Ian Svenonius

Ian Svenonius, long associated with the Washington DC music scene, is slated to perform Tuesday, 10/30, at 8PM at Rozz-Tox (2108 3rd Ave, Rock Island, IL). He has been making music since the late Eighties, and recording it since 1990. If there is any one musician who knows what’s possible in making music, it’s Svenonius – and Svenonius has never seemed the sort to acknowledge any kind of limitations. Catch one of his shows under his current project, Escape-ism [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDomSeWAUPs], and you will see imagination and talent at work – and a form of charisma, however awkward, capable of attracting people to these qualities.

Svenonius started working with the band that would become Nation of Ulysses, consisting of himself on vocals and trumpet, Steve Kroner on guitar, Steve Gamboa on bass, and James Canty on drums. Their 1991 debút album, 13-Point Program to Destroy America, produced by Ian MacKaye for Dischord Records, might have given one a sense of where they were coming from. (The following year, they released Plays Pretty for Baby.) The band would feature some fairly injurious sets, with band and audience members alike sharing wounds from the ensuing sonic chaos. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlY_6DTzWm4] [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEUZ6gM8Rq4] In 1990, Svenonius was named “Sassiest Boy in America” by Sassy magazine [https://i2.wp.com/www.brightestyoungthings.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/2247505092_bca7be5e8b_o.jpg?quality=100]. Looking distinctly Morrissey-esque in his poses, Svenonius was branded “the “most perfect boyfriend material a girl could ask for” by the magazine [https://brightestyoungthings.com/articles/dc-nostalgia-how-sassy-changed-ians-life]. From such Olympian heights, there seemed only one direction to go.

For a time, that may have been how it seemed to Svenonius: In 1992, Ulysses broke up over reasons that others might consider dis-spiriting (“the epoch changed with the advent of digital music and the Nirvana explosion. We were faced with what's now known as indie rock, a sort of vacuous form”) [https://web.archive.org/web/20060510201319/http://www.southern.com/southern/band/MAKUP/Int_Steady_diet.html]. Also, Kroner bailed on the group as they were recording their third album. (In 2000, six tracks from those sessions, plus some live tracks, were released as The Embassy Tapes.) In 1993, Svenonius, along with Gamboa and Canty, collaborated on the one-off project Cupid Car Club and released the four-song EP Join Our Club on Kill Rock Stars Records (Stand-out cut: “Grape Juice Plus”. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2D57fUl3kg]

Svenonius convinced his remaining Ulysses mates to participate with him in The Make-Up. Formed in ’95, the band added Michelle Mae on bass, Canty having switched over to organ and guitar and Gamboa from bass to drums. Four years later, Alex Minoff took over guitar duties. On songs like “R U a Believer” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UgpBjUmRXw], the band displayed its newly-acquired soul-verging-on-gospel elements; on “I am Pentagon”, there were bubble-gum influences evident [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njhtIFqWn2E].

The music made an intriguing combination, as the “soul/gospel” sound was, as Svenonius described it, an expression of “liberation theology” (which evinces a Franciscan concern for the poor and a Marxist-influenced call for the liberation of oppressed peoples – a form of theological thought that the Catholic Church, under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, rejected as antithetical to its dogmas), and the bubble-gum sound, in particular the French version known as the “yé-yé” sound, a far cry from The Archies [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMkUhH_J8Es].

In 2001, The Make-Up dissolved, as “It was becoming redundant and people were copying us. That's fine. We don't have to do it anymore because they can.” [http://www.freewilliamsburg.com/april_2003/scene-creamers.html] Elsewhere, he wasn’t so sanguine, citing “large number of counter-gang copy groups which had appropriated their look and sound and applied it to a vacuous and counter-revolutionary forms” [https://web.archive.org/web/20071024071206/http://www.dragcity.com/press/pimages/pdf/makeup.pdf]. In terms of productivity, though, if it was any consolation, they made more use of the buffalo in their time together than The Nation did, releasing Destination: Love – Live! at Cold Rice in 1996 (Dischord); After Dark in ’97 (same label); Sound Verite, same year (K Records); In Mass Mind, ‘98 (Dischord); Save Yourself, ’99 (K); and the singles compilation I Want Some, (same, same). (Untouchable Sound, released by Drag City Records, came out in 2006.)

