It starts with the sounds of someone taking a breath, like Mike Hadreas is psyching himself up, which makes sense because in my mind I kinda like the idea that performing the songs on a Perfume Genius album isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. I’m not saying I wanna hear someone suffering but there’s something there are many beautiful things about his first album, Learning, a record that I literally cried myself to sleep listening to once – (with the aid of one too many Zopiclones, I should probably add in the spirit of full disclosure) – but anyway, one of the many beautiful things is the honesty and openness of the album. I guess he’s gonna do exactly what he urges other people to do in the title of this new body of work. He’s putting his back into it. Open: yes. Honest: yes. But another word that I’ve seen pop up a lot in write-ups of Perfume Genius is vulnerable. I mean, yeah, I get that and I understand why people say it – and to some degree I acknowledge it – but let’s not get too simplistic and paint Mike Hadreas as some kind of completely passive, trembling and fragile waif. Sure, there are moments like the song that was just playing in which I think he was singing about ghosts and loss and he sounded crushed but now he’s singing “He’ll never break you baby” in a way that’s way too assured for a straight out victim. The more the album is going on – I’m hearing more confidence. It’s not a straight up sassy affair. There’s a lot of triumph here too. Love feels important right now, whatever I think about it personally at the moment. The songs feel contradictory in the same way that life is. He’s sounding desperate now – saying how he can’t hold his lovers hand in public. His vocals are higher in the mix these days. The songs are still short but their brevity doesn’t stop them from holding whole stories. These songs suggest a lot. It’s heavy but it’s enthralling. It’s uplifting, too, in that it inspires. I feel excited. It’s fucking sad also, but there’s some real treasure in this particular sadness. It’s making me feel romantic and spaced out and a lot more thinky than I’d like to be tonight. It’s heavy and there’s a lot to it and I love it right now and maybe I love Mike Hadreas right now or at least feel like I do. It’s finished so I’ll stop whether this is all I have left or not.
THEM, is a collaboration between dancer/theatre maker Ishmael Houston-Jones, writer Dennis Cooper and guitarist Chris Cochrane that was born in 1985 and then revived in 2010. THEM deals with death, suicide, AIDS, longing and loneliness.
Following a successful Kickstarter project, the soundtrack to the CD is now available on John Zorn’s renowned Tzadik label. Cochrane’s harsh frenzies of guitar and distant drones of noise build around Cooper’s sparse and heartbreaking texts. THEM is a harrowing and invigorating listen, haunted but still very much alive.
THEM will be performed as part of the Teenage Hallucination festival at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, from 27th – 29th February.
I spoke with Chris Cochrane about the piece and his musical contribution to it as well as other aspects of his music.
What are you memories from when you were originally putting THEM together in 1985? What was your introduction to Dennis’s and Ishmael’s work?
I was thrilled to be asked by Ish. I had seen him dance before. He and I were involved with a lot of other dancers and musicians that hung out at PS 122 and improvised together. I didn’t know Dennis’s work at all. Ish heard a reading of Dennis’s and was very affected by it and asked him if he was interesting in working together. Ish had seen me play at a club called 8BC run by two fags who later re-located to SF. He said he liked my posture and had never heard sounds like that from a guitar. The east village in the 80’s was a pretty exciting place, lot’s of collaborations between dancers, musicians, poets, actors, directors, you name it, very interesting. I was thrilled because this was the first time that I had worked with two other out people. The scene I was playing music in was musically adventurist, yet very straight, so it was a relief and exciting to be working on a piece that was explicitly gay.
Had you had much experience working with theatre prior to this? What else had you been working on round that time?
My memory is kind of sketchy about this. I’m sure I had played guitar for some other dancers at that point, but not theater per se, at least not yet, at that point. I was very involved with the improvised music scene. I was playing with lots of different players from all of world. John Zorn curated a space called The Saint, not the gay dance club, where many people played. I also had curated a lot of shows and was part of a national organization called Improvisor’s Network. I had made a couple stabs at being in bands, but nothing had stuck. Zeena Parkins and I started No Safety, a band we did together for 8 years, in the fall of 1986, when THEM got some money to re-do the piece at PS, this is when the piece became an evening length thing, with the inclusion of the goat and lymph node section.
