Thursday, 15 September 2011

Lost and Found and Wounded

I've been rereading Lester Bangs' Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, part of my research into the history of criticism for the Young Critics course at Tramway. Hoping to find some kind of style guide for my vision of Radical Subjectivity, I was disappointed by Bangs' writing: it tends to the adolescent, a match for the energy of the garage rock that Bangs adored, but wearing its influences too clearly on the sleeve - Kerouac, Burroughs' more coherent passages and that's about it. 

Whether Bangs could have thrived in the era of  MTV is a moot, given his entry into the they-died-too-young pantheon of rock: such unabashed romanticism, however, would have struggled to deconstruct the corporate take-over of rock that had already happened by his death in the early 1980s.

Thanks to my Radio Hour, I have challenged myself to go beyond theatre - I am becoming a cultural critic these days. And part of this mutation is expressed in a slightly creepy fixation on "youth music". I've been standing in the corner of the disco again, watching the bright young things groove to tunes that sound like something I liked when I was a teenager.

I have recognised my own subjectivity, and so end up being generous to bands that, frankly, I really don't understand. Found have been touted by The Skinny as some sort of art-rock saviours: people I trust have told me that I'd dig their artistic associations. They certainly got some cash from Creative LandScot, and they have just released a single made out of chocolate. So, they must be artists, right?

I played them on the Hour, but can't exactly remember what the tunes sounded like. Last week, I went to see them live at the aftermath of a special showing of You Instead - filmed over 2010's T in the Park, it wastes both Gavin Mitchell and Cora Bissett by forgetting that a witty script is necessary, even for a gimmick based movie. A week later, and I still can't remember what Found sound like, only that their electronic aspect consisted of one underused keyboard, the guitar picked out a ghost version of Godspeed You Black Emperor's majestic rush and that the singer invested his lyrics with serious intent by pulling a face.

Edinburgh leaks bands like this all the time - rather than fusing diverse genres, they blur the boundaries into a bland broth - and they seem to serve a particular audience - young, hip and serious. 

The chocolate single is a typical trick. Yes, I am sure it says something about the nature of pop, disposability and consumerism. And since the idea is far more interesting than the thing itself, it ticks a few conceptual art boxes. I know that the audience are supposed to do the work these days, that it's not all about the object. But the best thing about this little trick is that even the sucker who buys it won't actually have to listen to the music.

While I am not claiming that Wounded Knee would agree with my sentiments, I am going to set him up as my antidote to Found. First of all, every time he performs, it is something unique. Whether he is singing along to his grandfather's tape recording of "dhu-wop", or encouraging the hipsters of SWG3 to join in an old walking song, Wounded Knee is fresh, fun and provocative. That his voice has the richness of an old folk singer, and the passion of a soul man, only disguises the artful intelligence beneath his restless performances. Unlike Found, who proudly proclaim their artiness.

Listening to Wounded Knee is a surface delight, but slowly reveals deeper pleasures. He can work an audience kindly, breaking that old fourth wall and reminding them how they too are part of the show. He draws the link between Scottish folk and US soul - something that once inspired Scottish rock, but was always mystifyingly oblique. His musical family tree makes sly jokes about language, influence and identity. And more than any other musician working today in Scotland, he reaches the soul.

Found dress up like gentleman fops - a look that was pulled off better by comedy rapper Mr B at the Fringe, or by Chris Eubank, who ripped it from early UK hip-hop - in a self-conscious attempt to invest their music with presence. 

Wounded Knee just gets up and sings, and  recalls Greil Marcus' meditation on The Mekons' Never Been in a Riot. Marcus called this the most punk recording ever, because it just relied on the human voice, reducing the rage to a spectral moaning.

Now, for all my moaning about Lester Bangs, I have a fair idea which artist he'd prefer. Found seem to work very hard to make a minor point; Wounded Knee busts open all sorts of ideas about rock'n'roll by just standing on stage. Maybe, had Bangs lived, Wounded Knee might have helped him become the writer he is imagined to be.

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