide bomber who kills Israeli civilians a terrorist, and when the Israelis kill children in the street, this is “defending themselves”? Please, please, do not start on the “you can’t say anti-Semitic things”, as I haven’t. I am not anti-Semitic, I am anti-Israeli policy. When I attack Bush for his foreign policy, I am not anti-American, I am anti Bush’s regime. When I attack Blair for his spinelessness and lack of courage to condemn such foreign policy and actively supporting it by ours being similar, I am not being anti-British, I am British and am proud to be so in the main. As a Marxist I am an internationalist and feel that no-one has the right to rule over others with an iron fist. Wherever someone comes from, if they are a wanker, they are a wanker regardless of creed, colour, race, faith or sexual orientation.

Other examples of bastards who are allowed to kill innocent civilians (their own) and yet there is no outcry and condemnation, unless it suits an agenda - Islam Karimov; Robert Mugabe; Kim Jong Il; Augusto Pinochet; Saddam Hussein; the list is endless. Why isn’t state terrorism condemned alike Al-Queda terrorism?


Education Education Education
by Dave Procter

This month, I turn my ranting attention to education and specifically Higher Education in the UK. I have been in Higher Education either being taught (7 years) or teaching (12 years) since 1983, with a few years off between the two doing crap jobs and being a rock star, of sorts, on the dole. To me, education is crucial for creating a decent and forward moving society so when Tony Blair was pushing for power in the mid to late 90s hearing his oft repeated mantra of “education, education, education” was a treat for my ears. After the bollocks that the Tories made of schools in their continual attacks on anything that might not be “market led” ie all public services and the increasing marketisation of Further Education in the early 90s leading to the chaos I saw on my teaching practice, most people on both sides of the education table were relieved once John Major’s clueless pack got the boot. Since Blair’s election and fair play to the government on this, a lot of investment has gone into state schools, with some very attractive pay increases for teaching staff, long overdue and to be commended. The forthcoming Education Reforms, however, concern me a little more though – allowing more “faith” schools to me is a dangerous path to follow – I think we can see the results throughout the US and some parts of the Middle East when religion gets hold of education – therein follows brainwashing and the kind of intolerance that will ensure more conflict between religious groups, not less. Also, once big business gets its paws on schools, what is likely to be the priority in times of trouble? Kids’ education, or shareholders’ dividends? I’ll leave you to decide. Anyway, hopefully by the time you read this article, there will have been sufficient rebellion by Labour backbenchers and Dave’s new Liberal Conservatives to scupper the neo-liberal and religious parts of the Bill. This is a secular society, let’s keep it that way. 

Once again I’ve gone off at a slight diversionary tangent, so back to Higher Education. I have worked in Higher Education for 12 years as a lecturer, and I have to say, most of the time, it’s been a pleasure to do so. Over the past few years though, the sort of marketisation language that existed when doing my teaching practice in Further Education started to rear its ugly head. “Students” all of a sudden became “customers” or “clients”, although now appear to be “students” again, and VCs pay suddenly went spiralling through the roof. I’ll leave the pay issue for now as I’ll probably discuss the whole strike situation next month. The government’s U-turn on fees will lead to students saddled with impossible debts to clear after finishing, unless their parents are well off. £18000- £30000 are the figures that are bandied around. Who from any poor family is going to take on that sort of debt, gifted educationally or not? For a government that is all about choice, there’s none there for certain sections of society. I could not have done my degree, or any of my postgraduate courses without grants. I think Higher Education is being used by this government in several devisive and sinister ways. Firstly, it is now seen as the be all and end all after leaving school/college – “you must have a degree, because everyone else will have one” seems to be the rallying call. The ever smiling Tone has a target of 50% of all of the population going to university, again something I approve of, but the funding for this and the jobs available after graduation are just not there. 50% of all jobs in the UK are not of graduate level, nowhere near. Secondly, encouraging people to go to university is also a good way of keeping the dole queue a lot lighter. The only reason Thatcher didn’t use this one is that would have cost more money than giving out dole. 

So what is my conclusion? Blair is using universities to create graduates with massive debts, who won’t feel the benefit of the fact that they’ve got a degree until they are in their 30s, by when they won’t be able to afford to buy a house anyway. This will surely make them work harder to gain more money and focus more on material trappings and less on friends, family and community. Having executed Salvador Allende, with CIA backing, and taken control of Chile on September 11th 1973, General Pinochet postulated that “socialism will die the day that everyone has their own car, on their own drive of their own house”. This is exactly the starting point that Ronald Reagan and Thatcher used when their premierships began and precisely in my eyes what Blair is trying to update now – kill any ideas of socialism and let neo-liberalism flourish and bollocks to the effects. You people can stop this – don’t be passive and let this happen. Vote, write to your MP, join the political process. Together, we can beat these bastards and make education what it should be – for educating and not for social control.


Tribute to John Peel
As you’ll all probably know by now, John Peel died last month. Well, of course you know, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading tasty. To follow are a few of tasty’s fellow travellers, telling you about their favourite Peel memories, and just how important he was to them and to everyone who loves new music.  

I started listening to Peel’s show in the mid-80s, at a time when C86 was the thing on the indie underground. But it wasn’t all Sarah records on Peel’s show. No, he started playing Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror. Then he’d play some of the latest sounds from an obscure African band. Then some ear-shattering dub. All of this, as MJ Hibbett points out below, was listened to through earphones, whilst I was supposed to be asleep. It was just great to know that somewhere out there, someone else loved the music you did, and that, just maybe you’d weren’t gonna be stuck in a small village just outside of Grimsby listening to Dire Straits for the rest of your life. 