How did you work out the score for the piece? Did you have guidelines or a definite mood that you were aiming for? I guess I’m asking about how you work – do you plan things out before hand or are you more of an instinctive player?
So there have been four versions to speak of. This first one in 85, which had a opening riff and that rest I improvised, again at least I think so. The 86 version I keep the opening riff, adding feedback and such and came up with ideas for moods, which were improvised. I wanted the music to sound tough, tender, mournful, I guess. Then some rhythmic figures for different sections. There were a couple of backing tapes I played along with. The next version we did in Toronto, more backing tapes, louder. The new version I vetoed some of the music, re-recorded or added additional things to the old backing tapes, made different pre-show music, but a lot of what I came up with was build on the 86 version stuff. Since it was music from long ago. I felt like as player and composer I had changed and evolved and wanted to update the music, but wanting to build on the forms from the “original” version. The piece is so much about memory to me, this idea seemed essential to what I was after in creating the music.
Going slightly off subject for a moment, I want you ask you about improvisation and how you approach it? Also, when you have been improvising what makes a “successful” piece for you?
I could go on and on about this – I need to think to most concise or messiest way to answer these questions. In college a friend, Doug Henderson and I began think of guitars as objects to make sound with. Fred Frith and Chris Cutler came and performed at Bard College, where we went. This show was hugely impactful. They improvised. It sort of gave us permission to continue improvising. At the same time I’ve always been interested in a huge variety of music, probably mostly listening to what is considered rock. So that’s also influenced how I improvise, sometimes quite loud, though playing with silence and space. Lately very interested in creating drones as a soloist and how to sustain, no pun intended, interest. I also partly became interested in improvising because it was precisely a form of making something collectively; there is no one composer, when improvising with others you making something in the moment together. I’m also always thinking about time, when improvising; how does sound affect time, also each room is different, so in some sense you are always playing the room.
I’m interested in hearing your feeling regarding re-approaching the piece when PS122 asked you to revive it. Were you apprehensive? How did you approach the piece differently? How did your music change?
I was excited at first, then I went to look at the video tapes of the older versions and was not so convinced that we could make something “successful” out of it. But Ish, Dennis and I had some conversations about it and we all thought it was worth the risk. We had a day of auditions and came away with an amazing group of dancers. Which to me surely added a whole new level of energy. I began to think about new music ideas. The new Museum signed on, there was a momentum that just started happening. Ish and I had conversations with the dancers about their experiences with HIV / AIDS, some had been born around the time of the piece. Dennis showed up and stated the piece seemed so innocent. This all changed when we did a dress rehearsal and the goat showed up still warm and very bloody. The tenure changed, we all kind of felt the work we had just made together was creating an intensity of its own.
I’m writing this on the day after the piece won a Bessie award – congratulations! It seems like an appropriate time to ask you to talk about audience/critical reactions to the piece and how they have differed from 1985 compared to the new version of the piece …
Thank-you. We’ve received lots of praise, people have come to several performances, they express being moved, sad; some remember seeing the first version and how this triggers memories of that, that’s very cool, since again I think the piece is so much about memory. Oh, I don’t know, we got listed in 10 best of list in Artforum. The CD itself is mostly getting really positive response. I don’t remember much about responses about the first version. There was one piece in the gay press that just hated what we had done, but I think audiences have almost always appreciated it.
Have you left the piece with different feeling towards it to those that you originally had?
Yeah, I’m amazed that the piece is still generating conversations, that people are being affected by it. It’s incredible that we could bring the piece forward and there’s a resonance to it. I don’t think any of us thought we’d be doing this piece again after we first made. I am thrilled and grateful to be working with Dennis and Ish again. It really has brought Dennis and I back into each other’s life a bit more. It’s curious and exciting to be involved in some sort of inter-generational conversation about how men interact, how we respond to each other, how we respond to death, HIV /AIDS etc … very powerful.
