Saturday, June 25, 2016

Minority reports

On the grounds that it'll be years before I ever get round to writing up this month's stupendously good Oxford gigs by Malcolm Middleton (1st June, Bullingdon) and Braids (19th June, Academy), let me point you in the direction of the reviews written by Sam Shepherd and Rob Langham respectively, as included in the July issue of Nightshift. As is often the way, it's just a shame that relatively few people had the pleasure of witnessing the performances first-hand.

Cutting out the middleman

You might find it surprising to learn that the chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents has been quoted as saying that "tourism can kill tourism", lamenting the effects on cities, their people and their economies. However, it may well seem less surprising when you discover that Mark Tanzer's complaint focuses specifically on the surge of tourists using home-letting services like Airbnb - tourists who have bypassed travel agents, in other words...

Friday, June 24, 2016

Exit strategy

Democracy, eh? Bravo, UK, bravo. *very slow handclap*

Tempting though it is to think that we're all now going to hell in a handcart, and much as Brexit is (or at least looks like) a victory for bloody-mindedness and xenophobia that threatens to condemn the UK to isolation and obscurity, it's worth noting that there was a rational, largely cogent leftist/Green case for voting Leave (not that you'd have known it from the media). The belief that national sovereignty could be restored in an era of globalisation and international corporate power - a belief that Leavers of all hues seem to share - looks rather naive and quaint, but now that the damage has been done, those of us on the left have no option but to cling to the hope that the country can now be wrestled back from Farage and company. It's a task akin to attempting to turn around an oil tanker in a canal. But a politics of fear has brought us to this juncture; it's time for a politics of hope.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The French revolution

The more cutting-edge the design, the quicker it seems to age. That much goes for many things, not least buildings - as Paris has found out to its cost. The "Grands Ensembles" of the city's boom period between the 1950s and the 1980s - the unconventional creations of ambitious, forward-thinking planners and architects - are now largely abandoned and reviled, tombstones to a future that has already past or never even came. Laurent Kronental's photos capture them in all their neglected glory.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Blues brothers (and sister)

The last Los Campesinos! album, 2013's No Blues, was to my mind their best to date (and Gareth agrees) - so it's heartening to hear that they're busy working on a follow-up which is likely to be released early next year. Tom's already written the music - described as "fantastic" and "really exciting" by Gareth and as "a bunch of loud euphoric pop songs that'll hopefully make you dance and cry" by their composer - and now Gareth has quit his job and is "spending a lot of time day-drinking in beer gardens with a note pad, scratching down drunken ideas".

Less heartening are Gareth's cryptic reference to the last two years being "extremely frustrating for a bunch of reasons I can't really mention", to the extent that they've "been forced into questioning whether we want to do this anymore or why we're still here" - so the fact that that questioning has resulted in an "excited, affirmative answer" in the form of the new songs comes as a relief.

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The joy of Episode 6

With festival season very much upon us, Episode 6 of Sounding Bored finds us muddying our metaphorical wellies with a discussion of everything from the sheer number and variety of festivals to economic issues and personal bugbears before finally considering whether - as was suggested by Ryan Bassil in a recent Noisey article - the "golden age of music festivals is over". The episode - recorded at the tail-end of May, so excuse some of the slightly out-of-date references - also features Niall's report on the Double Dot Bash in Reading and our lukewarm-at-best assessment of James Blake's third LP The Colour In Anything.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Back to the future

What does revisiting early issues of Wired (published between 1993 and 1995) tell us? In an article for the New Yorker, Anna Wiener notes with amusement how quaint and dated some of the technology appears today but also acknowledges how prescient many of the articles and featured devices were. Most interestingly, she's drawn to reflecting wistfully on a period when "hippie idealism" was roughly still in balance with "monied techno-utopianism", rather than obliterated by it: "As much as my Wired archive is a document of its era's aspirations, it's also a record of what people once hoped technology would be - and, in hindsight, a record of what it might have become".

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Fists and friendship

In the local paper last week, in among the pictures of disgruntled NIMBYs complaining about planning decisions and grinning people holding big cardboard cheques, was this extraordinary story about an unlikely transatlantic friendship that developed between Muhammad Ali and a bare-knuckle boxer who fought to overturn the ban Ali received for refusing to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Here's hoping the mooted film sees the light of day.

Going underground

As festival venues go, the inside of a live volcano in Iceland is pretty unique. Presumably the bar and food/merch stalls made a killing - talk about a captive audience...

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Quote of the day

"I had to have an Antarctic 'first'. You know what I did? In four layers of clothing - and a scientifically engineered sleeping bag - I listened to Raw Power in its entirety. There is no way that someone has sat in Antarctica and listened to Raw Power in sequence. I did that and the next morning I rang Iggy Pop's manager and said, 'Will you please tell the band - if you choose to do so - that Raw Power was heard at the bottom of a sleeping bag in Antarctica. Gentoo penguins in my right channel and a glacier in front of me.' And he wrote back and said, 'I will pass that onto the band.'"

The incomparable Henry Rollins tells the Quietus' Harry Sword about his globetrotting adventures, which have also taken him to those popular tourist destinations Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. In the course of the interview, Rollins also discusses how he got into performing spoken word shows, his love for Ty Segall, his horror film role as a centuries-old man who gets bored with eternal life, and why there's no chance of him rejoining the reunited Black Flag: "I don't wanna be some weird old dude on stage wheezing through the hits."

Incidentally, here he is deconstructing the Dr Seuss book Oh The Places You'll Go. Needless to say, he's not a fan.

