Monday, 7 February 2011

Contrast Issue 3 Fall 1987

Here is a transcript of an interview by Philip Drucker with Adam Peacock - surprisingly, it's quite damning of the (then) current NY scene. it's a fascinating read.

No York No More

By Philip Drucker
Photography by Monica Stevenson

New York is a strange city. It is a city in which a boring little man named Bernard Goetz can become a cause célèbre for little more than attempted murder. It is a city in which any juvenile delinquent with a spraycan and a number for a name can be glorified as a serious artist. Most cities have the good sense to paint over graffiti; in New York, defacements of public property hang on gallery walls.
What is this beast which, although in the twilight of its influence (which, with the shift of world politics to the Pacific Basin area, New York as the traditional trading centre between the U.S. and Europe can no longer maintain a competitive edge merely due to geography alone), continues to dominate our creative consciousness? What deity still commands we lift our aesthetic voice in prayer toward the great altar in New York? Media. New York is still unarguably the media capital of the world.
Meaning: if it happens in New York, it happens in books, movies, records and television. Meaning: we hear a great deal about New York simply due to its ability to export its native products. Meaning: although its reservoir of natural talent is dwindling, New York still gets first crack at creating THE NEXT BIG THING.

Media is a curious god. It bestows great wealth upon those we mere mortals consider undeserving. And, by tacitly ignoring the talented among us, leaves them to the purgatory to end all purgatories: obscure poverty. Fortunately, this is not always the case, for, along with the glorification of murderers and vandals which invariably happens in a typical New York media blitzkrieg, a few blessed souls slip into the spotlight they so richly deserve.

Yes, only in New York can such soulless hacks as Keith Haring and David
Salle receive the same (if not more) recognition as the immensely talented Robert Motherwill or the sublime Eric Fischel. Musically, and much to its credit, New York is the land which spawned rap, scratch, hip-hop, lockjaw, Whooping Cough and any other name you wish to attach to that curious music (and dance) which glorifies the virtues of the metronome. Yet in its infinite wisdom, the Big Apple has chosen as its musical rap ambassadors the engaging Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, a band as insipid as Run-D.M.C. is inspiring. Which brings us to another stronghold of New Yorkian culture. Avant—garde music. Cerebral music. This end of the musical spectrum has always been occupied by its share of New Yorkers. Surely few people will argue the contributions to "minimal" music of Philip Glass and Steven Reich. When rock became the vehicle of the progressively- minded, there are even fewer who would argue the import of the famed "Class of '77." CBGB‘s, the Mudd Club. Max's Kansas City. Talking Heads. Television. Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Patti Smith. Essential music which changed the face of rock. Since '77 the tradition has somewhat continued. Glenn Branca has notably gained a foothold in the world's awareness, as has Laurie Anderson. I place their achievements on a similar level since Mr. Branca has had nowhere near the monetary backing Ms. Anderson receives from Warner Brothers. Money is not an accurate measure of talent, only of mass marketing.

Conversely, l do riot hold mass acceptance against an artist either. Laurie
Anderson is every bit as brilliant in her own right.

Then came the murderers. The inevitable despoilers, the musicians whose music, not unlike the art of graffiti artist, was born not of creation, but of dismemberment and destruction. The NoWave Movement. James White (Chance) and The Contortions (The Blacks). (Take your pick; same guy, same schtick.) Mars. DNA. Lydia Lunch and the rest of the ZEE gang. If they weren't from New York, you and I would have never heard of 'em. Recently, Sonic Youth, the Swans, Jim Thirwell (Foetus), Nail, Wheel, whatever). These bands revel in their ability to contradict, to be the antithesis of what they see and hear. However, to merely oppose without building a reasonable alternative is tantamount to chaining yourself to a prison door, for the work is forever tied to that which it seeks to oppose. Without that which it attacks, the music loses its purpose. It dies. This reactionary rather than revelatory approach has virtually killed the New York music scene.

However, help is on the way. There is a band as cerebral as they are melodic as they are intent on building a sound of lasting beauty and importance. Hugo Largo consists of a singer (Mimi Goese), two bass players (Adam Peacock, Tim Sommers) and a violinist (Hahn Rowe). While they play a brand of music which at times bears a striking resemblance to both classical chamber music and English folk songs, a modern rock foundation remains as the band's core. Make no mistake, this band is revising the rock songbook. As opposed to most of their New York contemporaries, Hugo Largo eschews rhythmic noise in favour of a quiet (that is not to say mellow) introspective sound which grows on the listener with each repeated listening. As evident on their debut EP Drum (produced by Michael Stipe of R.E.M.), the dual bass approach sets up a warm atmosphere in which various minimal but well-placed instruments (violin, mandolin, pump organ) swoop, flutter and wrap themselves around the often soaring and always breathtaking vocals of Mimi Goese. The effect is akin to a straight shot of vodka. Clear, simple, with a hell of a kick.

