it is hard to overstate the importance of the former HACIENDA nightclub in MANCHESTER cofounded by NEW ORDER and their manager ROB GRETTON, as well as FACTORY RECORDS label head TONY WILSON, in the early 1980s. the documentary THE HACIENDA: THE CLUB THAT SHOOK BRITAIN (WISE OWL, 2022) recently featured on BBC2 delves into that unique legacy of this unique nightclub decades on. initially THE HACIENDA was meant to recapture the energetic, all-inclusive vibe of the MANHATTAN nightclubs that NEW ORDER members had witnessed while on tour immediately in the wake of the abrupt fall of JOY DIVISION. unlike the stuffy nightclub scene in ENGLAND at the time, where people drank lager and paraded themselves around in the hopes means of finding company, the point of the NYC scene was a fun night out with enjoyment of the music at the center of the agenda. it was also created with the hope of providing a center to a new generation of MANCHESTER artists and musicians.
THE HACIENDA came out around the time of early SYNTH-POP but a few years later dovetailed with the rise of HOUSE MUSIC out of DETROIT that when paired with the new drug ECSTASY essentially created ACID HOUSE. with THE HACIENDA at the epicenter there was a brief moment where the culture shifted towards an inclusive, comes-as-you-are mentality with participants felt a sense of unity and collective humanity through rhythm, motion and dance music. even INDIE ROCK got pulled into the orbit of ACID HOUSE with MADCHESTER bands like the HAPPY MONDAYS and THE STONE ROSES borrowing both aesthetic and sonic elements from the local scene. OASIS are considered a traditional BRITPOP rock band that borrowed heavily from classic BRITISH INVASION bands, but no less an authority as NOEL GALLAGHER spoke about in this film about the way the scene opened him up to all music.
and that seems to be the point of the film. it was not about the bad business decisions that led to its creation or the fact that its demise ruined relationships with NEW ORDER. the real legacy of THE HACIENDA was how it liberated those who came in its confines and provided safe harbor for discriminated minority groups. in so many ways it was a UTOPIA that was destined to fail, but its run is still felt and missed to this day by those fortunate enough to participate.
there was a moment in the early 1990s when HOUSE MUSIC basically took over BRITISH INDIE culture. there was always this interesting transition at play beforehand with EXPERIMENTAL POST PUNK bands finding there way to more ELECTRONIC, SYNTHESIZER and SEQUENCER-based production techniques (think JOY DIVISION becoming NEW ORDER), but this drug-fueled ACID HOUSE movement transformed the culture on a more ELEMENTAL level.
in retrospect people look towards pre-BRITPOP so-called MADCHESTER bands like THE HAPPY MONDAYS or THE STONE ROSES as embodiments of this changing shift in sonics and MDMA-expanded CONSCIOUSNESS, but in my mind no album better exemplifies such as the SCOTTISH band PRIMAL SCREAM's third record SCREAMADELICA (CREATION, 1991). singer BOBBY GILLESPIE, formerly drummer of fellow SCOTTISH INDIE ROCK icons THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN, is basically the physical EMBODIEMENT of this transition and on songs like "HIGHER THAN THE SUN," "LOADED," "MOVIN' ON UP," "COME TOGETHER," "DAMAGED" and especially "SLIP INSIDE THIS HOUSE" you can feel how the electronic-based beats and inclusions found samples has freed up their BLUES-based ALTERNATIVE ROCK compositions into something else entirely.
that sound and aesthetic is what makes SCREAMADELICA such a revelation. it feels optimistic and hopeful without resorting to tired rock cliches, similar to how listening to THE BEACH BOYS, CSS, THE AQUABATS, PASSION PIT, THE B-52's or THE POLYPHONIC SPREE is a genuinely JOYFUL and CHEERFUL listening experience sans knowing sarcasm or wink wink irony. for me i was not sold on many of the MADCHESTER bands until hearing SCREAMADELICA. it provided that context of the power of such a hybrid sound that bound the EXPERIMENTAL soundscapes and song structures of POST PUNK with the mantra-inducing repetition of HOUSE MUSIC. it was a sonic combination i had never considered and went on to inform the later experiments of BRITPOP bands like LUSH, PULP, BLUR and SUEDE among others.
for me this record is indicative of my personal ethos of trying to remain open-minded to new sounds and perspectives. as new IDEAS, AESTHETICS, TECHNOLOGY and even DRUGS shift culture, there is always an opportunity to question previously held beliefs about the nature of reality. for me SCREAMADELICA is one of those records that presents such a tectonic rearrangement. and its still an exciting listen. definitely required listening for anyone interested in POST PUNK, INDIE ROCK, BRITPOP, ELECTRONIC MUSIC and ALTERNATIVE ROCK during the culturally fertile period in BRITAIN at the beginning of the 1990s.
FILM REVIEW | MOBY DOC
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
first off, love the title. no such thing as a bad literary allusion in my estimation. celebrated AMERICAN ELECTRONIC DANCE musician/composer MOBY is distantly related to HERMAN MELVILLE, so yeah MOBY DOC (GREENWICH ENTERTAINMENT, 2021) is a clever knowing wink and unsubtle nod to his literary namesake. and that self-referential aesthetic makes sense given that MOBY here is writing and directing his own documentary where he is the subject. so he has fun playing with the MEDIUM (INTERVIEWS, AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS, VOICE-OVER-NARRATION, SPECIAL EFFECTS, FLASHBACKS, REENACTMENTS, etc.) and you can tell. in essence he is less concerned with traditional audience expectations regarding the documentary format and more concerned with producing an EXTENDED MEDITATION on the NATURE OF SUCCESS and CELEBRITY from the perspective of a HARDCORE outcast growing up poor in a broken home in suburban CONNECTICUT.
what is the meaning of that pursuit? what is gained once such is achieved?