On target

Thoughts & Prayers: the computer game in which you try to prevent mass shootings in the US by the power of thoughts and prayers rather than tighter gun controls.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Peace, love and misunderstanding

In response to the murder of MP Jo Cox, the Poetry Society posted Philip Larkin's poem 'The Mower' on Twitter, specifically highlighting its poignant final lines: "we should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time." What a perfect sentiment for the circumstances, you might think. Many people did, as evidenced by the fact that it has had more than 2,200 retweets and 2,200 likes to date, when most of their tweets struggle to attract double figures.

I'm all for it being demonstrated that poetry has a place in the modern world, that its messages can be not only relevant but urgent. However, I can't help but think that the choice of poem - or, rather, the choice of poet - is perverse. While those concluding lines might preach mutual empathy, respect, tolerance and generosity of spirit, the fact remains that Larkin has been posthumously unmasked not only as the son of someone who openly expressed admiration for Hitler but also as a closet racist and xenophobe himself.

There's little doubt, for instance, that someone who wrote the following - which his biographer Andrew Motion describes as a "grumpy post-imperial quatrain" - would have been a vehement UKIP supporter, if not worse: "The flag you fly for us is furled, / Your history speaks when ours is done, / You have not welcomed in the scum / First of Europe, then the world."

In 1972, in another letter, Larkin noted that "one child in eight born now is of immigrant parents. Cheerful outlook, isn't it? Another fifty years and it'll be like living in bloody India - tigers prowling about, elephants too, shouldn't wonder." You can easily imagine him sympathising with Farage, Griffin and company - as he probably did with Enoch Powell.

All of which makes Larkin an extraordinarily inappropriate poet to quote in tribute to a politician killed by a man with far-right sympathies who is alleged to have shouted "Britain first!" while carrying out the attack.

Know Your Enemy

"How foul this referendum is. The most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime. May there never be another."

Novelist Robert Harris, writing earlier this week, before Jo Cox's murder.

I came across the comment in this Guardian article by the reliably spot-on Marina Hyde, which ends with the following paragraph: "There are many people I respect and admire voting Leave - there are people in my family voting Leave. I understand their reasons. But they must stomach the reality that a vote for Leave will be taken by Farage and countless others as a vote for him, a vote for his posters, a vote for his ideas, a vote for his quiet malice, a vote for his smallness in the face of vast horrors. Is it worth it?" This is indeed a critical issue. Motivations for voting one way or the other aren't recorded on the ballot paper and so are ultimately irrelevant. Irrespective of the fact that there are valid leftist arguments for Brexit, it's inextricably linked to right-wing xenophobia and hatred, and a victory for Leave will be seen as a victory for that mentality. I don't want to have that on my conscience - just one of the reasons I'll be voting Remain.

Give a glimpse of what yer are

On the evidence of their appearance on Later... (the first of their lengthy career), Henry Rollins was right about the forthcoming Dinosaur Jr album. The band gave us a hint of what is to come on 5th August with 'Tiny' and 'Goin Down', which, while hardly breaking their well-established mould, stack up perfectly well alongside pretty much anything else they've done before.

In the footage J looks like J; Lou Barlow appears to be transforming into some 70s blues metal beast of a bassist (the Folk Implosion days feel a long time ago); and Murph looks like an ordinary middle-aged man, albeit one playing drums in an extraordinary band.

According to Barlow, credit for the performance's impact was partially due to Mascis' friend and collaborator Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, who "came along to ensure the live sound was live" - and, as Barlow noted, his bass certainly was audible...

Meanwhile, in advance of Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not dropping, Pitchfork's Benjamin Scheim has offered a list of Mascis' 15 best guest appearances on guitar on other people's songs - none of which, to my shame, I have in my record collection.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Quote of the day

"When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn round and say, 'Mate, you weren't supposed to take it so seriously. It's just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.

When you shout 'BREAKING POINT' over and over again, you don't get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don't be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn't make them do it, no, but you didn't do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they're too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they're not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen."

In the wake of the shocking murder of MP Jo Cox yesterday, the Spectator's Alex Massie argues that it's not just the suspect who has blood on his hands. Polly Toynbee makes much the same point in a Guardian article - but it's not a viewpoint shared by the Mail and the Sun, both of which went with the "crazed loner" angle and thereby completely ignored the context, effectively washing their hands of any culpability.

Massie isn't the only person to have written powerfully and eloquently on the tragedy. Brendan Cox somehow found sufficient composure to pay touching tribute to his wife, stressing that it is now important to honour her life and what she stood for by uniting "to fight against the hatred that killed her". I want to believe that might happen, but sadly I don't hold out much hope.

ATP RIP

When the Drive Like Jehu weekender was cancelled in April, less than a week before it was due to take place, the writing was very much on the wall for festival organiser ATP. As a result, yesterday's official announcement that "ATP Festivals and live promotions are closing down", and that the scheduled ATP Iceland festival has been scrapped, shouldn't have come as a surprise - but that made it no less painful a revelation, personally speaking.

As I've said before, I've admittedly never been stung by previous cancellations that have left prospective attendees (both bands and punters) out of pocket for travel and accommodation costs as well as tickets. However, I'd sincerely hope that the general reaction to the news among music fans isn't one of Schadenfreude. Clearly, Barry Hogan has increasingly infuriated a lot of people due to his naivety and lack of business acumen, but, as a veteran of no fewer than eight ATP weekenders, including the very first in 2000 (curated by Mogwai), I refuse to bash him and the organisation he founded, which has without doubt been responsible for some of the best festivals I've ever had the pleasure of attending. Where else would you get the opportunity to play poker with Steve Albini, barrack Stuart Braithwaite while he's in goal in a 5-a-side match, watch Tricky do yoga, whizz down waterslides with tattooed and bearded Godspeed You! Black Emperor fans or find yourself in a dance circle with members of Los Campesinos?

ATP's statement promises that all UK shows "will have new promoters appointed and tickets transferred", but their demise begs the question of whether any other promoters might be tempted to step into the breach as regards organising holiday camp weekenders. It's all a question of economic viability, I guess - something that seems to have been distinctly questionable in recent years. Here's hoping someone can find a way of making it work and recreate the full ATP experience again.

