AR Kane: A Steak Knife In Your Ear

2005 note: NME had become a prisoner of its late 70s success legitimising punk: terrified of being caught in the lee of whatever the “next punk” would choose to demolish, it overspent itself lumpishly justifying everything, via sub-cultural pedigree and back-of-a-matchbox sociology. IPC sibling rival Melody Maker had missed the boat punk-wise: by comparison was free, and flying. God knows what exactly I was responding to: this piece was a coded postcard from behind enemy lines, to say, “Yes you’re right, those ARE strong ideas, but you’re not getting the most out of them; they will turn and trap you…” Let us not pretend I convinced anyone. Note for archeologists: lists of stuff that matters (to you), injected into your writing without explanation – Last Exit, Black Rock – are the secret marks of devotees of the hermetic cult of P. Morley. Lamest hack tic: claiming that A. R. Kane – that anyone – poses a “unique threat”.

“The soft gauze semi-porn cover-girl wields a steak knife behind her back.”
on AR Kane’s ‘Lollita’ EP, 25.7.87

THE COCTEAUS’ camp-follower, attracted to AR Kane by the sound of ‘Lollita’ and the bright fuzz-blur of Robin Guthrie’s production, should have paid closer attention to that cover photo.

And also to the persistent stories of the Twins, drunk, beating up Hibernian fans. But he went to the Clarendon in high hopes of sweet mimsy heaven, and here he is staggering away, bloodshot eyes, slack mouth, pole-axed. He’s just watched AR Kane dismember some loved one, and he can’t decide how he feels about it. He looks at me: “That was…ferocious.”

Severe maybe. But not ferocious. All that violence was clearly flagged in advance. But you can’t dent the confident ignorance of some observers, however hard you try.

Are AR Kane surprised they’ve been swept up like this: jumped on by 4AD and then a bevy of critics? They don’t seem to be. Alex radiates benign arrogance. Rudi tries to locate their lack of surprise, practically, reasonably, in the heart of their inexperience. “We didn’t know any better,” that sort of thing. Russell says nothing. This is the way they are. They don’t offer up their surnames, they don’t spin anecdotes or slap manifestos on the table. At one point one of them says that music should speak for itself. And then everyone laughs, including me. It’s a game. After all. They play it well. Considering their inexperience.

“We’re pleased that we’re being written about. That’s enough. You can’t have everything. Ideally we’d write about us ourselves.” This is Alex, being benignly arrogant.

“Half the time it comes out as a load of pretentious crap. Most of it. But we’ve questioned the people who wrote it, and we accept their explanations.” Russell, being practical.

“If it came to me to write about what we are, I’d probably write a song. It’s common sense, really.” Rudi, reasonable.

The name of the game – perhaps surprisingly – is improvisation. Only seven dates and two EPs old, they’re already wise to history’s oldest lesson. Which is that history holds no lesson, and that the wisest and strongest are those who make it up as they go along. When AR Kane go onstage, they have no real idea of how the evening will progress.

“The comparisons we’ve had: Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Sex Pistols, Einsturzende Neubauten, Howard Jones, Simon & Garfunkel. It’s getting funnier and funnier.”

It’s getting desperate. People are laying heavy ghosts on them, so’s not to have to acknowledge their unique threat.

“To me it all sounds interesting – all the diverse references that people have foisted on us. If I was a punter I’d read all that and think, it sounds f**king interesting. I’d go and check it out.”

Alex is right. For the moment, they have no history, and a reputation only for having a reputation. They can go where they want. A long way on from simple lists of songs with gaps between, for example. Their show can be this seamless glorification of guitar noise ecstasy. They owe no one – least of all the stupid past – anything. One day they will. One day they’ll have energised enough people into their way of thinking that we’ll all be tired of it. That’s a very long way off, and there’s a lot they can do until it comes.

“When we perform we’ve got a certain amount of duty to each other, the way we perform. Like we’ve got to stay onstage with our instruments. Most of the time. That’s about it.” Rudi laughs and the world laughs with him.

And all the things they’ll have to learn answers to, just to protect themselves, to questions about sex and Black Rock, lyrical irresponsibility and self-indulgence for the moment the ringing hiss of their drum machine and the grind of their feedback pop guitars can obscure the fact that no one will be satisfied with the answers they offer. They’re saying this is a process of learning for them. I liked that. Like Miles Davis or Last Exit or Can, they can gleefully admit to coming out of nowhere, and know that they glow, all the same.

“You’re not going to talk about exploding planets and frozen crystals, are you?”
I never know what I’m going to talk about till I get out there and start, Rudi. I thought you’d understand that.

© Mark SinkerNew Musical Express, 22 August 1987

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