Lost in Space
NOW SIGNED TO A MAJOR LABEL, LOOP ARE ATTEMPTlNG TO EXPAND THEIR MUSICAL HORIZIONS. DAVID STUBBS MEETS THEM TO DISCOVER WHETHER THEIR NEW ALBUM,' A GILDED ETERNITY', BURSTS THE OUTER LIMITS. PICS: TOM SHEEHANSOMEHOW WE'VE GOT TO TALKING about Croydon. Somehow, the stratospheric vagaries of Loop's sound, and our similarly orbital discussion have come spiralling down to earth, to SW17 in particular, and Robert, sitting shivering in Tom Sheehan's studio loft, is explaining Loop practically in terms of woodwork therapy, of, "Keeping us off the streets" and, "Giving vent to our aggressions" and if he'd have been born on a different estate, he'd probably be the same way, who knows? He sounds quietly desperate as opposed to glib.
Robert: "Day to day life is just so f...ing mundane. And there's always people trying to put the screws on you. Anything. Just silly things like somewhere to go. A good club.
"Croydon used to be very quiet but now you've got a NF pub, a large population of skinheads that have just appeared from nowhere... that's why the Croydon Underground shut, the only decent venue there destroyed by people going down there, getting pissed and beating the shit out of one another. . . but then, maybe that's their way of giving ventto their aggressions. . . "
By being aggressive. A pretty straightforward method.
"Maybe they should sit down and try to give ventto their feelings in a calmer,less aggressive way," says Robert, hopefully.
"That's the great thing about acid, it's a very introverted drug - it's the drug where you discover a lot about yourself. Thing is, these days, you get all these Neds (barrow boys) taking acid, and you think it might quiet them down a bit, quell this "seek and destroy" mentality, but it doesn't, they still beat the f." out of one another. And the likes of us, just for having long hair.
"I admit there's a sheer beauty to violence and destruction that's impossible to describe but I think it's possible to manifest that awe through taking it out on the guitar, as opposed to flesh and blood, by not actually mashing someone's face in."
Loop as cosmic Oi? Is that all?
Robert: "No, not quite!"
Not quite indeed.
THE one modest upheaval and point of fact since their second album proper, "Fade Out" is their leaving Chapter 22 and joining Beggars Banquet six months ago.
'We needed to get some money together just to keep the band alive. I guess the only reason Chapter 22 put out 'The World In Your Eyes', that compilation album we so disliked, was that was the only way they could pay us back the money they owed us."
Beyond that there is little biography, less anecdote, merely ever increasing musical circles. Loop are like an abandoned satellite which Houston has long since ceased to monitor, still continuing its researches for all that. As pop continues to be crushed by nostalgia (its gravitational pull, its natural state, in fact- hasn't pop always been about last summer, last Christmas?), loop product appears regularly like a reproachful blip on a screen in an empty laboratory, at once an echo of an epic, Homeric past (Hendrix, Faust, The Stooges, the avant-garde Gods) and also an investigation of space and a future nobody except a few old faithfuls like us really wants.
Not even the influx of Acid into pop makes Robert feel that there are kindred souls working on the inside. "I don't feel any sort of affinity with that music. At first, maybe, the repetition thing, but now it's one more pop production line."
Meanwhile, Loop's latest production is "A Gilded Eternity", too much of an addition and not enough of an expansion of Loop's oeuvre for some, but as welcome as a cloud burst in rock's current dry spell. Loop still throb meaningfully.
The Acid splashes of guitar on" Afterglow" revive a sublime grogginess brought on by the churning, queasy undertow. "Be Here Now" has a stale, lugubrious wah-wah bubbling up to the ocean surface from Hendrix's merman guitarand "Blood" has a ghostly, radioactive dubscape that's genuine new territory for Loop.
A Loop song leaves a great deal to hang adjectives upon but very little to fasten to; no "heart" ofthe matter to get to. Seen from afar, Loop songs remind me of those photographs of clusters of galaxies, separate constellations with vast inner regions in which human beings are mere specks. Are we supposed to feel that lost? The way the vocals are buried way, way down suggests that emphasis.
Robert: ''To me, nothing s more important than anything else. You should be able to take it all in simultaneously without distractions. It's something you can get totally lost in-get in and come out of the other side. That's why I'd ideally like for the doors to be locked at our gigs. No bar. Like a rollercoaster ride, so you can't escape till the end."
It's not just a case of being lost in sound but lost in hair. Is hair something you hide behind?
