"Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." - Frank Krappa

Monday, 2 March 2015

Ode to Porridge Radio (An artist, a lost soul)

It is hard to tell where my love for Porridge Radio begins and where my love for Dana Margolin (the creative force behind PR, as well as The Spineless Seal clothing company and the Hey Day 'zine) ends. What's easier to tell is that I would definitely still love them both as much as I do now, even if they were completely divorced from each other. That being said, attempting to look at an artists work divorced from the artist, or one's personal relationship to the artist, is completely impossible, so I won't bother trying.

I first heard Porridge Radio's music when she was part of a freak folk duo (supposedly a trio, but actually a duo) called Butter Dust, back in the good old days of 2011. At the time, Porridge Radio was a wee little lass of 18 years. After meeting her at Mad Kid Library Trap's* festive winter get-together, she sent me her incredibly badly recorded songs. I thought they were quite good - they had surreal lyrics and an offbeat (literally, there was almost no sense of rhythm) charm. They played their instruments in the way I like - like people who couldn't really play them. They sang in the way I like - like lost and confused teenagers. Initially it sounded like a contrived quirkiness, a post-Mighty Boosh pop wank. Upon repeat listens, there seemed to be a sprawl of emotionally evocative meaning sown between the words that, on face value, were completely incomprehensible.

In all honesty, I actually didn't like them quite as much then as I do now. I was aware at the time that their music was an acquired taste, as is so often the case with diamonds in the rough, so I appreciated it moderately and quietly. Now, in my wise old age, I can see that they had something special going on. Butter Dust stopped for some reason. You should check out their legacy and weep. They joined soundcloud and put (what I think are) their best songs on there, which I've embedded below. The rest can be found on their tumblr. Hopefully financial pressures in their middle aged lives will force them to do an economically lucrative, but artistically bankrupt, tour in 2033.

At one point we tried to make music together, but for some reason I never finished editing what we started, and that project is lost on a hard drive somewhere (this actually happened again very recently but whatever). Later Porridge Radio sent me burgeoning solo tracks over email and facebook chat with a billion different artist names. Most of the songs were really fucking weird and I spent a lot of time trying to coax her towards something a bit more sensible, a bit more normal, a bit more understandable. I was an idiot. At the time I was playing in a band on the London low level indie circuit, and for some stupid reason thought that my experiences there were of blanket importance to anyone who wanted to make sounds for other people to hear.

Porridge Radio continued making weird music despite me, and it got better and better and better. The music continued to have very little correlation with anything normally described as good songwriting, but - incrementally, accidentally - the abstract combinations of terribly played guitar and hit-and-miss vocals began to amass a heavy emotional weight. A particular stand out track called 'p2', still not publically available, containing the repeated phrase "This is the worst thing to happen in the 20th century". Another project of note from this period is the (still uncompleted) concept album/lo-fi opera about a boy in a hospital who falls in love with a girl with an eating disorder or something. It is, to this day, one of the weirdest fucking things I've ever heard. She eventually set up a soundcloud with the name "Porridge Radio", started sending me songs on that instead, and the name has stuck ever since.

By the upload of the song 'ok', I began to realise that Porridge Radio's songwriting talent definitely went beyond my fetishisation of the obscure. The relentlessly simple chords and sing-song sweet vocal melodies transport the absurdly morbid lyrics straight to the small bit of my brain in which I feel real actual emotions, just like any other real human. The slightly later songs 'Please' (an aborted cover of Neil Young's Danger Bird) and 'Glossy Magazine' made their way on to my record label's incredible debut release because they are incredible sucker punches that couldn't have been written by anyone else.

'eurgh' cycles 3 chords over sweet pop heaven until gradually, the terse and ambiguous darkness creeps in so subtly that it takes a few seconds to realise why you've started to cry. By the time you get your head around it, you're taken (through the multitude of smaller chord pattern circles) in a large circle back to the sweet pop beginning. The musical simplicity allows for the emotional complexity of the conflicting tones existing within a singular plane of reality. With the simplest words, the most haunting terrors are conjured. You think you've heard this kind of thing before, you let your guard down, Porridge Radio goes in for the kill.

