“The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies but everyone who bought it formed a band”. Brian Eno.
"Life in a trance as disturbia". No sooner had the thought form appeared to disappear when numinous morphing bubble paint, artificial yet beautiful, plastic but inevitable, exploded before him. Seminal strobe light music for wrap-around shades worn only in the dark.
“Be your own light show”. His thoughts had slipped from their moorings as the band maintained its relentless grip-less grasp on the splintering sound-waves emanating from the tiny stage upon which all the band were sat. Everyone except the drummer who stood behind half a drum kit half her size.
A wall of noise of immeasurable end held his gaze as he let go of time, seconds no longer ticked. The experiment unfolding before him dissolving any sense of other until gone; the delay between his senses and his mind’s reaction to the data. 'Venus In Furs’ then ‘Run Run Run’.
Minimalist drumming welded to a never-ending riff; monochrome monostation dream weapons. Cello, organ, bass and yet more guitar weaving within the feedback, appalling in its beauty.
In the Velvets - reverberation is everything.
The Velvet Underground are the reason so many bands ever started. The Tesla of feedback rock-n-roll; eyes hidden, mind numb, soul on fire. If you dig deep, a Velvet Underground song goes POP! Stripped of the experiment, some of the songs underneath are simple ballads, whispering paeans in shades of rhythm and blue, soulful urban pop for seekers who’ve abandoned the map. Easy to play, catchy as hell, pinned down by words that say no more than is required. .
Modern music begins with the Velvets, and the implications of what they did seem to go on for ever
I was in one of those bands who spent more time dreaming of making music as good as the VU as we did learning our instruments. You don’t learn music you feel it man. Some of our demos suggest even a little bit of learning might have been helpful. Before the internet we trawled record shops, fairs, the music press, searching word of mouth to find recordings of the band live 65-66. When the spell was first cast.
The spell was abruptly broken on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury in 1993, setting for a Velvet reunion. Hearts sank as Lou Reed’s foot on the monitor signalled his fist to punch the air as he and the crowd shouted 'heroin' in unison. A song which more than any other captured the scars of addiction, salvation and psychosis. Now sounding like a stadium anthem. We all make mistakes.
The Velvets recorded the bulk of their incredible first album in a studio that most folks would consider to be a derelict building. The map as metaphor. A band without contract, who upon handing in their first recordings, were told by the record label that they must be insane if they thought anyone would actually listen to such noise.
‘White Light White Heat’ carries on the search for the kingdom. The band began dissolving from that point onwards, yet remained able to create an eponymously titled brilliant third. It still seems incomprehensible that within six years of their seminal debut LP, an album could be released that didn’t feature any of the original line-up.
I love the story about the original drummer who once played for half an hour longer after the show had finished because he had arrived half an hour late. Not long after this gig he left the band incensed that playing a forthcoming concert would entail being told when to start playing and when to stop.
Angus MacLise’s departure set the scene for the arrival of the best non-drummer in the history of rock n roll, Moe Tucker. The Queen of drone beat sat behind Sterling Morrison the king of why change it. Add a classically schooled Welsh multi-instrumentalist experimentalist and Lou Reed and the dial on the metre’s going to go in the red and stay there.
The Velvets are one of the most influential bands there has ever been. After 28 years of listening to their records I’m still blown away by their music.
Catch you next Friday when we catch up with New Yorker, Neon Brambles, the world's biggest Gene Clark fan.
Until then, all the very best.