Oyster #98: Tim Blanks
"I don't think I went to bed on a Saturday night for a whole decade."
You might know Tim Blanks from his day job as The Best Fashion Journalist In The World. He is a true intellectual with the most wonderful turn of phrase (from this interview: "I've been as electrified as Frankenstein's monster"), but what you might not be aware of is his passion for music, which equals his love of fashion — his show reviews critique the soundtrack as often as the clothes themselves.
Ariane Halls: What was the first album you bought?
Tim Blanks: I went to an all-boys school where everyone else was listen- ing to The Doors and Hendrix, which of course I came to appreciate much later. Anyway, I was contrarily drawn to folk music — maybe we got John Peel's show on the radio in Auckland, and that's how I heard Fairport Convention doing 'Fotheringay' live one night — whatever, it was a life- changing moment. It took me a while to find that on vinyl. In the meantime I made do with Donovan's Greatest Hits. 'Wear Your Love Like Heaven'? It still brings a tear to my eye.
What about the most recent album?
How have things changed over time? I never thought I'd lose my love of The Object — the record, the CD, the thing in your hand — but convenience conquers all. The last actual physical CD I bothered to buy (and even then, it was ordered online) was David Lynch's Crazy Clown Time, because I knew there was going to be something buried in the visuals that I'd miss in a download. I love David Lynch. Otherwise, I use Spotify a lot, and download the stuff I like. Yesterday it was the Grimes album, Halfaxa. She's like a pagan Liz Fraser [of the Cocteau Twins]; I'm hooked. Today it was Joe Goddard's 2 Bears. That's going to take more time.
What was the first concert you went to? What was it like?
The first concert I ever went to was Led Zeppelin at Western Springs in Auckland, the same tour that was live on the How the West Was Won album. I'd never taken a drug in my life, but when Jimmy Page did his violin-bow solo during 'Dazed and Confused' something fused in my brain and I started dancing like a lunatic, much to the horror of the people I was crushed up against. I don't think I cared what anyone thought of me ever again.
When you first moved to England you were writing for Hot Licks, interviewing people like Mick Ronson and Brian Eno. You seem so confident in interviews now — were you ever starstruck?
Starstruck? I was obsessed. There were so many things I wanted to ask all those people, because they were so important to me. Bowie and Ferry obviously, but I was also able to interview musicians like Peter Hammill [of Van der Graaf Generator] and Kevin Ayers, and when you were growing up in New Zealand in the early seventies they were glamorous avatars of parallel universes. Just to touch the hem of their garment without coming across like a crazed stalker was a challenge I relished. I can only imagine what I looked like, fresh off the boat with my homegrown glam-rock look, but people seemed so approachable in those days, and I think they were happy to give some deep and meaningful consideration to their work when confronted by an Ardent Fan. But, getting back to the starstruck thing: 'never meet your heroes' is one of the oldest pieces of advice in Ardent Fandom, and I never met Bowie. I stood next to him on stage during the Let's Dance tour for a millisecond, till he noticed my glazed stare and backed away quickly.
Do you see much live music now?
Hardly any. I'm stolid bourgeois now: food and liquor. But there's actually a lot of live music attached to fashion events. Nicki Minaj and Prince performed at a Versace party I was at in New York. Loved her; wished he'd done hits rather than lengthy James Brown jams. Karl Lagerfeld had a dinner in Paris last week and Azealia Banks sang. She was so phenomenal that I thought I should get out more. There was a time when I went to a gig every single night of the week, and I treasure every single one of them.
You were there for disco and glam rock in the seventies, the hedonism of the eighties, and acid house in the nineties. Which was your favourite scene? Do you think it will ever be that exciting again?
My time-machine moment would be at a club called Trade in London in the nineties. It was the most mind-blowing physical experience you could imagine. I used to love taking people from New York, because they'd be all too-cool-for-school when we arrived — cut to the look on their faces when we left around noon on Sunday. It was enough to make a cat laugh! I never tired of the music, the drugs, the utter consuming madness of it... until I did. I don't think I went to bed on a Saturday night for a whole decade. And I'm sure more or less the same thing is happening right now somewhere in the world. That impulse is pretty primal.