A large portion of early 2011 was sound tracked by Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The song writing was similar (romantic, urgent) but the production cast the band in a different and flatteringly anthemic light. And since that release shares a name with the band Belong I’m reminded of Common Era, which blends atmospheric shoegaze-esque songs with drum machine beats to create a removed, dark result. Speaking of cold drum machines: Ltd Form by Silk Flowers continued the band’s progression of gothy, synth-pop-gone-wrong work. A favourite new find this year was Black Earth by Implodes which used guitar fuzz to conjure dreamy moods. A different type of dream was summoned by The Clearing, the latest album from Locrian, who evolve and triumph with every new release and have yet to put out anything that hasn’t transfixed my imagination with their greatness. Greatness is a word that springs to mind when I think of Iceage – definitely my favourite new band of 2011 – and whose debut New Brigade has been played to death in my home; take all the best bits of Husker Du, Wire, Black Flag, fuck it all up with melodies and aggression and you probably still won’t be anywhere close to how good their album is, at least in my mind. Going along a similarly aggressive thread, I was sad to discover the other day that BARGEPOLE, who I’ve already enthused about on this site, have split up – damn shame, because Born a Genius, Buried an Idiot has yet to be released and deserves a much bigger audience than it’s had chance to reach yet, and the band put in a couple of the most thrilling gigs I’ve seen this year. Another notable performance this year was provided by Loren Connors when he played at London’s Café Oto in May and brought tears to my eyes; a few months later he released Red Mars, his new studio album since 2004 and a fitting new addition to his sprawling but flawless discography. I saw two shows by Deerhunter by this year – one in Manchester and one in New York – and Bradford Cox continued his consistently moving output with the shimmering and beautiful Atlas Sound album, Parallax.
Beautiful is also a word I’d use when describing the work of Nick Hudson, whose two releases this year – My Antique Son and A Year Without Comfort both contain songs of loneliness and pain captured with disarming honesty and imagination – the work feels haunted; a unique, singular vision. Tyler, The Creator’s Goblin was probably the album in my list that was in receipt of the largest amount of media hype this year, although I feel it deserved the praise that was included in among the fuss. On the opposite side of the coin there are bands who seem to receive very little fuss, perhaps because of the fact that their work is so consistently good it’s almost taken as a given, but Mogwai (Hardcore Will Never Die but You Will) and The Mountain Goats (All Eternals Deck) both delivered wonderful new material (although in all honesty, for those who know me I probably make enough fuss about The Mountain Goats to last a year). It’s also easy to lose track of Jim O’Rourke’s discography – although I don’t as I’m kind of freak/geek with his stuff – and 2011 saw several more additions to the insanely long list of work with his name on it; for the sake of brevity, favourites this year: Jim O’Rourke & Christophe Heemann’s Plastic Palace People Vol. 1, and Shinjuku Growl by The Thing with Jim O’Rourke. Oh yeah and Old New # 5 which continued the majesty of its predecessors. Right, that’s enough JO’R for now. White Suns and their Waking in the Resevoir LP was one of the most cathartic and clattering albums this year. Sacred Bones has started to build a respectable profile over the last year and was home one of my most listened to records of the last few months Leave Home by The Men, who like the aforementioned White Suns create a desperate and vicious howl of a sound.
