Turn depression into anger.

pg6-NOW-1985

Depressed.

I spent most of today working on 1985. It felt stupid, because it is totally stupid – whatever achievements took place today were all derivative. Yeah sure I have a lot of vinyl reissues that need fixing up and mastering and packaging and then once they come out a whole bunch of people will say how happy they are that they can have something that has already popped out the other side of any risk. Have some money!

Of course that’s normal. Most successful artists do the same thing over and over again. Replicate the first work that got them notice. The same installation idea they had 20 years ago dragging its arse from gallery to gallery. How the hell do they ever reconcile this with their creative spirit? I’m not waving my finger here, I’m asking O great artists, tell me how you avoid feeling that dead, useless, depressing choke of stale air and limp will?

Money! And Applause! and invitations to the Red Queen’s ball! All the shit you don’t get when you’re trying to make real progress. I managed to play it right when getting the HH game up at Adelaide. Play old music, get new game. That was like burning wet leaves but hey, it was a solid attempt.

And-one-must-acknowledge-one’s-legacy-and-ensure-it-is-preserved-as-part-of-the-official-history.

(There are journalists at the virtual door! They want to talk about 1985. Do I still have my 1985 studio set up? Maybe I could dig up some dead band members to join in the chat?)

000039f9_medium

L-R: Deering, Knuckey, Racic, Jones, Bradbury, Ellard.

At my work we’re getting all fussed up about creative coding and giant dome shaped TVs – on one side that’s all just Pyramids for Pharaohs, but on the other side there’s still a lot to do in that realm to make an audience cry or smile. Not that I would ever be allowed to besmirch any of that tasty kit – unless of course it was something I did in 1985.

Got to clear my head. Get all this memento mori out the door and then get back to something risky. As far as the world is concerned that’ll be a return to failure but it is a sure thing that when no one cares you are forced to care enough for the whole world.

It’s in the game realm. That’s where the action is. I don’t know how and I don’t know where exactly, but that’s where the transgressions take place.

Brainwashed Interview

In 2010 I was contacted by a writer at Brainwashed.com and answered a bunch of questions. This seems to have been abandoned, so before I trash the emails I’ll put the unedited exchange here so it wasn’t a complete waste. As a lot of the information is out of date I’ve made a few notes.

Are you a remarkably organized person?  You clearly spent quite a bit of time amassing a vast library of found sounds and samples – did you have a systematic means of archiving and locating them?  Do randomness and chance play a large role in which snippets make it into your work?

 Fundamental to answering this question is the difference between a library and an environment. The majority of the sounds are those that we lived in – radio and television, odd music cassettes that we already enjoyed, the noises of our life. There’s a different intent between what has become known as plunderphonics – taking up a significant shared sound and incorporating it in a new work, and sample based folk music. Our music was based on the minutiae of our soundscape, whether or not it made sense to outsiders. So I tend to describe what I have done as ‘gardening’, which organises the natural features of a living space.

In many cases I have no idea where a sound is from. It was on the TV or it was from a pile of toys. Once it fell into a bit of music it took on significance in retrospect. We have a policy of saying that all samples come from the film Lassie Come Home which is as likely as any other source.

What you might be noticing is our archiving has been surprisingly good. That comes from using tape recorders – obviously things get documented automatically, and from a happy accident where I could afford one of the first digital recorders in 1985. In that year I threw all our cassettes onto a few digital tapes, which still played when CD-R came along.

Which seems more improbable to you: Severed Heads’ relative success or Severed Heads’ relative obscurity? 

I’ll borrow from Kurt Vonnegut. “SH was the victim of series of accidents, as are we all.” There have been a few moments where somebody happened to be somewhere and the wheel turned. It turns one way and then it turns the other. Of course I respect the plotting and planning that goes on with some artists and their management, but never really had the nous for it. Look at Graeme Revell, who has organised himself excellently over the years. I can’t help but be impressed, but it’s not for me. When we have climbed I have been pleasantly surprised and each time we have fallen I can shrug and remember that it was all a bunch of kids making noise in any case.

One advantage of this is ego protection. Any artist knows how you get surrounded by praise for a while, and then get told that you are embarrassing dated shit. Wait a little while and everything that was dated becomes cool again. Then not cool. If you care too much you get hurt.



Some of your work (Skippy Roo Kangaroo for example) seems wilfully annoying.  Is that ever your end goal?  Do you deliberately use “obnoxious” source material sometimes to make the act of transcending it into an entertaining challenge for yourself?

 Skippy Roo is much more than that. It’s Australian Radio for Schools, broadcast across the entire continent, children clapping and singing in hundreds of tiny isolated towns, the teacher’s broad accent, the way she loses the note at the end of the phrase. This is not just random shit. If you can understand how this represents our take on ‘folk music’ then we’ve made mind contact. I love that teacher, and I’m framing that moment in diamond and gold. When that blast of easy listening hits at the end I think everyone should line up and salute.

I don’t find this sound annoying. It’s like using white noise to try sleep (which I do). The context of the noise matters very much, it becomes music if the mind of maker and listener are able to synchronise. What might seem chaotic and tedious is often infinite possibility.

ABC Radio Kindergarten Of The Air

Were you surprised or embarrassed when Vinyl-On-Demand contacted you about releasing a lavish retrospective of your earliest work? 

I was curious. It seemed to be an honourable thing, and Frank was very informed and helpful. Actually I was mostly interested in working with two sided media again. I was back at university after decades and working up to a thesis about the influence of recording media on music. How to fit everything into 20 minute long segments?

At the same time, Severed Heads had just been shut down as no longer fun.  That called for an exorcism and that’s what the document became, a coffin for the old order. I wrote a bit of a eulogy, comparing the box set to a grave stone. It was a mix of self mocking and serious.

