July 13th, 2008


A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag

I was reading a lovely blog post by Emma, Joe Germlin's squeeze, entitled This Must Be The Place. Accompanied by a picture of someone looking happy in a toilet, it's about what the Japanese call ganbaranai -- not going for it (slogan, by the way, of the eco-friendly Slow Life movement). It's about coming to the realisation -- the decision -- that you don't need any more money, that this place and these people and this standard of living is all you need. "Going for it" would involve too much compromise and ultimately just bring us into contact with people (in the words of Tao Lin) "talking about jet-skis and expensive handbags or something and we would feel alienated".

I think this is an incredibly important realisation to have, and statement to make. It underpins a lot of life in Berlin, for a start, and it's what distinguishes Berlin from cities like New York and London, and it's what people inevitably talk about when they arrive here from those cities (it's what Michael Portnoy and various Piratebay Swedes were talking about last night at Forgotten Bar Project, for instance). But it's also an aesthetic decision, a decision that shapes sound if you're a musician and form if you're a plastic artist. As an aesthetic decision -- the decision to go your own way, make your own sound -- it's a hugely liberating moment too.

"When Aids Wolf came to Glasgow a few weeks ago," Emma continues, "we took them for brunch and I asked Chloe what she did before she did Seripop full time. She did a shitty Admin job and Yannick was a video technician at an art school. I was happy to get to ask someone who in my mind is doing incredible things, what it is they did to get themselves going. I need that reassurance when I look at my bank balance and try to work out if I have enough £££ in there not to cave in to temping or other equally awful things."

I didn't know about AIDS Wolf, and set about educating myself about them. The first thing I discovered was the video my friend Eric Mast (E*Rock) made for Spit Tastes Like Metal:

I like the signifiers, musical and visual, here. First musical thing I thought about -- it's that guitar sound -- was Captain Beefheart (another person who decided pretty early on not to go for money, that "this was the place" -- in his case, the Mojave Desert). Then, perhaps, Yximalloo, who also seems to exist outside commercial structures. Visually the references were to "the colour movement", a term I use to describe people who squeeze the maximum amount of colour, often jarring colour, into what they do, and to The Boredoms.

These references are basically hippy ones, and AIDS Wolf have touched on a hippy archetype in their promo pictures, which feature them leading an idyllic life, naked in the forest. The Beefheart connection is confirmed in their Wikipedia page, which sees them quoting the Captain's description of his music as the sound of "a squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag".

I guess I also thought of Deerhoof, listening to AIDS Wolf, and maybe of Mu, although Mu are more housey. What I didn't think of, because I'm not really a noise aficionado, was people like The Locust, apparently a big influence on them, and a bit too cartoony and Superhero-ey for my taste, like a noise version of Devo. I suppose I identify more readily with naked Canadians (AIDS Wolf are Montrealers with French accents) than Americans (The Locust are from San Diego) in Marvel costumes, which always seem a bit fascist and puritan.

AIDS Wolf (who blog here, and who yield zero results in a Pitchfork search) took their name from a piece of graffiti in an Ohio backyard. Apparently it referred to an urban legend about AIDS-infected wolves coming to the city and biting housepets, which could then infect their owners by licking them. The band had a ferret stuck in their wall at one point, and when they heard it scratching, they'd say "Oh no, there's the AIDS wolf!"

The way AIDS Wolf's music achieves its results with structure and dynamics and colour rather than tonality, melody or harmony made me think that this is pop music coming up against / coming up with what serialism came up against / with in 1912 or so. And just as many conservatives to this day hate serialists like Webern and Berg and Schoenberg, so they'll hate AIDS Wolf and Yximalloo and others who compose with dynamics and structure, but not harmony and melody.

Something else AIDS Wolf remind me of is the Stiff Records Akron Ohio compilation, from 1978, and the squirt of basic, essential weirdness it injected into the indie charts that year. And I guess outsider bands like Half Japanese and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. This is music you only tend to make when you decide "this must be the place". It's also arty music, music that loves art, made by people who love art. AIDS Wolf's singer, Chloe Lum, loves Fassbinder and Eric Rohmer (who also happen to be pretty much my favourite directors). She even named this song after Fassbinder's "Chinese Roulette":

Chloe and Yannick Desranleau describe themselves as self-flagellating Catholics, and during the day run Seripop, a Montreal art unit and print shop known for colourful, scrawly posters, books, record sleeves and screen prints. It's a world I can see fitting with the Staalplaat / Le Petit Mignon culture here in Berlin, a world where post-materialist values and the true spirit of indie meet, a happily inventive state of mind, a fusion of colour and sound. I guess this -- and that -- must be the place.