Words by Sebastian Frame - @sebastianframe

Yes, you have read the title correctly, I have used the title to Paula Cole’s big hit as the title to this article. My apologies to the Cole Estate. But the question posed by Ms Cole is still pertinent in these times of "cancel culture", as we watch our heroes fall from grace under accusations of sexual misconduct and unsavoury opinions espoused into the Twitter-sphere; what happened to our heroes?

The latest victim thrown into the bellowing flames of Cancel Hell was Chris D’elia, American comedian and now exposed creep who is guilty of soliciting the very type of underage fans his humour is geared towards. Don’t get me wrong, the point of this article isn’t to lament his possible career demise or highlight the disappointment we feel when yet another of our heroes fall from grace, quite the opposite, I’ve come to argue that we need to stop putting these people on a pedestal and immediately brandish the famous class with the impossible task of being the moral compasses for the rest of us.

On March 27th 1973, Marlon Brando was awarded Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his performance in The Godfather. Brando, however, was not in attendance. Instead, he sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to read a speech on his behalf in criticism of the depiction of Native Americans in the film industry. In addition to the onslaught of boos and heckles that rang out during her speech, Littlefeather told the press afterwards that the angriest response she received for her speech was from none other than the quintessential cowboy John Wayne, who was apparently being held back by six security guards as he tried to drag her off the stage. Sometimes art really does imitate life.

The prophet Bill Murray once said, ‘I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’’. Psychological literature across the board and photos of celebrity meltdowns point towards the self-evident truth that fame does not necessarily lead to one living a balanced; happy life. In a culture of ‘get-rich-quick’ and the chase for public admiration, it is ingrained in our collective psyche that money and fame will fulfil us entirely. But yet the rich and famous seem to be plagued by loneliness and insecurity. With social media now a platform available to everyone, we are left with a culture that craves attention and thrives off of tedious virtue-signalling; and celebrities are the biggest perpetrators of this tedious virtue signalling. More importantly, everyone seems to accept their roles as cowboys sitting on their high horse watching over them with little concern for the high price that is paid for the lip service rendered.

A prime example of this is the embarrassing rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ by Gal Gadot and all her famous friends in response to the global pandemic. Instead of dipping into their accumulative vast wealth to donate to a worthwhile cause that would actually help the situation, Gadot and all her dim accomplices decided to record a version of the hit ‘Imagine’, a song that provokes the idea of a world without material possessions or religion. Can you imagine it? A world without nutritionists and personal trainers? No gated mansions and tax havens? If Gal really is trying to change the world, she might have simply shot from the hip and banished a chequebook.

Following the death of George Floyd and the ongoing protests happening across the globe against police brutality and institutionalized racism, I notice amongst the worthwhile conversations celebrities jumping in trying to hog the limelight once again. Why do we view these people as brave when they hop onto a cause only when it becomes popular to do so? Were there these many celebrities coming out in support of black lives after the Rodney King beating? I don’t see them as a lot of brave activists seeking to circle the wagons to combat the problem but as shameless opportunists simply along for the ride.

It is a perfectly natural instinct to admire greatness in others. Now, we could go into how it all boils down to the hunter/gatherer thing and how we look to the alpha of the group to guide us and that has evolved in modern times to people in positions of power, but that point has been rustled up in other articles. Perhaps curiously, it is this human trait of admiration that we all hold to some degree that allows us to be inspired and develop those traits in ourselves, I mean, Yves Saint-Laurent wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Christian Dior, right? And how would the cowboys in the white hats be inspired to righteousness without their black cladded counterparts?

We have always viewed the celebrity class as royalty in the western world. Scratch that, they are royalty now, there’s a retired reality TV host in the White House. Just as the concept of royalty is archaic and immoral, so is the impermeable and sacrosanct status we have given to the celebrity class. This is the status that allowed Bill Cosby to drug and rape hundreds of women and Kevin Spacey to assault any young man that came his way without ever appearing on any wanted poster.

