Saturday, February 16, 2019

Class warfare

IDLES may have won both critical acclaim and popular success with Brutalism and Joy As An Act Of Resistance, but not everyone's a fan. During his Guardian webchat this week, Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson explained his dislike of the Bristolians. Here are his comments in full:

"I quite liked Brutalism when it came out. It wasn't my kind of music but I liked some of it - it was catchy. And they were nice lads, polite online and stuff. But I thought they were kind of a street band, there were lines like 'Tarquin' that would insinuate that they were knocking the middle classes, but it turns out they're not working class. That offended me, because I then held the belief that they were appropriating, to a certain degree, a working-class voice. Obviously that excelled when the second album came out, and I felt a bit cheated. I also became jaded by this idea that we were a band that was campaigning for social justice, when we're not, we're just talking about what's around us. Music can't solve political problems. And I think their take on it is cliched, patronising, insulting and mediocre. And that's why I have a problem with them. I take music seriously, and I've come from a place where this music has been created. Without that, we wouldn't be here. I went through a lot of pain - I understand IDLES' singer has gone through a lot of pain. But I don't believe their slant on this. I don't like them at all."

I have a lot of time for Williamson, but I think he's well wide of the mark on this one. The fact that he slips into talking about Sleaford Mods being labelled a campaigning band just underscores my feeling that his complaints about IDLES are actually born out of anxieties and frustrations relating to his own act.

At the heart of Williamson's comments is the accusation of class appropriation. To my knowledge, IDLES have never claimed to be the voice of the working class. That label may have been thrust upon them by others, but that's very different. Indeed, this is something that Sleaford Mods have experienced themselves (I'm guilty as charged, I'm afraid to say, as are many of the fans interviewed in Paul Sng's documentary Invisible Britain), and something that Williamson has regularly bemoaned, such as in a 2017 interview with the Guardian's Bernadette McNulty: "Just because I was working nine to five, predominantly unskilled jobs, doesn't mean I was working class. I grew up in a working-class area and it was shit. I just wanted to get out."

Williamson has previously blasted Slaves as "a pile of shit" for (among other things) "trying to play this working-class game", and at another point during the Guardian webchat he declared: "My issue ... is people pretending to be from a different class. Appropriation in other words." It's clearly a subject that vexes and preoccupies him - most probably, I'd suggest, because he's sensitive to accusations of the exact same thing. While I wouldn't go so far as to say as his criticism of IDLES is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, it is rather problematic and revealing coming from someone who now lives in the well-heeled Nottingham suburb of West Bridgford but still talks about making music from the street.

In fairness, Sleaford Mods' success has put him in a difficult position. Starting out, they were lashing out and defining themselves in opposition to everything - how do they react now that they've been widely embraced, including by the middle-class music establishment? If, as he says, they're "just talking about what's around us", they have to mutate into something different simply because what's around them has changed.

It's a tricky predicament, to be sure, and one that Williamson has addressed on new album Eton Alive and spoken openly about - for instance, in an interview with my old Nottingham blog buddy Tim Sorrell for LeftLion and on (I gather) a forthcoming podcast chat with the Quietus' John Doran. Personally, I sympathise and am glad to see he's aware of the conflict - unlike (say) Noel fucking Gallagher. But the attack on IDLES is unjustified.

For what it's worth, I also disagree with his complaint that IDLES are patronising - though Joe Talbot's lyrics can be blunt. Other acts may have been banging on about the same issues (immigration, austerity, toxic masculinity) for some time without attracting the same level of attention, but the points clearly still need to be made, and loudly.

Are IDLES social justice warriors, as Williamson claims? Yes - but in the current climate (indeed, in any climate) that's not a bad thing. "Music can't solve political problems"? True, generally - but that's not to say it can't be a positive force for change. Do IDLES claim to have all of the answers? No, but that doesn't matter - they're asking the right questions. As, in their own less direct way, are Sleaford Mods.

Friday, February 15, 2019

After the fallout

The exclusion zone around Chernobyl is a dangerous, bleak, post-apocalyptic wasteland of scarred landscapes and abandoned buildings, visited only by scientists and intrepid urban explorer types armed with cameras - right? Not so, as the BBC's Victoria Gill reports.

Contrary to popular belief, the level of radiation is generally low, much of the vegetation has recovered from the effects of the 1986 blast and perhaps most surprisingly wildlife is actually thriving in a natural environment unimpacted by human activity.

However, that state of affairs is under threat because the boundaries of the exclusion zone are set to be redrawn, with scientists acknowledging that much of the area is now safe to return to. Indeed, the biggest impediment to making the change is not radiation itself but what Professor Jim Smith refers to as "radiation blight" - people's deeply ingrained fear of radiation, which has its own direct and indirect effects on health. The physical fallout may be receding into the past, but the psychological fallout remains.

Know Your Enemy

"Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall."

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer unequivocally condemn Trump's plan to make use of the National Emergencies Act to circumvent Congress - behaviour that is spectacularly childish even by his low standards.

They might have added, as the BBC report does, that migration experts have "strongly refuted" any suggestion that there is a crisis that might even potentially warrant such a wall. Of course, Donny's not exactly known for letting the small matter of facts affect his judgement, though.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The curtain hits the (pod)cast

After 36 regular episodes, plus a handful of interview specials, the Sounding Bored podcast is no more. Of the three founding members, only host Rob remains resident in Oxford, with myself in Cardiff and Niall oop North, and he's decided to knock his brainchild on the head - better to burn out than fade away, and all that. I thoroughly enjoyed being involved in the first 12 episodes through 2016, and was then delighted to be able to put in a couple of guest appearances on my new home turf, in June 2017 and January 2018.

