Sunday, 28 April 2013

Essay: Shades of Ariel Pink

Ariel Pink / Photo by Nick Haymes
Ariel Pink (photo by Nick Haymes)
I'm back from the US and back writing essays for Dummy regularly. Here's the first one of 2013 (click here to read it) reconsidering the idea of Ariel Pink's influence on the Altered Zones Generation and tracing his own influence, recontextualising him as an echo of 1980s Cassette Culture.

"If you look at the whole of the indie-pop underground wearing Ariel-Pink-tinted spectacles, it should come as no surprise that you’ll only see a multi-coloured scene in monochrome, in shades of Pink...

It hopefully doesn’t need emphasising that Ariel Pink didn’t invent home-recording, or lo-fi, or even retro-lo-fi. In fact, if we look at the history of home-recording and lo-fi, Pink can begin to look like the end of an era rather than the beginning of one. Since the early 1980s, the very same language applied to Pink was being applied to one of his avowed greatest influences and sometime collaborator, R Stevie Moore. Moore was called “the godfather of home-taping” so many times it was practically a cliché...

If anyone can be credited with inventing lo-fi, at least aesthetically, it’s Richie Unterberger and the community of like-minded critics and fans surrounding him. ‘Unknown Legends’s tone of joy mixed with pathos and archeological nostalgia closely matches that of the reviews of Pink’s earlier albums. In its foreword, Lenny Kaye writes of “these dusty corridors of rock ‘n’ roll history, walls covered with posters advertising gigs long encored, and record collections consigned to that great garage sale in the sky”. But it’s when Unterberger turns to one early cassette culture artist who was very popular with Option magazine in the 80s, Martin Newell of the band Cleaners from Venus, that the book really begins to prophecy Ariel Pink. Unterberger describes the band’s early recordings as “lo-fi, murkily recorded affairs that couldn’t hide the power of the melodies, or a wit that could be both tender and savage”, which incorporated “boxy drum sounds” and bore comparison to R Stevie Moore, who was “using the same sort of approach”...

Yet, whether it’s Ariel Pink, R Steve Moore, Richie Unterberger or Martin Newell, it’s of course wrong to pin responsibility for the music of the AZ Generation on any one person. The assumption that history unfolds mainly by individual musicians influencing other individual musicians in a purely musical way is an old-fashioned one that comes from classical music history and its long lines of Great Men and their Great Works. There are greater forces at play, such as taste, technology and social relations. So what might be a better assessment of the historical causes of the AZ Generation? I think the answer’s relatively clear: digital recording technology....

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