Your earliest work is more conspicuously perverse and uncommercial than what Severed Heads eventually evolved into.  Was there an epiphany that steered you in that direction?  Like “Hey…dancing is fun.  Making uncompromising collages for a small number of serious music snobs is markedly less so…I’m definitely going about this all wrong.”

 Oh no, not at all. The very earliest music we made was pop music. In 1979 we declared that we made ‘Chinese Fungal Disco’. Severed Heads always made what we enjoyed, and in your life sometimes you want sugar and other times salt. And of course we had very limited equipment and ability which both grew over time; it would have been dishonest to contrive our earlier sounds year after year. No, I am much happier to have so much different music to look back to, even some country and western!

There’s another factor – the recordings did not disappear. Once you make an album it remains made. Why make it again? Why not make something else? It’s still there. People who ask why we don’t make something like (their favourite album) again don’t understand that you are just as likely to subtract as add to a work by doing it over. Really the best thing for any musician to do is to make what they themselves want to hear and if others like it as well it’s an extra.

And another – the earlier music was, to me, too much about calling attention to a single idea or effect. I call it ‘Sci Fi music’. There might be one sample that dominates the whole thing for example. Since then SH made pop music that had just as many ideas, but presented without calling attention to one aspect. Like having bird sounds on every track of the Rotund For Success LP. That’s more fun than stodgily making an album only out of bird sounds.



Do you listen to much “pop” music for enjoyment or do you relate to it in kind of a mad scientist kind of way; like as a body you can harvest organs from for your own creation?

 Pop music defies analysis; it’s about your body and the chemicals that flow through your head and muscles. It’s like fucking, basically. Making pop music is learning how to fuck, and if you are taking notes you are not doing it right. There was a time when Autechre made some great pop music, sexy stuff. I was really into it, and then they went off in some uptight puritan tangent which might have satisfied some music priesthood, but for me the mind had overcome the ass. Point being too much analysis spoils music.

Have you ever had a collaborator that had as strong an appreciation for the absurd as you?

 They all did! Everyone who has passed through SH was in some way their own pervert. They all did great music before and after the band and one thing that makes me sad is when somebody like Garry Bradbury gets lumped with his time in SH – about two years – when he’s spent a lifetime making really excellent noise. The band had a revolving door, they came, they went and everyone that came through contributed some of the personality: Richard Fielding’s radiophonics, Stephen Jones and his home brew video gear (now somebody has built a replica!). Bradbury’s intensive tonality, Simon Knuckey’s lead guitar (R.I.P.), Paul Deering and his communist noise bursts (R.I.P.), Robert Racic’s late night House (R.I.P.), Boxcar’s precision, Kriv Stender’s cinematography. It was a really messy shared house; all I did was make sure the rent got paid.

What convinced Richard, Andrew, and yourself that you could release albums and that people would probably want to hear them? In the late 70’s making an album was like making a blog now, although it cost. Not expecting a large audience, but still a making public act – adding our small voice to many. I guess the current jargon is ‘the cloud’. We didn’t think that Ear Bitten would be heard widely (only made 400 copies), but it would add to the general noise and that made life more enjoyable.

Were there any important non-musical influences that shaped your direction?  Do It Yourself culture included fanzines, comics, super 8 films and a lot more. A generally creative environment helped us take a chance. There was space to grow as well – less rules and expectations. I already had a computer (a Radio Shack TRS-80) making up word salad ‘poems’ and made super 8 film loops and anything else that seemed like fun. Multimedia had been around since the 60’s and oddly seemed more commonplace than it does now.

What sorts of things are currently inspiring you? I hope I’m not the only person who feels overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ideas, artworks and tools that are pounding at the door. I can’t be, given the nostalgia about. Either you cultivate ignorance or you hopelessly flap between new music, new software, social networks… I mean just on YouTube there’s another 24 hours of video uploaded every minute. There are probably 1000 bands I should love and an equal number of gadgets I could use to make a racket.

I tend to love too many things and collapse from optional paralysis. At my age I probably should just settle down into senile collecting of 80’s underground cassettes… but nostalgia pisses me off.

Anyway I think computer game engines are a way forward. Look at free tools like Unreal Development Kit or FMOD designer. So many untried ideas come from that world that it makes me dizzy (and paralysed). Even a Blu Ray disc has such amazing potential for reforming narrative into branching and looping parts.

Right now I am burned out with music. My favourite music right now is a recording of a thunderstorm. That sucks but it won’t last.

What do you think/hope will follow CDs?  It seems like you still have some hope for physical media.  Is something important being lost in our shift to “virtual” media?  Does the convenience outweigh it?  How do you view the current resurgence of vinyl & cassettes in the underground music scene?  I think the fetishization/scarcity part is pretty exasperating, but a lot of music definitely sounds better with some crackle, hiss, and grit.  Also, I tend to better remember things I listen to on vinyl- putting a record on is an “event” of sorts. The main worry is the change from 20th century mass production to 21st century virtual distribution. Where in the past you would buy a cheap replica of a high end object, now there is the download, a souvenir of the thing itself. The wealthy own the book, the poor own the PDF. The mp3 is the musical object stripped down to its least potential. It leads to music sold by volume: how many songs on your player. It seems to me a bit of a trick and that’s why I still sell my stuff on CDs. (n.b. gave up in 2011)

Piracy is congratulated by many as anti-authoritarian. It’s actually a kind of self harm where the powerless attack those that have some small power, not touching the status quo at all. Lady Ga Ga will survive piracy, but the independent bands will go under.

Vinyl fetish acknowledges the missing magic and is a self empowerment – but also points the wrong direction. Yes, we should resist the virtual ghetto, but not by falling back on safe and ironic. Surely there’s a way forward, and my little survey of formats suggested some of the things we should keep. I think something like Blu Ray or even DVD could be the forward fetish, if it survives.

