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SLINT – ATP

Posted: April 26th, 2005, by Chris Summerlin

I wrote a review of ATP and found most of it concentrated on Slint so I scrapped it and decided to write this piece about why I love the band instead.
I can’t understate how important Slint ‘ or the idea of Slint ‘ was and still is to me.
I have always made and been fascinated with (largely instrumental) sparse, dramatic music. I come from the Fens where any car journey, even between the closest 2 towns, means time spent looking at absolutely nothing and somehow wordless music fits it perfectly. There’s so much on the horizon that’s packed with stories but yet remains totally unspoken. The first band I was in rehearsed in 2 places ‘ a theatre in the neighbouring town 12 miles away and a cattle shed on a disused railway track that was literally in the middle of nowhere. It was supremely bizarre but at the time it seemed normal.
If you’ve ever been to the Fens you know it’s a place of maximum weirdness. One night I was driving my friend Nick out to his house (where the cattle shed rehearsal space was) and a puma ran across the road in front of the car. No shit. We sat there in the car at his house for an age before either of us dared bolt in through the door.
We mentioned this to Nick’s mum. She calmly told us that when opening the curtains in the mornings she had frequently seen big cats in their back garden. A local farmer told us he loses sheep regularly to a black panther and told us he keeps quiet about it because he doesn’t like a fuss.
I went to a party in Nick’s only neighbours house and ended up locked in a bathroom while the host went apeshit with a hedge trimmer, Texas Chainsaw Massacre style.
My neighbours were much worse. I grew up with the Yorkshire Ripper, the Krays and Dennis Nielson in my town, thanks to the major industry being a maximum security prison.
There was a spate of UFO activity one summer. I saw a white light bolt across the sky above me in early evening light. I was pretty stoned. A crop circle showed up two days later which we spent a long evening laying on our backs in the centre.
I’m talking about a place in the world where everything’s really visual and taken as read without much need for clarification. People talk endlessly in the Fens but they just go over and over small details about nothing much. The big stories are taken as read and never verbalised. Local gangsters floating face down in drainage dykes, bloated to twice their normal size. The happy couple and kid running the local bar have the same surname and they’re not married ‘ know what I mean? And it’s their kid. Or the whole town closing on a Saturday because of fear of rioting when the National Front comes to town in support of Tony Martin (remember him?).
Instrumental, dramatic music makes sense in this landscape. Especially when the only time you listen to music is in the car, looking out at all this quiet, mysterious land. It’s what unsaid that gives the drama.
I was already into Mogwai, having seen them with Pavement at the Astoria. Then going to see them on tour I got to see Aerial M a few times and they made perfect sense to me. The weird chords, the euphoric but sinister sounds. Everything was a little woozy and unusual and it seemed to fit with my life somehow. This was pre-internet for me so it took a while for Slint to filter down and the connections to be cemented between them and the music I was starting to like but when I got Spiderland it was a real revelation. This music was so expansive and creepy ‘ creepy is the key ‘ that it was custom built for living where I lived.
The pace and the air between the notes coupled to the genuinely unsettling vocals seemed to sound so amazing played at night driving along the A47, or sitting on my friend Kevin’s car bonnet one night as the Whittlesey Wash had flooded and the road was off limits, illuminated by moonlight as owls flew overhead. Slint seemed to be about the unspoken stories and rumours and plain unsettling quality of the small community. The music itself had a real narrative; the notes were saying something and the vocals just reinforced it. It was perfect.
It was impossible for it not to have an effect on me as someone learning to play guitar and just starting to make music of my own.
I remember the first time I went to a real recording studio the engineer asked us to bring in records we liked the sound of and one of them was Spiderland. I think Shellac was another and maybe King Crimson’s Red. I don’t think any of the music I have ever made necessarily sounds like Slint but there are certain parts I can remember being directly influenced to the point where it was in tribute.
The irony was that right at the time I was starting to play music, Pajo from Slint was living down the road in Norwich. That seemed to further confirm some sort of link and when bands like Navigator (from Norwich) popped up on the radar it seemed like a lot of people were having the same ideas.
When I moved to a city it seemed like Slint disappeared from my listening tastes. I did not stop liking them, Spiderland and Tweez and the EP were there but they weren’t listened to as much. That was maybe around the year 2000. I kept up with the post Slint releases. Aerial/Papa/M especially. It seemed perfect that a heartbreak weekend spent going mental in Scotland was soundtracked by 2 gorgeous Papa M shows in 2001. The For Carnation and Palace too had a profound effect on me. I had heard them before but it seemed like moving to a city was the catalyst for them making sense as they were so intimate that they offered a place to escape to that was completely insulated. I am such a geek I even used Pajo’s old Palace/For Carnation guitar to record the last Reynolds album as it belonged to my housemate who bought it from Pajo a few years before.
So when Slint announced a reformation I was surprised and a little disappointed. Looking back now I think maybe it’s because I’d just forgotten what Slint actually sounded like. They have unwittingly become the flag bearers for a particularly odious, head music coming out of cities (mainly Chicago) that I got wrapped up in and then got repulsed by as gigs became more and more like Dungeons & Dragons fanclub conventions. I think I was lumping Slint in with the bands that followed them.
