Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lecture Time: Pleasure Dome 2012

In July of 2012, I was invited to do a lecture at Scarlet Imprint's Pleasure Dome symposium/festival. The event, held in Brighton, was wonderful and packed with interesting things and people. I talked about art and occultism, fact vs fiction and the search for new terminologies. Ha! What else is new?

The text was later published in The Fenris Wolf issue no 6 as "Go Forth And Let Your Brainhalves Procreate", which is still available from Edda Publishing.

Here's a clip of the thing in its entirety...

A link to all of Sitting Now TV's productions can be found here!

All material on this blog is copyright © Carl Abrahamsson, unless otherwise stated.
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Sunday, February 16, 2014

That's sexploitation? To a degree, yes!

Something Weird Video has been the main supplier of fine cinematic sleaze for many decades now. Sadly, founder and main dynamo Mike Vraney died in January but the business continues as before, thanks to Vraney's family and friends. That's good news.

One of the final projects Vraney was involved in is a documentary called That's Sexploitation. A very fitting title, because that really is what it is: a swirling cavalcade of clips to illustrate the history of sexploitation cinema. Intercut with narration by Frank "Basket Case" Henenlotter and interview sequences with sleaze producer par excellence David F. Friedman (1923-2011, "the mighty monarch of exploitation").

Given this quite simple structure, you quickly understand that the film is not really a definitive documentary in any way. Actually it's more like an extended Something Weird-trailer (not unlike the opening section of all Something Weird releases), with the highly entertaining Friedman stories as the real gems. And although those stories are subjective and quite fragmented, they are still invaluable. I mean, who else is still alive today to tell the stories of the good old days?

We are taken on a wild and raunchy ride from the humble beginnings of loops, stag films, sex hygiene and instructional films, peep shows, sex- and drugs-crazes and fears, burlesque developments and integrations, nudie cuties, nudies, roughies and finally some softcore stuff before everything ends in the very early 1970s because of the emergence of hardcore porn. The end of a long and profitable era!

There are some remarkable flaws in this film though. Russ Meyer is mentioned only briefly in passing as the director of The Immoral Mr Teas (1959), and Andy Milligan equally briefly. There should be enough interesting characters and destinies in the history of sexploitation to make a film considerably more substantial than this.

But as an entertaining overview, That's Sexploitation works well. Friedman is/was funny, Henenlotter equally so (he really should have a TV show of his own), and the plethora of mind-boggling clips from movies that have to be seen to be believed creates an overall impression of psychotronic amazement. In that sense, it's a joyride.

I think maybe I'm too jaded, because what I enjoyed most with the film were the clips and photos of old cinemas... Anyway, watch this documentary and keep supporting Something Weird. Their preservation of this tittylating segment of American cultural history is worthy of many honors and commemorative statues. Preferably statues with big boobs!

All material on this blog is copyright © Carl Abrahamsson, unless otherwise stated.
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Friday, February 14, 2014

Psychedelia: Quite A Trip!

Patrick Lundborg's massive tome Psychedelia – An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way Of Life has been out for a while now, and has received much praise and acclaim internationally. Totally in order. It's a well researched and well written book about a subject you could potentially approach from many different angles. Lundborg has chosen a scholarly and informative one and has also done the subject a great favor by looking at the big picture – chronologically as well as in terms of impact. Not an easy task.

Being the author of The Acid Archives, chronicling and cataloging psychedelic music from many decades, Lundborg is a world renowned expert in his field. To take the step into a much wider cultural-anthropological-chemical study of the same cataclysmic catalyst is brave. Very brave. Psychedelia is such an intelligent tour de force that any doubters can go sober up now. This book is perhaps the book to read if you want an initiated and coherent introduction to what it's all really about.

Not only do we get a journey through history and its many occurrences of psychedelic quantum leaps (and some mishaps too). There is of course also a heavy focus on Albert Hofmann's "problem child" itself: LSD. From initial clinical studies and experiments, over Tim Leary et al's anarchic-messianic exploits, to post-Learyean instigators, chemists, artists etc.

