:: Article

The Scene That Celebrated Itself

By Andrew Stevens.


Various, Sci-Fi Lo-Fi Vol. 3: Rob D Bank, Soma Records, 2009

For those of you not exactly enamoured with Rob da Bank and his Bestival operation I say this: shut the fuck up. I wouldn’t exactly be too far behind you in the queue ordinarily (Misty’s Big Adventure notwithstanding) prior to the release of this compilation and I’m as prepared as the next shoegazer to overlook any prior convictions in that regard, especially when confronted with a collection of this quality and sheer originality of imaginative process. In fact, I’d even go so far as to assert its knock-out worthiness compared to the last such typical compilation, were it not for my already high estimation of the series which began with Andy Weatherall’s rockabilly homage run through as the first outing.

As if to illustrate a huge blank canvas with what followed in that post-C86 era, da Bank kicks off the album with the honey-dripping and not at all un-famous via a certain OST (oh no) ‘Just Like Honey’ by East Kilbride’s finest JAMC. New York’s Ultra Vivid Scene, 4AD stalwarts and pretty much the innocent bystanders in the flurry of arguments against the self-reverential scene, gently progress matters with the almost pulsating drone of their biblical (Sonic Cathedral, anyone?) ‘Mercy Seat’ (“ring that bell as loud as you please / it can only make me well”). This then gives way to Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Freak Scene’, arguably more influential than instrumental here, and its unbroken introductory chord sequence and memorable opening refrain, doubly followed by the disorderly bridge. The hugely overlooked Leeds jangle merchants The Pale Saints’ ‘Sight of You’, again arguably not the better known among the scene’s numbers, seems to be the most perfect piece of logic here since A.J. Ayer laid his pen to rest in term of inclusion. Ride, who else?, kicks in here with the swirling ‘Nowhere’, in many senses a somewhat odd choice of track given the alternatives, but entirely in kilter with the sequential arrangement of what came before. The heavy bleating drone of Spiritualized‘s morose yet contemplative ‘If I Were With Her Now’ effortlessly proceeds the running order, an almost genius-like choice in my opinion. The sample-laden gazer-baggy crossover ‘Pearl’, from Thames Valley mainstays Chapterhouse and its “satisfy my soul” refrain lolloping chorus is an equally welcome yet hugely euphoric moving on point here, again positively drenched in reverb and echo loops to an extent that never bores. And then the slow climatic Cocteau build-up of Slowdive’s ‘When The Sun Hits’ (from their post-high watermark Souvlaki) gives way to the driving verse/chorus/verse in a way not witnessed anymore, sadly. Some reviewers may have complained about the lack of My Bloody Valentine (not guaranteed royalty status in anyone‘s books, surely?) on the album but the Guthrie-produced chorus pedal-centric ‘Sweetness & Light’ of the “’anging out in Camden” Lush was almost lurking like a mugger behind a lamppost after Slowdive in this respect.

And then… as if to suggest the years 1988-1993 may have had more resonance then previously imagined, a slice of what has since been termed nu-gaze (though IDM fans may beg to differ) limbers into hearing range in the form of Boards of Canada’s somewhat less playful and beat-driven than usual ‘Zoetrope’. Ulrich Schnauss, a man known for wearing his 1991 affiliations on his Teutonic sleeve, provides the sliding and disorientational ‘On My Own’ with its joyous chorus here. M83 barely require any introduction in terms of their own crate-digging of the era and the pulsating vocoder of the nymph-like ‘Teen Angst’. The nu-gaze appraisal is temporarily broken however. ‘Cherry-Coloured Funk’, as emblematic of the Cocteau Twins and their pivotal role in the entire milieu, enters with what only Alex DeLarge could term “gorgeousness and gorgeousity”. Da Bank has some fun here with the penultimate inclusion, the almost-MGMT vocal-led fresh blast of summer air of Maps and his equally atmospheric ‘You Don’t Know Her Name’. But with occasional Sonic Boom collaborator’s Dean and Britta’s wistful woozy Gallic tones of ‘White Horses’, here you visualise a 1,000 swirling Francophone backing tracks and are led in entirely an entirely satisfactorily, in both an aural and logical sense (in terms of lineage via Galaxie 500 and Luna) conclusion to the album, one drenched in integrity if anything else. The Scene That Celebrated Itself? It had every right to.

Andrew Stevens is contributing editor to 3:AM and lives in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, March 24th, 2009.