2001 proved a very busy year for Svenonius. In the interim separating Make-Up’s dissolution and his next project, Svenonius recorded the solo-album Play Power, in June 2001, under the guise of David Candy. This project was part of a series of “Magazine-Style Records”, conceived by Mike Always, and all produced by Jez Butler and John Austin, which included other imaginary acts such as Death by Chocolate, Maria Napoleon, Mild Euphoria, and Lollipop Train. Three of the tracks were covers of film soundtracks, one of them well-known (“Komeda’s Lullaby”, the theme to Rosemary’s Baby, dir Roman Polanski, starr Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy, and Charles Grodin): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4kF1irRbBU), and the other two relatively obscure (“Listen to the Music”, from 1968’s “Wild in the Streets”, dir Barry Shear, starr Christopher Jones, Hal Holbrooke, and Shelly Winters [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkXSvVRTTFI], and “Big Bad Boy” from 1967’s Privilege, dir Peter Watkins, starr Paul Jones, Jean Shrimpton, Mark London, and Jeremy Child) [No link]; the rest feature Svenonius/Candy reciting neo-beatnik poetry over keyboards, Latin percussion, and the kind of orchestration found commonly in spy films.

His next project, Weird War, retained Mae and Minoff in its line-up. [http://dis11.herokuapp.com/in_depth/9254-not-going-to-mars] Now established on Drag City, Weird War’s 2002 eponymous debút featured Neil Hagerty (of Royal Trux) and Jessica Espeleta on guitars and Steve McCarty on drums. For their next album, the band changed its name to The Scene Creamers [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ4MXFPQK80], and released, in 2003, I Suck on That Emotion (track: “Luxemborg”), but were forced to change their name back when a French graffiti-artist collective threatened to sue them for name infringement. 2004’s If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Bite ‘Em, boasted “AK-47” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVA-qjv5V4U] and the title cut [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8uStcVZ0ZI], on which Royal Trux’s Jennifer Herrema, aka JJ Rox, contributed vocals; the album cover-art resembled that Lou Reed’s 1978 “Live: Take No Prisoners”. Their last album to date, 2005’s Illuminated by the Light, was praised by Kitty Empire of The Guardian, [https://www.theguardian.com/music/2005/apr/17/popandrock], who observed that their single, “Girls like That” was “the kind of song that would be a stealth hit if only a Radio 2 DJ would champion it”, whereas Jason Crock of Pitchfork identified the song as “a disco-shuffling highlight but after four minutes, I never have to hear that ‘Staying Alive’ bassline ever again” [https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/8619-illuminated-by-the-light/]. Since Svenonius was the band’s one constant member throughout War’s iterations, it remains up to him how long in limbo a follow-up album warrants – or if one is even necessary.

Between that album and his next music project, four years later, he published, in 2006, a collection of essays he had been writing over the years, The Psychic Soviet, published by Drag City Press; since then, he’s authored Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ’n’ Roll Group and Censorship Now!! (both for Akashic Press). The Soviet book is pocket-sized, bound in bright-pink plastic with beveled edges, and resembles a Gideon Bible or Mao’s “Red Book”. Svenonius, who got his political education through a local DC art-school of sorts called The Corp Group (“now gone”), wrote an essay about the "cosmic depression" that followed the fall of the Soviet Union, and its perceived “defeat” in the Cold War. When asked if there was a clinical aspect to this depression, Svenonius replied, “Well, you read in Jean-Paul Sartre, in ‘The Age of Reason’, you know, he talks about the end of the Spanish Civil War, the defeat of the Republic, as an ‘end of idealism’; and maybe the end of the Soviet Union was a similar thing. That’s what right-wing ideologues said: ‘This is the end of [Marxism] and of any kind of deviation from the market’. They had to invent a new enemy to keep the war machine going, so they invented militant Islam and financed that, and still do. I mean, the war in Syria is a great example: Obama and the Saudis and Turkey financed and manufactured ISIS so they’d have somebody to bomb, in a previously-sovereign country, you know.”

