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I see in The Wire an advert for some 'post punk' compilation and it's called MESSTHETICS.
And even Simon, who, given the literally unbelievable amount of research and footnote-picking and etc that has been done, says: "In those days, Scritti were the postpunk underground's leading theorists of a wilfully fractured style of rock that Gartside dubbed "messthetics". The group championed the notion that anyone can do it, an egalitarian principle that incited all manner of slender talents to pick up instruments and put out 7in singles of barely-music..."

Well, I could be wrong (my dreams are more accurate than my memory these days), but insofar as I remember "Messthetics" was a criticism rather than an embrace, which put into a tune and a song Green's rather paranoiac dismissal of 98% of everyone else doing anything else - whether it was This Heat or The Buzzcocks, DIY silliness or po-faced formalist seriousness. The MESS-age of the song, insofar as you can claim such a thing, was that Bands who had no politics, no theory, and relied purely and simplistically on a rather "ill sorted" kind of aesthetics as their only way of "sorting through" What They Were Doing, led only to ... well, a complete, simpering, venal, art school kind of MESS in which no one REALLY said very much at all. ('Venal' was a fave buzzword; nicked from Art/Language I think.)

"Oh we - know - what - we're doing..." is SARCASM, Grrrreen-as-Lenin 'taking off' all those sub-Rough Trade tinkerers or NME-cover talkers who had nothing interesting to say about their "praxis".

A position which rather disturbs the flow, I guess, because it betrays a frustration with the DIY-per-se ethos, that just Doing It is enough, or that, a la Orwell, some DIY is much MUCH better than most DIY; that just being messy, being messy AS an "aesthetic" (one can barely dignify it with "aesthetic choice", after all, if it's the only thing you CAN do with your instrument) is "enough". Every week, NME/Sounds etc would be parsed over the pub table and thrown away in distempered disappointment and disgust, because NO ONE HAD ANYTHING TO SAY; so therefore there was nothing TO discuss. If X says "Oh, its just how we play" you can accept it (and buy the 7" and play it and forget it) or you can reject it, but you cant really DISCUSS it, and DISCUSSION was half the point. All these bands, they finally get given this "space" (another buzzword), and all they can say is - in the voice of Nigel Tufnell after long pause saying "This one goes to 11" ... "We make this noise," and wanting to be patted on the head for it.

Kinda reminds you of how Deconstruction in its real originary "difficulty" as ethics, as long term project, just becomes a DIY "form" that any US graduate can "impose" on any old 19 th century novel or modish film or whatever, without feeling in ANY way threatened by it, or REALLY made to reconsider all their assumptions. You just "do" a deconstructive "reading" of your set text, the same way as people used to "do" New Criticism or Existentialist readings or Leavisite readings. Nothing has changed. Universities go on as normal, dens of (yes) venality and laziness and privilege. Deconsturrrruction rendered harmless. Just as punk was rendered harmless - via the subtle poisons of hegemony, by the players themselves - because they have no frame of useful reference, no theoretical map beyond "its only rock n roll" or "this sound is a priori more Rebellious than that sound" - which is just baseless nonsense, and was one of the reasons I ended up celebrating Grace Jones/Creole rather than Clash/Bragg, because the notion that one was INTRINSICALLY more rebellious or "authenitic" ... well, you know. Yadda Yadda. Been there, done that.*

And that, I think, was the motor of the real frustration behind "Messthetics": people were claiming everything had changed, but they were claiming it in the same old tiresome sub art school dum dum lingo (wasn't there a song called "Dole Drums"? whatever happened to that?), without questioning WHY they used the language of "art" to discuss music, or WHY they so needed some unformed scatter-brained 19 year old from the NME to validate them, or WHY they "had" to gig or WHY it was always only the thin dark lead singer who hogged interviews and cover ph- ... er, well maybe lets not question that one for now.

But if you can only think and talk and tinker with your music in the same old hi-culture derived AESTHETIC notions you will remain trapped in 'form + content' and 'amateur v professional' and 'authentic/political v frivolous/sonic' debates... your language will lack materialism and spark, there will be nothing to engage with, sink your teeth into, argue about, therefore no dialectic, therefore no REAL steps forward or beyond... (this isn't "me" speaking here, folks, I'm just recreating the, uh, back in the day vibe, as it were...).

And thus will it be easier - 28 years later - to flog or hand down a notion of "messthetics" that might be recreated or compiled, and flogged, if it's "just" a few tickable off musical signifiers, a fleeting four chord "pose", rather than a more troublesome politico-theoretical position....


*{Coincidentally, I find myself in rather a similar position now, only substitute all the 'difficult' stuff The Wire oversees and which I dutifully check out and tick off but am never in the least bit truly stirred by, yawn, business as usual, tape experiments, mad collectives, stoner rock outs, the 113th Merzbow album of the year, yeah yeah... and then come across some bargain basement DJ Screw/Trae remix on myspace and it ROCKS MY WORLD and i have to play it 18 times in a ROW because it HYPNOTISES ME.... and just as I once said somethng along the lines of how I would galdly trade away every Observer/Mojo approved 'cult' album in the world for the chance to hear 'Sugar Free' by Juicy one more time, the same goes for ... '1 Thing' by Amerie or 'Swang' by Trae/HAWK in reference to ... well, just about everything I'm supposed to like, I guess. Which includes the new Scritti - I like the single, played that more than average for a few days (mainly, however, I like the bit at the beginning where he quotes Wu Tang), but after I played the album through a few times for a few days it left no real impression on me (other than that 50 odd minutes is way too long for such unrelieved sonic sweetness) and I havent played it again. This applies to *so much* these days - even Scott Walker it pains me to admit. It's not that I'm not IMPRESSED... - how can you not be impressed? - but do I play it, listen to it, enjoy it? Uh, no.

posted by Ian 5/29/2006 10:41:00 AM

Comments:
i was involved in the diy/queerzine scene in the early 90s and yes, it is depressing that most of the fanzines/music/discussion was impossible to enjoy or engage with in any way whatsoever. however, since most of the human population never does fanzines or music, and they find creativity at best a hobby, i'd rather have a bloated, solipsistic and talentless diy 'culture' than none. there are a lot more famous and talented people from the diy scene than from any top university.
 
Good to have you back.
 
notebooks out plagiarists....he's baaaaaaaacccckkkkkk!!!!!
 
isn't it always the way that the furthest outpost of the vanguard, the hippiest/punkiest/raviest see those people weakening their signal as somehow trading on cliches? it's really interesting to find out that scritti intended it as a critique, but as a strapline it is kinda succinct...even when turned on them...

the messthetics comps are in the main extremely poor qwality. i have about 20 CDs from which i've salvaged 20 tracks. winging their way over to you in the post.
 
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