Wednesday, 18 January 2017

BOOK REVIEW. THE RISE THE FALL AND THE RISE BY BRIX SMITH-START

I read The Rise The Fall and The Rise by Brix Smith-Start. Brix was bassist in The Fall (+ was also married to Mark E. Smith) as well as fronting her own band, The Adult Net + being involved in various musical projects. More recently, she opened several designer boutiques in London with her husband + appeared on various TV shows as a fashion expert/stylist (most notably on Gok Wan’s Fashion Fix).

I really enjoyed the book, it crackles along at a fair old pace and is interesting + heartfelt. She’s smart + funny - generally very open about discussing her relationships + ups + downs of life. I thought she was honest + fair even when she is sometimes uncomplimentary about the likes of Mark E. Smith, she does also discuss her own faults. I actually thought one of the most interesting parts of the book was where she talked about she reconciled her own identity/creative pursuits with that of her partners - first, Mark E. Smith and then Nigel Kennedy. She also discusses a lot of the songs she’s written + her musical career (I particularly liked the chapter about the time she almost joined Hole). There are certain parts where she chooses discretion and doesn’t name names so I guess we will never know who the other famous rockstars are she’s slept with or which one of her hen party has the astonishing trick of being able to open a champagne bottle with their vagina but there’s still plenty to entertain. I’m surprised the women’s magazines haven’t picked up on it more, you’d think it would be right up their street.

I also loved the fact that her name Brix is actually a nickname short for Brixton which she was given for repeatedly playing Guns of Brixton by The Clash.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JANUARY 2017

Thursday, 31 March 2016

BOOK REVIEW. YINPOP. WOMEN IN INDIE AND ALTERNATIVE ROCK. VOL. 1: UK BANDS BY S. WHITE

This book originally came out in 2014. The author defines YinPop as ‘music with a female vocalist in the indie/alternative rock tradition, tending to be some combination of noisy, melodic, dangerous or otherworldly’. There’s a brief introduction that discovers some of the artists that may fall under this label.

The rest of the book covers 10 bands - give or take, some chapters also cover side projects so the chapter on Siouxsie and the Banshees covers The Creatures as well. The 10 bands are Siouxsie + The Banshees (incl The Creatures), Altered Images, Cocteau Twins, Shop Assistants (incl The Fizzbombs and The Motorcycle Boy), The Flatmates, The Primitives (Paul Court from the band also provides an introduction), The Darling Buds, The Heart Throbs, Voice of the Beehive and Shampoo.

Each chapter gives an extensive history of the band followed by a discography, information of any music videos/important TV appearances or press stories, chart placings, concert setlists and lists of songs that particular band covered and anyone who covered them. There’s also a chapter listing rarites to look out for and a list of further reading.

It’s an interesting book and even in this age of wikipedia and fansites, it’s still nice to have all the information in one place for each band and it’s certainly extensive and as far as I know, accurate. Unfortunately I do think it comes across as a little dry, there isn’t really any new information about the bands and only a few quotes and no photo section at all (the lack of photos I’d probably put down to some sort of copyright issue but it’s still a shame especially as I think it would be great to at least see some of the artwork for the records etc.) Although some of the bands have been written about elsewhere (such as Siouxsie and the Banshees) most of them haven’t really had much in-depth coverage and it’s great to see them get more than a passing mention. I’d love it if this was the 1st in a series of books especially as some of the other artists the author namechecks are well worth reading about (such as Strawberry Switchblade or Lydia Lunch).

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2016

Friday, 25 March 2016

BOOK REVIEW. THE FIRST COLLECTION OF CRITICISM BY A LIVING FEMALE ROCK CRITIC BY JESSICA HOPPER

This book is a compilation of pieces by Jessica Hopper covering the period from 2003 to 2014 (the book came out in 2015) from a variety of American publications from SPIN and Punk Planet through to Village Voice and Chicago Reader.

It’s split into different sections and covers reviews of albums from Miley Cyrus through to St Vincent and Cat Power and events such as Coachella and the Vans Warped tour. It also has articles on subjects ranging from the Suicide Girls to deconstructing Lana Del Rey and an interview with Jim DeRogatis discussing the R. Kelly case. Most of the articles are brief - to be honest, a lot of them were about artists I’m not that interested in but there was enough to keep me interested especially as I thought JH was a really good writer, smart and incisive and entertaining.

For example, a discussion on emo turns into a wider debate about the role of women in music and how female fans/critics respond to the way women are often portrayed in music. - “Us girls deserve more than one song. We deserve more than one pledge of solidarity. We deserve better songs that any boy will ever write about us.”

At the start of the book, she admits the title is not entirely accurate but it is true that there are comparitively few books by female music critics. Hopefully this book goes some way to redressing that + as she says -

“The title of this book is about planting a flag; it is for those whose dreams (and manuscripts) languished due to lack of formal precedence, support and permission. This title is not meant to erase our history but rather to help mark the path.

This book is dedicated to those that came before, those that should have been first, and all the ones that will come after.”

