Fifty Outsiders

A departure point for your investigation
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“Crackpot and visionary music, where all trails lead essentially one place: over the edge,” is how US writer Irwin Chusig defined the term ‘outsider music’ in a 1996 magazine article, going on to describe ‘outsider musicians’ as those deemed “inept” by normal mainstream standards; “Most importantly, they betray an absence of pretence. And they’re worth listening to, often outmatching all contenders for inventiveness and originality.”

Many of the world’s most influential or fascinating musical or artistic figures were outsiders in their time, often only later appreciated or acclaimed as tumultuous and considered worthy of endless analysis (or a hip new badge). Conversely, an artist can remain a rank outsider forever; a source of puzzlement or mild amusement, even totally ignored. But, like when a roundly dismissed racehorse cuts through, the subsequent shockwaves can be seismic.

The names which follow can only scrape the surface of the legions of artists who didn’t or don’t play by any rules except their own; either on a mission to upset the applecart, truly self-obsessed or too far out to care. You may ask where are Zomby or Burial? Zappa or Boards Of Canada? Well, this list is a jumping-off point for your own explorations. Some have now been hailed as fearless trail-blazers, subjects of documentaries and boxsets. Such a list can never be definitive; for example, any spike-topped punk from 1977 was vilified before that particular uniform was assimilated into mail order catalogues, while rebels, drunks and junkies have made outsiders of themselves when the excess took over. This tries to go a little deeper. In their own idiosyncratic ways, those listed helped change things by doing it the only way they knew…

Words by Kris Needs

1 - 10 : Sun Ra to Syd Barrett
11 - 20 : Kenneth Anger to Holy Modal Rounders
21 - 30 : Tim Rose to Patti Smith
31 - 40 : Flamin' Groovies to Wesley Willis
41 - 50 : Mark Stewart to Metamono

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