January 24th, 2004


Who's OK and who's dead?

It's official: the best music magazine in the world is OK Fred. I've been waiting for a magazine anywhere to notice and salute the adventurous new french music scene revolving around labels like Active Suspension and Clapping Music. Unsurprisingly, it's a Japanese (but bilingual) mag which has got there first. Their new issue is a virtual catalogue of features on my musical heroes:

Arto Lindsay, Jim O'Rourke, David Toop, Taylor Deupree, Team Doyobi, Franck Stofer, Nobukazu Takemura, Florian Hecker, Ekkehard Ehlers, O.Lamm, John Zorn, Max Tundra, Tom Steinle, Markus Popp. E*Rock, Jad Fair, Tim Gane, Vladislav Delay, DJ Spooky, Bundy K Brown, Erik Ed Benndorf, Chicks On Speed, Carsten Nicolai, Donna Summer, Dat Politics, Active Suspension (JC, Domotic, O.Lamm, Shinsei, Davide Balula), Event10, Teki Latex (TTC), Tacteel, Sebastien Jamain, Gel:, Toyama Takeo, Eater, Oorutaichi, Samurai Jazz, Raft Music, Noble, Noise McCartney Records, Flyrec., Progressive Form, Para Disc, Fennesz, D-Fuse, Peter Saville...

Fabulous curation. OK Fred is a bright pink beacon in a flabby grey world!

The most striking film I saw last year was a documentary about utopian suburban American architect Bruce Goff. Goff in the Desert, directed by Heinz Emigholz, showed all of Goff's buildings one by one, chronologically, with subtle ambient sound (stereo traffic, a keyboard tapping, the wind in the trees) but no commentary. Something about its very German take on America reminded me of 'Paris, Texas'. Part of a series entitled 'Architecture as Autobiography', Goff in the Desert shares with its architect hero a concern to restore a 'spirit of place' to a country which seems to have lost touch with its 'thisness', abstracted in the metaphysics of brand, movement, hurry, money, monotheism.

I was reminded of Goff's buildings when I saw a re-run on TV recently of Woody Allen's Sleeper, which features one scene in a poddy, organic house designed by Charles A. Haertling. (In the film it's the house belonging to the gay couple with the gay robot.) Haertling, like Goff, was a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright. I'd like to write a proper essay one day about this utopian school of organic architecture.

I desperately want to hear the collaborations between Michael Mantler and Robert Wyatt. This one, Hide + Seek, sounds like the best. The team also made a record based on The Hapless Child by Edward Gorey.

Helmut Newton died. He was 83. He crashed his Cadillac at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. It's a cool -- if somewhat nouveau riche -- way to die. I picture him partying in hell with Robert Palmer and lots of suicidal models.

I was at an Index magazine party in his honour a couple of years ago, but didn't speak to him because I'm not, to be honest, a fan. I was more interested in the fact that Gerald Malanga was there with his Japanese girlfriend, and that Steve Lafreniere was pointing out the corner where Warhol always used to sit (it was IndoChine in New York).

If I have to put my finger on why I don't like Newton's images, it's summed up in this quote he gave Index magazine:

'I’ve always liked the idea of cowboys — the way they look, the way they walk, especially in the movies. Why? A cowboy stands a certain way. He’s got a gun here, a gun there, his hands are always ready to draw. So I make the girls into cowgirls — with their hands ready to reach for the guns. But I don’t tell them, I just show them. I stand for them. I show them exactly what they should be doing.'

There's a parallel with Tarantino and the women he created for 'Kill Bill'. It really strikes me as remarkable that these men who 'show them exactly what they should be doing' are said to be creating strong women characters. Strong? Perhaps. Women? No. Uma Thurman makes it quite clear, in an interview about 'Kill Bill', that she was basically going through the whole thing like a marionette, finding nothing of herself in the character:

'Here I was in this giant scene, [Tarantino] going mad with the blood and the this and the that. I just treated it like I was Lillian Gish. I was in a silent film and to keep my sanity, just go through the sequence moment for moment, close-up to close-up to fight moment and do what I do and make it real.'

Hard-edged, stylish, macho, violent and heartless, artists like Tarantino and Newton hype up the glamour of America as a big shiny capitalist killing machine. As Goff and Haertling show, it's not the only America. To me, it's an atavistic view. Newton's women, with their sharp stilettos, missile-like breasts and 'armoured' nakedness, resemble nothing so much as 1950s Cadillacs. It's appropriate that Newton should die in one.