In late 2007, Svenonius began hosting the show “Soft Focus”, on Vice’s online “Noisey” channel [https://www.vice.com/en_us/topic/soft-focus?page=2]. He brought his peculiar form of audience-address to the art of the interview – is he mocking the conventions of interview-hosts, such as the rigged-up sincerity? Or has he been actively subverting the spectacle of musicianship for so long that his tone just sounds insincere? – he has interviewed such musicians as Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P37WqViJNVs], Henry Rollins [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=In6zZJb5BhI], Chan “Cat Power” Marshall https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4z04C-BJnI, and Genesis P’Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV (that one a four-parter – here’s the first: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9D21xdwJc0). Relying nominally on a lottery machine (a high-falutin’ bingo-twirler) to determine which guests the show would pursue, Svenonius had promised that “Soft Focus would be a singularly democratic institution in a society rotten with fascists.” To answer one’s own question, it does appear that Svenonius has real affection (and, in the case of Buzz Osbourne of The Melvins, understandable bemusement) for the performers with whom he’s bantered, and his awkwardness, feigned or legitimate (or six of one), works for him either way.

By now, Svenonius had garnered enough musician cachet to enlist the likes of Fred Thomas, Arrington de Dionyso, Brian Weber (of Dub Narcotic Sound System fame), Fiona Campbell (of Vivian Girls and Coasting), Sarah Pedal (Seahorse Liberation Army), Katie Greer, and Faustine Hudson (The Curious Mystery) – and that’s the short list. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Svenonius] The Gang didn’t seem hobbled by the usual musician concerns, given the collaborations were temporary in nature, but the various iterations played nonetheless like they were together for decades, having held each other’s hair over the toilet after nights of hard partying and driven each other’s cars down the wrong way of one-way streets – and have been living off those near-death experiences to give their songs that extra kick in the crotch. Their discography includes 2009’s Down with Liberty… Up with Chains! (K Records. Stand-out: “Deathbed Confession” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP1MnaRnVNY] and “Reparations” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvY9yims_Kk]); 2011’s Music’s Not for Everyone (K; “Detroit Music” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOFcHmaizPU] and “Not Good Enough [Dub] [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJXdi4KqjF8]); 2012’s In Cool Blood (K; “Heavy Breathing” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zip5DFoPa7U] and “Certain Kinds of Trash” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeYodvSK320]; 2014’s Minimum Rock n Roll (Dischord; “I’m a Choice [Not a Child]” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFnCR3YYc8o] and “Devitalize” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iXR6RBmazQ]); 2017’s Live at Third Man Records: 07/03/2016; the compilation Best of Crime Rock (same year, In the Red Records); and Experimental Music (same, Radical Elites Records; “Don’t Make Me Dream” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NT_oXZ8lm84] and “I Hate Winners” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNn2Um7Ui1w]). And, in 2014, to dispel the notion that he might be letting the side down slacking off, he collaborated with some individual calling him/herself “Memphis Production”, who’s purportedly worked for NON! and The DumDum Boys – but whose name doesn’t appear on both bands’ albums, as a musician or a producer – under the name XYZ, for the full-length album S/T, on Mono-Tone Records (“Where Do You Come From?” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qs7RGdgKx9U] and “Everybody Wants to Be Poor” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jUs1H7uSYA]).

Now, 2017 had proved another busy year for this insanely productive individual. Bear in mind that, while he was overseeing a compilation, a live album, and a full-length album on behalf of Chain and The Gang, he had three other projects going under the aegis of Escape-ism: an untitled record for Flat Black Studios, [https://www.flatblackstudios.com/about2/] produced by Luke Tweedy of Sinner Frenz out in Lone Tree, Iowa (“I’m a Lover [at Close Range]” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI7XTSKSqVw); an album for Merge Records, Introduction to Escape-ism (“Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDomSeWAUPs) and “Crime Wave Rock” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxXd-ZsbP5Q); and a shared-disc with Light Beams, Split, for Lovitt Records (“[Return to the] Iron Curtain”, a continuation of the “Iron Curtain” track off Introduction [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5fKZZP4V3g]).