I’ve always thought that Severed Heads could’ve only emerged from Australia.  Do you feel similarly?  Are you able to articulate why? Yes, although it’s very hard to explain that from the inside. Think of a small town, it can be dead boring but you can also have good friends, places to drop in – a bit of a scene. A lot of good art moves out of small towns – Sheffield and Seattle are well known examples. Sydney was like that, a small group of people, an internal logic, and lots of in jokes. It was refreshing for outsiders when it finally emerged.

That Australia has since died. Earlier this year we held a festival and seminars about the old ‘inner city’ scene, organised by kids who wondered why it had disappeared (the Circa 79 Festival). It’s just that media became centrally planned for efficiency, and Internet has made it overpowering. Facebook is like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Did the dissolution of Severed Heads coincide with a significant decrease in the amount of time you spend working on music? Kind of. I wanted to take personal responsibility, drop the band bullshit, and make less music better. Just compose and not go through the whole rock distribution fantasy.

Also as an academic I’m supposed to be working on ‘serious music’. I have a commission for a major work next year which is a new, frightening step for me! It means working on the one piece for months on end, and nothing is heard in the meantime. When you are called ‘Severed Heads’ you don’t get offered that kind of work. (The Shape of a Note)

Have many of your current projects been percolating for a long time?  Is Aerodrom the most ambitious thing you currently have in the works? Aerodrom is something that … never gets off the ground. It’s like the short story you keep writing and then throwing in the trash and starting anew. And that’s because the interesting part will only come as a side effect of the work, like a soundtrack that’s more important than the film. But I have to ‘shoot the film’ first and that needs some time and skills that I have trouble collecting.

The most ambitious thing is probably my doctorate. The idea is to retrieve video by a psychometric profile, which seems bogus on the face of it and I get some hostile responses. But in the project is a call for data retrieval not based around the ‘who, what, when, where’ kind of thinking which tends to favour narrative over abstract work. If we tend to retrieve video in a certain way then we will end up only with a certain kind of video: a person in a place at a time.

I was recently dumbfounded at a speech by a well known guru of ‘sound art’. In just one part of an annoying tirade he suggested the need to develop ‘expanded cinema’ as part of training for acousmatic listening. It became obvious that he really meant ‘cinema’ – as in narrative movies – and was setting up a whole new academy like the one that used to divide music into ‘serious music’ and ‘jazz’. When I asked about VJ work he basically dismissed it as colour organs. With people like that in positions of power there’s a real potential for non narrative video art to be left out of the search – and these days that means death.

ABC Radio Kindergarten Of The Air

So back to Skippy Roo … I have a ton of questions now: 1.) when is that recording from?  did a young Tom Ellard ever get to clap and sing along with Australian School Radio?, 2.) Is that “bury someone close to you” line normally in the song?, and 3.) Were a lot of your loops meaningful/important to you before being re-contextualized in your music/video work?  I understand that everything was meaningful in a sense, being taken from your immediate environment, but I am curious about how intimate/personal you were.  I am guessing you’d want to slug someone if they described you as a surrealist. Well I did clap along, but not in the late 80’s when that recording was made! I don’t think there’s the line “I buried Paul” in there, but I wouldn’t argue if you say it is. No, I don’t think they are meaningful… it’s very difficult to pick the right words. They are not significant in themselves, but have an important place in a wider ‘sympathy’. Like the smell of toast is not meaningful but could be crucial within a person’s impression of existence. I am really struggling with this point right now and don’t have the training to do it justice.

It’s far too late to be a surrealist, but I believe that we are guided by the unconscious, which is a continuous activity of the brain. I am certain that music is formed in collaboration with instinctual mechanisms that are not explicit to the person. I’ve been through analysis and (to my own satisfaction) have seen how sublimated urges have been honed over the years to allow me to create. It’s a wonderfully rich world and I feel sorry for people who claim there’s no ‘I’. They should stop signing their research papers if that’s the case.

Were you working with tape loops and mucking about with gadgets for long before Severed Heads cohered?  I have a romantic image of you obsessively taping everything around you as a child, amassing teetering stacks of unlabelled cassettes that later wound up in your music. Well, yeah. All of us started creating long before the band thing. I have a cassette of me as a kid screwing around with spinning records in the late 60’s. (Actually the most important thing is the cassette itself is an original 1st generation Philips dictation cassette.) By the early 70’s I had a portable recorder and in 1975 some open reel machines which I connected up like the illustration on the back of Eno’s Discreet Music. But tape loops were more fun!

When I met Bradbury he was making some infernal noise by firing off a ghetto blaster in a public space and recording that onto another ghetto blaster. Then repeating that process. Insane volume in libraries and buses! I Am Shitting Up A Room.

Your short wave radio project is one of my favorite things that you’ve done.  Do you think hearing all those strange transmissions as a child did a lot to shape your taste and aesthetic?  What is the most unusual/memorable thing you remember hearing? Shortwave radio was just the most amazing thing for a child – you could turn a few knobs and make the most wonderful soundscapes. My old man liked to hear people and music but I liked the noises. The thing we could both like were the ‘numbers stations’ which were numerous and powerful back then. I soon got the sound out of the shortwave radio and put it on a tape loop. It’s funny that a guy I met years later called Ian Andrews was doing exactly the same thing a few suburbs away! But we were two of the very few who did that kind of stuff as teens.

When I heard Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity it was like – my god, there are other people out there! I was so happy. Then I heard Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge and realised that it’s a long flow of ideas, and innovation is perhaps a myth.

Do you think distributing your music through Sevcom has worked fairly well?  I imagine setting up and maintaining it consumed a lot of time. Sevcom only ever met demand, never encouraged it. Occasionally I’d talk with a company that offered to promote the music & deduct a fee. Talk was about buying shelf space, buying live gigs, paying off radio stations … what use? Back in Severed Heads’ most commercial moment with top 20 airplay and all that, we were talking to our label about what to do next. Can’t be ‘Severed Heads’ – change the name, change the music – roll over, play dead … what was the point of it? Become Elton John? There’s a point where ambition folds over.