Goodbye then, John. We’ll only realise how important you were now that you’re gone.
Sam Metcalf, Tasty Fanzine

The proudest moment of my life as a songwriter was when Peel played 'Punk Rock Boyfriend' by Mavis in Summer 2002. Everytime he played us after that I felt a ripple of excitement that made me call home to tell mum, but that first time, as he mumbled our name and song title, before audibly knocking over a pile of CDs in the studio hunting for the title of our album...gee wizz, that shit gave me a hard on.

As a 13 year old kid, sat alone in my bedroom in Doncaster, knowing that melodic noise was the only thing that made any sense to me, Peel was my friend. He gave me the Fall, Milky Wimpshake, that first livechanging Bis record, Delgados, Napalm Death, Pram... yadda yadda... Peel drew me a map. As someone who cares deeply about new sounds, I for one feel lost in the shadow of his passing.
James McMahon, Mavis

Words can not express just how devastated I am to hear of John Peel's sudden death. My life was changed by the records he played and tears well up in my eyes to think that I will never again be able to turn on the radio and hear the comfort of his voice.

My sincerest sympathy goes out to his family, those that knew and worked with him and of course all of the millions of us out there who lost a true inspiration today.
Steve Morricone, Wrath Records

Although I can't really find any words to say, I'm going to try and compose a few now as later on I will be having a drink for the late great John Peel and listening to "Atmosphere" and "Teenage Kicks" and I suspect I will get myself in a right st8.

The number of e-mails I received today with this horrible news is testament to the man's influence and outreach. The quiet evangelist. The polite radical. The revolutionary Radio 4 presenter, for heaven's sake. And I'm just thinking how it was Peel who first played me the Fall and Public Enemy and the Field Mice and Napalm Death and Half Man Half Biscuit and Extreme Noise Terror and the Sugarcubes, sitting here as I type and survey my record collection, pretty much every record I ever own. Listening to Peel sessions, buying Peel sessions, marvelling at everything from Where's The Beach ? to Electro Hippies to the Bhundu Boys to Gore. Being taught to value diversity, to investigate rather than merely to consume. The very worst thing about Peel's death is that there is no-one to take over. Comparing him to any other DJ isn't even a starter. Westwood plays great hip-hop, sometimes. Vance used to play great metal, sometimes. Janice Long used to play great indie, sometimes. Kershaw played great reggae, world and often even the odd bit of jangle. Peel did all of the great stuff and threw in house, techno, noise, beautifully dry conversation, botched cue-ins. Bastro. Jackdaw With Crowbar. Bastard Kestrel. Unseen Terror. Ut. Bubblegum Splash! This Poison! Catapult. And now he's gone, not only are there hundreds of fine bands that will never again be played on national radio, there are hundreds of future Joy Divisions and Undertones and Wedding Presents who will never even get to emerge. Remember how Peel was the only one who withstood hype. He admitted not to really getting the Stone Roses when the fashionistas had them down as messiahs. He refused to give Oasis a Peel Session at the same time that the rest of Britain seemed, madly, to be feting their every fetid chord. He was eventually, inevitably, banned from presenting Top Of The Pops because he was not sufficiently banal, or inane. On his last show, as I remember it, he introduced a Simple Minds video, with gleefully evident displeasure. And this is even before mentioning *punk*. When Peel championed the Pistols, it wasn't a cool thing to do at all. It alienated many of his listeners, but he was compelled to go with what was new and life-changing even then.

And, and, and. He appeared on Desert Island Discs and played Teenage Kicks and the Fall's "Eat Y'Self Fitter", the single greatest record ever to have been, and that ever will be, taken to that increasingly crowded island paradise. He curated the Meltdown festival on the South Bank in 1998 and it was superb. Highlights were many (an amazing post-midnight show from the Jesus and Mary Chain, for example), although a double bill of Lonnie Donegan and Half Man Half Biscuit also speaks for itself. I never spoke to him, ever. I remember a couple of gigs I went to where he was definitely there - Cornershop in Islington in about '94, and Blueboy in Bristol probably not too long after. But then from the FM dial he spoke to me for 20 years. Four nights a week I'd be eagerly taping stuff from his show, listening and learning. And every band he played were truly grateful to be played. I interviewed the Rosehips recently and was thinking just how, excellent band as they were, I'd never have heard them without Peel. That could apply to at least 80% of my all time favourite groups. Think of all the great labels that would never have got off the ground without his mentoring. And I remembered a story of how an ex-friend of mine once bumped into Peel out shopping in Colchester, and was hopelessly lost for words, as you would be in the presence of gr8ness. He could only muster (in retrospect, brilliantly) the phrase "You're John Peel". But Peel didn't miss a beat, just smiled and said, "That's right, young man".

I really don't normally feel moved by deaths, even of artists that meant a lot to me. But this man was the first, last and only. An original and irreplaceable. And it is extremely hard to think of an individual who has influenced UK music more over the last forty years. Seriously, think about it. Bowie, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, the Pistols, the Clash, the Smiths, the Fall, the Cure, New Order (who have already admitted they wouldn't even exist without him).

I don't know how to celebrate his life, but virtually every tune I ever listen to will do so. For the time being, I might dig out the Undertones DVD, in which he interviews the band that he helped steer to immortality. First, however, I intend to get modestly, tearfully drunk. Tomorrow night, I'm going to see Extreme Noise Terror. You can guess to whom I owe my 17 year adoration for them...

