Fill in the holes between now & then; Einsturzende Neubaten, Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, Massive Attack, and Neu! all come to my mind, but I’m sure there are way more. (Do feel free to leave suggestions in the comments section.) The influence and importance of these bands, seminal in the industrial-meets-electronica-meets-new-forms-of-rock-and-roll arena can’t be overstated, and yet so often, the names and faces and songs are forgotten.
Tying them all together with contemporary sounds makes for fascinating musical thread-spotting, but it’s equally interesting to see just how deeply these threads twist and spiral through the visual art realm; all these bands have a strong aesethetic (people today might use that over-used, tired term “brand”) where the worlds of painting, photography, video, and filmmaking are every bit as vital as the music.
Not everything is pretty, nice, and easily digestible here. I like that. There’s something about viewing something surreal, uncomfortable, and confusing that is hugely refreshing -it’s like aerobics for a brain more used to the pablum of dependable narrative arcs and tidy conclusions. I like the raucous visual attacks of Neubaten, NIN, and the Prunes, KMFDM’s Soviet-meets-Pop paintings, and Massive Attack’s embrace of experimental filmmaking partnered with their deeply atmospheric, unsettling sounds. So it makes sense that I was struck by the accompanying photo of Crystal Castles on the AUX site, which reminded me of Godard, Helmut Newton, and Wolford all at once. Nicely done.
Appropriation, influence, mainstream, underground -all these labels (and their concomitant definitions) are melting and forming a kind of morphed culturo-sonic Frankenstein, simultaneously scaring, shocking, delighting, and inspiring.
2010 Music: incredible.
Now, if only the major labels would get on the inspiration train.
At the time of writing this, I have no internet connection. Rather like withdrawl from a serious drug habit, I’m shaky, nervous, unsettled, angry, … repeat. It’s interesting timing, considering that lately I’ve been considering my life pre and post-internet age, with the same question cropping up at the end of all considerations: what the hell did I do before it came flashing and html-ing into my life? I don’t use it to surf idly -though I think there’s value in that -but like many in the media world, as the basis of my day-to-day communications and work-related tasks. Everything, from pitching a story, to chasing down the key players, to prep to research to fact-checking to writing and final product requires my use of the interwebs. When did reporting and writing get so complicated? When did streamlining become mainlining? How did simplicity get so complex? The loss of the internet has left me with a host of questions related to the nature of my activities and creative choices. I resolved to do something useful with my time -useful in a way other than that as defined by internet surfing, that is -by writing both creative and journalistic stories, talking with friends, and sitting with my addiction -feeling it and not judging. Harder than it sounds. I’m restless by nature and I suppose regular exposure to the internet feeds that.
Still, lack of one connection means a different -perhaps familiar – connection, redefined and rediscovered. It was with a mix of annoyance and resignation that I came to accept the fact that I was -am -cut off. An internet-equipped friend kindly helped me in some necessary prep work but I’d turned on the telly in the hopes of filing the gaping void of non-connectedness; I don’t just use the internet for information, but, like many, for connection with others -close, far, known and unknown. Television just doesn’t fill the same hole. But I’ve come across some really, extraordinarily good programming.
Among the many delectable offerings on AUX’s excellent, arty-leaning video flow was the Michael Franti video for the catchy, peppy ska-meets-funk-pop single “Say Hey”. Filmed in Rio, the video is a bright, powerful shot of pure, unadulterated joy. Franti dances joyously with kids -tweens and toddlers alike -along with grandparents and assorted musicians. Damn. If I had internet, I thought, I would’ve missed this little gem from one of my favourite artists who released, in my estimation, one of the finest albums in recent memory. The depiction of joy in “” gave me a far greater feeling of connection and reminded me of the power of music -to move hearts, mountains, and minds.
Speaking -typing -of moving mountains, the Choral section of the Ode to Joy just finished on Bravo! and I’m recalling the tender memories I have of seeing Sir Simon Rattle conducting the very same ten years ago in Royal Festival Hall in London; it remains one of my dearest memories of London, to this day, though it was hardly the first or last time I saw the piece. The memory of my night at the Hall, however, remains seared in memory, and comes back jut that much clearer without the techno distractions I’ve become such a willing slave to over the past few years. Now I see Beethoven’s Hair has come on -it’s a documentary directed and co-produced by Larry Weinstein, a wonderful Canadian filmmaker I had the opportunity of interviewing for Inside Hana’s Suitcase back in the spring. Larry had told me during our wide-spanning conversation that he loved making the doc about LVB, and tonight of all nights, here it is. Of course, I wouldn’t have known about it unless my internet connection had died. I’m tempted to say I’m grateful.
