“There’s no such thing as old or new,” sang a resigned Nigel Benjamin on “Career”, Mott’s 1976 hymn to blank horizons, “Cuz everything’s been said and done before.” It was a sorry indictment of the music scene from one of the country’s most inventive bands, now at the end of the road. An impasse had been reached; there was no way forward, no tomorrow. To carry on in the same old way was meaningless and empty; all that was left was to grow old and fade. Little did Benjamin know that a new generation was already on the rise, fueled by the energy, anger and fearlessness of youth. If history, tradition, received wisdom and musicality were barriers to progress, then they would be smashed apart and the broken shards trampled on with contempt. Odd fragments would be stuck together in a random order to create something different. The past would be rebuilt into a future with no rules, no inhibitions and no apologies. The most inventive and bravest era in musical history had begun.
Punk fractured the music industry and pried its deathly grip from the throat of creativity. Though the corporations were quick to reassert their hold on commercial pop, independent labels now provided a fertile breeding ground for those with scant regard for fame and success but a burning desire to express themselves in new and vital ways. The post-punk scene was a broken limb, loosely connected to the whole but hanging free, impossible to control and swaying in unpredictable directions. It could be painful, it could be shambolic, it could be bleak, but it could also be stunningly beautiful. In 1983, Cocteau Twins, at the height of their creative powers, released an album and EP of quite uplifting grandeur. The common track on the pair was “Sugar Hiccup”, a kaleidoscopic waltz that showered the listener in patterns of dazzling light as it spun them around the room. One guitar laid down a shimmering backdrop of the gentlest distortion, while another chimed gorgeously in front. A drum machine hurried the dance along, while Liz Fraser’s voice crushed you into a helpless, simpering wreck. There wasn’t the faintest clue as to what she was singing about; this music was about the textures of sound, the voice an instrument that gave the song both resonance and depth.
On playing NOTHING’s Guilty of Everything some thirty years later, it was a shock to hear “Sugar Hiccup” pouring out of the speakers. Yet this was that song drained of colour, devoid of light, injected with iron and titled “Endlessly”. Opening to a deliberately familiar, low-key guitar introduction, the background guitar scrapes rather than soothes, while the chiming guitar is now a siren, bursting in on the second line of each verse and soaring in pitch and waywardness until it reaches dangerous heights. This creates a void that is quickly filled, giving the song a reeling immensity. Its epic scope turns your focus to the vocals, as passionless and smooth as they are dark, “Stains on the sheets, childhood blood that would soak through our jeans”. It paints a terrifying picture with a longing for an endless release that never comes, “Heavy. The world’s so heavy. Carry…” Desperate and unremitting. There are no machines here, but purposeful and grounded drumming that keeps you rooted in reality. This is no skip through a magical wonderland, but a dance of the doomed. And where Cocteau Twins end their song with a little flourish that seems to say, “Beat that”, Nothing’s song ends with its own personal beating, a measured assault of the drums.
NOTHING build upon the past rather than stand in awe of it, brilliantly fusing their hardcore roots with other underground sounds of the last thirty years. It takes skill and imagination to mess with the best and still emerge with such potent results, but they manage it with a detached assurance, dragging grace from darkness and creating monochrome vistas that entice but reject all attempts at empathy. And it’s glorious.
In an interview with Noisey, Dominic “Nicky” Palermo, described the essential cocktail of music he ingested as a kid that shaped his musical influences:
“I grew up in a single parent home and my brother and my sister were out of the house. We kind of lived in a shitty neighbourhood, so I was shook and I think my mom was also shook. I would just sleep in her room all the time, and she would always listen to college radio and Cocteau Twins records, Siouxsie, all that stuff. And that used to scare the hell out of me because they had some creepy songs. Even the Cure, like Pornography, would terrify me. But I wound up knowing the songs and learning them. But it’s really weird music for a seven-year-old to like. My brother, though, was feeding me punk rock and hardcore, so I got a little bit of everything.”
A musician who, at seven years old, was “shook” and listened late at night to the early, great, darkest Cure, Pornography no less, and Cocteau Twins with a cool mom, then Punk and Hardcore, with his brother, is exactly what the world needs right now. Urgently.
All these ingredients of the perfect cocktail are there. A Molotov cocktail.
NOTHING’s Guilty of Everything combines lush vocal melody with a massive wall of instrumentation that reminds us how post-rock sensibilities provide a beautiful mix of grit and calm. Straight from the single “Dig,” you recognize the 90’s alt-rock Smashing Pumpkins/Deftones vibe with a blend of layered clean and distorted guitars in a driving pulse that places you under the lights of a crowded show. Tracks like “Somersault” bring a laid back groove with soaring guitar melodies to crashing drums that breathe gracefully. Each track compliments the last in providing this blend of pumping rock and big emotion. There is a certain appeal to this approach that definitely translates to the stage, and NOTHING provides this sound for listeners who enjoy the light melancholic vibe within crunchy, fuzzy guitars and pounding rhythms.
Stripped back and genuine in sound, NOTHING provides a solid debut LP of headbangers and introspective moments of chilled out ambience that takes you away from the cluster of overly produced and generic rock music that frequents most popular media. The album consistently barrages the listener with dynamic louds and softs in a soundscape that strengthens the overall experience of an album and performance. 2.
Listen to all nine tracks of Guilty of Everything, a truly great debut LP/CD, like the rare and not always appreciated great debut records that came before it. Listen to it again: it’s greater than so many debut LPs that came before it. Released in March 2014, the band has been touring steadily in support of the album and generating solid buzz everywhere they land.