The Men are not to be confused with MEN, who are also from New York, but who channel their frustrations through less agro’ stylings. The later, fronted by JD Samson released their first full album Talk About Body, an electro upbeat dance record that manages to talk about the economy and feel sexy at the same time. Heatsick’s album Intersex – of which I was kindly tipped off about by Rich from Feral Debris – is intriguing, queered electronic music of a high standard. Speaking of queer electronic music – a late discovery of the year I have to mention a batch of releases that I got from Bored Bear Recordings towards the end of the year, my favourites of which were the Narcissus at the Gym cassette by Where is This – an unsettling and intense piece of work (with a a great accompanying booklet of prose) which I’ll be writing about in more detail at a later date, and a Fuck Patrol (a joint project between Where is This and Richard Ramirez) CD-R called Contact (released by Violent Noise Atrocities) which offers pure aural terror of best kind and some of the most exciting underground offerings I’ve heard in a while. I quite like the perversity of going from the most underground stuff on my list to a release so overground it’s practically in the sky (I don’t think that works, but whatever, it’s the coffee talking) – REM’s final album Collapse Into Now which was for me their best album in 13 years and a strong collection of songs to bow out on. 2011 also looks like the year that Sonic Youth may have ended as a recording and touring band, although it’s not set in stone so I can always keep my fingers crossed, doubtful though I guess … whatever, they released the latest in their SYR series earlier in the year – Simon Werner a Disparu which was the soundtrack to a Fabrice Gobert film, sounded exactly how you’d imagine a record would sound if I were to tell you that it sounded like Sonic Youth jamming along in the studio while they watched scenes of a film about French teenagers – to me that’s a good thing. Thurston Moore also released Demolished Thoughts a great album that gives you deeper rewards each time you play it again, some really special stuff (his Voice Studies cassette was pretty cool, too).
I’ll be posting an interview on here soon with Chris Cochrane, who along with Dennis Cooper and Ishmael Houston-Jones revived the theater piece THEM this year; I’ll be posting more about the soundtrack here in the next couple of weeks, but for now let me just recommend it for anyone looking for an exciting and emotionally compelling experimental record. Mego Records seem to have reached a real high over the last couple of years and in 2011 they put out so many good records that I don’t know where to start: Bill Orcutt’s How The Thing Sings, Fabric’s A Sort of Radiance, Bee Mask’s Elegy for Beach Friday to name just a few. Mego was also home to Oneohtrix Point Never’s previous record, although his latest – the textured celebration that is Replica is out on Software, and is excellent. Texture also seems to play an important part in the work of Collarbones, whose 2011 album Iconography feels like cut up and re-stitched pop music – there have been a couple of times this year when I’ve stuck on the album while I do something and have ended up doing nothing but sitting and taking it all in – a really well put together record.
There’s cutting up and patching back together going on within Exmilitary by Death Grips as well; in this case to make up a battering hip-hop attack with a deliberately harsh edge – thanks to Jeff for the tip-off. Most listened to album during the end of 2011 was probably the self titled first record by Wild Flag, who I’m looking forward to catching live this coming January (“I’m so hardwired to be alone” was one of my favourite lines of 2011, and my admiration for Carrie Brownstein seems to grow by the year). Blanck Mass by Blanck Mass was also a great first album. Earth’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light furthered Dylan Carlson’s dark droning vision and was perhaps the best release by Earth since their reemergence a few years back (Descent to the Zenith being my pick from the new album). Dark visions have been a preoccupation of David Lynch to varying degrees over the years and his Crazy Clown Time album contained the sort of stylish, modern darkness that I wanted it to. The reissues by Throbbing Gristle and The Jesus and Mary Chain deserve a mention, too.
Edouard Levé- Suicide
Dennis Cooper – The Marbled Swarm
Blake Butler – There is No Year
Ariana Reines – Mercury
Lynne Tillman – Someday This Will Be Funny
Colin Herd – too ok
Matthew Simmons – The Moon Tonight Feels Like My Revenge
Eileen Myles – Inferno
Terence Hannum – The Unholy Bow
Megan Boyle – Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee
O.B. De Alessi – Theme of Sadness
Dennis Cooper/Michael Salerno – French Hole/An Attempt at Shattering Pierre Clementi as a Child
Scott Treleaven – The Two Eyes are Not Brothers
Better Than Language – edited by Chris Goode
Kim Parko – Cure All
Grace Krilanovich – The Orange Eats Creeps
Lonely Christopher – The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse
Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations new translation by John Ashbery
Dodie Bellamy – The Buddhist
Probably more that I’m forgetting … it feels like a really good year bookswise. Also, some of the books on that list probably came out towards the end of last year but I didn’t get round to reading them until 2011. Whatever, you get the idea.