And this year, we had another one, The Lost Record. A third of this one was recorded again at Flat Black Studios. “It’s a highly conceptual record,” Svenonius said. “The idea being that, all these records are re-released, and it’s so-and-so’s ‘lost record’, the ‘lost classic’ – nobody appreciated it at the time of its release, but now, we can appreciate it. As connoisseurs, we can see something that people passed over, you know? And it’s kind of a big part of the narrative of rock n’ roll records, this idea of, oh, it was such a tragedy at the time, people couldn’t understand this, it’s so far ahead of its time, it’s so innovative, or it’s too weird; but now, modern sensibilities can understand it. So The Lost Record is jumping over this awkward in-between stage, where the record has to journey through oblivion and it’s gone straight into classic status, straight into rediscovery, and re-appreciated in the way it should be.”

If we buy into the notion that his 2014 XYZ/ST album was another collaboration, then the work Svenonius has done for Escape-ism has been entirely his own solo work. If the name reminds you (inescapably) of the 1971 James Brown single of the same name [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4A430qOnzyg], then you’re going to go far in the music biz, matey. “Escape-ism” was the first single off Brown’s label, People Records, and, to erase all suspicions that the label was anybody else’s but his, he devoted nineteen minutes of tape-space to recording a tight rhythm section looping continually while he and some of the other cats sounded like they were just sitting around, playing poker, listening to Brown shoot the shit, waiting for Bobby Byrd to show up – or, at least, that’s the impression with which Brown wanted to leave us: “The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business”, as he was somewhat condescendingly known, was working hard at sounding casual. It felt like the inadvertent establishment of a new aesthetic. Was it not stretching the boundaries of plausibility to presume that some of that sensibility – of the paradox of the highly-manufactured sense of looseness, like, oh, Neil Young’s 1975 album Tonight’s the Night – might inform Svenonius’s own?

“Yeah, absolutely; it absolutely does,” Svenonius said. “I also think that was [Brown’s] liberation… it’s like it was ‘escape-ism’ on a lot of different fronts: psychedelic culture was taking over; funk felt like, after the death of Dr Martin Luther King, people were becoming a little anti-structure. I think the structurelessness of funk music is, to me, symptomatic of a loss of idealism. Like, soul music was an idealistic form: it’s like the idea we can wrap everything up in this perfect package, and we can fit everything into this two-and-a-half single; we can put a guitar solo, a perfect hook, a story, and wrap it up and give it everything. James Brown’s Polydor period and Funkadelic records and this lack of idealism had kind of nihilism about it. There’s a certain – King was killed, and then right then you have Nixon; and Nixon was a real signal that the Sixties protest movements were also not – he was a lot like Trump, actually, in the sense that he presented himself as the non-interventionist candidate, and he tolerated violence.”

Svenonius was a man after one’s own heart on the subject of the early Seventies, and the atmosphere of paranoia that works like Philip K Dick’s 1977 A Scanner Darkly (which he started in 1973), Francis Ford Coppolla’s 1974 The Conversation, or Curtis Mayfield’s 1970 album Curtis, caught so superbly. The flip side of that, of course, was the need to stave off such dreadful thoughts and feelings, and to lose oneself in, say, a big fat groove that one’s stylus could rub itself into, over and over and over again. Brown, himself a workaholic and a perfectionist, was the type of person to worry over a musical phrase until it sounded just right, and had it reflect a certain state of mind that he wanted (usually because it would pay dividends at the jukebox). His individual horn players could take extended solos – Fred Wesley on trombone, or St Clair Pinckney on tenor sax, or Byrd on organ – but with the understanding that they wouldn’t stray too far out of key; and if bassist Fred Thomas didn’t have his part nailed down, Brown would drill him on it until he did. One would have been entirely happy to hear Thomas play that passage for ten minutes or so before the other instruments were added to the mix – and, back in the Seventies, one could imagine Philip Glass driving his taxi across New York as one of his operas were being performed at the Met, hearing such a hypnotic bass-roll again and again; and being inspired anew… .

“It’s always interesting when pop music is formally adventurous,” Svenonius agrees. “I think that happens inadvertently a lot with, I don’t know, hip-hop music, where it sounds absolutely avant-garde. And that’s kind of what happened with James Brown, in a sense.”