Rainbow warriors

As a vehemently homophobic organisation, it came as little surprise that ISIS celebrated the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando this week. Hats off to the members of the hacktivist collective Anonymous who have responded by hacking pro-ISIS Twitter accounts and making them look positively fabulous.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Don't leave me this way

It might not be the first thing most people are considering when deciding whether to vote Remain or Leave, but music is extremely close to my heart, personally speaking, and the UK music industry is very important in an international economic context. Pitchfork's Laura Snapes has surveyed the opinions of an assortment of industry figures on how Brexit might affect four specific spheres - live music, labels and copyright issues, the production and sale of physical music and EU funding for the arts - and the responses were unanimously negative and fearful.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fopp: top for pop

Another day, another new record shop - this time in Oxford. Hot on the heels of the recent opening of Bella Union's store in Brighton comes the news that Fopp will return to Oxford, eight years after shutting their Gloucester Green shop and two years after parent company HMV left town.

The announcement was greeted less than enthusiastically by Ronan Munro, editor of Oxford-based music mag Nightshift (and our guest on Episode 5 of Sounding Bored, when we discussed local record shops, among other things): "In some ways Fopp will provide competition for Truck on Cowley Road. People who want to pick up an Adele album won't necessarily want to make the trip to Truck." Of course, this assumes that the new shop will be located in the city centre rather than in the immediate vicinity of Truck. You'd hope there's room for a second record shop in Oxford and certainly that Fopp's return doesn't eat into Truck's business; geographical proximity (albeit unlikely) could potentially be a fatal blow for Truck.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Know Your Enemy

"Has she ever taught, or been a headteacher? No. Has she had practical day-to-day experience of running schools? No. Has she been educated at a private boarding school with only 12 pupils in her year? Yes. Does she know all about merchant banking, mergers and acquisitions and strategy consulting? Yes. And did she help to set up the Ark 'top academy chain'? Yes."

The Guardian's Michele Hanson introduces Amanda Spielman, Ofsted's new chief inspector hand-picked by Nicky Morgan. An appointment entirely typical of the Tories.

"With love and violence"

To mark the second anniversary of Rik Mayall's death, here's a selection of letters and messages he wrote - often offensive, always sweary and also very, very funny.

(Thanks to Katie for the link.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Look to the future, not to the past

Frankly it took me quite a while to get over the shock of discovering that A A Gill will be voting Remain in the forthcoming EU referendum before I could even begin to contemplate the rationale behind his viewpoint. For those of you unable/unwilling to access his article from beyond the Times paywall, his argument is essentially that those who will vote Leave are looking back with rose-tinted spectacles to a Britain that is long gone (if indeed it ever existed at all) and are of the mistaken belief that exiting the EU will result in a return to that prelapsarian state.

As a skewering of the small-minded petrified-of-change Little Englander, his piece hits the nail squarely on the head. However, as has been the case across the media, it fails to consider the fact that it's not just those on the right of the political spectrum who are in the Leave camp. Take academic Lee Jones, for instance, or Green Party peer Jenny Jones, who both argue that the EU is an undemocratic, unaccountable institution operating in the interests of political elites and big business. Nevertheless, that particular position depends on the belief that the EU is fundamentally rotten to the core and incapable of being reformed from within (something I'd dispute) and also shares the Little Englanders' quaintly naive belief that national sovereignty could be regained. As Gill argued, we need to look to the future, not the past.

(Thanks to Miranda and James for the links.)

Quote of the day

"I'm conscious that on this record we've been occasionally skirting round the edge of something that could be terrible, which is kind of fun. It's not jazz piano, exactly, but there's elements of that. Because we like records by people like Alice Coltrane, we've got the gall to go 'Let's try and make it sound a bit like that'. And we've always been like that. The songs on OK Computer, in our swollen heads, were trying to be Miles Davis, frankly. Even though no one plays the trumpet... You have to have big ambition and you get as far as you can with it. You enjoy 'missing'."

In an interview with Adam Buxton, Jonny Greenwood sums up Radiohead's spirit of risk-taking adventurousness - the polar opposite, essentially, of the philosophy Alexis Petridis identified as being espoused by Catfish And The Bottlemen.

According to Greenwood, "In our heads, we still wanna be Sonic Youth" - an interesting revelation, given that (unlike countless other bands) at no point in their rich and varied history have they remotely sounded like the New York legends. However, if he's talking about the ability to walk the tightrope between critical acclaim, artistic integrity and creative endeavour on the one side and popular appeal on the other, then I think he and his bandmates can be justifiably contented.

Meanwhile, one of his bandmates has been spotted playing a secret solo show at a garden party in Oxford, presumably held in honour of the Queen's 90th birthday. As Dazed put it, "no one likes the guy who brings an acoustic guitar to a party, but exceptions can probably be made when that guy is Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke"...

Nothing to report

We shouldn't be surprised by anything the Daily Mail does, but even by its own disgraceful standards the editorial decision to avoid mentioning the Orlando massacre - the worst ever mass shooting on US soil - until page 10 of the first edition and page 4 of the second is quite incredible. The front page, incidentally, was instead dedicated to a spurious piece of xenophobic fear-mongering about the threat of an influx of Turkish immigrants if we stay in the EU and a plug for a pull-out about the Queen's jewellery and a free pair of pearl earrings. Perhaps they've outsourced such decisions to the same person who made the call on the front pages of the Sun and the Times in the wake of the Hillsborough inquest. Or to columnist Jan Moir.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"Here is a musical world in which everything is exactly as it appears, where a total lack of imagination is viewed not as a crippling hindrance, but a major selling point. ... This is music so afraid to be seen as clever or pretentious, so terrified of doing anything that might conceivably alienate the lowest common denominator, that it ends up crushingly prosaic. ... Some albums offer a mouthwatering smorgasbord of ideas and possibilities. The Ride dishes up meat and potatoes 12 ways."