Do you think working with record labels in the past was a good idea?  I’ve noticed that a lot of bands I like release their music on their own, but it seems like that is only a feasible option if you’ve already established yourself with by making a big splash through shock/extremity or name recognition from a stint at a “big” label. Absolutely! We drew great benefit from our time with majors. The champions of self marketing and market dumping all had major labels first build their goodwill. By market dumping I mean giving away your material, funded by cash reserves that younger bands can’t match. Many multinationals: Roche, Microsoft etc. have done this to destroy their competition. The sad thing is that the young bands are convinced that they too will eventually win the race to the bottom. They denounce labels and publishers without having experienced either.

Has the direction of your commissioned composition been solidified?  I’m pretty curious about where you’ll go with with it- will it be a totally new direction or an elaboration upon one of your past phases?  I’ve always thought that a piece like Wonder of All the World could work quite well as a long-form work.  Are you planning a visual accompaniment? It’s not solid yet, I’m very anxious. It has to be suitable for high school music studies, explain what I think is important about music and yet still be an interesting work. One concept for example is that tempo and pitch are two ends of a spectrum. OK, so that’s easily demonstrated with an oscillator. But how do you make that beautiful? It has to demonstrate that moving image is music – not just ‘visual music’ but all moving image. The conservatorium are taking a huge risk on me and I’m puzzling through the elements and hoping it starts to come together pretty damn soon.
There are a few old things I could rework. I remade Gashing the Old Mae West today as an Ableton project, not too hard as it’s simply an 8 channel loop.

How did your collection of weird cassettes begin?  Is there any one that you keep going back to again and again?  I’m kind of fascinated by the amount of old “exotica” LPs I find at thrift stores- it seems like the average person used to be a lot more open to music from other cultures than they are now. I am sad that no bland suburban families are buying Hawaiian music or mambo albums any more. The cassettes are mostly family heirlooms, brought back from various trips around Asia in the 60’s and 70’s. They’ve been picked up in markets as souvenirs, bootlegged from records with lots of surface noise and added distortion. I’ve added a whole layer of crank, religious and business tapes from hock shops throughout the 80’s. A curious thing is how mysterious old Asian tapes are now identifiable online. I had reused sounds from some indecipherable Hindi tape on a track 25 years ago. Trying to find a better copy I ended up on YouTube watching the film from which my old cassette was dubbed. That’s kind of disturbing – the obscurity is peeled away and the reuse seems referential now that I know the original author!

Do you see 2010 as a particularly bad time to be a musician?  It certainly seems quite hard to make a living or even get noticed in the relentless torrent of releases these days, but it also seems pretty easy to record, distribute your work, and get cheap, sophisticated gear & software. A visit to ‘Mutant Sounds’ shows that back in the 70’s and 80’s there were an enormous amount of bands pumping out cassettes and 7 inchers that no one much cared about. Looks like every second street corner had a teen ‘industrial band’ flogging ten copies. Perhaps there are not more bands now, just more people on stage than in the audience, because everybody can be on stage.
We want what we can’t have: a rare edition or fame or riches. It all comes down to power, and having made distribution more equitable has left the power relationship unchanged. In fact it’s more vicious – the lower end is judged in hits and tweets and downloads.

Did you ever get involved in making videos for other artists?  it seems like it would have been quite natural, since Severed Heads was so far ahead of the curve in regards to video art, but all of your work that I’ve seen is very instantly recognizably “Tom Ellard.” 

It’s endearing to play the piano badly on your own recordings but to then go out and act like a session musician is a bit foolish. I don’t think I should make videos for other bands. I’ve actually done plenty of corporate video but it’s all very nondescript – banks, utilities – and I keep it very secret!

How are you dealing with the culture shock of being immersed in academia?  Do most of your students know that you are a titan of post-industrial music?  if so, are they appropriately awed? My students were born around 1990. When they were six the Internet became mainstream. Their whole lives have been spent in an information sewer, and the entire notion of scarcity is beyond them. They see history as a mockumentary, everything a punchline. When I have been compelled to talk about myself to them (which I avoid like anthrax) they stare at me like I was their dad on drugs.

One of my friends is very insistent that Dance be played at her funeral. Was there anything notable about the conception of that particular piece?  What would you play at your funeral? Dance is based on a TRS-80 home computer which was made before there were rules about RF interference. If you ran a series of instruction loops in BASIC you could broadcast primitive music around the whole neighbourhood and Dance is part of a recording I made with a radio placed near the machine, changing the tuning every now and then to alter the timbre. Computer pirate radio.

I’m flummoxed by the funeral question. It’s not going to matter much to me what they do. They can use a garbage bag and play a polka.

Which of your works is your current favorite?  I am especially fond of Cuisine, myself.  Is there anything you’ve recorded that still kind of astonishes you (like “Where the hell did that come from?) Every musician probably hates everything they have ever done until that drunken moment when you think – “hey that’s not so shit after all.” I like what I do now far more than any of the old albums, but seems like the opposite is true for the audience. That’s a bit unsettling because it means you’ve become a comfortable old chair. I guess I like the two parts of Over Barbara Island the best. Dead Eyes Opened makes money. Barbara I have to give away.

Do you have any closing wisdom that you’d like to impart to the masses? Well, one reason people make music is to make friends. It works when you are starting out and you do meet some really sweet people. But you also seem to meet these incredibly bitter, fucked up people that vent their jealousy and rage at you like you were a thing, not a person. I used to compensate, but since freezing the band I’ve realised they’re the ones with the problem. I guess the lesson is – they’ve already cast you an arrogant prick – so GO FOR IT. You might even get a laugh out of it.

An Essay on ye Olde Aesthetik

PART ONE.