Kieron, In Love With These Times…

Sad news indeed, one of the good guys is gone. John Peel always viewed music in its widest sense and while that could be annoying as you were 'Poised over the Pause button' trying to tape a McCarthy session waiting for a 10 minute Dub track to finish you knew he was playing that stuff for all the right reasons. He challenged you with new music but never preached or pontificated. He was like a sensitive curator of musical curiosities.
Marc Elston, The Liberty Ship/Johnny Domino 
 

When I was 17 I came home from school to find my Mum on the phone. 'It's John Peel on the phone for you' she said. As she handed me the phone I was expecting to hear one of my mates taking the piss out of my band, but it really was him. The Love Parade 7" we'd sent him had smashed in the post, and he wanted us to send him another one. How many people would go to that much trouble for some band they'd never heard before? The fact that he never actually played the single is irrelevant! I later had stuff played by him, which was always incredibly exciting, and the Peel Sessions I recorded with Eva Luna and Astronaut were the undoubted highlights of being in a band for me.

In my day job I had the pleasure of recording his voice for TV ad's on several occasions. To be honest, he was usually a bit of a grumpy old sod when recording for commercials. I like to think that was because he'd much rather have been ploughing through new demo's than wasting time on the Carphone Warehouse...
Graeme Elston, Slipslide
 

I only met john once, but he was as lovely as you'd expect. like most of you, I've spent the last 24 hours reading tributes to the man on the net. one of my favourites was from my friend Stevie. I'm sure he won't mind me sharing it here:
"I got to spend an afternoon with him shortly afterwards, the clearest memory of which is him DJing, playing assorted dub and avant garde and afrobeat to a room of mostly-disinterested kids at the sound city thing, and closing with Otis Redding's 'I've Been Loving You Too Long', at the end of which he was weeping. He said he did that everytime he played the song."
Without John Peel, we wouldn't be here.
RIP

Ian Watson, How Does It Feel 

We're really saddened by the death of John. When we were asked to do sessions for him, it was always a great privilege and a real pleasure to go and record or play for him. We were always really proud that he was interested in what we do and always made us so welcome when we were down to play for him.

The first time we met him was when we went to Peel Acres to play live for his show's 2002 christmas party. We were all really nervous about playing, and nervous about meeting a hero of ours, so we were kind of huddled together in the living room, keeping out the road and being rather quiet and shy. When we went down a second time, it was pretty much the same, and John had commented on the radio that we were all rather quiet and didn't think that we enjoyed being there very much. The third time we were down to play for this year's Burns night show, we were more relaxed, and it was such a fun night, we all sat round before and after the show chatting for hours. The next show, he commented that after the first couple of times we were down we were so quiet and nervous looking and this time, we wouldn't shut up and they couldn't get rid of us.
Possibly my favourite John moment in relation to us was as our first peel session was aired, he finished with, that was camera obscura in session....and this is scrotum grinder!

Gav, Camera Obscura 

The only time I ever saw John Peel was backstage at The Phoenix Festival in 1996. I'd got backstage because my friend Tim was playing in his then-band Prolapse, and he'd given me his spare ticket, so I spent a couple of happy days wandering round looking at The Cream Of Britpop getting drunk. I'd seen
all sorts of people Being Cool, even in the face of a drunken ME pointing at them, but the only person who impressed EVERYBODY there was John Peel. We first saw him coming by the effect he had on the crowds, it was like a great wave moving through the assembled bands and industry types, as people stepped back to let him pass, all smiling, all looking pleased to actually SEE him. Every now and then small clumps of people would start to applaud.I just thought it was a wonderful thing that everybody looked up to him and respected him. He shaped several generations of music lovers in this country, and the great tragedy is that there are 12 year olds now, and 12 year olds forever onwards, who won't now have their lives changed by listening to him when they should be asleep.

Mark Hibbett, MJ Hibbett 

I don't think I can add much to everybody else - I heard some great music on his show and I can't think of anywhere else I would have heard such a diverse range of music - who's going to replace him? The main thing that will be missed is that he played EVERYTHING, while everybody else has their own niche - every type of music is segmented so you'll never have the chance for any crossover, which ultimately leads to stagnation of all musical forms - where else will indie kids hear drum and bass or dancehall now?
Stephen Woodward, Johnny Domino

Well, what can be said?... It's a weird, kind of guilty feeling, mourning someone you don't know (I just didn't understand the global hysteria when that princess got run over, but somehow it seems like something like should be happening now)... I did meet Peel (twice, both drunk (me, not him), both at festivals)...

The first time I asked him what bands he would be seeing, and the second I thanked him for playing the records I sent him (odd that, as every other time I've met a dj or a journalist, I have asked them to play or review, or at least listen to a release)... One of those records was girlfrendo's debut (and the label's), he played it, knew nothing about band or label, so decided to phone me (live!.. on air!... PEEL... does it get any better than that?)... I will always regret (in as much as you can regret) being in las vegas that week... I'll never what he was going to say, what wisdom, and encouragement he may have passed on (because I was paying for the djdownfall single at a roulette wheel)... Ho hum... I did come back to messages, postcards, notes, and e-mails all telling me never to erase my answerphone tape though (unfortunately he didn't leave a message)... So, a massive loss to his loved ones, and to his listeners, and to anyone who has ever been in a band, run a label, written a fanzine, or promoted a gig in the hope that Peel would mention it (he did have the best voice in the world, didn't he?), but isn't it AMAZING to have (just for a couple of days) the airwaves taken over by the most exciting, thrilling, joyous, two-fingers-to-playlists (in other words, peel endorsed) music...