Alexis Petridis gives Catfish And The Bottlemen's new album the review it deserves (aside, that is, from the brief section suggesting that "you'd have to be exceptionally churlish not to admit that The Ride has its moments"). The tragedy, though, as he acknowledges in the final line of his assessment, is that "meat and potatoes 12 ways" is "clearly ... what thousands of people want to stuff themselves with".

(Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Superstar DJ

Elijah Wood might not be as unusual a hipster DJ as 80s snooker legend Steve Davis, but he and partner-in-crime Zach Cowie certainly seem to know their onions - and have the sort of record collection that would leave me drooling even if I wasn't on an austerity-imposed music-buying ban.

Brighton rocks

Given the doom and gloom surrounding the recent closures of celebrated independent record shops and the difficulties faced by such shops in general (as discussed in Episode 3 of Sounding Bored), it's heartening to hear of a new store actually opening up. Ace label Bella Union have decided that the time is right to set up a shop to sell their vinyl releases in Brighton. Here's hoping that the venture works out.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Phat Fat beats

Remember Fast Food Rockers, the pop combo behind the excruciatingly awful novelty single 'Fast Food Song' (chorus: "McDonald's, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut")? The song rightly saw them attacked for having no musical merit whatsoever, demonised as little more than puppets advertising junk food.

Perhaps all that was remarkable about Fast Food Rockers, though, was the fact that they were so brazen and upfront about the unhealthy brands they endorsed (and that they did so within a song). After all, a study published in the scientific journal Pediatrics this week revealed that a staggering 80 per cent of the food and drink products promoted by artists who had singles in Billboard's "Hot 100" in 2013 and 2014 could be officially classified as "nutrient-poor".

Not so long ago I would have scoffed at the idea of attempting to tackle this issue, or indeed the validity of doing so in the first place; after all, musicians are hardly renowned for being paragons of healthy living, and few (if any) set out with the explicit intention of being role models. But now, as a parent, I find myself starting to ponder the extent of pop stars' influence over the habits and behaviour of impressionable young kids. It's a slippery slope from this to foaming-at-the-mouth ravings about the corruption of our youth, though - not a slope down which I want to slide...

Star pupils

Don't judge a book by the cover? Fair enough. But what about judging a woman by her eyes? Nope, there's nothing weird or creepy about a Miss Lovely Eyes pageant, or the masks that contestants had to don to conceal their other features.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The artist behind the mask

Godspeed You! Black Emperor were always scrupulous in protecting their identities and preventing their faces from becoming widely known - an approach shared by one of their collaborators, artist Will Schaff, who doesn't shun press interviews (like this one with Noisey) but does insist on wearing a mask for the occasion: "I feel that knowing what I look like becomes a distraction from my work, especially in today's world of social media."

Schaff is arguably best known for the sinister drawings that adorn the cover of Godspeed!'s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven - still their finest LP, in my view - but he has a long-standing relationship with Okkervil River and has also produced cover art for Songs: Ohia and Jason Molina.

Not mentioned in Graham Isador's interview are his drawings for The West Is The Future, the 2004 album by one-time Low proteges Kid Dakota. Given the obscurity of the band, that's hardly surprising - but I do think that that artwork (a different picture to accompany each set of song lyrics) is the best of the lot.

(Thanks to Richard for the link.)

Back on the roads

As the voice of one of my favourite albums from a decade ago, the Long Blondes' Someone To Drive You Home, it's heartening to learn that Kate Jackson is performing again after a hiatus. The demise of her former outfit in 2008 felt as abrupt as it was disappointing, precipitated by the stroke suffered by guitarist Dorian Cox earlier that year, so there's perhaps a sense of unfinished business. Certainly, this Guardian review of a recent Sheffield show with her new band the Wrong Moves suggests that new album British Road Movies picks up where the Long Blondes left off: a sassy, stylish take on Pulp's romantic melodramas, with an obsession with transport. It's good to have her back.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The ins and outs of being In or Out

If it's careful, reasoned discussion of the issues surrounding the EU referendum (rather than hyperbolic rhetoric and scaremongering) that you're after, then the LSE's BrexitVote blog is a very good place to start.

A case in point: Nicholas Barr, Professor of Public Economics at LSE's European Institute, has set out his reasons why, on balance, he'll be voting Remain. His article considers economics, trade, political status and sovereignty, addressing the claims of the Leave camp and the uncertainties an EU exit would involve as well as listing (albeit perhaps a bit briefly) the actual advantages of staying in Europe. His conclusion is that the EU is fundamentally a valuable institution and that if it's judged to be broken, then it's best to work from within to fix it rather than to chuck the whole thing out.

For anyone like me who generally buys those arguments and also recoils from the Leave campaign on account of the various crackpots endorsing it, however, Lee Jones' post gives serious pause for thought. Jones, a Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, puts the leftist case for Brexit - one that is common in continental Europe but that has rarely been heard during the debate here in the UK because of Jeremy Corbyn's support (albeit half-hearted) for the Remain campaign, with the consequence that Brexiters have come to be seen almost exclusively as xenophobic Daily Mail-reading Little Englanders on the right of the political spectrum.

Jones essentially takes the opposite view to Barr: the EU isn't fundamentally a Good Thing, locks in protection of the neoliberal interests of political and economic elites and locks out accountability and democracy (TTIP being a case in point). His argument is that no amount of reforms brought about by working from within the system will bring about change and that the Left would be better having the courage of its convictions, pushing for a Brexit vote and a return to governance at the national scale, and believing in its ability to triumph over the Little Englanders and win over the electorate.

