KISMIF Conference

KEYLECTURE | ‘Songs About Fucking: Southern Studios and the Construction of Punk’s Subversive Sonic Signature’, by Samantha Bennett

 

Yes Sir, I Will. I mean, what record producer or studio owner
in their right mind endorses something like that?

– Steve Ignorant

Abstract
In Noise – The Political Economy of Music, Jacques Attali described recording practice as ‘…a means of social control, a stake in politics…’. In the late 1970s, John Loder, founding recordist, studio and label owner at Southern Studios, Wood Green, claimed his stake in the anarchist punk and post-punk musical underworld. For more than 2 decades, Loder pioneered an oft-imitated, subversive recording aesthetics befitting of the anarcho-punk, noisecore and proto-grunge acts he affiliated with. His predominantly live recordings were assembled and released quickly, featured minimal technological intervention at source, yet were routinely [under] mixed as raw and unprocessed, sometimes vocally indecipherable, and often with foregrounded distortion. Southern Studios’ discography reads as a ‘who’s who’ of independent UK and US punk, yet the studios, Loder and his sonically discernible [anti] production style remain absent in independent rock historiography. This paper seeks to address this omission by dealing with the establishment and characteristics of Southern Studios, with special focus on John Loder’s working practice as Southern’s main recordist.

Via recordings such as CRASS’ The Feeding of the 5000 (1977) and Penis Envy (1981), The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, (1985), Big Black’s Songs About Fucking (1987), Babes in Toyland’s To Mother (1990) among many others, John Loder’s distinctive [anti] production style is considered as sonic catalyst; The Feeding of the 5000 (1977) as a significant aural turning point signposting a [no] future trajectory for independent and underground punk. The sonic continuum of Loder’s working practices are further traced through later recordings, including Pixies’ Surfer Rosa (1988), recorded by Steve Albini, and Therapy?’s Nurse (1992), recorded by Loder’s assistant recordist Harvey Birrell.

Blending ethnographic and analytical findings, this paper addresses the place of Southern Studios in alternative music history, as well as its unique environment, technologies and operations before analysing a number of Loder’s recordings to elucidate his construction of a distinctive, enduring and fundamentally subversive sonic signature.

Keywords: recording, punk, subversion, studio, technology.

 

Biographical note of Samantha Bennett >>>

 

 

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