Tuesday, 31 May 2011

On Balance, I am Glad I went Out

I hate being out of my depth. It is pretty clear that I am this evening, even if I am in The Arches. It's the Hebrides Ensemble, one of Scotland's top contemporary classical companies. I am about to start wishing that I had stuck to Lady Gaga.

Play it safe, Vile. The musicianship is obviously superb. Alexander Janiczek, the violinist, is in international demand. And the soprano who is duelling it out with him, Elizabeth Watts won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in 2009. They are tussling with Kafka Fragmente, composed by Kurtag. You see, sometimes facts are useful.

I can't start claiming objectivity when it suits me. I don't really know what the Rosenblatt is. I wandered in here, full of confidence. I've managed some Reich, some Glass. I even wrote about the Kronos Quartet. This little Performance Critic has gone one art form too far.

The Fragmente read like a teenage emo diary, but Kurtag's duet for violin and voice brings them to disturbing life. I am getting that cold existential vibe, familiar from Live Art, that peels away the fa├žade of safety and reveals that life is, actually, Hell. Is it really a duet? Sometimes the violin and the soprano are fighting. Then the instrument provides gentle support, almost like a loop.

It's a labyrinth here. I try to retrace my steps.

The first half was charming: artistic director William Conway strolled on and chatted genially about the pieces. He did warn us that the Kurtag was hardcore, but he illustrated the upcoming Sonata with a quick blast on the cello, and seduced us with a version of Schumann's Auf einer Burg. As he said, you could practically see the Knight asleep in his tower. It was elegant.Even Janacek's Kreutzer Sonata was enticing, leaving out the savage murder in the final bars. I was safe. This was entertaining, a bit classier than the previous night - when I watched the Adult Channel Freeviews and tried to ignore my citalapram cravings.

Now I feel like Kurtag has sound-tracked my anguish. There are forty-odd fragments, each one veering in mood, but returning to a desolate howling. Watts ranges from shrieking to elegant phrasing: sometimes the darkness hurts, sometimes it soothes.

When I came back after the interval, they had set up a large wall. Behind this, the singer and violinist paced. One would emerge, then the other. Dramatic lighting, shadows cast, the music - the violin seemed to become two, three instruments, setting up drones, cracking open melodies, rattling, singing, poking, slicing. The voice sparred, jabbed, feinted. Kafka's words, more opaque than usual, were all the more doomy for being in German.

I'd heard a few snatches on the Radio Hour: I was not prepared for this. Dark and deadly, vicious and seeking, the subtle performance touches prevented a descent into melodrama. I am embraced and provoked, swept away and looking out to see if I can find a recognisable reference before...

And a Thank You to my Sponsors

If it wasn't such a brilliant name for an arts-based Media Empire, I'd regret calling it The Vile Arts right about now. It is probably the first lesson that they teach in "Marketing Your Murderous Corporate Machine": make sure the name isn't too personal. That way, when you ask other writers to get involved, they won't ask whether the whole thing isn't one big bloody ego trip.

Well, of course it is. Having you been paying attention? I am out of control. I don't review plays, I review myself. I spend more time preening than writing or broadcasting. It takes me three hours to get my make-up done before the Radio Hour. Put an audience in my way, and I'll get up and tell an audience a self-obsessed tale of how some theatre company forgot to send me files for the show, and end it with "Would You Treat the BBC like that?" I fell in love and wrote an opera about it - it had a sad ending in real life but was redeemed by the script. I review shows I haven't seen, still haven't stopped laughing about the time I gave Five Stars to a lap-dancing club and carry a copy of a PhD in my pocket. Not mine - I just get thanked in the credits.

Still, the blog's a good place for it, isn't it?

However, there are a few people who deserve credit for The Vile Arts. Most of all, My Producer Harry. If I manage to keep this blog going for more than two weeks, mentions of Harry will become pervasive. He might be young enough to be my son - assuming I was more sexually active in my early adolescence than I am now - but he provides a stability to my on-air ranting. He also taught me about the hegemony of technology - that esoteric reason that explains why The Black Eyed Peas are successful  (the exoteric reason being Fergie's Bumps). He fixes my interviews, makes the Radio Hour sound nice and cuts out my crap. He can say "okay" in fifteen different ways, meaning everything from "I am vaguely interested, now" through to "put another record on, grandad".