Thought-provoking stuff for a confirmed leftie, and - to my surprise - I'm finding myself slightly conflicted with only a couple of weeks to go.

(Thanks to Simon for the first link.)

Be your own boss?

To mark National Freelancers Day yesterday, Suzanne Bearne - a freelance journalist - lifted the lid on the reality of working for yourself. In light of my own experience, her piece for the Guardian is a pretty fair reflection of the pros and cons; though she initially dwells on the cons (the financial instability, delayed payment, the frequently long and unsociable hours, the occasional work/deadline bottlenecks, the difficulty of taking holiday, the lack of holiday and sick pay, the impossibility of completely switching off), she ultimately acknowledges that the flexibility and freedom that freelancing affords shouldn't be underestimated.

Much as I might moan about often having to work late into the evening (sometimes into the small hours) and at weekends, and about other aspects of the freelancer's lifestyle, the truth is that the opportunity to be able to maintain childcare responsibilities while still remaining within paid employment in a field I enjoy is one for which I am very grateful.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

1996 and all that

Just when I thought I'd finally shaken off every last vestige of interest in the fortunes of the England football team, I found myself watching Alan Shearer's Euro '96: When Football Came Home and - very much in spite of myself - getting a bit misty-eyed.

I've stoutly defended Shearer's punditry for some time now, and will continue to do so (not only through allegiance to a former Newcastle Utd icon), though as a documentary presenter he was certainly no Grayson Perry. Nevertheless, he and the cast of interviewees - manager Terry Venables; fellow players David Seaman, Paul Ince, Teddy Sheringham and Paul Gascoigne; commentators John Motson and Barry Davies; and Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, presenters of Fantasy Football and co-creators of England's official tournament anthem with Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds - were able to paint a revealing picture of what went on both in the public eye and behind the scenes before and during the tournament.

For those of us who instinctively feel that 1996 was only yesterday, the documentary was eye-opening in its portrayal of a hard-drinking culture within football (even during the tournament) that wouldn't be tolerated today. The sort of moronic, boorish antics (or "banter", as such behaviour would probably be termed these days) exemplified by the infamous pre-tournament dentist's chair incident couldn't be allowed to happen in public now - not in an era of smartphones, social media and even more intense media scrutiny. While the interviewees may have partially glorifying such antics with a smirk, the documentary did at least acknowledge the subsequent negative impact that this culture (and failure in the tournament) had on skipper Tony Adams and particularly Gazza - who was at his imperious best for those few weeks but whose professional and personal decline seemed to stem from that fateful miss in extra time in the semi-final against Germany.

Adams may have been captain, but, as Ince noted, the first XI was stuffed with experienced, vocal players who - on the pitch, at least - could lead by example. This is precisely what the current England squad lacks (and why Newcastle, despite a wealth of talented individuals, were relegated to the Championship last month). Not that the strong characters in England's dressing room inspired a succession of uniformly brilliant performances; the documentary underlined the oft-forgotten fact that England were distinctly average for long periods of the games against Switzerland, Scotland and Spain.

The summer of 1996 saw New Laddism, Britpop and football become even more inextricably bound up together, embodied in the cartoonish figures of Oasis, who after the tournament went on to play the history-making Knebworth gigs. Despite being no fan of either New Laddism or Britpop, I still look back on that period with fondness. England's bid for glory may have ended in heroic failure - as had Newcastle's title bid that year - but the club had broken the world record to bring Golden Boot winner Shearer home and there was reason to look forwards in optimism rather than back in anger. For a football- and music-loving 18-year-old, it was a pretty good time to be alive.

Incidentally, Shearer's documentary shared its title with my friend Mike Gibbons' book on the story of England's involvement in the tournament, as did a longer programme on Radio 5, which saw Mike Ingham actually reading to Shearer from the pages of the book - "a very surreal experience", the author has admitted!

I have a dream

As if Axl Rose, Slash and the crew reuniting as Guns 'N' Roses wasn't exciting enough, another legendary musical act has quietly reformed. However, the members of ABBA may have sung together for the first time in 30 years, but it was behind closed doors at a private party, and so we probably shouldn't be getting our hopes up for a tour any time soon.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Attitude problem

Following on from delivering an anti-BBC rant rag, Noel Edmonds continues to "go full Icke" (as one person put it on social media), claiming that it is "scientific fact" that "disease is caused by negative energy". When Twitter user and cancer sufferer Vaun Earl ventured to suggest that Edmonds' endorsement of the EMP Pad, an electromagnetic pulse machine, as something that "tackles cancer" was preposterous, Edmonds responded by arguing that Earl's condition may be the result of a "negative attitude". While the company behind the EMP Pad have swiftly distanced themselves from Edmonds' claims, I'm sure all of this has come as something of a revelation to Cancer Research UK and Macmillan...

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Quote of the day

"There's another way to understand what has happened to American comedy in recent years: it has become more British. The hallmark of a British sitcom is a quasi-unbearable protagonist who is an Everyman, only insofar as every man can laugh at him. The unrepentant snob Basil Fawlty, the beastly glamour-pusses Edina and Patsy, the fatuous narcissist Alan Partridge, and the thirsty buffoon David Brent: these classic British characters are all flawed in the unapologetic manner of contemporary edgy American comedies.

UK sitcoms tend to be darker than American ones, encouraged by a powerful public broadcasting system whose aim is to serve the varying tastes of taxpayers, not the upbeat preferences of advertisers, and by a national psyche fixated on the immutability of the class system, not on a dream of self-improvement. Americans believe that things will get better. Brits laugh at how things stay the same. To become a hit in the United States, The Office not only had to transform the tragic, grating boss into a less tragic, less grating, more well-meaning boss; it had to cast off the message, central to the British original, that work is where you go to waste your life."