Thanks
John,

We're all shocked and devastated at the death of surely the most important and influential man in popular music.  Along with uncountable other bands, magoo were first played on the radio by John back in 1995. It was an incredible feeling after so long listening to his shows and discovering the music which made us form the band in the first place.  Whilst Norwich seems to have been fairly well ignored in the music industry in the last, well forever really, John Peel was always a ray of hope for the many fantastic norwich based artists that struggled on knowing that he might give them a chance.  For magoo, not only did he give us a chance but he continued to support us throughout our career and needless to say that without him there would have been no magoo.
We are all very sad indeed.
Owen Turner, Magoo


When you're young and alienated, you find solace in music. If you're lucky you listen to the radio and you find John Peel, and he sets you on the right path, not just musically but, in a way, morally. I worry for kids now.

When I released my first record on Fortuna POP! it was ignored by everyone but Peel. "That's Taking Pictures, the Sound of Young Kegworth" he said after he'd played it. We sold about 20 copies, but we weren't so bothered. We'd achieved what we set out to achieve.

A year or so later I was sat at my table working on the label late at night, as is my want, and Peel played (the American release of) the most drop dead beautiful song I'd ever heard in my life. "That was 'Rob a Bank' by The Butterflies of Love from Connecticut, USA. There's an address here. Why don't you write to them and surprise them?", he said. So I did write, and when I later released the same song in the UK, he played it again and said "A round of applause for Fortuna POP! for having the good taste to release that here". And then he clapped. Magic.

He played one of my favourite songs of all time once, an acoustic number called 'Black and Blue' by Johnny Dangerously, and he introduced it by saying "Most of the time at Peel Acres it's fairly rowdy, pilots of planes on low-flying missions complaining about the noise, that sort of thing. But this weekend we've been listening to this". I don't know why that sticks in my head. I just thought it was funny.

He invited both The Butterflies of Love and The Aislers Set in for sessions. The Aislers were is a café in Glasgow when theirs was broadcast, and Stuart Murdoch had to run all the way home to get his transistor radio, so they could huddle around it and listen. "There are quite a few bands like the Aislers Set in America", he said, "I don't know what it is that makes them the best". For one song they covered 'Walked In Line' by Joy Division and he said "It's probably heresy to say this, but I think that might be better than the original". They were pretty made up by all that, this band from California, USA who had all the peel sessions records.

I like the story that John Walters used to tell, wherein he'd try and convince Peel to play Bruce Springsteen by telling him "he's very popular". Peel would reply, "So was Hitler".

He gave Bearsuit three Peel sessions, and when their album came out he played nearly every track, when I couldn't get a single review of it in any of the mainstream music press. I had orders for the record from all over the place, from kids who lived on farms in the middle of nowhere. That's when you realise the scope of what he did, the number of people he reached. Of course, the beauty of it was that you felt like he was talking directly to you, and really, he was. He had no agenda beyond love of music, and so there was no wall of artifice between him and his listeners. That alone made him special.

I worry for bands now.

More than anything I just loved listening to his show, the thrill of hearing new music, and his dry, self-deprecating wit. I once shouted a request that he couldn't hear at him when he was DJing. Lee who sometimes does my radio promo took me along to a Radio One party for him and offered to introduce me, but I declined the offer, for reasons I can't quite explain. He called me at work once on my mobile to ask about a Tender Trap album, and the reception was bad and I was surrounded by my colleagues in IT - difficult to talk. My band turned down a Peel session because of work commitments. In every instance a frustrating experience. I guess I always thought there would be another time, but now there won't. So I'll take this opportunity to say what I should have said on those other occasions, which is thank you for all the enjoyment of listening to your show over the years, thank you for introducing me to such wonderful and amazing music, and thank you for all the support with the music i've released.

It's the saddest thing that I'll never listen to him on the radio again.

Sean, Fortuna Pop


No to State Bans - Tina Becker
The increased electoral success of the British National Party has been met with threats by the home office to bar members of the BNP from being employed as civil servants. But, reports Tina Becker, the recent federal elections in Germany show that a campaign to illegitimatise and even ban the rightwing Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands has backfired badly - the NPD for the first time in decades now has representation in a state parliament.

Should socialists and communists call for a ban on rightwing extremists putting forward their disgusting views? Should we support home secretary David Blunkett, who is “considering” barring members of the BNP from the civil service (Sunday Times September 19 2004)?


Undoubtedly, the BNP’s recent electoral successes will have fuelled the government’s overblown reaction and it has to show that it is doing something … On September 16 the BNP polled 51.8% in the Goresbrook by-election in east London’s Barking and Dagenham. The week before, on September 9, it polled 53% in Keighley’s Guard House ward in
West Yorkshire - the biggest ever share of the vote for the BNP since its foundation in 1982.

The BNP now has 24 councillors, but there are over 22,000 of them across Britain. So we are not about to witness “the Nazis” taking over. However, their increased electoral support certainly does reflect a crisis of the political establishment. Support for protest parties like the BNP (and Respect, for that matter) show that many people do not feel represented by a Labour government that has taken us into a war most people opposed and now privatises everything from the local hospital to the postal service.


