Sunday, November 3, 2019

Seefeel US Tour: Nov 1 - 15 | The Ephemeral Electronic-Rock Micromovement

The 1990s cross-pollination of concurrent genre movements produced an abundance of hybrid variations on even then new music forms and cultures. Only a decade into it's development as a sound, the largely British scene that comprised Shoegaze found itself in an identity crisis of sorts. Its genesis having only begun a decade before with two bands; Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser's Cocteau Twins in the early 80s, and A.R. Kane, the late-80s British duo, whom The Guardian credits as having "Invented Shoegaze without Really Trying". Representative of their influence, over thirty years later both bands can be seen to rank highly on Pitchfork's "The 30 Best Dream Pop Albums of All Time". In recent years many of the sound's most influential and formative acts have returned from extended hiatus, not only touring, but with new, and relevant material. The most improbable of them all, both My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive have not only reformed to tour, but produced some of the best material of their respective careers. Other unlikely returns have been seen in Robert Hampson reforming LOOP, the one-time-only North american visit from Lush's brand of 4AD dreampop, and tours and the first new material of decades from The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Ride. The Guardian's "Shoegaze: The Genre that Could Not be Killed", and New York Times' "Shoegaze, the Sound of Protest Shrouded in Guitar Fuzz, Returns", best encapsulating this resurgence. For those just entering into the neon torrent, you'd not go far wrong beginning with The Guardian's "Shoegaze: A Beginner's Guide", and the Cherry Red label's anthology of a perfect overview with their, "Still in a Dream: The Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995.".

Yet the sound wasn't always on such sure footing. In the stretch of just a few short years spanning 1993 to 1995, Slowdive produced what appeared to be their final album at the time, My Bloody Valentine had disappeared into a abyss of postproduction and studio costs following "Loveless", and the culture itself outwardly appeared to have run it's course. Having mined the depths of introspective, distorted noiserock, many other early proponents of the sound were looking elsewhere for inspiration. Opening a course away from this impasse, the explosive rise of European and British electronic music culture of the decade offered an infusion of new energy, advanced technique and a complexly abstract stylistic component. This late offshoot being even more short-lived than its parent genre, yet produced a set of artists and recordings that speak to the time and context, while remaining outside of easy classification. Notable entries include Global Communication’s "Pentamerous Metamorphosis" an album length electronic restructuring of "Blood Music" by Chapterhouse, and the forefront use of samples and repetitive beats which dominated Primal Scream’s classic "Screamadelica". Even the archetypal Postpunk band Wire, produced an album in this mode with 1991's "The First Letter", featuring remixes by LFO and The Orb. Concurrently the influence of rising electronic producers, Andrew Weatherall, Sabres of Paradise, Alex Paterson, Jimmy Cauty, and Richard D. James' could be heard everywhere in numerous remixes of indie, Shoegaze and Britpop artists of the time. Intersecting with the expressly cerebral end of the spectrum as heard on labels like Warp, Skam, and Ninja Tune, the British label Too Pure can be said to have introduced the most explicit example of the genre with their signing of Seefeel.

Sharing in the Postrock sound of some of their label companions Stereolab, Moonshake, Pram, and Rothko, the then-quartet of Mark Clifford, Daren Seymour, Justin Fletcher, and Sarah Peacock bridged these sounds with the electronic abstraction of those being concurrently produced by Autechre, Bola, Aphex Twin, and later, Boards of Canada. Their successes on Too Pure led the quartet to then align themselves with the burgeoning electronic music roster at Warp Records, releasing the "Starethrough" EP and "Succour" within the same year. Richard D. James was then able to entice them to his own Rephlex imprint the following year, with their final release of the 1990s, "CH-Vox". The Quietus rightly cites Seefel as the most explicit manifestation of this musical moment in their, “The Sine That Celebrates Itself: On Electronic Shoegaze" overview, noting not on only the cultural context of the time, but the current landscape that the newly reformed quartet has re-entered. Following the reissue of their first album, 1993's "Quique" as a collaboration between Medical Records and Light in the Attic in 2013, still-active members Mark Clifford and Sarah Peacock discussed writing new material. Within a short stretch they had performed at a set of European festivals and recruited Boredoms' Kazuhisa Iida and Shigeru Ishihara on percussion and bass guitar respectively. What Clifford has referred to as “Seefeel: A Constant Journey” has brought the band back to their home of decades past Warp Records, with two new works, the "Faults" EP and eponymous album, "Seefeel". More surprising yet, this year a unearthed Peel Session from 1994 finally sees the light of day, and a first-ever North American tour representing the most recent manifestation of their sound as heard in the "Sp/Ga" EP spans both coasts.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” at SIFF Cinema: Oct 25 - Nov 14 | Romanian Film Festival Seattle at SIFF Cinema: Nov 15 - 17

