When you hear people in America talking about some great import band that only they seem to know anything about, and for which they bought everything they could back then in the 80s, including large posters, bootlegs and obscure EPs, spending a fortune on this but feeling great about it… well that was me 25 years ago, my very own great indie band called The Sisters of Mercy. And they’re not dead, they’re still touring. I just came back tonight from seeing them live in Camden London, and they have a full new album they only play live and that might never see the light of day. The usual story, the nightmare of those record companies.
I had never felt that weird before at a concert when they started singing Dominion/Mother Russia, I thought I would faint, I almost did. Must have been some sort of catharsis, something I have not even felt whilst at the Tori Amos concert in Hammersmith two weeks ago, my favourite artist. This Corrosion and Lucretia My Reflection also grabbed me hard, what a buzz, in the Roundhouse, which looks like Paris Gare du Nord, made of these old metal pylons supporting some sort of circular roof. But what I really wanted to hear tonight, and that I did hear, I’m not sure why I so wanted to hear it, was Never Land, I never thought they would play that song but they did.
I cannot explain this feeling, after so many years. The sound at the Roundhouse, I must admit, was extraordinary. And so nice to see a band in a small venue of 1800 people instead of 23,000 at the O2, the Millennium Dome, where you cannot see anything. Never again will I go to the Millennium Dome in London. I went to see Nine Inch Nails there, but I did not see or hear anything, or remember anything, perhaps I consumed too many Gin and Tonics. Better wait another 20 years, once Trent Reznor is no longer successful and plays smaller venues. Nine Inch Nails was so great at the Brixton Academy a few years ago, I could see something then, and no matter how drunk I was, I can still remember those huge equalizers on stage. When going to a concert, you always must find the right balance of how much alcohol you should drink in order to still appreciate it, more than three pints and that’s it, you might never remember it.
The Sisters of Mercy put out three albums in their 30 years: First, Last and Always, Floodland and Vision Thing, and two compilation albums: Some Girls Wander by Mistake and A Slight Case of Overbombing. But the only two you need to buy or download if you can are Floodland (1987) and A Slight Case of Overbombing (1993). And if you come across a whole bunch of vinyl EP imports from London, and can still play those, then you must buy Alice/Under The Gun (1982/1993), which must be their best single/EP. Alice is certainly my favourite song of all time (and strangely it is not on Floodland or A Slight Case of Overbombing). It is probably about drugs, maybe about a ghost named Alice (that’s how I always interpreted it, it even inspired me a story or two), but who cares, it’s a great song.
And so advanced for its time, it is electronic music with guitars but heavy electronic music, nice strong synthesiser sounds like Depeche Mode. Just like classical music, good electronic bands will last for centuries, they will never age, as long as they don’t sound like “casserole” (pots and pans). As they discovered sampling along the way, they don’t use the readymade little cheap loops Roland provides so freely, that no one in their right mind should ever use. I can’t stand the radio or MTV any longer… give me YouTube any day, so I can choose.
In my opinion, if your band only has a drum and two guitars, dear me, you will have to be creative indeed before I pay attention. Only synthesizers really can give you a different sound, something distinctive. Unless you have great creativity, and then perhaps you won’t even need a synthesizer. I just hope you won’t sound like everyone else, I’m getting desperate to hear something original. That’s why I am at the point of having to do my own music, I need to listen to something I can actually stand listening to.
I had started to believe The Sisters of Mercy was a curse for me. A few years ago I had a serious car accident in a natural park in the mountains in the North of Quebec, going at 160 kilometres an hour listening to A Slight Case of Overbombing, while meeting a sudden snow storm and patch of ice right in the middle of July I think. The car was entirely destroyed, the only thing that still worked after the accident was the eject button of the CD player, I got my Sisters of Mercy CD back! That’s all I really cared about. Then I bought tickets to go see them live in London a few years ago and forgot all about it. It nearly killed me! And tonight we almost didn’t make it, my mother in law appeared to have once again fallen on the floor and remained there for at least three days… and then a traffic jam on the A40 between Paddington and King’s Cross, I thought I would never reach Camden!
When I go see gigs of great bands I loved in the 80s, I feel like a peace and love moron going to see the Moody Blues at the Royal Albert Hall. However there is something almost always common at these concerts I attend (except for the Moody Blues), everyone always dresses in black, The Cure style, Alternatives as we used to call them in Canada, but more like Goths in the UK. Even though these people are older than I am, I mean the crowd, they still dress in black, after decades. This is dedication, these are people who truly love their music, and will never let go. Even if they are now professionals working in the banking sector on Bank Street. Have they not all been sacked by now?
All of this makes you want to buy a Roland synthesizer, download Sonar X1, and try it for yourself. See if you could somehow over the next few years, create your own back catalogue of great songs, like it was only possible in the 80s. Because back then they would have put out there your first or two first crap records, until you came up with your third classic one ready for the Hall of Fame. Back then you did not need to know anything about music, you just picked up a keyboard, pushed a few keys, and you came up with a classic. Maybe it is still true, maybe it can still be done today.
Right after Christmas I’m buying my own keyboard and see what I can achieve. I don’t even have to worry about being nearly 40, the only artists in the music industry making any money right now are near or over 50. The whole industry has changed a great deal, but perhaps it is up to us, the new artists, the new generation, to make it what we want it to be, and somehow still make a buck or two in the process.
Otherwise I don’t mind, I’ll just put all my music out there for free download. Better be listened to than die without anyone ever hearing your name or art. That’s what I have always done with all the books I have written. I don’t need to make any money, I just need to create something good, something worth reading, something worth listening to (for me at least).
After all, it is just an adjustment artists must come to term with. You can forget ever becoming a millionaire, now you can only put out there a great album and live out of the positive critics, hoping it will transcend time. No big deal, the standards are now so low, it can easily be done. So in 30 years’ time that new generation will still feel a strange connection with you, when they will go to Camden for this concert from the 2010 and beyond era. The way the industry is going about it right now, only rubbish is coming out of its big machine, except perhaps recently for MGMT. Another great inspiration.
The Sisters of Mercy never needed or had much use for big music corporations, once again signing a contract with such an organisation led to seven years of silence before they were finally freed from their soul destroying contract. Another great band killed by the greed of those corporations. The Sisters of Mercy should have remained independent, just as they were then, just as they are now. Just as I should be if somehow after buying a keyboard I succeed in creating great music.
Surely if one can recognise how crap music is today, one should be able to come up with something better? Sounds like a challenge… And no, we’re not getting old and incapable of getting into today’s music, new bands today are crap. But perhaps originality in music in this world has always been rare? After all, as my mother always said, there are only seven notes on that piano. So, how can we still create great music today? Sounds like a challenge… and I hate challenges.
“Without irony, this life would hardly be worth living.”