Not the first question I was expecting last week. My 16 year-old and myself were in the car and, in a rare change from discussing the misfortunes of football (both our team – Kilmarnock – and the local U17 team he plays for), the chat turned to music. Future Sound Of London’s Papua New Guinea was playing, all rattling breakbeats, throbbing bass and ghostly samples, but despite my enthusing over it, he remained unconvinced. Nothing new there, to be honest. I can point out a dozen great songs during any car journey and he’ll shrug, unconvinced (unwilling more likely) to admit to liking his dad’s taste in music. The electronic sheen of FSOL’s track endured though, and it clearly set off a synaptic sequence in his brain. And then he came out with it. “Dad, d’you like Aphex Twin?”
He’d already blindsided me a few months ago by unselfconsciously humming I’ll Be Your Mirror as we passed on the stairs. When I stopped, turned and asked if that was The Velvet Underground he was singing, he shrugged nonplussed as though it was the most natural thing in the world. “D’you know it, like?” he threw back, not even stopping for confirmation. Of course I did, and of course he knew I did, and of course he knew that I had a copy (3 actually) of “the banana album that it’s on.”
“How d’you know about the Velvet Underground?” I asked.
“I dunno. I just heard them somewhere and liked them. I like Beginning To See The Light too. And Can’t Stand It. And Pale Blue Eyes…(thinks)…There She Goes Again…’Ah’m waitin’ fawr ma ma-yan’…”
Jeez. Turns out he knows them all and can do a passable Lou Reed into the bargain.
“D’you remember when we were in New York last year, and I stopped to take a picture of the street sign near our hotel and you all laughed at me? Maybe you’ll get the reference now...”
When I was his age, I spent the time properly denying my parents’ record collection. Apart from Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home there was nothing much in there to shout about, although I did investigate it when no-one was looking, retaining some of the more interesting ones in the interests of cross-generational research purposes. He’s denying mine too, I think, but he knows far more of it than I’d ever have imagined. As teenagers, we had to dig deep, swap tales and stories and sometimes actual TDKs to gain access to the good stuff. Rake the record shops, sift through the shelves in the library, maybe occasionally get the loan of an album on promise of death if it was returned in less than the condition it was given to you in. Now, it seems, social media analytics throw all sorts of stuff in your direction. Act on any of its suggestions and a hundred more threads and recommendations will unravel, and all just for your ears only.
From the Velvets, he discovered The Strokes. Most teenagers love The Strokes, it turns out. Any aspiring local guitar stranglers look to them in the same way that we looked to the music of 20 years previously when we first started out. Watch out for the big Strokes renaissance when a wee local band breaks out and rides the crest of a scuzzy New York wave. It’s just around the corner.
Aphex Twin though. He’s so low profile, so uncompromising, so esoteric in a way that The Strokes and (nowadays) the Velvet Underground just aren’t. “How on earth did you find out about him?” I ask. “Tik Tok? Spotify? A video game? Somewhere else?”
“I dunno. He’s great music to study to. It’s longform and in the background and doesn’t distract you from what you’re trying to learn. It’s a bit like Minecraft music, just better. All the songs have strange titles…just numbers sometimes. I don’t know the names of the tracks I like. But I like what I’ve heard.”
Aphex Twin – Xtal
If it helps with the studying, no parent is going to complain about that, which is why, on Thursday night, our house was filled for an hour with the DIY ambience and womblike pulses of Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1, the pair of us headnodding around the living room, me the uncool dad playing him this new music that he thought was ‘his’, he the teenager, mortified at the thought of liking the same music as his dad.
Next week – “Dad, which Throbbing Gristle album should I buy first?”
(Answer: I dunno. He’ll probably be able to tell me.)