Over the course of its three-year existence, the podcast has covered everything from music awards (the Mercury Prize, the Grammys), music icons (Elvis, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Nirvana) and the musical output and unique flavour of a few British cities (Glasgow, Oxford, Manchester, Cardiff, Leeds) to whole genres (hip-hop and gangsta rap, Britpop) and broader topics like music journalism, social media, streaming and formats, politics and music, the role and importance of producers. Our discussions were (I think/hope) informed, stimulating and entertaining; at very least, we all had a great time chewing the fat, sharing thoughts and advancing and contesting opinions.

Even though the show is over, every episode will continue to be available on Podbean and the Sounding Bored Twitter will remain active. All that's left, then, is for me to thank Rob for inviting me to be part of the team in the first place, and to all of the panellists and interviewees who made it such a rewarding experience and an engaging listen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Viewing rights

Tate Modern's victory in the legal battle with residents of Neo Bankside, which kicked off nearly two years ago, is great news - a real poke in the eye for retrospective nimbyism and those who appeal to the so-called "law of nuisance" everywhere. The verdict means that visitors can continue to enjoy the right to look into the glass-walled flats from the museum's viewing platform, which was planned and indeed supported by the Neo Bankside developers at the time the apartments were sold.

Up and down the country, numerous live music venues have faced and continue to face similar threats made by people who've just moved into the neighbourhood. However, gig venues don't have the stature, financial clout or legal muscle of Tate Modern - which is why the UK-wide adoption of the agent of change principle remains vital.

Who cares?

It's all fine and well the government launching a new recruitment drive for the care industry in which young people are "targeted". But perhaps they should have started by pondering exactly why there are so many vacancies in the sector - in excess of 100,000. Might it be because, like other similar professions, care work is grotesquely undervalued in terms of both pay and status (and hence is disproportionately undertaken by young people already)?

Anyway, nice to see the Tories have rolled out the Every Day Is Different campaign just in time for Brexit, which is pretty much guaranteed to make the situation worse - unless they suddenly acknowledge the vital work that supposedly "unskilled" non-British citizens do in propping up the country.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Survival instinct

This year sees the oldest record shop in the world, Spillers in Cardiff, celebrate its 125th birthday. Its longevity is astonishing, given the challenges of the sector generally and the specific threats to its survival in the last decade, with the development of the St David's 2 shopping centre forcing a move from the Hayes into Morgan Arcade. Arguably even more remarkable is that Spillers' saviour was a 26 year old who has since overseen the shop's resurgence, forecasting the vinyl boom and understanding that it's the personal touch and a sense of community that makes all the difference.

To mark the anniversary of the store first opening its doors in Queen's Arcade in 1894, David Owens has spoken to owner/manager Ashli Todd about its past and present and her integral role in ensuring that it has reached such a significant milestone. His article captures the high esteem in which the shop and its staff are held, and the affection that young and old alike feel for a place that is a genuine institution. Personally speaking, it's a chastening reminder that I should visit far more than I do, and put my money where my mouth is more often.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Community service


Central to the "Preston Model" - a political and economic strategy gaining traction as a means of resuscitating ailing towns - is the concept of "community wealth building", according to which as much local money as possible should be pumped back into local businesses. Canton is hardly ailing - far from it - but it does seem that Bwydiful, the new gourmet burger joint that's taken up residence on Cowbridge Road East, is very much operating on the same principles. Their beer is brewed just across the train tracks by Crafty Devil, while their buns are baked at Pettigrew next door.

On a bitterly cold evening, we're grateful to find our table stationed ideally next to both a large radiator and the bar. It might be midweek in the depths of January, but a number of diners are already ensconced in the restaurant's bright, colourful interior. The street-food supremos took their time readying the premises, with the opening delayed until December - but is it worth the wait? In a word, yes.

A criss-cross tower of crispy halloumi fries get us off to a flying start, the deep green chimichurri dip narrowly edging the chilli jam as our preferred accompaniment. Hash brown bites prove even more moreish, especially by virtue of being paired with a fruity, sweet dunking sauce.

The Hawaiian burger boasts a wheel of lightly singed pineapple atop a slice of bacon so thick it's practically a gammon steak. However, that's trumped by the Caws Caws, whose patty is crowned with a generous, oozing dollop of Welsh rarebit - its mustardy kick nicely offset by Bwydiful's own rich, gloopy barbecue sauce. To even dare to call it a cheeseburger would be a gross insult - it's far, far superior to that.

Of the aforementioned local produce, the ciabatta rolls are beautifully soft yet pleasingly robust, while allowing co-owner Jon to talk me into a pint of Orange Juice Blues - fresh, citrusy but still unmistakeably ale-y - is certainly not something I regret. Indeed, aside from a bit of pinkness to the patties and slaw that wasn't quite so aggressively peppery, there's little else that we would ask for.

Attempting to establish a permanent home can be a precarious business for pop-ups - Got Beef's sadly short-lived presence at the other end of Cowbridge Road being a case in point. But for Bwydiful, Victoria Park feels like right time, right place; together with Pettigrew, the Dough Thrower, La Creperie de Claudie, Bloc and a soon-to-open Italian, it's at the heart of an emerging foodie hub to rival anything found in Pontcanna.

(An edited version of this review appears in the February issue of Buzz.)

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Jurassic Park!

Does it matter that it's a mystery why a Dinosaur Jr song from 1994 has suddenly become a huge hit in Japan? Does it matter that the song in question - 'Over Your Shoulder' - isn't one of the best on Without A Sound, let alone one of the best from their whole back catalogue? No. Let's just savour the moment - and hope that J Mascis and the band are reaping some kind of financial reward.

