Post-rocktoberfest 2008: An Extremely Loud Noise Wrapped Inside an Enigma
I'm still not ready to discuss the impact that finally seeing My Bloody Valentine live had on me. Not really. But you can consider this little post a step in the right direction or - at least - an attempt to clarify some of the incoherent-with-near-religious-fervour posts that I've been leaving in other people's comments boxes.
You might be forgiven for asking how this is relevant to post-rock? Well, obviously, My Bloody Valentine had a massive influence on the original UK post-rock scene. Moonshake's First EP and Seefeel's debut album, in particular, sound like wholehearted attempts to do something more creative with MBV-fuleled inspiration than the generic constraints of shoegazing would allow.
Mike Barnes once told me that when MBV's Glider EP came out, he thought it would create a whole new genre of music. Well, in a sense, it did. Glider's classic lead track "Soon" (plus AR Kane's experiments with dub, noise and acid house) equals UK post-rock ground zero, in the same way that Slint's Spiderland prefigured the American scene.
Examining the influence that MBV had on post-rock will tell you a great deal about what UKPR was and how it came to be. But it's unlikely to give you much insight into the continuing enigma of Kevin Shields and his merry band of noiseniks.
First of all, here's something you always have to keep in mind when considering MBV: the band's most stridently avant garde song, "To Here Knows When" (lead track from Tremelo, the follow-up to Glider), was a top 40 hit in the UK! MBV's genuine popularity set the stage for post-rock's assumptions about what might be achieved with experimental rock in the early 90s. While American post-rock was happy to noodle around in its little corner of the world, the British bands often sounded like they were out to assault a much larger chunk of the world at large.
How does this help us understand My Bloody Valentine? It doesn't. Another important thing to understand about MBV is that they can't be fitted into any standard historical rock narrative. Attempts to force MBV's work into any such narrative are almost always indicative of an understandable-but-neurotic need to gain some sort of illusory mental dominance over the inexplicabe. Normally this expresses itself as a kind of defensive flippancy.
Just look at all the fucking idiots parading around the Internet right now, trying to make themselves look clever by glibly dissing My Bloody Valentine. I suspect that most of these people are basically narcissists, hoping to make themselves seem smart by debunking the "myth" of MBV.
The problem for these idiots is that they're basing their actions on the assumption that 15 years of silence has deepened the MBV enigma. In fact, the opposite is true: readers of Q magazine and other assorted rock bozos have had a decade-and-a-half to explain away the magic of Loveless with reference to drugs, insanity, studio "trickery" etc. But seeing the band live absolutely bulldozes these attempts at demystification. How the hell do they make that sound?
The MBV reunion is a massive fuck-you to the almost universally mediocre rock music of the last 15 years. As such, it is making all the right people feel confused and insecure. To my ears, My Bloody Valentine are still at least a decade ahead of the game. MBV live is a unique phenomenon, more intense and nourishing than anything a mere rock concert can provide.