October 30th, 2007


GG Allin versus Asa-Chang: fite for the future!

In one of those delightfully poignant surf transitions that reminds you who you are and what you believe in, I found myself last night (on the recommendation of rhodri) watching with appalled fascination the vlogs and cartoons of Steve Sutton, an American 3D animator whose calming voice and banal observations exist at a midpoint between The Dullest Blog in the World and Andy Warhol, with perhaps a touch of Daniel Johnston and David Lynch thrown in. The more I watched him, the more I began to see little traces of Dick Cheney in there too, and maybe a bit of Bob Ross in the hypnotic quality of Sutton's voice. Put it all together with the disturbingly suburban animation series Clover Beach and you get an archetypal piece of schizoid, deeply dysfunctional Americana. I followed up the suttsteve videos with some GG Allin performances and found Sutton the more psychopathic of the pair.

Imagine my relief, then, to find, next, Asa-Chang and Junray's excellent video for their track "Hana". The setting wasn't much more elaborate than Steve Sutton's bedroom, and yet the sense of sterility, anomie and sadness that seeps from his vlogs was completely absent. Here we were in a house -- and a culture -- which gets object relations substantially right. And this music was more than just a freakshow, an ever-more-spectacular demonstration of the pointlessness of human life (the message I get from both Steve Sutton and the late GG Allin). It was experimental in a warm, inviting and intriguing way. Asa-Chang (who used to be in the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra) manages to combine emotional, empathetic sounds (here, a string chord sequence as touching as the one Massive Attack used in "Unfinished Sympathy") with radical structural experimentation I can only compare with the post-Fluxus experiments of his countryman Tomomi Adachi. Tabla hits are grouped (electronically, using his own Jun-Ray-tronics sound system) with vocals in a way that changes the fundamental relationship between words and music. It should jar, but it doesn't. Instead, a whole new way of marrying voice to sound opens up, and -- without sacrificing warmth and empathy at all -- instantly makes more trad songsmithery look like fusty hackwork.

I must say I hadn't paid much attention to Asa-Chang before, despite hearing my friends in The Nelories praise him to the skies back in the 90s (he produced one of their albums, Starboogie). But last night he burst through to the front rank of my musical heroes. And oddly enough, in a purely negative way, Steve Sutton and GG Allin are partly responsible; without their sadness and alienation I would never have felt that palpable rush of relief -- that feeling of "Phew, I'm coming home!" -- when "Hana" kicked in. A bit like switching from a Diane Arbus freakscene to the refined feelings spread across a wall of photographs by Rinko Kawauchi. One turns you into a rubbernecker, fascinated by lurid dysfunction and, ultimately, death (GG Allin's heroin overdose). The other signposts values that might ensure a future -- both ethically and formally. GG Allin's boring three-chord thrash certainly didn't waste any time paving the way formally for the future. As someone comments under his Outlaw Scumfuc video, "there's a man who hated existence". Asa-Chang seems to love it.