From sub-Birthday Party clanking to acid fuzz-pop and now on to intense guitar
aggression MY BLOODY VALENTINE have become the Noise Chameleons of the '80s.
JACK BARRON dives into their slipstream and discovers that the boiling young
bloods are the head of a particularly ominous sonic scab that's surely about
to burst. STEPHEN SPELLER provides the oxy.
The journalist, immobilized by a massive student demonstration in Central
London, is late. A couple of miles up the road in a Kentish Town bar My Bloody
Valentine are getting restless.
The band's songwriter, frazzle-haired Kevin Shields, absent mindedly pulls
at the crater-sized hole in his jumper. For a minute his mind wanders to his
favorite drug - sex - before discarding the thought in favour of his second
drug of choice: vegetating.
Bilinda Butcher, who once studied dance at the Laban School before quitting
to take up slipstream guitar, looks at her watch and says to bassist Deb Googe:
"If the bloke doesn't turn up soon I'll have to go." Meanwhile, Dublin born
drummer, Colm O'Ciosoig, who if you look at him through squinted eyes bears
a resemblance to Animal out of The Muppets, is recalling one of his favorite
Has a lot of dreams does Colm, they're so vivid and fantastical he'd like
to turn them into films one day. This afternoon he's remembering his Apocalypse
dream. It occurs two days before a nuclear war in Ireland. Mass confusion
reigns. In the melée Colm meets a girl and falls in love with her.
Inspired, the drummer hot-wires her family's Rolls Royce and is then chased
by government spies who believe he has committed treason.
The pursuit ends in a park by the edge of a cliff. On the green a Bacchanalian
pre-Apocalypse party is going on the likes of which would make the local village
priest blush if he hadn't already disrobed his cassock and been making love
to a nun nodding out on a heroin jag.
A nude posse is formed to capture the traitorous drummer who flees to the
lip of the cliff. With certain death before him and eternal damnation behind
him Colm calmly steps over the edge...
The door of The Assembly Rooms pub slams, jerking Colm out of his reverie.
The noisy intruder has the hassled demeanor of a journalist very later for
an appointment. Colm, the lyricist of the firebrand song '(When You Wake)
You're Still In A Dream' on My Bloody Valentine's splendid new album, 'Isn't
Anything', lights a cigarette - *his* second favorite drug - and readies himself
for the interview.
The journalist makes amends for his tardiness by heading for the pumps. As
the pints are pulled he's still amazed by the demo he sat through for an hour
and a half. The '80s thus far has been noticeable for complete agitational
apathy on the parts of the students. Now, though, there are Young Bloods exploding
with energy and anger on the streets of the capital...and it isn't just confined
to protest demos.
Young Bloods are rattling the style bars of rock music in Britain. Until
recently, with the exception of The Mary Chain, the guitar might as well,
in these isles, have been a hairdryer. For a number of years it has been American
bands that have made all the running and found fresh ways to reinvent the
trad instrument. You know these people well enough: Sonic Youth, Hüsker
Dü, Swans, Dinosaur Jr, et al.
During the course of 1988, however, it has become increasingly apparent that
the American noisecore brutalists have had a knock-on effect in Britain. Every
week brings a Young Blood band to light that has tapped into the attitude
of aggressive psychoto-delic invention pioneered by the Americans. Some we
have already told you about: Loop, Spacemen 3, AC Temple, Head Of David and
Playground, while others such as God, You Make My Flesh Crawl, and Godflesh
are in the wings, waiting to be discovered.
The unexpected King Kongs in this pit of guitar gurus have ironically turned
out to be the once-fey wraiths of indie pop, My Bloody Valentine. Their new
album, 'Isn't Anything', is colossals. Surging with mutant guitar tones that
come from completely unconventional technique, and dappled with disembodies
vocals, the record's song structures are the aural equivalent of a bendy toy
with switchblades for teeth, or The Elephant Man looking at himself in a hall
of distorted mirrors.
Whether euphoric - as in the gorgeous 'No More Sorry' - or skin-flaying like
'Feed Me With Your Kiss', the compositions all verge on those moments when
psychoses give way to hallucinations. Or, in the blunt vernacular of their
publicist, "That LP! It does yer head in." And for once he isn't lying.
