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if drugs were music, how would you listen?

Needle in the Groove was written in 1999 by Mancunian writer Jeff Noon. It tells it's story through the eyes of Elliot, a young twenty-something bassist, as he finds himself playing bass for, Glam Damage, a new dj-based band who are experimenting with a new recording technology - a weird liquid/drug that remixes music when shaken.

Previous readers of Noon, will be in familiar territory, the book is set in the near future of Manchester 2002, and the drugs as music metaphor is the essence of the novel. Eschewing conventional punctuation, capitalisation and grammar, the book reads as if it is a series of song lyrics, lines separated only by a meagre /. Dialogue is prefaced by a - (a device familiar to readers of Irvine Welsh).

Noon also applies the techniques of the DJ in his writing, sampling, remixing, scratching. The short chapter describing Elliot listening to the Scorched For Love, is literally remixed each time a further remix of the song is created in the book, culminating near the conclusion as the 'dubgeist remix', which is now a short 12 line lyric, possessing both rhyme and rhythm, but which is still recognisable, capturing the same emotions as heard by Elliot in the beginning. But despite such devices the book is still simple to read, a fairly conventional linear narrative stops the book from ever becoming bogged down.

The book also traces the history of pop music in Manchester, starting with skiffle in 1957, running through the sixties, before coming to an angry explosion with the punk of 1977 and the Buzzcocks. This love for music is also expressed by the names of the streets. Mischievously poking fun at the increasing excesses taken towards marketing our heritage, Manchester streets have been renamed after Mancunian bands and musicians. So we are given ian curtis boulevard, a street called gerald, bee gees avenue and even northern uproar cul-de-sac.

Thematically, the book seems closest to Vurt, addressing again the breakdown of families, especially across the generation gap. At times the resemblance appears to close for comfort, particularly as we progress to the climax, which mirrors Vurt with only the substitution of music for feathers. However a different direction is taken at the end, giving the reader a more hopeful vein. Although I enjoyed reading the book, it does not give the same whallop that I got when I first read Vurt. One of the reasons for this may be that the supporting characters are at perhaps too sketchily drawn, appearing merely as functionaries for the plot and not as vessels for warmth or attachment. Only Deezil, the ultimate nihilistic aging punk, really comes to life from the page.

This was Noon's farewell book to Manchester, before he moved to Brighton, and, for the time being, seems to be the last set in the Vurt/Manchester universe. His next work, Falling Out of Cars is his first not to be set in that city.

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