Thursday, 20 December 2012

Privilege checking 1973

Saturday 29 September

I got buttonholed in the bar by Tommy [Lord] Balogh, who is such a bore ... 'Moreover, Tony, we must see to it that we never have any more lower middle-class Ministers like Dick Marsh and Roy Mason who are just bullied by these fascist civil servants. We need public school boys like you to stand up to them.' That just about sums up his view of politics. You put in your aristocratic friends, who then are able to down the civil servants. I said, 'If this country changes, it won't be because of public school Labour Ministers beating public school civil servants. It will be because the people at a Conference simply won't accept the explanations given from the top and will just go on demanding change until they actually get it.'

Tony Benn, Against the Tide: Diaries 1973-76, p.65

Friday, 14 December 2012

Give The Punky Drummer Some

When it comes to (post) punk drumming, one can crudely identify two 'traditions' at play: A harsher variation on Bo Diddley's 4/4, or the elliptical wonkiness of Captain Beefheart. The more versatile (or expensively produced) bands of the era often combined both, retaining an air of 'primitivism' either way. Purists stuck with the 4/4 well into the 80s, and the more adventurous weren't averse to indulging electronics by the next decade. Being the late 70s, the influence of 60s garage, reggae, Krautrock, disco, and to a lesser extent Afrobeat (not really funk that much - although acts like Talking Heads pulled it off by hiring in the creme de la creme of session musicians) was all over the place. The end of the 70s was arguably the high point of pop as melting pot, just before neoliberalism reconfigured that as multiculturalism (for niche marketing) with respective corners of fundamentalism, in which I'd include the unashamed gloss of New Pop. More mainstream 'new wave' acts frequently referred to 70s Stones and funkier Bowie. But in accordance with the ethos of the time, enthusiasm took precedence over virtuosity. The grandstanding of prog and fusion - though never quite erased - was drastically downplayed by a newer generation. When it came to drumming, it was a process of weeding out. Not so much back to basics as establishing further basics. Hiphop would do the same with drum breaks, sometimes to the point where hearing originals after samples could prove frustrating and/or disappointing.

Below are examples of a striking variety of styles and rhythms from the period. All of them are tracks I'd return to again and again. I know the lyrics to all of 'em by heart, even when I don't know what the hell they're talking about. Despite Simon's initial rule of no electronic beats or sampling, some were nevertheless enhanced at the mixing desk; perhaps difficult to reproduce with as much force played live. For purposes of space, I've left out tracks which were more overtly dancefloor - orientated (like the Ze records/August Darnell axis, for example). I'd consider them under the rubric of 'disco' rather than 'punk', and plan to discuss that mini-movement at a later date. But anyway, the beats here are so distinctive, that it's impossible to imagine them played any other way. Glorified tribute acts like Nouvelle Vague really do lose something in translation. As Greil Marcus noted, the point when key tracks of the punk era lose their power is the point we know popular culture has moved onto something more exciting. I'll leave it to the reader to judge whether or not we have yet.