Besides sartorial scruffiness and mutually acknowledged idols such as The
Stooges and The Velvets, what My Bloody Valentine and the Young Bloods further
have in common with America's sonic brutalists is that the f***-the-max guitarpower
is allied to introverted and reflective lyrics.
There are no messages, manifestos or instructions to be heard. Instead these
band's look at their world, through occasionally dilated pupils and report
back, obscurely and absurdly.
There are of course exceptions to this. Spacemen 3 have stopped trying to
drag their brains out of their nostrils and now exhort and need for 'Revolution'
on their forthcoming single. In the main though, inner space, changing states
of mind, and emotional turmoil predominate lyrically. And with, as I've explained,
sex being the number one drug of My Bloody Valentine's principle songwriter,
Kevin Shields, it is hardly surprising that in amongst tunes dealing with
suicide ('Sueisfine') and disorientation ('I Can See It But I Can't Feel It')
there are five songs on the 'Isn't Anything' album about bonking. You'd be
hard-pressed though to name them all, such is the opaqueness of the lyrics.
The tape is switched on in the pub just in time for Bilinda to say "Hello-Goodbye."
When I tell the remaining three MBVs that their new music has come as a very
pleasant shock, especially since I gave up listening to them several years
ago following the saccharine 'Sunny Sundae Smile' pop affair, they fill in
the cracks in my knowledge.
"You know there have been about four different My Bloody Valentines," says
Kevin. "When Colm and I started out in Dublin years ago we were determined
not do anything that wasn't totally original. So we messed around with excruciating
"We wanted the act to be along the lines o The Butthole Surfers," continues
the drummer, "using tapes to make a total noise that would offend people.
So we came up with original music. The only problem was is was boring!"
"Boring" is the most frequently used description by MBV this afternoon. It's
the litmus test they have used on their own music during their career: if
it's a snore, pack it in and find a new format. Which is exactly what they've
done when I caught an earful of the tepid wax of the early singles owned by
the manager of The Primitives' fly-guy Wayne Norris.
At the time, 1986/7, the Valentines forsook their noisome experiments, which
had got them labelled as Birthday Party rip-offs in Ireland, and became obsessed
with coining perfect pop songs with sick lyrics.
"More than anything that was the obsession of our singer of the time, Dave,"
says Kevin. "Dave now writes novels, science fiction and horror, though he
hasn't had any published yet. The idea of composing a sweet pop song that
sugar-coated some lyrical horror and sending it hurtling up the charts appealed
to our sense of humour. Also it was fresh after having made pure noise earlier."
Lazy Wayne, ever the hustler, hoped to make the Valentines bona fide stars.
The band had their own ideas, however, while critics were trying to squeeze
them into pigeonholes like "a garage band" or "a legacy of the C86 shambles",
neither of which fitted.
"Wayne used to tell me all the things we should do to be more professional,"
says Kevin. "He said we had to make a commitment to him if we wanted to get
on and off the dole. We just couldn't agree with what he said though. We didn't
want to end up as a second rate Primitives. That was the last thing on our
Gradually it seemed that My Bloody Valentine were slipping not just into
the second division but the Isthmian League of the indie scene. Their first
album, 'Ecstasy', for example was deleted after a pressing of mere 2,000 records.
Critics and fans still failed to appreciate the evil lyrics behind the pretty
song titles. The joke hadn't worked because few actually caught on as to what
MBV were about.
"Once we'd mastered the art of writing snappy pop songs with our eyes and
ears closed, "continues Kevin, "the whole project started to become boring
as hell. And we reached a stage at the beginning of last year where we thought
there wasn't much point carrying on anymore. Then a couple of things happened.
Dave, our singer, left and with him to a certain extent this obsessive pop
thing and also Creation Records expressed an interest in us."
Home of powder-fluff cute pop, Creation wanted the Valentines for the very
same lightweight songwriting the band had grown annoyed with. To his credit,
Alan McGee allowed the group to forge ahead as they wanted, without restrictions,
an act of faith that soon paid off with the remarkable 'You Made Me Realise'
and 'Feed Me With Your Kiss' tinderboxes whose flashfire textures burned MBV's
once dodgy reputation down to a hard cinder. The latest album is a culmination
of the band's ethic of progress-via-boredom.