Not only are these people royalty, in some rare cases they achieve god-like status. It’s somehow grotesque to be quoting Bible verses in an article geared towards my secularly minded peers, but in the Ten Commandments, one of the commandments that God imparted to Moses was to ‘You shall have no other gods before me’. In this culture, we have replaced celebrities for any God, not religion per se but the idea of a personal moral compass or faith.

Its time now to stop worshipping celebrities and start admiring people who are worthwhile. Scientists, activists, educators, workers, these people make a difference, not children’s authors who tweet blatantly transphobic comments or shallow celebrities singing out-of-tune anthems of peace into their iPhones. These people should not be seen as heroes, because they’re not, they’re entertainers. We must remember that though we can be awestruck by the talent of artists, musicians, comedians and filmmakers, these people are fallible, complicated human beings; just like the rest of us. Where have all the cowboys gone? The answer is they were never there, they were just people wearing cowboy outfits.

Words by Morgan Kenning

As a musician, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what people like and what they don’t. Judging by the number of downloads I usually get, I’m doing a pretty dismal job of it; but would surveying people on what they like and don’t like about music help me? Well, in 1996, artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid did just that. Komar and Melamid had a project called The People’s Choice, where they polled people from various countries about what elements of paintings they like and dislike and from that, created what should, in theory, be the most popular and least popular paintings in those countries. The US' Most Wanted was a landscape of a lake, featuring George Washington, children playing and some deer. The Most Unwanted, as with the majority of the world, was an abstract geometric pattern. 2 years after the first paintings, they decided to adapt their methodology to the world of music. I talked to composer Dave Soldier to find out a bit more.

“I met Komar and Melamid through another artist named Mark Kostabi who was a friend of theirs. They gave me the cover for my album Smut in 1992, and we started planning out projects, including the opera Naked Revolution, which we finally released after 20 years”. Soldier drew up a poll, asking about elements such as genre, duration, instruments and lyrical content. I asked who wrote the questions and why they chose what they did, to which he replied: “I wrote them, and look at them carefully, some were kind of written to get particular answers that I would like”. If you read the survey, you can see that almost every element of music you’d expect a non-musician to have an opinion on. They didn’t ask about any technical things like chords, but other questions about emotion managed to get the same information across.

So, what were the results? 2 songs: one, an R&B/Rock song of exactly 5 minutes in duration, featuring one singer/songwriter that sounds like Bruce Springsteen and another that sounds like Whitney Houston. It’s a love song, and if someone presented it to me and told me it was #1 for 6 weeks in the summer of 1996, I wouldn’t question it. According to the creators, this would be unavoidably liked by 72% (plus or minus 12%) of listeners. It’s an utterly inoffensive song and would have no problem getting played on the radio at the time. But it’s just that- inoffensive. But how about a song that would be genuinely liked by less than 200 people out of the world’s population? For that, you need the logical opposite of the Most Wanted song. The Most Unwanted Music is 22 minutes of terror, featuring a large orchestra with a harmonica, a harp, a banjo, a tuba, a soprano rapper, a children’s choir, bagpipes, a flute and some non-musical drilling noises amongst other things. It opens with a country theme, and cycles through genres such as hip hop, experimental atonal music, a political protest rant, elevator music and advertising jingles. It basically serves as the world’s longest and most painful advert for Walmart. Seriously, listen to it. It’s indescribable. Every single section feels like the worst thing imaginable until the next one starts. It also has the accolade of being the only score I’ve ever read with the word 'PAINFUL' on it.

This song is like a 22-minute concerto of nails on a blackboard- and for some reason, I love it. Anyone could put together a cacophonous mess and call it the worst song ever, but this is a more refined approach. 22 minutes of atonal nonsense is relatively easy to listen to because you tune it out after a while unless it’s your kind of thing- but with The Most Unwanted Music, it makes sure you can never tune it out. You will listen to the first cowboy theme, and think 'well this isn’t so bad', until the rap starts. Then the rap ends, and the children come in. Then the bagpipes. Every section twists the knife in a little bit more. Just when you start getting used to it and accepting your fate, the cowboy theme returns at half the speed. There’s no way to escape this if it’s present in the same room as you. But then a couple of days later, after your friends have all listened to it and you’ve grown weary of their grimacing faces as they re-evaluate why they hang around with you in the first place, you put it back on again. The same in a few days more. So that’s what I’m trying to find out- why do I like this song?

