05 November 2010

North[-East London] by Darkstar

Kode 9: How do you find living in London, being from the North?

James Young: It's tougher I think from a day to day view. Things creep up and you almost have to become good at living if that makes sense. It's unforgiving. I think that's what I'm trying to say. Obviously there's huge differences in the cost of things like rent and travel. It all adds up quickly and it took me a while to get on top of simple tasks like paying bills and then making tunes too. It's like scrapping for a time to be creative here, it's meant to be my priority but how often i get sidetracked is frustrating.

It has a huge influence on our sound being in London. I've built my own life and my world now revolves around this city. I've been here eight years now and I'm very much into the moment here. I like how vast the whole city feels. I like the choice and being able to really get hold of anything I need. That can't happen where I'm from. Even Liverpool and Manchester, both seem so much smaller having been here. Culturally and socially London is obviously far more diverse, from an immediate point of view where I live right now is very close to an Hasidic Jewish area. Within that area on Upper Clapton Road, estates and new developments sprawl off towards Stoke Newington and then in the opposite direction towards Walthamstow it's loud and busy. I pick up things from the Turkish shop below me, eat a lahmacun, sit on the roof with a beer in the evening and wish bus's didn't exist. I get cabs from the same Pakistani guy every time and in his side door compartment he has something called a Fanta twist. It's basically a vodka orange on the job. I watch Liverpool in an Arsenal pub and wish I was at home. I go for breakfast at a cafe at the top of Kingsland road where Micheal Watson eats his breakfast. Twice a week I sit two tables away from a guy that was almost killed in a boxing ring. I know the Chinese girl and her sister in Dans' Island on the roundabout. I know the Jamaican girl in Granny's. I know the fat dry cleaner on Lower Clapton road. The Indian builders who work in the yard behind the flat tip Aiden on working out. All these uneventful things in my day are part of me now. It's light years away from the the north.
James Young of Darkstar talking to Kode9 here.

I really wanted to love the Darkstar album. But it's one thing changing your production style, the way you pattern your drums, kick to snare to hi-hat to bass, or the modulation of your synth tones... If you're changing your style to 'songwriting', that's a different order of change - it's a different territory altogether. The mood of North does get to you, the album's bleakness does start to suck some of the light out of the room, like the unexpected early dark of autumn afternoons, but ultimately it's like you end up feeling sorry for Darkstar rather than yourself. It's detached. There's a patina on every sound: the keys and Buttery's vocals are all fractionally distorted, as if they were working on the assumption that that would character, backstory, fallible humanity to the sound. But what about the poignancy of cold machined perfection? They seemed to know what that was before.

I think the quote above in which Young talks about London is more moving than anything on the record. It's the affectless way he builds up the image, a succession of small but weighed details: it gets at the crowded loneliness of scraping a living among nine million other people too harried to make eye contact on public transport, or queue at bus stops. Pulled out of the interview it may not read that way, but it evokes something of living in London for me with Carveresque economy.

02 November 2010


'Galaxe', aired 18 July, 1974

'Cover Me'

Who is reading Bettye Swann correctly here? Duffy or Blissblog?

My first thought, definitely Duffy. Innuendo has a long history in black American music by 1968, whether in blues, r'n'b, soul, or rock'n'roll. Led Zeppelin's 'Lemon Song' in 1969 - 'squeeze... till the juice runs down my leg' - dates back to Robert Johnson, 'Travellin Riverside Blues' (1937). And doesn't covering someone itself bear a strong sexual trace - isn't covering / being covered used as a euphemism in Elizabethan drama? Duffy's 21st century post-porn-boom reading suggests the money shot, which feels anachronistic, but then again, the withdrawal method of contraception didn't disappear overnight with the appearance of the pill.

And who's to say they're Swann's words anyway? Could be a songwriter sneaking something in under the singer's radar. And the sole credited composer is in fact not Swann but Marlin Greene. Greene produced and played guitar for Percy Sledge though – and it turns out that Sledge recorded 'Cover Me' before Swann... in 1967.

Duffy's reading is obviously available whatever the author's intentions, the text is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it. The song belongs to the public. Et cetera. One day I'll post my reading of Meat Loaf's 'I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)' and the unspeakable sexual practice to which it refers.

But I think we can be fairly sure the Duffy Interpretation *wasn't* the one uppermost in Percy Sledge's mind as he recorded it. Was it?

note: has to be the worst Youtube visual of all time? it's the directional flashing lights that clinch it. only vid I could find of the 1967 version though.

postscript - 'Umbrella' ?