One of the essential premises of The Vile Arts is exactly the bickering between Host and Producer that fills up the dead air: I have an idea that New Media is all about diversity, and when Harry scolds me for playing the Swedish House Mafia without listening to them first, it is our contribution to post-modern bricolage.

Next up we have Nick Spaghetti. Nick has another name and a career as a Live Artist. When I realised that I was way too old to be dominating the musical choices, I drafted in Nick on the promise of a glamorous lifestyle. Even after he realised I was just being friendly, and delusional, he stuck around, and has been forging Vile links with bands who would be too busy laughing at my wrinkles to answer my questions. Nick is the reason that the Vile Arts hasn't degenerated into an Alex Smoke - Holy Mountain - Creative Martyrs mash up session. He is also very informed on all sorts of things, from feminism to performance art, and I frequently steal his ideas.

I also told Nick he'd get to meet Margaret Kirk. She works behind the scenes, being a male fantasy of the glamorous and intelligent woman - the rumour is that Wonder Woman was based on her during the 1990s. Margaret does much of the writing around the Radio Hour and has agreed to contribute on this blog, especially when she notices that Vile has got it wrong, again. I have worked with her since University, and she could probably host the show, produce it and write a weekly magazine on Glasgow Arts, if she didn't have a life already.

Michael Cox isn't strictly one of the team, but his Across The Arts is a great site. It might even be better than this one and the Radio Hour combined, as it aggregates theatre reviews from across Scotland. So we won't be linking that, then.

We have had a great deal of help from our guests: Fielding Hope, out of Cry Parrot has been heroic, standing in for Harry; Laurin Campbell did a few turns; Virginia Kennard has done reviews and turned up to plug my gaps. She has been on the show a few times, too. The real strength of the show is the guests: I'll save that essay for another time, though. And a further tip of the hat to those press people who have faith in The Vile Arts. there are those that either don't, or can't quite grapple with how a self-respecting Media Node operates. I am sure I'll be sharing their stories soon enough. I'll mark out the temper tantrums by using a 50 point font highlighted in red.

Of course, I shall never change the name. I read an article about branding once, and think that I am Nike. I would not even have written this if Margaret and Mr Criticulous, who isn't supposed to exist, weren't standing behind me. They have been on a three day binge, Criticulous is wiping coke from his nose and sharpening a knife. When I have got him calmed down, I'll write the article I started off an hour ago about Contemporary Classical Music in The Arches.

Gareth K Vile Is Unwell

He lost his leg thanks to drinking. He had 500 lovers. He invented a style of writing that jumped from journalism to memoir and back again, made horse racing sound exciting, chronicled the dying days of British Bohemia fucked up his marriages and pissed his talent up a backstreet somewhere in Soho. He spent more time in court than Johnny Cash, cuckolded his best mates and received letters of complaint from the press. His writing was passionate, self-deprecating, unrepentant, elegant and intelligent. When I grow up, I want to be Jeffrey Bernard.

In the meantime, that comedown off the Happy Pills is giving me aches. I can't sleep so well, I have taken a week off chasing round for Radio Hour interviews - Nick Spag is on that for the rest of the year - and I have decided my time is better spent on arranging meetings with the doctor and various social service offices.

This might explain why I am in the Upper Circle of the Theatre Royal, surrounded by Glasgow's Other Theatrical Community - the one that likes a Big Night Out, rarely sees nudity on stage and isn't too excited by the National Review of Live Art. It freaks me out to be the youngest person in sight. My bald patch excites no comment. I am glad I didn't bring a date, blowing my cover as a young hipster as my real peers settle down beside me, blue rinsed and sucking on the Werthers.

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell has become a piece of British Heritage. It stars that guy who played Jesus on TV - you know, he made that detective series with Jasper Carrot. He gets to wonder about, being Bernard, enjoying the anecdotes that Keith Waterhouse adapted for the stage. A cast of five come in and out, ghosts to illustrate particular stories, all RADA posh voices and 1970s London Commoner. They just slow the show. I'm here to hear tales of Soho, as it was before it got clean. 

The play was written in 1989, the butt end of Soho's golden years. Bernard hung out with whores, gangsters, alcoholics, artists, all the romantic stereotypes and mocked the stability of Middle England, the Middle Classes, the mediocre and the acceptable. He turned up pissed to the opening - or is that a legend? - and enjoyed the fame the play brought him. Then he had his leg chopped off and died in the 1990s. The ending, where he remembers his dead buddies, now has the poignancy of a lament for Bernard himself, as well as the way of life - indolent and cultured - that he loved.

