The Momus Awards 2000

Tarwater: Animals, Suns and Atoms (Kitty Yo)

Some long-latent trace of Miserablism in me really responds to the grey yet exotic sound of this Berlin-based band, which sounds like early Tricky crossed with Section 25. Their murky, mumbly, mid-paced songs glitter and glimmer with micro-scaled sensual pleasure. The lyrics say things like 'I like to yell when it's snowing'. Tarwater are stubborn, introverted, unflashy, yet deeply rewarding and just really pleasant to listen to. Some of the subtle, mingled, exotic instrumentation and unhistrionic avant gardism reminds me of 70s Brigitte Fontaine. I'm also enjoying their first album, 'Silur'.

MC Paul Barman: It's Very Stimulating (Matador)

I started hearing about Paul when the Knitting Factory suggested putting him on the bill with me. That never worked out, but I met him (with his friend Mumbleboy, see below!) at a CMJ panel talk called 'Genius At Work' and instantly recognised... a fellow genius! (Not to mention someone who seems to love sex, and talking about it, as much as I do.) Barman's first album, produced by Prince Paul, will either delight you or irritate your tits off. Paul is either the brashest motormouth egomaniac you'll meet this side of hell or a totally bright, hyperactive and charming verbal acrobat capable of rhyming the pants off anyone with an ear for talent. His stuff takes me back to the pleasure I found in De La Soul's 'Three Feet High And Rising', or the work of Rodney Allan Greeblatt, or an X-rated Sesame Street. Wickedly creative, technically brilliant, MC Paul Barman is a man to watch.

The post-graduate show at Hunter College, New York this year was really impressive, and vast. Perusing its six floors of wildly eclectic ideas (with little parties going on in all the studios) was definitely one of my highs of the year. I never went to art school, but I adore to gatecrash the places. It's totally utopian for me, especially when the work on show is this fresh.

Toog: Easy Toog For Beginners

There was some doubt this year about whether Toog would be able to perform at CMJ, but I stamped it out by stumping up personally for his flight. I was richly rewarded when he performed new songs from his 2001 release, Easy Toog For Beginners. They were beautiful and, dare I say it, somewhat metaphysical. One was about making love with God, and really sounded like it. I was transported. It's really rare to find an artist you like this much, and even rarer to have him as your best friend.

Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns Of Plants (Tzadik)

I heard this on NYU FM's New Music programme and instantly loved the mix of medieval lutes and Japanese kotos. It has the same delicate, haunting quality as the prepared piano work of John Cage. I think the plants somehow wrote the music, but it's far from random or inhuman. In fact, if you disregard the charmingly odd scales (I'm really into the sound of non-standard scales and tunings these days) this is really quite simple, modal pop music.

Pascal Comelade

There's always some artist I hear fragments by and decide to investigate later. This year it's Pascal Comelade.

Uwe Schmidt

It's gratifying to see recognition bestowed on Uwe Schmidt, the man behind the samba Kraftwerk record 'Baile Baile' as well as the wonderful 'Pop Artificielle', a man who divides his time between Frankfurt and Santiago, and hides behind more pseudonyms than Fernando Pessoa (Atom Heart is one of his better known alibis).

Various: Hmm (Sprawl Imprint)

My friend Douglas Benford has come a long way since playing Casio in the Momus band on our early 90s Japanese tours. Now he runs a label and hosts an excellent electronica club in London called The Sprawl. He's much given to curating interesting projects, like getting a dozen artists to remix each other's remixes of a single track in a Chinese Whispers-like chain. One of his best ventures so far was 'Hmm', an album of interpretations of hymns by Add N To (X), Kreidler, and other muckers. This record is right on the money because one of the most exciting developments in electronic music, too long the domain of grey drones and formulaic beats, is the rediscovery of melody, with all its weird fascination, its ability to insinuate itself into the deepest parts of our unconscious brain, its possibilities for corruption and mutation. (Plone know it! Others are just warming up to the idea.) And what could be more weird, melodic and otherworldly than a hymn? Standout tracks: 'Morning Has Broken' by Freeform, 'Bryn Calfaria' by Kit Clayton.