Undoubtedly, real chauvinism and racism in society also play a big role in electoral support for the BNP. In particular the government’s so-called ‘war on terror’ has - as a means of social control - successfully created not only fear in many people’s minds, but also hostility and suspicion towards muslims. Often there is a direct relationship between the numbers of muslims living in a locality and the support the BNP receives (east London, Bradford, Oldham, etc).


This level of support is unlikely to carry over into the general elections, which will presumably take place sometime in 2005. During a general election, people are usually less likely to ‘experiment’ or protest with their vote, sticking instead to the established parties. In 2001, for example, the 33 BNP candidates got on average only 3.74% (with a high of 16% in one constituency in
Oldham).


However, revolutionary socialists and communists cannot afford to simply wait for the BNP to go away. Particularly in a local community where the BNP polls over 50%, the left needs to actively engage with those who have illusions in the right. It would be a disastrous mistake to view them simply as “the scum from the estates”, as the Socialist Workers Party’s Julie Waterson (then one of the leaders of the Anti-Nazi League) put it at the Socialist Alliance conference in May 2003 (see Weekly Worker May 15 2003). And the majority of those voters will not be “Nazis” either. Most of them will be pretty normal, white working class men and women, who feel lost and disempowered by the effects of capitalism.


That so many people feel attracted to the scumbags of the BNP should really set alarm bells ringing. Quite clearly, we should challenge rightwing candidates in terms of propaganda; crucially, though, the left needs to be organising amongst the BNP’s electoral base against low pay, against council cuts, against bad housing. Only that way can such backward sections begin to realise that in working class unity lies strength, in division and sectionalism, only weakness, manipulation and further demoralisation.


The ANL, which called for an outright state ban on the BNP, has shut up shop in favour of Unite Against Fascism, an organisation which is supported by many national trade unions and Labour MPs (Peter Hain tops the list). Like the ANL, it exhorts us: ‘Don’t vote Nazi’. But please do feel free to vote Labour, Lib Dem or even Tory instead - all parties which, through their anti-immigrant scaremongering and attacks on asylum-seekers, have laid the groundwork for BNP’s success. And there is not a single word from UAF on Blunkett’s BNP proposals either.

The proposed state ban on civil servants joining the BNP should be rejected by all democrats and socialists. We favour workers themselves exposing and if need be driving out hard-line racists (although, of course, in general we try to overcome backward ideas by persuasion and active involvement in the class struggle, not management policing).

Just like a full-blown ban on the organisation itself, Blunkett’s proposal would most likely have the diametrically opposite effect to the one intended: the BNP would have its anti-establishment credentials boosted no end. In all likelihood that would make it even more attractive to many.


And once such a ban has been introduced to deal with the right, what is to stop it being used against the left? No one should forget the ‘Berufsverbote’ in west Germany, which has only recently been removed. For more than three decades, over three million teachers and civil servants were vetted by the state. Many, many thousands were harassed, intimidated, sacked and blacklisted as a result of their alleged or actual membership of the German Communist Party (the DKP, successor of the 1956 banned Communist Party of Germany, the KPD).

After a ban on the BNP, what next? If Tony Blair were to follow the German example, all organisations and parties advocating verfassungsfeindliche (unconstitutional) measures would be outlawed.
Even with its terrible history of mass arrests and state extermination, the left in Germany still makes outraged calls for the state to ban “the fascists”. The Party of Democratic Socialism, for example, initiated moves in the German parliament to outlaw the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) - even though in some federal states the PDS itself is subject to official state surveillance.


The NPD has become the most visible and vocal far-right force Germany has seen for decades. In last week’s federal elections in the east German state of Saxony, it won nine percent and now has 12 representatives in the state parliament - one less than the governing party, the Social Democrats. In the west German state of Saarland, it polled over four percent a few weeks ago. No more than a small part of this electoral support comes from hardcore Nazis.


In the east of Germany, the effects of the re-introduction of capitalism have been devastating for large sections of the working class. Consequently the mainstream parties are suffering heavy losses in elections, with both the NPD and PDS (the former ruling party of the German Democratic Republic) making gains. The PDS won 28% of the vote in the east German state of Brandenburg and 23.6% in
Saxony, coming a strong second in both.


In 1972, the NPD was represented in seven of the 11 West German federal parliaments but, as a result of infighting and the general rightward turn of the mainstream parties, became marginalised in the 80s and 90s. In recent years, it has slowly risen to become the main far right party, ahead of both the Republikaner and the Deutsche Volksunion (DVU) - although the DVU also picked up six percent in Brandenburg last week.


The NPD, however, has been able to present itself as a national ‘fighting organisation’ and has recruited many members of the more ‘respectable’ Republikaner and DVU. It organises combat training camps for its youth section and has worked hard to become the party that most openly glorifies Germany’s Nazi era; the party that most viciously campaigns against the Nicht-Deutsche (non-Germans), while attacking the “capitalist government elite”.

Support for the NPD really started to gather pace last year, after the German parliament unsuccessfully tried to ban it. The whole Bundestag - including the PDS - supported the official application to the Bundesgerichtshof (supreme court), which is the only body that can ban political parties (and has done so twice: in 1952 proscribing the extreme rightwing Sozialistische Reichspartei and in 1956 outlawing the communists).


The result was an embarrassment: during the hearings, it transpired that around 15% of the NPD leadership were agents of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (national news service - the harmless-sounding name for the German secret service) - quite a few of them were even founding members. It emerged that not a few of these agents (most of them recruited after they became NPD members) were actively involved in racist attacks. And when it finally came to light that some of them actually led those attacks, the whole banning process started to unravel. In March 2003, the court threw out the application because of a lack of evidence.