One reason is its uniqueness. I’ve never listened to a song quite as bizarre as this, it’s in a league of its own amongst all the songs ever written. It breaks through the realms of genre and style to bring a totally new flavour. Even if that flavour is horrendous, it’s new. This song blends instruments which have absolutely no business being anywhere near each other, there’s no other song in the world as far as I’m aware that has a tuba as a bassline to a hip-hop beat, or a soprano singer with drills in the background, or slams that ‘interfere with the soloist’. This does point to the obvious fact that it is fundamentally a novelty song, which generates a lot more interest. If any of these elements were incorporated into a standard, non-novelty song, it wouldn’t get popular and it wouldn’t be appreciated, but because it’s all these elements in one song it stands out from the crowd.

Another reason is contrary to what almost every article on this song says- it wasn’t designed to be the ‘worst song ever’. Nothing about the construction of melodies, chords or anything like that is bad, it’s designed to be unwanted, and it fits that profile exactly. The thing that makes it unwanted is aesthetics. Apart from what can be written down on sheet music, how it actually sounds. The instruments used, the vocalists and lyrical content, the sudden, jarring stylistic shifts all make it unwanted. Anyone could create 20 minutes of cacophonous noise with a nonsensical vocal line sung over the top and call it the worst song ever, but the approach The Most Unwanted Music took was a lot more subtle than that. Making a bad song is easy, we both know you don’t have to go too deep into the internet to find one. But making a song that has nothing objectively wrong with it still create such a reaction is a real skill. This shows something deeper about how we develop musical taste, though. Aesthetics are key to us liking or not liking a song. If the Beatles wrote and performed the same songs with John being a soprano, Paul on tuba, George on banjo and Ringo on tambourine, I don’t think they would have the same place in music history they currently have. Just look at the anthem of every group of drunk students in the UK at least, Mr. Brightside. The melody is one-note, almost all the way through. The thing people like about it is how it sounds, the production, the instrumentation, all that extra-musical flavouring goes a long way.

Of course, the internet is pretty much the one and only reason it’s had a recent spike in popularity. For some reason, the Youtube algorithm selected it for prominence which is why this article is in front of you today. General trends in internet memes recently lean more towards absurd surrealism rather than constructing any traditional jokes. This song fits in with this culture and becomes very shareable and funny as a result, in the same way, I get a message from a friend at 2 am with a totally nonsensical video they’ve been crying laughing at for the past 3 hours. Other gems of surreal weird novelty music Youtube decided is perfect for me include ‘I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones’ and ‘I’m My Own Grandpa’. They know me so well. It’s funny not only as a surreal thing that seems to exist for no reason but on a meta-level where people will share these things to laugh at the algorithm itself.

The Most Wanted music, on the other hand, doesn’t feature any uniqueness, novelty, or surreal humour value. I noticed that more people liked the Most Unwanted music from its sheer hilarity than the Most Wanted music. Dave Soldier puts this down to ‘lack of an intensive sense of humour, they are both pretty cool’, and to an extent, I agree, but they’re funny for different reasons. The Most Wanted music is a reflection of popular music at the time, but it’s a parody that’s so close to the thing it’s parodying as to be indistinguishable from the real thing if you don’t know any better. In a way, this is the most effective parody, like when you see a post online spouting a bizarre political opinion or conspiracy theory only to find people unironically believing it in the comments, but it also lacks the direct 'punch in the face' that the Most Wanted music has.

So what does this say about our tastes? For one, it shows differences in how we respond to visual art and music. The musical version definitely gets a more visceral reaction than the visual version. I asked the composer about this, he disagreed with the sentiment, saying ‘Not sure that’s true, I think people like both and react to both’. For me, it comes down to differences in how we consume these art forms. Visual art is less intrusive, it’s possible to look away and look at something else, whereas audio fills a room. Without headphones or earplugs, the only way to not hear something is to move away from it. There’s also the fact that our ears are quicker to be offended than our eyes, and as far as consuming information goes, they are our primary sensory organ. Radio was popular because it’s easy to digest information by hearing it, whereas silent TVs never existed and would not have caught on. Silent movies worked because of the pianist helping to bring the scenes to life in the same way incidental music does today. Similarly, the advice to new Youtubers, especially in the days before 1080p and 4k phone cameras, was to invest in the microphone first. People can deal with 144p video as long as there’s a vague idea of what’s happening, and the audio is clear.