Writing about Sharon Horgan's sitcoms Pulling, Catastrophe and Divorce, Willa Paskin of the New Yorker perceptively puts her finger on the fundamental differences (historically speaking) between British and American comedies. She suggests that Divorce, which has been made for HBO, as an illustration of her argument that American comedy "has become more British".

It's this transformation, I think, that has led to me warming far more to US sitcoms than I ever used to; Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock and Arrested Development both appeal to my sense of humour in a way that older series simply didn't.

(Thanks to Damian for the link.)

Monday, June 06, 2016

Across enemy lines

Among the various tributes paid to Keith Emerson when he died back in March, perhaps the most surprising one came from Jim Sclavunos - a CBGBs regular back in the day, sometime member of no wave noiseniks Teenage Jesus & The Jerks and Sonic Youth, and current drummer for Nick Cave's Bad Seeds.

Sacrilege? Not according to Sclavunos, who was unashamed in his admiration for Emerson, Lake & Palmer during their proggy 1970s pomp but also made a convincing case for Emerson as a pioneering hellraiser as a member of The Nice in the 1960s, when he regularly used to physically attack his keyboard and burn the American flag.

In fairness, he's not the first punk aficionado to speak kindly of Emerson. John Lydon, who once upon a time saw ELP as the antithesis of punk, became neighbours with him in Santa Monica and described him as "a great bloke" - even if he still couldn't stomach much of his music.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Common occurrence?

According to comments from festival organiser Rob da Bank in the Oxford Mail, Common People could well be back next year: "we have a handshake in place". A good thing, on balance - South Park is ripe for that kind of event.

Reading between the lines, though, it sounds like this year's event wasn't an unmitigated success. He was defensive about ticket sales - "We had 15,000 people each day, which is great. Anyone else putting on a show like this for the first time would find that incredible" - and also hinted at teething problems: "Our festivals are always a long-term plan. They take a year or two to bed in but we are getting good at that." There was also a bullish slap in the face for the naysayers: "There was a little bit of doubt that we might not pull it off, so I am really proud of my whole Oxford team for making it happen."

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"As the Sun knows and has ignored, these are not jobs but training and development opportunities permitted under the Equality Act and to describe this as anti-white is utterly ridiculous and irresponsible. As we have under-representation of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in script editing roles at the BBC it's the right thing to do."

The BBC Press Office quite rightly pulls no punches in its response to a recent Sun front page "news story". The corporation is coming under fire so often these days - from politicians, the right-wing press, "bearded egomaniacs in drag" - that it should perhaps be renamed the BBC Press Bunker.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Feel good hits of the 2nd June

It's been far, far too long since the last of these, so here's a bumper edition to make up for it.

20. 'Dumb Baby' - The Coathangers
Primitive strutting garage-punk with an early Strokes vibe. I'm not entirely sure why Consequence Of Sound are quite so enthusiastic about them, but there you go.

19. 'Candy' - Weaves
Thanks to Simon for pointing me in the direction of these Torontonian oddballs, the latest signings to Memphis Industries and therefore labelmates of Field Music (among others). 'Candy' is punk-spirited and quite abrasive, and it would be interesting to discover whether it's representative or actually a deviation from their norm.

18. 'Trauma' - Fear Of Men
On the evidence of 'Trauma' - a darkly dramatic song punctuated by rat-a-tat-tat machine-gun snare - Fear Of Men have come a long way from their indie pop days (as witnessed at Southsea Fest in 2011 and Sounds From The Other City the following year), becoming significantly more interesting in the process.

17. 'Fishes Bones' - Wire
On which bassist Graham Lewis does a decent impression of Jim Morrison over the top of a decent impression of Sonic Youth in freeform mood. As I tried (and perhaps failed) to argue cogently on Episode 4 of Sounding Bored, Nocturnal Koreans is a very impressive album if you consider it was made by a bunch of sixty-somethings - but if you judge them on their preferred terms, against other modern post-punk bands, then it perhaps comes up a little bit short.

16. 'Dust' - Parquet Courts
Having listened to Light Up Gold again the other day, I've stopped kidding myself that Human Performance is at all comparable in terms of quality. It does have its moments, though - this being one of them. The insistent rhythm and organ bring to mind Merseyside mavericks Clinic.

15. 'Remember' - Nadine Shah
Back in February last year, I expressed hope that Nadine Shah would get the recognition she deserved with the release of her then-untitled second album. Fast Food may have been praised by both Pitchfork and the Guardian, and made Album Of The Week by The Line Of Best Fit - but sadly her profile doesn't seem to be any higher than it was after the release of Love Your Dum And Mad, on which 'Remember' is just one of the highlights.

14. 'Monk' - Honey
Manc trio Peace And Love Barbershop Muhammad Ali blew me away when they supported PINS in Oxford earlier this year, and Honey - featuring members of both Psychic Ills and Amen Dunes - are definitely in the same ballpark: noisy, minimalist garage rock of the highest order.

13. 'Dumb And Drummer' - The Nightingales
Post-punk Peel favourites active since the late 1970s but who have only had one constant member, their frontman - no, not The Fall, but The Nightingales. 'Dumb And Drummer' is superb, a warped duet of sorts between said frontman Robert Lloyd and drummer Fliss Kitson. If only I'd been tipped off about them before I'd already made plans to be out of town when they came to Oxford last month...

12. 'Caught Up' - Metz & Swami John Reis
One of two tracks recorded for a special release for Record Store Day - so maybe RSD isn't such a bad thing after all. The press release claims "The sound is reminiscent of an army of sea gulls inside a burning Benihana of Tokyo" - one for Why I Deleted Your Promo Email, perhaps? Sounds a lot like Hot Snakes to me - and that'll do me just fine.