The irony now is that the play - if not the person - is enjoyed by those people who would be horrified to have a pissed up Bernard smoking on their couch. And the time he laments was the era of oppression, before corporate lap-dancing clubs replaced the seedy strip-bars and the pub stank of ash. And all the adventures, usually involving sickened women or turf accountants, would be boorish shite without Bernard's own love of language. It is as if he learnt to drink like an alcoholic so he could still turn a fine phrase with a bottle of vodka inside him.

The play doesn't need the plush set - although it is nice - or the other actors. This is a glorious monologue, resolutely defiant: Robert Powell has a direct rapport with the audience that allows him to hide his character's moral turpitude behind a winning charm. It belongs, more obviously, in the grubby, marginal, theatres, the material militating against the ambience of the august Theatre Royal. Maybe, just sometimes, a good script is enough to make that breakthrough into the mainstream.

Still, it's still not safe for work: Bernard is as foul-mouthed as a Crazy Gary and while the pace and finale make this a requiem for a sentimentalised past, that past is littered with unapologetic conflicts and a quiet revolutionary spirit that mocks Marxist and Conservative with equal enervation. It is worse that I remember some of the Soho Bernard represents, as if my life has been a journey I have not noticed happening, only to find myself cast up on a further shore, wondering when my home was eroded by other waves.

Monday, 30 May 2011


Languages are dying all over the world. The internet might allow access to more information, sometimes choking the world with a surfeit of knowledge that was once the preserve of experts, or bringing half-baked theories of criticism or conspiracy into the public domain, but it remains part of the same cultural imperialism that once conquered the world with guns, school books and religious texts. English, especially in its American incarnation, is becoming a lingua franca. Minority languages like Gaelic are being pummelled.
Most of Somersaults follows one man’s loss of language: his father dies and he grasps at fleeting memories of the language he once spoke. The mysterious shedding of his wealth, his marriage, his mental health is a blunt metaphor for the loss of his childhood language. His degeneration is appropriately disorientating, as are the scenes in Gaelic for English speakers.

The National Theatre of Scotland is probably not retreating into the same Celtic Twilight. Five years in, the "company without a theatre", has had one international hit, Blackwatch, many experiments into Performance Format - including the memorable Allotment, when they let an early version of my Mr Criticulous hog the space - and a steady output to mixed critical and audience response. They've taken up with Gary McNair, employed Amanda Monfrooe, enticed big names back to Scotland and avoiding turning into a nightmare of dated social realism nonsense that has been the dream of too many commentators.

For some reason, they have taken this anniversary year to reignite the debate about the role of "Scottish Theatre". A selection of favourite oldies, including The Steamie, have been given rehearsed readings, Men Should Weep gets an NTS makeover - possibly on the back of the other NT's revival, and Somersaults is an explicit attempt to have a Scottish New Play that is about Scottish Culture. David Greig even gets a bit of Gaelic into his Dunsinane.

Personally, I couldn't care less about this debate. I am a Wessex Regionalist and have always been content to live in a multi-cultural society: notions of nationhood are absurd to me, a hangover from the ninetenth century's drunken orgy of state building and definition. I admire Somersaults for engaging with a minority language, because I long for the preservation of anything that isn't bland Western Monoculture; I wouldn't mind the Old Gold Season if the plays are good enough. Aestehetically, I am glad to see the NTS go on a chase for something so difficult to define. Art is always a better bet than politicians when it comes to thinking about Big Questions, mainly because artists are so tentative. Somersaults is a fine example of this, making a case for Gaelic on the grounds of beauty not duty. it opens up the discussion...
...Suddenly, the show turns into a debate. The actors drop their characters to discuss the worth, and decay, of Gaelic. While it is encouraging to see work that is so willing to leap off the stage into argument, this is a clumsy transition, and doesn’t engage the audience. Instead, it is a series of staged meditations on a cultural loss. At least there is no rousing conclusion. A more authentic finale would have taken that discussion into the bar, not stage it as a series of pointed considerations.
The lack of confidence in the play’s ability to provoke discussion is saddening: the elegiac journey of the hero into a linguistic twilight makes a strong case for the importance of language in human identity. By ending on a meandering reflection, the passion of the characters is lost. Somersaults is sensitively scripted, executed elegantly and a poetic appeal for preserving any lost tradition.
Yet maybe that mirrors Gaelic’s own insecurity. Having been beaten out of pupils until the 1960s, and lacking any foothold in the development of Scots, Gaelic has been protected by the educational establishment – it is about as popular as Latin on the syllabus, despite investment in Gaelic schools – and given a special place within the heritage industry. It is a ghostly presence within Scottish culture, undeniably a link to the past but lacking a truly national pull. It was never the language of the lowlands.
The subtle frailty of the characters and story is a mature response to Gaelic’s status: it emphasises the beauty of the language, its strong connection to place and nature. Without descending into sentimentality, Iain Finlay Macleod evokes a delicate beauty and wistful poignancy. The contrast with the modern rush and bleep of the exile’s life makes clear why Gaelic deserves to be protected, to have its own television channel. Gaelic represents a counter-cultural impulse towards a meaning beyond consumerism.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Terminal Madness

