Pop Philosophy

The difference between "naff" and "wack"

While few people will own up to actively courting indie cred, many will flock happily to a survey that tabulates hipness levels. To that end, Brooklyn native Shirley Braha has put together an "indiepop cred evaluator" on her Web site (www.shirleybeans.com). Just tick off which questions apply to you -- "Do you own an original Belle & Sebastian Tigermilk 12-inch?" "Have you ever had a touring pop band sleep over your house?" "Would you not date someone who likes music you despise?" "Do you wear lots o' sweaters?" "Do you know any indie girls named Maura?" -- and see how you stack up.

It's a pretty amusing list, although I think Braha left off a few key questions. For instance: Do you spend enormous amounts of time making your hair look as if you just fell out of bed? Do you find guitar solos totally wack (and do you pepper your conversation with hip hop slang)? Would you travel across an ocean just to record shop?

That last question would score me lots of points, since I just got back from a trip to the U.K. Sure, I told people that I was going for All Tomorrow's Parties, a three-day musical event featuring acts selected by Chicago post-rock band Tortoise. But what I really wanted to do was root out some hard-to-find vinyl on British labels like Creation, Sarah, and Subway.

While my burrowing at stores like Rough Trade and Music and Video Exchange proved mildly fruitful, I had much better luck with clubgoing. A friend had recommended two spots, "Cheap Skates" and "Radio4." Because of the inexpensive drinks (under a dollar) and the low drinking age (16), "Cheap Skates" was like an officially sanctioned, underage slumber party. The odd thing here in the heart of Swingin' London was that the kids looked like they'd come from Walnut Creek, with the girls wearing spaghetti-strap tube tops and the boys greased into tight tees and leather.

Not wanting to feel like a camp counselor, I headed to "Radio4," the monthly gig of former Creation Records chief Alan McGee. As detailed in a fascinating new biography by music journalist David Cavanagh, The Creation Records Story: My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize, McGee was responsible for unleashing some of the finest British noise-pop of the past two decades. (He also uncovered the questionable dreck of Oasis.) Sadly, it's hard to imagine Creation acts like My Bloody Valentine or the Jesus and Mary Chain -- a few antisocial dweebs who caused riots with ungodly feedback and confrontational performances -- forming in the smug, safe music world of today. Those bands -- and McGee himself -- thought they were going to change the pop charts; instead, we're still dealing with Robbie Williams and the Spice Hurls.

In 1999, as the Britpop wave crested and his major-label partnership with Sony grew tight around the collar, McGee retired Creation and started the Poptones label and "Radio4." Held at the Notting Hill Arts Club, where local indie pop band Aislers Set recently played, the club exudes that early Creation spirit. When I arrived, in the wake of a performance by L.A. country-rock band the Tyde, a DJ was playing messy '60s garage rock, Motown soul, and Madonna. Decked out in thrift-store duds and dark shades, the well-credded crowd was dancing unreservedly instead of standing back aloof as they would in S.F. Maybe it was the absinthe shots done up with a spoonful of flaming sugar, but no one seemed to be trying to out-hip his neighbor. It was a beautiful, communal, we-are-the-indie-world moment: When the DJ played Bon Jovi and the crowd went wild, I almost sang along. Almost.

Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, we're trying to close down the few small concert venues left. Kimo's is the latest spot to face the wrath of the light sleepers. Matt Shapiro, booker for the Tenderloin club, says a single resident who lives a half-block away has been calling the cops repeatedly; now the police say that one more citation and they're going to take away Kimo's live music permit. According to Shapiro, the police admitted that they wanted to close the club down. As a result, live shows are on hold while the club undergoes a $10,000 soundproofing. Shapiro hopes to be up and running by Thursday, April 26. Anyone interested in helping with the renovation should call 885-4554.

And for those who missed All Tomorrow's Parties, a stateside version will take place on the UCLA campus Oct. 19-21, curated by Sonic Youth. Check www.alltomorrowsparties.co.uk for more details.

 
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