I just went off for a quick toilet break and by the time I got back some nong had announced a ‘New Aesthetic’. Actually the first inkling was some whining from the Hauntology crew that somebody had dared to be excited about something other than 1970’s English shopping centres and Thunderbirds. Which of course is NOT ABOUT MY CHILDHOOD OH DEAR NO it’s a legitimate philosophical stance with Derrida shoved into the middle of it like a spoon in a tub of yoghurt. They’ve identified the ‘New Aesthetic’ as a 80’s obsession because they see everything measured in decades. But it’s not, it’s something far less.

Derrida

All this howling of English dorks led me to a tragically bad essay by Bruce Sterling which is yet another low point for Wired Magazine, proof that minus infinity can be breached. In a sloppy porridge of words the phrase ‘the New Aesthetic’ repeats in dreary multiples. It’s one paragraph time stretched so I jumped to the blog cited which didn’t seem that more interesting than the usual wacky picture compilation – yet another jump got me to the original brain fart. As a purveyor of such farts myself I’m pretty sure we’ve got a rockin’ case of intellectual comb over.

It goes like this: think of the modernist viewpoint that existed in the ‘space age’. It led to ‘a way of seeing’, a zeitgeist, inspiration, an aesthetic. But modernity was shallow and collapsed under the critique of the post modern, which has in turn been parasitic, ineffectual and implausible. Now there exists a new aesthetic that is built upon a new positive viewpoint, the computer eye, the web, the online society and so on. This positive is needed at this time and should be followed.

Like any good story, it requires that you ignore elements that don’t fit the flow; ignorance or ‘operational definitions’ depending on who’s talking. And it’s NOT ABOUT MY CHILDHOOD OH DEAR NO. Get to the heart: if you think animated GIFs are the genesis of a new way of seeing then step right up…

…there’s a website that you should see called You’re The Man Now Dog. It’s just deluged in The New Aesthetic. But if you’re too smart to fall for that trap let’s have a look at what’s really going on here.

…we need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder is a fine idea. It renounces cynicism and that’s good. Just today I was carting groceries home and tried to see the familiar streets as if I was a tourist. But that principle works for anything, and very quickly the instruction became we need to see the technologies we actually have as if they posses some artistic worth beyond the everyday. By the time Wired got its dentures into it; you should repair your ignorance about something that looks more or less like a weltanschauung.

What do they mean by ‘see’? The actual physical evidence presented is the current version of a Front 242 record cover; with the pixels, the colours, the timecode in the corner, the gun/camera sight. This kind of thing was really cool in 1988. Now it’s really cool in 2012. New Media is back, having had a bottle of milk and a midday nap, ready to smear brightly coloured pixels on walls. I already denounced this in 2008.

Never tired of CyberPaint

This is just a style. So let’s have the real stories that go with this style, not the unicorn horn that Wired wants to manufacture.

PART TWO

Jack Tramiel died recently; Jack that ran Commodore and then Atari. The style begins with the limits of the machines that Jack built. The look is entwined with the tools; we saw a new wonder in the technology we actually had. With every new version of Deluxe Paint the community would push it as hard as they could to reach the limits of their imaginations. What the New Aesthetic proposes was there, and still there when the tools are transparent.

I’ve revisited the tools I used around the time that New Media was being born. I’ve used 3D Studio since 1994 and the software always seems a vast landscape that I will never be able to encompass. I went back and installed the oldest copy of 3D Studio I could find:

What at the time seemed impossibly complex and futuristic now seems clunky and limited. The 256 colour renders look hand carved from soap and the interface feels like I’m snow blind. It was a shock to hit the limits of this tool in a couple of hours. Compare to the 3D Studio Max I use now:

which will seem just as clunky and toy like in 2030.

But each is equal in its own time, part siren and part antagonist in a drama of creativity. You are granted a vision, you move towards it, you never reach it. That’s what I mean by the tools being transparent – the intention and the vision is the same and the limitations are the LEAST INTERESTING thing about the art. Not worth the name ‘aesthetic’.

To fetishise pixels and bright colours and animated GIFs and all that misses the artistic vision that was being followed, one that these tools could not / may not ever satisfy. Those are the exact things that we did NOT SEE, and only through a retrospective viewing do they become a kind of arty version of  ‘Magnets, How Do They Work?’

I can vaguely recall what I saw in my head when I was looking at


and I sure wasn’t thinking about the modern aesthetics of 64 colour dithering. I was trying to make as best a picture as I could.

Actually, the hauntology guys are closer to the truth. These old tools recall ghosts of people and places that flesh out my own personal history. It’s about they way my hand reached up and typed F10 to make the picture full screen without my concious recall. It’s ALL ABOUT MY CHILDHOOD.

{If you too want a seance with your motor memory: I found all of these oldies online without too much trouble, but if you want help and directions just ask.}

P.S. Stephen M Jones wants me to post this

spiderman, spiderman, does whatever a spider can

which I think just puts the cherry on top.

“Severed Heads” name traded for basket of chocolate?

ADELAIDE Monday.

Reliable sources report that the name “Severed Heads” may have been traded for a largish basket of hand dipped chocolates. There has been no official confirmation of the report and the band are tight lipped, but if the reports are to be believed the Severed Heads name could be winging its way back to the UK next week, a trophy for the mother country.

Security cameras caught the trio entering the Hilton Hotel late on Monday night after their final Australian performance carrying what appears to be something wrapped in cellophane. A document is said to have changed hands. And some fans took photographs of the ex band with a basket of chocolate similar to the one described.

The band have been part of a tour led by Gary Numan, entertaining middle aged business women and their husbands around Australia. Theirs was the job of warming up (and in some cases resuscitating) the silver haired fans for their date with the Numan wall of fog. Their success was such that the tour management may have decided to bribe them them to stop and go home – a win for Australian music!