While I am unlikely to ever develop a systematic theory of drama - I try now and again, but the other critics laugh at me, kindly - my resistance to the script as the foundation of theatre is fairly consistent. I like words well enough. Teaching Hamlet to teenagers didn't kill my joy of the Bard, it took uninspired directors to do that. And in the crop of new Scottish playwrights, a few names stand out for me: Martin O'Connor, Rob Drummond, Oliver Emmanuel, and not just because they are nice to me when I meet them in The Arches.

But I have amassed evidence that the director, the actors, even the lighting designer - if it happens to be Paul Sorley from Traway, especially the lighting designer - can be of equal, even greater importance. Two plays this week - The Abbey's Terminus at the Citizens, and Crazy Gary's Mobile Disco at the Tron - have reminded me why the rather British ideal of the page as blue-print for the stage frustrates me.

Terminus is everything I don't want theatre to be: gritty, verbose, grandiose and in rhyme. Author Mark O'Rowe appears so busy showing off the clever word-play that he forgets that characterisation comes as much from the way characters speak as story that they tell. There are three monologues - something I am less than enthusiastic about, since they miss out on relationships between characters that a simple conversation can bring - cleverly weaved together towards a vicious finale.  A women who escapes death, only to be killed by an angel; a shy man potters about killing women; an ex-teacher rescuing a former pupil out of guilt: they all hide in the dark, pop into the spotlight, tell their stories and disappear. And although the expense is obvious - great lights, great enunciation - the lack of drama in the script's form is elegantly expressed through a static staging. 

It may have a very Irish love of language - At Swim Two Birds, an adaptation by Blue Raincoat of some Flan O'Brien antics, shares Terminus' love of word-play, only energised by great direction - but Terminus mistakes violence for realism, and seems proud of gross-out imagery. Demons are made of worms, a nasty serial killer prowls, a pregnant woman gets raped with a broom and crushed under a speeding truck. The three performers are wasted on such ugly material and the moments of savage realism are undermined by the metaphysical plot involving sold souls taking revenge on their bodies, even before it all turns Death Race 2000.

Over at the Tron, Leann O'Kasi is dealing with a similar problem: three monologues, this time told in sequence. O'Kasi has rescued a poor script before - exactly a year ago, at the last Mayfesto - but Crazy Gary suffers from an overlong central yabber that patronises both the mentally ill and Christians. Of course, the three monologues link, there's plenty of stuff about small town frustrations and the consequences of school bullying. An incident round the back of the sports hall involving ingested semen is at the heart of it all - thanks to Gary Owen for that conceit - dooms all of the characters. O'Kasi keeps it sprightly, and the cast almost manage the Welsh accents - not that they needed to bother. There is nothing specifically Welsh about the plot. People get frustrated in small towns everywhere, and probably shit their pants on Fife rugby pitches as well. 