Spiral, Aoyama, Tokyo

Just as the global and the local can exist side by side, so can the two extremes of shopping: the 'give me everything and let me decide' approach (Domsey's, Brooklyn, take a bow) and the selective, hieratic fascism of the highly-curated specialist shop -- Zakka, Zao and Other Music in New York, Colette and Purple in Paris, Bonjour Records and Spiral in Tokyo. Taking the curatorial theme further, these stores often incorporate art galleries. They're great if you share their aesthetic (usually a Wallpaperish design-friendly dot com yuppy thing with a little dash of retro terrorist chic thrown in), unbearable if you don't (witness the trouncing the Village Voice recently gave Other Music). Personally I like 'em. They're the ultimate in aspiration, and you can browse there even if you're poor. They also wrest power away from the press curators, who may be a little slower to follow new trends, worried that they may be too fleeting or elitist to warrant coverage. (It's actually a fairly recent revelation to me that shops can be cooler than journalists, but I'm getting used to the idea.) On Spiral's website you'll find out about all those neo-bossa artists the Japanese love so much. Spiral is a portal into a very particular world created by people with a specific (and hence exclusionary) worldview defined by style and taste. It's not, like Amazon, trying to be all things to all men ('If you liked these gardening tools you'll also like this set of cutlery...'). Vision you can buy.

Zakka, Grand Street, SoHo New York

If I had a bottomless credit card I'd take the whole store. Make that two. In fact, I'd move into Zakka and live there. I'm sure the guy who runs this place has rich parents. He can't make a living, he really can't. Deliveries arrive hourly from Japan; the coolest books of design, photography, architecture, Digitalogue CD-ROMs, type floppies, T shirts, models of manga monsters, girl-style magazines like Zipper and Cutie, art-style titles like Composite and Tokion and Studio Voice. And there are always people like me in there browsing, browsing, and never buying anything. How does he survive, Mr Zakka? I don't know, but I'm grateful to him for assembling such fantastic wares. Every time I enter Zakka I come out with a more benign view of human creativity. (By the way, it's with sadness that we mark the passing of Printed Matter from nearbyWooster Street. They promise to re-open in Chelsea soon, but things will never be quite the same in the enchanted streets of SoHo.)

Purple Institute, Paris

It's in an obscure little street between the Gare De L'Est and the Canal St Martin. They open when they feel like it. It's the only cafe I know where you have to be prepared to repair to the Algerian bar across the road to drink the owner's special patent mint tea while you wait for someone to show up and open the damn place. But it's worth it. A rail of clothes, some art works, some puritanically plain tables, a selection of green teas and snacks, some supercool magazines and a regular flow of exquisite Japanese girls thirsty for culture make this a must-visit. (Note of sadness sounded here for the death of L'Epicerie, which closed last year and was a bigger and more central version of this idea, minus the cafe.)


A magazine about magazines, with no advertising, distributed free in the cafes of the Lower East Side of New York. They have a shop in Paris piled high with selections of the world's best magazines. I don't know how they work it financially, but I like to read it.

Max Tundra

He's called Ben Jacobs and he lives in Streatham Hill, a horrible part of London just south of Brixton. He makes this post-Squarepusher music with a kind of distorted Rhodes piano sound and weird and subtle electronics. It's friendly, clunky, jubilant, creative, interesting. Sometimes he sings, other times he just records the sound of a clacking executive toy punctuated by a cough. He can be as quirky as Beck. He wrote me an e mail thanking me for mentioning him on my website, so perhaps I'll get another one now!

Michel Houllebecq / Peter Handke

Novelists should ruffle feathers and scare people with their take on reality. They should be silly, punky, nihilistic. They should condemn 'the west' for dropping bombs on Kosovo, they should fill up newspapers with debate about their political positions, which should generally contain truths not admissible in the editorial columns. They should also, of course, write well too. Handke and Houllebecq both do.

