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What's new in iJamming!...
Thu, Mar 22, 2001
The iJAMMING! interview: DAVID SYLVIAN
"I don't think people realize that life can become so exciting and interesting that it can draw you away for long periods of time from creating music - & why not?"
HEDONISM:
An intrigue of early 90s New York nightlife.
CHAPTER 1 now online with QuickTime videos and music
From the Keith Moon archives:
the JEFF BECK interview .
The iJAMMING! chat:
MARK PERRY

"If I was asked why Sniffin' Glue was so important, it was the way we conducted ourselves, the style of it, just the attitude. It had attitude in abundance didn't it?"
The Return of Shoegazing:
DOVES take New York by swarm
Forgotten Classics:
THE CHILLS: Brave Words
THE iJAMMING! Book Review:
SNIFFIN' GLUE: The Essential Punk Accessory
Musing with SALLY TAYLOR:
"I'm not interested in what the major labels have to offer."
From the JAMMING! archives: PAUL WELLER ON POP
Featured wine region:
CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES
FEATURED WINES
FEATURED ALBUMS
LAPTOP
Roll The Credit
From the JAMMING! archives: ALTERNATIVE TV
interviewed in 1978
TRAVIS.
Fran Healy explains why "you cannot own a song." (And why Liam Gallagher "is going to turn into a really great songwriter.")
The JAMMING! Gallery part 3: the covers from issues 25-36.
MUSIC ON THE WEB
Why it's hard to sympathize with the music industry
Featured Artist Web Site:
LLOYD COLE
MIX ALBUMS:
Who, what and why you should bother
Featured wine web site:
HONIG
Featured vine:
VIOGNIER:
Finally, a worthy rival to Chardonnay.
The iJAMMING! interview:
BOY GEORGE.
"Once you've had your go, what-ever it may be, they want you to piss off, and they can't bear it if you come back, they can't bear it."
SUPERDRAG
They love rock'n'roll but they don't want to deal with the hassle
WINE AND MUSIC:
What wine fans and music devotees have in common.
The full iJamming! Contents
The return of 'SHOEGAZING':
how
DOVES took
New York by swarm

A funny thing happened after Doves played New York’s Bowery Ballroom on Feb 27th. I got e-mails about it. This never normally happens; New Yorkers are far too busy - and supposedly jaded - to offer uninvited correspondence about last night's lig, I mean gig. But two friends who hadn't seen me there (it was, admittedly, packed) felt sufficiently excited to want to share their thoughts. “What a great show.,” wrote Paul, who has maintained a fanaticism for underground psychedelic rock despite years spent working for both a major record company and a major event promoter. “Everyone's mad for Coldplay at the moment,” he added, “but I think The Doves do that "atmospheric rock" thing a bit better.

More hyperbolic was the comment from Alyssa, a publicist. (Coincidence?) “I CRIED,” she gushed. “It was such a moving experience and I have lived with that album so long, it was unreal seeing them live! so full bodied, he was so charismatic and the crowd was amazing!!! what did you think?”

Well, I certainly didn’t cry. And in a way, my own opinion about Doves (much though I like them) is not the reason I’ve decided to write about them. What fascinated me about the Doves concert was the phenomenal turn-out of music industry types and die-hard Brit rock followers such as I haven’t witnessed in New York in, literally, years and years. Coming just ten days after Coldplay’s sadly farcical New York debut (being overworked and under pressure, they collapsed from the flu and abandoned the gig after just one song; I’m glad now that I wasn’t able to attend), it seems like a good time to look back under the magnifying glass at one of the American music world’s occasionally favorite obsessions: the latest British sensations.

The American music market falls rather conveniently into two camps. There are those, a significant percentage residing in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, LA and San Francisco, who have what appears to be an inferiority complex when it comes to British rock music and slavishly follow and generally gush over all the latest developments out of the UK; and then there are those (basically, the rest of the country) who have a superiority complex regarding the whole world and couldn’t give a flying shit what’s getting written about in the NME or played on the Steve Lamacq show, largely because they haven’t heard of either.