Every so often, I get called a prude for complaining about bad language or brutal imagery: for the record, I find people shitting themselves funny in real life, and love nothing more than stage nudity and self-harm. And I put my hand up to a special pleading. I forgot to get my happy pill prescription this week, and have been on one hell of a citalapram come-down. That added to my irritation at the central monologue - the character, who has been on years of medication, is no more than unlucky and a bit sleepless, while I have been numb all over, unable to sleep and paranoid since Friday. Owen has good some good ideas - small towns do breed odd hierarchies, and Crazy Gary is a very recognisable thug. The scene where the deluded cabaret singer performs You've Lost That Loving Feeling while experiencing the actual emotions, without realising, is crafty and evocative.  And in the first and last monologues, the conflicts between desire and fear are profound. Even if Crazy Gary ends up glassed and bleeding, he is both a monster and vaguely sympathetic, as trapped by his past as the boy he made lick up his pal's jism. Plus it has a superb opening line. 

Both Terminus and Crazy Gary have great sets - a little melodramatic with the light design, but enticing, while the directors are battling against a form that is inherently undramatic once it goes beyond ten minutes. Crazy Gary is enjoyable and insightful at points - mostly when it is being humorous, or capturing the low level misery of co-dependent relationships - but lacks a good editor. It rambles when it could strike, and gets lost in the minutiae of plotting the links between the the characters.

The Tron cast are exceptionally good at catching Owen's Big Dramatic Moments, like the final ruck or the karaoke championship. And unlike Terminus, the connections are, at least, subtle and telling: the bully beats up the karaoke man who gives the cabaret singer his moment of glory, and the female romantic interest - never performed, but spoken about - is a ghostly, sinister presence in all three monologues. There is also a sense that all of the characters are delusional, untrustworthy, and the shifts in their versions of the day undermine each other's perceptions. This universe is far more interconnected than  Terminus' world, despite the latter's complex metaphysics of Satan, souls and avenging angels.

All six actors in both plays come across well, and Terminus' direction follows the self-consciously iconic nature of the script. O'Kasi keeps her actors on the move, and despite the running time, the pace rarely slackens. My grand project to systematise my understanding of good theatre falters in both works: a straight description of both plays would praise the performers, the sets, the directors, even the theatres for programming bold content. And Crazy Gary has a strong relevance, opening up debates on how it is not school learning that shapes us, but socialisation. And yet the scripts have such weaknesses that it might be true that they are the foundation. In this case, they are as sandy as any parable's ground.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Finally... Kronos Quartet

Last week, Cambridge Union promoted a square go  between Kissy Sell Out and Stephen Fry, over whether classical music is irrelevant to today’s youth. In Glasgow, where art happens instead of being debated, The Kronos Quartet played in The City Halls and provided an answer. For students pondering where to spend that nine grand on an impractical degree, Glasgow proved that it has music worth going to see while you piss your future credit rating up a wall. Cambridge offers examples of how badly England deals with the idea of the public intellectual, pitting the one man twitter machine against an artist who thinks that playing Altogether Now by the Farm and having a slot on Radio 1 makes him a figurehead of da yout.

Unlike Fry and Out, Kronos aren’t spending their time on facile arguments. They cover Sigur Ros string quartet style, get works from Reich and Riley commissioned for them about Big Political Issues, invite Inuit throat singers and electronic experimentalists onto their stage, and rock the sound system as hard as four guys on violins, viola and cello can. They even get up and start whanging on a specially amplified set of barbed wire fences. Radio 1’s obsession with New Music translates as four guys with guitars rehashing pop rock tropes, or a couple of teenagers in their skidders, talking about empowerment. Kronos find new instruments and fly around the round, seeking collaborations. While I am sure that Kissy Sell Out managed to define the meaning of “relevance” during his speech, Kronos have settled on the more traditional notions of “interesting”, “challenging” and “exciting”.

Across the weekend, The Kronos Quartet gave the Scottish premiere of Reich’s WTC, added Tanya Tagaq as a fifth member – her panting, growling voice an earthy counter-point to the quartet’s discipline – teamed up with Alim Qasimov Ensemble for a chamber murgham mash up that sought a compromise between the Azerbaijan group’s improvisation and the west’s carefully notated scores, and scrabbled through jazz cut-up maverick John Zorn’s Dead Man suite. They had time to premiere David Kirkland Gamer’s Lament for the Imagined, a melancholic meditation on the Scottish Diaspora, and make a new friend in Scottish harpist Catriona Mackay, before revisiting their collaboration with long term associate Wu Man on a new piece from 1960s minimalist legend Terry Riley. Apart from the strings, they played percussion, squeaky toys and plugged into a sampler for a John Oswald encore. Oswald invented the mash up back in the 1980s, through a series of disorientating and boldly political remixes.

