Taste, interrupted…

So there I am, aged 14 or so, happily listening to my cassette of Tango in the Night by Fleetwood Mac, my Iron Maiden albums and my Bon Jovi singles * when, on a holiday in the Lake District, my friend Andy plays me a scratchy tape copy of a song called Slow by My Bloody Valentine and all of a sudden I’m catapulted deep into droney shoe-gazing music, growing my hair and pestering my mum to buy me some 8-hole DMs.

I still remember what it felt like. In a moment I realised all I knew about music was suddenly wrong. Or if not wrong, then certainly out-dated and a bit embarassing. This new music had been made for me, by people that understood exactly what I like, how I felt, what appeals to me and what makes the hairs stand up on the back of my next. It felt like that song was a metal bar laid across the tracks of my musical taste, and when I hit it, it sent me careering in a new direction on a voyage of discovery.

These moments happen to us all. At least I hope they do, I can’t imagine being stuck with the same taste in music for ever and ever. If this is the sorry state you find yourself in, please accept my sympathies. Anyway, as my music taste expanded these moments happened a lot at first and less often later on, as finding anything genuinely unlike anything I’d ever heard before became statistically less and less likely.

It’s worth noting that these musical derailments aren’t necessarily caused by songs that go on to be your favorites. The second one I experienced was The Orb’s Peel Session version of the mighty A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld (Loving You). It was released in 1991 and played as part of Peel’s festive 50, to which I listened on my little radio in the dark when I was supposed to be asleep. It’s not my favorite Orb track now – in fact it’s not even my favourite version of A Huge Ever Growing Brain… ** – but it will always remain the tune that made me realise how spectacular electronic music can be.

So, after The Orb sent me sideways, the next moment came courtesy of Acen’s Optikonfusion remix of Close Your Eyes, a slab of hardcore rave music with a pitched up sample from The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun that signalled the beginning of my long love affair with rave, and the next when I heard Q Project’s Champion Sound, the track which led me deep into the heart of the jungle.

After many years of listening to electronic music to the exclusion of pretty much everything else, I was reminded how good real music is by Badly Drawn Boy’s Bewilderbeast and how good rock music is by The White Stripes’ Ball and Biscuit. In 2006 I finally worked out that folk music is a thing of wonder thanks to Flook and their track Gone Fishing. Most recently I discovered that a bit of country is a beautiful thing when I heard Dolly Parton’s stunning Little Sparrow in a youth hostel in Betws-y-Coed.

As I said, these moments are fewer and further between these days and I haven’t had one for a good few years, but I’m always looking for them because nothing beats that feeling of freefall when you realise everything you thought before was wrong and the world has just got a little better.

*By the way you’ll be pleased to know I have re-embraced Fleetwood Mac and Iron Maiden since that moment… but not Bon Jovi I’m afraid.

** This is my favuorite mix of A Huge Ever Growing Brain

  1. Janine said:

    Not Bon Jovi? You sang it loud and proud at the Folk Festival Silent Disco last year.

    • OK, I admit I sang along, but I was thinking of Orbital the whole time.

  2. Dead Center said:

    any blog post that references Tango In The Night in its first sentence is likely to be worthy of limitless glowering praise.
    i have never listened exclusively to a single genre (however broad that genre might have been – ie: electronic), and so i haven’t experienced very many taste “interuptions”, but – despite that – i identify with this post on many levels.
    the “thunderbolt” effect of hearing a life-changing album for the first time is a precious – and saddeningly rare – thing; and you express it well in your post.
    “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis remains the album that set my perception of music completely free. it’s the album that demonstrated to me that anything is possible in music – beyond all doubt, and that it is a crime against the self to even imagine that music should be bound by any form of restraint.
    during the rave scene it was essential to me that i used the psychoactive element of the culture to better explore the music of the past (music that my peers considered mostly irrelevent). of course, the joy of being at a rave on psychedelic drugs as the unique sounds of 1992/1993 Hardcore took your brain “to another dimension” was a pricelessly beautiful trip, it was hearing albums like “Sabotage” by Black Sabbath on LSD that earned me the status of a bonafide, fully licensed Psychonaut.
    when i got home from raves, looking to chill out, i would be as likely to put Hawkwind on as the Orb or the Future Sound of London.
    the era-specific restraints of fashion and cultral identity seemed to me to threaten a deeply negative stranglehold on musical taste.
    open-mindedness is the very least you owe your self.

    • It wasn’t so much a case of limiting myself to a particular genre, although I did immerse myself very heavily in drum & bass for a number of years, more that I had preconcieved ideas about what I was likely to like and not like. I now know there are only two types of music – music you like and music you don’t – and genre is mostly irrelevant to that. My only remaining blind spots are that I still haven’t found any classical or jazz that moves me yet, although I know it’s just a matter of finding the right piece of music and I’ll be there. I’ve always been curious about Miles Davis though, so I will give Bitches Brew a listen and report back.

      I admire your experimental approach, although I never really got on with hallucinogens. I did indulge a bit back in the early 90s and I always found that live music was better. The Ozric Tentacles were always a favourite, along with the shoe-gazey stuff. The rave scene and its uppers were always more my cup of tea; I never liked to surrender control of my brain but I did quite like dancing all night with my head in a bassbin.

      Fashion and cultural factors will always control music – it’s a sad fact that even now, when the tools to make music are so accessible (I recognise that having the ability to actually make decent music is another matter), most of the music that gets made and listened to is controlled by the record companies and recording industry which invest money and need returns. This makes the rate of change very slow and the truth is that 90% of people don’t care, they just want something on the radio or a beat to dance to on a Friday night. Very few people are genuinely open-minded and care enough about the music to search out anything truly original. This is a shame, but it is what it is.

    • I was thinking about this again while walking the dog this morning and it occurred to me that fashion and cultural identity lead to the formation of music scenes and movements. This is generally a positive thing, musicians collectively exploring themes and sounds means that the music grows and refines more quickly than it does when they work in isolation. The Beatles came from the Mersey Beat scene, Timeless could only have been born of Goldie’s immersion in the darkside rave scene and Tango in the Night’s rock solid rhythm foundations came from the bands roots in the British Blues scene of the late 60s and early 70s.

      The key moment is when someone channels what has gone before in their particular scene and does something new and exciting with it. The imitators that spring up afterwards are what then creates the dull repetition and often leads to the scene stagnating and being replaced by other bands trying new things and thus the emergence of a new scene or movement.

      God I’m in a waffly mood this morning. Does any of this make any sense at all?

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