Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for October, 2006

Wooooooo, Scary Music-Nerdism!! Happy Hallowe’en

October 31st, 2006

Matt’s got his aforementioned “hottest bands in Canada” poll up now. It’s worth a look. (My list, if you missed it, is here.) Even more worth a look is Del’s list of hot Canadian hip-hop and soul, 9/10 of which didn’t make Matt’s list, and most of which I’ll be seeking out immediately.

Negativland were excellent last night, by the way. More blindfolded concerts, please!

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Negativland: Always Be Prepared
(Like John Cage’s Piano)

October 30th, 2006

You may have run across this story in the past week, presenting the certifiably batshit-crazy fact that in Los Angeles, they are giving Boy Scouts badges for demonstrating how much they love copyright. I assume that this involves ratting out their friends and family members if they download, having their boyish brains scanned for derivative thoughts so that they can pay licensing, etc. What’s next, the Only Eat Factory-Farmed Meat badge? The merit badge for Highest Gas Consumption? All of which goes back to the points about corporate monoculture that I was making in the Dollarama entry last week, as well as at events such as the Future of Music Coalition conference and CopyCamp this fall. (See Zoiluses passim, as well as these articles.)

I might never have thought through these ideas about intellectual property and culture nearly so much if it weren’t for Negativland, the California screwy-sound-collage collective that’s been active now for 27 years (since its principals were in high school). Even before their notorious battle with Island Records and U2 over their single of that name, their cassettes on SST and related zine articles led me into a whole “plagiarism” underground that introduced me to concepts such as “fair use” and “culture jamming” and “media viruses” … not to mention The Weatherman. Of course, later I found out about their antecedents, from Marcel Duchamp to Toronto’s own John Oswald, but for an alt/postpunk/indie/arty-whatever kid in the 1980s, having such a project on the same label that had the Minutemen, Black Flag, Sonic Youth and so forth made an enormous difference to the seductive power of the content.

I got to meet Mark Hosler of the group briefly at CopyCamp, but he’s back with the rest of Negativland tonight at Lee’s Palace, presenting their “IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD FM show”, which is a live demonstration of how they create their 25-year-old Over the Edge radio show, live on stage, for the first time ever, in the framework of “a densely-layered examination of monotheism in all its worldwide forms, as hosted by the venerable Dr. Oslo Norway.” Over the Edge is a combination of comic monologues, telephone calls, found sound and sonic chaos unlike much else - a sharp reminder of how formally underdeveloped and unimaginative most radio now is. (And let’s not even talk about podcasts…)

Very highly recommended - go not only for the entertainment but as a gesture of tribute and solidarity to some people who’ve fought the good cultural fight at great personal sacrifice but kept their sense of the absurd intact all the way along - which is a hell of a lot easier said than done…. Scout’s honour. If you don’t happen to be in Toronto, the tour continues on through Pittsburgh, Newport KY and Champaign-Urbana IL the rest of this week.

(Like John Cage’s Piano)">1 Comment

When You Come Knockin’: ‘Hot’ Canadiana 2006

October 30th, 2006


Jon Rae & the River, as snapped by Lee Towndrow this summer at the Boat.

For the record, here’s the list I submitted on Friday to Matthew I Heart Music’s poll on “hottest” 2006 Canadian musical artists. Because I am semi-autistically literal, this list is not exactly what I would have compiled for my list of “best” 2006 Canadian musical artists, which is, I realize, what everyone else will do. Instead it takes into account the impact that each artist made this year, within their circumference, large or small. The order is just short of random. The comments (after the jump) were written in great haste as I was rushing out of the office on Friday afternoon, when I was already late getting it to Matt. But it will do:

1. Destroyer; 2. Final Fantasy; 3. Junior Boys; 4. Cadence Weapon; 5. Nelly Furtado; 6. Laura Barrett; 7. Feuermusik; 8. Malajube; 9. Jon Rae & the River; 10. Garbage! Violence! Enthusiasm!

The results of the poll are due to be published tomorrow.