What is your favourite club in the world at the moment, and why?
The Arts Club in London, because I love the food — Mark Ronson DJs in the basement, but it's a bit oligarchs-and-their-wives. If I was going to be poncey about the question, I'd say that when I've been in Brazil I've been taken to some incredible teen rave clubs. I guess I like a rave. What that Led Zeppelin concert taught me was that I love to dance, or at least move around to music. I'm going to sweat anyway, so why stand on ceremony?
What are the five most played songs in your iTunes library?
1. The Four Tet remix of 'Melody Day' by Caribou
2. 'Crystalised' by The xx
3. 'Weakening' by Trespassers William
4. The Ulrich Schnauss remix of 'Love Movement' by The RevTones
5. 'Being Around You' by Joey Fehrenbach
It's a bit misleading, though, because my top five on iTunes doesn't necessarily reflect the music that would be dragged into my pyramid with me if I were a pharaoh. That would be Bowie and My Bloody Valentine and Red House Painters and whatever. But the Caribou remix might actually be my favourite song of all time. What it sounds like is people singing around a campfire at the end of the world. What it doesn't sound like is the original track. As for the RevTones, I've never even found the original of that one, but I'm sure it's radically different. I'm a huge fan of Ulrich Schnauss, and he always adds lots of psych phasing and noises I like. And the xx album is probably my favourite record of the past decade. Second favourite would be Having by Trespassers William (so I just proved myself wrong with that pharaoh crack). Joey, on the other hand, just happens to be on my default playlist, so he's racked up a whole lot of random listens. I just noticed they're all very mid-tempo, easy-listening-ish. I promise I also love the hardest electronic music and the doomiest metal you could throw at me.
How do you find new music?
London is incredibly well-served with professional enthusiasts who must spend every waking second listening to music. I read, listen to, or watch their pre-edits. For example, a week ago I'd never heard of Grimes, but the group mind seems to have latched on to her just in time for her club gig on Monday. Maybe I'll go out for that. I like eMusic, it seems to have obscure records before they surface. Spotify is good because I can sit and stream for hours. I listen to music all day — and all night when I'm working — and it's always a relaxing break to go online and look for something new... or old (almost as relaxing as fanning through auction catalogues online). That's how I started listening to Roy Harper again.
What are you most looking forward to music-wise in, 2012?
There have been so many dark rumours floating around about the state of David Bowie's health that I was deliriously happy to learn he's actually perfectly fine, because that means there should be a re-edition of Low this year. The last one was Station to Station and Low is next in the sequence, so logic insists. All the re-edition packages have been incredible (the Station to Station box is definitely going into the pyramid) and ever since I read an interview with Carlos Alomar where he said they recorded dozens of tracks during the Low sessions that never saw the light of day, I've been as electrified as Frankenstein's monster. But, to bring my references up to this century, I'll also say that after last week's brief exposure I'm agog for Azealia Banks' album. And anything by Kanye West.
How do you think the world is going to end?
Are you asking me that because you know I'm an arch-apocalyptist? The world won't end for billions of years, but it will probably play a big trick on humanity — some environmental end-event, like the Gulf Stream reversing course, or an earthquake so vast that it shakes the Earth off its axis — that causes the end of Life As We Know It. I'm kind of with all the ancient prophecies that mean change when they talk about The End, but, even given that, we're such a self-serving, half-there organism that I don't see us surviving very long. Remember, Mutually Assured Destruction was a government policy of the two biggest global powers during the Cold War: if we can't have the world, you certainly won't get it. There's a whole lot of men out there who think like that. Some of them have — or will have — big bombs. But I'm not a doom merchant. I can waste hours wondering about what kind of civilisations existed between dinosaurs going and Homo sapiens coming. What's under that Antarctic ice sheet? I find that inspiring. Life will always go on, in some way. It's a poignant thought because I would love to live life eternal, even if I was the last man standing in three million years, waving my scrawny arms at the dying sun. I will always want to know what happens next.
From Oyster #98, out now!