De:Bug, Germany

I wish my German were better and I could read it. It's clearly the best music / electronic culture paper around. The design is great, rather subdued, with thin sections for rap, art, web etc. It's a pastel-shaded broadsheet. Probably overlaps a bit with the UK magazine The Wire, but with a younger editorial team and less reverence for jazz drummers.

Studio Voice

Each issue seems to be a definitive catalogue of a style -- eco-environment, acid psychedelia, orgonic industrial design. When an issue hits the stands about a sensibility you care about it makes your week, month and year. A bit like the excellent French-German network Arte, which programmes its evening programmes according to themes and breaks the unsatisfying and superficial discontinuities of normal TV with a sense of curated continuity, depth and flow. Truly this -- the meeting of curators and otakus -- is the solution to the problem of the fragmented, repetitive and inbred idiocies of our media systems. Go deep, probe with love. Don't be afraid of alienating your audience. Do it well and people will follow.

Takashi Murakami, Hiropon Factory, Japan

Murakami is everywhere, an artist at the peak of his power surfing a wave of intensely gratifying international recognition. Right now you can see his anime statuettes in the Pompidou Centre and at MOCA in Los Angeles. They connect art up to the electronic subculture of the otaku, the fetishist-hobbyist who was once a shameful Japanese phenomenon but will shortly, in the form of a global generation raised on Pokemon and Sony PS2, take over the entire world. Let's just hope the Aum sect isn't behind it all. Like Aum, Murakami lives with a group of like-minded people in a cluster of sect buildings in some godforsaken Tokyo suburb. There they make their sexy figurines, draw tiny flowers, collaborate with fashion designers, and construct the philosophy of Superflat. Like Jeff Koons in the 80s and Josef Beuys in the 70s, Murakami is fascinating because he's so much more than just a visual artist. He's also a wag, a guru, and a philosopher with just the right dash of possible charlatanism.


A couple of years ago I noticed a connection between low res computer graphics and folk art, between samplers and samplers. Well, no-one has pursued the same insight as rigorously and fruitfully as Delaware, a Japanese design group who also make music. Eric Swenson of Blam believes they took their black and white look from Blam 1, which may or may not be the case. Anyway, their work blows me away.

Takako Minekawa's 'Maxi On'

TM was in New York in March recording this EP with Dymaxion, a local electronic duo. She told me at the time that the work was going very slowly. Dymaxion are like scientists, they advance with great caution, rejecting a lot of experiments. The process may have been protracted, but the results are really inspiring. There are some lovely textures in these songs, which are enigmatic, childish, playful, and seem to be inspired by Takako's fascination with the investigations of artists like Sophie Calle.

Matthew Barney: Cremaster 2

Helped by the commanding music of Jonathan Beppler, who I recently met in Berlin, this film took me on a fascinating journey into form. It's 'about' the murderer Gary Gilmore and Norman Mailer, author of 'The Executioner's Song', appears at the end in some weird role. There are long shots of glaciers, a mormon courthouse, crests, and a fascinating scene in which Barney wriggles through a tube between two parked cars in a gas station. There's an extraordinary scene of bulls formation dancing. It makes very little sense at all, which is why I trust it. Somehow, in a world of repetitive and exhausted meanings which are tied up with social contracts we may not want to sign, it's precisely this kind of art, experimental, revelatory, suggestive of new connections, burning new pathways in our brain, which is the most satisfying.

Fischerspooner at Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York, March 2000

Just as the best films aren't coming out of Hollywood but the art world, so the best new bands are playing their first shows in art galleries rather than concert venues. (In fact Fischerspooner made their debut with some surreal busking at Starbuck's, but that's another story.)