For the last few years, there’s no doubt that the latter camp - the majority - has been holding sway: just look at the dominance by such all-American if disparate acts as Eminem, Britney Spears, Le-Ann Rhymes and Nelly for proof. It’s a long time since a British act sold even a fraction of these stars - and those that came close have generally been part of the rocktronica set. In fact, the (past) success of Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers, and Prodigy helped drive the nails into the coffins of British rock. You would be hard put to name any new guitar-based British bands that have caused real excitement on American shores these last few years. That made the palpable energy in the air at the Doves show all the more noticeable, which begs the following questions. Are we on the cusp of a new UK breakthrough? Or are we merely falling at the altar of Doves, Coldplay and Badly Drawn Boy because we're desperate and we'll take what we can get?

"When, at the end of their hour-long set at the Bowery Doves performed an instrumental that was, basically, house music as played by a guitar-and-keys band, it seemed as if the group's journey had come full circle "
I’m sure it's a little of both, compounded by some serious nostalgia for an era when great British bands seemed to be two a penny and American audiences seemed to 'get' them. You can go as far back as you want to examine this phenomenon, but it was certainly in full effect when I first came to the States and, for various reasons, began hanging out in New Brunswick, New Jersey which was pretty much ground zero for the British bands on the east coast. Matt Pinfield (now hosting farmclub, back then a fixture on Jersey station WHTG) DJ’d thrice a week at a fantastic little bar called the Melody, which would attract fans of ‘alternative’ British music from up and down the State, and which was partly the inspiration for my old room mate Neville Wells and myself to start an ‘alternative’ night at Limelight entitled Communion in 1990. That was the year that the words Madchester and indie dance were on everyone’s lips and the Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Charlatans, Blur, Soup Dragons, Beloved, The Farm, Pop Will Eat Itself, Wonder Stuff and others were not just hip with the in crowd, but were getting hit singles too; in 1991, incredible though it sounds in retrospect, EMF and Jesus Jones were number 1 and 2 respectively in the proper Billboard pop singles charts on the same week. Most of these bands represented the post-house convergence of beats and guitars, which made their success all the more British and all the more rewarding, but the early 90s was also the period of “shoe-gazing” when, in New York, if not the rest of the country, pure-guitars-and effects bands like Ride, Slowdive and Catherine Wheel only had to announce shows to guarantee a sell-out crowd. The Jesus and Mary Chain were considered a major band. The Cure were a platinum act. Morrissey sold out Madison Square Garden. Depeche Mode packed Giants Stadium - several nights over. No wonder our club night succeeded; no wonder I stayed in New York. Walking round the Big Apple with an English accent and a knowledge of the music as well was like having the key to the city.

But something happened. A few things, now I think about it. Primary among them was the ancient British disease of apathy: bands simply could not be arsed to put in the work that is absolutely necessary to break America as a continent. In New York, it was usually cozy enough: the tours often kicked off on the east coast and the groups clearly enjoyed playing to clubs full of fans who had already bought their albums on import and sang along to every word. In fact, usually the tours only took in the primary Anglophile cities anyway; when it was suggested that the bands come back and play 40-date tours, they balked. And if they did take up the challenge, the American heartlands proved unfailingly resistant. "You didn’t get the feeling you were reaching the American people,” Steve Queralt of Ride says in the Creation Records Story. “You were just playing to English people abroad.”

Those few groups that maintained the necessary willpower, the record company support and continued to release good albums then faced the horrendous and unanticipated obstacle of grunge, which killed stone dead the idea of rock music as anything melodic, psychedelic, androgynous, or beat-driven. My Britishism shows through when I state, clearly and categorically, that I despised grunge and everything it stood for. With the exception of Nirvana and certain aspects of Pearl Jam, I simply couldn't listen to that music. I stopped running my club night largely because the popularity of grunge played havoc with our usually rhythmic and inclusive musical playlist. I stopped writing about rock for a while because record companies seemed to be signing nothing but talentless Yank long-hairs with well-advertised drug problems and no tunes. I got further and further into dance, where the likes of Orbital, Underworld and Chemical Brothers were taking the decade-old old acid house explosion somewhere new - and putting on the live shows to match. Trip-hop came out of this too, and it has to be said that the likes of Portishead, Morcheeba and Tricky never suffered for lack of American audiences or quality live shows. It seemed the appropriate time to declare British rock and buried.