Update

Previous ‘Severed Heads’ lead guitarist Tom Ellard has issued this statement:

I would like to thank everybody who came to the shows and it was a great pleasure to be able to say hello and goodbye to more of our local friends. I would especially like to thank Red Ant Touring for booking us and the Gary Numan team for making room for us in the luggage. By the time we reached our last show we’d managed to get quite decent! I should also mention that the group this time was Stewart and Tom on stage with Ant doing all the tecchy.

Bands will retire and then be tempted to return just one more time. We did – we owed some more shows. But we now have made a solemn chocolate fuelled promise that Severed Heads will not perform in Australia again. We have a secret document which, if transgressed, will unleash an ancient curse of robot pilots. So please do not ask this of us. Pilots are scary.

Of course there is a Tom Ellard concert in October. That is not Severed Heads. There is the ‘overlord’ event. That is not Australia. But once ‘overlord’ is completed there will be NO MORE of this Severed Heads kind of thing.

Will they keep their promise? Will the name ‘Severed Heads’ be for ever lost in some foreign clime? Or is this just some vague in joke that only makes sense to the people on the tour? Are chocolates yummy?

Oh, let’s just have a photo.

Sydney - The Enmore - click for big

 

LikLik Retpela Hat

Here it is. My contribution to the Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras. Or as the mouth breathing scum that rejoice in the title ‘common people’ call it: “The Mardi Gras” with all that pervert stuff taken out. Oh they will be there – the radio has been pumping ‘I Will Survive” all week. Every straight guy within a km of Oxford Street is lisping and mincing but will be back to bashing pooftas and Muslims next week. Woo! Woo!

If I had a float, it would have Superintendent Mike Thomas on it. I don’t know what he looked like but he’d be the main attraction. I reckon. I think he was the Phantom.

Or Condoman, who as a near brother of the Phantom did all he could to save the indigenous population from AIDS. Back when we had Labor government. Don’t get me started, I can usually hold my inner Bolshie in check but the mouth breathers have been particularly bad recently.

Perhaps why Pauline Pantsdown is doing a show this weekend. Whenever I feel a bit queasy about going out and doing more shows I thank god that unlike Simon at least I don’t have to put back on the greasepaint. But it’s started to slide again and somebody has to …

INTERMISSION – Some drunk English dolly bird has fallen out of the Cricketers Arms into in my doorway babbling glottal stops on her smart phone like a parody of every UK Washed Up Raver Moved To The Colonies – “nah mate, it’s called Dub Side Of The Moon, Geddit? Drum And Bass! Wicked! Australians GO OFF this Mardi Gras mate not like back home of course what time is it there yeah got a job here cold calling gonna go to Thailand next” etc. etc.

If we are going to put people “on the boats and send them back” like the mouth breathers want can we start with this lot thanks. At least get out of my fucking doorway thank you. There, peace again.

Anyway. Simon teaches sound production at KUNST KAMP and is rightly known as one of the few locals to raise a ruckus over the evil racist shit that was going on at the time. He was rewarded with some popularity which didn’t save him from a bollocking at the same Homebake festival at which we performed in 1998. Of course the kids think something is hilarious, but even more hilarious is to beat up the person who did it. Then forget.

(sips his Victory Gin). No hope in the Proles.

This is getting maudlin. We need a joke. So the young bohemians are in need of a model again. Seems that Olde Darlinghurst is back in style, and they have discovered Madeleine Preston’s photo archive from the 1980’s. I enjoy this because I was there, but I can’t imagine why anyone else would. For example, my old drum machine:

Will the youth of today set fire to theirs so it looks chic toasted? Anyway the joke is a fashion glossy is going to be covering that extremely chic band Severed Heads and wondered if I had a bigger copy of:

Such style! Such Poise! And some minimal synth! He looks like he just realised he needs to go to the toilet and the synthesiser is too heavy to lift. The reality is it’s 1984 and I think we’re doing something for City Slab Horror. The scary thing is half the people I recognise in this photo archive are already dead.

I quite like this one:

The party is really swinging! On the floor is Bradbury and Cornaga probably arguing about something. On the bed please admire my taste in red socks and cheap trousers. Only the best from the local opportunity shop! Obviously rapt in conversation and cheap cask wine is the divine Chlorine Presley Smith who was the woman who tolerated me at the time. This is what people did before the Internet folks! Glower at each other.

(sips his Victory Gin.)

Rebigotting

Gosh gee willikers! How time flies when you’re servicing high interest debt! The Big Bigot album was released 24 years ago, and the last time it was remastered is now 11 years ago! Now it’s time for Bigot to leave sevcom and join its friends over in the UK on the LTM ‘more memories than hits’ label.

Bigot has left the shop.

In 1999 I made a pretty good effort at scrubbing it up given the tools I had. Mostly a treble boost and a bit of bass to try get the ass moving. Back then the music style was pumping and I was drawn to make it sound more like the music that was coming out on 12 inch – oh the 90s!  That was OK but I think it’s time to rethink the sound given the freedom (abdication of defined taste) that we have today. I dug out the original master tape from 1986 for a new listen.

Let’s look at the problems. Bigot was recorded on a Fostek 16 track open reel with Dolby C. Like most things I have ever owned the machine was second hand and a bit dodgy – the speed wobbled for a start. It probably reached 18KHz on the day it was made, by the time I got it, maybe 16KHz. Dolby C was really for domestic use, in guarding against hiss it rolled a lot of high end off the top. Not that my synthesisers had much high end. Down the bottom there’s the usual 50Hz hum of domestic power outlets, plus the burble of the tape.

When the music was transferred to Betamax PCM the old ADC added some funny business at the very bottom and an effect called ‘distant sirens’ up top, because it sounds a bit like police cars. Can’t do much about the latter, but the first thing we do is remove everything below about 30Hz. Nothing really useful there (the Fostek did not known this realm) and it instantly removes some bilge. That leaves  the 50Hz hum but I have never managed to remove this without damaging the kick. Leave it be and gate it.