Escape-ism, according to Svenonius, is his own thing. “It’s pretty much pre-planned. It’s just me. I rely on the producer to give it a vibe, like a stereophonic effect. Escape-ism is hyper-minimalist. It’s as little as it could be until it makes it as music. I rely on the producer or whoever I’m recording with to just help me get those sonics across, to get a clean sound, but very engaging, because we really have to grab the listener with so little there, that the elements just have to sound cool. Because there’s a lot of pretty radical stereo effects. Normally, I’m a big mono fan in my rock n’ roll bands. I’m kind of into the idea of making a mono record because [you’ll have a system that’s] broken, with the one speaker that doesn’t work, and it just seems that you can’t rely on hi-fi circumstance. You can’t really trust that. I usually like a mono set-up. But for Escape-ism, it’s a radical studio mix that’s usually employed. So that’s what I look to the producer for. But, musically, the songs are written before I come into the studio.”

Of the songs off Introduction, “Lonely at the Top” and “Walking in the Dark” got the most responses, but “Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day” has the distinction of appearing on Introduction [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLQyx2aWb3s], The Lost Record [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dm6SyM_Wmgg], AND Chain and The Gang’s Experimental Music [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBHff4MVruM]. “It’s kind of our theme,” Svenonius said. “We’ve yet to make a video for it. We should really make a video. Because, as I’m learning, videos are really the way songs are proliferated in the modern day.”

There necessarily has to be a visual component to sell the sonic?

“Maybe I’m wrong,” Svenonius says. “I don’t know. These things change every day now. It’s very dangerous to get satisfied with an idea, especially technologically speaking, because with the era, everything can change so quickly. The paradigm is always turned on its head.”

It really didn’t feel how it started for you with The Nation of Ulysses?

“That’s funny,” he says, “because that was a period of transformation, too, because CDs were being introduced. So that was the beginning of it. Vinyl was obviously the thing, but cassettes actually outsold vinyl; and then CDs were shadowing the whole thing. And then obviously they were where the paradigm started, by an industry that loved to be able to reproduce them cheaply. The format is constantly transforming, and the way people are listening transforms accordingly – but, yeah, things are a bit more static… Although I didn’t really put out any records until the mid-Nineties, so I’m really a Nineties person.”

One saw a bit of the original agenda of Public Image Ltd – the first three albums, anyway – in the political facets of Svenonius’s music and writing: the idea that, by deconstructing the music industry that crafted personas as well as recorded and distributed albums, what was done in theatre with Bertolt Brecht’s Alienation Effect might be accomplished in the musician-fan-industry triad, whereby the fan becomes less apt to identify with the musicians as heroic figures, and less trusting of the industry for encouraging such idolatry. But Svenonius appeared to be taking that mission further, toward addressing the power structures that kept such industries propped up: market-forces by themselves wouldn’t dominate. In The Psychic Soviet, one of Svenonius’s essays, “Rock n’ Roll as a Religion”, likens the rock-music format to “an enormous ideological putsch, as radical an ideological transformation as has ever been initiated by any of the revolutions throughout history” – that is to say, not a wholly negative development (“rock ‘n’ roll is a way of getting people out of a Depression mentality and the Christian ethos of denial”), but not a positive one, either. In his September 2007 interview with Saelan Twerdy of Discorder [https://web.archive.org/web/20070927212253/http://discorder.ca/2006/11/illuminated-by-the-light/], he said, “I have no education, but I am a rock ‘n’ roll worker, I’m part of the rock ‘n’ roll work force. I have a firsthand experience and insight and I’m asking the pertinent questions: why did rock ‘n’ roll assume paradigmatic status as America’s number one export during the Cold War? Why has it been alternately bankrolled or abandoned by its benefactors? What is the point of its ideology and why have we accepted the idea that it’s still liberating?”

So, how wide were the sights he had trained on the systemic evils he wanted to see vanquished?

