You're Shouting So Loud You'd Do Better To Mime

My love/hate relationship with Soul Jazz Records continues. There is still something about the set-up that grates, but they do come up trumps so often. The recent Miami Sound set was wonderful, but now the New York Noise collection is perhaps their best yet. And they could so easily have fallen on their face with a collection sub-titled 'dance music from the New York Underground 1978-1982'. The danger is in defining an arbitrary area of music that could be facilely fashionable; but as ever if some of it sticks, takes root, and blooms afresh, then I'm all for it. The context is right (like the earlier UK equivalent set, In The Beginning There Was Rhythm) and the track listing exemplary. I do hope it will prove to be a jumping-off point, and that prospectors will dig deeper. It certainly set my mind shooting off at tangents:

The stand-out sequence which joins the Contortions to Glenn Branca to the Bloods to Dinosaur L has to be one of the bits of programming ever. The markers are set out to prove that what was going on in New York then covered a lot of ground musically, united perhaps in terms of spirit of adventure, and it's easy to suggest what came after pales into insignificance. But then it's easy to forget people like Ut and Luscious Jackson, who were shaped by what was happening in New York then. It was their education. They absorbed it all, and went on to create some exceptional records.

In the liner notes to an Au Pairs reissue, one of the group states his disappointment in the femme-groups that followed, and in particular how they opted to rock out like blokes. In contrast, he says, the female musicians of the punk/post-punk explosion created a distinctive feminine sound of their own, and rewrote the rules - just as I would argue the exceptions like Ut and Luscious Jackson later did.

The Au Pairs must have recognised the Bloods as kindred spirits, and helped put out a single that has long been missing from my collection. Button Up still sounds brilliant, and it's worth drawing attention to the Adele Bertei link that connects the Bloods back through the Bush Tetras to the Contortions. There is also a Bloods soundtrack to the Born In Flames film which I would love to have.

For those that would typecast New York's 99 Records as a generic minimal punk/funk set-up, it is worth noting that as well as disparate gems as Singers And Players' War Of Words and Viv Goldman's classic Launderette, the label's first release was Glenn Branca's Lesson No.1. Lesson No. 2 was featured on the recently reissued The Ascension set, which is an absolute must. Scholars would point here to minimalist modern composers, but it's just punk rock symphonics. And very beautiful and liberating too. The presence of Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo seems just right, as the set solidly lays a foundation for what that group would achieve. Sadly there are no Kim Gordon sleevenotes around here, for she maybe more than anyone carried the torch for what New York Noise suggests.

  And so to Arthur Russell and Dinosaur L. Is it just me, or does it seem bizarre in an age where so much salvage work is going on that there is so little available from this genius? And yet the name is dropped so often. Maybe it's all to do with copyrights? Surely at least his Rough Trade Let's Go Swimming set should be in circulation, or a comprehensive Dinosaur L round-up? Maybe I'm missing out? It wouldn't be the first time!

Apart from the well-known collections, like the Liquid Liquid one on Mo'Wax, ESG on Universal Sound, and the Bush Tetras on ROIR, other labels have been doing their bit to rescue the sounds of that New York Underground. Let's not forget Henry Rollins for salvaging various James Chance/James White sets, and collecting together some great lost Bush Tetras recordings for Infinite Zero some years ago. And Atavistic have collected some great sounds from the noisier No Wave end of the spectrum, like the Mars recordings which are so memorably listed in Lester Bangs' Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise. I love the idea of dance dilettantes being jolted and jarred by the racket Mars made!

Of course the first editions of Tangents were filled with things like the Bush Tetras and Defunkt. Again, it may be a copyright thing, but I really cannot believe the Defunkt Thermonuclear Sweat set and Razor's Edge masterpiece (with the perfect Neville Brody sleeve) are not available. What an opportunity going to waste!

And again a few Konk tracks are cropping up on different compilations (a good chance to pay tribute to the Anti-NY one on Gomma few years back!) but surely someone can get their act together to collect up the recordings they made?
So to Ze! The records of this year will be the NY No Wave and Mutant Disco sets the reactivated Ze is about to let loose. They develop themes touched upon on New York Noise, and it is impossible to overstate how wonderful and important these compilations are. Please support them, and make possible the comprehensive reissuing of the Ze back catologue. Strangely the New York Noise set avoids any Lydia Lunch recordings while the Ze NY No Wave collection will have you falling at her knees. Her Teenage Jesus blasts of noise and solo Queen of Siam songs are exceptional and unsurpassed for glamour. We need to get our act together to petition Ze and make sure Lydia's Queen of Siam set is reissued in the full glory of its original sleeve Check out for photos of Lydia and the equally great Lizzy Mercier Descloux! And did you see that Epiphany piece Lydia wrote for The Wire? Wow!

'La Varieté:- the French term for popular radio, everything that's not heavy rock; music drawing on diversity and depth.' Remember that one from the great Weekend LP; which I have just discovered on CD from Vinyl Japan, and no one told me it's been out for years! Also available from the same source is an Archive Weekend set, that features their first couple of singles plus some radio and live recordings. So, yes, A View From Her Room is available again at last!! 'Have you ever walked alone for miles and miles .. . by sea and sky' or whatever that line is! Yes!! Where Alison Statton is as glamorous as Lydia Lunch, and the sound in its quietness as confrontational as Mars and the Contortions. For this was the next step on from New York Noise. Back across the ocean, a flip of the coin, and there's the quiet defiance of the softly spoken creating beauty among so much ugliness. The Archive set features an (uncredited) Dave McCullough interview with the group which now reads like a manifesto for insurrection. Because of course sadly by that time Lydia was recording with the Birthday Party, and that's a different story. Another story goes that Weekend was as responsible as Defunkt and James Chance for turning a lot of people on to all things jazz in the early 80s. That too is another story, and perhaps one that brings us back to Soul Jazz. Bless them!

© 2003 John Carney