Bigot was recorded over more than a year and there’s no two songs the same. Last time I took what I thought was the most unique and distinctive mix (Phantasised Persecutory Breast) and matched to it. While PPB does sound great, I now see it’s a very special kind of ‘great’ that I was approaching from a political point. This time I have so far ignored that track, and have taken each song as an isolated event.

Some issues are common. The voice is coming through the shittiest microphone known to man and back in 86 I blasted 1KHz to try cut through the mix. Now, I don’t want to remove that decision, but I have to try detail around it – add some high end without touching that region. The microphone is crackling and that adds bursts of high frequencies. These will have to be, although limiting the very highest does help. Then there are the kick drums made on the SH101. They are cute, but occasionally obese, filling up all the bass space and not allowing any counter rhythm. The usual trick works here, strong compression with slow attack around 80Hz or so to tighten the boom, and then raise the bass level to compensate. On Propeller that has worked a treat – you can actually feel the bass riff now. While the SH101 and MC202 didn’t make frequencies above a certain limit I have enhanced their ‘snap’ with a little high boost above 8-10KHz to make them more effective. Really, it’s just fixing bass and treble… very delicately.

I’m going to try the most radical work on the bonus tracks (where fanatics will be least incensed) that are mostly half demos. Son Of needed a couple of hours to try coax a bit of life out of it, the bass is supposed to be, well, funky. It was instead wimpy and seeing there was nothing there I’ve added some harmonics below. The vocals needed a bit of room, oh just the faintest, teeny bit. It helps.

At this rate it’ll be a few more months before I can get around to the artwork. LTM like this to be as close to the original as we can get – I’ve found the original slides from the 86 Australian cover and will scan those. The other thing is LTM don’t like the CDs to be too long, they apparently get complaints from people with old steam driven CD players (seems that most of their sales are war time sing a longs). That could mean something gets cut. We’ll see.

The past!

Night of The Living Dead

Chucked a huge sickie and no one cared. Lay on the floor coughing up blood tuberculously and not even a Get Well Card. The missus just suggested I fetch the groceries on the way back from the hospital. I even tried dragging my gagging carcass up and down the corridors of Kunst Kamp but that just slowed me down enough that I got mugged in the wet photography wing by the shadier members of 1st Year. What kind of a world is this where manipulative seeking of secondary gains by old men is no longer respected?!

It’s a place where bands like Scattered Order and The Dead Travel Fast play live gigs, that’s what it is. Sunday night, two bands that haven’t made a peep in decades decided to reform and perform. There is a story about the BBC television service shutting down over the Second World War. They had a Mickey Mouse cartoon playing which stopped in mid mouse. When the war was over and broadcast resumed the cartoon restarted from the exact spot at which it had left off. It was just like that.

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(Almost as spooky as last weekend with my brother driving my parents around their home suburb with me in the back seat playing the theremin loud out the car windows. Cranking it up. Our mum told us to shut it, but not before the upper north shore of Sydney witnessed an outbreak of geriatric hooligans pumping spooky theremin music.)

Where was I? Oh yes. So when the Dead Travel Fast came on, it was like they had a intermission that lasted 25 years and then did the second half of the set. Probably that’s why the audience looked like they’d spent 25 years drinking at the bar. And it’s as if I resumed the exact same thoughts as I had last time I saw them… ‘I dunno it’s a bit too jazzy for me’. Back then I didn’t know half the music history I do now, but for all of that the years had not changed my tastes. Tastes really do lock in at 16.

Really interesting use of technology the whole night – it had moved onward, but grudgingly. One of the Dead would take a CD out of a pouch and insert it into a player before each track. Why wouldn’t you just burn all the songs to one CD? Maybe that would be GOING TOO FAR. We’re not one of them there computer bands.

When you have that many fogies in the building the need to pee was overwhelming. People’s bladders just ain’t what they used to be. Patrick G from the Systematics was egging me to go piss in the street but I just felt that would more pathos than punk. God, imagine what it would be like at a Fleetwood Mac gig or something. The Bladder Tour 09.

Scattered Order was Mitchell and Michael T for this gig. I think the era they were doing was the Prat Culture LP, so must have had Michael Prod’s drumming on tape. God bless, Mitchell was still playing bits off old detective films four times at semi random over the top of things but back in the old days he’d do it off a cassette and keep rewinding it. This night he had a super contemporary CASIO sampler. Mind you there was still a cassette recorder being rewound somewhere in the wall of noise.

Wall of noise makes it sound bad, it wasn’t at all, it was very manicured noise. Very solid. At one point Mitchell claimed it was a Hawkwind tribute night and that was apparently because I was a fan. Actually yes, Hawkwind is a good comparison, and the various space rock bands up to Chrome. Michael T is not a lead guitarist in the Helios Creed stamp but was making some very fine noise with an ebow guitar and two(!) laptops.

So that was just fine by me.

But what now. Last time, Scattered Order slowly moved into the centre, we all did. How far will this post punk reflux take us? We’re now replaying 1981. Will we move all the way up to 1985? I mean the Models played live with The Reels last year. Thank God I was never as young, thin and pretty as the Models, the before/after would be too much. That’s the thing about videos, you can always remake them. Speaking of which I had best go do that.

p2206605dtOh BTW, finally saw the film In the Realms of the Unreal about the outsider artist Henry Darger. Knew it was going to be great but actually cried over that sad magical bastard. I don’t know why it strikes such a chord but bless Henry Darger, one of the only real artists.

Viva Sonyland!

Here’s a huge bag full of discarded Betamax videotapes. Yay! Let’s see what crazy stuff we can find here.

This looks particularly good:

best

The best or nothing. I want the best. Let’s get the tape out and see what this is…

viva

VIVA SONYLAND! Betamax Demonstration Tape. Two parts here – Inside Betamax and Visiting Sonyland. Each of these sounds more exciting than the other… quick let’s rewind the tape and watch it.

