Tuesday, January 27, 2015

King Cong

They've got the pedigree (half of them used to be in Women), they've got a splendid signature sound (claustrophobic, intense, bleak post-punk with echoes of The Walkmen and Interpol), they've got the backing of the ever-marvellous Jagjaguwar, they've got a pair of corking singles under their belt ('Continental Shelf' and 'Silhouettes'), they've just released their debut album proper. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Viet Cong, your new favourite band. Well, mine anyway. It's fate that I happen to be working on a book about the Vietnam War at the moment.

Real football, not Real Madrid

Football's not all glitz and glamour, six-figure weekly pay packets, supercars and supermodels, you know. David Bauckham captures the rather more down-to-earth world of non-league football so well you can almost smell the Bovril, while fellow photographer Przemek Niciejewski does a superb job of making out-of-season pitches in Poland look both desolate and beautiful.

(Thanks to Rob for the links.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"Your famed intelligence is nothing more than the fart of God."

Richard Dawkins doesn't usually come across as a particularly likeable character, but credit to him for doing a Stewart Lee and reading out some of the more colourful items of "fan mail" he's received from anti-gay religious fundamentalists. Some of the insults are priceless.

(Thanks to Stewart for the link.)

Wayne's world

It comes as no surprise that The Beatles feature prominently in the top ten records that changed Wayne Coyne's life ('Strawberry Fields Forever' and The White Album), though the inclusion of Beastie Boys' Check Your Head perhaps does: "What’s really impressive was that it came from guys who weren’t all about rock. To us, their rap started to feel like a cooler version of punk music. It became the new, radical punk rock. To me, it was like hearing Black Flag or Black Sabbath. And to be honest, I didn’t even care what the genre was. I just liked it." Bjork, Beach House, Black Sabbath, Miles Davis and Tame Impala are also named.

(Thanks to David for the link.)

Dulce et decorum est

For artist Darren Cullen, there's no camouflaging the truth - and that means using gallows humour to create a satirical comic called (Don't) Join The Army, complete with an advert for combat-scarred Action Men.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

There will be blood

Ah, Vice, the go-to place when you want self-consciously edgy titillation or hipster-baiting articles written by hipsters. Every now and again, though, they do publish something of real value - such as this eye-opening piece about the nightmare of menstruation for homeless women.

While it's bad enough that sanitary products aren't always freely available to those who need them, it's staggering that they're deemed non-essential items (unlike, say, bingo and crocodile steaks) and therefore subject to 5 per cent tax. While the government can't change this categorisation without the permission of the EU, pressure can be put on George Osborne to at least take up the issue by signing this petition.

Menstruation has also hit the headlines recently with tennis player Heather Watson's admission that her exit from the Australian Open was due to her period. It was a brave move - and, as Paula Cocozza suggests, might hopefully herald an increasing openness about the issue.

Away from the sporting arena, Rose George's article, also for the Guardian, contains some truly shocking statistics underlining just how harmful the ignorance, misinformation and taboo surrounding menstruation is worldwide. Thankfully, she suggests that things might actually be starting to improve in terms of how seriously the issue is taken by governments and also how companies and advertisers treat it - but there's a long way to go.

(Thanks to Zoe for the Vice link.)

Quote of the day

"It’s an impossible high to recreate. And maybe, I try to tell my father, it’s comparable to what he experienced. It’s very difficult to come off tour and come down from that. It does have an effect mentally, maybe even chemically. It’s not the same as going into combat, but it’s a way of bonding with my father. The idea of living in a different world. And coming home and feeling out of place."

Marilyn Manson compares coming back from a tour to his dad's experience of returning from Vietnam, in an interview with the Guardian's Carole Cadwalladr. Hmm.

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)

West goes East(Enders)

Turning on the TV on Friday night, I was surprised to see Timothy West starring in EastEnders. It seems he's actually been in the show for the best part of a year. He's certainly not the first big-name thesp to appear in a soap - take Ian McKellen's stint in Coronation Street, for instance (West has been in that too) - though he's perhaps the first to have to interact with Danny Dyer...