11. 'Shill' - Anna Meredith
The fact that Meredith describes herself (or, at least, is most often described) as a composer rather than as a musician made me somewhat wary, but I needn't have worried. Varmints - as reviewed in Episode 3 of Sounding Bored - is playful rather than po-faced, a riot of ideas and textures. 'Shill' is, even more unexpectedly, not unlike Battles with its cacophony of interweaving drum lines and synth patterns.

10. 'A Hundred Ropes' - Minor Victories
For the first 45 seconds, the synth-heavy 'A Hundred Ropes' could almost be Chrvches, but then the drums and bass kick in. It's actually Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, plus Justin Lockey of Editors, and their eponymous debut album is out tomorrow.

9. 'U-235' - Mogwai
Don't get me wrong - I'm predominantly a guitar enthusiast. But some of us have been waiting years for Stuart Braithwaite and company to fully embrace electronica, ever since those tantalising hints on Happy Music For Happy People of how the results might turn out. And finally it seems they've done it - to great effect. 'U-235' appears on Atomic, a collection of reworked songs from their soundtrack to a documentary about Hiroshima, and has a suitably distopian sci-fi feel to it.

8. 'Non-Violence' - Battles
After repeated listens, I've concluded that this is La Di Da Di's choicest cut. At times they could be accused of self-indulgent showiness, but 'Non-Violence' is as tightly focused and succinct a summary of what they're all about as you could possibly hope for.

7. 'Take Care' - Deerhunter
Try as I might, I simply can't stomach 'Leather And Wood', which ruins Fading Frontier for me - a terrible shame, as if it had carried on in the vein of songs like 'Take Care', it would have been a genuine contender for Deerhunter's best album to date.

6. 'The Ministry Of Defence' - PJ Harvey
The Hope Six Demolition Project is very good indeed - but then you could've guessed that. 'The Ministry Of Defence' has a crushing intensity, both musically and lyrically.

5. 'Squealer' - Ty Segall & The Muggers
Ty Segall is very close to the top, if not even at the top, of my list of current artists I'd love to see live. Here's why. You've got to love the reaction of the news anchor as he wanders about screaming "CHICAGO!" (To be honest, the performance of 'Candy Sam' on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert was pretty damn good too.)

4. 'Love Comes In Waves' - Malcolm Middleton
At the Bullingdon in Oxford last night, the new material from Summer Of '13 was all well and good (and it certainly was good), but it couldn't match up to this, a gem from mini-LP Sleight Of Heart that I'd somehow managed to forget about.

3. 'Landslide' - Low
An absolute behemoth of a track - both beautiful and doomy in perfect balance - that's right up there with their very best. In its volume levels, Ones And Sixes harks back to my favourite Low album, The Great Destroyer, though with the incorporation of some of the minimalist electronics of Drums And Guns.

2. 'Burn The Witch' - Radiohead
From a muted initial reaction I've rapidly accelerated to loving 'Burn The Witch', a single that, in its own subtle way, ranks on a par with some of their very finest. That video, too... (Incidentally, A Moon Shaped Pool was the featured album for Episode 5 of Sounding Bored.)

1. 'Aneurysm' - Nirvana & Kim Gordon
It occurred to me recently that I'd never actually seen this - the surviving members of Nirvana marking their entry into the Rock Hall Of Fame by playing one of Kurt Cobain's best songs, with Kim Gordon putting the sort of performance that would be phenomenal even if she wasn't in her sixties. 'Lithium' (with Annie Clark aka St Vincent) and 'All Apologies' (with Lorde) are also well worth watching.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Not so cunning stunts

Yacht's now infamous fake sex tape has (quite rightly) earned the duo a great deal of flak, but as this BBC article points out, they're far from being the first people within the world of music to cock up horribly when it comes to a PR stunt.

In probably the best-known incident, in 2014 U2 were guilty of forcing their new album - the somewhat ironically titled Songs Of Innocence - on unsuspecting iTunes users, with Apple ultimately having to bow to pressure and make it easier to remove it and Bono cornered into apologising for what he referred to as "a drop of megalomania".

Arguably more interesting, though, is the story of Disco Demolition Night - particularly in view of the fact that I've just read the chapter on no wave in Simon Reynolds' superlative Rip It Up And Start Again, in which he discusses the (possibly racist and homophobic) antipathy towards disco within punk circles, which meant that some no wavers' belated embrace of it was seen as a profoundly provocative act.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Man oh man

When it came to deciding upon a topic for Grayson Perry's third documentary series for Channel 4 - following in the footsteps of In The Best Possible Taste (on taste) and Who Are You? (on identity and portraiture) - masculinity must have been a fairly obvious choice. After all, as Perry himself acknowledged, his transvestism has meant he has been acutely aware of the significance of gender.

Over the course of three programmes, Perry ventured with a degree of trepidation (as someone who initially, at least, didn't consider himself to be a very "manly man") into three hypermasculine worlds: cage-fighting in the north-east, gangs in Lancashire and the financial sector in London.

As in the previous two series, Perry made artworks reflecting his experiences and perceptions and then presented these to the people who had inspired them - something that would be a daunting challenge for any artist, particularly when the subject matter is so personal to those confronted with his art. He may not have been attempting to capture individuals' essence in a portrait (as in Who Are You?), but creating and then showing pieces inspired by a young man who committed suicide to his grieving mother was arguably even more courageous.

She was touched and grateful for the tribute, but not all of those given a private viewing of the artworks they had helped to shape were so positive. In the final programme, one of the traders Perry had spoken to accused him of having an unshakeably prejudiced view of the financial services sector and those who work in it. He countered, justifiably, that he hadn't seen anything to make him change his view. Having preconceptions is inevitable, but any suggestion that he was unwilling to alter his perspectives was debunked in the first episode, in which he started out with a stereotypical view of cage-fighters but ended up seeing the sport as a positive form of release and its participants as generally thoughtful, self-aware and dedicated athletes rather than as violent, brutish louts.