"At his Knitting Factory debut, Badly Drawn Boy toyed with his reputation by teasing the audience, telling stories, playing but brief section of songs that are famously disjointed to begin with, all in an apparent attempt to burst the bubble of expectation surrounding him. Unfortunately, it backfired."
Somewhere in the middle of this period, Oasis provided temporary respite, and reminded a number of Americans what it was they loved about British music to begin with: the Beatles. Oh yeah, and that they could cope with that British swagger and arrogance as long as a band had the tunes to justify it. There was, after all, an energy around Oasis shows (at least the ones I attended in New York) that you very rarely get in rock music anymore, the kind of energy I imagine surrounded the Who or Led Zeppelin at the peak of their American touring powers. But once again, that sinking feeling of apathy and under-achievement quickly followed. Oasis canceled gig after tour after gig and American fans said, essentially, forget you if you your response to a bad night is to break up over it. There was absolutely no one to carry the flag to the finishing line. The Stone Roses, who might have made all the difference had they toured in 1990 when their album was taking off, only came around for the Second Coming which as we all could tell, was anything but. Blur scored a hit in an American style, then went weird, and didn’t even tour their last album. Pulp completely disappeared. Suede, a band most Americans could never fathom out, likewise. Elastica, who came and conquered back in 1995, fucked off for a full five years. Echobelly never broke through. Sleeper were never much more than mediocre. I couldn’t take 60 Ft Dolls seriously. Space abruptly canceled a tour, and the record label passed on their second album. Bluetones and Gene couldn’t sell enough albums to maintain their record deals. Dodgy never even got a release here. Only the Charlatans and Supergrass kept touring regardless, exceptions to prove the rule. Following UK bands in America became something of an endurance test, a marathon with the finish line growing ever further away. More than once, I turned to my wife Posie at some such show to say, I don’t know why we bother any more. More than once, I realised she had actually stayed at home.

This time last year you wouldn't have thought things were going to change. I saw Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and Stereophonics, all at Bowery Ballroom and all sold-out shows. (Between record company ticket buys and the New York Brit hardcore, it isn’t hard to sell out a 600-capacity hall.) I like these bands to varying degrees, all of whom are multi-platinum in the UK, but it was no great surprise that they didn't come back. With the possible exception of Stereophonics, you could tell that the enthusiasm wasn't there - not on the part of the band, nor of the vast American populace. On a different level, both the Beta Band and Gomez caused excitement, but neither seemed to represent anything other than themselves. (And we're waiting for both to deliver decent second albums.)

But then came Travis, by-passing the whole Brit press thing and getting straight on with the business of selling albums simply by writing great songs and playing them like they believed in them. After which Radiohead released a number one album that got people all excited about the possibilities of ambient textures infecting rock music (as if this was a new concept; ask Primal Scream or Spiritualized). Markedly different though these two bands are, the fact that Travis and Radiohead share a producer made people start thinking about the expansive, emotional musical landscapes that connect them - and brought attention to some other new acts causing an usually unfussy buzz in the UK. For once, it seemed, there were some acts coming out of blighty that weren't being hyped up through music press front covers and major label advance guards, but that Americans were going to have to discover for themselves.

Perhaps that’s what was finally needed. The new crop of groups emerged not on major labels but indies, where expectations can be downscaled so that 30,000 sales is seen not as a disaster but as a solid foundation. Specifically, Badly Drawn Boy's album came out on XL/Beggar's Banquet, Coldplay was released on Nettwerk, and Doves followed the Beta Band and Primal Scream as a rock band on the ultra-hip dance label Astralwerks.