I don’t know anybody from Slint but I emailed Pajo anyway. It went along the lines of:
“Don’t do this. It undermines the stuff you’re doing now which is amazing. However, if you do do this I will be at the front cheering you on because I am a fan and I am also a cocksucker”.
Unsurprisingly I did not get a reply.
So, like a cocksucker, I bought a ticket and I went. The event wasn’t much of a party. It was arctic in it’s weather conditions and much of the weekend was spent getting battered by snow of biblical proportions. It got to Friday and I still hadn’t thought about Slint’s music at all. I think in my head I had an idea like
“Slint? They’re a math rock band from Chicago”.
Then all of a sudden I started to think about the band and why I liked them and I began thinking about their songs. Even surrounded by drunk students in Slint hoodies I started to get excited.
I did not even drink on Saturday and got to the front for Slint. Sure enough everyone else who 2 days before had said
“Yeah, Slint are OK but I’m not that fussed about seeing them”
was down the front pressed against the railing with dribble coming out of the corners of their mouth.
The tension, not only of the moment but of the whole weekend with the weather and the slightly down feel, was unbearable.
There were no “hello”s or “thank you”s. The 4 band members edged onstage, on time, in total darkness and started with “For Dinner”. The sound was great. Maybe it was because I was so close to the front but it was plenty loud, especially when it seemed The Melvins were playing on half power the night before.
The first surprise was that Brian McMahan handed guitar duties over to his brother Michael for songs where he sang. It proved to work well as the intricacies of the vocals on the records were replicated perfectly, even over the din the band could cook up. Second surprise was that certain vocal duties were handled by Britt Walford (whilst drumming for the verses of Nosferatu Man and sitting with guitar for Washer), leaving McMahan side of stage to interject where needed but largely to stand still looking awkward in the half light. Each song ended with the lights being taken down to total darkness and complete onstage silence. Rather than seeing it as being a cold emotionless recreation of the records like many criticised it for it seemed more to me to be completely in keeping with the creepy, sparse mood that made me like Slint in the first place. I think maybe people were judging Slint by their supposed contemporaries stage show (Shellac, Jesus Lizard, Mogwai etc) when in fact the key to what makes Slint amazing is that they had no contemporaries.
Unreleased song Pam managed to wipe out the math rock genre with one foul swoop. It was stupidly heavy. It was missed from the second London show set list.
Glenn was a real “hairs on the back of the neck” moment. It too was heavy but only in it’s pondering, sluggish, malevolent manner. I had forgotten how amazingly heavy Slint are.
The Tweez tracks were played faithfully, even the processed guitar sound which sounded incredible blaring out of the PA.
The people around me were insane. One guy shouted and whooped constantly, which is cool because I was excited but there’s something weird to me about cheering on songs that have this level of menace. It seems perverted.
They closed naturally with Good Morning Captain. It sounded amazing. Photographers scrummed with each other at the end to capture the precise moment McMahan yelled “I MISS YOU!”. The band all looked visibly shaken to be playing the music and for once I felt a myth was bizarrely kept in tact by a reformation.
Even when the couple next to me whooped at the opening bars and began slow dancing I found it easy to lock it out and enjoy it, if that’s the right word.
Other ATPs have been curated by party bands of a certain nature (maybe not Autechre but I missed that one) and people’s criticisms seem to come from the sombre mood of Slint’s performance. I personally can’t believe that a music this wilfully odd could attract as many people as it did and so I felt a lot of people simply did not like Slint full stop, rather than thinking the gig was bad.
I am a cocksucker, they did a great job. They reminded me of what a unique and personally important band Slint were to me which is surely the point right?
It took me back to a time and a geography that I won’t get back. I think it’s notable that when bands like Slint and Mogwai and Navigator etc moved away from the countryside they began to change their sound ‘ Mogwai within the band and Slint by breaking into different sections each a polar opposite to Slint.
It happened to me too. As soon as I got a city I found my musical tastes veered towards vocal music, or angry music, or dense music. Slint no longer made sense. That’s also why those Chicago Slint variants and the whole math genre fail so miserably to inject their music with any of the other worldlyness Slint had. They’re city people, their music is out of sorts with their environment and somehow misses out on a kind of truth that comes with being in touch with your surroundings and a language you can build up with the people you play with if you’re on the same wavelength. The post-Slint bands frequently took the bustle of Slint but took it as being evocative of their lives and surroundings. They extracted something from Slint’s music that wasn’t the key element. The aggro in Slint’s music is more of a calm and storm approach. It’s not about busyness or anger or aggression. It’s about tension and drama and a suppression of the things other bands scream about. It’s timeless. It’s real country music. Slint could never have come from Chicago, they are totally rural. Like me, which is why I love them.



Chris Summerlin

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.

http://www.honeyisfunny.com

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