If the cage-fighters' macho exterior frequently concealed a softer centre, then the opposite was true of the bankers and traders, whose expensive suits and talk of cool rationality and objectivity concealed a subtle and arguably more insidious form of masculinity that nevertheless boiled down to the primal desire to stand out from the crowd and from one's peers, to be the hunter rather than the hunted.

Throughout the series, Perry once again exhibited his skills as a presenter - whether putting people at their ease so they opened up to confess on camera to things that they'd never admitted before, even in private; asking gently probing questions and challenging arguments without ever seeming provocative or confrontational; or offering pin-sharp insights, such as the general observation "I don't think men know how to be sad", and the identification of humiliation or shame resulting from the emasculating effects of their environment as the root cause for gang members' behaviour.

I would have liked more consideration of the police in the second programme (Perry noted that the police and the gangs were effectively two male tribes on different sides of the law engaged in battle, but didn't pause to consider why men might be drawn to join the police in much the same way that they're drawn to join gangs). There could also have been greater linkages between the different programmes; for instance, the frequently laughable rituals of the bankers and traders (power yoga, fasting, meditation tapes) could have been compared to the fastidious pre-fight preparations undertaken by the cage-fighters (both seemed to see themselves as "warrior-monks").

But these are only minor complaints - my only other one being that the series could easily have been twice as long, with the worlds of heavy metal, top-flight football and the army all ripe for Perry to investigate. Maybe they're saving those for a follow-up.

Monday, May 30, 2016

(Chuckle) Brothers gonna work it out

Now that it's been and gone, I'm rather gutted that I've missed Common People - not so much for the music (though by all accounts Maiians and the other local acts hand-picked for the Uncommon Stage have done Nightshift and Oxford more generally proud), but because I've missed the opportunity to live the dream of giving Public Enemy a lift in the back of my Vauxhall Meriva. Instead of being chauffeured around in style, they've been hanging out with the Chuckle Brothers. I eagerly await the fruits of that particular collaboration.

Festival tickets have been available all weekend so it clearly didn't sell out, though social media reports suggest it's been a success. It'll be interesting to see if Rob da Bank brings it back again next year.

That's entertainment

Pity the poor, beleaguered Beeb. If they're not getting it in the neck from the Tories or the right-wing press, they're taking flak from a bearded egomaniac in drag who thinks Crinkly Bottom and Mr Blobby were the zenith of family entertainment. It's all a bit Accidental Partridge, really - Noel Edmonds' equivalent of screaming "Smell my cheese, you mother!" at BBC execs because they won't give him another Saturday evening series.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Growing pains

How inconvenient for George Osborne: yet more prominent economists debunking the austerity myth, arguing that the costs outweigh the benefits. Not only did Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani and Davide Furceri of the IMF's research department conclude that such measures increase inequality, they also noted that this increase impacts negatively on growth - which is ironic, really, given that we're being repeatedly told that austerity will facilitate growth...

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has quite rightly called on Osborne to "listen to the experts" and bring a halt to the pursuit of austerity policies - but, given his resistance to such advice thus far, it seems unlikely that the chancellor will perform a sheepish U-turn any time soon.

(Thanks to Alex for the link.)

The odd couple

If you had to suggest the musician most unlikely to collaborate with GZA of Wu-Tang Clan, Interpol's Paul Banks would probably be quite high up the list. The pair have decided to christen themselves Banks & Steelz - a name that makes them sound like a good cop/bad cop pairing from a bad US series shown on Channel 5 (and the press picture used in this Pitchfork article suggests much the same).

The first taster of their as-yet untitled debut album, 'Love + War', also features GZA's bandmate Ghostface Killah and isn't quite as bad as you might imagine - though that's largely because it's not blighted by Banks' lyrics...

Saturday, May 28, 2016

F*!#in' up

Neil Young seems to be going a bit senile in his old age. First, he issued a cease and desist against Donald Trump for using 'Rockin' In The Free World' on the presidential campaign trail. Then he said he was OK with it because Trump's got a licence: "Once the music goes out, everybody can use it for anything." And now he's once again expressing disgruntlement on account of Trump's misogyny and racism. As someone who wrote a song called 'Let's Impeach The President' about George W Bush, surely it's not that hard to take a principled stand on Trump and stick to it?

Perhaps I'm being unfair, though, and he was briefly entertaining the idea of angling for an invitation to play the song at a rally and then doing what Cheap Trick planned to do if ever they found themselves in the same circumstances at a Republican convention: get some swastika guitars made...

Old hands, new records

Henry Rollins is not a man to argue with, so when he says the forthcoming Dinosaur Jr album Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not - their eleventh - is "like every other Dinosaur Jr record, it's fantastic", we'd be well advised to believe him. Incidentally, I want a record basement like his...

Another legendary outfit set to release a new album this year are Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, whose as-yet untitled LP is due for release on 9th September - with a film featuring footage of the band performing the new material scheduled to premiere the day before. The record will be their first since 2013's Push The Sky Away and since Cave's son Arthur died in tragic circumstances last year - so it's a fairly safe bet it'll be a dark and difficult listen.

Friday, May 27, 2016

This isn't the news

Unlike the Sun, for instance, the Guardian is no stranger to sheepish apologies, though these are usually for unfortunate but minor typos rather for publishing a number of articles containing unsubstantiated facts and fabricated interviews. Presumably the freelancer in question, Joseph Mayton, saw Shattered Glass and the fifth and final season of The Wire but saw both as inspirational rather than cautionary tales.

It's embarrassing to have been duped, and the paper has taken down or edited the offending pieces and promised to review and tighten its procedures when taking on freelancers - but it does go to show how much comes down to the simple matter of trust.