Could I have heard the Ode (and learned of poor Ludwig’s possible lead poisoning) chained to the elusive, semi-illusory velvet handcuffs of internet connectivity? I caught the ode – this celebration, this tribute to human capacity, capability and credo to greatness, to compassion over cruelty, to space over time, to choice over tyranny -after being forcefully cut off from a terribly isolating habit. Now alas, the addiction isn’t over yet. I’m still itching to check my mail, check Facebook, see what people are doing on Twitter and blast around from site to site, ping-ponging between videos and articles and sounds and sites.
But, much as I love it, I cannot deny that the central role I’ve given the internet in my life has closed me off to plumbing further depths -imaginative, cognitive, sensual, creative -that I know are awaiting rediscovery. I think I need to reconnect -and not just with the bobbing heads and cold letters on my monitor, but with the reason I started this blog: a keen passion for music, art, and all the other cultural things that colour this short existence. It feels like the least I can do -for me, and indeed, for you, the reader.
Balance is difficult -and I don’t just mean the standing-on-one-foot variety. Staying aware of reactions can be a trying endeavor -and balancing opposing reactions is an even greater challenge, particularly in the face of what I’d term Generally Bad Sh*t That Sometimes Happens. But it is wise to consider the Generally Bad from different viewpoints. So it was with a lot of courage and deep breathing that I managed to pull myself out of a black hole of feeling-left-out-ness lately. Recognizing the let-in-ness has been difficult, sure, because it’s meant a total re-adjustment of perception and attitude to outer circumstances; change is never comfortable, particularly as one gets older. But the adjustment, while strange, has also been a real blessing, thank in no small part to the truly big hearts of good friends, and more than a few incredible experiences that I’ve able to view as proof that Good Stuff Happens Too.
First of all, I recently had the opportunity to see an incredibly beautiful film, Amreeka, the first feature film by director/writer Cherien Dabis. It’s a really heartfelt look at the experiences of a mother and son from the West Bank who emigrate to the American Midwest. I interviewed Dabis about the work, and we discussed ideas around family, politics, and being an outsider. In a film where maudlin emotion easily could’ve trumped authenticity, Dabis touches all the right emotions, gently, while telling a compelling, involving story. Oh, and she told me she “hates” sentimentality. Hallelujah. None of her characters are victims, but rather, survivors, loving, living, and muddling their way through like the rest of us. Amreeka served as a wonderful reminder to me of the importance of relationships -to friends, family, work, and life itself.
Second good thing: the recent launch of AUX. The Canadian music station has been operating online for several months, but will be making its formal televised launch October 1st. I couldn’t help but think back to the early days of Muchmusic in watching chief AUX-ster Raja Khanna speak at the event Wednesday night. With a beguiling combination of sincere enthusiasm and music geek fondness, he excitedly outlined the station’s programming, and introduced its hosts, which included Explore Music‘s Alan Cross.
Lead singer Kenny Bridges of the Canadian indie rock group Moneen helps kick off the launch event for AUX music television September 23rd at Supermarket in Toronto. Photo courtesy of AUX.TV.
Amidst the total breakdown of the ways in which music is being created, shared, and consumed these days, it was refreshing to see such a great blend of faith, dedication and passion for artistry on display. No more “Pimp my Ride” or “Pimp My Bedroom” or any other inane nonsense that seems to occupy so many supposedly-cultural television stations on AUX -just music, examined and explored through various lenses, some fun, some serious, some playful, some challenging. Along with original programming, AUX is bringing Jools Holland’s totally excellent chat show to these shores (finally!) -proof-positive that Khanna and his team take music, and the artistry behind it, very seriously. In this world of media meltdown and of taking artists for granted, it’s refreshing to see there are still solid music lovers out there willing to bet they can build something beautiful.
Within the vein of building -and by extension, artistry -I’m really happy to announce that I’m part of a team organizing a salon speaking series in Toronto called Heads. I was approached by my fellow Heads-ster (and outright genius, frankly) Simon a few week ago, and … lo and behold, we have speakers, a venue, and even an art battle (think Iron Chef, with paint in place of food). TED (and its Canadian counterpart, Idea City) has the market cornered in terms of brainy speaking engagements, sure, but we aim for Heads to be more inclusive, less formal, and more in the tradition of the great French salons of the 18th and 19th centuries, when people of all stripes and backgrounds gathered to yap about culturally interesting, relevant topics. Simon likes to say it’ll be “more think, less drink” -because as fun as the odd piss-up is, this isn’t aiming to be that, but rather, a solid gathering of people who want to discuss and debate ideas -in Heads’ first outing, those ideas will revolve around the validity (or not) of Canadian dairy laws, advances in neuroscience, and lo and behold, online arts patronage. All this for $5. I mean, really? This feels so right for right now, right here, and being involved in this project has yielded so many new blessings and inspirations, opening the way for me to think about my own pursuits in entirely new ways.
The glass is really half-full. It’s all in how you look at it -with head and heart equally, is, I suspect, the best approach.