The fact that it's a TV programme means that scenes can be halted and reshot if West forgets his lines - sadly that wasn't possible when I saw him in Bertolt Brecht's The Life Of Galileo at the Birmingham Rep back in 2005.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

On principle

When Louise Mensch announced in 2012 that she was stepping down as a Tory MP to spend more time with her family, fellow Tory Nadine Dorries branded her "void of principle". It's not an accusation that looks too accurate today, following Mensch's Twitter tirade over the reaction to the death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. Delivering a blunt "FUCK YOU" to both David Cameron and the Queen, and referring to "the supine male leaders of the West", she declared: "It is so unacceptable to offer deep condolences for a man who flogged women, didn't let them drive, saw guardian laws passed, & STARVES THEM". She's got a point - the respect being shown to a regime that has scant regard for human rights is staggering.

The joys of White Noise

With Don DeLillo's White Noise turning 30 this week, Pitchfork have gathered together the thoughts of a number of musicians who have enjoyed the book, including members of Parquet Courts, Vampire Weekend, Interpol and Ought. It sounds worth a read - and reminds me that Underworld continues to sit unread on my bookshelves, many years after it was bought.

Fox hunting

Despite the potential legal complications, it's a shame that Birmingham won't be following Paris' lead and attempting to sue Fox News for defamation over the comments made by so-called "terrorism expert" Steve Emerson. Not only would it be pleasing to see the city give the channel a bloody nose in return, but it would also no doubt be helpful in light of the council's extremely stretched budget.

Jesus Christ poses

They say the Lord moves in mysterious ways - well, like father like son in the case of the paintings of artist Nathan Green, who inexplicably inserts Jesus into contemporary scenes. The results are as bizarre as you might imagine.

(Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Voting rights

In the "Don't Vote" corner: Russell Brand. In the "Do Vote" corner: Armando Iannucci, who argues that, at a time when everything seems uncertain and unstable, exercising your democratic right could make a crucial difference rather than a negligible impact.

Personally speaking I, like Iannucci, can understand Brand's arguments, and indeed have sympathised with that gloomy and cynical attitude in the past. However, though I remain jaded by mainstream politics, I will nevertheless be voting in May, having been enthused by the Greens - both by their status as a genuine alternative on the left (Labour and the Lib Dems? Don't make me laugh...) and by a rapidly growing supporter base that suggests significant electoral success could become a reality rather than merely a pipe dream.

If you're unsure which way you should go, Vote For Policies is, as ever, an invaluable resource.

(Thanks to Jimmy for the first link.)

To coin a phrase

You're almost certainly aware that Joseph Heller gave us "catch-22" and probably know that Shakespeare is responsible for a whole host of words (including such commonplace terms as "bump" and "road"), but what about the origins of words such as "beatnik", "serendipity" and "whodunit"? We've got writers to thank for those too.

"Make mine an extract of Bulgarian peasants' faeces, please!"

You are what you eat, as the saying goes - so it should come as little surprise that the diets and dining habits of some of the twentieth century's most notorious dictators are extreme and repulsive.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The urban divide

Yesterday I posted about Yasmin Alibhai Brown's comments on inequality and in particular the way the super-rich feel like they can act however they want with impunity and without consideration for anyone else. And today, a jaw-dropping example of just that: Eko Atlantic, the privatised city currently under construction on an artificial island on the Nigerian coastline.

The developers claim it will be both "sustainable" and help to mitigate against the local effects of climate change, but the reality is shaping up to be rather different: "Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising. A world in which the rich and powerful exploit the global ecological crisis to widen and entrench already extreme inequalities and seal themselves off from its impacts – this is climate apartheid". It's the very stuff of dystopian science fiction.

(Thanks to Raoul for the link.)

Quote of the day

"Russell Brand, to his credit, often says, ‘Look at this campaign, look at this thing, please look over there’. But all the media want to do is look at him and film him."

Russell Brand: a perhaps unlikely poster boy for the anarchists who've recently inspired a London-centred flyposting campaign - culture jamming gone political. They've got a point, though - for all Brand's faults, surely no one on the left can argue that the profile he's given to certain campaigns and issues, and the debate he's provoked, can be a bad thing. It's just a shame (if a somewhat predictable one) that the media fixate on him as a personality rather than on what he's saying - or trying to say in that cod-Victorian he talks in.

