The Artery of Noise
After an 18-month gap MY BLOODY VALENTINE are back on vinyl
making a right bleedin' racket with their new EP 'Glider'. STUART
MACONIE discovers Creation's decibel merchants to be quiet (sic) the
opposite off the record and tries to start up a conversation on sex, drugs
'n' Kylie Minogue. Pictures: A J BARRATT
Beneath the pavements of the West End, in a licenced cave half full of
bickering Spanish waiters and the late afternoon harvest of the pub trade,
clandestine lovers, solitary novel readers and general losers, My Bloody
Valentine and I are huddled around a tape recorder, trying to overcome
the eternal artificiality of the interview situation.
Three of MBV are silent,
the fourth, Kevin Shields is outlining (very quietly) the peculiar pleasures
of being in a pop group. Unnoticed at first, the jukebox crackles into life
via the speaker by our heads.
Strange at the time, upon listening to the tape the next day it becomes
surreally comic. Kevin, a man to whom the adjective 'undemonstrative'
can be applied without fear of contradiction, begins to have to compete
with the rising strains of the jukebox. He is explaining the attraction of the
rock 'n' roll life. "There is an appeal in being on tour. You get to take lots
of drugs and be a bit decadent. . . and that is. . . quite fun. . . provided. . ."
The record threatening to drown his fragile words is, appropriately, Elvis'
'American Trilogy', a song that is either a bloated slew of sentiment or an
American cultural signifier par excellence, or perhaps both. As Kevin talks
of degeneracy in his faltering Irish brogue, the King, the people's ham,
bellows, "His truth is marching on!". Just before the angel choirs and drum
rolls crash over into silence, Kevin, flushed, looks up from his beer: "I've
been waiting to say these things all my life!"
A BLOODY RACKET
THE IRONY being, of course, that there can be few
bands less declamatory, less given to rhetoric than My Bloody Valentine.
Though their music may, on occasion, seethe and reverberate with sound
and fury, trailing showers of sparks, theirs is a purely sensual creation;
private, undramatic, given to no grand gestures. Bobby Gillespie is Billy
Bragg next to these people.
Reading their old press clippings is like
downing a yard of Night Nurse, like walking through treacle. The same
descriptions abound: 'Dreamy', 'sedate', 'ethereal', 'trance-like'. And you
can see why. As people they are quite open about their 'untogetherness'.
They are sociable but hesitant, never brash, and according to .
themselves rarely even confident.
Their keenest and most wordy
devotees drool over the languor of their creations. To the uninitiated, then,
this might lead one to expect the pianissimo murmurings of the Cowboy
Junkies. Not a bit. My Bloody Valentine, it has to be said, are not averse
to making a bloody racket. They are a pop group. . . of sorts. They are
with this description though some of their fans might throw up their hands
in horror. High falutin' art theory aside, they are in the same line of work
as Kylie and the Goss boys, albeit in a different branch. They have the
good sense to realise this. The difference is that where most
contemporary pop, be it Martika or The Stone Roses Or Skid Row is
perfectly rehearsed and rigidly defined, an impeccably tailored garment,
My Bloody Valentine's music is blurred, shifting; these are pop songs with
broken backs, with the innards bared and glistening.
In the best of them,
there's a fruitful tension between the half-formed, ghostly melodies and the
lure of pure sound. Nothing is made explicit. You can't hear the words and
things keep getting snatched away on the wind. I've alway had my
suspicions that many 'weirdo' and 'experimental' bands choose such a
musical route for dubious reasons; because they fancy the girls'and the
drugs and the flexible hours but are incapable of writing decent pop songs.
if Genesis POrridge or Christian Death live to be a thousand, neither of
them will ever come up with' Rent', 'This Charming Man' or 'She Bangs
The Drum'. But I don't feel this way about Kevin, Bilinda, Deb and Colm.
Even at their strangest, their songs resonate with good ideas, with
fractured echoes of the pop heritage and a lack of pretence. Wholesome
pop tunes that have fallen in with a bad crowd and grown up a little
According to legend, My Bloody Valentine are the band who
reinvented themselves: saw the light and effected the neat transformation
from fey and unfashionable janglers to pioneering 'heads' of the New
Psychedelia. But nothing in the MBV universe is ever this straightforward
or contrived. I first heard them in the summer of 1987 when I was
spellbound by a single called 'Strawberry Wine'. Bold and mesmerising at
the time, it remains, perhaps, my favourite MBV song; wild, heady, sad, an
out of focus snapshot. As well as being merely a cracking tune, it had a
certain wistful mystery that set it apart from the mediocre bulk of most
independent label guitar pop.