To varying degrees, each of these acts has continued to downplay itself as it has come to America. At his Knitting Factory debut, Damon Gough, a.k.a Badly Drawn Boy, toyed with his reputation by teasing the audience, telling stories, playing but brief section of songs that are famously disjointed to begin with, all in an apparent attempt to burst the bubble of expectation surrounding him. Unfortunately, it backfired, and he came across as self-centered and arrogant, unable or unwilling to hunker down and play his songs like a pro. His idol, the Boss, would not have been impressed; neither I imagine will the heartlands.

"For such a young group to circumnavigate the whole cult buzz bin thing is encouraging, but it’s daunting too. Coldplay will be million sellers before almost anyone in America gets the chance to see them up close and personal, and that can be problematic when attempting to build a following for the future."

For their part, Coldplay's stated minor ambitions to get a mere foothold seem almost like a bluff given how many records they are selling: ‘Yellow’ is a bonafide radio hit, and the excellent album Parachutes has already sold half a million. Coldplay is evidently a classic case of the right band coming along at the right time, feeding off the interest in Travis, with whom they share songwriting instincts, and Radiohead, with whom they share that falsetto vocal and brooding arrangements thing. The Irving Plaza debacle has hardly dented their popularity; a replacement show at the 3000-capacity Roseland has now been announced in its place. I do hope they can deliver on a large stage; for such a young group to circumnavigate the whole cult buzz bin thing is encouraging, but it’s daunting too. They'll be million sellers before almost anyone in America gets the chance to see them up close and personal, and that can be problematic when attempting to build a following for the future.

Which leaves us Doves, who slot conveniently in between Badly Drawn Boy's evasive solo schtick (Doves provided backing tracks for him in the past) and Coldplay's almost blatant commerciality. Astute followers of British music will know that twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams, along with third Doves member Jimi Goodwin, all formerly recorded together as Sub Sub, scoring an enormous UK hit in '93 with 'Ain't No Love (Ain't No Use).' This makes Doves one of the few groups to go from dance to rock, as opposed to the other way around. When, at the end of their hour-long set at the Bowery they performed an instrumental that was, basically, house music as played by a guitar-and-keys band, it seemed as if the group's journey had come full circle (Someone has reported back to me that this encore was a Sub Sub song; excuse my ignorance.) And throughout their show, delivered against a cinematic backdrop a la the Beta Band, their music was imbued with the same general atmospherics as permeate the best 'electronica.' But for all these subtle dance influences, in their determination to cut through the bullshit and just perform, Doves most obviously harked back to the days of shoegazing. A gig that started out quietly, even blandly, steadily rose in volume and as they approached their clutch of great songs - 'Catch The Sun,' 'the Cedar Room' and the album's title track, 'Lost Souls' - the intensity in the hall rose to the level that I recall from, say, the Catherine Wheel or Ride or Spiritualized, moments when audience and group soar along on a higher emotional plane, moments when psychedelic rock works as a psychotropic drug. (Moments that British bands, I should note, seem to be especially adept at.)

So, Doves were good. Very good. (The Strokes, one of the few New York bands to cause international excitement without a record deal, were also excellent, but let's not confuse the issue.) And in bringing back shoegazing - alright, let’s call it psychedelic rock - with just a hint of dance, they will hopefully do their part to shift some American focus back onto British music. But let's not get carried away here. Radiohead, Travis and Coldplay may have sold two million albums between them this past year (you could add the surprise success of Belle and Sebastian too, another group that have succeeded in America away from the trendiness of the Brit press) but then Limp Bizkit did the same amount in the first two weeks of release. I don't foresee a commercial surge of British bands in America as we had a decade ago, partly because Britain itself no longer has an environment that nurtures them (checked the UK singles charts lately?), and largely because America no longer seems willing to support them. Dance music apart, the two nations seem to have less in common musically than at almost time prior to the Beatles.

Late last year, Barry Walters wrote a feature in the Village Voice about these three latest British acts aptly entitled 'No Hype To Not Believe.' His conclusion, apart from how much he liked each of them, was that "England's lost the knack for its greatest export - hype. And that's not a good thing." I agree with his first sentence. But not his second. I think it is a good thing. The famed British hype is enjoyable when you're young and buzzing off your belief not only that British is best, but that such-and-such a band is the best of British; after a decade of being exposed to it from overseas, however, it becomes embarrassing, especially when its protagonists fail, time and again, to live up to their stated brilliance. Better just to get on with the job in hand. Which is what Doves seem to be doing - and why people seem to be appreciating them.