Yes, but is it relevant? Can young people dig it? Never mind those family events, or the teenagers at opening concert – what does it say to the youth? What sort of message are they giving?

Even if they are a bunch of old white men playing in an established tradition, Kronos’ eclecticism would impress the most exaggerated stereotype of a diversity officer. Equally, their willingness to unearth any manner of music – Tagaq sounds as if she spends her weekends eating raw flesh and the crossover with the Scottish Youth choir makes human voice and cello sound like a techno hymn – mirrors the sort of selection that would appear on the i-pod of a teenager with unlimited access to the world’s music, like there used to be before the record companies started sending mentally ill old women to prison for downloading. Sure, classical music is irrelevant. Just read what Kissy Sell Out has to say in the Independent’s tabloid version. After all, Radio 1 has always been hip, and never more so than when its DJs exercise their formidable intellects in a newspaper that is so pleased with its new format it has forgotten that it needs to have engaging articles.

As part of The Kronos Quartet’s weekend in Glasgow, a late night Saturday bill hands the stage to Tagaq and another set of collaborators, Baltimore’s electronic mischief makers Matmos.Having already teamed up with The Kronos Quartet for Tundra Songs, and showcased her incredible vocal range and style – imagine Bjork with a larger range of octaves and a penchant for rhythmic growling, Tagaq comes on stage accompanied by a violinist and a drummer. A short talk about her inspiration – her throat singing is an Inuit technique, and needs a little explanation  before she lets rip – and the trio dive into what appears to be an improvisation. Tagaq obviously leads the musicians, as her snarls, yelps and grunts determine the mood and pace: the piece shifts from erotic intensity to calming interludes, through aggressive tribalism and ecstatic crooning. It’s too easy to reduce her to an exotic curiosity, when both her stage presence – her movements border on contemporary dance – and commitment to deep emotion make her the embodiment of what rock’n’roll pretends to be: sensual, feral, alien and disturbing, while utterly gripping.

 If Matmos' recent albums have seen them move into glitch-based keyboards, and away from their outrageous sampling tapestries, their live show is a mixture of the wildly experimental – a sinister improvisation based on tests for telepathy – to the more danceable and joyous. Joined by a guitarist, the duo balance minimalist repetition with an earthy bass that manages to be both abstract and groovy. While the absence of the classical forum makes this an unlikely pairing rather than an integrated show, the combination of Matmos and Tagaq ensured that, outside of the Cry Parrot celebration across the town, there was no more experimental and engaging music on show in Glasgow.

Sell Out? Kiss off!

I am young enough to be excited by new music, but old enough to be irritated by stupidity. This week, I am in a massive temper about an article by Kissy Sell Out in that tabloid version of the Independent – you know, that one that has articles about itself as “the best loved tabloid broadsheet”, sells for 20p and has bad haikus instead of news.

I am pretty naive about popular music – last week, My Producer Harry shouted at me for playing The Swedish House Mafia on our radio show, since they have been hyped by Radio 1 – but Kissy Sell Out might become my nemesis. I had better listen to his show sometime. Although he has debated at the Cambridge Union – against Stephen Fry, whose tweets about having a shit having been mistaken for some kind of contemporary philosophy – I doubt Kissy is best represented by his article in the paper. He is trying to make some point about classical music having had its day. Apparently, because he noticed that The Farm – a dodgy Liverpudlian boys band that somehow got tangled in the arse hair of the Madchester scene – used a melody from Pachelbel, classical music is exposed as elitist. He goes on to say that the act of “writing music down” isn’t as vibrant as recording it. Because classical music is notated, it isn’t as good as Kissy’s radio show.

I’ll be talking about Kissy’s Cambridge debate in another article – coming soon, and it might actually mention The Kronos Quartet, who are the putative subject of this week’s gay ramble. In the meantime, I’ll just rant about a few of Kissy’s Big Ideas. One is that classical music is elitist, while youth culture is all about inclusion.  Another is his belief that recorded sound is more authentic than the music made from a score. He doesn’t consider live performance at all. Being the sort of person who thinks the name Kissy Sell Out is cool, his grasp of language is pretty weak, too. For the record, I was born Vile, and when my sentences get out of control, I haven’t taken my medication.