With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to cry
up 'Strawberry Wine' as a significant moment, a turning point. It was the
first record to feature the current line-up. Prior to then, My Bloody
Valentine had boasted an oddball singer called Dave and had been
widely, if innaccurately, pigeonholed as competent, albeit uninspired
indiepoppers with a penchant for song titles such as 'Sunny Sundae
After' Strawberry Wine' came, the breathless ascent to credibility
as subsequent releases such as 'Cigarette In Your Bed' and 'You Made
Me Realise' garnered reams of hyperbole. By the release of their debut
Creation LP 'Isn't Anything', My Bloody Valentine were attracting seriously
purple prose. If you could get past the references to 'translucent helium
and 'post-semantic tristesse' you might have gathered that 'Isn't Anything'
was a fine record; stark, unusual and invigorating, sometimes sweet,
sometimes savage and the perfect fashion accessory for those too
intelligenttor Loop- ie nearly everyone. . .
That, however, was 18 months
ago and a lot has happened since then. There's a new map of Europe for
one thing, but more importantly to some, the whole world has gone disco
crazy! Every leather-kekked class traitor that ever there was is queuing up
to have the Lou Reed remixed out of their system. . . and shame on you if
you can't dance too! Into this new and exciting world come The Valentines
with a new EP 'Gilder', the title track of which is a splintered, rhythmic
celebration bound to be seen in some quarters as a concession to the
current dancefloor mania. And even more interesting, in a world turned so
effectively upside down that even the execrable Birdland can have hits,
are My Bloody Valentine destined for Gary Davis' Radio 1 show. . . and
The West End, March 1990. In a few days time these streets will
echo to the sound of splintering glass and the odd car going over, but for
now all is as energetically and mundanely seedy as always. Half of My
Blood Valentine are early, the other half late. They are two young Irish
men and two young English women; polite, affable but with an undertow
of embarrassed shyness. We find a dark, unoccupied corner of a bar below
pavement level and try to ease our way into a conversation. This is never
easy and sometimes as pleasant as having a tooth removed. With a little
perseverance today, however, My Bloody Valentine offer some insights
into their idiosyncratic world, into their gameplan or lack of it, into sex and
drugs and rock 'n' roll . . . but not necessarily in that order.
ROCK 'N' ROLL
"TO BE honest, we don't really know what it is we're doing. I mean, there's
effort and consideration there. . .I don't mean that we're doing things
unthinkingly. But in the end we don't actually know what it is, we're never
sure how things will turn out. I hate it when the London listings magazines
have those few sentences saying 'The' noisy, psychedelic band play at. . .'
That inaccuracy of generalisation, I don't know what it is we're doing but I
know when people get it wrong."
Kevin Shields speaks hesitantly,
wrestling with his words. This is interrupted by flurries of good humoured
insight. He is the chief, though by no means the only, songwriter in My
Blood Valentine and in this fiveway conversation, he tends to emerge as a
pseudo-spokesman, the others being content with the odd affirmation or
passing observance. I have just wondered aloud whether, in view of their
much vaunted strangeness and
psycho-drug noise, it would be fair to call My Bloody Valentine a pop .
"Oh, yes. Why not? I would say we're a sort of pop group. It's a
fairly broad category. Like I said, we, or at least I, find it difficult to really
explain what Ii is we do. We fiddle about a lot. It does seem that the rock
groups of the '60s and '70s did have all their moves and their concepts so
planned. We aren't like that at all."
Yet 'pop', as in Top Of The. .. and as in
Kylie and Jason moving, fixed-grinned, through an embarrassing dance
routine, would seem light years away, at least from the diehard MBV fan
point of view, from what this band are about.
"Well, certainly no one is
ever likely to come to us and say 'I'm sorry, this just isn't commercial
enough'. We aren't part of the market in that way. We're no one's big hope
for the future. I get the feeling that we can stay outside of it all, doodling
away. Doing our own thing and people will be quite happy with that. All
the bands around us on Creation are commercial prospects, but we
aren't. Well, yes we are, but not in the sense of having surefire hits. For
one thing, we're not steady or consistent enough in terms of the music we
make. It's too changeable. Good 'product' is simple 'product'. We're too
Given that My Bloody Valentine can sound like anything from a
rock outfit of the Detroit school to Karl Heinz Stockhausen slumming it,
often within the confines of the same song, it's perhaps forgiveable that
critics have gone, shall we say, a trifle bonkers with the English language
in their efforts to come to terms with them. Have they ever wondered what
all the fuss is about?
"I can't pronounce a lot of the words that have been used to
describe us! It's kind of thoughtful but thoughtless, if you see what I mean.