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2016

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

BOOK REVIEW. GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! ESSAYS ON WOMEN IN MUSIC EDITED BY SARAH COOPER

This book originally came out in 1995. It’s a collection of twelve essays on different aspects of women and music - from women in music PR to women in south Asian music. The essays are all quite brief - in fact, if anything I was left wanting more at the end of the book. One of the things I liked was that despite it being quite a short book it does manage to cover quite a wide range of topics - it covers different styles of music from classical music to salsa, and the essays range from personal accounts of being a music fan in the 70s to an overview of women in 1940s/50s pop. (A couple of the essays have appeared in other places but there’s still plenty to read). It’s out of print now but you can still get second hand copies + it’s worth looking out for if you can get find it at a cheap enough price.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2015.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

MY FANZINES. BAMBI ZINE

I’ve decided to write a bit about some of the fanzines I did in the past.

BAMBI was the 2nd ever fanzine I did - I did 6 issues between 1996 and 1997. They were all A5 B+W photocopied zines (tho’ some issues had coloured card covers) of about 20 or so pages. It went under the tagline All Rock + Roll Is Homosexual (slogan Manics used on a T-shirt a few years earlier) and was billed as the zine of homoerotic rock music. Although I did write about LGBT musicians I was more interested in examining the ambivalence around certain musicians and the grey areas - I used a lot of photocopied press cuttings/quotes and part of it was to show the media/fan interpretation of something could have a life of its own whatever the facts might be but that also that anything and everything was possible. The issues were a mix of quotes, photocopied press cuttings, short reviews + articles and reprints of pieces I found interesting (the last issue was also titled the Hollywood Babylon issue as it concentrated on actors + the film business). It wasn’t intended to be taken too seriously.

Overall I got a good reception to it. It wasn’t as popular as some of my other zines but I tended to do much smaller print runs but every issue sold out. As well as being reviewed in several fanzines, I also got a mention in Metal Hammer + a very nice postcard from Chris of Pansy Division saying how much he’d liked the zine + he’d copied the bits about Metallica and forwarded them on to Kirk! (they did actually know Kirk + he played on a Pansy Division single). Looking back on it now, I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out.

And here is a link to a list of what was in every issue (the printed copies are now all sold out but check the bambi zine tag on here on my tumblr to read some of the stuff or go to my website here)

List of what was in BAMBI zines

Saturday, 27 July 2013

BOOK REVIEW. WE GOT THE NEUTRON BOMB. THE UNTOLD STORY OF L.A. PUNK BY MARC SPITZ AND BRENDAN MULLEN

This is a long overdue look at the origins and story of the Los Angeles punk scene in the 1970s. Most books tend to overlook L.A. in favour of New York and London and this book goes some way to redressing the balance. It's made up entirely of quotes from the various musicians, promoters, journalists, groupies and scenesters. Although this means the book does lack a coherent overview, it does make it seem more vibrant and an accurate reflection of the sometimes fragmented and arbitrary nature of the scene.
The authors have managed to cover a wide range of bands from the likes of The Runaways, The Germs and X through to later bands like Black Flag and The Gun Club. I did feel the latter part of the book seemed to cover too many disparate bands in quite a short space but I think that reflects all the different directions the music scene went in. The authors have done a brilliant job in tracking down all these various people and getting them to tell their stories and putting them all together. It is a bit disappointing that there aren't more pictures in the book but overall, I really liked the book and thought it was an interesting read. I know a lot of people who are fans of Please Kill Me (which concentrates more on the New York punk scene) and I'd say that although We Got The Neutron Bomb isn't quite so well-known, it still acts as a worthy companion piece by giving the lesser known (but just as important) history of the Los Angeles punk scene.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JULY 2013


Monday, 10 October 2011

BOOK REVIEW. GIRL POWER BY MARISA MELTZER

This book covers that period in the 1990s where the DIY feminist punk of riot grrrl was filtered through more rock-orientated bands like Hole and L7 and the more photogenic media-friendly anger of artists like Fiona Apple and Alanis Morrissette before eventually tricking down to the shallow pop consumerism of the Spice Girls and their ilk.

The author also links the rise of pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera with the kind of "raunch feminism" described in Ariel Levy's Feminist Chauvinist Pigs. She seeks to place the Spice Girls catchphrase of Girl Power and their feminism-lite in some kind of context - after all, the Spice Girls were appealing to a much younger and more mainstream audience and even something as simplistic as Girl Power gave young girls confidence and the idea that they mattered. But as she points out, too often it became a meaningless catchphrase that avoided political activism or even any sense of cultural interaction for trendy fashions and consumerism.

It does focus very much on the American scene so bands like Fluffy, Kenickie or even All Saints get missed out and she didn't want to write about metal/rock bands so I do feel some of the female-fronted bands around at the time like Jack Off Jill and My Ruin are criminally overlooked. However, Shampoo get several mentions (and The Nymphs and Period Pains are mentioned in passing). However, she does make the point that she's only covering one particular period in history rather than the whole scope of women in music.

She also writes a bit about some of the female-centric music festivals such as Lillith Fair, Ladyfest and Michigan Womyn's Festival (which is often slated for its trans exclusion policy which she does discuss here) and she even mentions Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains.

I do feel like if you were around in that period then you'll already be aware of a lot of what she's talking about but it's nice to have a book that attempts to give an overview of that period and place it all in some kind of context (and we're already nearly twenty years away from it so there will be a whole generation of music fans who weren't actually there to see/hear these things firsthand.)

"Girl Power is, as Professor Alison Pepmeier says of her own 10,000 Maniacs and Suzanne Vega obsessed college years, about "seeking a culture of women's voices. I knew I had things to say and I wanted to find women who were making a public space for themselves." Girl Power allows each of us to map out what it means to be a woman in the world, one song at a time."

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2011