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Late Monday means another SOTC dispatch from Everett True, publisher of Plan B. A while back, he wrote about antifolk, not anti-folk. This week, he’s writing about it again. Send him more things to write about at email@example.com. Read all his Sound of the City columns here.
The Outbursts of Everett True
This week: More on antifolk, the movement that’s not sweeping a nation
I played an antifolk fest the other night.
Antifolk (UK), that is — not to be confused with anti-folk (US). One is shamelessly a rip from the other; but oddly, the other is at least several years past its sell-by date. Isn’t that always the way: cultures borrowing from other cultures and reinvesting with meaning something that long since ceased to be relevant. (As a great ‘for example’, look to the Eastern Bloc’s appropriation of rock music as a tool of revolution during the Nineties — something that the kids of America and Britain always aspired to, but never managed.) So anyway, to recap: antifolk (UK) is filled with misfits and outsiders, folk who want in but know there’s no earthly way they’ll ever be allowed so they might as well start their own party and hope that someone, anyone, turns up. They nicked the word antifolk cos at least it seemed to be in opposition to something, and yes, it also implied that musical ability wasn’t a pre-requisite.
Anti-folk (US), on the other hand, is the establishment, more or less. Nothing wrong with that: I just want to call it as I see it.
I digress. So I played an antifolk fest the other night, in London. Man, I was bummed to be there, no disrespect to anyone present, but the previous evening I’d shown up, half-delirious (through lack of sleep) to a Brighton antifolk night in a pub I never even dreamed would countenance live gigs (most the clientele sported piercings dating from the Seventies) and…
Well, here’s the deal. Most my colleagues at the Plan B office suspect (I suspect) that antifolk is nothing more than a bunch of folk musicians trying to sneak back in the zeitgeist’s back door, under a thin veneer of respectability. I say there’s nothing wrong with that — but that’s anti-folk (US). That’s certainly not what the antifolk shows I’ve seen in Brighton have been about: my main man Larry Pickleman is a former Belfast lad, brought up in the bad part of town, who matches sweet plinky-plonky Oompa Loompa (Willy Wonka) tunes to PC-baiting misanthropic lyrics, a sampler and a tiny electric guitar played with alarming venom. And if that’s folk, or anti-folk, then I’m Morrissey. And, trust me, I’m not Morrissey.
Joining him on stage that night was his wife mertle — sure, she sings minimalist songs about everyday situations (washing machines, butterflies, spitting on the butcher’s window as you ride by on your stolen bike) over rudimentary guitar; but if she took a step sideways and found herself supporting The Gossip or Scout Niblett, you could easily see her feted as the new… I dunno, who’s a singer you love who’s got a crush-sweet voice and so-sweet lyrics?
Jimmy from drunken Scots twee-mongers Bobby McGees also got up to growl his way through an admonitory tale in a voice so un-musical, seagulls died. And even our token Londoner Tom from David Cronenberg’s Wife sounded like Mark E Smith wishing he sounded like whoever it is in those David Lynch movies who wishes he sounded like Dick Dale.
All good clean entertainment, sure — and I love the fact this random collection of people have decided to appropriate a definition (anti-folk) that so clearly shouldn’t be applied to them. But, folk musicians trying to sneak in the back door while the rock establishment is out enjoying a quick bevy? I don’t think so.
So, back to the gig in London: now, don’t get me wrong, I love seeing drunken people make a fool of themselves, and I love drunken people wielding guitars making fools of themselves, and I especially enjoy seeing drunken people sporting size zero frames making such a fool of themselves they have to stop several times in the same song to check to see what they’re playing (thank you Lucy Joplin), but — man, everyone was playing guitars and being all trad in their inebriated way, and even though there was a massive support system going on amid the crowd in the tiny 12 Bar venue, there was no one busting the conventions. Well, except me, I guess: still steadfastly refusing to use anything but a mic on stage, um, cos I can’t be bothered to rehearse; and of course those loveable hot puppies Wet Dog went on after, and played a blinder, but they’re a band and everything.
Um. I can’t quite remember my point now, except… antifolk. It’s ace.
HUGS AND KISSES TOP 5
1. VERA NOVEMBER, “Our Last Night Together” (from the Rough Trade EP Four Songs By Arthur Russell)
A stunning piece: spatial, delicate piano and beautiful, yearning voice, courtesy of Electrelane’s Verity Susman.
2. THE ROYAL WE, “Back And Forth Forever” (from the Geographic album The Royal We)
Glasgow’s 2006 ‘it’ group capture the spirit of early Go-Go’s and Orange Juice, via LA, Manchester, Sunderland… Every town should have one.
3. SCOUT NIBLETT, “A Song” (from the forthcoming Tomlab album David Shrigley’s Worried Noodles)
Niblett does Shrigley, part two: this is the song that replaced the song that she lifted for her own album. Same music, from the sound of it — great, at that — but different words.
4. JENS LEKMAN, “A Little Lost” (from the Rough Trade EP Four Songs By Arthur Russell)
Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman is the man behind the EP; and the compiler’s warm, kalimba-tinged contribution is a fine contribution indeed.
5. TAKEN BY TREES, “Make 1,2” (from the Rough Trade EP Four Songs By Arthur Russell)
…and a third; another spectral, haunting piece from the former Concretes singer, coloured with gentle clarinet.