Meet electronic mastermind Benn Jordan. He’s a man of many different names, collecting pseudonyms the way a hyperactive 90s kid collected Pokemon. You may also have heard him referred to as (deeeeeep breath now) Acidwolf, CHR15TPUNCH3R, DJ ASCII, Dr. Lefty, Dysrythmia, FlexE, Human Action Network, Lucid32, rapemachine, rnd16, 66x or Q-Bit.
For the purposes of our Artist Of The Month celebration, however, we fixing our beady eye on Benn’s most well-known alterego: The Flashbulb.
Benn is particularly direct when it comes to the origins of Flashbulb. “In the mid-70′s,” he recounts, “Lee Jordan and Denise Richardson met while vacationing in Virginia. Many sexual instances later Denise noticed she was more nauseated than usual. 9 months later the band was formed, but did not record music for another 14 years.” In other words: it’s just him. Flashbulb is a one-man operation, and Benn is the brains and talent behind it.
And ‘talent’ could be seen as something of an understatement. Benn has a remarkable affinity for all things musical. He was left-handed and only had a right-handed guitar as a kid. Solution? He learned to play the damn thing upside down. It’s a sense of invention and anything-is-possible attitude that has since seen him release music on independent labels since 1996, and also produce music for various films and TV shows.
In terms of categorizing his sound, Benn likes to keep things ambiguous. “I pretty much do whatever I want and let other people describe it,”he says. “Right now probably 70′s era jazz (Metheny, Jaco, etc) and old library music are my main influences. It doesn’t really show itself in my work stylistically but I’m really inspired by the structure and parallel universe when it comes to attention to detail.” This universe is one that has evolved significantly over the years. “I feel like every album is a total evolution,” he reflects. “Some might argue that one jump will be inferior to the last too. My worst fear is making the same sounding album twice.” He’s therefore spread out his catalog into a variety of different aliases. Flashbulb primarily releases drill n bass and breakcore-infused beats.
It’s not just musicians who have influenced his wide-ranging sound, either. He lists “Carl Sagan, Fred Rogers, Christopher Morris, Haraki Murakami and Buddy Rich” as a telling line-up of inspirations.
Benn is very philosophical about his career trajectory to date. If he feels proud of his achievements (and rightfully so) he will mainly feel that way “for my family’s or friend’s sake. I was on the cover of a major Chicago newspaper last year and everyone was really stoked about it. For me it was just surreal though. I think my biggest joy or feelings of failure come from the actual writing process. Everything else isn’t really part of my reality anymore. I try to ignore it and just keep working.”
That trajectory has taken place over an eclectic assortment of releases to date. Infact, it’s a bibliography almost as prolific as that list of pseudonyms we dazzled you with earlier. If you want to partake in a Flashbulb listening marathon, you’d have to wrap your ears around M³ (2000), These Open Fields (2001), Girls.Suck.But.YOU.Don’t (2003), Resent and the April Sunshine Shed (2003), Red Extensions of Me (2004), Kirlian Selections (2005), Réunion (2005), Flexing Habitual (2006), Soundtrack to a Vacant Life (2008), Arboreal (2010), Love as a Dark Hallway (2011), Opus at the End of Everything (2012) and Hardscrabble (2012, Alphabasic). Oh, and you may want to throw in the EPs Fly! (2001), Drain Mode = ON (2001), Lawn Funeral (2004), Binedump (2005), That Missing Week (2007), A Raw Understanding (2010) and Terra Firma (2011).
As he continues to carve out his very own unique niche, it’s getting increasingly difficult to pinpoint Flashbulb’s contemporaries. “In terms of style I’m not really sure,” he muses. “I’ve played with Emancipator this year, and while we have a very different sound, we both had a very similar live set and following. Bartel and other label-mates of mine seem to all be in the same direction I suppose.” In terms of a dream venue he’d like to play? “Something that isn’t traditional. If I had the funding and the time, I’d like to set up an ambient showcase that is “performed” by nature. I’d make everything from wind chimes, to wind harps, to water percussion and tune them all in relation to one another. Then the gig itself would just be going on as long as someone hiked out to listen to it.”
