Thursday, April 07, 2005


recently posted on the message boards on Steve Albini's Electrical Studios website, in a discussion about the merits or otherwise of the recent Slint comeback shows :

I may not be the first to point out that all this shit, and it is truly shit
(Playing at corporate venues, high ticket prices, the veneer of
"professionalism" provided by the cadre of facilitators, hand-holders and
officiaries) is precisely the shit people like me detest about the mainstream
music business, and "the $40 hoodie" is merely shorthand for it all.

To see a genuinely great band like Slint wallowing in it is truly, deeply,
personally depressing. They were conceived and originated apart from all that,
and that was (and is) one of the best things about them, their peers and the
whole underground community.

I don't generally complain about these things, but they depress and disgust me. It is no accomplishment for a band from the underground to behave in the same crass, corporate, exploitative showbusiness manner that mainstream bands do -- it is a capitulation to the basest impulses of a sick mentality, and it is a negation (if not a refutation) of many of the things that made them valuable in the first place. I didn't
attend these shows, partly because of shit like this. My memories of Slint are
fond and lasting, and they involve none of this shit.

They didn't have to behave this way. They chose to. That choice is a legitimate topic of discussion.

Slint are a great band. They are good people and genuine. In this incarnation, they behaved like any other band trying to "make a buck," and "put on a show." That is so far away from the things that were unique and brilliant about them that there isn't really language to describe it.

I'm sure it sounded great. I'm sure the lighting was appropriate. I'm
sure the music is as good as ever. I'm sure it was no worse an experience than
going to see Evanescence, and not much more expensive. I don't think I am wrong
not to be a party to it.
steve albini
sa at electrical dot com

I meant to Blog this a while ago, but seeing Albini's thoughts reminded me.

I was at one of the London shows, and I was appalled, disappointed and fucked off. A lot of that may be down to my own expectations being rather high, and if I'd have thought things through in advance maybe I'd have seen it coming. They've not existed in any real sense for over a decade, they have barely two albums worth of material, they'd already clearly stated that this was going to be it: no new material or releases, just a handful of shows around their ATP performance/curator stint.

But it was just dire. After the initial thrill - "fuck, that's Slint" - and the initial appreciation of how good the sound was, and how precisely they were replicating the songs from the albums, that was it. To my knowledge - and I admit I fled to the pub before the end - they exchanged not a single word with the crowd. It was just a museum. Five guys with hoodies looking sullen and disinterested playing note-perfect renditions. I don't know what irked me more - the sheer futility of it or the fawning adulation of the crowd, eager to rain down a torrent of 'shhh's on anyone foolhardy enough to mutter a word.

In the end, it was when the guitarists came to the front of the stage armed with stools that I knew the game was up.

So what did I expect? Certainly no ironic covers, no heavy metal endings, no new material, no drastic reworkings of old material. But something , surely, to justify the ticket price beyond a live experience exactly akin to standing up in a particularly draughty lounge looking at a photo of five miserable bastards while playing Spiderland...

And yet.. And yet...

I love Albini - what he's about, what he's achieved, and of course the music. But sometimes his purist stance rankles. What he seems to forget - or chooses to ignore - is that Shellac, whilst being in my mind the finest rock band in the world, are his hobby. By which I mean they're not how he makes his living. That is done through his well-regarded studio and his recording/production work.

Which means that he doesn't need to tour, certainly doesn't need to sell merchandise and can operate at a level of artistic/uncommercial purity completely beyond the reach of most bands, Slint included.

An oft-reprinted article, The Problem With Music, that he wrote about the perils of signing to a major label is brilliant, accurate and depressing. But beyond that, he often seems too keen to pour scorn or derision on bands who've taken a less purist route.

I remember the insanity of the billings at the Shellac-curated All Tomorrow's Parties 3 years ago. Because 'there are no headliners' and because Shellac didn't want to be perceived as in any way grandstanding it, they played first. Every day. In the smallest room. I know people who didn't manage to see them all weekend. It also led to fairly popular acts playing this smaller room (with a one-in, one-out policy even if you needed to piss) whilst upstairs in the enormous ballroom unknown acts played to the interested few and the disgruntled punters locked out of the show downstairs.

Now I can see what Albini was trying to do with this - encourage people to take chances, get some great new bands some excellent exposure. But to enforce this to such a degree just seemed perverse and led to a lot of pissed off people who'd shelled out £100+ for the weekend.

So - in summary - whilst I had my own problems with the Slint shows, and whilst I accept all Albini's criticisms, I just think he has a tendency to an idealised/puritan stance which is practical for him precisely because he can afford it. I have no qualms with him producing albums by Bush or Page & Plant if he doesn't, and god knows he charges such people enough. But is doing that really any more artistically pure than flogging a $40 Slint hoodie to someone stupid enough to buy one?

posted by dubversion at 12:23 pm

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