The coffee is wearing off.
was ecstatic to find out that during my first ever visit to New York this past summer, one of my favourite contemporary artists – Ryan Trecartin – was having a show, which I managed to catch a few days before it closed. Any Ever at MoMA’s PS1 gallery was best exhibition I’ve seen this year, which its disorientating, non stop barrage of the senses. The videos were overwhelming, confusing, entertaining, fucked, structurally engaging, formally experimental and bombastic in all the right ways. A totally inspiring collection of work. Argh … Trying to think of other exhibitions now. Unfortunately unlike with music or books I can’t go and look on my shelves for hints … ok, off the top of my head I also enjoyed the Body Drama show by Xavier Cha, parts of the Cory Arcangel Pro Tools exhibition (didn’t connect with the whole show but there were certain pieces of brilliance), Paul McCarthy’s recent The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship, the Dennis Cooper curated The Weaklings group show at London’s Five Years space … next year I should keep a list … it’ll be easier to remember.
Same with films unfortunately … but definitely my favourite of the year was Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Loved Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life as well, kinda wished that Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In had been a little bit more cohesive and less clunky in places but it definitely deserves an favourable mention for certain moods that it created and that stook around for a while after I’d finished watching it. Hmm … must have been others but I’m starting to flag and/or the coffee is wearing off.
A great year arts wise and a lot of stuff to look forward to in 2012, too (new Xiu Xiu, Perfume Genius etc …). Onwards!
The new issue of Feral Debris is now available. The past issues have all been killer so I advise you to check it out.
The official spiel:
“It’s been a long time coming and its certainly not worth the wait but here’s issue 5. Including interviews with Stare Case, Graham Lambkin, Eli Keszler and Gerry and the Holograms. Thomas Moronic interviews Scott Treleaven and writes about The New Blockaders (sort of) and there’s art and photography from Steve Skwarek and Sian Macfarlane. Comes with added spelling mistakes and glaring omissions.
CD-r compilation (all in hand collaged sleeves) contains new and exclusive tracks from;
Nacht und Nebel, Usurper, Preslav School of Industry, Brittle Foundries, ABYSSES and Inner City.
Photocopied to fuck and wonky to boot. £3.50ppd to anywhere in the world.”
… and the worst thing is that I don’t know what started it – so I’m instantly flung by nerves – just that she’s screaming at me and asking me to pick up a plastic briefcase that’s at her feet. She’s holding a polystyrene cup of pennies and pulling at her hair. “Why can’t you just pick it up and give it to me? I can’t reach it!” She tells someone else that she hopes he goes to Hell.
When did you last cry with your friends? That’s something that I misread and realized whilst I was misreading it but was already on a different part of the street and didn’t want to walk back to find out what it really said.
pinches my back
so i turn
tries to lift up
the back of my
i still never
scrapes a finger
on his cheek
asks if i can see
that it’s red
dark and hard
says he’s sick
and asks what
my day has been
tells me he
went to the
bought a coke
i tell him he
and he asks
me my name
runs out across
the street but
leaves his drink
and when he’s
back he choses
his whole frame
looks so flimsy
i’d guess he’s 50
says he’s been
ill for a long time
but that his body
just doesn’t want
says his doctor
is a good one
and that it fills
his days and
knowing to take
which ones and
to stay sober
but he says
that last bit
his glass is a sturdy
watery pink and ice
with spit round the
top and he’s shaking
another guy laughs
when he moves to
the corner and sits
rubbing his own
body with his eyes
closed like he’s
flirting with himself
i wave when
as i walk towards
don’t want to feel
cruel and i don’t
expect a sorry but
his eyes are still
he’s already where
he wanted to be
DEERHUNTER @ WEBSTER HALL, NYC AUGUST 23RD 2011
I’d been in New York for around seven hours and there had already been an earthquake. I was feeling pretty zombiefied from a day of planes and taxis and no sleep for Hell knows how long, but I figured that if the ground was gonna crack and swallow me up in the next few days then I’d regret not going to see Deerhunter play NYC.