Secondly, it shows that we don’t know what we want. The way we find new music is not by listening to things that are exactly like all the other stuff we listen to, in fact, today it’s primarily through Spotify playlists and the like. My favourite artists today are ones I discovered through recommendations either by an algorithm or by friends. Nobody is interested in songs that don’t rock the boat at all, that’s why pop music tends to change so quickly. The early 2010s were all about R&B and EDM, then Funk became quite a big influence around 2016 and Latin music seems to be a big factor nowadays. We know what we like, but what we want is usually totally unexpected.

As humans, we’re good at sticking to habits and getting ourselves in a rut. We crave something new always, and it’s clear to see how different our tastes are now compared to 24 years ago. In 1996, rap was an unwanted vocal style and cowboys were an unwanted lyrical theme, so they made it into the Most Unwanted Music. As of 2020, a hip-hop song about being a cowboy is the longest-running #1 in Billboard’s history. We have certainly come a long way. Whether that’s for better or for worse is in the eye of the beholder.

Words by Rhys Davies (@allspells)

Main image of Piss Kitti by Monique Humphrey

In this article I write about Punk's effect on the alternative music that proceeded it and also the influence of all kinds of genres on current alternative artists, I spoke with some musicians from Manchester and surrounding areas about what got them into certain subgenres and subcultures, as well as current artists and scenes they are enjoying or involved with.

The following playlist is based around punk and the subgenres that followed, with tracks by the artists I've spoken to kicking us off, as well as tracks of all kinds chosen by these artists to finish, and a mix of past and present songs in between (I will add here that this playlist is NSFW).

When Punk happened, the late Genesis P-Orridge (of throbbing gristle and psychic TV) wasn't interested; "too traditional" they recalled feeling when asked about its beginnings in the late '70s. By all means, by this point in musical history technology was allowing musicians and artists to create sounds far more out there and unconventional than Punk's more extreme form of rock and roll. What made Punk so important however was how it took the tradition of rock and roll back to the initial raw energy of its '50s incarnation while pushing the overall attitude and lyrics to extremes the genre had not seen. This was also a time where women began to have more of a voice in music that could be described as "unconventional", bearing in mind as well that until the dawn of garage rock in the '60s (which by the early '70s had become much wilder), visceral and angry electric music was scarce and male-dominated. It was punk that finally gave women a voice in the world of visceral and angry music, of which this playlist contains lots of. In this article and playlist I've featured musicians from past and present existing on the more "fringe" side of Punk's spectrum; hardcore punk, noise rock, post-punk, riot grrrl, pop-punk. Like how punk pushed the boundaries and twisted the traditions of rock and roll, these genres did the same with punk. 

All Girls Arson Club

I wanted to find out what genres and subcultures first inspired the artists I chatted with, and what turned them on to the more alternative side of music- I remember being enamoured as a child with the sound of ACDC's 'TNT', and Guns N Roses, so I asked away. Often it starts with mum or dad; Amy of Witch Fever recalls; "it was my Dad that got me into heavy music. One of the first bands he got me into was Billy Talent." He took her to see them live, with Cancer Bats supporting, "they were the first very heavy band I’d ever heard properly. Since then my love for heavy music grew and grew!" Bands like Evanescence, Alexisonfire and Paramore she also remembers loving. Esme of Piss Kitti remembers "Anything that’s intense and a little bit ugly always has my interest- when I was like 6 I used to sit in my room and listen to The Darkness on my Walkman". Amy Walpole also adds; "I grew up going to church- not a fun time, we won’t go there, and one of the only good things I got out of it was singing as part of the church band. My family and I left the church when I was sixteen, and from then on I was part of various rock/metal bands until I found Witch Fever four years ago. Witch Fever has been so cathartic and empowering." Like Amy, India and Alice of All Girls Arson Club and Beau Mec's Jade Mannion also mentioned the influence of their parents' alternative music collection, and Piss Kitti's bass player Clara spoke of her dad getting her a Smashing Pumpkins album when she was thirteen; "cause he thought I'd like it, I was like 'what the hell is this?' Then I listened to it again and had some sort of awakening". Like my own parents, Jade holds the music of PJ Harvey close to her heart; "PJ Harvey I’ve always loved because she does everything herself; amazing songwriter, player, singer and producer. The range of dynamics across her softer stuff to heavy stuff is really inspiring and genre-bending, and she does it so well. I always felt she has created an atmosphere that’s completely her own. I especially loved  'White Chalk' album phase where she wrote with the autoharp."

