Play Loud, Play Quiet
Stolen Moments from the Alternative Rock Boom and Bust, 1989-1993
Play Loud, Play Quiet is a radiophonic adventure, made up of music and interview fragments from the years 1989-1993, collected over two years of research for my most recent book, Entertain Us! The Rise and Fall of Alternative Rock in the 90s. It contains samples of over one hundred songs in fifty three minutes.
Some, like Mike Patton’s famous refrain from Faith No More’s ‘Epic’ (“what is it?”), the sinister-sounding guitar break that opens Sonic Youth’s ‘Kool Thing’, or the barking dogs featured in Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Been Caught Stealing’, are impossible to miss. Others are a little more obscure, though no less resonant. The opening bars of Tori Amos’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ appear here and there, and Pavement drummer Gary Young’s oddball snare tattoo from ‘Fame Throwa’ is sampled throughout. There’s bits and pieces of Beck’s ‘Beercan’ and a drum break from Matthew Sweet’s ‘Girlfriend’. Still others are well known, but manipulated to the point where they’re unrecognisable. The horn fanfare in Jesus Jones’ ‘Right Here Right Now’ is slowed down to an industrial drone, and Kim Deal’s ‘Debaser’ bassline is re-tuned so that she seems to be playing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, along with L7’s Dee Plakas on drums.
Play Loud, Play Quiet, tells a story, in words and music, about an exciting but much-misunderstood period in recent pop culture history. It’s a story about rock music, which, as Black Francis points out in the first few seconds, usually starts out as something quite stupid, but quickly becomes serious. It’s about the optimism of a new decade, and the disappointment that followed, a tale of innocence screwed over by experience. It’s about selling out; why we do it - good reasons and bad, and what we lose once it’s done. And, seeing as this was a decade obsessed with being real, it’s very much a story about authentic self expression, and what becomes of it in the marketplace.
Sometimes the stories are told by the artists themselves - Play Loud Play Quiet features the voices of Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, Dee Plakas and Donita Sparks (L7), Kim Deal, Black Francis, Ian Brown (Stone Roses), Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine), Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction), Mike Patton, Sinead O’Connor and many more, sourced from radio archives, interview discs and TV interview clips posted on youtube.
Sometimes the story is told with music, as in the opening section, where the euphoric mood of British guitar bands in the post-Cold War flush of 1990 slowly gives way to a sense of dread as the Gulf War looms on the horizon. A mix of blissed-out party anthems like The Soup Dragons’ ‘I’m Free’ and Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ segues into the mournful intro from Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Thumb’, followed by sections of Faith No More’s ‘War Pigs’, and a loop of the Pixies’ ‘Stormy Weather’. ‘Hearing it played during the Persian Gulf crisis is eerie,’ wrote journalist Michael Azerrad in 1990, as watched the band play it at the Reading festival. ‘Hearing it played to 50,000 kids with no future is downright chilling.‘
More often, though, the narrative of Play Loud, Play Quiet is revealed by unexpected combinations of music and spoken word. ‘Mega Distribution’ begins with a looped fragment of Tori Amos’s piano and a tiny slice of studio atmosphere, keeping a minimalist pulse. The two-note theme is taken up by Tanya Donnelly’s guitar, sampled from the breakdown in the Breeders’ ‘Safari’. A voice plays over the top, futzed out from too many bad VHS copies, bathed in 20 year-old TV studio atmosphere; L7’s Donita Sparks, talking about her band’s new major label record contract, and the new audience it will bring them. As she speaks, Pavement drummer Gary Young beats out the snare intro from his own band’s musing on ‘Mega Distribution’; ‘Fame throwa, pass out the gold / the diamond watch, the last reward...’ As bass and drums (taken from L7’s ‘Monster’ and ‘One More Thing’ respectively) play a stealthy groove, the band talk about the hard work of servicing Alt-rock’s new markets, a year of constant travel and touring. Meanwhile, other voices take up the theme. “I’ve been around the world a million times”, yelps Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. His friend Kurt Cobain describes the same scene in less excitable terms, touring, he says, is “doing the same thing over and over.” Amos’ piano is still audibly stuck in a rut, hitting the same note from the start of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, eight beats to the bar. Cobain sounds tired, as does Faith No More’s Mike Patton. “We played the songs we had written so many times”, he explains, “you now, repetitively, every night.” The singers’ words put a sinister twist on the old imprecation to rock and roll all night and party every day - here, there is no choice. But in the 90s it’s worse - partying has been replaced by self-expression, which is likewise mandatory. “It’s pretty intense” says Billy Corgan, “because it’s everyday intense - every interview is intense every concert is intense”. Alternative rock identified music with self-hood; here, as Perry Farrell once told Sinead O’Connor, “the note is you.” ‘Mega Distribution’ ends with sad strings from O’Connor’s ‘Feels So Different’ forming a counterpoint to Donnelly’s lonely guitar string, and a brief snatch of the Kingsmen’s old bar-band staple, ‘Louie Louie’; a theme for Alt-rock superstars on Safari, touring America locked in air-conditioned vans, doing the same thing over and over.
0.00: Cool Rock Tunes (Intro) Featuring Kim Deal and Black Francis.
