Hardcore for Nerds

"Why sneer at the intellectuals?"*
punk music, left politics, and cultural history - previously found here.
contact: gabbaweeks[at]gmail.com (sorry, no promos/submissions, thanks) or ask
Dublin, Ireland. 27, history, politics & law graduate
HFN | Best New Punk | HFN 2012 2011 2010 2009 | HRO 2k9 | Hoover Genealogy Project | @HC4N
*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
Jul 30
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Four thoughts (questions?) on ‘Stop Pretending’

Listen/buy here

  1. 'Words With Friends' - sounds the most like Elite Gymnastics I think, perhaps with a slight extra touch of Eurotrash?
  2. 'Omertá' - lyricless, but in the context of the following two songs, I think the meaning is pretty clear from the title?
  3. 'Stop Pretending' - a surprising sample, like a more melodious version of Tymon Dogg's violin on 'Lose This Skin' on Sandinista!, but what I really like about this song is the vocals: the cadence of “you say you can’t be soft if you wanna be punk/fine, cool, whatever, thanks for clearing that up” is an excellent parody of pop-punk semi-spoken delivery. (or is it parody? is it intentional?)
  4. 'On Fraternity' - aside from the critique of the lyrics and the counter-response, can we also talk about the rather wonderful, abrasive soundscape with the haunting, electronic melody?
dead girlfriends elite gymnastics
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quick note on Dead Girlfriends’ ‘On Fraternity’

this and this are very good criticisms of the song*, which I don’t entirely disagree with (meant to write ‘agree’ there, but the opposite came out and felt kinda more honest). one thing I would politely object to is the idea that the song is necessarily “explaining” rape culture rather than just expressing, artistically, a response to it. that also goes towards my discomfort with the whole term “mansplaining”, but that’s too complex to get into here.

like Fugazi’s ‘Suggestion’, there’s a deliberate conceit of appropriating the female experience in order to represent it to the audience, and okay, maybe they did it with more nuance (shock, the late 80s were better at dealing with irony?!). there’s no major accusative “we are all guilty!” - which is one of the best lyrical moments in post-hardcore imo - but, well, the lyrics to it and other songs have a lot of personally-inflected ‘ughs’. which I suppose paints him as the “sensitive” guy he both apparently is, on one level, and is critiquing or challenging on another.

it’s hard not to miss the sense of deep despair and rage at a patriarchal society, I think. and that in itself - in its emotional honesty - is something worthwhile that isn’t typically present in a lot of music, even (especially) if it isn’t typical hardcore blustering anger (incidentally, I spent some time reading the Rites of Spring lyrics sheet, and wow, there seems like a lot of songs about breaking up with girls there). I also think the lines: “who cares if it’s right as long as it’s fun? [later changing to ‘punk’]/so if someone gets hurt and then the cops come, then/no/one/talks”, aren’t about explaining the female experience nearly as much they are about the male one - and if anything, the criticism that came into my head on hearing the lines was that James Brooks is not a jock, he’s just putting words into their mouths.

but even simplistic as it may be - and also thus effective - it seems like an important message to internalise, in a post-Steubenville world (I’m not even American, but I turned on the TV one morning and Dr. Phil was on, talking about how he didn’t think that’s “who those boys really were”). it’s still not as fundamentally challenging as Fugazi - which is a pretty high bar - but it feels more topical. okay, I’ve rambled enough and this has semi-consciously turned into a James Brooks-style blog post, so I’ll stop. 

(*does this count as sub-reblogging like subtweeting on Twitter? I just don’t feel like I’ve marshalled my thoughts enough to wade into the main reblog chain, or to write the post I want to do about the four songs anyway. funny how Twitter seems to valorise imposing yourself onto a conversation, anyway)

fugazi feminism elite gymnastics dead girlfriends
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Apr 02
Permalink vinyl dotcapitalism internet elite gymnastics
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Mar 02
Permalink grimes elite gymnastics
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Dec 25
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Elite Gymnastics - ‘Little Things 3’ from RUIN 4

A serendipitous Christmas present - via Grimes’ tumblr I was scrolling back through the EG one and saw that he had posted a link to the three ‘own’ tracks from RUIN 4. I did consider purchasing the full thing earlier in the year, but I’m not big into either remixes or buttons (although I do hanker after an EG t-shirt.) The last of them is apparently a “hidden track” which is another version of a song from the original RUIN album.

'Little Things' was actually my least favourite track on that record - aside from its lyrics, at least - because as I wrote then (one of my favourite pieces of writing that I year, and the one I probably spent the most time on) it reminded me an awful lot of The Airborne Toxic Event and their saccharine hit ‘Sometime Around Midnight’. On the other hand, ‘Little Things 2’ is one of my favourite dubs on the album, so layered and obfuscated it is from the original in a heartbeat cloudscape. This more minimalist version, however, just tweaks the original enough to remove the strummy distortion and accentuate the keyboard/piano notes, and it makes all the difference - even the hook-y guitar riff sounds better than before. The darkly wistful lyrics stand out more too.

