As I’ve been snatching up the assorted Loop reissues that have finally seen the light of day, I’ve spent a whole lot of time trying to determine exactly why it is that I’ve been buying these discs with such zeal. To be clear, I like Loop—quite a bit, actually. Their music holds an important place on the underbelly of British indie that will probably forever go unrecognized by most. Whereas their more popular peers The Stone Roses (and countless others at the time) were spackling the airwaves with Smithsian jangle pop that would ultimately usher in the early dreamier days of Britpop (see: Lush, early Ride, etc.), Loop rode singular pulsating riffs into the ground, birthing the violent hypnotic drones that My Bloody Valentine would transform into shoegaze. But Madchester baggy was obviously more danceable, which is at least one of the reasons as to why it holds such a dear place in our collective hearts (New Order being another reason). And so Shaun Rider remains an important figure in the history of late 80s independent music, while Robert Hampson has all but faded away from the pages of history, if he was ever in any kind of history book to begin with.
Having said all that, the fact remains that I don’t like Loop that much. Truly, my current interest in grabbing all of the remastered discs has more to do with archival reasons than anything else: Prior to last year, Loop’s catalogue was impossible to track down, and whatever drips and drabs of it appeared on ebay always sold for outrageous prices. At one point, Heavens End went for something like $90+ US dollars, and as much as I wanted it, well, I was a graduate student at the time. End of story.
Interestingly enough, however, in my current course preparation, I have been forced to revisit, and to rethink, the tensions between formalism and structuralism, and the way that the latter spills over into broader poststructuralist concerns—all of which has actually helped determine why Loop are so vitally important.
As we know, the main thrust of formalism/new criticism was to sever the ties between the work itself and the broader cultural context surrounding it. This insistence that form was its own kind of closed system, albeit one that was unique to each individual work under examination, set the stage for Saussure’s structuralism, in which the linguistic system was seen as closed and governed by deep structural rules—the langue. As Saussure argued, meaning was created (within that system) primarily by difference i.e. we understand the distinction between the signifiers car and cart (even though they only differ by one letter) precisely because they signify different material objects in the world. Saussure’s emphasis on difference, as well as his close attention to language (textuality, we could say), is what laid the groundwork for culturally based semiotic analysis and poststructuralism more generally. To put it another way, I suppose, the argument which posited that there is only the text—the artifact itself—sowed the seeds of its own deconstruction by birthing the argument that there is nothing outside the text. In even briefer terms, formalism and poststructuralism are probably more closely related than they seem at first glance.
Which brings us to Loop. To a certain extent, all that the band presents is form. Arguably, there has never been another band whose name so accurately represents both the sound and structure of their music. On virtually every Loop track, the band locks in tight in 4/4 time. High pitched guitars squeal as they are fed continuously through wah-wah pedals while the drumtrack holds everything firmly in place: the snare is on every 2 and 4; the kickdrum on every one and three; whatever drum fills there are come in straight 16ths, with almost no variation. In short, every song consists of the same basic beat and basic riffs looped back on top of each other, ad infinitum, for ever and ever amen. And that, as uninventive as it sounds, is actually where the brilliance lies, because this hyperformulaic music, in its intense focus on itself, simultaneously forces the listener’s gaze (and ears!) outward to the music surrounding it. In doing so, Loop’s music becomes almost parodic. As the band spins backward and forward over the same sonic ground, often the same chord or two, for the entirety of each of their songs—in many ways signifying nothing, other than predictable form itself—we hear them parodying, and ultimately deconstructing, the predictable formulas of pop music.
To demonstrate, we could turn to The Joshua Tree, released the same year (1987) as Loop’s debut Heavens End. Superficially, the former seems to be more varied in its stylings because it flirts with gospel (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”), American blues and country (“Trip Through Your Wires”), “hard” rock (“Exit”), and a whole lot of stuff that sounds like U2 (“Where the Streets Have No Name,” “With or Without You,” “One Tree Hill”). That said, there’s absolutely nothing more predictable than a U2 song. We know, because the band telegraphs it so clearly, when there is a chorus coming: it’s right after The Edge’s delay-laden scraping gets a little faster, and Bono starts howling about love or politics or loving politics. In short, it’s music by the numbers, no more complex than Loop.
Which brings us back to my whole formalism as deconstruction argument: As Loop force us to hear in their work nothing but form, they reveal the constrictions of pop music formulas more generally. As those revelations are made clear, we can hear their forms crashing violently against the constrictions of general pop music formalisms. In doing so, Loop tear down the equally predictable work of the bands around them—outside of them—and pull those bands down into that same dirty underbelly.