Thursday, August 31, 2006

Zero as a limit

When they come to write the story of independent and boutique labels (and recent tomes on Warp, Factory and Rough Trade suggest that this day is drawing ever closer), a whole chapter should be devoted to the short-lived but peerless Infinite Zero, if there's any justice.

Run and curated by Rick Rubin and Henry Rollins for a couple of years in the mid-90s, the label was devoted to re-releasing the obscure and offbeat, and those records that had scandalously been allowed to go out of print. While it wasn't an independent label-- it was distributed through Rubin's American Recordings, and hence through Warners-- it had an A&R policy so eclectic that it made most indies seem impossibly conservative. Because they only had to answer to themselves, the releases reflected the founders' tastes, and you can sometimes detect the guiding hand of Rollins or Rubin in the labels' choices. The two Trouble Funk albums released on Infinite Zero, for example, were surely at the behest of Rubin, whose love of go-go shone through his production of Def Jam's The Junkyard Band back in 1986. The numerous Alan Vega releases, on the other hand, must be Rollins' contribution; his affiliation with Vega, and love of Suicide, can be seen in the support his 2.13.61 publishing house continues to give to this day, publishing tomes of Vega's lyrics and issuing CDs of the man's later material.

Other releases reflected the labels "because we can" philosophy. Examples include Iceberg Slim's Reflections and Louise Huebner's Seduction Through Witchcraft, a track from which appears below. The latter featured a self-professed witch's incanations over primitive Walter Carlos-era electronics; the former was the spoken-word/jazz offering from literature's most famous pimp. Astonishingly, some albums that had gone out of print and been revived by Infinite Zero have again become deleted since the label's demise. For example, Rubin and Rollins re-released Gang of Four's third LP, Songs of the Free, when the Futureheads were still in short trousers. Why now, in the post-Rip It Up era, has this been allowed to disappear from the record racks? It'd sell, surely?

Flipper, Devo, James Chance and Tom Verlaine all benefited from re-releases on the label, and while there was a definite post-punk edge to many of its artists, Infinite Zero would always throw you a curveball by showcasing, say, Missisippi Fred McDowell's blues, or Alan Watts' Hindu drones. As Rollins opined at the time: "Michael Bolton is allowed to have his records in print, so should Alan Vega, James White, Gang of Four and the rest." The label disappeared within two or three years of its start up, as Rollins and Rubin concentrated on their own labels, 2.13.61 and American respectively, and after it had presumably outlived its usefulness as a tax loss.

As a label taster, I present here three track showcasing its wildly diverse A&R policy: Matthew Shipp's Circular Temple no. 2, a piece of modern piano jazz only available in an edition of 1,000 prior to Infinite Zero's intervention, a snatch of Trouble Funk live, a go-go extravaganza from Washington DC's finest, and the aforementioned Ms Huebner's Demon Spell for Energy. Enjoy! And keep searching those cut out bins for Infinite Zero-branded stock.

Download Circular Temple no. 2 (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Trouble Funk live (excerpt) (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Demon Spell for Energy (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Careering Opportunities

Pil do "Careering" live. How cool is Keith Levene? As Annie Nightingale says, this is the most powerful performance ever on the Old Grey Whistle Test.

It sounds even better than it does on Metal Box. See it NOW.
The poster of this vid, digitronTV, has some other terrific vids on his youtube space; if you have a few hours spare, you could do worse than check 'em out. Some highlights are below:

The Clash On Broadway

A clip from The Fabulous Stains (Steve Jones/ Paul Cook/Ray Winstone/ Paul Simenon)

A fantastic clip from a documentary on dub (which one? any clues?)

A Certain Ratio in rehearsal

Sid James

Doug E Fresh

James Brown at the Rumble In The Jungle

Friday, August 11, 2006

Miami: Nice

Apologies for the absence. We've been out having fun, and one of the funnest things you can do when your kids are away with grandma is go to the flicks, right? Our quarterly treat came last week in the form of a visit to the excellent Cameo Cinema to see Michael Mann's latest. To say I was psyched would be an understatement, though after three months away from the big screen even Adam Sandler would have seemed like Godard. Happily, all the Michael Mann elements were present and correct.
  • Total lack of humour--check (how awful would this have been with constant references to espadrilles and rolled-up sleeves, and an "ironic" cameo by Don Johnson and Philip Micahel Thomas?).
  • Inaudible dialogue--check.
  • Barely comprehensible plot--check.
  • Incredible, Citizen Kane-esque depth of field--check.
  • Attention to compositional detail--check.
  • Stunning set-pieces (the aircraft disappearing from the radar, the shoot-out in the trailer)--check.
  • Casual ultra-violence--check.
  • First-rate soundtrack--check
In fact, the soundtrack of any Mann film (or TV series for that matter) is one of the main reasons for seeing it. From Shriekback in Manhunter to Mogwai, Moby and Goldfrapp in Miami Vice, the director has always opted for interesting music (regularly working with Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, for example). Hell, he's even managed to make Phil Collins sound cool in the past.

Heat, his greatest achievement IMHO, also has the most diverse soundtrack. Few directors could pull off a heist movie with a largely ambient score, but Mann delivers. The CD is well worth seeking out, and it features Einsturzende Neubauten, Moby, Passengers, the Kronos Quartet, and the aforementioned Lisa Gerrard (William Orbit appears on the film soundtrack but didn't make the cut for the CD). However, two of the highlightsof this disc are presented below, a fantastic Michael Brook guitar piece, Ultramarine, and Brian Eno's Force Marker, used to score the bank robbery in Heat, an incredible sequence, and for my money right up there with parts of Battleship Potemkin. "Check it out, yo" as Barry Norman never said.

Download Ultarmarine by Michael Brook (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Force Marker by Brian Eno (deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)