Imagine if Porridge Radio followed my advice a year earlier! How worse the world would be! It would be awful!

To my credit, I showed her the Sentridoh (Lou Barlow, from Dino Jr./Sebadoh, to any of you unworthy people reading this who don't have the BASIC KNOWLEDGE required to be a half-sentient human) song Losercore. She liked it, tried to cover it, failed, and then wrote what is (in the right circles) an anthem of our self disgusted '90s revival generation. It's post-modern. It's like the Brian Jonestown Massacre. It's quite '90s really.

'and i was like' strings 3 lyrics together that don't make sense individually, let alone united. It is somehow one of the most perfect pop songs I've ever heard. I've seen Porridge Radio onstage 3 times (I think), and at the most recent time (at the first Fat Dog Party) she played this for the first time and I found myself singing along completely involuntarily. And dancing. I don't normally do that kind of thing, I'm really, really cool.

Come to think of it, I haven't yet expressed the live genius of Porridge Radio. I watched her at two open mic nights in Brighton and she yelled deeply inappropriate (i.e. heartfelt) lyrics at the old men surrounding her with the zealous passion of a suicide bomber. I have no idea what other people thought of this weird show of actual emotion... but I was cathartically burnt to a crisp and then a gust of wind blew me out the window and into the sea. At Fat Dog Party, everyone knew they were seeing something that needed to be happening. Genuinely, I fucking hate and want to kill 99% of acoustic singer/song-writers I see live. With such a limited sonic pallet (and the usual limited imagination it implies) they all sound the fucking same and the only emotion they bring out in me is a very beige kind of murder. Porridge Radio transcends the medium through a pure act of will, a complete lack of respect, and perhaps an element of the idiot savant. She is punk in the way that isn't a cliche. I really can't overstate how vastly brilliant all 3 of those sets were.

I'm going to stop posting tracks now, because you can go listen to the brilliance on your own without my guidance.

Actually, no. Here's another one. If it wasn't so good, I would be upset that she plagiarized not just one, but two of my songs.

What sparked me writing this blog post/essay/public diary entry was hearing some top secret recordings of Porridge Radio practising with her new backing band, The Cosmic Sadness. They did their debut gig at the second Fat Dog Party, which I very very very unfortunately couldn't attend (despite us living in the so-called future). They play with as much beautiful imprecision as Porridge Radio herself, yet somehow play imprecisely together. Just like a band should. They play her relentlessly simple songs relentlessly simply. And just as emotively. I was so excited to hear this latest development that I was forced to write a very long essay to no one in particular, in order to contextualise this great news for no one in particular.

One of the best solo acts alive (Leonard Cohen is actually dead) is now wielding the hefty sledgehammer force of a punk-as-fuck power trio. It won't go to waste. It will smash the system, the patriarchy, the machine, the global capitalist system, the western hegemony, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and all sorts of other smashable shit things, and it won't even be all annoying and self-righteous about it.

Hopefully over the summer Porridge Radio and the Cosmic Sadness will be adequately recorded and then released on Memorials of Distinction. If they don't get the deserved massive positive response they deserve I might kill myself, because it will then be fully evident that the world is a meaningless place full of pain and suffering with all too few decent bits.

*I feel like it's necessary to note that I well and truly believe that Mad Kid Library Trap is one of the greatest artists of our generation. The first, and so far only, gig by the Mad Kid Library Trap Orchestra (at the first Fat Dog Party) proved this without doubt to everybody present. This is no overstatement, it is fact. Ask anyone that was there. Sadly, the full extent of his pure genius has not been captured adequately in any recordings to date. This is something I wish to help rectify in the future - but I am worried that MKLT's genius will be smothered to death by my clammy, foolish, meddling hands if I get too involved. I am a control freak. MKLT needs to be set free with the ability to utilise any resource he wants. Then, and only then, will we get the art we so desperately need.

1 comment:

  1. i love this review as much as i love this band. great great great