(more…)

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Have Faith (or Pandemonium…)

October 29th, 2006

Been derelict, I admit. To compensate a bit, enjoy this recent live Mountain Goats clip in which Accentuate the Positive becomes an exercise in overcoming adversity in more ways than one. And in the same spirit, as of tomorrow we’ll try to get this blogging boxcar back on the rails.

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Props for Propagandhi

October 24th, 2006

Remember back when it was all about the prizes? And remember one of them was the new SOCAN Echo Prize for Songwriting? Well, that particular crackerjack box popped open today, and the five thousand smackers are going to Propagandhi for their song A Speculative Fiction. While it wouldn’t have been my first choice, it couldn’t happen to a nicer gang of anarcho-syndicalists, so congrats to the punk veterans. They’ll be getting the big prop cheque tomorrow (Wed) afternoon at Fressen Restaurant in Toronto - which is a bit of a surprise, since P-Gandhi (as I’ll call them now that they’re rolling in dough) are so famously sons of Winnipeg. Couldn’t SOCAN get a rep out to the prairies?

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End-of-Year Exercises Begin!

October 23rd, 2006

First, congrats to Frank for hitting his self-imposed mark of 1,001 nights mornings. Now get some rest, son.

Meanwhile, Matthew over at I Heart Music is assembling his second-annual Hottest Canadian Bands of the Year poll, and I am brainstorming about my submission of 10 picks. And then I thought, hell, why not brainstorm with you instead?

Here’s the list I’ve come up with thus far, ignoring the word “bands” and substituting “music projects.” They are unranked, though stronger contenders do tend to be earlier in the list (not in any order). But I’m sure there are many I am not thinking of. They have to be Canadian, and they have to have had “a strong 2006″ (so I have left off the likes of Frog Eyes or Rozasia or Ninja High School, who didn’t quite get their homework done this year).

Readers, who’ve you seen me touting that I don’t mention here? The list is due Wednesday. My geographic bias is predictable, but I’m also thin on some ends of the sonic spectrum. For instance, I can’t name Venetian Snares, as I haven’t heard his latest stuff, and Tim Hecker hasn’t put out anything new, but along those lines…? I’d like to expand it a bit more before I narrow down. (And no, Celine is not in the running.)

Cadence Weapon; Destroyer; Final Fantasy; Junior Boys; Jon Rae & the River; Feuermusik; DJ Cyber-Rap; Laura Barrett; Swan Lake; Eric Chenaux; Ghislain Poirier; Alex Lukashevsky; Sunset Rubdown; Tanya Tagaq Gillis; Malajube; CCMC; Pyramid Culture; Nelly Furtado; Sandro Perri; Henri Faberge & the Adorables; Garbage! Violence! Enthusiasm!; Jim Guthrie (just for the Hands in My Pockets song dominating TV ads all year); Lori Freedman; Jesse Stewart; John Millard; They Shoot Horses Don’t They; The Doers; The Hidden Cameras; Spiral Beach; Amy Millan; Neil Young … ?

Bad Bands Revisited, Part 2:
Lawyerama for Dollarama?

October 20th, 2006

dollaramastore.jpg

VS.

dollaramaband2.jpg
Can you tell the difference? Dollarama band shot by A Soundtrack for Everyone.

In other “Bad Band” news, Dollarama reportedly received a cease-and-desist order from the retail chain of the same name this week. As pointed out in that thread, there’s no reasonable way that the store would win a suit: There’s no plausible danger of a junkshop band being confused with an actual junkshop. (Dollarama-the-store doesn’t even sell CDs.) If anything, Dollarama the band actually promotes the chain: “Look, it’s also an instrument store!”

I have my own complaints about Dollarama, actually: I wish that they’d practice and develop the texture of their improvisations, which are inconsistent and too-often tedious: The joyously hyperactive heights are always surrounded by flat plains of ho-hum. The group would do well to pay some heed to a few of the found-object-improv precedents (Nihilist Spasm Band, VoiceCrack, even some of the current Rat-drifting bands in Toronto).