(Thanks to Cat for the link.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"Not even the great prophetess of the free market [Margaret Thatcher] could have predicted that Britain would become the very centre of global greed and vicious inequality, a modern Herod’s Temple, where profiteers gather and lucre is worshipped."

The Independent's Yasmin Alibhai Brown, reacting to the Oxfam report that half the world's wealth will very soon be concentrated in the hands of 1% of its population.

What's most alarming for her is that not only are our government not seeking to minimise the disparity between rich and poor, but are actually actively seeking to increase it. As she's noted in a previous column, inequality on its current scale is something that should be urgently addressed for pragmatic, selfish reasons if not for the sake of simple decency, sympathy and compassion - something that was underlined by an OECD report in December. At what point will the Tories (and other governments like them around the world) wake up, smell the coffee and realise the gross error of their ways - even if they do so out of continued self-interest rather than anything more noble?

(Thanks to Adam for the first link.)

Feeling the benefits

Following on from the inconvenient (to UKIP) revelation that EU migrants make a substantial contribution to the UK economy comes another: "unemployed Britons in Europe are drawing much more in benefits and allowances in the wealthier EU countries than their nationals are claiming in the UK". Something else for Farage - and the Tories - to chew on.

(Thanks to Giulli for the link.)


I've covered famous albums redesigned as books - so how's about famous metal albums reimagined as 70s soul/funk records, courtesy of Brazilian artist Rafa Melandi?

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog"

"I didn’t want it to be a hagiography, or a hatchet piece", director Mat Whitecross told the Telegraph in 2009. Having finally seen Whitecross' Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, I can confirm he achieved his aims. In its depiction of Ian Dury, the film is neither too generous nor too scathing. It doesn't shirk from showing him to be a maddening, callous, manipulative individual, but neither can his magnetic personality, righteous anger, crude wit and fierce determination be denied.

Dury's anger and determination stemmed from the crippling effects of polio, contracted in childhood, and the way he was subsequently stigmatised, bullied and institutionalised. Asked to record a charity song to mark the fact that 1981 had been decreed the Year Of The Disabled, Dury and songwriter Chaz Jankel delivered the bilious and witheringly sarcastic riposte 'Spasticus Autisticus'. Its performance marks the high point of the film, but at the time it was deemed offensive and promptly banned by the BBC. One wonders what Dury would have made of it cropping up in the opening ceremony for the London Paralympics, 12 years after his death.

The Blockheads have always struck me as an odd entity - "Chas 'n' Dave meets funk rock", as I put it when I caught them live (fronted by Phil Jupitus) at Summer Sundae in 2006. I can't say I love anything they did, but Whitecross does an excellent job of conveying the manic on-stage energy of Dury and the band behind him. As might be expected of a music biopic, especially one rejoicing in such a title, there is also plenty of sex and drugs, tempered somewhat by the focus on the irreversibly damaging influence Dury's personality and lifestyle has on those around him, including his wife, his lover and particularly his impressionable son. Baxter is literally born into the chaos, entering the world in the film's opening sequence as Dury and his first band Kilburn & The High Roads practise noisily downstairs, and grows up more under his father's spell than anyone.

Whitecross should be applauded for the clever use of the theatrical monologue device, which sees Dury alone on stage as those behind and before him are concealed in shadow, as well as the restless cuts and use of legendary pop artist Peter Blake for the titles, but primarily for getting such a tremendous performance out of Andy Serkis. It's not long ago that I praised Toby Jones for his portrayal of an extraordinary larger-than-life character, and here - in a film in which Jones also appears - Serkis deserves similar credit for not so much playing Dury as actually being him.

Monday, January 19, 2015

All's well that ends well


Arriving late - too late to catch opening act Trev Williams - I immediately run into Nightshift editor Ronan, here to check out prospective acts for this year's Punt.

