Kieron Gillen's workblog




Let's try this now then.

So, yes, it's getting on for 3 am in the morning. Yes, I've been balls deep in the giant viscous corporate grease-orifice they call a modern festival for the past three days. And, yes, my mind's clearly starting to fire messages randomly, incluing the idea that having a Bath at two in the morning is an entirely logical and comprensible activity.

(I know, I know: Freelance lifestyle entirely changes your working day. Day and Night are terms for other people. Now, there is only work and not work, forever and ever, amen)

So. Reading then.

Over at the V , they use a delightful phrase to describe one of the big american comics things: Nerd Prom. Or possibly similar - my brain's not exactly operating at full strength at the moment, as I said. It's an apposite, wonderful and brutally effective phrase.

Reading, of all the British festivals, deserves to be daubed with a similar accolade. Henceforth: Alt.Prom. Its populist Mandate - there's no redeeming aura of spirituality about Reading. Its a place for watching lots of bands while working out a way to fill your skinny little veins with as many chemicals known to modern science, and nothing more - and its position in the Calender ensure it. It's a week after GCSE results, hence the 16 year old kids are still fresh and excitable. It's literally the day after the A-level results appear, meaning that on the night before the whole thing kicks off the campsite is a giant apocalyptic real-life video for Alice Cooper's Schools out. Kiddies, Kiddies, everywhere.

Not that I mind. I did when I was idly in the early twenties, realising I'm a little older than most of the crowd. But now, in this cultural niche at least, I'm an old sod on a zimmerframe remembering old S*M*A*S*H gigs or whatever. Which is preferable. Being old is better than being ageing.

So, as a hobbled old man, I wandered the campsite grumbling to myself in my best Hunter S. Thompson impression. This, in the best tradition of my unimpressions, almost certainly sounds like George Fornby.

And I saw bands.

And I will tell you as many stories about them as I can before my eyes decide to shut down.

On an Oddstuff note: The Darkness. Everyone in the world loves them, and they were clearly the band of the festival (Forget the gig itself - consider what happened when "I believe in a thing called love" is piped over the PA before the Yeah-Yeah-Yeahs play: The entire crowd starts clapping along with it, and end up in a cheering and applauding by its close. And it's just a fucking tape, dude). But somehow, I still don't get it. While the record has genuinely gloriously stupid moments on, the raptures at their ultra-camp ironic stage-shows seem - well - just the reaction from people who really haven't seen a ludicrous pop-metal act for over a decade. There's nothing as genuinely silly as the genuine article, as far as I can see.

(For comparison, watching Turbonegro later in the festival, where the kohl-drowned lardy beast of a singer arranged the audience into two halves, one singing "Oooh-oooh-oooh" and the others "I have errection!", before throwing a bucket full of fake(?) blood made me grin like The Darkness made everyone else)

One of the themes of Reading was the failure of most rock bands to actually grasp any of the animalistic impetus behind the form. There was a lot of genuinely careerist inoffensive radio schlock interspersed with bands which engaged and dominated. This was perhaps best demonstrated by a comparison between the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Ravonettes. Both are, abstractly, supping at the cup of the Jesus and Mary Chain. But the former are so blandly formed they can find themselves on the playlist at Jane's Border shop while people like the White Stripes are banned for being too nasty, while the latter are a beautiful smear of feedback crested by a merged throb of girl-band harmonies. There is no point in playing Garage rock unless it's genuinely a little bit scary. If you don't get the feeling that the songs would cheat on you, dump you and steal your record collection, it's really not the point.

In the array of failures, the best to grasp the idea of lurching, beaitific, drunken momentum was The Kills, who produced minimalistic girl-voice blues sneer enough to turn bare skin to black leather. It's a wet T-shirt contest when it's snowing razorblades, with beats that slice off nipples and wear as a necklace. Sexy, if you don't care whether or not you wake up in the morning.

When it worked anyway. The Kills misfire as much as they nail that moment.

Which probably leaves the band of the festival as the yeah-fucking-yeah-fucking-yeahs. I've been ultra-cynical to them for all too long, only being converted to mild appreciation to driving around LA this summer with Fever to Tell blaring out at max volumes, turning the smog in the minds eye dry-ice. But tonight - well, check the band. Brian Chase on drums does the art-poise thing perfectly, looking as if he's deliberating before laying down every hard beat. Shit - during the longest pause in the drums, he does a relentless finger-spin of a stick for all of it with all the lazy charisma of a NYC skyline. Nick Zinner's a mess of guitar noises and hair-spray, and an as interesting a guitarist as you'll find in the current scene.

But Karen O... Shit, y'know.

Everything you've read is true. And then some. As a performer, fearless. Voice's nuclear arsenal unleashed as if someone was playing Track and Field on the Red button. From where I'm standing, she's two centimetres high and I still can't tear my eyes away. Genuinely up with the greats. Above people like - to choose an example - Debbie Harry.

