a fan letter to the beta band
i haven't written much about the beta band here. they are my favourite band ever. i don't think they are the best band ever.* just my favourite. they mean a lot to me. they came along at a time when it was important to me to have a favourite band. they have taught me a lot about how to listen to music and how to think about it. i have invested a lot of emotional energy in following them and supporting them, far more than i ever have in any other band. something tom ewing said about the pixies comes to mind - along the lines of "i will never love another band as much." i'm pretty sure that in the future there will be music that i enjoy even more than theirs, but i can't really imagine anyone ever really 'meaning' as much to me. the first 3 EPs ('los amigos...' especially), the self-titled album, and 'Hot Shots II' are all minor classics i think. i like the idea of 'minor classics,' i think it is more appealing to me than the idea of actual classics. this is probably indicative of a terrible, endemic, indie glorification of under-achievement. but fuck it. and also, there is something deliberate, i think, about the beta band's own version of under-achievement that is essential to their character, their aesthetic, their vision, whatever. i love the way they dramatise their relationship with their idols and the way they seem acutely sensitive to their position as something of a footnote to the story of so much of the music they love. let me explain this a bit:
the beta band are the least pompous - as in self-important - band i can think of. they put a lot of effort into demystifying and debunking their own mythology, such as it is (and this too is of course a process of self-mythologising, haha). how about some illustrations.
1) on their 1st tour, the video they projected to accompany 'dry the rain' was just a rolling succession of album covers. their favourites. just an endless loop of iconic images + myths. as if to say, this is where we come from, there's no illusion, we're not competing, we just want you to know that we know we exist in relation to all of this, we are a composite of it all.**
2) then there was the whole 1st album thing: announcing that it was the worst album ever made, singing "i fucked it up," and, y'know, it was pretty fucking terrible in places. it sounded like they'd given up halfway through each song. i guess it was fairly perverse but that lack of respect for career, audience, music even, was something i love, it's very human, just giving up like that.
so much of what they do, the half-finished ideas, the perpetual self-depreciation ("the music we make is not particularly good," indeed), the constant teetering balance in the lyrics and worldview between cosmic consciousness and provincial, ego-deflating piss-takes (statements of profound despair or love subverted by squeaky voices or bad puns) is geared into this endearing, very insecure, low self-confidence brand of under-achievement.
anyway, i could go on. even thinking about a band this way makes me feel very young, very invested in it, and it's a bit weird, because that's not a feeling you seem to get a lot as, y'know, time goes on. i'm aware that i haven't really talked about the music at all. but this is a fan letter. and i've heard the new single, you see, and i'm a little bit worried. it's alright. as promised there are more guitars and it sounds very angry.*** i met someone the other night who has heard the new album and he said this was the pattern. more guitars. my knee-jerk hostility to the notion of 'more guitars' is a bit embarrassing, entrenched indie guilt no doubt, i mean they're not objectively bad are they? and more specifically, there is no particular reason, is there, why more guitars on a beta band record should mean any kind of retreat, which is what my gut tells me this is. obviously i'll have to wait till i've heard it.
but the narrative i had constructed in my head for this band's trajectory (i told you, i've put a lot into liking this stuff) was mostly a move away from that, if that makes sense. the beta band were better (better words: more adventurous, imaginative, exciting, EXCITED, in love with possibility, with sound, with truth, with the modern world, with the myriad ways of seeing and expressing emotional experience) than those others, those people with guitars, or with only guitars at least. i remember some awful uk coffee-table 'downbeat' hip hop dude (from grand central maybe?) calling 'Hot Shots II' the "most credible indie record of the year," and thinking, fuck you, a) if 'credibility' is what's at stake then who the fuck do you think you etc etc and b) they're not indie!!!! at that point (2001) 'indie' really suggested to me a universe of signifiers and associations that the band who made the scottish dancehall of 'broke' and the cut-up church music in space of 'al sharp' and the whatever-the-hell 'life' is had nothing, or nothing meaningful, to do with. (and someone asking steve mason which bands he liked, and him saying, "fuck off, i don't listen to all those boring wankers with guitars, i listen to real music, hip hop and reggae" (or something along those lines))
so you can see my problem. i like aspects of the new song, i mean, it rocks, that's good, and it has a fun breakdown, and i am sure it will be fantastic to dance to at the gigs,**** and i can also see the attraction of a pared-down, thrashing, bile-spitting beta band. it's just that, at this point, when they are i guess the last band with whom i have this kind of deep adolescent attachment, if they disappoint me, well it'll be kinda hard to take. still. i take these things too seriously no doubt. right: that was quite cathartic and i enjoyed it. i'm off to italy for a few days. happy weekend.
*for instance last night i listened to everything i own by wire and joy division (it was quite a long evening). i don't think i'd say that the beta band are 'better' than either of those bands, for instance.
**even the name, to me, has always suggested half-references to the beatles and the beach boys, the 2 canonical giants of melodic pop music, the 'beta' band obv seeing themselves as 2nd rate in relation, and they know it, and are happy about it
***in the past one of the things i've loved about them has been the very quiet anger. the beta band are furious, passionate, committed, all of that, but it's a very cool-eyed, steady-handed kind of anger. a song like 'life' could soundtrack a velvet revolution, so steely and determined and righteous is its vitriol for the fucking mess that western politicians and technocrats are charging us all further, headlong into)
****one thing that isn't up for debate, is that the beta band are the greatest live band i've ever seen. i am fairly sure that wire and joy division were not more fun to watch or dance to. that's something at least.