Review of In C by The Styrenes, Enja, 2002
In Cleveland, a whole proto-punk scene developed around these sound. Like Ubu, though, the primitivism was studied – artistic gesture rather than lumpen impulse. The Electric Eels wore safety-pins, rat-traps and swastikas year before the UK punks did, and called what they did ‘art terrorism’; The Styrenes performances featured modern dance and spoken-word elements.
Simon Reynolds, Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, Faber& Faber, 2009
So. Here we go. Terry Riley and his masterpiece In C meet rock, or rather, post-punk. Well yes, this thing is not surprising that much. Rock musicians from a long time showed their attention and numerous declarations of affection and esteem to the American composer, just think of Baba O’Riley by The Who, or the Curved Air group or citations for krautrock people like Popol Wuh, Tangerine Dreams and Amon Duul, and especially his A Rainbow in Curved Air, the great mystic-minimalist suite, which In C represents the creative thrust, got a lot of interest for its psychedelic aspects. But this is really the first time tha a rock group plays his music, no, this never happened before.
It’s also true that The Styrenes are a special band, as Simon Reynolds wrote, they have always tried to escape from traditional rock royalty focusing more on alternative forms of media management and impact with their public. So, personally, I was not particularly surprised by the interest shown by Paul Marotta, leader of the group, for Riley’s music, particularly for In C which, as he himself writes in the notes of the CD, ““Rock and roll is not simply a music defined by certain chord progression, rhythms, or guitar licks. “In C”, with its dancing rhythms and subversive simplicity, is the embodiment of rock and roll aesthetic.””
The result is a powerful record, where the seven members of the group, four guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and vibraphone, manage to create a real wall of sound, a cross between Sonic Youth and King Crimson, far away from the original version of In C released in 1968 by CBS Records and instead it’s much closer to the maximalist compositions of Glenn Branca and Rys Chatham. To better achieve this result the composition has been played twice, using overdubs for the final work.
The result is still remarkable and I think it will be very much appreciated both by those who prefer rock and by contemporary music’s lovers. The Styrenes play very well , being able to handle witheffectiveness and efficiency some essential points:
– the electric bass, dubbed by the vibraphone, used as a driver to support the initial Pulse (I think it was around 120 bpm),
– the drums does an excellent job, respecting the cells rhythmic composition and constantly pumping the rest of the group,
– the phasing that is managed intelligently right from the start, creating a sort of rock canon avoiding too many overlaps that would lead the group towards a uniform chaos.
The finish is a real apotheosis, a real sound climax in crescendo where each instrument is gradually added in the best tradition live rock.
Highly recommended record: let’s go, carried away by its epic.