Opening a book with chapter titles like "The Philosophy of Hallucinations", "15.000 Years of Getting High", "Electric Tibet", "Head Shrinkers and Mind Expansion" and "The Future Is Psychedelic", to mention but a few, is like being drawn into a colorful vortex of human experimentation, audacity and optimism. And of course it is just that. Lundborg's project more than anything shows how deeply integrated the psychedelic experience has been (and still is) in the development of human culture.

The comparison with Eastern religions is not new by now, but here becomes contextualized in a broader sense than, for instance, was the case with Allan Watts and the general 1960s attitude. In sections like "Modernism and Mysticism", "Jessie Weston, Eleusis & Ezra Pound" and "Yeats, Theosophy & Peyote" (again, to mention but a few sections), Lundborg elegantly ties together many strains and attitudes that have helped form not only ancient history or 20th century modernism, but in equal part still vibrates before the presently budding future.

In this overview function we find the book's greatest merit (and it is very great indeed): to not only see chronological traces and patterns of (literally) mystical and consensus-erratic behavior, but also to put them in a wider context of necessary development.

In all, this is not just a good book among others. It feels very much like a definite and invaluable piece of work that will help future psychonauts as well as scholars to grasp a phenomenon/experience that is, paradoxically, almost intangible yet crucially essential to the health and wellbeing of mankind.

Patrick Lundborg: Psychedelia – An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way Of Life (Lysergia, Stockholm, Lhasa, Mojave, 2012)

All material on this blog is copyright © Carl Abrahamsson, unless otherwise stated.
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New Musicks: Warpaint, The New Alchemy, Junip

Music... A pretty good thing. Recently, there have been a few albums that have caught my attention and been on heavy rotation here. Try them out for size. They just might fit.

Warpaint's self-titled album was released late January and is the anticipated follow-up to the glorious debut The Fool (2010) and some EP work in-between. I don't know what it is exactly but these LA girls create something undefined and totally beautiful in everything they do. It's psych for sure but not in any way traditionalist. There's also a loose slacker element in their output, but not in a crusty grunge kind of way. There's also a distinct longing for the UK 1980s, when Martin Hannett ruled supreme and everything was rough and elegant at the same time.

Intricate drumming, suave basslines, etheric guitar picks, licks and riffs and beautiful, almost angelic singing. That's the Warpaint package right there. I have no idea what the songs are about and it doesn't really matter. You want Warpaint because you want to step into their musical universe and the distinct atmosphere they weave together so well. It's a universe of melancholia and morose meanderings but it's so beautifully executed that you just want to hang on for as long as it lasts. Then you simply press Play again.

I'm not at all surprised that these brilliant girls have now made an even better album than The Fool. What surprises me is that girls actually have feelings like these. That's impressive!

If you nurture an interest in Warpaint, perhaps you should read my interview with their bass player Jenny right here?
The New Alchemy: Svensson and Lundberg.
The New Alchemy consists of Swedish rock icon Ebbot Lundberg (Union Carbide, The Soundtrack of Our Lives) and artist Per Svensson (White Stains, GOLD), together with American artist Clay Ketter and Swedish saxophone player Mats Gustafsson. Here, we're knee deep in psychedelic tradition-land with heavy fuzz and very challenged focus capabilities. It's like one big blob of slow music shot forth from the center of someone's temporarily monochrome kaleidoscopic vision.

On the Other Side of Light (Subliminal Sounds)is the follow up to 2009's album Organic Universe, and is considerably tighter, darker and less experimental. Ebbot's familiar voice works well in any kind of musical setting basically, and here probably connotes Frank Zappa in vibe more than any other reference I can dig up. Slow soundscapes and pulsating grooves with added topping of voices, sound effects and emotional reverbs. This is not a jolly Technicolor Dream but rather a dark and very late night trip when you're suddenly not really sure if you're ever going to leave your overdrive synesthetic experience that already feels like it's been going on forever. In that sense, there's a strong prog element here too (darkness, eerie improvs, dirt, slow grinds).