The bulk of the NPD’s support does not in the first instance rest on its xenophobic and racist rhetoric. Dramatic growth has been in step with the SDP-Green government’s attacks on the welfare system. Through his so-called reform package, ‘Agenda 2010’, chancellor Gerhard Schröder has introduced some of the most draconian cuts in social services, healthcare and now unemployment benefit.


Like the PDS, the NPD vociferously opposes these attacks. Not surprisingly, it not only blames the “capitalists” for the Agenda 2010 assault. It demands “national solidarity”, “German money only for German people” and justifies its hatred of foreigners with the claim that “survival instincts transform everybody into a xenophobe - especially in these difficult times” (NPD website).


On more than one occasion, the NPD has been able to sneak onto the ‘Monday demonstrations’ run by the German left. This has become such a problem that the organisers are now dishing out leaflets on how to challenge the racists. The advice ranges from useful, though obvious, tips, such as “always have speakers on the platform that stress our solidarity with all people living in Germany - asylum-seekers, refugees and so-called foreigners” to the more dubious proposal for “the police and the existing assembly laws to protect your demonstration”.

So the state is called upon to protect demonstrations which are directed … against the state. 

By Tina Becker


England - The Lion Awakes? - Patrick Presland
Let the issue be put. Let the battle be joined." Tony Blair's words just a few weeks ago, when he announced a referendum on the European Union constitution. As confident - or rather as arrogant - as ever, he threw down the gauntlet and dared the Tories and the forces of Euroscepticism across the country to fight him. June 10 must have come as quite a shock. Perhaps, as in the case of Iraq (but that was and is a real war with real victims - tens of thousands of them), Blair was once again given the wrong intelligence by his experts? Certainly he is not to blame for Labour's humiliation at the polls. He is never to blame for anything.

By any standard, the gains made by the United Kingdom Independence Party in the European, London and local elections were astonishing. Remember that in the general election of 2001 UKIP already had sufficient financial backing to field 434 candidates, the great majority of whom nevertheless lost their deposits. Nationally, they polled around 1.5% - the same sort of figure achieved last week by Respect. In other words, negligible, barely a blip on the electoral radar screen.

This time, albeit not in the context of Westminster, the picture is very different. Some 2.7 million people (around 9% of the poll) voted for UKIP in the Euro elections. It now has 12 seats in Brussels. For the first time, on the strength of 156,780 votes (8.2%) in the GLA elections, it is represented in the Greater London Assembly with two seats. Even its mayoral candidate, the boxing promoter Frank Maloney, polled 115,665 votes (6%), leaving Respect's Lindsey German well behind.

So what is happening? How did UKIP arrive at a position where it was essentially the real winner in all three of the 'super Thursday' elections? Listen to the spin doctors and the soothsayers from the mainstream parties and you will be told that it was all just a one-off protest vote by people tired of Blair's government and tired of Europe. When the 'real' elections come along, UKIP will revert to its completely marginal status as the natural home for far-right Tory cranks and suburban saloon-bar racists.

In a leading article and a piece by Tim Hames, The Times counsels Michael Howard to keep mum: "He not only needs to do nothing about the UKIP surge, but should say nothing about it. His colleagues need to be similarly Trappist." And from Hames: "What the Tories should do about UKIP is absolutely nothing" (June 14).

In its defensiveness, this reaction is interesting and founded on the belief that Howard made a fundamental mistake by arguing with UKIP in the pre-election period, thus giving it unnecessary prominence and publicity. Clearly the Conservative Party had most to lose from a surge in support for honestly and openly expressed anti-European 'withdrawalist' politics and it duly suffered. But the punishment meted out to it can hardly be blamed on Howard alone.

As we all know, ever since Maastricht, Europe has been a seismic fault line threatening to split the Conservatives from top to bottom - the issue that has most obviously prevented them from portraying themselves as a united party fit for government. In their different ways, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith found themselves obliged to placate the visceral anti-Europeanism of the right wing in Westminster and the grassroots majority in the shires. They became leaders of the party not because of what they were, but because of what they were not: to have anointed Heseltine or Clarke would have meant inevitable schism. Remember Hague's risible 'save the pound' debacle? Nobody, sadly, remembers anything at all about Duncan Smith, except that he was the strong and silent type, Chingford's answer to Clint Eastwood. And Howard's line on Europe is no better: basic renegotiation of the treaties (simply a non-starter, as he well knows); failing that, (perhaps) wresting back control over fishing. Pathetic.

In order to keep their show on the road, the Tories have had to fudge and fudge again. UKIP, by contrast, is burdened by no such constraints. Indeed its very raison d'être is to be the organ of that xenophobic hatred which, in the Conservative Party at Westminster, still dare not speak its name. Is UKIP Eurosceptic? Hardly. Scepticism betokens doubts, misgivings, a questioning spirit. UKIP has none of these. It hates everything about Europe and it detests foreigners who do not know their place, that is those foreigners who have had the temerity to land on the shores of our sceptred isle.

Does this make them what Ken Livingstone has dubbed "the BNP in suits"? Not quite, though we know what he means. Ken maybe has not noticed, but these days the British National Party leaders also wear suits. The hideously camp, fake brownshirt uniforms and jackboots are a thing of the distant past (at least in public). But yes, beneath the BNP pinstripes there are still fascist thugs so ignorant, so odiously perverse, so abhorrently sick as to find in Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party their role model and their political philosophy. Does UKIP's membership and support come from the same stable? I venture to suggest not. It exerted a quite significant squeeze on the BNP vote precisely because it is more 'respectable': ie, people feel that they can vote for it with a good conscience. Xenophobes and racists they may be, but their ideological origins lie firmly on this side of the channel: not with the Nazis or the Waffen SS, but with Dad's Army and with seductive, nostalgic dreams of England's imperial greatness.