After a lengthy dry period this summer, in which we saw a dearth of compelling offerings at SIFF Cinema, late October and November turn things around significantly. Borrowing much from this fall's Orcas Island Film Festival, SIFF have assembled a calendar brimming with many of the notable films from recent year's Cannes and Venice festivals. In the case of the Romanian New Wave selections, these are films which received international festival accolades at the time, yet never made it to regional screens. Now brought to town for the sixth edition of the Romanian Film Festival, the three day program presents one-time screenings of two of the most notable directors to emerge from the post-Nicolae Ceaușescu cultural landscape. The explosion of cinema issuing from the Romanian New Wave that produced the award winning run of "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", "12:08 East of Bucharest", "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", "Beyond the Hills", and "Graduation", is finely documented in Dominique Nasta’s, "Contemporary Romanian Cinema: The History of an Unexpected Miracle". All that much more striking for it being born from the conditions of the most overtly and consistently propagandistic cinema in Europe. Late 20th Century Romanian film under Nicolae Ceaușescu was consistently glossy but stale, relaying blatantly communist sympathies through simplistic stories, straightforward narrative linearity, often heavy in metaphor. Freed from state censorship and the narrative restraints of the Soviet era, A.O. Scott hailed the arrival of the movement on the global scene with his New York Times Magazine feature, "New Wave on the Black Sea". The Guardian following with their own critic's roundup, "Romania's New Wave is Riding High" and as a retrospective of it's formative years, "Eastern Promise" for Sight & Sound is essential reading. In the time since, Catalin Mitulescu's "Trafic" took the Short Film Palme d'Or at Cannes and Cristi Puiu's "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" was awarded the festival's Un Certain Regard.

In 2015, the movement's 10th anniversary was commemorated by Film Society at Lincoln Center presenting their decade of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema. This year sees one of its central players, Corneliu Porumboiu, returning to the studied cultural critique of his excellent "Police, Adjective". As grimly funny a denouement of the cultural and economic landscape of post-Ceaușescu Romania as anything the movement has produced, “The Whistlers” by this "Accidental Auteurist" adds up to more than a tale of the bent detective who becomes entangled in the crimes that he's investigating. It is not only a prolific time for Sergei Loznitsa, but a highly qualitative one. Two years ago his "A Gentle Creature" premiered in Cannes, following that same year with the documentary "Victory Day" at the Berlin International Film Festival, and then a year later with another documentary on Soviet Era justice, "The Trial", and then returning again to Cannes with "Donbass". Loznitsa's films have always entangled themselves with the complexities of the historic and cultural aftershocks of post-Soviet Russia. But this new stretch has a forcefully dark, absurdist strain to it, that of a voyeur to the tragedy of a history witnessed. In light of the aggressions of Putin's Russia, both at home, toward the Republic of Ukraine, and wider eastern Europe, Loznitsa is not without lack of material in this regard. Channeling the current state of Orwellian unreality which dominates much of the region, and events lifted from real world news, Sergei Loznitsa’s feverish procession of scenes watches as a, "Freakish Fake-news Kaleidoscope of Ukrainian Civil War".

Following the rather bloated special effects entries of "Okja" and "Snowpiercer", distributed by Netflix and the Weinstein Brothers respectively, "Parasite" marks a return to form and more solidly reliable thematic content from South Korea's once great social satirist, Bong Joon-ho. His newest taking home this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes suggested there was more at work than just a off-kilter black comedy of a rich Korean family slowly being subsumed by an impoverish one. The concurrently funny and fierce class conflict tale that "Parasite" tells instead digs its tendrils deep into the desperation produced by modern global wealth disparity in, "Bong Joon-ho's Creepy Invasion of the Lifestyle Snatchers". It's characterization of poverty and the film's upwardly ascending protagonists crystallize a kind of horror in the absurdity of economic inequality in South Korea. Divisions so stark that they watch as dystopic farce. The wealth class is revealed to be woefully under-prepared for life's unexpected twists and turns. Or dietary changes, being without the companionship of their pets, the weather, driving a car, instructing their children, or just about anything remotely nuanced. Concurrently the poor are clever and ruthless, yet also somehow self-sabotaging and sloppily disheveled in their organization of said clever and ruthless plans. All of which Bong Joon-ho exploits with typically Hitchcockian relish as, "The Lower Depths Rise with a Vengeance". More that just a wry doppelgänger setup, Joon-ho's drawing out of the discomfiting complexities of the dependencies and clandestine intimacies between the classes reveals the hidden connections between how the poor view the rich, and the rich view the poor. Seemingly at poles apart, they are instead entangled in a perversely fetishistic dance of correspondence, fascination, and revulsion. After all... "It’s Bong Joon-ho’s Dystopia. We Just Live in It.".