“Although they are often pegged as a post-shoegaze band, NOTHING’s live performance abandons the genre’s namesake, favouring a vigorous, animated stage presence over the passive stance contemporaries are known for. This is in part due to the band’s noisy, gritty live sound coming across as more powerful than their recordings. The layers of reverb that add a delicate feel to their recorded vocals are foregone in a live setting, and more dissonant elements amongst the instrumentals are introduced.” Exclaim review of Lee’s Palace show, Toronto March 21, 2015.
At Lee’s Palace, NOTHING’s music erupts; it doesn’t wait to be asked, and yet it’s the antidote to what ails society. Because there is always a new strain, a pop musical pandemic spreading like the one we are exposed to right now. Once in a great while, once in a generation, music may upend the balance and let authenticity, rage, grief, and pure, uncut art blast through to the masses. This time is here and now. There is nowhere to go from here. Pop music’s stars with their dead eyes are more than ever, cynical, manufactured, monsters. There’s no fun in pop left: it’s fascism, it’s death. It’s child abuse. Kids need to hear those minor keys and feel the vibrations from the floor of the rock club and be present. Luckily for us, in plain view of the suits, a generation of kids with moms who listened to college radio to get through the longest nights have picked up the guitars and have the sly, innate talent to B & E this rigged musical game.
Only once every few years, something comes along that vibrates the body at a primal level with the feeling of imminent danger one minute, and the flicker of impossible to believe happiness, of empathy, the next minute. Impossibly, this music understands you, speaks to you, slaps you in the face; turns things cinematic for a little while in your little apartment, in your little head, in your little life. For us, love’s gotta be like that: something that has those perfect layered harmonies, that revels in its human fragility, a voice or an instrument that has risen because of need and will, not because they heard they should be up on stage all their life. Maybe because they heard no encouragement all their lives. Maybe they heard nothing, except how to somehow survive, just like they did as kids. Like too many of us kids. Music like this comes from outsiders, from the self-made, from nihilists who are really brokenhearted romantics.
It spills from somewhere tough and genuinely rough, whether the poorest parts of so many American towns, The Ramones’ gritty world view of the Five Boroughs; the decaying English city so far north of the center that London cab drivers stop and ask you why you’d ever want to go there, a place the rags call “STAB CITY” (yet you go there, alone, to see your chosen history, the home of all the musical Gods of Manchester). Great music comes screaming out of rainy, starkly beautiful drug-addled hubs that have hidden depths of so many scarred, beautiful souls. It comes, too, from normal looking families that are secret battlegrounds for a hundred different private family reasons.
When things are dark, we each have our own private darkness. Yet, the dark nothingness is today’s shared cultural touchstone: we’ve all been sad for a really long time. It’s dark out here in the anti-social media world. Every click, every feed, contains semi-random snapshots that hold potential to delight, astound, cause a belly laugh, anger, disgust, repulse. Baby animals; kids saying the darndest things; Mommy taking a picture for Facebook instead of reacting humanely to a child’s embarrassment, shame or pain; disgraceful news media showing ISIS pictures before we can agree to look; people who are shamefully wealthy and famous for nothing at all any good. These things all scroll by as if they are all one neutral thing, while we wonder why we can’t sleep.
Music fans are either old enough to remember that new music was an event and trips to the record store a sacred ritual, or were were born just in time to miss all that; when the last great true organic moment happened in music. For a while, the game board was smashed and 90’s Alternative music ruled, only to have it die too young, leaving a gaping shotgun hole and shoved off screen before the body was even cold, opening the door to worse pop music than ever before. But music, even then, was not yet devalued, compressed and shoved in our ear holes, alone from a tiny machine, a tool to survive the daily grind. In the last great Alternative wave of the 90’s, the idea that all the record stores, most of the dive bars, rock clubs and the shared public cigarettes in all the cities would disappear because of file compression technology was pure dystopian Science Fiction. Its become our dull reality. Internet and social media channels are what we largely have outside of the concert hall and the rock club. Likes and shares are really nothing, but they’re what we have- they’ve replaced the real tour posters that used to flourish in a city before we were told to see them as wasted dead trees and knew them as necessary, vital, and the only news that mattered to us in the street.
Real rock critics in the old days could love wildly as well as pan mercilessly, but wielded their power with a deep, uncorruptable knowledge of why they were doing either thing. The media is dead. Everyone’s a rock critic now. So be one. Buy into the Alternative bands you love. Spread the word. Ignore the pop vacuum, even the easy joke. Screw ironic detachment. Break something. Start a riot. Remember what it was the first time you heard The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cure, Nirvana, or Slowdive. NOTHING in 2015 is transcendent, a light flickering in its own darkness. It’s a long awaited answer to Jane’s Addiction when Summertime Fucking Rolled; it’s an illegal fire, an uncontrolled burn to fight our endless winter chill.
NOTHING’s music, with its roots in hardcore, authentic musical knowledge and natural talent, makes for a tight and exciting live show that infuses the rock club with stadium-sized energy. It knows just when to quit, leaving you wanting another hit. It hooks the listener who knows what it means to be Guilty of Everything. This music acknowledges it all, brings it out into the light, and transcends all of that ugly. It comes from dark places and hits us where we live. It takes the bleakness of now and makes it tolerable, even beautiful.
By Step On magazine co-founders and editors with:
1. Adam Hammond: head of Isolation in Sussex, once a small record label and now an independent music website; also a gig promoter.
and 2. Alex Gougeon: a Toronto-based freelance Writer, Musician and Videographer who loves everything Film and Music.
NOTHING is on a U.S. tour from May to June 2015; they also will play Montreal’s OSHEAGA Music Fest. Get more info at the band’s official Facebook page.