MOBY DOC almost feels like a subject walking you through an experiential approximation of what it is like to go from OBSCURITY to STARDOM. he does this through a spaceship visual metaphor that seemingly highlights both the propulsive skyrocketing DISORIENTATION of having success but also the DISCONNECTION and ISOLATION that comes with such. it is pretty TOUCHING. and similarly with his memoir PORCELAIN (review linked HERE), which chronicles the same probing EXISTENTIAL and METAPHYSICAL themes found in his music and this film, there is a similar capacity for being incredibly forthright and exacting about specific past PERSONAL FAILINGS. such as missing his mother's funeral due to being INCAPACITATED from a night of heavy drinking. MOBY is keenly aware of the SEDUCTIVE draw of fame and notoriety since he lived it and is open about such which makes the running thesis of the film (the NATURE OF SUCCESS and FAME) that much more powerful. the book deals with his career pre-PLAY, but the film goes right to the present.
and at stake is this idea of the sheer INSANITY having your sense of IDENTITY and SELF-WORTH not rooted, nourished and sustained by the music itself, but by the reaction to such by the public and the press. and how FICKLE both are and how PERSONALLY and PSYCHICALLY DEVASTATING it is to lose such external AFFIRMATION. i cant even imagine the DISORIENTATION. drugs and alcohol seem like LOGICAL responses to null and void that EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER, irrespective of which peak or trough you found yourself in. i get it.
for MOBY his GROUNDING INFLUENCE since childhood seemingly is his love of animals. they dont judge, the just exist. the just are. and he pays back in kind with his VEGANISM and his ANIMAL RIGHTS ADVOCACY. and you cant really argue with him on that. VEGANS are MORALLY SUPERIOR. they are making choices on a HIGHER ETHICAL PLANE than the rest of us. we know it. i know it. but he doesnt go about it on a moral crusade, its a PERSONAL CHOICE that he is sharing with the rest of us.
i very much enjoyed this film and its DAVID LYNCH and GARY BASEMAN cameos. its thoughtfully constructed and executed, not just from a cinematic perspective, but from a humanistic one as well. you feel you get a better sense of MOBY and where he's coming from.
memoirs written by musicians are funny things. there is always the question of motive for presenting such a personal narrative to the world and what agenda is being bolstered or spurred by such an effort. oftentimes it is a rehashing of the salad days of an artist or worse, "correcting" musical history. the better memoirs, and what comes immediately to mind is THE DIRT (review linked HERE) by NEIL STRAUSS / MOTLEY CRUE and LIFE (review linked HERE) by KEITH RICHARDS, often tend to celebrate a bygone era. the movers and shakers of the past contextualize the decisions of the artist and are very much on equal footing structurally and emotionally in the narrative. the artist themselves serves almost as a conduit or representative of a larger whole or particular scene.
i'd put PORCELAIN: A MEMOIR (PENGUIN, 2016) by noted DJ / PRODUCER / MUSICIAN and animal rights activist MOBY in that later category. his memoir is very much a celebration of the downtown MANHATTAN club scene of the late 80s and early 90s from the perspective of an economically-depressed HARDCORE kid from CONNECTICUT who was conflicted with his talent, ambition, self-doubt, social awkwardness and immense intelligence. in that 80s club scene he found a inclusive community that was very much about living in the moment and celebrating and supporting on another, and the upbeat music and drugs of that period reflected such. what i found particularly interesting about this memoir was how MOBY's career tracked with the evolution in ELECTRONIC MUSIC in the early to mid 90s when harder drugs like heroin and ketamine took over and darker down-tempo music became more prevalent. it was as if the carefree atmosphere of the scene had sobered into a walking nightmare.
now i am going to completely out myself here. i am familiar with AMBIENT groups like APHEX TWIN, ORBITAL, THE BLACK DOG, BOARDS OF CANADA, AUTHECHRE and SEEFEEL, ELECTROCLASH groups like LADYTRON, FISCHERSPOONER and LE TIGRE and POST PUNK groups like DEPECHE MODE and NEW ORDER, but for the most part i am a neophyte when it comes to the HOUSE MUSIC that this book gets into. such is why i decided to read this book. i am mostly familiar with MOBY's later more subdued string of records such as PLAY (MUTE, 1999), 18 (MUTE, 2002), HOTEL (MUTE, 2005) and LAST NIGHT (MUTE, 2008) that came out after the time period covered in PORCELAIN. which is basically saying i only knew him after he gained worldwide success with his PLAY album and his genre-crossing hits like "BODYROCK," "NATURAL BLUES," "WHY DOES MY HEART FEEL SO BAD?" and, of course, "PORCELAIN." i say all this because its very interesting to learn at the close of the book that it was this sense of being resigned to failure that led to his biggest success as cliche as that sounds. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR in one of his memoirs talks about the fact that athletes die twice, once when they pass their athletic peak and the other when they pass on like the rest of us. during the making of PLAY, MOBY has lost his mother to cancer and had begrudgingly come to terms with his own irrelevance in a scene that had moved beyond hm. those songs from that breakthrough record, came from that mindset which to me is endlessly fascinating.
this book covers a lot of other subjects such as MOBY's relationship with FAITH and CHRISTIANITY, as well as SEX and ALCOHOL. seems fitting that those two sets of obsessions are continuous throughout and are never resolved. makes sense to me.
i shouldnt be surprised that a musician so well composed and thoughtful in his interviews would not be capable of writing such a well-considered memoir, but there you have it. i highly recommend this memoir whether or not you are a fan of his music, which is probably the highest complicated i can make. enjoy.