Alexander Hellene

No -gates Allowed

I’ve been semi-obsessed with the band Black Midi lately. Black Midi is a trio of British lads barely out of high school who released their third album, Hellfire, in July of this year. Their music can be described as exactly the kind of music I wanted to make when I, too, was in my twenties, but could find no other musicians willing to make.

How to describe their music . . . imagine Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention circa their first three albums, but they dabbled in hardcore, were less satirical, and then cross that with Discipline-era King Crimson and the reckless, bratty abandon of Mr. Bungle, and you’re kind of getting there. There’s a lot of funk and jazz influence, too: the core trio is often augmented in the studio and on stage by a pianist and some horn players.

It’s a gloriously patchwork that lurches from feel to feel and style to style between songs and among songs. Ranging from the visceral and in-your-face to the sublimely thoughtful and pretty to just plain weird, Black Midi is the most interesting band I’ve come across in over twenty years.

Yes, this old guy is a fan. Hellfire has kept me guessing throughout. And that’s a good thing.

But it got me thinking about how damn hard it is to make music like this. I have much the same thought listening to a group like Mr. Bungle and songs like “Carry Stress in the Jaw”:

Do you know how hard it is to write and perform something like that, something that sounds so chaotic but is actually tightly structured and expertly crafted? It’s the same feeling I get listening to Black Midi. These kids are serious students of songcraft, and they’d have to be to make such apparently random and wacky soundscapes so listenable and, dare I say it, catchy.

When you’re involved in any pursuit, creative or otherwise, you need to have the proper people surrounding you. Not only will they help you bring your vision, or a shared vision to life, but as long as the overall vision is held by each member, any conflicts will work towards that vision and not pulling the crew off-course on an alternative path.

Alternative paths are fine, of course, but you need buy in from all involved or else your group will split, and what good will that be?

In the writing realm, you’re on your own unless you’re one of those writers who either has a collaborator, or you write in a shared universe with a single canon all writers must adhere to. But even loose communities of writers need to share a common purpose and vision, especially if you’re going to slap a label on it.

That’s why I like loose labels like pulp revolution, and the nascent idea of #ironage. It’s not a “thing.” You don’t “join” pulp rev. It’s not even a style. It’s an ethos, an aesthetic. No “-gate.” No membership card. No t-shirts. Just a love of older, mostly forgotten authors and their fearless, heroic, nothing-off-limits genre-defying vibe.

Kind of like Black Midi, I guess. They actually sound nothing like their disparate influences. Guitarist/singer Geordie Greep loves Bach, Marvin Gaye, and Tom Waits—does his music resemble any of that? No . . . it doesn’t really “sound” like Zappa or King Crimson either, but the vibe of both influences is there.

Look at the pulp rev scene: no two authors are quite alike. Planetary romance coexists with historical fiction, weird horror, space opera, steampunk, and sword-and-sorcery. There’s isekai, there’s techno-thriller, there’s superhero stuff, there’s even comedy. By staying amorphous and relating to a vibe more than a strict set of parameters, pulp rev provides a place for writers to use influences of the past to make something new and different for future readers to enjoy and, hopefully, be inspired by to start writing themselves.

It’s rejoining the conversation at a place where it had artificially been cut off.

“Vibe” is a difficult word to define. But in the absence of anything better, vibe is all I’ve got. Make sure your group, your collaborators, your movement, all have the same vibe and are traveling in the same direction. Otherwise, you’ll end up frustrated by your inability to create the kind of art you envision in your head but find impossible to translate into the real world.  

Get busy.

– Alexander

Here’s some pulp rev for you, a great sampler in fact: the Pulp Rock anthology I put together with a bunch of my friends. Buy it here!

3 thoughts on “No -gates Allowed”

  1. Alexander,

    Just outta high school? Getta outa here! 🙂
    They sound like they’re in the late 20s/early 30s and been turing for years.

    The music is really catchy. I like the funk/jazz combo. It’s like late 70s very early 80s.

    Anyways, yeah I can see why you dig them,


    1. Xavier,

      I think all of the members were born around 1999 and 2000, so they’re really young. Here’s another song from their third album (their latest) that I can’t get out of my head:

      This band really is something. The most surprising, interesting music I’ve heard in a long, long time. I haven’t geeked out over a rock group in, shoot, almost 20 years.

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