This is a blog devoted to music on the edge - experimental, underground, alternative, subversive, or just plain weird - new music that tries new things, or old music that broke old rules. It's a place to discuss ideas, share discoveries, to think about what makes music interesting and challenging but still good to listen to. Join in and have your say!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Searching for bent heroes

I’m going to do the unthinkable here and talk about two of my favourite artists in the one post – not because I can’t think of enough to say about them in their own right, nor even because I think they are even remotely alike in their music, but because I didn’t want to let too much time pass without paying homage to them both. But I also want to use their music as an excuse to ask you a bit about what YOU look for in new music.

Despite being poles apart musically, both Diamanda Galás and Einstürzende Neubauten have had a very similar impact on me – one of seeing musicians take the bare bones of their art, reconstruct it with their own raw energy, infuse it with their guts as much as with their soul, and shake you to the core in the process.

I have written about both artists quite a bit on my earlier blog and, while it was not usually my practice there to write about an artist more than once, with both Diamanda Galás and Einstürzende Neubauten it was unavoidable, so varied and yet so undisappointingly interesting their music always was.

My admiration for musicians who break out of traditional boundaries and try new things is, of course, the whole purpose of this blog and yet, even against the backdrop of that love of the new, I find that these two stand out. Which, inevitably, leads me to ask why.

It’s not that either Diamanda Galás or Einstürzende Neubauten are necessarily more outlandish in the sounds they produce, nor in the messages they convey, than some of the other musicians that will be discussed on this blog – although it would be hard to go past something like Diamanda Galás’ frenzied journey into madness in ‘Wild Women With Steak-knives’, or anything at all on her album Schrei X, for sheer visceral brutality; nor beyond the guttural screams of Blixa Bargeld on Einstürzende Neubauten’s ‘Armenia’ or the harsh industrial sounds of power drills and scrap metal in their debut album Kollaps, for unmitigated audacity in making music out of non-music.

But it’s not quite that. Maybe it’s something more about the honesty of their music – music which, you feel, they would perform exactly the same way, regardless of whether anyone was listening to it or not. Whether that’s authenticity or arrogance, I don’t know – and maybe it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Both Diamanda Galás and Einstürzende Neubauten performed an enormous wide range of music – some of which, in both their cases, was much more accessible than some of the examples I’ve mentioned here. But even when they were accessible, even when they were treading more known territory, like when Diamanda Galás sings more traditional music like ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord’ or even ‘Gloomy Sunday’, or when Einstürzende Neubauten sing their gentler, later, work, like on their album Silence is Sexy, even there these artists are very much themselves. And so, when she sings the great BB King classic, ‘The Thrill is Gone’, Diamanda Galás starts it off with a wild, anguished, piercing scream, and takes you through the four octaves of her phenomenal voice; or when Einstürzende Neubauten sing something as gently melodic as ‘Morning Dew’ on their album Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala, it is still punctuated by hammers bashing on metal barrels, and by Blixa’s trademark screams.

But then it’s not entirely that, either. There are certainly plenty of other musicians – many of whom I hope to discuss on this blog – who always inject something of their inmost selves into everything they do, no matter how way out or way in it might be.

Maybe ultimately what makes these artists so great to me, so much my heroes, is something much simpler, and yet also much harder to define, than any of this – something beyond their amazing originality, beyond their passion, beyond their primitive energy, beyond their guts and their souls – something as simple and as complex as just sounding great.

These two heroes of mine – these two great icons of bent music – never stop sounding new to me: never stop sounding original, powerful, raw and wonderful. And it is probably that, as much as all the rest of it, that makes me admire them so much. But ultimately, I guess, that only brings me back to my original question – why?

I never stop being fascinated by the ways in which music speaks differently to different people – and, in some ways, new music highlights that fascination more than anything else does, if only because of the strange way that its newness somehow connects with something known and familiar too.

Sorry for the long ramble of this post – a post which is as much a call for you to write something here about what you look for, and love, in new music as it is a tribute to the new musicians who have impressed me, and made me think, so much as have Diamanda Galás and Einstürzende Neubauten.

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