Friday, February 08, 2019

The banality of evil

Slavery used to be seen as a thing of the increasingly distant past. No longer - today, the scourge of forced imprisonment and labour is preoccupying the police to an ever greater extent. As is underlined by photographer Amy Romer's book The Dark Figure - named after the 13,000 people estimated to be kept in some form of slavery in the UK, a frankly staggering number - it's going on on the most ordinary streets and in the most ordinary neighbourhoods up and down the country. Her images of urban landscapes are uniformly mundane but become chilling when set alongside text describing what has happened behind those closed doors.

Romer is clear as to her objectives, in many ways echoing Paul Sng's vision for Invisible Britain: "I don't want this to be a niche documentary photo book. I want this project to teach. I want it to raise awareness." It demands that we are more vigilant as to what goes on under our noses and in our communities.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Bury good - for a change

Yesterday I noted that the Truck line-up is actually worth getting moderately excited about this year. It's significantly more alarming to realise that another stalwart of the Oxfordshire festival calendar holds personal appeal: Cornbury - appropriately dubbed Poshstock - boasts both The Specials and The Beach Boys as headliners.

Even entertaining the thought of going makes me queasy, fearful of both advancing years and a slide towards the right-hand side of the political spectrum. Still, it would be good to witness Terry Hall and friends play 'Ghost Town' to the architects and enablers of Tory austerity.

That said, the third headliners are Keane - so perhaps best give it a miss...

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Horse-powered

Foals, IDLES, The Futureheads, Shame, Fontaines DC, Pip Blom, Heavy Lungs... For the first time in a few years, and despite the presence of Slaves, You Me At Six and Don Broco on the bill, Truck actually looks like a festival I might like to go to (if I was still living in Oxfordshire, that is).

The appearance of Oxford-based Foals has inevitably been the headline news, but there does seem to have been a shift in policy from the organisers. Previous line-ups have featured lots of bright and not-so-bright young things but with veteran headliners to lure older punters (Manic Street Preachers, Basement Jaxx, The Charlatans); this year, Foals and The Futureheads are just about the most long-standing acts on the bill. Perhaps this focus on youth will mean that the site will be overrun by even more braying overprivileged teenagers than normal. On second thoughts, then, maybe it's best I'm not there...

Meanwhile, happy eighth birthday to the record store affiliated with the festival. The fact that The August List are among those to have been invited to play at Truck's party this coming Saturday is a measure of their good taste. HMV may have closed and Fopp on Gloucester Green is about to follow, but it's reassuring to know that the independent alternative down on Cowley Road, in the heart of the city's music scene, continues to not only survive but thrive.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Here comes the Sunrise

Good news at last for HMV, which has been saved from collapse by Canadian firm Sunrise Records. It's a risky purchase given the "tsunami" of retail challenges former owners Hilco blamed for the chain's predicament and comes at the cost of a few store closures (including some of those in prime retail locations such as Oxford Street in London and Manchester's Trafford Centre). However, at least it hasn't fallen into the unscrupulous hands of Sports Direct supremo Mike Ashley, and the move will protect distribution networks that are invaluable to labels and bands and also preserve the possibility of buying hard-copy music on the nation's high streets.

Encouragingly, Sunrise's chief exec Doug Putnam seems to have an understanding of what people actually want in a record shop (something that Hilco apparently didn't): "People like to come into a store, have an experience, talk with someone who understands music, loves music, loves video and entertainment. If you think online is the only future, I don't think that is the case. There is so much you get from coming into a store that you can't get online."

What's more, he also seems to appreciate the need for local flavour and sensitivity rather than identikit one-size-fits-all policies dictated centrally and from on high. A chain store that allows relative autonomy rather than insisting on homogeneity? HMV could yet win back my custom.

Quote of the day

"Having written an episode that highlights how corrupt and meaningless awards are, we'd like to backtrack and say just how important this particular award is to us, and we're all very moved by it."

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton react to Inside No. 9 being named Comedy of the Year at the annual comedy.co.uk awards. Let's face it, it was a shoo-in.

The good news, of course, is that they're not resting on their laurels - far from it. Indeed, as Shearsmith revealed on Twitter, the news was announced at the end of a "long day filming" the fifth series. It can't come soon enough.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Kick it out

In the 1970s and 1980s, football fandom sadly became inextricably associated with hooliganism, racism and far-right politics. The problems may have subsided in the 1990s with the advent of the Premier League and the more sanitised version of the beautiful game that it heralded, but today it seems evident that they were never completely eradicated.

As Rob Langham explores in a recent post for The Two Unfortunates, the rise in right-wing populism and anti-immigrant sentiment in wider society has served to reawaken old attitudes on the terraces and in pubs pre- and post-match, embodied in the form of the Democratic Football Lads Alliance.

The DFLA might be floundering somewhat, a victim of its own tribal divisions, but nevertheless work to resist a return to "the bad old days" is urgently needed.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Flaming good

Today we finally paid our long-overdue and eagerly anticipated first visit to Hang Fire - named the best restaurant in the UK last year by the Observer, dontchaknow? - and it's safe to say that it didn't disappoint.

Admittedly we weren't in a position to verify the authenticity (whatever that might mean) of our shared starter - shrimp 'n' grits with a generous sprinkle of spring onions and dousing of bacon-infused sauce - but we were certainly very glad to have sampled something that you probably can't find anywhere else in South Wales.

My mains - cooked-for-aeons pulled pork in barbecue sauce and Texas sausage, the latter of which had a belated kick - couldn't be faulted (even if it would have been nice to have had one of the demi-brioche buns from Pettigrew to stuff with the pork). However, pick of the bunch were Jen's ribs, encrusted in a delicious rub and falling off the bone rather than teeth-entanglingly stringy.