First up a lot of tape rolling and noise. This is really messed up, but eventually we get this guy at a desk.

sonyland1

The soundtrack is all screwed up, the HiFi is turning off and on and I can only get bits. He sounds Dutch or German and really angry about something. This is the Inside Betamax section? Don’t you fools see – Betamax is the superior format. It’s U loading and …

sonyland2

AAAAAAAEEEEEEE. If this is Sonyland I think I am going VHS. What the fuck? This sat on screen for about 20-30 seconds while the German kept babbling. The picture rolled for a while and then it was still sitting there. I was thinking maybe there would be a title but no, just this and the guy yelling.

sonyland3

Probably the same guy kept opening and closing the jaw on this skull. Open. Close. Open. Close. Maybe he was making it say ‘bottle of beer, bottle of beer’, but there was almost nothing on the soundtrack except for thumping sounds that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the skull. That thing doesn’t look human either, the cranium is flat.

sonyland4

No it’s some other guy in a lab coat. He’s just holding the skull up to the camera, don’t think he’s saying anything. The thumping sound just keeps happening, I think it’s music. Everybody put on your lab coat and pick out your weird shit flat headed skull partner for the next stand-still-looking-at-the-camera.

sonyland5

Great, a staring competition between the guy in the lab coat and somebody that looks like they have been flayed alive. I think the latter is winning. This shot holds for way too long… they are staring at each other and you’re staring at them and you’ll be the first to blink. Return of the first guy on the sound track yelling something that sounds like the titles of Magma records. Seriously. It’s not German it’s something gutteral.

sonyland6

This face sits on screen and the eye gets inserted into the eye socket from behind. Obviously people in Sonyland are hollow and and have other people that come and insert their eyes when they go out to parties. What would you like? I’ll have a glass of eye thanks!

The tape was really chewed up for while after this, so I fast forwarded and then hit play again. This thing lifts its head and looks at you. It looks like a potato.

sonyland9

This is not getting any better. I think I’ll eject this one.

A week after you watch this tape you will buy a Betamax recorder and make an even worse copy to hand on…

New!

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’?

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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

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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?

ns-best

There is no such thing as 80’s music.

The Human League. Started with a cover of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling & slides of sixties TV shows and ended up (as H17) as a northern soul group and (as HL) The Archies. Basically electronic baby boomers.

The B52s. Notably not the B82s.

Shakin’ Stevens. You’re not even trying.

The Bangles. The Go Gos. Because no one had ever done a manufactured all girl group before.

Cabaret Voltaire. Damn shame their best work was Velvet Underground & Sky Saxon and The Seeds.

The Police. Maybe if you’re white.

A-Ha. Well now you have me. That music certainly sums up… sums up… what does it sum up actually? A-Ha is … timeless. A-Ha is every era.

Racey. See Shakin’ Stevens.

The Beat. Now look, you know that won’t wash, so just try harder.

Elvis Costello. Another guy that thought that Soul was just the thing to usher in the new decade. Christ he was doing country by 1982. The only decent stuff he did was in the 70’s. Don’t dish up any more 70’s acts here – I want “80s”.

Bucks Fizz. There you go! Now you’re kicking! Formed 1981 and ABBA with an exciting new stage ABBA routine which pushed ABBA the bounds of ABBA ABBA Eurovision ABBA bus crash ABBA.

ABBA. See Bucks Fizz.

Prince. See Shakin’ Stevens. C’mon.

Depeche Mode. Hot Butter, 1972. OK that was cruel, even for me. But let’s be serious here – early Mode is 60’s bubblegum, and I don’t think the band would have minded that comparison. They got more symphonic over the decade and eventually became a Harvest band. Which is a band that should naturally be on EMI’s Harvest label – basically Prog Rock: Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Kevin Ayers… and Art Punk bands – Wire, The Saints et al. Depeche Mode is part of a long tradition of UK bands that have something to do with Stonehenge.

New Order. Are we talking New Order as in ‘make dull rock albums’ New Order – or as in ‘have some DJ try and salvage a decent 12 inch out this cack’ New Order? The former could have been from any time over three decades – nondescript is nondescript. The twelve inches however are a tribute to Super Gay DJ Technology. But SGDJT can take anything and make it sound like an Amyl rush. I’m prepared to concede ground here – if you think that the ability to transform an armpit fart into heaven is ’80’s music’ I’ll agree, so long as you realise you’re solving one question with another.

Madonna. Where Super Gay DJ Technology spills out of the beaker and creates an imitation of life. A new horror film: The dug up corpse of Debbie Harry is animated by a lightening bolt, pretends to be Marylin Monroe and having failed adopts the guise of Mistress of the Hounds complete with fake British accent. Dr Who discovers an alien mechanism under the Atlantic and pulling the lever, causes this Golem to dissolve into anti matter. {SLAP} Sorry I’ll behave. Madonna was written by Stephen Bray and produced by Nile Rodgers, who being the guitarist from Chic probably remembered how to do that funky 70s stuff.

The Stone Roses. That’s not a band that’s one funky drummer loop.

Happy Mondays. http://www.learnhistory.org.uk/football/

Japan. Oh yes. So cultured. Bet you have never seen the cover of their first 7 inch single, the one with drawing of the goat in high heels. From behind. No I am not kidding. Anyway as befits a group formed in 1974, we love Bowie long time. Please no more 70’s groups.

Culture Club. Along with UB40, see The Police. The soft core limp version.

Supertramp. Beige carpet and sideburns. No.

Billy Joel. It’s Still Rock N Roll to Me.

Lionel Richie. Hello?

Guns n Roses. Nothing quite conjures up the decade like Slash. Or Guitar Hero for the XBox 360.

Run DMC with Aerosmith. That’s it – you beat me. Run DMC with Aerosmith is the eighties. I’ll buy the next round.