Something tells us that Benn will pretty soon be able to have his choice of arenas anyway (he was also very complimentary about his stint performing in BAMM.tv’s SXSW showcase – “I really like the crew personally and they do great professional work. If it were possible logistically and monetarily for us all, I’d love to hang out and work with them a lot more frequently.”). Keep ‘em peeled – you’ll more than likely be hearing a lot more from Flashbulb in the future.
Anyone familiar with reviewer shorthand will know the meaning of the term ‘wallpaper music’. It’s often used to describe the output of MOR giants like Coldplay or Maroon 5 – it’s background stuff, ambient dinner party noise, inoffensive and barely noticeable chatter which uses music more as a pleasant crutch than a blazing center of attention.
Sooooo … if you were a frenzied hip-hop electro-pop mastermind who drops beats like John McClane drops bad guys, you probably wouldn’t want to associate yourself with the word. You’d call yourself ‘Explosion Beast’ or ‘Annihilator’ or ‘Dance Yourself Sick’. That would be the predictable thing to do. The thing is: Ricky Reed – the producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind Wallpaper., our brand new Artist Of The Month – is anything but predictable.
Interested yet? Want to read on as we get all Home Depot on your ass and really start examining Wallpaper.? Or are you just a big old Doo-Doo Face?
(Note: Doo-Doo Face is the title of his first album. It’s just a joke. We’re not really calling you a Doo-Doo Face. Unless you’re a sadomasochist and are into that kind of thing. This is the internet, after all).
If you haven’t already checked out our write-up on phenomenal Artist Of The Month Typhoon, you can do so right here. And if you have read that and are hankering for some more Typhoon action, we’ve asked this superbly stormy ensemble to pick their five favorite moments from the sprawling BAMM.tv music archive. Here we go …
Introducing BAMM.tv’s Artist Of The Month feature: a selection of great music, exclusive articles and prize giveaways (among other things) from one of our favorite up-and-coming artists. This month we put San Francisco three-piece Geographer under the spotlight …
Crack open the dictionary for a second. There’s something interesting about the definition of the word Geographer – “one who partakes in the study of the earth and its features and of the distribution of life on the earth, including human life”, and also charts an “ordered arrangement of constituent elements.”
Now, we’re not going to pretend that this definition is news to you (we hope you’ve proven yourself to be something of a smartypants by downloading the BAMM.tv app anyway, so we’re sure your literary skills are up to scratch). But think about it. Or – to be more specific – take a listen to Geographer’s music, then think about it.
Ordered arrangement? Yep – carefully crafted ciphers through which all sorts of melodic twists emerge. Constituent elements? Yep – an amalgamation of different sounds, instruments and genres fused to a cohesive and gripping whole. Human life? Oh yeah – like all great music, there’s a helluva lot of universal soul in there.
Not that they’d be so analytical about it. “We want to make good-sounding records,” they state, “and we want to play for people.”
So: are you one of those people yet? And if not, why not?
Geographically speaking (see what we did there?), Geographer’s roots can be whittled down to a New Jersey / San Francisco hybrid. If it helps, just imagine Tony Soprano’s drive round the NJ Turnpike soundtracked to The Grateful Dead … or maybe not. Locations and logistics aside, let’s get to the heart of the matter: and it’s a great big pulsating heart that beats at the core of Geographer.
Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – great art can emerge from terrible loss. It’s a redemptive fact of life that Geographer founder Mike Deni knows all too well. Mike moved to San Francisco from New Jersey following the tragic death of his father and sister, and began to channel his distraught emotions into the amazing musical soundscapes we hear today.
When he conscripted fellow band members Nathan Blaz (cello, electronics) and Brian Ostreicher (drums, vocals), this creative prowess only began to spiral. “When I first moved to SF I went to the Hotel Utah open mic every week to perform,” Mike remembers. While at the Utah – a 100-year old institution of local legend, whose 7-day-a-week live music showcases are invaluable to exposing upcoming artists – he “met Kacey Johansing, and she introduced me to Nate and Brian, who all knew each other from Berklee College of Music in Boston.”
Mike already had a roster of deeply personal songs written, and the Geographer line-up gelled so well that little revision was needed. Kacey would be present for the recording of the first album, but would then depart the band, leaving them to function as an even-tighter three piece. “We all come from different musical backgrounds, with different backgrounds that sometimes bump heads and always push the songs past where they were originally intended to go.”