Throw in a good-value kids' cheeseburger meal, tasty slaw and skin-on fries, and a superb palate-cleansing slice of lemon tart to finish, the top carefully burnt to a caramelised crisp, and you had a fantastic meal perfect for a special occasion.

We'll be back...

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Clwb Ifor Bach Mawr

Less than two years ago, the fate of Cardiff's prime music hub was under very serious threat, and the rallying cry was "Save Womanby Street". The campaign was successful, and now the cry seems to have changed to "Take over Womanby Street" with the news that Clwb Ifor Bach is set to expand into the currently derelict building next door.

The fact that the venue appears to be in such good health comes as some consolation given the closures of Buffalo and (most recently) Gwdihw, with the latter shutting its doors on Wednesday.  Whether it will be reborn in a new location remains to be seen, but the fight to preserve the historic buildings on Guildford Crescent from demolition goes on.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Not just for laughs

While stand-up comedians have a general tendency to be on the left of the political spectrum (for reasons explored by Stewart Lee in this 2013 article for the New Statesman), few are card-carrying socialists like Jeremy Hardy, as committed to social change and sticking up for good causes as to provoking laughter. All of which makes his death at the age of just 57 all the more saddening.

Sure he could be dogmatic at times, and sure he did sometimes come across like a left-wing echo of namesake Clarkson, grumbling about the absurdities and injustices of modern life. But his comedy came from a place of sound principle and however serious the underlying point he was making, he was always able to make me laugh.

Read between the lines

Well done to the Daily Mail for bullying NewsGuard into backing down and giving Mail Online a symbolic green shield of approval. However, NewsGuard's comment that the site "generally maintains basic standards of accuracy and accountability" is hardly a ringing endorsement. Among the failings that the anonymous "Daily Mail executive" couldn't get NewsGuard to ignore are the failure "to gather and present information responsibly" and the failure "to handle the difference between news and opinion".

Perhaps, rather than piling on the pressure until they got their way, those behind the site might actually have taken the time and trouble to consider the grounds for the original negative rating and then sought to address them constructively.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Fake News

How delightful to have received a copy of Wetherspoon News through the door yesterday, absolutely free (if also entirely uninvited). This esteemed publication - which is in no way a shitty propaganda rag for the views of founder Tim Martin - boasts of being "read by 2 million customers". Nah, they just look at the pictures and use it to mop up lager and sick on the tables.

The cover story is headlined "CIRCLE OF DECEIT: How the metropolitan elite tried to con the British public about the need for a 'deal' with the EU - and about food prices post Brexit". On the contents page, however, they promise an article that "tries to present both sides of the argument in respect of the EU". They clearly weren't trying very hard.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Green party

The Green Man line-up never disappoints, and this year is no exception. Among the first few names to be announced are Car Seat Headrest, Stereolab, Broken Social Scene and Gwenno. Further down the bill, the appearance of Squid, Sons Of Kemet, Audiobooks and Black Country New Road have all piqued my interest. Plus, of course, there's the entertaining prospect of IDLES and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs scaring the shit out of nice middle-class parents.

Meanwhile, over in Oxford, the cancellation of Common People comes as little surprise, given the relative lack of local enthusiasm for the festival last year and the problems that beset Bestival. Common People has followed Bestival into administration, its collapse likely to leave lots of people out of pocket - including Ronan Munro of Nightshift, who curated one of the festival's stages. The city council are promising to fill the void by "bringing another annual festival that celebrates Oxford's culture and diverse communities to South Park as soon as possible" - but it seems unlikely that there's still time to organise something for this summer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Quote of the day

"I think we showed that you can use the style of the broadcast and make that part of the joke, that it didn't just have to be sketches and to explore the medium and the format and to be more experimental. Comedy at the time seemed to be either sitcom or sketch show - it was showing people that you can write a different way. It was recognising that we were also the first generation of comics that were TV literate, so it wasn't just about writing the lines but also looking at how it was shot and using cut points."

Armando Iannucci on the pioneering spirit and subsequent legacy of The Day Today.

Iannucci was speaking to Daniel Dylan Wray for an oral history of the programme to mark its first appearance on our screens 25 years ago. Also interviewed were Peter Baynham, David Schneider and Patrick Marber - no Steve Coogan, Rebecca Front or Doon Mackichan, sadly, though the absence of contributions from the "king" himself (Marber's term), Chris Morris, doesn't come as a surprise.

The creators' insights into the vision behind and production processes of the show are fascinating. Oh to have been in that basement improv room - Schneider admits, "I felt privileged just to be in this tiny audience watching these incredibly brilliant comic minds at work".

Intriguingly, Marber comments that in the current climate "we need The Day Today back", and Baynham adds in what reads like a wistful tone "It would be fun to do it again". It couldn't make a comeback, could it?

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Acid test

On the evidence of Thursday evening's gig at the Globe, Cambridge's Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats are unsure quite which iconic metal/rock band to be - Black Sabbath, The Stooges, Iron Maiden - though they're pretty proficient at all of them. As for support act Blood Ceremony, I'm still utterly bemused four days later...

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Aesthetics v ethics

"How do we live with music made by problematic artists?" asks Jayson Greene in a (rather pretentious) recent piece for Pitchfork. That same question was the subject of much discussion and debate on Episode 36 of Sounding Bored, specifically in relation to Hookworms and the end-of-year album poll.

Some of the team - including at least one who had previously adored Microshift - felt unable to vote for it in light of the allegations of "sexual, physical and emotional abuse" directed against frontman MJ. For them, the album and the band are (to use Greene's term) "cancelled". Others, myself included, were shocked by the allegations but nevertheless also uncomfortable with the idea of entirely airbrushing from history both an album that had been almost universally lauded and its creators.