But this argument goes beyond this band, which is admirably vowing not to buckle: The chain is flexing its biceps, but case precedent is against them, and artists should do their best to face down this kind of intimidation and lawsuit-chill attacking their ability to refer to the commercial world in their work. (Notice how the music industry has started ignoring mashup artists as too much bother to harass.) If corporations are going to usurp ninety-eight percent of the cultural air space, then artists need the freedom to represent, criticize, lampoon and just plain use those reference points, if art is to be relevant to the general stuff of life.

Warhol’s soup cans and Brillo boxes remain the clearest example of where fair-use thinking needs to go, partly because they don’t involve the distraction of the “parody exception”: His Campbell’s soup paintings weren’t satire or, arguably, even commentary on Campbell’s soup; they were simply portraits of the world as the artist found it, with tonalities open to multiple interpretations. And if Campbell’s had been able to cease-and-desist them out of existence, it would have been an atrocity. It seems that they didn’t because it wasn’t common practice at the time; they were open to the idea that it might be harmless or even good for the company, since hegemonic “branding” thinking hadn’t advanced that far by the early 1960s.

Dollarama is still a very young group, and you can’t rule out they’re going to blossom into brilliance; Warhol was dismissed when he first moved from commercial to “fine” art, too. (And if the Riptorns can improve their game, anybody can.) The crucial fact is that Dollarama’s name is by no means extraneous to their conceptual pursuit - it’s a strong signpost to the themes raised by their methods, questions about cheapness, the throwaway society, the class questions within music (expensive gear as shortcut to legitimacy, for instance) and the creative recycling of social waste on a broader level. Even if I’d like to see the creativity of their actual recycling practice increase a notch, that’s a fertile landfill they’re plowing.

(Postscript, Monday: I accidentally deleted a few comments to this entry in my usual spam-comment deletion routine last night. I was alerted and I think they’ve all been restored now - if any are still missing, let me know. Huge apologies to those affected. It was just a slip of the mouse, not at all intended to censor commentary.)

Lawyerama for Dollarama?">12 Comments

Bad Bands Revisited, Part 1:
Constructive Destruction! Unity Through Idiocy!
(Guest Post)

October 20th, 2006

Zoilus space-friend Chris Randle contributes his latest guest post, this week on the baddest of Bad Bands, The Riptorns. Comments disputing his interpretation of Brechtian “alienation” are invited. Have I told the story here about the director from the Berliner Ensemble whom I met in university, who asked what the English translation of Verfremdungseffekt was and winced painfully on being told it was “alienation”? - CW

When Carl mentioned his desire to explore the social implications of musical issues, I immediately thought of the most antisocial band in Toronto: The Riptorns. Their music is certainly abrasive enough - a cacophony of attempted guitar-playing and yowling - but the band’s mindbogglingly atrocious covers of other Toronto groups are practically reverent in comparison to their stage presence. The Riptorns’ stage persona is basically “destructive idiots.” Their last real show, a showcase put on by torontoindie.com, was mostly made up of the band attacking each other, their equipment and the audience.

They managed to infuriate members of other bands on the bill, the bar staff and the person who unwisely booked them (apparently the trio still hasn’t been paid for the show). Performing with scene sweetheart Laura Barrett at the “Voodoo” edition of Matt Collins’ resurrected “In Search of …” series last week, they not only made light of this but also cracked blowjob jokes about her. Their stage presence resembles a punk band on the surface, yet its insularity and obnoxiousness creates a very Brechtian distance - fed-up alienation instead of an urge to participate. Riptorns shows aren’t about being lost in the moment; they force you to stand outside of it and look on as it stretches into an irritating eternity. But what I find intriguing about the Riptorns is that this is all an act, a deranged Kabuki mask. As civilians, the two main band members, Jeff Wright (also of We Had Wild Adventures and Bacon of Brunswick) and Ryan McLaren (heavily involved with Wavelength, co-founder of All Caps!) are both pretty much goofy, mild-mannered indie nerds. So what would possess them to try and become the most hated band in Toronto?

