posted April 24th, 2020

To help take even the tiniest edge off during these isolated times, we've asked our amazing arists if there's anything they wanna share, shout about, rave up, or simply give fans while we're all holed up in our bunkers.. Happy to oblige is Sean O'Hagan (of The High Llamas, yo!), who has brought some serious goodies along for the whole class to enjoy! Namely: some written reflections on music, a playlist, and a brand new video showcasing Sean and his daughter Livvy performing a song or few. In tandem, we're offering Sean's and The Llamas' catalogs at a pleasant discount for the next 24 hours. Now and forever, take it away, Sean!

Is it right and proper for a chap of my age (over 58, under 62) to be still fumbling with tunes and ideas as a means of making a living when most of us, having no real commercial success by the age of 38, would’ve drifted back to some kind of vocational training and jump into a new career, late in the game, to reflect on what might have been from a distance? Not only that, but the particular name of the game for me back in 1980 in Ireland and then London, was to ally myself with the postpunk lot, The Mekons, Scritti Politti, The Fall, John Cale, then later, Alex Chilton, Scott Walker and the Beach Boys.

Throughout this era we would gently amuse ourselves at the notion of New Wave music, the term used just after punk to identify the musicians and writers who could not quite buy into the axis of slash-rock and blunt amateurism. The New Wave allowed ‘’crafted pop‘’ to ferment within punk and solicit approval from those too shy to flirt with new music. The term was used for a summer and a winter, then dropped as an embarrassment. However I love still to drag it out, and say the word out loud. It makes me happy, I smile because it reminds me of 40 years of culture wars which actually served as diversions to creativity – insofar as, all those years ago, certainly in the UK, there was almost a code of conduct. How can there be a code of conduct constructed around private creative thoughts? But it was there. Is it New Wave? Or post punk or ….? Anyway, at some point another transition happens. If, after a given amount of time, you still insist on making records, we must then see the adult step forward. So this word craft comes back into play. It’s a point at which quiet admiration is bestowed upon the deluded musician – still making records?? Yes, it’s a give – no sales, and there never will be, but there is heritage and the craft is there to be seen. These, and even more and diversions which might prevent this mule from wandering into the outback.

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, right now we are going through change. We get our tunes in so many different ways (I avoided the ‘consume’ word). Physical sales are there, but there is a choice that we all make as listeners. So we access new and old unexplored music through dozens of platforms, some subscription, some not, and in many cases we still buy the product either as digital, at a merch stand, or online, whatever.

The generation of new artists from say, 18 to 30, are grafters and expect nothing from willingly putting the energy into their musical vocation. They are also leading the way in creating new environments in which to engage the listener in the understanding that engagement can evolve into sales. Performance is mandatory. Strange thing is, back in the day (80s/90s), performance sometimes only happened when there was major record label financial tour support or a fully prepped/showcased/tested live show. It was all about industry and delivering to industry standards.

Effectively the industry has submerged and resurfaced as something else; there are new relationships between artists and audiences. You know this is a real handicap as the old fella because our critics expect balance, craft and the sanctity of songs, and if instead we serve up arrangement, it seems that we have forgotten how to write songs. Black and white. Stupid.

This new relationship, I believe, also liberates the artist, unknowingly. The generation I refer to seem to be riding high over the rules of engagement which I remember so well as a youngster. The list of do’s and dont’s, the best left unturned (oh actually now it’s cool to turn it over), the curse of retro vs the benefit of knowing ones heritage.

I’m so happy to listen to new artists who are blissfully untroubled by these distractions. I remember pondering around the early 2000’s that the idea of the new had passed us by, and spent a few years in a tired stupor, a kind of negligence. Now instead, I’m so hooked on the output of Chicago’s Pivot Gang, LA’s Steve Lacy, Syd, Kadhja Bonet, Tyler and Frank Ocean, Noname, Leven Kali, Mount Kimbie (London) Catastrophe (Paris) Empirical. Even the bigger names: Solange, Disclosure, Tennis.

Influence without over-referencing, great performances without showy technique, generosity over elitism. These people are charming us as Sly Stone did, but also bedding in with the sounds of Dusseldorf's Microstoria or Fennesz. I would not expect Saba, Smino or Noname to be familiar with the 90s crunchy digital German stuff, but they are on top of it nonethless.

So when I recorded “Better Lull Bear” on Radum Calls, Radum Calls, I was very much pleasantly shuttling between the fresh new sounds from LA, Chicago, London and Bob James. I have just been introduced to the music of Luc Marianni, and boy it could be on Radum Calls too.

Listen to Sean's Spotify playlist here

Artists in this story: The High Llamas, Sean O'Hagan