MJ isn't the first artist to be accused of misdemeanours and won't be the last; indeed, many others have had their crimes proven in a court of law and yet seem to have avoided being blacklisted. MJ's case provoked a particularly strong reaction because of his prior "woke" pronouncements on feminism, sexism in music and toxic masculinity.

As Greene states, "Deciding where to draw or redraw our lines is always messy, retconned, and incomplete". Very often, the Sounding Bored crew agreed, that decision is influenced by whether or not we like the music of the artist in question - which means adopting a moral relativism that involves calling out, criticising and dismissing some for their (alleged) crimes and defending or turning a blind eye to those of others. No doubt some people would claim to be holier than thou, but I suspect that the vast majority of us lapse into this sort of hypocrisy at least occasionally.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Tales of the unexpected

Of all the things I expected 2019 to bring, an electronic Stephen Malkmus solo album wasn't one of them. But sure enough, Groove Denied - whose existence has apparently been the subject of rumour for some time and which was influenced by his time spent living in Berlin a few years ago - is set for release via Matador in March.

First taster 'Viktor Borgia' has a nice early 80s primitive synth-pop froideur to it musically, but I remain to be convinced that his trademark vocal style works over the top. Still, credit to him for having the guts to step outside the indie rock ghetto/comfort zone and try his hand at something completely different at the age of 52. I wonder whether it might prompt fellow alt-rock elder statesman Thurston Moore into putting out his own foray into synthetic sound?

Malkmus isn't the only musician to spring a surprise in the last few days. Just as we were giving up hope of it ever happening, Mackem new-wave punksters The Futureheads are back together. An poorly received a capella album (2012's Rant) had seemed like a sad way to bow out, so the announcement that there's a new album on the way is very welcome. The fact that their tour will call in in Cardiff (28th May at the Globe) made me particularly happy too.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Restricted access

It looks very much as though the days of free access to the frequently brilliant and occasionally infuriating music site Pitchfork are numbered. Owners Conde Nast have announced that all of their titles will be behind paywalls by the end of this year. The reasoning, presumably, is that advertising revenue alone is proving to be insufficient to support the sites.

My initial reaction to the news, I admit, was one of irritation. I regularly refer to articles on Pitchfork and don't want to lose easy access to all of that content. However, the fact is that if you feel as though writers should be properly compensated for their work (as I generally do), then that money has to come from somewhere, and the most obvious source is the consumer. Pitchfork's content is of sufficiently high quality that people will willingly cough up for it, and it would be somewhat hypocritical on my part to moan about being expected to write for free on the one hand and about being expected to pay for access to articles on the other.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Ten of the best

Episode 36 of Sounding Bored, recorded in December and given over to the traditional run-down of the team's favourite albums of the year, may have appeared online fashionably late and been blighted by an unfortunate technical issue, but it's still well worth your time.

The bumper festive panel - consisting this time of David, Amy, Josh and host Rob - begin by talking about whether the very concept of an album has any meaning anymore in an era of streaming, soundtracks, mixtapes and curated records, before going on to talk through some of the most acclaimed collections of 2018.

I won't give anything away about which artists feature and where they place - you'll just have to listen to find out - but the discussion is thoughtful, lively and entertaining, referencing everything from #metoo, morality and the difficulty of divorcing albums from their makers to Rob's descent into middle age, "honking goose vocals", ill-advised alligator purchases and the horrible sensation of accidentally chewing the foil when biting into a KitKat...

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Under the influence?

Not having Netflix, I haven't seen the Fyre documentary - but it beggars belief that people can still be championing the value of social media "influencers" (urgh) in the wake of that complete shitshow. That said, the two quoted in this BBC article - Rohan Midha and Werner Geyser - are hardly neutral commentators; on the contrary, they've got a vested interest, fattening themselves on the spoils.

Thankfully, the article's author Zoe Kleinman gives the last word to one of the Fyre employees interviewed for the film, who succinctly demolishes the whole concept: "A couple of powerful models posting an orange tile is what essentially built this entire festival. ... And then one kid with probably 400 followers posted a picture of cheese on toast and that trended and essentially ripped down the festival."

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Biting the hand that feeds

I'm a big fan of Deerhunter and am very much looking forward to new LP Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? - but it has to be said that Bradford Cox comes across as grumpy verging on downright obnoxious in this Noisey feature.

Asked to rank his band's previous albums (a task he immediately grumbles about), Cox is dismissive at best and scathing at worst about those who've bought them. He's most bullish/belligerent about the new record's immediate predecessor, 2015's Fading Frontier, which he places third: "It's our least appreciated album. People need to get the fuck over it. People who call themselves our fans and hate this album... I can name all the weaknesses of all of our albums, but there is no weakness in Fading Frontier. There's not a single vocal I'd retrack, there's not a single effect I'd do differently. There's not a single editing point that's a bit off. Anybody who doesn't like this album, I don't think that they have the capacity to move beyond their fucking childhood and their little closed-in concept of what I'm supposed to be making. It's a perfect record. It should have been widely accepted. It should have won us new fans."

As a musician, Cox certainly won't be alone in hating the feeling of being constricted by the weight of fans' expectations and preconceptions and being disgusted by the nostalgic love for older albums that colours their appreciation of newer ones. However, it's astonishing to see that contempt expressed quite so openly.

More specifically, Cox also evidently remains bitter about the reception that Fading Frontier received. For what it's worth, I really like it up to the halfway mark - but single 'Snakeskin' ("an undefinable weird moment in our career") is awful, derailing the rest of the album, and to insist that it's "a perfect record" is the laughable hyperbole of a wounded artist.

2008's Microcastle, widely regarded as their masterpiece, is only placed second, with the top spot going to Monomania (2013): "the greatest album I've ever made and anybody that doesn't like it has no idea what I'm about or what I'm doing", he comments, like a snotty toddler having a tantrum. Again, it's a good record, one I came to love - but it's also no Microcastle or Halcyon Digest.