I can’t claim to know their personal motives, but I think the Riptorns, perhaps inadvertently, are creating at least one positive social effect: they’re a lightning rod for loathing. That emotion used to be encouraged (in The Iliad, Homer speaks of “strong Hatred, defender of peoples…”), and while things have obviously changed in the interim, I don’t believe human nature is an infinitely malleable creature; hatred, like love, will be with us for the foreseeable future.

This is a bit tricky when it comes to music, especially since enmity towards entire genres (”I like everything except rap and country,” kids in my high school would say) has been interrogated and questioned at such length. In a community like Toronto’s, I think there’s a real danger of that natural spleen turning inwards, becoming corrosive, poisonous rancor. It sometimes seems as though there’s unreasonable disdain from some people in the local scene towards bands like Broken Social Scene and Metric (something I can be guilty of), or conversely an amazingly visceral dislike for less traditionalist, more conceptual projects like Bad Bands. Look at the recent K-os silliness, where that black artist accused a black Now critic of being the dupe of his white-indie-nerd bosses (as opposed to the white indie musicians K-os has collaborated with). (Zoilus’ note: See Danko Jones’ great riposte in this week’s Now, in the 6th letter here.) It’s divisive and damaging, differences in genre or approach or personality used as fodder for bitter arguments instead of discussion and/or collaboration.

But a band like the Riptorns is the perfect outlet for collective bitching: Their music is terrible, they leave a path of destruction wherever they go and the personae they adopt onstage are intentionally, gleefully reprehensible. The Riptorns aren’t just a bad band; they’re a little bit evil - our cuddlier, less unsettling equivalent of Mayhem or Skrewdriver. The Grand Theft Auto of music. And I suspect the catharsis may exist as much for the band members, allowing for an overflow of id, as it does for spectators. There’s no pressure for them to create constructive, meaningful music: A Riptorn is free to express all the snarky mockery of local musicians that might’ve been building up within them. They can be satire, spurs (burrs?) or scapegoats; that last one also having the potential to be beneficial in its own strange way. Even Jesus needed a cynical little dick around before he could do the salvation-of-all-mankind thing.

- Chris Randle

Constructive Destruction! Unity Through Idiocy!
(Guest Post)">6 Comments

All About the Benjamins: Franklin

October 19th, 2006

Franklin Bruno is back on the blogging scene! A quick search produces no explanation of the allusion in his title. Anyone know?

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From the Dept. of Be Careful What You Wish For

October 19th, 2006

Continuing her favourite-young-thing-of-eccentric-old-men trajectory (so far including Bob Dylan, Woody Allen and Bill Murray), Scarlett Johansson announces that she is going to make an album of her own covers of Tom Waits songs. Now, Zoilus is as charmed by Ms. Johansson as all the other old weirdos are, and I can’t quibble with the excellence of the decision - better this than Scarlett Raps with Snoop Dogg or Scarlett Johansson and Robert Crumb: Ghost World Blues Revisited or Naked Snack: Scarlett Whispers the Best of Bill Burroughs. On the other hand, below is a clip of the only time I’ve heard Johansson sing, from Lost in Translation, and unless she was deliberately karaokeizing her singing to add versimilitude, which I wouldn’t put past her … well, let’s hope, for Tom’s sake, that that’s exactly what she was doing.

Incidentally, the way Murray cocks his head and softens his eyes at Johansson as he adds the backup vocal - “special” - in that clip just kills me. It encapsulates the tender, lost hopelessness, the sensitivity and delusion of his infatuation with her in that role so completely. Did I ever recommend Joshua Clover’s essay on that flick, Another Green World, to you? Very worthwhile corrective to the misreadings of the film. (Note: that link is a .doc file.)

Speaking of Snoop Dogg, his cameo on Weeds last night, extemporaneously extolling the virtues of Mary Louise Parker’s homegrown in a rap titled MILF Weed (which gives her green a perfectly inappropriate brand name), has to have been one of the great cameos in TV history.

Waits’s own new collection, a three-cd set of rarities called Orphans, is due out in one month, but reportedly has leaked this week.

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