The title track could almost pass for a slower kind of The Soundtrack of Our Lives song, but here we find the differentiating fascination and value of production skills. This is not TSOOL's clinically democratic trad rock stuff but rather dense throbs, soft, organic, heavy in bass, faint in drums, and plenty of guitar driven emotions. Plus Ebbot's  proto-rock-intonations, here numbed up/down as if on sedatives. It's groovy alright, but not at all in a peace-and-love-ish way.

Saxophone? Hmmm... Horrible instrument usually. Only Steve Mackay of vintage Stooges infamy got away with "blowing his horn" to extreme rock'n'roll. That's still a solid fact. But apart from the integration of "free jazz" vibes through Gustafsson's brass-coated asthma testing, this album is an impressive heavy duty psych-fest that passes with honors. Influences do leak through (The Doors The End in this case lurks behind the scenes) and on a good day we can call that paying respect or "paying the dues". Let this be a good day. On the Other Side of Light is a very good album indeed.

If you're interested in Ebbot Lundberg, perhaps you should read my interview with him (in Swedish)?

If you're interested in The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, perhaps you should read my (tear-eyed) review of their final concert ever?
Junip. Photo © Kiara Andreasson
Stepping back in time... I stumbled upon a classic album some months ago which has also since then been played "on repeat". I'm talking about José Gonzalez' project Junip. Their album Fields (2010) is such a masterpiece I'm really angry with myself I didn't catch it when it originally came out. I have certainly compensated for that by listening to this record many, many times now.

Very few-chordish simple pop, playful, innovative, beautifully arranged and produced. Swinging back and forth with Gonzalez' sensitive voice on top. Spellbinding simplicity. It really is a masterpiece.

Of course I have indulged in their most recent album too, Junip (2013), but unfortunately it doesn't cut the mustard for me at all. It seems Junip peaked with Fields. I hope for more to come though, because what they create together is intelligent and emotional pop of the very finest kind. And Fields is by far the best example of that – to date.

All material on this blog is copyright © Carl Abrahamsson, unless otherwise stated.
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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sleaze, please!

John Szpunar's hefty brick of a book Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine takes you on a gloriously sticky memory lane trip to the golden era of Horror- and Sleaze film fanzines. It's massive (800 pages!), packed with interviews with writers and editors and creates a longing back to an era of a relentless will- and passion-driven love of movies. As such, an invaluable book.

Early 80s up until the internet buds of the early 90s. Postal networking and printed matter. The dawn and heyday of cassette culture and home video. VHS collecting and fanzine devouring. Tape trades and xeroxed xeroxes. Every little scrap of Entartete information and outsider esthetics was regarded as gold and jewels in a mainstream 1980s culture that was tasteless and truly horrible beyond belief. Sleazy diamonds in the rough buried deep in the pastel-colored and Stock-Aitken-Waterman-sounding fields of normality manure.

It's hard to describe what a passionate era this was. I was stuck in my own little spaceship in Stockholm, yet was in touch with a whole bunch of weird, similar-minded people. They all had some kind of cottage industry going, whether it was the illicit spreading of "cult" films or publishing fanzines about them. To be a consumer part of that psychotronic culture was an adventure and a schooling that I can still tap today. It was also a huge inspiration for my own fanzine attempts with Lollipop and Acts Of Interstellar Torture (1985-1988).

