Retrospectives

Bitter and strong: the legacy of Dubstar

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A few months back, the announcement was made that Dubstar were at work on a fourth album, due for release this year. This came from Steve Hillier, brains of the outfit, who has, in the intervening years since Dubstar’s departure from the music scene, continued to maintain webpages connected with their music. Perhaps Hillier’s prevalent nostalgia is what has kickstarted the Dubstar motor once again; or perhaps they just couldn’t help themselves (real musicians never can); either way, things are afoot. i think that history—with all the old-fashioned benevolence of a grandmother—has been kind to Dubstar; they are encased within a memory that finds playful melodies and darkly acerbic lyrics joined, a paradox perfectly encapsulated in the person of singer Sarah Blackwood, her strongly northern dialect colliding with her angelic, unwavering soprano voice. Dubstar, in short, are like one of Grayson Perry‘s ceramics, discreetly placing disturbing imagery within a context that at first seems familiar and safe. It’s been interesting, then, to revisit all their old releases, many of which have been untouched on the CD shelves for far too long; 10 singles (all long out of print), 3 albums, plus one or two other odds and ends, totalling a little over 7 hours of music—released over a 5-year period, this is a fair achievement. But how does the music acquit itself now? What is Dubstar’s legacy? Read more

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Ryoji Ikeda – a retrospective

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It doesn’t seem to matter what medium they turn their hand to—film, fashion, theatre, literature, photography or, indeed, music—Japanese culture always seems to combine an intensity and honesty of expression with a forthright, futuristic vision. By contrast, we in the Occident—particularly here in England, perhaps the least open-minded, forward-thinking country on the planet—are often as distant from them conceptually as we are geographically. Over the years, i have kept finding what emanates from Japan to be an endlessly fascinating stream of inspiration. In a way, it’s easy to laugh at them, but only, i suspect, because we see in them an unabashed individualism we crave to possess. Musically, they demonstrate a freshness in their approach to sound and how it can be sculpted into different forms. i’ve written before of Merzbow, master of so-called “Japanoise”, the surface of whose work i feel i’ve only just begun to scratch. Just as capable of polarising opinion is Ryoji Ikeda, no less raw and elemental (although, i suspect, much more brilliant) than Merzbow, but preferring to look to the very heart of what sound is, precise and surgical, rather than dense and torrential. Equally precise is Ikeda’s output: a small collection of releases, each of which fashions music from the barest of fundamentals. and i choose that word carefully; Ryoji Ikeda uses bare sound waves as his raw material, constructing patterns that evolve and juxtapose themselves, often ordered, occasionally more chaotic. Read more

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