As Irresistable and as glorious an irritant as VD. Beautiful.

(On a similar performer related note, The Mars Volta played a 50 minute set which featured either two or three songs. We're honestly not sure, since the perfected assaults of cardiogrammic stimulation were joined together by gaping chasms of feedback and space-rock. Put it like this: Last time I saw a band give a performance this deliberately alienating and simultaneously fascinating was Atari Teenage Riot when Carl Crack was gone, and the rest of the band were continuing the tour. The one which ended with (Literally) forty minutes of white noise which gave me Tinitinus so severe I couldn't hear the phone for days)

But to nail the perfect moment of the festival, we turn to the Electric Six. Probably not what you were expecting.

Their tent is bulging with people. Between every song, they shout out for Gay Bar. The cries go louder as the set continues. Towards the end, they drop Gay Bar. I'm surprised. I thought they'd have saved it for last, but... well, the place explodes. It sounds the ground itself is singing along with the ultrasense lyrics. It concludes.

Half the audience leaves.

The band kick into Dance Commander, opening track of their album which centres along a repeating claim of "I wanna make this last forever". This is screaming out as the people leak from the building, and it's the most saddest thing I've seen so far. A triumphant gigs turned into something else and...

Well, then they finish their set with a cover. Of Radio Gaga by Queen.

And mere sadness is transmuted into Tragedy.

No, stop. Think about it.

Firstly, it's the perfect cover for Electric Six. Huge, rock based, campness which they approach with bombast and wit. It's a big, stupid, gormless noise based upon placing a demand on the listener to commit to this novelty - in other words, exactly like what their hits have been based around. It places their work in the context of anothers. Except, even better - Radio Ga Ga is a song about the relationship between the what's played on the radio and what's heard in the ear and the tragedy thereof. It's essentially, a song that's not only similar in style to the E6 - it's a song that might as well be written about them, for them and by them. The progression between the three is a towering, perfect metacriticism of their position in the current pop-firmament. And - as always with bands smart enough to realise what they are and where they're probably going - this awareness raises them to herodom.

Yes, it's fairly likely that no-one within three miles of where I was standing in the gig got that, including the band. But Artistic intent means nothing. It's either there or it's not. And it's so there.

And lots more, clearly. The Polyphonic Spree were joyous enough to kill Jane's toothache, and I spent the gig bonding with Anthony and Beth in the manner of the all-loving crowd. Metallica released Riffs that prowled the prehistoric landscape, predating on other, weaker, smaller riffs. Junior Senior were ludicrous, in every way that Rossignol and I have redesigned the word and genuine old-skool pop (i.e. They swear and are beautifully human, as opposed to fascimiles thereof). Interpol were the glacial death of baritone-voiced angels over a polluted skyline and/or a tad slow and pompous. Hot Hot Heat didn't match their recorded sharpness - somewhat expected when a band relies on perfection and definition, which loses in transition to the live arena, rather than attack, which amplfies. The swamp-rock of the 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster broke hymen at a range of 500m. System of a Down looked so much like an Al-Qaeda cell you kept expecting a FBI swoop team to drag them off the stage. Blur's selection of romanticism melted the night into a soft pulse of dramatised existence - and there's always been a painful contrast between the genuine tender swell of their best moments (Exceptions: Popscene. Girls and Boys) and the brutal cynicism of the band proper.

And as always, Reading was a feast of visual information to process and steal. Nothing depresses me more in comics than artists entirely fucking up contemporary looks by not paying attention to the details. As a stationary visual medium, the importance of understanding the semiotics of fashion is more important than any other form. And just moments of wierd perfection - like before the Polyphonic Gig someone wearing a cradle of filth JESUS IS A CUNT T-shirt standing yards away from someone dressed up as our risen lord and saviour, crown of thorns and all.

You prayed for it to kick off. Jesus punching out a random metaller can improve anything.

Oh - and as an example of micro-celebrity in action, I was recognised on six separate occasions by readers of Gamer, which is a brand new record. Sorry if I was short with some people, but people generally caught me at the worst possible moment, like the gents who got hold of me after I'd been queueing for two hours for fucking water. Special note must be made for the post-Polyphonic Spree gentleman who came up to ask me what Jonathan Nash looks like.

And thats' enough I think.

Except to note that, as of this evening, John Walker, Chrissy Williams, John Hicks, Jim Rossignol and myself have decided to secede from the species. We are now to be referred to as Species 2 (scientifically designated as "Homo Skillo"), and will have nothing to do with the rest of you genetic dregs. Non-genetic dregs will be welcomed into our wonderful new order after our screening process. Chrissy especially wishes to attract women to our speices, as having the responsibility of sole breeder weighs heavily on her soul.




Kieron Gillen's Workblog, foo'.