It’s this unity that has seen the band develop their sound over the years. “Over the course of our three recordings,” Mike explains, “we learned what it means to be in a band, and we learned what we are each capable of as musicians, and more importantly, what we each want to be capable of as musicians. I think we also feel a little bit of comfort from the support we’ve gotten from San Francisco and the west coast, that gives us the strength to make risky decisions and try new things.”
As for the recordings themselves? Well … let’s take a closer listen, shall we?
Geographer’s first album release came in August 2008 – the enigmatically-titled ‘Innocent Ghosts’, a name which perfectly reflects the hazy, unpredictable and heartfelt content within. It wasn’t, say, the breakout debut smash of a ‘Funeral’ or ‘Oh, Inverted World’, but to the kids in the know that didn’t matter – they’d just discovered their new favorite band, and they got there before anyone else.
And – let’s face it – when you’re making steely-eyed journalists get emotional, you know that you’re onto something. “Singer Michael Deni explores themes of love and loss with his soupy, trustworthy coo,” enthused Liz Levine at The Owl. “Softly delivered and yet with a strong conviction, he seems empowered by the lessons and experiences the lyrics suggest, so that he quickly becomes a trustworthy narrator.” She wasn’t alone in her enthusiasm – Toronto’s AWMusic lavished five stars on the debut album, claiming that “some songs just come to a slow start … but are worth this adventure this album puts you on.”
It was in October 2008, however, that more high-profile attention beckoned. Long-running music monthly Spin Magazine listed the lads as being ‘one of the three undiscovered bands you need to hear now’ – alongside Canada’s Library Voices and Los Angeles’ Thailand. While new media acolytes may take umbrage with the term ‘undiscovered’ – what exactly does that mean, in this age of fractured exposure and streamlined, individualized cultural consumption? – there was no denying: people were starting to sit up and take notice.
Two years would pass before their return – which, given the intricate and carefully thought-out nature of Geographer’s music, is practically a speedrun in creative terms. 6-song EP ‘Animal Shapes’ would be released in 2010. Expanding on their sound – heavier synth, faster rhythms – it also gathered great reviews, with Music Under Fire labeling it a ‘fantastic effort’, and Pinpoint Music reflecting that the “tight and almost flawless approach to presenting six songs is stunning”.
The most noticeable thing about the reaction to the E.P? E.Ps just don’t get that level of attention, artistic seriousness and fan devotion anymore (maybe with a few exceptions: Animal Collective are usually happy to release short collections every now and then, which are lapped up by an eager following). The fact that ‘Animal Shapes’ was being – and still is – analysed and cherished with the same vigour as a full-length album is very telling: Geographer are a band that matter.
2012 would see them matter even more. Myth – their second full-length album, and highest-profile release to date – emerged to much anticipation, and carried with it the most complex backstory yet. “The album deals with the many ways myths play into our modern lives,” the band explained, in an exclusive video interview with BAMM.TV. ‘I think people think that we live in a mythless society, because we have science and education, but I think that we still live according to a lot of myths which are designed to be instructive … but which people take a little too far. A myth is a story that helps you learn how to live. But I think a lot of times, people take myths as reality.’
If this makes Myth sound like that most precarious of propositions – the overblown concept album – fear not. It’s Geographer’s best work yet – simultaneously their most accessible yet creatively defining. Less ‘carefree’ (if that term can realistically be applied to the band) than the preceding E.P, it delivers a solid one-two punch on both sonic and emotional fronts.
Such a diverse body of work, of course, suggests a unique and experimental artistic approach. How exactly do the Geographer boys create their sound?
‘We’re obsessed with finding the perfect sound,’ Mike says, ‘whether it’s with a synth patch or effects pedals.’
‘When we write music it happens one of two ways. One is really acoustic and one is really electronic. A lot of songs start from a sound – I’ll be chasing something I want to hear or just messing around – and then I’ll build the song out from there. Then sometimes I’ll just be at home playing chords, singing along.’
‘A lot of the time I’ll try to write a certain kind of song, but that never works. You just have to get free and enjoy playing your instruments. Then something will come out of that and I’ll show it to the others.’
‘Usually it starts sonically. And then that informs the subject matter. I’ve only started with lyrics once, they usually come last and it usually takes me a while to write them. I’ll usually just be songwriting in a stream-of-consciousness way, then some hook or some line will come out of that.’