You do sometimes wish that journalists would be a little more down to
earth. It's funny, sometimes when we're OK-ing the press kits to be used
in other countries, you think 'God, imagine trying to make sense of this
stuff if you can't speak English!' I suppose it's a reaction to punk. Rock
journalism went through a phase of having to be very down to earth and
now it's okay to be arty again. That's alright. .'. even if we do come out of
it sounding like a progressive rock band!
"Sometimes we don't really feel
part of the whole thing ourselves. When we were finishing the latest
record, we'd often be in the studio watching the early morning news. This
was in that period when every day it seemed there was something
phenomenal going on in Eastern Europe. At times like that music and the
music business does seem superirrelevant. Plus we don't exist so
comfortably ourselves. Bilinda's got a little boy. So sometimes we don't
really feel a part of anything.
" Are you saying that you find the whole
business of being in a pop group somewhat. . . silly?
"Well, yes, it's silly.
But it's also hard and it's a pain in the arse sometimes. Still, working in a
horrible job, which I've done, is harder - as is bringing up five kids in some
horrible council flat. I find it hard to be light-hearted about the pop
business, particularly since so many people make their livings from it."
The standard wisdom, and what aggrieves the band perceptibly, is that
My Bloody Valentine made a career move that could have been
choreographed by Houdini in swapping the coy, lisping pastel pop of their
early recordings for Lazy for radical excursions into pure sound and
colour, massing along the way the hip approval that had always eluded
them. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to unearth the evidence for
this supposed volte-face. Simply play a track like 1987's 'Another Rainy
Saturday'; a piece of boppy, adolescent cute somewhere between The
Buzzcocks and The BMX Bandits and then compare it with the ruined
soundscapes of 1988's 'No More Sorry', and, voila, here are the group
who, perhaps with a cynical eye on the fading fortunes of the 'C86'
generation, grew up very quickly and very publicly. Throwing caution to
the wind and cracking open that deadly second bottle of lager, MBV tell
the cynics where to get off in no uncertain fashion.
"To be honest, that
isn't true really. If I wanted to I could sit down with you and play all our
records in order from Day One and you'd hear a logical progression. In
the beginning we were much more experimental. Experimental meaning
this group who played this superficially poppy stuff that was really quite
sick. It was a lot to do with our original singer Dave. He was a very
perverse person who enjoyed writing these little tunes that were actually
quite weird. There'd be just one word that changed the whole emphasis of
the song. But, in a way it was just an in-joke. Not surprisingly no one
They were bound to say that, of course, but I believe them. My
Bloody Valentine were never The Primitives and even in their embryonic
phase there was always something fumblingly alien about their little
songs. But then there's the matter of the tracks on the new single, 'Soon'
(not to be confused with their new EP 'Glider'). It's a My Bloody Valentine
record alright, right down to its I-must-get-thatwashing-machine-seen-to
guitar tones and its recorded-over-thephone vocals. But lurking behind all
this 'sonic terrorism' is the unmistakeable beat of James Brown's 'Funky
Drummer'. Have My Bloody Valentine taken the Guru Josh route to
spiritual fulfilment? Have they gone disco ? On this
matter they are refreshingly direct.
"People who've got all our records
won't be surprised. We've done dancey things before now. Did you hear
the free single we gave away with 'Isn't Anything'? There was a Public
Enemy rhythm sample on that! Some of the stuff on 'You Made Me
Realise' was like that too. Of course we've been affected by currenttrends
in music. You'd be really short-sighted not to. We've always said that if we
hear something brilliant, we'll incorporate it into our stuff. If next week we
hear some absolutely brilliant flute-based music in 3/5 time, then it won't
be long before. you hear it in our music!
"We've always been groovy. A
good test is how people react who are off their head on. . . well, just into
dancing. Like when we've played with Happy Mondays, they are a perfect
gauge. Anything with a groove they'll move to. And we've had their
entourage up on stage with us dancing."
I find this hard to believe.
they don't dance to everything, of course. When we got to 'You Made Me
Realise' they'd throw themselves off into the audience!"
NEVER GO through customs with a My Bloody Valentine record. It sends
the sniffer dogs barmy. Well, not quite, but certainly MBV's music often
gets discussed in terms that wouldn't be out of place in a GCSE
Chemistry class. My Bloody Valentine's sclerotic distortions and 'off your
face' ambience are bound to lead to insinuations of chemically heightened
awareness. Or if you prefer, anyone who makes records this bonkers
must be taking wagon loads of drugs. . . and there's nothing big or clever
about that, right kids? Kevin may have looked pained at this. It was hard
to tell. "We did this interview ages ago and the bloke just went on and on
about acid and Acid House parties. He was obviously a Sun reader.