SO WHAT DID OTHER PEOPLE THINK? E-MAIL RESPONSES TO THE LEFT. WHAT DO YOU THINK? POST ON THE FORUM

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Given that a couple of people decided to e-mail me their thoughts on Doves unrequested, I decided to get a more accurate sample from some of those I saw in the New York audience. The real thing? Or merely the best we can hope for in times like these?
John represented a typical industry insider who attended because everyone else did. “I had no expectations as to how the Doves would be live, I like the album but I can tell you after the gig I will be revisiting it much more intently. The sound, dare I say, was perfect. Full, rich, wet sound resonating throughout the room, each frequency in its place yet together for a very big experience, and this is coming from an often jaded
ass mo' fo'....... “
Dan, like John, works for a mid-size label. "They sounded great. I really liked the light show and the images they use - a lot of bands come over and just play the album they delivered the show. i fell for the album this past july. a great long play.my only criticism is that they sounded a little too perfect at times and as many bands do they felt the need to fill in space
and time with pure noise.”
Jerry is a radio programmer and diehard supporter of British music, someone I have been seeing at UK bands shows for over a decade. He had seen Doves a week earlier at the Gavin Convention in Miami in less-than-perfect circumstances. “This time, a light show and video backdrop complimented what was to become the best show I've seen in quite some time. Of all the British bands finally getting some radio & video airplay in the U.S.A., I think DOVES are the ones most promising of the new bunch. This is the band to watch, mark my word.”
Randy works for a major label but I see him at more shows than most journalists. He knows his Brit music. He was less than enthusiastic. “While the band had its moments ("Catch The Sun," "The Cedar Room"), the bulk oftheir set reminded me of that not-so-flattering early '90s subgenre,"shoegazing". The opening two tracks were especially bland. They were able to create atmosphere at times, but you have to admit that they're an anonymous bunch of gits, don't you? I expect a bit more spunk from my bands. Thank god that the films provided something to watch.
I doubt that I'm in the majority, though. Glancing around the room, I noticed
plenty of blissed out expressions.
Jemma is a Brit who writes fiction and works for an English label in New York. She turned to me half way through the show and exclaimed, "They've totally pulled it off!" The next day, she noted, "
1. band too quiet to begin with but they cranked the sound up halfway through
2. faithfully reproduced the album sound: always nice
3. the cedar room - mesmerising.
4. lead singer: eminently watchable as only a cute
northern lad can be
5. nice bit of manc indie pop wig-out at the end
6. best show i;ve seen this year...
Jack has been writing passionately about music for over 20 years and probably knows as much about British rock than anyone in New York.“i loved the music,” he emailed, “but thought as a live band they were a tad straightjacketed by the
technology they're too dependent on. the samples and the film segues were all very good, but hampered the band from really letting lose. i did like that they gave us a much bigger sounding version of the lp, and i thought the singer had an odd "dude in big liebowski" devil may care slacker thing going that actually worked in his case, but i felt like they were just on the cusp of being a live band on par with catherine wheel, that mixture of expansive sound and thoughtful material with some real spontaneous feeling and aggression. that drummer should bag the headphones the samples demand, and let the musicians listen to each other rather than the dictates of a click track.
Finally, Tye is a music journalist who was clearly grooving out throughout the show. I had him marked down as a dance fan; perhaps this just shows the absence of decent British rock bands in recent years. If all responses from 20-something Anglophiles are on this level, Doves will have nothing to worry about. "Seeing the Doves reminded me of watching Ride perform in 1990 -- that fusion of gorgeous, perfect pop and dense guitar squalor that few bands can pull off nowadays without sounding tired and tragically dated. I was surprised how technically
superior and musically moving the band was, and there were points in the show that definitely reminded me of why I became such an Anglophile in the first place. Yowsa!
Have your own thoughts on Doves or the latest crop of British acts to try America on for size? Post them in the Forum.