Hmmm. He makes it all sound so (relatively) easy, doesn’t he? This is one of the most surprising things about Geographer overall: despite the complex beauty of the music they craft, it’s as if – like all great artists – it seems to come from a pure and simple place. Here at BAMM.tv, we’ve been lucky enough to witness this remarkable dichotomoy on a number of occasions. We recorded the guys when they unleashed their full-on electronic sound to a sell-out crowd at SF venue The Independent (“our proudest moment to date was selling out the Independent for the first time … we had no idea that many people were listening to our music”) and also when they performed an intimate, haunting acoustic set at the Engine Works venue (“that night at Engine Works was a truly amazing experience for us”).
Despite this variance, deconstructing the Geographer sound(s) is a task they’d rather not undertake – like performing an autopsy on Santa Claus, or catching sight of the sweaty puppeteers who bring Kermit and Gonzo to life. In the end: what’s the benefit? “I just say [we sound like] indie rock with cello and synths,” Mike shrugs, “because it’s impossible to describe music. No one ever hears what they expect to. Like: how do you describe Oasis? Heavy guitars with a whiny vocalist. Or Paul Simon? Good music.”
‘Good music’. As mission statements go, it’s hard to argue with that. And even harder to argue with a second mission statement – one which the band fire up each and every time they take to the stage. “Put all your delusions of grandeur aside,” they say, “and give the crowd the best show you’ve ever played.”
Who knows? The best show they’ve ever played might just result in the best show the crowd has ever seen. And then – geography be damned – pretty much everyone is exactly where they need to be.
OTHER BAMM.TV STORIES YOU MIGHT LIKE:
We’re huge fans of pulse-pounding electronic beats here at BAMM.tv, and 2012 has seen us place yet more incredible electronic acts into the spotlight. Today – as Day Ten of our 12 Day countdown to Christmas – we present a selection of the very best, including Bartel, Realboy, the Flashbulb and Niteppl. Perfect stuff to get you in the mood for those pre-Christmas Friday night parties …
Short on recommendations for stuff to listen to? Don’t worry – it’s Friday, which means that its time for another crew member of the good ship BAMM to share their five favorite tunes of the moment. Let’s ask Executive Assistant Catherine Le Pape what she’s listening to right now …
1. “Stuck on the Puzzle” (Soundtrack for ‘Submarine’, 2011) – Alex Turner
A different sound for Alex Turner, who wrote the entire soundtrack for this movie. I like the simplicity of the song and the atmosphere it creates.
2. “Le Plus Beau du Quartier” (Quelqu’un m’a dit, 2003) – Carla Bruni
There’s more to Carla Bruni than just being Nicolas Sarkozy’s arm candy. With “Quelqu’un m’a dit”, she delivers a beautiful, folky first album, full of wordplays and literary references. This song – which samples the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Daydream’- remains my favorite.
3. “Right or Wrong” (Wan Santo Condo, 2004) – Wan Santo Condo
I still can’t believe this band, from Austin, TX, only got to release one (but great) album. Guitarist Jason Mozersky is now kicking ass with Ben Harper’s Relentless7.
4. “Swamp Song” – (13, 1999) – Blur
Since 1995, Blur has been and will remain my favorite band. I could have chosen just any song from them, but this one is a good “pick-me-up”.
5. “The Truth” – (So How’s Your Girl, 1999) – Handsome Boy Modeling School feat. Roisin Murphy
Our Global Scene Live: Amsterdam season continues apace with a series of exclusive interviews with the artists in question. Today we pick the brains of electro-indie dream-pop duo The Secret Love Parade, who – after holding the audience spellbound with a performance of ‘Plastic In Plastic’ – opened up about the music-making process and the influences that inspire them.
As we recalled last week, BAMM.tv has had its eye on Amsterdam over the past year … and the verdict’s in: the Dutch can bring the goods with the best of them.
As we learned in the third episode of the Global Scene Amsterdam documentary series, the Netherlands produces a considerable amount of English-language output, with diverse influences. Inspiration comes from within, but location matters — even in a small country, with artists in the West tending to “play towards” the UK and the US, artists in the East keeping an eye on Germany, and artists in the South taking influence from Belgium. There is also a “Schiphol sound”, reflective of the large international airport at the heart of Western Europe where everyone seems to pass through at some time or other.