Tentatively, we can also distinguish a certain difference between the bases from which the two organisations currently operate, though sufficient data are lacking. The BNP seems particularly strong among some sections of the white working class in certain specific areas - typically, the run-down, impoverished council estates in cities and towns with a large non-white population, particularly where unemployment and social deprivation are commonplace and where non-white areas are perceived to enjoy an advantage in relation to local funding and amenities. The BNP has learned the value of building up trust by engaging with concrete local issues on the doorstep, while poisoning people's minds in an overtly racist way.

UKIP's current constituency - again one can only be tentative - appears to centre around a different milieu. Rather the suburbs and the countryside than the built-up areas; generally older and more prosperous; readers of the Mail or the Express rather than the Sun or the Star; people who through a combination of hard work, thrift and good fortune have attained a certain level of material comfort which they see to be threatened by a tidal wave of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers bent on milking the benefits system; essentially, therefore, the petty bourgeoisie, small businessmen and the like. But this remains at best a broad-brush approach.

So again we must ask, why did UKIP do so well? Paul Donovan in the Morning Star tells us that "the media fell under the spell" (June 22). Hardly an adequate explanation, but there is some truth in it. Dick Morris, Bill Clinton's political analyst and media guru, was hired by UKIP to give advice. For good measure it called on the services of Max Clifford, publicist of choice for all manner of 'celebrities', whether famous or notorious. Their advice was that UKIP had a natural constituency out in the country, so all it needed to do was maximise publicity by roping in the 'names', putting up lots of posters and using internet polls to generate that precious momentum. Get enough people talking about the coming tidal surge and it will happen.

And it did. Though we have to wonder just what contribution Joan Collins (71) made to UKIP's success. As someone who has never voted and spends most of her time out of the country, Ms Collins does not strike you as a particularly persuasive advocate of UKIP's case, though her hatred of the euro (it makes living in St Tropez so expensive) may have struck a chord, and as the dominatrix who presided over Dynasty she may have quickened some elderly male pulses.
That certainly cannot be said of Geoffrey Boycott, another 'celebrity' deemed to be a UKIP asset. Nothing can be said of him. But what about Robert Kilroy-Silk? Our Scouse comrades will remember him well, though they did not see much of him when he was a Liverpool Labour MP. Thanks to Militant, he was eventually given the red card (certainly not red for socialism in his case). But Mr Kilroy-Silk, the permanently tanned and exquisitely coiffured chat show host, was apparently adored by the nation's housewives - until he got the sack for making offensive remarks about islam and Arabs. He is also litigious, so let me make it clear that I totally disagree with anyone who suggests he is an arrogant, self-obsessed and brainless stuffed tailors' dummy with a penchant for punching anybody who disagrees with him. Absolutely not.

Was it Kilroy-Silk (now MEP), Joan Collins or Geoff Boycott who were responsible for UKIP's victories at the polls? Perhaps to some limited extent, for there is no such thing as bad publicity. But we need to look deeper. Readers of this paper are probably not regular readers of the Mail or the Express, which function par excellence as the press organs of the Conservative Party among the middle classes and small bourgeoisie. Day after day after day, these papers have run stories about illegal immigrants, asylum-seekers, gypsies, economic migrants and the rest - all clearly designed to stoke up xenophobia. The accession of 10 predominantly east European, formerly Sovbloc countries to the EU brought forth a deluge of dire prophecies that Britain was about to be swamped by millions of feckless, work-shy foreigners who would ruin the country. It was all the EU's fault and there was nothing we could do - except vote UKIP, though the papers did not quite go that far. They left it to the reader to draw the obvious conclusion. This daily pollution of consciousness with the bile of ethnic hatred, which still goes on, played, in this writer's view, a key role in UKIP's breakthrough.

More speculatively perhaps, I would suggest that in UKIP we see the embryonic form of a genuine English nationalist party - a party that, under the flag of St George, says that enough is enough, and astutely taps into Anglo-Saxon discontent, giving expression to the anger and resentment which many English people apparently feel not just towards foreigners but towards the Scots and even the poor Welsh. Scots particularly, a small minority, but thanks to devolution they have their own parliament and budget - a budget funded, at least in popular perception, by English taxpayers' money, provided for them by a Labour government, in which there are far more Scots than English. That cannot go on, they say. One suspects that they would not be sorry to see Scotland go its own, independent way and then come back, begging bowl in hand, to a very different union.

The UK in UKIP is real, but it is secondary. The ideological homeland of UKIP is the south of England, its consciousness fundamentally permeated by English rather than British values. UKIP's task now, of course, is to transform itself from a single-issue party into something resembling a coherent force capable of attracting wider strata of support. In other words, it is a question of programme, something UKIP obviously lacks. As David Lott, UKIP's chairman, put it, "Broadening our manifesto is the next step and it will move along the lines of small government in every walk of life." Quite a bit more flesh needed on those bones. Forthcoming by-elections in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill will show to what extent the 'UKIP effect' continues. Kilroy-Silk will contest Leicester and could find himself in the Westminster parliament. Momentum.