Anyway, the gist of his argument was 'You make Acid Rock, you must be
taking loads of drugs'.
"Well, that seems reasonable enough.
doesn't mean anything. I mean, everybody takes drugs."
I can feel the
Alcohol is a drug too, you know' argument approaching.
everyone but most people take a certain amount. . . This stuff that we're
drinking is a drug too you know. "Drugs are not really that important with
reference to us. Our music doesn't sound too good on acid. With acid you
want something really monotonous with loads of space and room for you
to do your own thing. There's too many changes in our stuff. Ecstasy
might be more relevant because it doesn't alter your state of mind. I
suppose dope might highlight some of the more positive aspects ofthe
music, I dunno."
Leaving aside the question of whether drugs are an aid
to listening, there's the separate issue of whether you are actually
ingesting mosi of Bolivia in order to make the records in the first place.
haven't written a lot of music on drugs. It wouldn't really sound any
different anyway. I worked for ten months in this horrible job where I had
to get up really early and I felt spaced out all the time. I felt weirder then
than I ever have taking drugs."
Loathe though I am to leave the really
quite interesting subject of drugs, I decide to move on to something
cheaper, more fun and within easy access of ordinary people.
LET'S FACE it. When Malcolm of Hartlepool finally gets Tracy back
to his council flat having plied her with 16 rum and cokes at Cinderella
Rockerfellers, he sticks on the Luther Vandross. . . or Kate Bush. He
doesn't look to My Bloody Valentine to get the juices going, that's for sure.
It's hard to conceive of a band less superficially sexy, more removed from
the world of nipple tassles, basques and stubble chins. This isn't meant as
a personal slur, merely that their tenuous diffidence is about as
'unthrusting' as you can get. So why is it that people find My Bloody
Valentine so bloody sexy, eulogising at length about bruising,
smouldering sensuality and the like? Are these people normal or what?
To paraphrase the immortal words of Rod The Mod, do they think they're
"Well, that's for other pople to decide, surely. I think our music is
pretty sensual. It's not hard, industrial music or anything like that. It's very
human. People who experience the pleasure of any sexual thing will find
something there, I think. Our lyrics are quite explicit occasionally but it's
all real. There's nothing there that ordinary people don't say to each other
when they're alone.
"It's a cliche but it comes down to the fact that most
music is dehumanizing, it's sanitized. Heavy Metal bands and disco music, it's Dallassex. No real person can relate to
it when some rock singer is going on about giving you his 'Iurve'. Our
records are about the feelings that ordinary people have and the
language they might use with each other."
But is it sexy?
on how good your imagination is. If you don't have a good imagination
then we're not. It's not 'Je T'Aime'. It's not lots of women pretending to
have orgasms all sampled and put on there."
"EVERYONE WE know is just like us. We don't know many happy, stable
people. Or very confident, upfront people. We're not The Beastie Boys."
My Bloody Valentine's music often comes across as the sound of an
everyday netherworld. Full of the stench of the squat and the echoes of
the disenfran'chised. Alternatively, you may feel that they are the sound of
a gang of earthmovers on.a stag night with some badly recorded Mary
Hopkin vocals over the top. Whatever, Sonia they are not. They know this
and they cherish their position; of making music that pleases them and
their devotees without having to look to the mid-week chart placings or
any of that malarkey. Are they in the right line of work?
"We are very
untogether, almost too untogether to function sometimes. But we're not
vague. Ask us a direct question and we'll answer it. But we're not
performers, we're not that confident. I don't like standing on stage and
being stared at by a thousand people. Well, would you?"
I've got used to
it. Put it another way. Do you regard yourself as unique?
No, they're not. The Quireboys are clearly not unique. They are
stupidly, stultifyingly identical to a million bands that have gone before.
"Oh, I see what you mean. If you were from one of those guitar
magazines, I think I could make a case for us being unique. You know,
the way we use guitars in a moving, bending way that no one else does.
In some way we are weirdos. We like to play loud music because we
know that once you get above 1 00 decibels, that causes a physical
change in people. Endorphins get released into the system because the
body can sense imminent danger. On the other hand, we're sometimes
quite normal and derivative. That's one of the reasons I love De La Soul.
They're endearingly derivative but the way they put things together is
With this body sensing the imminent collapse of the interview, I
switch off the tape. Needless to say the conversation flows like water.
"We saw this programme last night called Rock UK and they were playing
all this contemporary rock music and I thought 'This is the antithesis of
what we are about'. We're much closer to Kylie Minogue than David
Originally appeared in NME 21 April 1990
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