Simon Reynolds

  • Simon Reynolds

    1. London Pirate Radio Rallying the city’s “vibe tribe” with patois chants and Dada sound-poetry, pirate MCs surf the DJ’s turbulent flow and together conjure a Hakim Bey–style “power surge” against Babylon.

    2. Public Enemy (Fear of a Black Planet) Militant hip-hop’s last blast, before gangsta/playa/thug rap’s still-unbroken reign of false consciousness.

    3. Saint Etienne (“London Belongs to Me”) Britpop’s dub-hazy pinnacle, four years before a pipe dream was realized as a ghastly hegemony of nostalgia and parochialism.

    4. Beltram (“Energy Flash”) Techno’s “Raw Power,” although Joey was aiming for

  • Trainspotting

    IN BRITAIN, POP CULTURE and drug culture are almost synonymous these days. From Oasis’ anthems of coked-out glory-lust to Pulp’s number-one hit “Sorted for E’s and Wizz” (a brilliantly ambivalent evocation of the dream and lie of rave), from the ganja-delic paranoia of Tricky to jungle’s journeys into the dark side of Ecstasy culture, British pop is all highs and lows, uppers and downers. Other sectors of the culture industry lag behind music in reflecting what every British kid takes for granted: the sheer omnipresence and banality of recreational drug use. Which is why Irvine Welsh, chronicler

  • Faust

    “Krautrock”—the early-’70s Kosmische Musik of German bands like Can, FAUST, Neu!, Cluster, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, and Popol Vuh—is currently hipper than it’s ever been. What with the boom in CD reissues, the publication of Julian Cope’s idiosyncratic guidebook Krautrocksampler, and pledges of allegiance from current bands like Stereolab, the Dead C, Flying Saucer Attack, and Telstar Ponies, now is the right time for Rien, Faust’s first studio album in two decades.

    Formed in 1969 at the instigation of journalist Uwe Nettelbeck, Faust created four albums of peerless postpsychedelic/protopunk

  • Joe Carducci’s Rock and the Pop Narcotic

    WHEN ROCK AND THE POP NARCOTIC was first published in 1990, it incited a fair bit of controversy, startling many by the sheer aggression with which Joe Carducci lambasted America’s rock-critical establishment and lashed its sacred cows. The book’s vitriolic tone stemmed from the persecution complex the author acquired at the helm of SST, the hard-core record label founded by Black Flag that made bands like the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü, and Sonic Youth underground legends but failed to win them commercial success. Completed well before Seattle grunge took the punk-metal esthetic

  • Simon Reynolds


    Steeped in the studio sorcery of dub and hip-hop, TRICKY is as much a part of England’s art-rock continuum as he is a British B-boy. One way of thinking of Maxinquaye is as Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure remodeled as an accounting of the costs of the UK’s recreational drug culture. Tricky makes his own travails with alcohol, ganja, and other “cheap thrills” emblematic of a generation able to find its provisional utopias only through self-poisoning. From the polluted stream-of-consciousness lyrics to the smeary, maculate textures and wraithlike melodies, Tricky transforms inner

  • Charles Long and Stereolab

    WITHIN MINUTES OF TAKING A SEAT at Bubblegum Station, 1995, I enjoy a little epiphany. The centerpiece of “The Amorphous Body Study Center,” a collaboration between sculptor Charles Long and soundscaper Stereolab, Bubblegum Station is an enormous mound of plasticine that the viewer is invited to mold and mark. I’m hacking off some pink stuff with one of the scalpels helpfully provided, and this guy gingerly sits at the next stool and starts grinning shyly at me. I take off the headphones (through which Stereolab’s soundtrack is piped) and the guy asks, “Are you the artist?” I should have said

  • Alec Foege's Confusion is Next: The Sonic Youth Story

    IF EVER A BAND deserved an expansive approach that bursts the limits of the rock-biography format, it’s Sonic Youth—one of the most pretentious (a compliment in my book) rock bands of the last decade. Sonic Youth have always consciously aimed to refract the zeitgeist in their noise swirl; they’re culture-vultures who ransack both avant-garde and trash for morsels of inspiration. Despite SY’s puerile admiration for the thoughtlessness of teen delinquents and psychopaths, this is not a dumb band; this is a learned band. Bassist/singer Kim Gordon used to write art and music criticism for Artforum

  • Muzak of the Fears

    IN BRIAN ENO'S ORIGINAL definition, “ambient” simply meant “environmental”—it was music as decor, a subliminal accompaniment to everyday life. Later, with Eno’s On Land, it was psychogeographic music, an evocation of real or imaginary landscapes. In the last four years, in Britain, Europe, and increasingly America, something called “ambient techno” has evolved out of the postrave phenomenon of chill-out music. A genre unto itself, it is based around albums more than 12-inch singles, and has its own stellar artists (Pete Namlook, The Irresistible Force, Future Sound Of London, Biosphere, The



    We’ll Always Have Paris
    Lourdes, 8 July 1940: a refugee sensing fate closing in around him, Walter Benjamin writes Hannah Arendt and ruefully quotes an aphorism that will shortly be an epitaph: “His laziness supported him in glory for many years in the obscurity of an errant and hidden life.” “This ain’t Paris,” mutters Babylon Dance Band singer Chip Nold on the group’s belated debut (Matador), “It’s not the 19th century.” This incandescent one-shot reunion recorded over a decade after their break-up offers “errant and hidden life” as pure revel (and reverie). Desperation is Nold’s


    In his 1939 essay “Goal: New Music, New Dance,” John Cage prophesied an electronic music of the future made by and for dancers: What we can’t do ourselves will be done by machines and electrical instruments which we will invent." The modern European music called techno is based around such instruments (the sampler and the sequencer), machines that render post-Cage techniques like tape-looping and musique concrète as easy as pie. And the records are made by ravers who know how to soundtrack their own choreography, by djs who understand what’s needed to work a crowd’s bodily reflexes.

    Cage even predicted the howling horror of the music establishment (in techno’s case, the rock gerontocracy): “The conscientious objectors to modern music will . . . attempt everything in the way of counter-revolution. Musicians will not admit that we are making music . . . New and original sounds will be labeled as ‘noise.’”

    “Percussion music is revolution”: Cage’s opening fanfare has been answered by techno, which increasingly is purely percussive. Even its tuneful elements, like the keyboard oscillator riffs that flicker between octaves, have a rhythmic, strobelike function; either that or