“[Starting out], we were living inside a world-view. Nation of Ulysses was a radical-terrorist political group, and we were – it was quite developed. The reason being because we weren’t pop hit-makers in a trend-driven market. Nation of Ulysses developed a couple years before it was really a viable rock-n’-roll group. Because of that, we had literature, we had theory, we had a lifestyle we all shared. We weren’t just put together by a shop-owner advertising clothes. Nation of Ulysses was a developed culture. It wasn’t just a funny concept, you know? I’m not saying Nation of Ulysses was such a great band. It was developed. It was a developed concept. That’s why I liked Devo. It’s such a profound group because they actually developed a layer of content for a couple of years. They marinated on their content. It wasn’t just [about getting] a little bit famous or renowned, you know.”

I asked Svenonius if he were aware that the members of Devo, during their graphic-arts days at Ohio University – singer Gerald Casale was present at the 1970 shootings; he was friends with Alison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, and was standing near Krause when she and Miller were gunned down – were employed by an ad firm that was promoting an automobile-rust-proofing outfit. No, he was not aware. During filming of Neil Young’s 1982 film “Human Highway”, an insane film, even without the participation of Devo, the brothers Casale and the others took to repeating the line, “rust never sleeps”, which figured in the product’s eventual ad campaign. Young was taken by that line, interpreting it to mean one had to fight entropy daily in order to avoid corruption, corrosion, and irrelevance. (Devo had a more environmentalist take on it.) Svenonius expressed delight at that bit of history.

“I just met Jerry Casale, and he was a brilliant, brilliant guy,” Svenonius said. “Brilliant. Very inspiring. He showed a bunch of the movies he made with Chuck Statler. I got to do a five-minute interview with him, and it was just so cool. Everything he said was so inspiring. He should really be touring campuses. He should really be filling arenas. He’s got a great message and he’s inspiring as a speaker. Just unbelievably fantastic.”

Do you see your own music as remaining consistent with the principles set down with the Nation of Ulysses, or did adjustments have to be made?

“I would say that every group has its own proposal,” Svenonius said, “and certainly all the groups are not the same – they might be similar because I’m always assuming, necessarily, from afar, they all seem the same; but they’re all very different. So [Nation of Ulysses] is a political party, and we were influenced by whatever we were influenced by; and then we came up with another group with a different proposal, musically and ideologically; and The Make-Up is a different one, and Weird War is different, and Chain and The Gang is different from that, and Escape-ism is different from it – so I would say, yeah, they are not consistent, really. And the world changed a lot. So my approach for music is not just mediated by my age and experience, but also by the context. You know, it’s completely different; and you’re necessarily influenced by what people around you value and your audiences value. You know, things just change, and you necessarily have a different approach.”

Svenonius considers himself “part of an art-school rock n’ roll tradition, you know, shared by The Clash, John Lennon, The Who – you know, The Kinks, bands like that – it’s a conceptually-driven approach to rock n’ roll music. It’s based on presenting the group as an artistic proposal, and it’s what’s kind of missing from music now. People are a little too slavishly adhering to the history of rock, and not looking beyond it, you know.”

There’s also a smugness and contempt for so-called academic mindset.

“You can really blame ‘Legs’ McNeil for that,” Svenonius said. “The ‘Please Kill Me’ book proposes a rock n’ roll vision of just total idiocy that’s just based on gossip and sex and drugs, and it really has informed the entire twenty-first-century approach. Digital culture means that the history of rock n’ roll is at everyone’s fingertips: every nuanced moment. Along with that comes a lot more critical acumen, and what’s been held aloft as important and vital. So people are less prone to make embarrassing mistakes. They aren’t going to make something that isn’t cool, because they all know exactly what’s supposed to be cool. They’ve been taught. There’s a lot of – and there’s a kind of unified brain, where everybody is informed by the same idea of what the classics are, and what the canon is, you know? So you have thing – and then the kind of bible of punk history is this thing that is really reductionist and anti-intellectual, you know? This book that just says, ‘The Ramones are the greatest band,’ and ‘Anyone with any artistic or political pretenses is an idiot’. So those things in tandem have created a scene that is very not adventurous, it’s not conceptual, and it’s definitely not political in any interesting way. Right now, we have this political trend, but it’s all based on identity politics; it’s all kind of this very introverted political sensibility – which is fine, but it’s a little – it’s not about helping anyone else; it’s just about people asserting their own identity.”

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