France Culture

This lofty, arty, noble and sometimes pretentious radio network, coming at you straight from the Maison de la Radio et de la Culture in Paris, is one of the last bastions of serious, cosmopolitan arts coverage, which everywhere else is dumbed down, mainstream and money-mad. This magnificent radio resource is free, it's in french, and it streams on the web '24 sur 24, 7 sur 7' as they say in France. Check it out!

Sasha Waltz and Company: S

Berlin Schaubuhne, December 2000
Ever since I saw her piece 'Stalinallee' at the Place Theatre in London a couple of years ago (it was also shown on the wonderful French German TV network Arte), I've been watching the career of this Berlin choreographer with devotion. She makes wonderfully funny pieces of physical theatre and seems poised to inherit the mantle of Pina Bausch (may god preserve her in Wuppertal). I was delighted to hear she'd been given the top job at the Berlin Schaubuhne, and gnashed my teeth when I realised my stay in Edinburgh this summer wasn't long enough for me to see her show in the Festival. I was delighted, then, to be able to catch 'S' in Berlin this December. 'S' is her most ambitious piece yet, a collectively-improvised work about sex. The dancers performed naked for most of the piece in front of a backdrop which suggested water, then a kind of primitive landscape like a paleolithic Garden of Eden. It reminded me of the work of the excellent Dumb Type. It was a parody of carnal pleasure, with dancers waggling and shaking grotesquely in a Hieronymous Bosch-like landscape (or was it some sort of Buddhist hell?) pouring water over each other, doing deliberately bad disco dancing... It was so powerful that Shizu, who loved it, was physically sick at the end. 'It was so womby,' she said. Music by Jonathan Beppler (again!).

Apple OS X

I had my first hands-on experience of OS X in Cologne. Just like arriving in Japan to find they're living five to ten years into the future, getting hands on with new Apple hardware and software gives you a little taste of how computers should be, and how, soon, they will be. It's just a pleasure to use this stuff. The G4 Cube running OSX, for instance, just has that unmatched sense of integration of hardware and software. It's designed, and that's spelled 'J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N I-V-E', by the way. The Bose speakers give you a chunky sound that make you want to migrate your audio life to it. The flat screen is totally elegant. I'm going to buy this when my advertising money comes in (oh, didn't I mention, I just did a TV commercial for a dot com). I already love Airport, which turns my iBook into a portable transistor radio as I move about the house listening to Radio 4 or France Culture. I shed tears of pure gratitude when Steve Jobs announced the iBook. What can I say, I'm a loyalist. In a world where people consume crap, thank god there's still Apple.


When I get that G4 Cube I'm going to buy Macromedia Flash 5 too, because as soon as I saw Mumbleboy's Flash work I realised that this stuff is a new artform in its own right. Mumbleboy's animations filled me with a childlike delight that brought the endless creativity and psychedelic colour of the 60s back to me in a Proustian rush. This sort of excitement is what made me choose to become a pop musician, but I have to wonder whether I wouldn't choose to dedicate my life to Flash animation if I were 20 today.

Alan Lomax

I didn't even know who Lomax was when his name came up in a conversation with Stephin Merrit for my 'Fakeways: Manhattan Folk' project in April. But I certainly know now. I've written enough about him in recent essays not to go through it all again here, but Lomax, who must now be a very old man, is an extremely important figure for me, a custodian and collector of folk traditions who makes me feel that no job could have been more important or fulfilling in the 20th Century than carting round gigantic tape recorders and listening to old men in poor places singing their threadbare songs, often accompanied only by the stomping of well-worn, dusty-soled shoes on the boards of the porch. My label, American Patchwork, may well be all about clickfolk and glitchfolk, but you can't deconstruct without knowing what the stuff's supposed to sound like in the first place, and for that the Lomaxes, pere et fils, are your men.

Last but not least, my personal person of the year award goes to Shizu Yuasa, my girlfriend, for being such a delight to be with, for sharing my adventures in New York and the other 20 or so cities I visited, for being my living guide to the complexities of Japanese culture, and for the totally charming drawings and notes she's always pencilling neatly in that notebook of hers.