Music is and will always be a document of and for change. You can make connections in music across time. An understanding of music is inherent to our species, it existed before the invention of spoken language and, with the advent of the internet, access to the full catalogue of recorded music has become ubiquitous.
This exhibition when electricity became more than just the thing that powered the amps and the mikes. How, from the first synthesisers to digital recording superseding analogue and the proliferation of electronic music has taken us from genre by decade led phases of fashion in music to sub-genres, to a musical entropy of ideas where anything is possible.
Using a ‘Surrealist Automatism’ approach, the images in this exhibition identify five seminal collaborations from the early Seventies to the turn of the century that changed the idea of what was previously thought possible.
1) Roxy Music; Roxy Music (1972)
2) Talking Heads; Stop Making Sense(1984)
3) Paul Simon; Graceland(1986)
4) Happy Mondays; Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches (1990)
5) Gorillaz; Gorillaz(2000)
At the end of the trailer for the 1984 film Amadeus, the, not particularly deepthroated, voiceover declares that “Everything you’ve heard is true!”
About what exactly?
That the film was based on the Alecksandr Pushkin play, Mozart and Salieri?
The cause of Mozart’s untimely death is unknown, what is true is that there are no live recordings of Mozart or Salieri.
Thomas Edison, the lightbulb guy, patented the ‘Mechanical Phonograph Cylinder’ in 1878. While it is arguable that Edison was better at patenting than inventing there is no doubt he was great at collaborating. More importantly, the Phonograph Cylinder was the first commercially available medium for recording and reproducing sound a century too late for Mozart. Today any dipshit with a guitar and a phone, (is it still called a phone?!) can upload their contribution to music to be catalogued somewhere for no one to listen to for all time.
The ability to record music has led to so many more of us mortals becoming stars, shining, once in a lifetime, captures of essence. ‘The Hit Parade’, record sales, radio, rock and roll and all the names you know. Before ‘Chuck’ berried, before ‘Floyd’ was ‘Pink’, before ‘Clinton’ called ‘Parliament’, long before Tony Iommi lost the tips of his fingers, the fire ravaged deformed digits of Django Reinhardt changed the fingerprints of music.
Before ‘Elvis’, ‘The Beatles’and ‘Bowie’ had ‘Scotty Moore’, ‘George Martin’ and ‘whoever he wanted’! In 1934 Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt set up a club in ‘Paris’ calledQuintette du Hot Club de Franceliterally the hottest club in France… how very French!
Reinhardt might be the Mozart of modern music in prodigious terms, it is hard not to trace an entire catalogue of genre crossing music back to him. He invented music that lives with us today, and while they both died young, Reinhardt’s generosity was in his many collaborations with the best musicians of the time. None more so than violinist, Stephane Grappelli, who in his own, much longer lifetime, amassed a career of collaboration, working with an almost inexhaustible list of the greatest musicians of the last century.
Then there was the second world war. Before the first world war you had a job for life if you were small enough to climb up a chimney. Between the two world wars you could get a job cleaning up after the first one or not be able to get a job getting ready for the second one.
There were no ‘teenagers’ before ‘WWII’. As sure as the ability to kill all life on earth in minutes gave birth to James Dean.
Now that we have twenty years before we pull the plug on our own species has given birth to Greta Thunberg and a generational war is upon us where our children have been given the imperative of cleaning up the excesses of the last hundred years. Twenty years ago the Deansgate and Salford areas of Manchester started on a long journey of gentrification where today, these are some of the most affluent areas of the city. One of the first steps on this journey was to dredge the extensive canal network that characterises the area. Local hearsay whispered about the discovery of hundred discarded weapons and dismembered limbs of the formerly, infamously criminal, part of town. Even without the gory urban myths, look at any images of drained canals and it is hard not feel part of some collective social guilt for our predisposition to short-termism.
Since the internet has become ubiquitous in our lives today our thirst for information without verification has led to ‘Vaccine hesitancy’, ‘Troll farms’, ‘Donald Trump’ and infinite other versions of buying unlabelled bottles of booze from a bloke you never met before in the back of a pub car park.
The ability to digitally record has developed into an entropy of culture. If you are old enough to remember what it was like when, not only did you have to wait until next week to see the next episode of your favourite tv programme, if you missed that episode, you missed it. Today 99% of everything that has ever happened is probably not worth recording and yet here we are, recording 99% of everything.
Perhaps the internet needs a dredging.
1.) Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno
Formed in 1970,Roxy Musicare unique for many reasons, not least an, otherwise unheard of, tacit link between the ‘Glam Rock’ era they were borne of and a major influence on the Sex Pistolsand the ‘Punk’ era that followed.
“Somehow, in a landscape dominated by Led Zeppelinat one end and The Osmondsat the other, they managed to reach the Top 10 with a heady mixture of futurism, retro rock’n’roll, camp, funny noises, silly outfits, art techniques, film references and oboe solos. And although their popularity has ebbed and flowed, their influence has been strikingly consistent.”
Tim de Lisle 2005
In the same way that The Beatles owed a priceless debt to George Martin, the same can be said for Eno even though he was only there for the first two albums. Whereas Martin used orchestral music and revolutionary analogue production, Eno did the same for Roxy Musicwith the birth of what we know now as electronic music. While Ferry, with unique lyricism and performance, was always the driving force behind the band with only Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera able to claim permanent membership of the band, Eno, as a self described ‘non-musician’ was a pioneer of the art of turning electricity into music, far beyond plugging the guitar into the amplifier and plugging the amp into the socket. ‘Eno’ went on to collaborate and produce with, amongst others, David Bowie, U2, and Stephane Grappelli on Peter and the Wolf in 1975.