While MBV admit they have always been fans of Sonic Youth, Big Black and
so on, and that the Americans in turn have had a knock-on influence on the
Young Bloods of Britain, pinning down *exactly* what makes very distinct,
on the face of it, bands gravitate together proves difficult.
"If there's is a similarity it would be one of attitude," reckons Kevin.
"The people involved don't have any respect for the 'correct' way of playing
the guitar but are more interested in getting new sounds out whichever way
"It's an indulgence, yes, but I think it's important to go along with your
whims. Calculation never makes for originality, it's just limiting. Most originals
are original because they have been individuals willing to follow their whims
and not because they have formulated some incredibly original idea. But remember,
people have been making a loud racket with guitars for years, so it's not
a revolutionary thing."
Drug use may be prevalent among some of the groups mentioned here - the Valentines
have often been linked with acid - but that, as Kevin points out, doesn't
account for the trajectory of the band's music: "I don't think weird music
is the product of drugs distancing musicians from reality. After all, there
are a million and one bands who take drugs and still play shit-horrible music."
"If I was to try and make music that was acid-influenced it would be pretty
unlistenable. It would be very fast for a start, I could only imagine taking
one song and repeating it 30 times in three minutes. Maybe that's because
the acid nowadays is low on hallucinations and high on speed, compared to
If tabs aren't the catalysts for the current monstrous waves of psychotodelia
the source for the approach of the Young Bloods must lie elsewhere. And Kevin
believes he knows where.
"An important ingredient that links the best bands around now is that for
them 1967 and '77 aren't musically relevant years," he says. "That's because
the actual music punk bands made was really nothing compared to what came
out of the '60s. Punk was very formularised. What it had going for it was
the attitude and the excitement, much of it an exercise in successful hype."
"There are still bands around now who claim to be the future of whatever
but just look back to the redundant blueprint of punk hype and music. People
like Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Transvision Vamp. I don't particularly want to
slag off individuals since that's another very punk thing to do: try and justify
your own existence by putting others down."
"What I'm criticizing instead is the approach, the tired old binge of hyping
yourself by acting like idiots. For me the interesting bands are precisely
those who look before punk for their musical influences and attitudes, people
who hardly pay any attention to the media as such and so aren't constrained
by the need to be commercial."
Though sex is high on the content list of the Valentine's songs, it's eroticism
rather than lewdness that sweats through the tunes.
Deb was once in an all-girl group called Bikini Atoll (named after the island
where Britain conducted nuclear bomb tests) which was fine because it allowed
her to talk about PMT and other female-orientated subjects. The balanced divide
of the Valentines into two men and two women makes for an even more pleasant
relationship, she reckons.
Kevin and Colm are also happy with the set-up. "I think the whole rock'n'roll
thing of 'Yeah! We must go out and bed lots of groupies and get shit-faced'
stinks," opines the drummer.
"We're not interested in that gang mentality that a lot of all-male bands
have. I wasn't even in a gang when I was a kid at school! I don't see the
two women in our band as cramping my style. Far from it. It just means there
isn't any peer pressure on us to be rock'n'roll assholes."
My Bloody Valentine love bedtime though. They are the band that likes to
sleep a lot to dream a lot. If Kevin dreams about someone he knows, and in
the dream he hates the person, he finds that the relationship spills over
into waking life.
"I find it difficult to adjust to the person afterwards, even if I know them
well. It takes a few days to shake off the dreamed emotion," he says.
So do the band think that their new turbo-gliding music reflects the blur
sometimes created between dreams and reality?
"I think there are a lot of out-of-focus- qualities in some of our songs,"
concurs Colm." They aren't hard-edged or focused. A lot of sounds swirl about
in them and it's easy to imagine things in them that aren't actually there."
Do you have a problem with reality then?
The bar receipt arrives. £17.60! "Jesus!" thought the journalist as
he left the pub, "if that's the price of reality the Editor can foot the bill."
Originally appeared in NME 10 December 1988
Copyright © Melody Maker Magazine