0.22: Doing What We Want.
Featuring Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) and Ian Brown (Stone Roses). Contains elements of: Primal Scream, ‘Higher Than The Sun’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Inner Flight’, Ultramagnetic MCs ‘Ego Trippin’, Stone Roses ‘Fools Gold’, ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, Northside ‘Shall We Take a Trip?’, Blur ‘There’s No Other Way’, The Soup Dragons ‘I’m Free’, Soul II Soul ‘Back to Life’, A Tribe Called Quest ‘Rap Promoter’
2.45: Fool’s Gold (Stone Roses)
6.56: Double Serious.
Featuring Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addction). Contains elements of: Jane’s Addiction ‘Been Caught Stealing’, Happy Mondays ‘Rave On’ (Club Mix), ‘Denis and Lois’, ‘Step On’, Popguns ‘Going Under (Remix)’, Stone Roses ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Shoot You Down’, EMF ‘Unbelievable’ (Ralph Jezzard Mix), ‘Children’, Jesus Jones ‘International Bright Thing’, ‘Right Here Right Now’, KLF ‘Rock Radio Into The Nineties’, Soup Dragons ‘I’m Free’, Red Hot Chilli Peppers ‘Pretty Little Ditty’.
11.20: Stormy Weather.
Contains elements of: The Breeders ‘Glorious’, ‘When I was a Painter’, Dinosaur Jr ‘Thumb’, The Pixies ‘Stormy Weather’, Sonic Youth ‘Kool Thing’, ‘My Friend Goo’, Faith No More ‘War Pigs’, ‘Woodpecker from Mars’, Mudhoney ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’, Primal Scream ‘Higher Than The Sun’, Ministry ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod’.
14.10: Smells Like Teen Spirit (Tori Amos)
16.00: Play Loud, Play Quiet.
Featuring Black Francis and Kim Deal (The Pixies) Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl (Nirvana), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), Donita Sparks (L7), Damon Albarn (Blur). Contains elements of: The Kingsmen ‘Louie Louie’, Sonic Youth ‘Kool Thing’, The Pixies ‘Debaser’, Tori Amos ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Aerosmith ‘Dream On’, Electric Prunes ‘Mass in F Major’, L7 ‘One More Thing’, Matthew Sweet ‘Girlfriend’, Pavement ‘Fame Throwa’, Rage Against the Machine ‘Know Your Enemy’, The Moog Cookbook ‘Buddy Holly’, Nirvana ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Pearl Jam ‘Why Go’, Kristin Hersh ‘Houdini Blues’, Blur ‘There’s No Other Way’, KLF ‘Brownsville Turnaround’, Boston ‘More than a Feeling’.
21.35: There’s No Other Way (Blur)
24.35: Corporate Oppression.
Featuring Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana). Contains elements of: Tori Amos ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, Sonic Youth ‘Kool Thing’, Led Zeppelin ‘When the Levee Breaks’, My Bloody Valentine ‘Only Shallow’, Faith No More, ‘Epic’, ‘From Out of Nowhere’, Primal Scream ‘Loaded’.
27.00: Epic (Faith No More)
31.00: A Giant Dildo Crushing the Sun. Contains elements of: Beck ‘Pay No Mind (Snoozer)’, Faith No More ‘Mid Life Crisis’, House of Pain ‘Jump Around’.
32.30: Mega Distribution.
Featuring Donita Sparks and Dee Plakas (L7), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Mike Patton (Faith No More. Contains elements of: The Breeders ‘Safari’, L7 ‘Monster’, ‘One More Thing’, ‘Pretend We’re Dead’, Pavement ‘Fame Throwa’, Rage Against the Machine ‘Know Your Enemy’, Sonic Youth ‘100%’, Sinead O’Connor ‘Feels So Different’, Ultramagnetic MCs ‘Ego Trippin’, The Kingsmen ‘Louie Louie’.
37.00: None of Our Business.
Featuring Steve Albini (Shellac) and Richard Kingsmill. Contains elements of: The Breeders ‘Lord of the Thighs’, Beck ‘Beercan’, The Jesus Lizard ‘Slave Ship’, Salt n’ Pepa ‘None of Your Business’, Sonic Youth ‘100%’.
38.30: Fuck and Run (Liz Phair)
41.00: In the Reflection (Silverfuckandrun).
Featuring Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins). Contains elements of: Liz Phair ‘Fuck and Run’, Smashing Pumpkins ‘Silverfuck, Hole ‘Asking for It’, The Breeders ‘Roi (Reprise)’, Urge Overkill ‘Sister Havana’, Sinead O’Connor ‘Feels So Different’, Dinosaur Jr ‘Thumb’, Kristin Hersh ‘Houdini Blues’, Beck ‘Beercan’.
45.00: Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins)
48.15: Don’t Stop Continue.
Featuring Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction). Contains elements of Living Colour ‘Tag Team Partners’, Beastie Boys ‘Car Thief’, Primal Scream ‘Loaded (Terry Farley Mix), Sinead O’Connor ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’, Jane’s Addiction ‘Ain’t No Right’, Faith No More ‘Woodpacker from Mars’, Red Hot Chilli Peppers ‘Give It Away’.