Feature/Literature/Paolo Bardelli

Continuing our successful collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz , the Monolith Cocktail shares reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts during 2021 and beyond.

This month Kalporz head honcho Paolo Bardelli tells us how a recent radio spot promotion of his new book, 1991: The awakening of rockBrit pop, trip hop, crossover, grunge and other exciting music, sparked off a discussion on the alternative-metal band Helmet, and the travails of being swallowed whole by the majors: hungry to sign up anything rock music; any band of guitar welding hopefuls in the light of Nirvana’s success.

Recently, in promoting my latest book, I found myself mentioning Helmet on the radio, and listeners called to thank me for mentioning a band that is often, and unfairly, forgotten.

And they’re right.

Helmet were one of the symbols of that period, and of that year to which I dedicated the book, 1991, when the majors signed anyone, even my aunt, as long as they did grunge or heavy rock. It didn’t matter what genre – metal, crossover, noise, shoegaze, etc. etc. – the important thing was that there was a lot of grunge. As long as there was a lot of guitar, played loud and powerful.

And there is a song, perhaps the most famous of the New York noise band’s catalogue, which shows – in its history – the plastic representation of that transition: ‘Unsung’. The first album of Page and associates (Strap It On, 1990) was released on an independent label, Amphetamine Reptile Records, which specialised in noise, but AmRep couldn’t keep their thoroughbreds in the stable for long. They were flailing. Just before Helmet made the jump to Interscope, in May 1991, on the 26th, they recorded the Peel Sessions and played the new ‘Unsung’. Such a song did not go unnoticed: Amphetamine Reptile hastened to release it, and so it was still 1991, in the live version played by Peel, as a 45 rpm, and to provide it with a video that I thought was wonderful and still respected independent standards: you see Helmet on a disused stage in an amphitheater abandoned to weeds and cockroaches.

“Unsung” was a business card that was too greedy: among all the majors that wanted to get them and that wanted to turn them into the “new Nirvana”, Interscope Records got the better of them (for a million dollars!), immediately re-releasing Strap It On (and it was still 1991, but how fast did things happen?) and brought Helmet into the studio to give a follow-up to that album, which would then be represented by the “famous” Meantime (1992). And “Unsung” was also re-recorded and given a video more in line, in theory, with the band’s new image.

Notwithstanding that ‘Unsung’ kicks ass in its first and second versions, I much prefer the video with the cockroaches. Well, at the time when the majors were grabbing these bands, maybe they were also sucking some soul out of them, and this comparison of two videos can be a clear illustration of that. But the majors also made these bands better known to most people, and that was a good thing, something Kurt Cobain also always pointed out, happy that unlike before, a teenager could find Nevermind in a Walmart store. Today the 1991 video has 15,000 views on YouTube, the official 1992 video over 11 million. Just to give you the idea.

Even selling your soul “to the devil” has its advantages.

(Paolo Bardelli)

More info on Paolo’s book can be found here: “1991. Il risveglio del rock. Brit pop, trip hop, crossover, grunge e altra musica eccitante” (Arcana)

News/Review/Paolo Bardelli




Continuing in 2020 with our collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz, the Monolith Cocktail will be cosying up and sharing reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts.

This month Paolo Bardelli brings news of Zoe Polanski’s upcoming LP, and previews her brand new single, ‘Pharaoh’s Island’.



The new album by Israeli singer Zoe Polanski, who we already know as a performer for the Spark O project, will be titled Violent Flowers and will be released on July 17 on the New York label Youngbloods. The Israeli singer, currently based in Haifa, spent last summer in New York recording with the band Ketamine and completing a film course at the School of Visual Arts, where she also found her label.

Zoe Polanski’s charm is not limited to her evocative voice, but to the same post-new age settings as on the new single ‘Pharaoh’s Island’. The song is inspired by the island located in the Gulf of Aqaba, and Polanski said: “What enchanted me about the place was the fact that under this militarized land there is a parallel universe that exists underwater, namely a colony exceptionally rich in corals and marine life.”

An anticipation that makes us anxiously await the full length, and that makes us be sure that this girl has so many ideas in her head and so much musically to express.




Exchange Article/Gianluigi Marsibilio





Continuing in 2020 with our collaboration with the leading Italian music publication Kalporz, the Monolith Cocktail will be cosying up and sharing reviews, interviews and other bits from our respective sites each month. Keep an eye out for future ‘synergy’ between our two great houses as we exchange posts.