It's clear that Cox's love for Monomania is because it pointedly disrespects any notion of indie-rock (a term he hates) propriety. Certainly, it's all over the place - an often glorious, occasionally infuriating mess of ideas and pastiched styles. I had previously thought of the album as playful and perhaps even joyous in that respect, yet he describes the experience of creating it as "the most cathartic and dedicated and lost in a work of art I've ever been". Indeed, it was apparently recorded during a dark period for him personally, when he went through "a complete nervous breakdown".

Also noteworthy in the piece are Cox's comments about being "one of the first queer bands in our genre", his feeling that intra-group relationships have weakened over time (perhaps inevitably), and his admission that his favourite Deerhunter song is Halcyon Digest's 'Desire Lines' - a track that owes everything to producer Ben Allen, with whom he never saw eye to eye.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Shop local

How to revive ailing towns that are suffering the effects of austerity disproportionately? As Anoosh Chakelian reports for the New Statesman, perhaps the answer is the so-called "Preston Model", referring to the strategies that have successfully reinvigorated the Lancashire town.

At the heart of the model is the concept of "community wealth building", according to which the objective is to ensure that as much local money as possible is spent locally. This has made Preston less reliant on unpredictable external investment from national and multinational companies that have no real interest in the town itself, while at the same time giving local businesses a boost - at no extra cost to the public purse.

Now other places are looking to implement their own version of the strategy, such as Hartlepool, where it's being hailed as a form of "pragmatic socialism". It'll be interesting to see if the model takes off here - it certainly seems to make obvious economic sense, and is also finding favour in the US, where the resuscitation of Rust Belt towns is also very much focused on the local.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Overdue returns

The Nazis are infamous for burning books in the 1930s, but what is less well known is that they also looted thousands of volumes during the Second World War. Those volumes are now sitting on shelves around Europe - but, as Milton Esterow has reported for the New York Times, public and university libraries seem to be increasingly concerned to ensure that, if possible, they are returned to their rightful owners.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Resistance isn't futile

Battling against a horrible combination of hangover and illness, I managed to make it along to the Save Guildford Crescent protest march today - and I'm proud to have been a part of an astonishing turnout.

Personally speaking, it was the fate of bar/venue Gwdihw that drew me to get involved. As campaign organiser Minty made clear in his impassioned address to the crowd, Cardiff's music scene is thriving, and, with Buffalo already gone, the city can hardly afford to lose another grassroots space. Tali Kallstrom spoke about how it was the first place to give Estrons a stage, and it's also where Boy Azooga signed their record deal. (The latter's Davey Newington has performed as part of this evening's post-march gig, with fellow marchers Gruff Rhys and Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard also on the bill.)

The campaign isn't just about Gwdihw, though. The premises of its next-door neighbours, restaurants Thai House and Madeira, are also in line for demolition. Both are family-run businesses that have been on the site for more than 20 years. Tamsin Ramasut, owner of Thai House (now the oldest Thai restaurant in the UK), talked of the difficulties of running an independent business and the painful process of having to hand out redundancy notices to staff who've become more like members of the family.

And then there's the architectural and historical value of preserving the buildings themselves, which have stood since the 1860s and (as Minty pointed out) aged much better than the modern eyesores that surround them: the Ibis hotel, the Motorpoint Arena, the offices of landlords/owners the Rapport family.

Yesterday, with rather suspicious timing, it was announced that the Rapports had agreed to give the terrace a three-month stay of execution while Cardiff Council's "masterplan" for the area is given due consideration. But nowhere in the statement were the affected businesses mentioned, suggesting that they will still be forced out - and, of course, already vacated buildings are easier to bulldoze. Indeed, even if the leases were to be extended for that three-month period (as council leader Huw Thomas hopes might happen), Gwdihw's James Chant admitted that it would probably be too little too late - and too much work and effort to stay put. As a result, they're already fearing the worst and working on Plan B.

Minty wrapped up the speeches by urging us to further action over the coming days, weeks and months (including writing to the Rapports to express our views), but the signs are that this specific campaign may well end in defeat - at least as far as the businesses are concerned. However, as became apparent, the march was also about something bigger. Whether the battle to save Guildford Crescent is won or lost, there is a strong will and determination to fight a wider war - the war to protect the colour and character that independent businesses and gig venues bring to the city centre more generally, and to stand up to the threat of cultural and architectural vandalism posed by insensitive property developers and money men.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Ways of seeing

For specialist authors, generalist Geoff Dyer must be absolutely infuriating. It must seem that all he has to do is to decide to pitch up on your turf, write about it and instantly the resulting book is hailed as one of the best on the subject. But Beautiful has been widely praised for containing some superlative writing about jazz; Out Of Sheer Rage is a wonderfully eccentric take on the genre of literary biography, a study of D H Lawrence that continually digresses away from its subject; and then there's The Ongoing Moment, in which he surveys the rich history of twentieth-century American photography armed with little technical expertise ("I make no claim to being an expert in this or any other field") but a sensitive appreciation of aesthetics, a keen eye for detail and a memorable turn of phrase.

In The Ongoing Moment, Dyer adopts a characteristically idiosyncratic approach to his topic. Rather than considering each of photography's most prominent proponents in turn, or moving chronologically through the century, he instead focuses on the images themselves, grouping them by their subject matter: pictures of benches, pictures of petrol stations, pictures of men wearing hats. As perverse as this may initially seem, it functions to set different images and different photographers in dialogue with each other - for him, "the only way to [discern identifiable styles] was to see how different people photographed the same thing" - and enables him to trace echoes and resonances that reverberate across the years. As he comments, one of his intentions with the book is to "find out what certain things look like when they've been photographed and how having been photographed changes them. Often it turns out that when things have been photographed they look like other photographs, either ones that have already been taken or ones that are waiting to be taken."

