Where were Dilly Dally hiding for the duration of 2015? On their debut Sore, the Toronto group filtered all the best bits of alternative rock into a cohesive album packed with consistently great song writing. And yet it totally passed me by, as I’m sure it did for many others, not getting an ounce of the exposure or praise that it rightfully deserved. When local and touring support band Tigercub takes to the stage however, the room is already packed. Proving that if the music is good enough, there will be people who want to listen to it.
My town is nowhere you have been, but you know its ilk. – Colin Barrett, Young Skins
To be honest, The Strokes were really a big deal for us. That was a gateway to a lot of other music for me. There is always that one band that comes along when you are 14 or 15 years old that manages to hit you in just the right way and changes your whole perception of things. – Alex Turner
Alex Turner should be commemorated for being such a humble dude in the above quote, when you consider that for many of a certain age, Arctic Monkeys were exactly that band. Something it seems unlikely, he would be completely oblivious to. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was an early example of a band translating Internet hype into commercial success, becoming the fastest selling British debut ever. But in a way, it was also one of the last albums to do so. Arctic Monkeys arrived in that very short-lived period of time where both forms of musical consumption existed simultaneously. A band's Internet exposure could almost be directly translated into real world sales. Ten years on, there’s a rather large dissonance between what’s being hyped online and the music topping the charts.
It wasn’t just the impact on the music industry that makes Whatever People Say I Am… a significant release. It was responsible for producing a voice that hadn’t really been heard before in British guitar music and in turn, went on to produce a whole wave of imitators. Much in the same way The Strokes re-ignited rock music in the USA in 2001, with Julian Casablanca channelling the boredom and restlessness a new millennium brought with it. Super-trendy Brooklyn however, had been replaced by the outer-reaches of Sheffield as the battleground where a new generation was trying to find its voice. At the tender age of 13, what was instantly appealing about Whatever People Say I Am… was its sardonic streak; Alex Turner kept the outside world at bay with a sharp tongue and an impeccable eye for observation. It was incredibly appealing and an empowering tool for navigating the obstacles of puberty. But returning to the album a decade later, there is more to it than just detached irony. There is an affection for the world it is describing and the characters that inhabit it.
With DIY venues and culture currently booming in the UK. The U.S magazine and website The Fader, usually known for covering the next up-and-coming rap star, recently published an article on the DIY venues popping up around the country. But considering the DIY spirit of so much of the music coming out of Brighton, its strange there isn’t really an equivalent space here. The West Hill Hall isn’t entirely a DIY music venue, the other days of the week it’s putting on swing lessons and yoga classes. But promoters Dictionary Pudding and Feminist punk Riots Not Diets are definitely onto the right track by putting a significant portion of their shows on here.
“What is emotional mugging?” Ty Segall rhetorically asks us in a video preview for his new record, mocking the ‘you believe what I say because I’m in a lab coat’ bullshit of pseudo-scientific adverts, as Casio keyboard muzak plays in the background. Luckily Dr Segall is on hand to explain it to us: “a response to our hyper-digital sexual landscape … and essential practice in the age of digital intimacy … non-verbal and non-physical emotional exchange”. What he’s getting at is a well-trodden path by this point. Instead of bringing us closer together, technology is actually pushing us further away from each other and making any sort of meaningful connection more difficult.
Its unclear whether Segall really is trying to make a point about contemporary human relations with this new album or if this is purposefully obfuscating jargon. But if you’re using ‘Breakfast Eggs’ as an example, it doesn’t suggest any such nuanced approach to human relations. “Candy, I want your candy” he purrs, and it sounds more like a sordid late night encounter in a car park involving wandering hands, rather than a thoughtful reflection on technologies influence of emotional intimacy. ‘Emotional Mugging’ probably doesn’t have any fixed meaning, merely a juxtaposition that helps capture the “this is so wrong but it feels so right” sleaze everything on this album has been thickly coated in. This thing is dirty. Like weird smelling stuff under your fingernails kind of dirty, and a huge sound so all encompassing, it almost sucks the oxygen right out of the room.
But all the adjectives that you could attach to a raw, lo-fi garage record like this seems to detract from just how listenable a record it is. This thing grooves, and has melody in spades. Even calling it lo-fi feels like a disservice, when so much of the records sound and texture goes into making its queasy atmosphere and feel. The distortion on ‘Diversion’ is nothing short of monstrous and gives the run of the mill garage rock tune an undercurrent of bubbling anxiety. “Let’s ride” he suggests in ‘Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess’, but there’s a subconscious knowledge the good times are eventually going to burn out. The strange disjointed rhythm and toy-like organ sound on ‘Squealer’ makes a kind of deranged kids TV theme song. In fact the unconventional use of syncopation on much of this record goes a long way to creating its madcap landscape.