Global Scene is our flagship network program, offering a snapshot of what it’s like to be a musician in the most interesting music cities in the world (as well as Amsterdam, we’ve previously looked at the ultra-cool city of London). BAMM.tv doesn’t necessarily set out to produce “world music”, but we do produce interesting music from different parts of the world – music that we think deserves global recognition.
The diversity of the content we found in the Netherlands was astounding, and we think you’re in for a treat. We’re kicking things off with a week’s worth of singles from our Global Scene Live concert series, recorded in Amsterdam this year, as the documentary series was coming to an end.
For the rest of the week, we’ll be highlighting six outstanding bands. These include Koffie (playing an irresistable Afrobeat-inspired track), Avant la Lettre (the superb Dutch band with a French name playing compelling American indie), The Secret Love Parade (Holland’s answer to The xx), Hit Me TV (essential indie rockers whose albums you can download for free), Horses on Fire (indeed, they were smouldering that night) and the infectious energy and emotion of The Fudge.
Stay with BAMM.tv this week and next – because once you hear these songs, you’ll want to find out more about the artists. We’ll be releasing exclusive documentary interviews with all the bands all next week, alongside the world-famous International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)! We’ll also be rolling out more great videos from even more Global Scene Live artists, filmed at Amsterdam’s Desmet Studios, throughout the end of the year.
Oh yeah, musn’t forget (as if we would) …
Nobody would doubt that one of the most warmly received music groups in Amsterdam is the band Jungle by Night. Playing Afrobeat-inspired self-envisaged musical journeys, we had the privilege of working with them as they released their first full-length CD at the temple of Amsterdam music performances, Paradiso. We’ve captured the moment with an hour-long documentary introducing you to this unique musical collective, sharing the celebration on the happy occasion of their CD release party, and showing a good long set from Paradiso. That comes out next Monday, and we’re telling you: you won’t want to miss it.
Incidentally, if you’re in Amsterdam, you can pop by the Melkweg cinema on November 24th (time TBC) to catch a live screening!
So keep BAMM.tv on your musical radar in November. You’re going to like what you see and hear.
Here’s a welcome return to our occasional series of in-depth articles on issues within the music industry from our London correspondent Zakia Uddin. This time, Zakia takes a look at the ever-present phenomenon of eighties revivalism …
If the 1970s is the decade that ‘style forgot’, the 1980s more than compensated by never quite going away. It’s been vilified, mythologized and dismissed at turns for its power chords and bombast. Whatever you think about that era – and you don’t have to grown up then to have an opinion – it continues informing music, fashion and film. What is it about the decade that keeps artists coming back for more – and when will they stop plundering it?
One of the major artists of this year has been Jessie Ware, whose Devotion album cover picture consciously echoes 1980s singer Sade’s distinctive look. Ware’s hair is slicked back in the same tight bun and we see her in profile, like her predecessor. The MOBO-nominated singer wears her influences on her sleeve, saying that she asked video director Kate Morross to consider Sade’s previous artwork. Ware herself was born in 1984 – the same year Sade released her hugely successful debut album Diamond Life.
Above: hits from Jessie Ware and Sade
The revival continues in the form of comebacks from epoch-defining bands – the most recent memorial celebration was that of the Stone Roses, who released their first album Fool’s Gold in 1989. The band’s return even inspired comment from politicians willing to own up to their Madchester years. This month Dexy’s Midnight Runners released their humbly titled One Day I’m Going to Soar after 27 years of musical ignominy (largely based on this terrible terrible album cover). At the other end of the scale, the hair-rock musical Rock of Ages celebrates all the Elnett cans and power chords which were quietly put into the dressing up box with the advent of grunge.
Is the stultifying effect of the 1980s revival worth fretting over, when artists such as Ware stand up on their own and the reformation of the Stone Roses is considered more exciting than a new Madonna tour? In 2010, critic Simon Reynolds asked in The Guardian whether it’s when ostensibly cool bands start imitating Then Jerico and Robert Palmer that the 1980s revival would end, as though our cultural obsession would fade when we’d found all the good records in the bargain bin.
Above: is ‘Rock Of Ages’ as far as a revival can go?