It may well be the case that UKIP's successes will be in the nature of a transitory protest vote. But perhaps not. If it can produce a cogent programme based on more than merely getting out of Europe and hating foreigners; if it can widen its appeal to embrace some of the millions who are evidently disgusted and disillusioned with Blair, including many of those sickened by the Iraq war who did not find themselves voting for the Lib Dems or Respect, then UKIP could influence British politics in a way few of us can have foreseen.

In the period since the 1997 general election, British politics have moved inexorably to the right. New Labour has squeezed the Tories out of their familiar territory (can anyone think of a more rightwing, authoritarian and plain nasty home secretary than Blunkett?); in turn the Tories have been squeezed by the BNP but much more significantly, as it now appears, by UKIP.
What about the left? We know the answer to that question, with all
due Respect.


Farewell to Forever - Sam Metcalf
I hate April 1st, and this year it was worse than ever. Along with the usual crap, ‘prank’ news story on the radio about eating cigarettes helping you grow a beard, came the end of possibly the best web-based fanzine.  

In truth the end came before April 1st, but it was on the first day of every month that I’d check back to the gospel according to In Love With These Times in Spite of These Times (www.ilwtt.org). But this time I knew that I’d find nothing new, for a month previously, Kieran, the genial founder of the fanzine, announced that In Love With These Times had come to an end. Lack of time and, inevitably, a change in musical direction and taste were blamed for the demise of the website – themes so commonly the downfall of every great, lost and underrated musical project. 

Many other fans of ILWTT have told me that maybe it’s for the best. They quit whilst they were ahead. I simply can’t agree. Losing ILWTT is losing an inspiration for tasty. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve continually tried to copy the style of the website, both in content and style….and every time failed miserably. 

Y’see, Kieran and his small band of writers were so passionate about what they were writing about. Be it the new Napalm Death single, the next Harper Lee album or a Public Enemy re-release. And it showed. The writing on this site was simply THE best anywhere on the internet.  

There’s one particular review I remember reading on ILWWT that made me glow inside. So much so that I felt I had to read it again and again. It was a review of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s ‘Singles’ compilation. 

Now I was a fan of the band and I’d defend them to the death – after all, that album shows just what a great band they were, but for Kieran (least I think it was Kieran) they meant EVERYTHING. For me they were just another band whose lyrics I could snip out of Smash Hits and pin them next to my bed. For ILWWT, it was personal. 

Maybe that’s to do with an age thing. For sure, I get the feeling that those who contributed so brilliantly to the fanzine were a couple of years older than me, and whilst I was busy worshipping at the altar of the relatively mainstream Housemartins or Ride, they were delving deep into the indie-pop underground and coming up with the sweet sounds of the Bodines, the June Brides and The Orchards – bands who I love now. I’m just jealous, you see. 

Damn right I’m jealous. I want tasty to be everything that ILWTT is and was. It won’t be, of course, but that doesn’t matter. Because for a short time ILWTT actually existed, and that’s better than it never happening at all. The fanzine world owes this short-lived wonder a huge debt, not least, as I’ve said, for the consistently stellar standard of writing found therein. ILWWT didn’t need to have a thesaurus at the ready for that latest Strokes review, nor did it see fit to review rubbish – something that depresses the life out of me whilst putting tasty together every month as much as it does the people who so valiantly help out for nowt in the way of payment and possibly, pleasure.  

No, ILWTT hit the spot every time, as far as fanzines go, purely because of the fact that it exuded an enthusiasm that you can’t learn when listening to music you love – you either have it or you don’t, and Kieran and his comrades had it in spades. Hell, Kieran had to be optimistic – he supports Bristol Rovers. 

Goodbye then, ILWTT. tasty’s inspiration is gone, but not forgotten.


Where did our love go? - Marc Elston
Romantic love in the pop song seems to be an archaic, gauche and alien concept. The hard-faced metallic bump and grind of Christina and Britney have replaced the wide-eyed, heartfelt romantic abandon of artists from The Beach Boys to Orange Juice. Indie music was once a safe haven for the hopeless romantic and wide-eyed dreamer. Aztec Camera’s ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ and Orange Juice’s ‘ You can’t hide your love away forever’ could have been the soundtrack to Bill Forsyth’s seminal romantic teenflick ‘Gregory’s Girl’. Often sentimental but never cloying, these albums are full of yearning and unconditional romance. C 86 era bands like The Wedding Present continued the tradition of un-self conscious romanticism in music, in David Gedge's case accompanied by much pain and torment (listen to My Favourite Dress)

The subject matter dismissed as twee by detractors was pure emotional honesty, brave and uncompromising. Very little is said in modern music without the imaginary inverted commas of irony or the glossy sheen of airbrushed sensuality. Artists seen as having emotional integrity of recent years such as Radiohead only seem capable of expressing darker emotions and the existential angst of being a millionaire from Oxford. Jeff Buckley’s Grace is one of the few emotionally abandoned albums of the ‘90’s but even this expresses the abject torment of tortured love not the joyous euphoria of first love. Will pop artists ever be capable of expressing Romantic love again? Probably not, it’s just too darned embarrassing and unfashionable. Hopefully the world of small labels will continue to tackle this unfathomably thorny issue. 

Suggested Listening:

  • Pet Sounds- The Beach Boys

  • Most ‘60’s Motown

  • You can’t hide your love away forever- Orange Juice

  • High Land, Hard Rain- Aztec Camera

  • Reunion Wilderness- The Railway Children

  • George Best- The Wedding Present

  • Pacific Street-The Pale Fountains


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