People seem to have it in their heads that I don’t like music that sounds pleasant; this is absolutely not the case – I love the work of Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, and several other such highly popular and highly melodic artists. On the other hand, I also love Wolf Eyes and Sunn O))), two acts sure to make your parents ask “what the fuck is that?” The thing is, I personally see these as equally musical, if not more musical than much of today’s popular music which I find exceptionally boring. And no, I’m not just referring to the big chart toppers, even the slightly underground but still enormous acts, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Green Day.
Take the band Sunn O))) (I use them as an example because they have a high enough profile that people might at least recognise the name). Sunn O)))‘s music is essentially based on the twin principles of drone and feedback. The drone is the simplest expression of music there is, it goes back to prehistoric times. The drone as an element of music has been largely abandoned by popular modern western music, and yet its legacy is obvious for all to see. The accordion, the church organ, bagpipes, didgeridoos, horns… Some of the simplest musical instruments are based on the drone. It’s everywhere. And as for using feedback creatively, this has been done to varying degrees in rock music for years, from Van Halen to Sonic Youth. It is a highly organic method of creating a drone element, because it is the shaping an inherently unpredictable sound, while you are in control of the instrument, you are not in control of the vibrations and magnetic fields generated and how these interact in a live performance.
The experience of Sunn O))) in particular is felt most in a live capacity. The use of valve-based amplification and extreme volume creates a highly physical effect that can be used to great effect, if the audience is willing to take that extra leap. Theatricality in rock music is generally frowned upon as pretentious, but if you think about it, getting up on stage wearing sunglasses and acting like a cock is still making a statement one way or another. It’s those who pretend that getting up and singing songs in front of an audience should always be a display of faux-normality that are truly pretentious… And as for millionaires standing on stage in their torn jeans, performing their anarchic anthems about fighting the system; fuck that shit. Sunn O))) perform in robes behind a massive screen of smoke. There is no singular ego involved and the audience can barely even see the musicians on stage. The collective members of the live O))) all contribute to the spontaneous creation of a huge hulking monster of a performance, a bizarrely dynamic floating swamp of sound, fog and lights. Sunn O))) are not a band you hear plodding through their “hits “with a few token selections off the new record, but this is the joy of what they do: every show is a massive structured theatrical improvisation, a primitive ritual in a very real sense.
That’s why it pisses me off when people say “That’s not music!” You know what? Fuck you if that’s what you think. Just because you don’t have the stomach for it, doesn’t mean it’s not music. In fact it probably means you’re a twat who thinks you’re really clever because you listen to Arctic Monkeys. I genuinely believe the experience of a Sun O))) show is one that almost anybody could enjoy under the right circumstances, if not musically, then physically and theatrically. So how about you actually come up with a more intelligent response or at least try and hide your ignorance by keeping your mouth shut? There are many musical grounds one might dislike Sunn O))) on, perhaps you find them boring, perhaps you think they’re just a bunch of guys slapping their guitars and holding them towards the amps, perhaps you find the whole nature of the performance ridiculous. Whatever the reason, it does not mean it isn’t music.