Dyer largely avoids discussion of landscape photography and pictures of the natural world because his interest in the art form is primarily rooted in what it can show and tell us about human experience and the ways in which we shape our environment, and because, like Walker Evans, he is fascinated by "the slow manifestation of time, not its absence". However, this doesn't mean that all of the images that he selects depict people; on the contrary, some of the most powerful are "empty" yet nevertheless suggestive of activity. As he argues when discussing Evans' 1936 shot of a barber shop in Atlanta, some rooms "wait for us to keep them company, to bring them back to life".

The looseness of the book's structure and Dyer's tendency to drift casually wherever his thoughts take him is likely to be disorienting and infuriating for some readers. But if you indulge him and allow yourself to be carried along, The Ongoing Moment is quite a ride, packed with astute insights and perceptive readings. Time and again, he displays the unerring knack of being able to spot something in a picture that you'd missed but that suddenly seems essential to understanding it.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Marching to the beat of their own drum

SPARE SNARE / JEMMA ROPER, 13TH JANUARY 2019, CARDIFF MOON

Jemma Roper's most recent release was entitled The Thumping Heart Of Night, but there's precious little to get punters' pulses racing this evening. It doesn't help that her performance has all the passion and enthusiasm of someone wearily fulfilling a contractual obligation. Every now and again, however, there's the spark of something interesting, a hint that she and her band might at some point in the future prove capable of picking up where Howling Bells left off in giving indie rock a subtly gothic makeover.

Spare Snare were once named the 46th best Scottish band by The List - the very definition of being damned with faint praise. It's an accolade that the lo-fi outfit from Dundee no doubt cherished, in that it recognised their qualities but didn't threaten to compromise their status as a cult concern.

After more than 25 years of existence - most of those well beneath the radar of pretty much everyone except John Peel - this is the band's first ever appearance in Wales. They arrive fresh from a festival at which vocalist Jan Burnett estimates only five per cent of the crowd had ever heard of them and in support of last year's LP Sounds, a selection of songs spanning their whole lifespan that were committed to tape anew by none other than Steve Albini.

The stomp of 'Action Hero' provides as punchy an opening to the set as it does to the album (The Delgados do The Wedding Present), and 'I Am God', 'Bugs' and 'Smile, It's Sugar' all follow in a similar vein. Debut single 'Super Slinky' is dedicated to one fan with whom Burnett has been corresponding for the last couple of decades but whom he's only just met tonight. (That's the thing with cult concerns: to most they mean nothing, but to some they mean absolutely everything.)

However, it's the band's defiant anthem 'We Are The Snare' that really resonates. Burnett's lyrical claims that "We don't do interaction" and "We don't do social skills" are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, undermined by the way that he roams among the audience smiling and shaking hands. But the lines "We don't do fashion trends" and "We don't do what you want" ring true, encapsulating Spare Snare's determination to remain true to themselves and the admirable bloodymindedness that has seen them through the last quarter of a century.

(An edited version of this review appeared on the Buzz website.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Comment isn't free

Resident Advisor is the latest website to close its comments facility, and its justification for the decision is depressing but valid. What started out in an idealistic spirit as a means of continuing messageboard culture, fostering community and encouraging dialogue gradually became (with the advent of social media) a place for verbal aggression, abuse and toxic attitudes.

While the statement seems to ignore the fact that these issues also blight the likes of Twitter and YouTube, the truth is that sites such as Resident Advisor simply don't have the resources (human or financial) to monitor and moderate comments with anything approaching the necessary degree of vigilance - so the decision, sadly, seems both understandable and inevitable.

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Monday, January 14, 2019

"The madwoman in pop's attic"?

It came as something of a relief to learn last week that Kate Bush isn't a Tory after all. That suspicion had arisen from a 2016 interview in which she said of Theresa May ("a very intelligent woman") that "It is great to have a woman in charge of the country". Those comments appeared virtually on a par with Geri Halliwell declaring that May's predecessor Maggie Thatcher was a champion of feminism simply because of her gender - regardless of her personal beliefs or political convictions. Bush's complaint that her words were taken out of context seems a little dubious, given how unequivocal they were - but I for one am eager to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Bush's attempt to set the record straight reminded me that I've been meaning to post a link to this reappraisal of 1993's The Red Shoes, an album largely unloved by fans and artist alike and one with which I'm not really familiar. Reviewer Ben Hewitt does a great job of making the case for its qualities, but, more than that, he captures much of what makes her work in general so special and unique and gently but articulately chastens those (myself included) too inclined to reach for one particular adjective: "Plenty of people have described her as 'mad' - Bush herself among them - but it does her a disservice: it makes her sound like an eccentric ingĂ©nue not in control of her own talent, whereas the truth is she fought hard for autonomy after she was strong-armed into releasing Lionheart so soon after The Kick Inside. It can also be a creatively stifling label, too: to fetishise Bush as the madwoman in pop's attic may feel like a neat way of celebrating those theatrical, eccentric flights of fancy, but perhaps it doesn't leave her much room to come downstairs". On The Red Shoes, Hewitt argues, Bush does indeed come downstairs - and that shouldn't necessarily be held against her in the way it often has been.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A quick fix?

There is, admittedly, some merit to the argument that the new right to repair rules for domestic appliances, which are set to be enforced in the EU and parts of the US, may mean fixing old and inefficient machines when replacing them would actually be the more environmentally friendly option.