If the revival goes on, that might be because the decade offers endless musical riches. Synthesisers, samples and Simmons’ electric drums ushered in a recognisably ‘pop’ sound, distinct from the saccharine melodies and the tinnily produced songs of the 1970s and 1960s. And like science fiction tropes cemented in the 1960s, 1980s synths still feel ‘futuristic’. The rise of MTV also gave birth to a more visual culture, making the decade a rich source of pop graphics and iconic imagery. There’s nothing that sums up the initial perceived impact of MTV on music than this panel exchange in 1984 between the future queen of pop Madonna and grizzled old John Oates. Oates angrily states that MTV is forcing musicians to become actors, while Madonna points out the obvious – isn’t a live show all about acting?
Many current commentators think the fascination with the period is deeply unhealthy. How much is that to do it with its flashiness and celebratory disposable aesthetic? Reynolds’ book Retromania argues that the obsession with the past bodes badly for the future of music. In an interview with Salon, he lamented: “No one can quite picture a future that seems positive or exciting. At one time the future seemed to suggest grand projects.” This mindset is even more evident with music, given the huge popularity of bands such as Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes whose music he describes as “bewildering” with its lack of engagement with any music of the past thirty years.
Above: Mumford and Foxes – ignoring the 80s?
The internet has been blamed for this cultural scavenging. What’s fashionable is no longer about scarcity – there’s so much material on the internet. There’s no point of any music or trend being so obscure you can’t read about it or find it online. Critics of Reynolds’ generation have fetishised waiting around for records to release and having to hunt out all the good bands. But was it really fair for everyone? For the suburban teenager it would have been a case of filling in a mail order catalogue and waiting near the letterbox for a few weeks, for a record they were buying mostly on faith. If you couldn’t get to a gig, you’d have to hope for a performance on either MTV or on a music show with a graveyard slot.
Critics miss the old tribalism of music fans forced to gather around ‘hubs’ such as the NME and the defunct Melody Maker. Outlets for talking and discovering music have proliferated. The internet has now democratised the process of music discovery, so that if you want to know what’s cool, you can instantly listen to it and decide whether it’s worth the hype. There’s no waiting around for your cool friend to validate or veto a record. Youtube, and blogs offer the opportunity of discovering music in a haphazard fashion where everything is made equivalent by simply being online at the same time. It also means anyone can be fashionable, technically making no-one fashionable – unless they ‘discover’ the coolest thing ahead of everyone else.
Above: the internet of the 1980s …
In a Guardian interview with Dorian Lynsky, Mojo editor Andrew Male commented on the endless obsession with the past: “There’s a sense that this stuff has kind of lain dormant. You can rediscover it in a way that you can’t rediscover the stuff that was always considered cool. With CD reissues, you’ve got the freedom to indulge yourself in areas that would have previously been seen as off-limits.” The only jarring note here is mention of the CD reissues. Male perfectly understands the cache of ‘finding’ and re-discovering great music at a time when there’s such an avalanche of material, good and bad, available on blogs, Youtube and music sites.
One of the most popular critical exercises is to identify cultural influences and designate a revival of sorts. The 1980s has so far given birth to several micro-trends including witch house, electroclash, and what’s been termed ‘maximilism’ – music that layers on sound and effects and is impossible to categorise in any genre. But should we suspend the need to label and instead ask why it matters if a musician or band’s musical influences split and did reissues before they were even born? Will the next generation of artists even distinguish between their musically formative decade and that of their parents?
Above: witchhouse, electroclash and maximalism in action
The BBC recently went to a London school to test whether teenagers would recognise the Beatles ‘Love Me Do’ on the 50th anniversary of the single release. Only a few did, causing rock music journalists on Twitter to be mildly flustered about the priorities of young people today. On Drowned in Sound, a blogger spoke of his irritation with Radio 1’s commissioner for complaining about ‘festival dads’ skewing the station’s demographics. It’s easy to accuse young people of listening unimaginatively to old music and buying new music that sounds like old music, but maybe phenomena like Mumford and Sons can be explained by the increased age of the music-buying and festival-going music audience.