I recently chatted with bassist Adam Peacock, a transplanted Londoner who now makes his home in New York. We discussed his band's unique sound and approach to music, and its reception within the scene surrounding it.

The New York music scene.
Yeah, it's awful. It's very burned out. Everybody here in the music scene is still living in the shadow of CBGB's in 1977. And thank God I don’t feel we’re living in that shadow. We don't have to live up to the expectations of people who want to try to re-create or make a scene. Yes, there's problems with the New York scene. Real estate is a tremendous problem here, because it dictates basically where and when and how people are going to operate a club. Coupled with the incessant need for people to "shake their booty” on a disco floor, all of a sudden you have a situation where people don't feel they have to promote live music. I think for people coming up, trying to get ahead, it's terribly depressing. It seems very bleak. You're supposed to suddenly make this transition from playing little places on  Bleecker Street to the Ritz. And the in-between places just don't exist, because they're the ones that get shut down.

Admission fees?

That may be just as well…
But there are some really good bands here, some very uncommercial stuff which is really good. The Ordinaires are a real hot band. In the same vein, the Microscopic Septet, a large group of people playing interesting music that isn't funk-based or isn't rock-based necessarily. I'm sure you‘ve heard of They Might Be Giants...

Yes, I have. But where do you fit in?
When we first started out I think it would have been hard to take us as a rock band as much as we are now, and we do consider ourselves a rock band now. We don't think of ourselves as folk or soft rock or whatever. In the beginning there was something a little precious for us to be considered anything other than performance because it was just Tim, Mimi and myself, just two basses playing in little places, even without a P.A. It was very, very folky, musically folky and because (Mimi) comes out of the performance art scene she was not theatrical necessarily, and she was very commanding in a way that she had learned from her own performance, and that is what people's initial perceptions were based on: the fact that Mimi brought some of what she does and what she likes in performance art and modern dance to her stage persona. Now we have musically grown out from there to where we're as big as her onstage. The music demands as much attention as she does. She was very demanding of the audience from the very beginning, which is why the performance-art tag came along.

She’s confrontational. She doesn’t like people to sit there, take it and applaud politely. She tries to get people to respond. It's real important to us and her that people get an opinion on what they’re seeing.

How does she do that?
She's thrown things at the audience before. She's thrown Q-Tips at them with an admonition to "clean out your ears," at a show we did with the Beastie Boys and that was quite a riot. She doesn’t just stand there in the way that woman singers in rock do, that it's enough for them to stand there and either be sexy or look good. She doesn't fall into those types of performing inadvertently because she doesn't have those woman rock singers as models. She didn’t idolize Patti Smith or Debbie Harry or whatever, so she hasn't learned this persona from posters and video and she's much more interesting. I was a fan before I replaced the original bass player. I thought it was tremendous. I had basically given up music and Hugo Largo completely rekindled my interest not only as a bass player but also in seeing live music, because it was so interesting to see someone who could hold your interest without resorting to shaking their butt or whatever.

But two basses, a violin, and singer?
Inherently, bass guitars are very warm and comforting in the sounds that the create. Much of what is strange and new these days involved harsh, loud sounds. We can come along and be strange enough to be taken differently, be familiar enough to be liked immediately. We're not asking anyone to endure a show...Peop|e are generally interested in turning back, away from noisy, loud aggressive music.

Are you happy with your debut EP Drum?
Yes, very. It was all a matter of taking out and putting back in until the balance was right. Appropriate is a very goo word. We wrote all the songs except 'Fancy", which was off an old Kinks record.

Michael Stipe?
He's not a Ioudmouth and he‘s not a rock and roll guy at all. He's not a rock and roll producer and he certainly didn't act like one. He wasn’t heavyhanded. For the month or so total we worked on the record he was a fifth member of the band in the best way possible, which is not forcing his opinions.

So with their first EP and a U.S. tour supporting the Feelies under their belt New York is once again ready to exploit its latest creation. And as I said, sometimes a few deserving souls do slip through…

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