2.) Talking Headsand Jonathan Demme
Eno also produce three ‘Talking Heads’ albums; More Songs About Food(1978), Fear of Music(1979) and Remain in light(1980) as well as subsequent collaborations with David Byrne. While Talking Heads can claim many examples of groundbreaking musical firsts, incorporating looped sampled music, ‘Afro-beat’ and other world music influences and certainly not least the band within a band The Tom Tom Club and yet, by far the most distilled essence of the band was captured in the filming of Stop Making Sensewith Jonathan Demme. The first use of 24 track digital recording while employing choreography and cinematic sensibilities to the filming of live concert performance.
3.) Paul Simon and Joseph Shabalala
In 1972 Stephane Grappelli featured on Paul Simon’s second, self titled, solo album on a track called Hobo’s Blues.
In an unrelated incident 1984 saw Paul Simon’s marriage to Carrie Fisher fall apart after only a year. This, as much as anything, set him on a path to creating one of the greatest albums of all time; Graceland. Though surrounded in controversy at the time for breaking the apartheid embargo in South Africa, the album managed to evade the most adverse consequences of this by, clearly, having no political agenda and retaining a joyful purity of musical expression. In crediting artists like Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo he brought these and other artists from South Africa to the attention of the world. Though to say that was his intention after two consecutive failed album releases and another recently failed marriage would be false. There were no expectations of any commercial success with this record. Also, to say the album was a collaboration between just Simon and Shabalala is ridiculous as over fifty artist’s from Youssou N’Dour to The Everly Brothers feature in the credits.
Also, the music video of You Can Call Me Al, featuring Simon and Chevy Chase miming along in a pink box, while bringing worldwide attention to the album, does now look like being in the mind of the whitest white man singing along to black music.
4.) Happy Mondays and Paul Oakenfold
The Happy Mondays formed in 1980 and found precisely no fame until 1988. A garage band of no note until the birth of rave culture and ‘Madchester’, one wonders how The Specials AKA’ would have turned out if ecstasy had been invented ten years earlier.
All credit to the heart, spirit and livers of the band, with their first two albums produced by John Cale of The Velvet Underground and Martin Hannett, the ephemeral producer and co-creator of Factory Records. Yet it was rave royalty Paul Oakenfold that produced the finest blend of garage band funk and dance music that is Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyachesto define the overwhelming underground drug culture that was bubbling up in the psyche of the upcoming generation.
You’re welcome Tony Blair and New Labour.
Their forth albumYes Please, unfortunately, proved that you can take the Scally out of Salford…
Produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Tom Tom Club, the ‘Mondays’ proved that you can’t make an omelette without turning the paradise of Eddy Grant’s Caribbean home studio into a crack den, selling everything inside for more crack and bankrupting the record label that made you. Honestly, a quarter of a century later and sober, it’s a decent indecent listen.
5.) Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett
In 1969 The Archies, an American cartoon tv series topped the charts with Sugar Sugarand almost twenty years later the California raisins came dance marching across our screens to Heard it through the Grapevinebut it wasn’t until 2000 when, Blur front man, Damon Albarn and Tank Girlcreator, Jamie Hewlett got together to create Gorillaz. Hewlett has stated that Gorillaz was conceived as a critical reflection of the ‘MTV’ generation binging on musical fast food and a production line of acts with “nothing of substance there”. This typically wry British observance was, of course, lost on the ‘MTV kids’ across the planet, who apparently, were more than comfortable with this criticism and promptly lapped up the antics of 2D, Murdock, Noodle and Russel.
Twenty years and the invention of a virtual universe later the band, touching every form of pop culture, have collaborated with an unfathomably long list of genre crossing artists, from Mick Jones to Grace Jones, with, of course, special mentions to Shaun Ryder’s unmistakable vocals on the 2005 track Dareand, to this day, Tina Weymouth as the singing voice of Noodle.
The Point of No Return
In 1987 Bill Drummond and Jimmy Courty formed the KLF or the K Foundation or the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu or whichever name you prefer for the purpose of subverting the music industry of the day. In December 1991 they released what must be one of the most original collaborations ever; Justified and Ancient featuring Tammy Wynette and due the success of this record someone thought it would be a good idea to have them as the opening act at 1992’spremier UK music industry event; the‘Brit Awards’.
Drummond and Courty set to the task of performing a version of 3AM Eternal entirely intended to revile the assembled industry elites gathered in the audience, firstly by performing a ‘grime-core’version the ‘trance’classic withExtreme Noise Terror and to finish with a bang,
(after being talked out of dismembering a dead sheep on stage and throwing the parts into the audience as well as Drummond toying with the idea of chopping his own hand off on stage in homage to the legend of ‘The Red King of Ulster’,) Drummond settled for finishing the show by firing blank rounds from a machine gun into the audience.
Drummond, Courty and Extreme Noise Terror had been working on an album called The Black Room as a follow up to ambient album The White room, (1991), however, when the ‘Brits’ event organiser, music mogul and nowregistered sex offender Johnathan King endorsed the performance, Drummond and Courty disbanded the group, deleted the back catalogue and, two years later physically burned all the money they had made on the island of Jura, never completing work on The Black Room.