Critics should also take some responsibility for the never-ending revival. Underlying assumptions about what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music have been shone in the spotlight and seen to favour certain types of artists – those with a long back catalogue who play their own instruments. The 1980s had some of the most unashamed pop and the quickest burn-outs, as well as having pop stars with cross-generational appeal who could sell out stadiums. New York Times critic Kelefa Sanneh said in 2003 that we have to “stop pretending that serious rock songs will last forever, as if anything could, and that shiny pop songs are inherently disposable, as if that were necessarily a bad thing. Van Morrison’s “Into the Music” was released the same year as the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”; which do you hear more often?”
Above: which makes your party playlist most often?
Carly Rae Jepsen and Britney Spears are now as likely to get serious reviews in Rolling Stone as Radiohead. Soundtracks of hipster films such as 100 Days of Summer bring together The Smiths and Hall & Oates, two bands whose fans were unlikely to be in the same place, let alone sharing a dance-floor. It’s okay to like what you like and own up to it. That’s not a bad legacy for any decade, let alone one which gave us synths and studio-shot music videos.
The most disturbing fact is that we’ll all end up listening to the same music, unable to place it. As in a dystopian scenario we’ll vaguely remember hearing it before but not know whether we were around for it the first time…
BAMM BANDS INSPIRED BY THE 1980s
Here’s a taste of some of our BAMM.tv acts who have taken an 80s aesthetic and made it their own. Remember – you can find all these acts and more on our amazing new iPad app!
Birds and Batteries – ‘Out in the Woods’
This Bay Area trio wear their influences on their t-shirt sleeves. Leader singer and musical director Mike Sempert describes the band to BAMM: ‘Randy Newman meets Gary Numan. Funky and dancy, but also really focused around songcraft and arrangement.Future music.” You can also hear some early INXS and Talking Heads in the sounds of Jill Heinke’s synths. There’s something so distinctively 1980s in their brand of warm upbeat and musically intricate pop which isn’t afraid to make people move onto the dancefloor.
Crafts Spells – ‘Party Talk’
Craft Spells specialise in that gorgeous echoing pop sensibility that underlay so many of the greatest British indie bands of the 1980s. But singer Justin Paul Vallesteros and his fellow band members Andy Lum, Jack Doyle Smith and Javier Suarez are West Coast natives, who continue to live in California. You can hear strains of Morrissey, and a distinct melancholy imported from the drizzly northern city of Manchester whose musical influence far exceeds that of London. Vallesteros is really just following in the footsteps of his 1980s jangle pop-loving counterparts who were influenced by the thriving UK indie scene.
Crashfaster – ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’
Morgan Tucker a.k.a. Crashfaster’s melds the old and the new in this cover of The Smiths’ (them again!) classic ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. He strips away the guitar and replaces it with a sparse electropop synth backing. Definitively a child of the 1980s, the Monobomb signed chiptune artist’s music is as much informed by the futuristic bleeps and crashes of old console games as it is by the electro beats of the decade.
The Frail – ‘Count on This’
This San Francisco band do a more soulful take on 1980s indie pop. Daniel Lannon’s intensely emotional vocals contrast with a slightly heat-dazed spaced out summery backing from guitarist Rob Pera and bassist Izzy Chavarin. This intimate performance was recorded at SXSW. While their influences are firmly from the noughties – they cite TV on the Radio, the Flaming Lips and The Postal Service as influences – their spectral dreaminess recalls the bands of the jangle pop counter-movement in the 1980s.
Trash80 – ‘Icarus’
If it was a 1980s movie, Timothy Lamb would be the popular brash older brother to Crashfaster’s sensitive soul. Trash80, as he’s known, creates huge bombastic structures that remind you of late night journeys, motorways, light shows and all the things that visually evoke huge complicated synth structures of the 1980s. He’s like a Jean Michel Jarre of the computer console. ‘Icarus’ is about as close to make-out music (and making-out) that chiptune is ever likely to get.
AND NOW … SOME 1980s TRENDS THAT KEEP ON GIVING …
One of the best-named trends of the 1980s. Named after Smokey Robinson’s mid-1970s album, it ushered in the slow jam. Characterised by deceptively low-key verses and ‘stormy’ choruses, it’s music for adults. R&B ballads may be a single and album staple for the serious pop star now, but the form really developed in the 1980s. The influence of Teena Marie, Sade and other soul stars can be seen in musicians as diverse as Jessie Ware, Miguel and indie R&B influenced star How to Dress Well. The Quiet Storm never been away, but arguably it’s at its healthiest yet.