Even if Charlie Baxter did happen to hail from Oxford, he wouldn't have a hope in hell of squeezing himself into Ronan's thoughts and the Punt line-up. The kindest thing you can say about him and his guitar-flecked possibly ironic nu-rave is that he's not short of confidence, prancing and posing as if performing to an arena-sized audience. My friend Sam is in a generous mood: "Well, at least someone's enjoying themselves." If this is the best Gloucester has to offer, it just throws the quality of Oxford's music scene further into relief.

All that said, he's markedly more entertaining than locals Traps, who boast a vocalist with a powerful set of pipes backed by musicians of undeniable proficiency but who serve up the sort of turgid, imagination-free meat-'n'-potatoes rock that Skunk Anansie would have left on the cutting room floor back in the 90s. Alexis Roe, you suspect, could be capable of something special, but this is completely the wrong vehicle for her talents. Rather than getting pulses racing, they have us all flatlining within ten minutes.

Salvation is urgently required, then, and thankfully Dallas Don't are on hand to provide it - though only after overcoming a slow and slightly ramshackle start and a few irritating technical hitches. Just to add to the narrative of triumph in adversity, bassist Brian Guerin's movement is severely restricted due to a sprained ankle - sustained, frontman Niall Slater jokes, in a challenge with Thierry Henry while he was on international duty for the Republic of Ireland.

We're treated to a new song that perhaps hints at a more melodic direction, while 'The Runner' remains a firm favourite (albeit somewhat tidier on record), but it's the Mclusky-esque 'The Ballad Of Phoebe Henderson', which they leave ringing in our ears at the end of the night, that's the evening's predictable highlight. I don't know who Phoebe Henderson is, but we should all be very grateful to her for the song she inspired.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"Self-evidently it was a catastrophe – as we speak there are 888,246 poppies outside the Tower of London, with each one representing a dead British citizen – and afterwards the worst aspects of western civilisation got the upper hand. The rats crawled out from under the debris. Famously Michael Gove has claimed that it was a war that had to be fought and that Blackadder denigrates it, which is an absolute nonsense. Blackadder is deeply respectful of the human spirit, to the heroism and the brotherly love of the British solider. But it is also legitimately satirising a complete collapse of original thinking. The First World War was 20th-century technology meeting 19th-century thinking."

Not exactly topical any more, and ordinarily I have very little time for Ben Elton these days, but this comment on the First World War and Michael Gove's criticism of Blackadder Goes Forth's depiction of it is spot on.

Art attack

Modern art is often a target for criticism and ridicule, though not always by one of its own - in this case Grayson Perry, in the cartoons in his book Playing To The Gallery. There's also a pointed comment on the process of gentrification.

An inventory that's out of this world

Golf balls, photographs, "falcon feather", "wet wipes (facial)", "urine receptacle system": just some of the things astronauts have left behind on the moon.

(Thanks to Mike for the link.)

Do you want fries with that?

Mac Sabbath, a McDonalds-themed Black Sabbath covers band? Well, they've surely got to be better than the Fast Food Rockers.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hardy: no ha ha

In need of cheering up? Whatever you do, don't read a Thomas Hardy novel. It's no surprise that, in this Guardian infographic, Jude The Obscure comes out as the bleakest of the lot. Every time you think things might just be levelling off, events take yet another tragic turn.

(Thanks to Ali for the link.)

The science of celebrity

How to explain the bizarre and baffling phenomena associated with Celebrity Big Brother? With reference to quantum physics, of course.

(Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Home is where the art is

Here's architecture on a small scale: crafting homes that resemble significant city skylines for the benefit of hermit crabs.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Perfect Polly

The Guardian's Ben Hewitt has taken the fact that PJ Harvey starts recording her new album today - in public at Somerset House - as a cue to picking her top ten tracks. 'Big Exit' is a tremendous opener to the bold, confident Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, but 'On Battleship Hill' is, for me, a slightly leftfield choice from the career-best Let England Shake - I'd probably plump for 'The Glorious Land' or 'The Words That Maketh Murder'.

Hewitt's excellent justifications have convinced me to revisit both Dry and Rid Of Me, to invest in To Bring You My Love (shamefully I don't own it, though I was blown away by footage of her performing 'Down By The Water' on Later...) and to give White Chalk (an album about which I've always been lukewarm) another try.

(Thanks to Ali for the link.)