Locean by Robin Hill

I asked Lauren of Locean what got her into the darker and heavier side of music and she told me it's definitely nuanced for her as she senses the light side of heavier rhythms and lyrics. This I can see, as one comparison I personally have made to her own singing would be that of Jarboe's work in the band Swans; sometimes soft and fragile, sometimes strong and resonant - with the music it is both juxtaposed and concurring as the music builds. As for her introduction to styles of music that could be described as 'dark', Joy Division's debut made a mark; "The first time I felt uneasy listening to music was when I first heard Unknown Pleasures. I was seventeen and I remember thinking at the time - why is this man screaming?" The new scenes and styles that spawned from the initial wave of punk are some of my favourite genres, and these offshoots pushed punk stylistically while maintaining the incomparable rawness of the genre that started things off. 

The UK post-punk scene, US hardcore punk scene, noise rock and garage rock revival movement were quintessential in the '80s when a lot of punk bands gravitated towards the more radio-friendly new wave sound. To keep the spirit alive - as cheesy as that sounds - one must adapt and apply the energy to whatever the fuck one wants, and every day people are realising they've got something to say and something to do. I won't waste your time stating the obvious cause we all know what it's about. "Have you ever wanted to dance and fight at the same time? That’s why we chose to get involved in the DIY scene, so we could have fun and be angry and silly and hang out with people and meet sexy people in bands all at once" say All Girls Arson Club, and they speak fondly of the present-day straight edge hardcore scene, and also mention the 80s DC hardcore scene as well as its development into emo; "not the most diverse scene, but the intensity and passion of it all is pretty lit! There’s [currently] a lot of hardcore bands with women/GNC people in that we have been listening to recently, that we’re kind of obsessed with because it’s always great to see representation in what often feels like such a masculine scene. Fuse from Singapore, Torso from California and Soakie from Melbourne are some of the bands that have been on repeat recently. It’s all textbook hardcore punk; exactly what you need to stomp around to but with more of a focus on feminism and gender identity."


As for other scenes the artists mention, a favourite of Lauren's is the Glasgow Noise scene, who as well states "I am also feeling that way about the musicians associated with New Rivers, in London. Then, I'd say, explore Max Fish and Ceremony in New York. If I could go back in time I would have liked to stay a night at the Hotel Chelsea, but probably alone." Esme spoke of their love for Liverpool's local scene outside of alternative music; "The grime and hip hop scene in Liverpool is inspiring, seeing artists like TARDAST and Rugz and MC Nelson create their own scene is a big Fuck You to the frankly over-saturated indie boys with a guitar scene that takes up too much space." Jade Mannion enjoyed Manchester's rave scene; "I think one of my favourites would definitely be the drum and bass scene, when I was a teenager there was loads of raves happening in Manchester - some of the main ones being from Gash Collective. At times they would have live music as well as DJs in these big abandoned warehouses - so as a teenager it was so good. Going to these definitely rooted a love for DnB and jungle scenes as those nights are some of my early memories of going out." All Girls Arson Club admire Kathleen Hanna a lot, "she has an incredible voice and is very talented musically, she's fronted loads of boss bands that have been successful but my favourite is The Julie Ruin which was developed from a solo album that she wrote/recorded/produced by herself in her bedroom!" And Amy Walpole cites Riot Grrrl as an inspiration; "I’ve never actually been massively into the music that came out of it but I admire how powerful the women were/are. They’re all very much a reason I’m doing what I do today and I think they made a huge, very much needed change to the alt music scene. I also grew up loving hardcore/post-hardcore bands like Title Fight, Basement, Broken Teeth, and La Dispute." For Clara Cicely; "I'm really into the CBGB's punk scene from New York in the '70s (long live Patti). And also just the current DIY punk scene in the UK because everyone is so lovely and supportive and helpful of each other."