The 1980s made pop what it recognisably is – and for such a disposable pop form, its major figures had careers that outstripped some of their ‘serious’ technically accomplished counterparts. The best example of pitch perfect pop recently is Carly Rae Jepsen with her huge, guilty and catchy as an STD pop classic ‘Call Me Maybe’. Pop and soul really merged in the 1980s, with the success of Madonna and Michael Jackson. It’s now impossible to imagine a time before synth-based R&B, which is as much informed by 1980s pop as it is by disco.
The 1980s DC punk revival could just be an excuse for skinny jeans and body contoured t-shirts, but it’s become a staple of late night clubs and bars in places like Dalston. Record labels like Dischord (above) and Touch & Go were seminal in creating and establishing a thriving DIY music culture, whose legacy can be seen in club promotion and blogs online now. The thriving US hardcore scene of the 1980s gave way to the commercially popular grunge era, which changed the mainstream viability of punk forever. But recent acts like Times New Viking and the late Jay Reatard heralded a noise revival in the mid-noughties.
Witch house – the genre where bands were so ostensibly cool that they had unpronounceable names printed in the Wingdings font. Bands like Mater Suspiria and Salem harked back to goth, taking on the Germanic aesthetic of heavy doomy bass, and reverb associated with bands like Bauhaus (above) and Sisters of Mercy. Witch house by way of goth also made death metal mainstream. Hipsters started wearing Wolves in the Throne Room t-shirts and pretending to love Black Sabbath.
Where to begin? Like the waking dream-state it’s named after, hypnagogic pop is ambiguous, and layered and mashed-up so its impossible to place any of its influences. James Ferraro’s records sound like he’s been watching John Hughes movies, and listening non-stop to the intros of 1980s high school dramas before they were soundtracked by the Shins. LA artist Ariel Pink (above) has only just found mainstream pop success but his recent championing and collaboration with R.Stevie Moore suggests his aesthetic springs from the 1980s DIY pop scene. Pink also creates all the fragments which sound like samples in his music. Instagrammed pop, anyone?
… AND FINALLY SOME TRENDS THAT SHOULD NEVER BE LIVED THROUGH AGAIN
1980s HAIR ROCK
This is a difficult one. The melodies and the wailing still choke us up but it’s hard to empathise with the unreconstructed sexual politics and the wistful paeans to wife-beating. Saying that, it’s one of the seminal eras in rock for badass women musicians – even if Vixen, and mid-1980s Heart (above) are as dated as pixie boots and puffy shouldered cocktail dresses.
THE 1980S MEGAMIX
Jive Bunny (above). Ironically, the 1980s itself saw a huge trend for 1950s pastiche pop inspired by the Beach Boys and Elvis. The megamix jammed all of these different cultural obsessions together, uniting sound samples and 1950s style production together into three minutes of ADD-styled hell.
THE SOAP OPERA STAR SINGLE
This might have been only been a UK and Australian phenomenon, thankfully. For a short period of time, the British pop charts were dominated by the enthusiastic pop efforts of Aussie soap opera stars. The most famous is Kylie Minogue (above), who managed to turn kitsch into gold. British soap stars opted for cod-reggae instead of high-NRG Stock, Aitken and Waterman-produced numbers. It might be over now (mostly because the charts are over), but one of last year’s surprise covers was Kindness’s electro-pop take on ‘Anyone Can Fall in Love’. And yes, that is the famous song by Anita Dobson, Brian May’s wife, who sang it over the Eastenders theme tune (Eastenders is a grim British national institution, like Dallas with milky tea and market stalls instead of champagne and oil companies).
What do you think of the 80s revival that just won’t go away? Share your thoughts in the comment box below …
Benn Jordan – otherwise known as The Flashbulb – is one of our favorite electronic artists here at BAMM.tv. His frenzied instrument-switching and mix-up-mastery has been the focus of many an exclusive BAMM performance, including the three beauties you can see below …
If you’re hankering for some more Flashbulb magic, however (and let’s be honest – who isn’t?) you’ll be pleased to hear that tomorrow (Oct 23) sees the release of his brand new album ‘Hardscrabble’. A whole new world of electro soundscapes awaits …