TORTOISE – Locomotic Club, Bologna 19th February 2016
It’s gonna rain? Tortoise are ready for all weathers. L-R: John McEntire, Doug McCombs, John Herndon, Dan Bitney & Jeff Parker
“No moving lights please”. This is the polite but firm request made to lighting engineers by Tortoise’s Dan Bitney after the first song.
The message is clear; the beats may sometimes be danceable but this ain’t no disco.
But the question as to how exactly you do begin to categorize the music of Tortoise has been an ongoing challenge for the past 25 years of the Chicago band’s existence.
Calling it post-rock, as many still do, runs the risk of implying that the band are somehow opposed to conventional rock music. In an interview with The Wire in 2001 John McEntire said “As far as I’m concerned all we’ve ever been is a rock band” and on the strength of their brilliant sold out show at Bologna this is clearly still his position.
What makes them less conventional, and thus harder to pigeonhole, is that no-one sings and they are so clearly wide open to sounds and rhythms from other genres. Jazz is an obvious influence but there are also strong elements of funk, soul and R’n’B. Continue reading
Steve Lacey on the front cover of the first issue of The Wire from Summer, 1982
Today, The Wire announced that every back issue of the UK-based magazine is now available to subscribers online and via the iPad, iPhone and Android apps.
You can peruse more than 350 issues which includes some issues that have been unavailable for up to three decades.
It’s hard to know where to start and I imagine that ,initially, I’ll be dipping into the archive on a fairly random basis.
I was interested to read the editorial in the first issue from Summer 1982, which gives an insight into how the remit of the mag has broadened; this states: “The Wire’s brief will be to cover the field of contemporary jazz and improvised music – the happenings of now with a clear nod to its past greatness and wink at its possible future”.
The digital world that makes it possible to scan these back issues has also had a huge impact on the world of experimental music. Jazz still has a place in the current magazine but this has to compete with genres that include electronica, ambient, noise, weird folk and avant rock.
The four-day Transmissions festival in Ravenna has quickly established itself as a unmissable event for lovers of experimental or just plain weird music. It fills the gap in this part of Northern Italy left by the demise of Bologna’s Netmage events.
For edition VI, the presence of The Wire magazine‘s promotional stand and a Q & A session (which I missed) proves that it is officially a hip place to be for discerning music
I attended the first and third days so I reckon I’m as qualified as anyone to offer a few reflections.
The low attendances at both shows I went to must have been disappointing to the organisers and to curator Daniel O’Sullivan in particular.
The fact that O’Sullivan put himself on the bill of three of the four days ,as part of Æthenor, Grumbling Fur and Mothlite & Mt Todd, struck me as indulgent to say the least. I can’t speak for the first and third of these performances but sincerely hope they were better than the embarrassingly bad Grumbling Fur on Day 3.
Publicity seemed generally low-key – I live just twenty minutes drive away from Ravenna and saw no adverts or flyers at all. I imagine the funds to pay for the performers was quite generous but would have thought this could have stretched to putting up more posters or at least rig up an on stage banner to create a stronger festival identity. At the Bronson Club there was nothing to distinguish the event from any other concert at this venue.
My suggestion for next year, if it survives, would be to either have an Italian as curator or co-curator to add home-grown talent to the international line-up and do a major rethink on publicising the events better.
Remember them this way – Roxy Music on the gatefold sleeve to For Your Pleasure.
Rock bands are like TV sit-coms, they usually go on for too long and become tired or formularic.
Roxy Music are a prime example.
In a review of the 10 cd box set of the band’s complete studio recordings in this month’s Wire magazine, Mark Fisher sagely notes that “if they had stopped after the first two albums, their career would have been immaculate”.
Their self titled debut and For Your Pleasure were and are amazing records which they never bettered in their post-Eno years.
I got to thinking which other long running bands would have benefited from quitting while they were ahead.
For instance, REM should have called it a day after Automatic For The People and wouldn’t it have been better if the Stones had parted company after Exile On Main Street or if The Who had ended on a genuine high with Quadrophenia.
Did punk bands like The Ramones, The Damned and Gang Of Four really need to make any more records after their trailblazing debuts?
I’m sure you can think of your own examples.
There is of course another category of bands such as The Cranberries and Coldplay that ought to have been strangled at birth, but that’s another story!
Great article in this month’s Wire magazine by Ian Penman on the largely unheralded period in Scott Walker’s career from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.
It’s a fine reappraisal of this unique singer as well as being an intelligent insight into how the music industry has changed beyond recognition over the last two decades. Penman argues that it’s all too easy to snub ‘safe’ MOR music and praise the kind of ‘difficult’ sounds we hear on Scott’s more recent albums like Tilt and The Drift. Continue reading