I spent the majority of Eleanor Friedberger’s opening performance zoning out and daydreaming about her guitarist: wondering how he spent his days, whether he lived in New York, what he was like with his friends, whether he knew he was cute, etc. It felt weirdly pleasant to have the waking world hanging against the sleeping one by a couple of lusty threads.
I was glad to not be overly familiar with the work that Friedberger had soldiered away with as one half of Fiery Furnaces over the last few years, as it meant I didn’t automatically start rating her solo stuff against her previous work. I couldn’t hum or name a FF song if you asked me. As it goes, the songs she played last night (which I presume were from the Last Summer record that I saw at the merch table) were perfect for my aforementioned zoning out. Encouragingly hard to pinpoint, Friedberger’s songs were jangly and imbued with a subtle drama that hinted at various emotional sources; some nice melodies too. Gonna check out the album, for sure.
Maybe the tiredness attributed to a certain level of impatience (and of course there was a large amount of anticipation, with the headliners being one of my favourite bands of recent years) but it seemed like Deerhunter took a long time to make it onto the stage; a couple of road crew pottered around the stage several times before the smoke machine started up and the in house CD faded out and four figures sauntered onto the Webster Hall stage.
The first confusing moment was trying to work out who the guy holding Bradford’s guitar was, and the second was wondering where Bradford was. I’m very good at recognizing faces that I’ve seen before but often pretty bad at working out where I’ve seen them. Eventually it clicked that I’d actually seen the “new” guy in Deerhunter photographs from a while back, meaning that he was not “new” at all. In fact, he was Colin Mee, who played on both the band’s first two records before leaving under a cloud around about four years ago. Surprise guest Mee (who has gone on to perform in Hollow Stars) and Lockett Pundt began making fuzz-drenched blankets of sound as Moses Archuleta and Josh Fauvner combined to lay the seeds of a rumbling undertone that would be consistently deep and simultaneously thrashing for the rest of the show.
After enough of the drone had passed, Cox made his way before the audience. Looking like he was in 50s pin-up mode – with greased back hair and vintage shirt – he was soon in full-on unnerving mode. Changing the mood rapidly from reunion celebration to some kind of delicious black mass, Bradford stalked back and forth glaring into fans’ eyes with a look, that was at best disarming and at worst possessed. There was a sense of drama that suited perfectly the opening set of songs which taken from the Fluorescent Grey EP and Cryptograms – a particularly death-obsessed, morbid corner of Deerhunter’s career. For the record it was a fucking joy to hear those songs, as they’re a rarity, not to mention having Mee there to perform them too.
Colin departed and handed the guitar back to Bradford and the band hit hard into a set that was comprised of tracks from most recent LP, Halcyon Digest, and its predecessor, Microcastle.
The last time I saw Deerhunter was on their UK tour when they played Manchester back in March. I guess they must have been on tour on and off since then. It definitely shows – there’s an intensity (not to mention a tightness) that only comes from playing solidly for months (or I guess in DH’s case, years) and a self assuredness, that for whatever reason seemed to be best summed up by the way that Josh Fauvner swayed around, going from rhythmically bouncing on the spot one second, to ferociously hammering into his bass the next. It’s hard to nail down what the contributing factors are, but it really feels like Deerhunter have now become the band that they always wanted to be.
Jamming freely into some of the most beautiful noise imaginable – both in-between and during songs (with one of the extended improvised passages transforming Nothing Ever Happened into an impromptu cover of Patti Smith’s Horses), Deerhunter are clearly a confident and immersed group of musicians who play off each other superbly. However they are also able to match their technical ability with an emotional range that can switch from ethereal to visceral without a blink.
New York City and I got a treat.
Nothing Ever Happened
Twilight at Carbon Lake
Calvary Scars II
*with Colin Mee