(Of the other two originals, I think ‘Life/Trap’ is particularly good, especially in its closing half)

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elite gymnastics HFN 2012
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Sep 27
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I’m pointedly trying to pretend I had no idea about Joy Division, or any music that came out before George Michael’s Faith album

Update: Elite Gymnastics - Pitchfork

Initial reaction was: what’s this, the New Shallowness? But I quite like the new solo Elite Gymnastics sound of ‘Andreja 4 Ever’ (it sounds to me a bit like Isn’t Anything-era My Bloody Valentine, without the distortion), and I’m not opposed to people playing around with historicism a bit.

In fact, it seems like he’s looking for a way to avoid the patriarchal nature of canon:

"When I go back and I listen to Ruin now, I realize how much of a nerd-male record it is. I don’t regret making it, but now I’m trying to rebuild my own canon where Joy Division or Radiohead doesn’t matter but Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan or the Spice Girls or George Michael or Des’ree or the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack do matter. It’s aggressively more feminine than the Ruin stuff.”

I put Ruin second to EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints in my 2011 list but I can’t say it struck me as in any way particularly ‘male’ by comparison. If one associates ‘rock’ sounds with maleness, EMA wins. The Elite Gymnastics record is equally full of sensitive, emotional (but still artistically guarded) soul-bearing, so is it something about the structure: the confessional passivity of songs like ‘Omamori’ of ‘Minneapolis Belongs To You’, or the musical system of ever-shifting sampling, taking from everywhere and everyone but rarely giving? In relation to the Pitchfork ‘People’s List’ controversy, it seems we are told that the ‘nerd-male’ attitude dominating music appreciation is one of collating and classifying, based on knowledge rather than emotion, privileging analysis over personal interpretation and connection.

But the problem with such an ‘analysis’ itself is that suggests that there are fundamentally different gender-based means of appreciating art, rather than the discrimination against women both outside and inside of the music culture coming from broader social motives (what women and girls are ‘expected’ to be interested in, how they can spend their time, the kind of personal relationships they form…) that cause the resultant numerical imbalance. If James Brooks simply wants to rebalance the gender profile of his sampling, or investigate further the mysterious world of female vocals, that’s admirable and cool; but I don’t think it’s a good idea to qualitatively declare his past music as ‘male’, apart from in reference to the gender of its creators.

elite gymnastics feminism
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Apr 13
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Elite Gymnastics - ‘Here, In Heaven (Cover by How To Dress Well)’

"How to Dress Well’s Tom Krell takes Ruin 1 highlight "Here, in Heaven" and strips it down to its glacial church-organ core, cooing lyrics that were previously difficult to make out in his trademark almost-falsetto: "Is it okay to go through life being untouchable?/ Is it okay to be in love with something dead?" he whimpers, giving any listener who’d considered Elite Gymnastics’ lyrics unimportant a new perspective on the original version of the song."

Pitchfork - Elite Gymnastics: Ruin 3 Album Review

I haven’t been much taken by most of the EG remixes, just I think because of the fact that they upset the balance that Elite Gymnastics achieve in a genre, or mix of genres, of music that I’m not normally much of a fan of. That’s a pretty weak argument, but for a non-poptimist (sympathetic to! but not actually one!) like myself it’s the best I can come up with. Anyway, this is pretty great in a bubblegum Tim Hecker kind of way… and I wrote about the lyrics here.

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elite gymnastics
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Dec 28
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HFN 2011 - 2: Elite Gymnastics - ‘Minneapolis Belongs to You 2’ from RUIN

see below for full post

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elite gymnastics HFN 2011
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Elite Gymnastics’ RUIN

A lyrical and musical examination in 11 bursts

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains.

My second favourite record of the year hasn’t inspired much writing in me before now, certainly not compared to EMA, but in its own way I’ve found it tremendously interesting and self-revealing. If there’s a theme to RUIN, it might be about being places and not being places: cities, relationships, paradises, any state which comes with a sense of expectation but also an unattainable, hard-to-grasp reality. The liminal structure of the music – on the margins of genres, sounding more often than not indistinct in its own skin, repeating itself and changing – reflects this profound human insecurity, but also revels in it. 

It’s hard to balance wit and seriousness because a lot of people have trouble taking in both at the same time.

The track-by-track treatment below focuses more on the lyrics in the first half, and the music in the second. Something that became apparent as I worked my way haphazardly through the record (starting with one song here, and another there, as the desire to write about something in particular took me) was that what is a very pleasant-sounding work hides a rather bleak and depressing portrayal of life. What elucidated this was, of course, the lyrics booklet, which alternates between pictures of flowers (albeit in the centrepiece mixed with cigarette stubs and a partially charred dollar bill) and stark white-on-black text.

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HFN 2011 elite gymnastics HFN
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Nov 16
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elite gymnastics click through for song
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