That seems like a nice place to end things on, below are the tracks chosen by each of the artists I chatted to, and some extra notes on other bands they're listening to.

India and Alice, drummer and guitarist of Manchester-via-Sheffield garage punk minimalists All Girls Arson Club

Liar - CLAMM True Killer - Sneaks Bound - The Ponderosa Twins Bellas Lullaby - Twilight  Also: "Allison Wolfe, Kimya Dawson, Laurie Anderson, Amyl and the Sniffers, Tierra Whack, The GO! Team, Yaeji, Say Sue Me"

Jade Mannion, bass player in post-punk/no-wave group Beau Mec, and a solo artist as Ecru

PJ Harvey - The Glorious Land Portishead - Sour Times Flying Lotus - Tea Leaf Dancers The Starlight Magic Hour - Song To Bethy On Beth Gibbons of Portishead; "as a vocalist, because she is so gripping. Laying such a fragile voice over trip-hop would seem unrealistic you would think, but it’s perfect and you really feel the vulnerability. Her voice is amazing."

Lauren Bolger, singer of Noise group Locean

1. The Crystal Ship, The Doors 1. Discipline, Throbbing Gristle  2. I Don't Care, Park Hye Jin  3. Cop Killer, John Maus 4. State Trooper, Bruce Springsteen 5. Mark Ronson ft Miley Cyrus, Nothing Breaks Like a Heart 6. Cardi B, Money 7. Banana Split, Lio 8. Harlem, Suicide 9. No Comment, Serge Gainsbourg  10. Kream, Iggy Azalea ft Tyga Also: "Gal Costa, Harry Pussy, Cardi B, Drunks With Guns w Melissa, Stealing Sheep, Lana Del Rey, Aging and The Lounge Lizards."

Esme Grace Brown singer for Liverudlian Punks Piss Kitti Touch Me I’m Sick - Sonic Youth Sticky! - MC Nelson  Uproar- Gouge Away  SHUSH - TARDAST (SoundCloud & YouTube only)  Mexican Seafood - Nirvana  Fuck Yr. Fans - bratmobile Also: "I love anyone that’s sure of themselves. Whatever genre. HO9909, Pissed Jeans, Gouge Away and Daniel Johnston especially. It doesn’t really matter if you can’t sing or play your guitar as long as don’t take yourself too seriously. I hate to say it because they’re terrible people but Yolandi’s voice from Die Antwoord has always been an inspiration to me coz it’s funny (don’t cancel me). [Also] Bratmobile and Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth."

Clara Cicely, bassist for Piss Kitti The Julie Ruin - Aerobicide The Smashing Pumpkins - Zero The Paranoyds - Egg Salad ShitKid - Oh Me I'm Never Sewer Cats - Raw Starcrawler - Pussy Tower Also: "I haven't really been playing bass that long, I kind of just had to pick it up really fast. I really like gnarly basslines though and was listening to a lot of Bratmobile/The Replacements while I was learning."

Amy Hope Walpole, singer in Manchester-based dark punk/metal band Witch Fever

Picture by @wildblanketphotography

Show Me The Body – Forks and Knives  Miserable – Loverboy Ho99o9 – Knuckle Up Also: "Amy Taylor and Dani Miller from Amyl and the Sniffers and Surfbort are two punk musicians that I discovered last year! Mullets, bikinis and body hair galore! They’re both absolute dreamboats and amazing performers/vocalists. Am I allowed to say my own band too? Alex, Alisha and Annabelle are some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met, I’m constantly in awe of them."