It goes almost without saying: the more extreme, the better. Gore- and splatter epics with non-existent budgets and non-existent morals (a great combination). Sexploitation and roughies laughable by the standards of the day, but you could sense how vile they had once been, only 10 to 20 years earlier. Monster movies, sex, violence, giallos, mondos, cannibals, sensationalism and cheap thrills conveyed by second (or third) generation VHS cassette copies, duplicated by manic sleaze hounds all over the world for the benefit of the likeminded. Outsider solidarity drenched in fake blood.
Those of us unfortunately not present on 42nd Street in New York or other Hell-hubs had to rely on the printed matter. Or xeroxed matter, rather. Cheap fanzines like Gore Gazette, Sleazoid Express and Fear of Darkness complemented the subscriptions to Fangoria and other slick magazines. There were reviews, interviews, retrospective articles, filmographies and unbelievable human destinies banged out on imperfect typewriters and then cheaply copied just for the hell of it. No financial gain possible, or even desired. Just a love of sharing that odd, offbeat, oscillating, human (all too human), loser, outsider culture.

John Szpunar's Xerox Ferox takes you right back to that ultra-creative vortex of gonzo publishing. It's a book that reveals how nerdy the scene actually was, but also how passionate it was – perhaps that's actually the same thing? A lot of the people interviewed in the book share trails: late night American TV and its B-movie horror fillers, the last throbbing era of grind house cinemas, Forrest Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, etc. It was indeed a generational phenomenon.

Some writers were tougher than others and the monsters of B-land were sometimes not enough – predominantly those writers blessed with access to real sinning and real sleaze. New Yorkers generally accepted the area around Port Authority and Times Square as disgusting areas of decay. But the sleaze hounds of course loved it. Not least for the cinemas that ferociously mixed without ever matching: porn, horror, art films, whatever. Cinemas decidedly not safe to enter, for many different reasons.
Sleazoid Express was seminal in this environment and both Sleazoid protagonists Jimmy McDonough and Bill Landis are interviewed in Szpunar's book. As is Stefan Jaworzyn of Shock Xpress. As is Jim Morton, who was instrumental in the groundbreaking west coast endeavor for RE/Search: Incredibly Strange Films. As is Chas Balun (A Deeper Shade of Red), Robin Bougie (Cinema Sewer) and Steve Puchalski (Slimetime). And many, many others.

Szpunar asks Jimmy McDonough what it was about the films of Milligan, Meyer, Sarno and Lewis that made the era so special and memorable:

McDonough: "They were handmade. When the budget is $1.50, the personality can't help but bleed through. As well as grimy reality. If you want to know what a certain year feels like, find an exploitation film from that time. You can smell the hot dogs. These days, slickness is available to everyone for that same $1.50. Not so exciting, if you ask me. But that's the way of the world. You can't go back. I'm just glad I was there to see some of it, even if it was only the death rattle."

McDonough's answer about the movies could equally well sum up the fanzine scene of those days. Obsessions and personality leaked through on every xeroxed page and made you, as a reader, want to indulge even further in whatever these people were writing about.

The internet changed a lot of course, for good and bad, and killed off the DIY printed matter endeavors. RE/Search's wonderful Incredibly Strange Films and Michael Weldon's The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film carried the torch onwards on a higher level and the interest as such didn't fade. Reality did, however, and 42nd Street being cleaned up in the early 90s became the best (worst!) symbol of the end of an era.
Through loving and intelligent endeavors like Szpunar's Xerox Ferox, those of us who remember the good old days can become vitalized again. I still have all of my VHS cassettes (probably close to 500 tapes) and now feel motivated to drag them out again. For those slightly younger who may think that VHS is a disease of sorts (in a way, it is), the book presents a great overview of a culture that was instrumental in presenting many forgotten films again. Thereby saving them not only from oblivion but also possibly from terminal extinction.

If the subject matter interests you, you might want to read my interview with Sleazoid Express' Bill Landis from 2005.

Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine, by John Szpunar, Headpress, London 2013.

All material on this blog is copyright © Carl Abrahamsson, unless otherwise stated. The beautiful images from 42nd Street have been appropriated from various online sources. Please let me know if you own these images and feel their use here is not OK. Thanks.
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