“Musician and author Luke Haines is a curious gent and his work is an interesting example of how pop/rock can be conjoined with a certain intellectual stance and influence and still be good pop/rock songs.
Along which lines it could be considered to be “non-populist pop” (to quote the sleeve notes to The Eccentronic Research Council’s Underture 1612 album from 20121) .
The term “pop” is used as two of the bands he was involved with, The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder bothered the singles charts in the days when such things kind of still mattered, while the songs themselves are often catchy.
However, his work also seems to largely exist in a genre all of its own, one without a particular name.
It is without a name as probably something appropriately descriptive would need to be multi-layered and include the likes of One Time French Breakfast TV Indie Popstar, Brief Top Twenty-er, Musical Dada-Pantomine Villain and Pop Culture’s Hidden Undercurrents Explorer.
Which would be just a touch too long as a genre title for the racks of record stores.
As a background to the above possible genre title his band The Auteurs had a period of mainstream success in France which included Luke Haines appearing on breakfast television and Black Box Recorder’s single “Facts of Life” spent one week at number twenty in the UK singles chart. Although his work has a pop edge, it often also interacts with and explores more fringe or even experimental cultural areas, while he at times seems to position himself/be positioned as an arch observer or outsider, possibly even nemesis, to much of music and pop culture.”
“There has been a connection or few with his work and what has come to be known as hauntology…
If you consider hauntology in a more general sense to mean the present being haunted by spectres of the past then Luke Haines is probably one of the more hauntological musicians out there.
His music often seems to literally be haunted by the past – his own, society’s, culture’s and bogeymen-like figures or worries of one sort or another from previous decades.
Take the 1999 album How I Learned to Love the Bootboys by one of his previous bands The Auteurs, which he was the instigator/frontman of.
The lead track and single of the same year “The Rubettes” borrows liberally from 1970s pop (“Sugar Baby Love” by its namesakes in particular), there are marauding skinhead bootboys from a similar era, an ode to a 1950s pop rock band (the singer of whom is “dead within a year”), imbibements popular in other eras (Asti Spumante, known as a “noxiously sweet poor man’s Champagne”) and so forth.”
“Elsewhere, such as on his 2006 solo album Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop there are teddy boys discos and Vauxhall Corsas, “the three day week, half-day Wednesdays, the spirit of the Blitz” and an unsolved 1960s celebrity boxers death.”
“While in 2011 he released a concept album dedicated to 1970s and early 1980s wrestling, called in an “it does what it says on the can” manner Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early ’80s, which is a fine title and subject matter.”
“Between 1998 and 2003 Black Box Recorder, his trio with cohorts Sarah Nixey and John Moore, released three unparalleled albums which contained seething, brutally repressed, “now that the Empire has faded”, “I know what you’re doing in the afternoons”, arch Albionic pop-noir.
They often sounded as though they were singing from some kind of brutal, sneering, imaginary 1970s English hinterland.
Their work could be considered its own unique take on hauntological work’s creation of parallel worlds through a form of hazy misremembering and reinterpreting of previous eras and an associated sense of exploring resonant cultural reference points and atmospheres from the past and weaving with them to form new cultural forms and myths.”
“To a degree this connects with work that can be considered hauntological in a more conventional sense in that it puts me in mind of Rob Young’s review of a Moon Wiring Club album in Uncut magazine, where he talks of the enclosed music being “slathered in the fiction that it comes from an older, weirder England”.”
“His 2015 album British Nuclear Bunkers took him nearer to conventional hauntological territory, being a largely instrumental, Radiophonic-esque album which was recorded in part using (presumably, from his championing of them online around the time of the album’s release) cheap tuppence ha’penny synthesisers.
Aside from the album’s title, the titles of the tracks include “This Is the BBC”, “Test Card Forever”, “Mama Check The Radar at the Dada Station”, “New Pagan Sun”, “Deep Level Shelters Under London” and “Electronic Tone Poem”.”
“What he brings to hauntology-related work is a playful, sometimes outright humorous take on such things; an absurdist and dada-like exploration of occult histories.
If you should look up the definition of dada you may find that it was an art movement founded on “irrationality, incongruity, and irreverence towards accepted aesthetic criteria”,which sounds somewhat appropriate for Haines’ work and might also be used to refer to his insubordinate to the cultural status quo stance as an author in the 2009 and 2011 autobiographical books Bad Vibes and Post Everything and possibly also at points his interviewee stance.”
“Along which lines, the video that accompanies British Nuclear Bunkers features him with only somebody wearing a gorilla suit for company.
They are pictured in a largely featureless room that implies a sense of it being part of a subterranean, not known to the public Cold War interrogation centre.
The gorilla squeezes lemons and plays an analogue synthesiser while Luke Haines, dressed in what appears to be a biohazard protection suit, practises what can only be described as occult pagan yoga.”
“Haines’ 2015 album Smash the System seemed to also travel, in his own particular way, to the point at which hauntological concerns meet otherly folklore. So, for example, while there are all kinds of pop culture titles and references to the album (Marc Bolan, Bruce Lee, Vince Taylor etc.) there are also tracks called “Ritual Magick”, “Power of the Witch” and “The Incredible String Band”.
The album has an archival photograph of morris dancers as its cover image and the accompanying video for the title track shows their contemporary equivalent on a slightly worrying and unsettling bender or borderline riotous fracas in an urban capital city setting (while the song also namechecks his love of The Monkees and The Velvet Underground).
“The video also features gas masks and a tray full of shots for the Morris dancers to drink (for some reason the latter of which seems most unruly, unsettling and just a bit wrong).”
“Appropriate reference points may also include the arty-lairiness of Earl Brutus, with whom Luke Haines has at various points shared a designer and collaborator in the form of Scott King and possibly even the imagined troublesome youth cult of the film version of A Clockwork Orange from 1971.”
“…the cover to the “The Rubettes” single from 1999 travels further along this path with its depiction of genuinely unsettling folk horroresque masked men in black industrial protective weather proofs combined with Mr Punch-like outfits and masks.
They have parked their livestock van out in the countryside in the middle of nowhere and one of them peers out from the slats in its rear at the viewer with intentions that can only be far from good.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 24 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.