Some 12 years ago a fellow looked me in the eye and said, “You used to be ahead of everything!”
This was a low moment in a low period. It was a few years since the band had fallen from a Top 20 single to no label, no money, no audience in an impressively rapid decline. One moment we were top of the craft – next moment the style of music we represented was ‘dated’ and I was selling gear to eat. The local label had folded in a heap, our producer member was dead and our Canadian label had earlier tested the air, dumped anything with a synthesiser and invested heavily in grrrl rock. Which you would, if survival was your first instinct.
My instinct was to just keep doing what we did before labels and singles and all that. But the young audience wasn’t there. They had heard a ‘new thing’ – and it was Seattle Grunge Rock. The older ones were breeding. We’d play, but they just wouldn’t come. After a while we just did The Big Day Out as a yearly guerilla video ambush on the littlies. And after that there was just no fun in it any more. We stopped. That’s when the photos stop in the sevcom archive.
“You used to be ahead of everything!” He was sure that was the transgression that had earned this decline. All we had to do was …
I looked at him and frantically ran through my head just how I was going to somehow be ahead of everything again. It was difficult to work out as ‘everything’ was at that stage entering into what we now know to be ‘just about anything’. True, electronic music was something you scraped off your shoe, but being ahead of Nirvana was like out dancing your mum. Music had regressed 20 years. What was their secret manoeuvre that I had to discover? Surely it wasn’t just a flight back to ‘good old rock n roll’?
Meanwhile we had lost our labels so we started selling our music online through SDF, almost apologetically. Sorry people we’re not cool any more. Starting with a disc bitterly called severything. Back then there was no Pay Pal or anything like that so we had people fax us their orders or mail them. Sometimes we’d give away those new ‘mp3 files’ on the web. The first album we did only online was Haul Ass financed by the good people listed on the sleeve. That was 1998.
About 3 years later I realised all that was actually ahead of, well not everything, but let’s just remember that sevcom.com is older than google.com
But this isn’t a triumphant story where we prove somebody wrong. It’s actually an unsolved puzzle because the notion of being ‘ahead’ has gone the way of the polka. Now you can be electronic or grunge or whatever the hell. There’s no-one ahead, no future. You’re just an atom in a plasma. His complaint turned out to be about music.
Over the last decade I’ve watched the young start to pick up the synthesisers again and (I have say with a hint of sadness) ape the music that we all made a long time ago. They particularly like the old analogue equipment with which they make old analogue music. The radio is filled with 1983, alongside a whole bunch of other decades – just not this one.
And letters are starting to arrive. Tell us about the Old Times. Tell us about ‘post punk’. Do you have any videos you can show? (No but I have a bit of Super-8). Help us reclaim this lost horizon…
Once required to be ahead, I’m now supposed to be some giant knee on which witty historical anecdotes will be told to children. They want me to do anything BUT try to find new ways. Stay back there locked in the past. Sure I can remember the highs for you, but I can also remember being thrown out once used, and few people giving a damn. I spent the next decade moving on, and it obviously raises some hackles to have all that movement ignored in a tidy historical ‘youth orientated’ summary. And what can I really say? We did what we did then for reasons that no longer exist. No matter what gear you might collect the moment is lost.
Or I’m dead wrong. I have some students that have decided to work on live video synthesis but not with new computer based tools. They have seen work by Botborg and they want to work early 90′s style. I scratched my head until John Gillies told me he still had some old video gear stashed away. I showed the students how to wire up cables to fuck up a MX-30 vision mixer (to make it feedback into the digital store). For me it was like trying to recall an incantation from the age of legends. For them it is … that’s where I don’t know what it is. Like oil painting?
The letters from researchers, the teaching of young artists, occasional offers to pay the band to re-emerge for ‘hits and memories’ – these things are now a challenge equivalent to the comment 12 years ago. So the past gets misrepresented in the process of starting anew. Do I refuse to be made into a cartoon even if that might be the best way to kick things along for a new wave of artists?
Pride or service?