This month, Gianluigi Marsibilio looks into the phenomenon of “Spotification” as he explores the evolution of music’s fruition through streaming with Prof. Rasmus Fleischer.

 

Spotify is a giant metaphor for the entire cultural sector. From music to podcasts, which have changed the way of radio and storytelling, Swedish society since 2008 has fostered a new way of interacting with users and people, and with the whole cultural production, not just music.

“Spotifisation” then is a fundamental theme and we talked about it with the theme expert Rasmus Fleischer, who wrote an interesting publication on the theme of cultural “universal spotification” (“Universal Spotification? The shifting meanings of “Spotify” as a model for the media industries”). Fleischer is a researcher in economic history at the University of Stockholm: his academic work has mainly focused on media history and political economy, with a particular focus on music. He was also co-author of the book Spotify Teardown (MIT Press, 2019).

The Spotify model, although not unique, hides many criteria that have been taken up by various startups to promote a similar model, applying it to news, books, magazines and every aspect of the cultural sector.

At the heart of this business model is certainly the concept of hype, i.e. the establishment of a flow of news, rumors and anticipations that shift attention and expectation to a particular element. An interesting definition comes directly from Professor Fleischer’s paper, in which this process is identified as a mechanism for “shaping the future from the present”.

However, in order to understand this circularity Spotify has shaped one has to remember how it all came about: “At least in Sweden, the process has been closely linked to social and political conflicts over file sharing and copyright enforcement, including the legal case against The Pirate Bay (a popular file sharing site in Sweden and active in 2003). The music industry,” Fleischer explained, “would probably not have agreed to license the tracks if it hadn’t been so desperate.

With the passing of the years and the development of the model everything has become much more complex, until what we can define in 2010 as “Spotify’s curatorial turning point”, in fact Fleischer insists on this point: “Before then, Spotify was basically conceived as a big archive”.





The breakthrough that came in the early 2010’s was important and defined streaming as we use it and know it today: “Starting in 2013, the service has been rethought in order to give more importance to the recommendations. This no longer assumes that the listener knows what to look for, in fact an endless stream of music is presented”.

A change, a revolution of this kind, offers important insights and perhaps brings back to the question that Kalporz’s very own Paolo Bardelli asked himself in the site’s My2Cents column: “Isn’t it time for Spotify, Deezer and the other platforms to become record labels? The change of direction has in fact given another kind of influence to Spotify on the way people listen to music and it would be interesting to see how this kind of reasoning has led to the development and growth of some genres over others. Fleischer pointed out for example that: “Music described as “chill” is particularly well suited to the new paradigm”.

There is no single model to describe and encompass the infinite facets of the cultural and music industry: “At first it was thought that the “Spotify model” was linked to free access, leaving everything to be financed only by advertising”. Over the years, however, everything has been designed and structured in the form of monthly subscriptions and today, thanks to the care and management of Big Data, we are able to have reliable predictions about the music industry. The change of strategy has also been reported in an article published in Wired that indicates how: “Consumers have become more and more accustomed to the idea of paying for access to digital media that they once received for free” and in fact, data from 2018 shows how now only 10% of Spotify’s revenue comes from advertising.

To get into a purely musical discourse, you can see that Spotify and co. have contributed to “destroy the album, now count the singles made to enter the playlist”. Over the years, however, “it’s also conceivable that Spotify will try to integrate the playlists by directly releasing music. In any case – recalled Fleischer – we must not forget that there are important movements developing outside Spotify and even in opposition to it. An example could be the rise of the so-called Soundcloud Rap”.

The phenomenon of Spotify and streaming platforms in music can then be linked to the deeper analysis of a media landscape moving towards an algorithmic culture. From this point of view among the various services, Fleischer explained: “Netflix dealt with algorithmic recommendations long before Spotify”. The music streaming service, on the other hand, has started to take care of this, particularly expected by its “curatorial” turning point. This phenomenon of playlist care, through algorithms, comes out of a whole series of choices made by services such as Songza, which used music experts to target listeners already in the early 2000s, or Pandora, which first introduced a system of keywords to categorize music.

The theme of a culture of the algorithm then surely will be a fundamental step to be taken, maybe in one of the next “investigations”, to understand how music is changing, because it is out of the question that the way to enjoy music changes and directly influences its sound and cultural connotation.

In this moment of lockdown culture, in particular music and cinema, have migrated to digital platforms and at the time it seemed right to reflect on “Spotification” and offer a cue for future insights into the process of digitization and its mechanisms in the music industry.




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