‘California Hills’ lurches between a Black Sabbath riff and frantic, sped up spasms. A bit like someone is fast-forwarding on a cassette to get to the good part again. “American Nightmare/ jilted generation / fingers on the pulse of their parents alienation” goes the chorus. The L.A the Ty is singing about is the same seedy and meretricious L.A of Ariel Pink and even a little bit David Lynch. Segall is perfectly happy spending his time with the freaks, the scumbags and the burnouts. ‘Candy Sam’, ‘Mandy Cream’ … in the most literal sense possible, these people sound like very unsavoury characters to be hanging around with. But that doesn’t mean they don’t make for interesting company. They’re the kind of people to show you the cities underbelly and teach you how to scratch it just right. All these characters come alive through Segalls’ vocals. He can sound coyly effeminate or drop his voice down to a low, deep croak, often adopting different voices in a single line. In ‘Big Baby Man (I Want a Mommy)’ he lets out an infantile sigh and the effect is nothing short of unnerving.
‘W.U.O.T.W.S’ is a simple but very effective narrative-framing device. After all the debauchery we’re left with sonic snippets of previous songs bleeding in. It’s the swirling happening in your soup for brains as you begin to regain consciousness at try and piece together what you just put your body through. Did I really say that? Did that really happen? ‘The Magazine’ is the comedown that follows, and all the paranoia and cold sweats that come with it. Insistent disembodied handclaps ring out and its like coming to the realisation that these racing thoughts aren’t going to be stopping any time soon.
I’ve never been a total Ty Segall devotee. To me he has always been the super prolific garage rocker that we had to settle for after the tragic loss of Jay Reatard. If you want evidence Reatard was the more interesting songwriter, compare his wilfully oddball Matador Singles ’08 compilation and Segall’s own competent but more by the numbers Singles 2007 -2010. But on Emotional Mugger Segall’s produced a record that lives in its own fully formed universe. There’s a strange darkness to this album and something almost hellish in the hedonism it revels in. I won’t pretend to have listened to everything Segall has put out, its an intimidatingly large catalogue to say the least. But if this isn’t one of the best things he’s ever done, then I should have been paying more attention.
The music industry at the moment sometimes feels like one of those photos from the end of the Vietnam War, people dangling off helicopters, as there’s a massive scramble to escape. Adele has been choppered out and pulled the rope ladder up behind her, Taylor Swift might be able to haul herself in, but everyone else is loosing their grip and about to plummet into the sea. But the Nielsen U.S. Year-End Report on the industry points to another potential getaway vehicle: Streaming! Percentage wise it's up rather a lot, audio streams in 2015 increased a whopping 83% on their 2014 numbers.
The Beatles, probably the most celebrated discography in the entire history of popular music, suddenly becoming available on all of these platforms seems to also point towards this as the industry’s next hope. As a catalogue, its resisted modern forms of music consumption at every turn, in fact it wasn’t until 2010 that their albums became available on iTunes. This is the direction music listening is heading, and to resist seems like a form of Luddite stubbornness. Ignoring streaming risks the danger of alienating the ever-allusive ‘millennial market’ (hint: the reason why its so hard to get us to buy anything is because we’re all broke).
But not everyone is happy about the future. In 2015 Taylor Swift pulled her catalogue from services such as Spotify, and Tidal was launched in opposition to the unfair royalties paid to artists. A seemingly well-intentioned venture that was marred by being fronted by a bunch of really, really rich people, making it look like a conspiracy of some new world order. Whether streaming in its current form is a viable source of income for artists is another debate. But seems an odd target when you consider these artists happily feature their songs on Youtube, a website with an abysmal record for paying royalties, whilst absolutely dwarfing pretty much every audio streaming service combined when you look the number of users and songs listened to on the website.
At the time of writing, over Forty-eight hours have passed since the news. The essays and tributes are still flooding in and here I am, still reading them. The reason why is that so many of these eulogies feel so personal and subjective; I’m not reading the same biographical details over and over. By and large, people are using Bowie to talk about themselves.
We’re both asked to sit down and write what images, sounds and memories come to mind when we think of David Bowie. The chances are we’ll both end up with a very different list. Here are some of things that might be on mine:
For me its buying a CD of Low when I was fourteen for £5 from Resident, hearing ‘Sound and Vision’ for the first time and feeling as electric as the blue coloured room he’s singing about. Years later, I’m watching the scene from The Man who Fell to Earth that the album cover is a still from. He’s standing at the end of a dock looking out onto the water, like Gatsby pining for Daisy’s green light.
It’s finding a list of his favourite books online whilst an English literature student, and being thrilled we both shared a penchant for Japanese author Yukio Mishima. A web of possibilities between different art forms is opening up, all pulling from and influencing each other.
It’s the howl of despair on ‘Word on a Wing’. He sounds like he’s been carved out, totally hollow and desperate for something to ignite feeling within him. He sings about “this age of grand illusion” and it sounds so baroque compared to any conception I have of the world. I’m beginning to realise music can just as strongly produce the sensation of absence as it can emotion. I’m beginning to finally articulate depression.