My Producer Harry and I are trying to resolve our playlist struggles on the Vile Arts Radio Hour. I want to cover gigs that are happening around Glasgow, but this has left our selections uneven. And it doesn’t help that I play stuff without always listening to it first. Into this combustible mixture comes Perfecting Sound Forever, a history of recording that Harry has been reading, and I stole from him while he was trying to fix the sound on an interview I messed up. Although this is a very practical conversation – we are trying to develop a radio show that our listeners might enjoy – it quickly gets into me showing off about having read Plato once, and blood being spilt over the exact relationship between musical fashion and technological advance.

Two interesting points did emerge, right into Kissy’s theses. One is that recorded sound is frequently fraudulent, imitating the sound of a band but made by musicians playing at separate times, and multi-tracked beyond any chance of live replication, and that various sound tests, right back to Edison’s day, were about as scientifically valid as homeopathy.  The other is that any musical choice we make – say, including tonnes of stuff that is connected to Winning Sperm Party or Cry Parrot, or my insistence on working a regular dubstep track into the Hour – has to involve consideration of what audience we are including or excluding. The irony is that one of the show’s foundations is inclusion, that opera and classical bump alongside electronica and new Glasgow bands like the wonderful Holy Mountain. The show is all about widening the remit, crossing over into new scenes, and making connections. It’s why I play doom cabaret songs about book burning by the Creative Martyrs over Steve Reich’s Different Trains or the dialect poetry of Martin O’Connor over MC Lars. That, and I am unsteady on the cross-fader.

But as someone who supports eclecticism and diversity, I can’t buy Kissy’s idea that youth cultures have always been about inclusion – or, as he suggests “music scenes that transcend social boundaries should surely be of the utmost importance in youth culture”.  Optimistically citing jazz halls as the foundations of ant-racism in the 1920s and the importance of Live Aid, music has, for Kissy, “quite literally changed the world”.
If you are a social worker, then yes, transcending social boundaries is important. If, on the other hand, you actually belong to a youth culture, those who are excluded are as important as those included. Once upon a time, before the music business became a career choice, rock’n’roll was about pissing off parents, rebelling. Mods and Rockers didn’t ruck down Brighton beach to transcend social boundaries. And NWA didn’t bang on about being gangsters to develop a community. Ideas like cool and exclusivity have high value in music. And the rave culture Kissy praises was not all about high-minded social mobility. It was about taking shitloads of drugs until you thought everyone was cool, except for the police who kicked the shit out of us when we protested for our “right to party”.

Kissy praises the web-culture that has made music accessible – and has encouraged the sort of eclecticism we can agree to love. But he has that annoying ahistoricity of the Sunshine Generation  - of the sort that doesn’t understand why Pearl Jam weren’t as good as Nirvana for anyone actually around during The Grunge Years  -  with a Wikipedia entry in place of research, and optimistic platitude in place of considered opinion.  He ignores what he cannot accommodate – that youth culture is fierce and exclusive – and aims to transcend boundaries by making fatuous divisions between elitist classical and popular chart tunes. Yet Kissy celebrates those acts who have used classical music as a motif. Sadly, he includes Malcolm Maclaren’s Fans, which misappropriated both opera and hip-hop. It’s a shame he doesn’t include the follow up, which tried to match funk and waltz, despite their different time signatures, and lyrics about women’s tits. His argument against classical music seems to be based on identifying its influences on pop.

As for his emphasis on the “visceral power of a sound recording”... I just give up. I honestly don’t understand what he is talking about. He appears to be saying that listening to a recording is better than reading the notes on a page. Kissy’s argument is a bit like saying that looking at dirty Polaroid of an ex isn’t as intimate as having sex with your girlfriend, so feminism is a bad thing. It takes something obvious and spuriously links it to another idea.

Harry and I have at least read a book about this, and I’ll pretend I know what compression means. We are a bit suspicious about the hegemony of recorded sound, and I am trying to connect this to my various conspiracy theories about late consumerism and the removal of choice. In short, the recording is an artefact, ready for sale and consumption. I don’t like art being reduced to a commodity, especially when the commodification is hidden. Before I get as tangled in language as he does, I’ll conclude that Kissy’s advocacy of recorded sound is a typical example of how late capitalism uses the rhetoric of romanticism to sell us crap. That’ll be why he is on Radio 1 and in the national papers, and I write a blog. He’s a shill for corporate interests. And in an act of anti-consumerist fervour, I am going to listen to Radio 3.