Robert: ''Yeah... well, if you wanta full-blown, lip-pouting extravanganza, buy a Jason Donovan record. The music's the only importantthing about loop. There is certainly this faceless element. Not a lot of people really talk to us at gigs. Maybe we alienate them. I'm not really bothered. Now and again someone's brave enough to come and talk to us and that's usually stimulating."
How much further can you take the Loop sound?
"There aren't any bounds."
Are you sure? It's only a guitar. ..
"Yeah, yeah, as regards tunings, bands like Sonic Youth and Glenn Branca are reinventing the instrument every month."
Can you take Loop's much further?
"I think we can. In any case, we're into embracing older technology rather than new technology. Things like samplers don't interest me very much. The Sixties psychedelia stuff has a great deal more warmth to it, it's not so seamless. But when we use wah-wah's it's no just to be cute, or whatever, it's more for the function of noise."
What is about the guitar? The primal urge to wrestle with a piece of wood?
"There's nothing really physical about synthesizers. You can get extreme noises from a synth but you're not exerting yourselves. You can't torture the instruments."
We're back to woodwork therapy. But that's what Steve Albini once said too.
What's it like being in the middle of Loop? Beyond concentrating on playing the right notes?
"Live, we never play the same song twice. It's not just reproducing the recorded version, which seems pointless. There's a large element of improvisation. It requires total self-immersion."
I'm reminded ofthe time when Stockhausen once assembled a group of musicians, and once they had sat down instructed them notto play a note until they had literally stopped thinking. Is Loop similarly mind-draining, a duster to the busy blackboard of consciousness?
John: "Some really bizarre things spring to mind when you're playing, just flash in and out. The way they do just before you go to sleep."
Aha! We're getting somewhere. But now we're sidetracked on the quibbling issue of whether or not loop are rock.
Robert: 'What is rock? Led Zeppelin, I suppose. Neil Young I really enjoyed when he came over. If that's rock, fine. Guns N' Roses. We're classed as a rock band because we have long hair and play guitars but I don't think we're a rock band at all."
I disagree. A true borderline case as to what's rock or not is Glenn Branca, who writes symphonies for electric guitars and probably applies for grants from the Guggenheim foundation. Loop are most certainly within the boundaries of rock, though they are expanding them like the universe. Loop are rock not just because of their denims but because oftheir homage to the Great Lost Moment, the necessary element of nostalgia, the moment they know has passed.
John: "Sure, it's passed. When you look at Hendrix, it's not just exciting for its own sake but because you know it's not going to happen again."
WHERE do you see loop by the end of the decade?
Robert: I can't think that far. I can't think any further than tomorrow. . . a few hours' time."
John: "Just to keep interested. I think I'd want to commit suicide if I didn't have the escape valve of this band."
The curse of these times is that none of us can think with any confidence about the fraught complexities of the future and therefore we take solace in the past from every intellectual level fom Max Bygraves re-releases to elaborate, post-modem irony. Who dare think what next? It's almost our worst fear. . .
Robert: "Ah, but it all catches up with you when you go to sleep. During the day, there are enough distractions to blank out your paranoias, switch off from reality in a way. But as soon as you fall asleep, that's when your subconscious, your anxieties, creep up on you. And that's when too many people are happy to shove two valium down their neck."
Eh? Personally, I'm one of those people who enjoy the prospect of sleep. We discuss dreams, the relatively short time-span of a dream sequence, that dreams are always in black and white. Robert always jots his down, in the hope of salvaging some clues about himself from the obscure filing system that is the subconscious. Robert believes the experience of a Loop song can assist in the "unscrambling" process that dreams provide, and therefore be indirectly self-educative for the individual, an acid trip with no side-effects but ringing ears.
To me, however, what Loop really simulate more accurately is the "falling off the cliff syndrome".
Robert: ''That's that sudden jolt you get, like free-falling, just before you go to sleep, when your nervous system is still active. . . sometimes people don't wake up from that, it doesn't register but, sometimes it does - it's your nervous system refusing to go to sleep, giving one last jolt. . . "
This is probably the most perfect metaphor for Loop. The" climax" to, say, "From Centre To Wave", wells up again, nervous, drenched and bolt upright after its electric tide had all but receded. Moments like these are the hallmark of loop',s particular wave of electric noise, sudden swells from descending arcs. Supernova effects, alarming reminders of where we are and what we are just as we were about to go to sleep. That's the effect.
Futhermore, Loop may be part of the last surge, the last giant flicker of avant-garde rock, the last reminder that we are awake, just before it goes bye-bye, disappears into outer space, snuffed out by our post-modem museum culture.
Plenty there to keep Robert off the streets yet. Goodnight, gentle reader. But do not go gentle into it.
Originally appeared in Melody Maker January 27, 1990
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