However, we should be wary of exactly who is pushing that case. If it's the manufacturers, then replacement rather than repair is all too convenient. Planned obsolescence - the sly capitalist tactic of compelling consumer spending by deliberately making products with a limited lifespan - is scandalous given our current environmental predicament. If the rules can help to curtail the practice, as well as making it easier and cheaper for people to get appliances repaired, then they'll be very welcome indeed.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Tearing up the dancefloor

Selling off pieces of its dancefloor really does feel like Rock City (my favourite ever venue) selling its soul bit by bit. But the truth is that I'd happily own a fragment. It's just that £25 to £30 is rather steep, even for the sake of nostalgia, and I'd want a piece that hadn't been embossed with the logo or cleaned. My main memory of that surface is of it being coated in the stickiest substance known to man - a combination of dirt, beer and bodily fluids - so an unwashed piece could be affixed above the mantelpiece without the aid of additional adhesive.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Mean business

If any good is to come from the closure of Buffalo, then maybe it will be to highlight that music venues find themselves threatened by more than just bullying developers and NIMBY wankers who've just moved in. A severe hike in business rates was cited as the prime reason for its demise, and it seems manifestly unfair that music venues are not eligible for discounted rates, whereas pubs and bars are.

Thankfully, the Music Venue Trust have teamed up with UK Music to challenge the discriminatory nature of the current regulations. The fact that the success of the campaign hinges on Philip Hammond and the Tories seeing sense doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. However, if the campaign's objectives are achieved, then it will be a vital boost to the beleaguered folk who provide a platform (quite literally) for grassroots music.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Come together

Whatever the fate of Gwdihw and Guildford Crescent, people certainly aren't taking the proposed demolition lying down.

First there was the petition and Jo Stevens raising the issue in the House of Commons. Now it's been announced that there'll be a march from Womanby Street - whose venues were successfully protected by a similar grassroots campaign in 2017 - to Guildford Crescent next Saturday (19th) at 2pm, culminating in a gig to be headlined by Gruff Rhys. I for one am hoping to be there to show my support.

If it does come to the worst, though, and the buildings are razed, the Gwdihw team have revealed that they're looking into alternative premises and the possibility of making the venture community owned. Their source of inspiration is Le Public Space in Newport, the phoenix born out of the ashes of Le Pub. It seems to be working for them, and the Moon on Womanby Street has become into a community-centred hub, so realising that ambition certainly isn't unfeasible.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Bury Work with your friends

Practically none of the forthcoming LPs named in Pitchfork's recent feature "The 33 Albums We're Most Excited For In 2019" excite me - the exceptions being Deerhunter's Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, and perhaps Panda Bear's Buoys and the possibility of new material from Royal Trux.

However, the prospect of not only a new Sleater-Kinney album but one produced by St Vincent genuinely does have me salivating. Carrie Brownstein's memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl had me itching for a follow-up to 2015's excellent reformation LP No Cities To Love and I'm equally eager to find out whether the album will be the first in which Annie Clark has had a hand that I can truly love.

Clark's involvement shouldn't come as a complete surprise - after all, there is a prior history of collaboration, with Brownstein scripting the "interview kit" that Clark used to deflect tedious lines of questioning when promoting MASSEDUCTION.

Back to nature

If, like me, you're feeling flat-out and frazzled following the post-festive return to the coal face, may I recommend brain balm in the form of R Seiliog's Megadoze? I'd hesitate to call Robin Edwards' latest LP "chill-out music" (shudder), but it certainly has a calming effect, even when it edges closer to something that might possibly get played in a club rather than in a darkened living room after hours.

Also reviewed in the December/January issue of Buzz are new releases from Blood Red Shoes (remember them?), Cast (try desperately to forget them), Manic Street Preachers (milking it) and Public Service Broadcasting.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Smiles amid the squalor

Looking at some of the images from her Elswick Kids series, which is now available as a book published by Bluecoat Press, it's hard to believe that Tish Murtha's genius for social documentary has only been acknowledged relatively recently - and, tragically, only posthumously.

I've seen suggestions online that the series is poverty porn for middle-class art enthusiasts, that it paints the area in too grim a light and that (conversely) it romanticises the experience of growing up against the backdrop of deprivation. All of these criticisms are, I think, well wide of the mark - and indeed Murtha would be especially horrified by them, as a native of Newcastle who made it her stated mission to depict"marginalised communities from the inside".

However, what cannot be disputed, surely, is the quality of the images, with the book's cover picture arguably the pick of the bunch. Your own childhood may have been markedly different - mine was, a decade or so later, further north up the A1 - but Murtha's photos have the power to communicate what life was like for kids growing up in a place that was largely ignored and neglected. In this respect, Elswick Kids is very much in the same vein as Invisible Britain - another book I need to get my hands on.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

The outsiders

Two of the many much-loved albums released last year that I'm yet to listen to are Daniel Avery's Song For Alpha and Jon Hopkins' Singularity. Back in October, The Talkhouse brought the two electronic artists together for an illuminating discussion on the creative process, the difficulty of following up a successful LP, and the risk of alienating fans but also of becoming unhealthily fixated with that thought.

The pair evidently have a lot in common, with Avery suggesting that their output is "informed by techno or club music, but still has that emotional, human heart to it" and claiming: "We're both outsiders when it comes to dance music. We weren't born into it." That's certainly true for me too, and Avery's previous LP Drone Logic in particular has helped me towards a greater appreciation for it.

Avery's status as someone who has come to dance music very much from the outside is set out in greater detail in a 2015 Quietus article in which he talks about some of his favourite records. These include releases by My Blood Valentine (he describes Loveless as "full of joy and hope"), Black Sabbath, New Order ("if you don't like New Order then we can't be friends"), Harmonia, Death In Vegas and (perhaps most surprisingly) indie-rock oddball Scout Niblett.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Quote of the day

"It's a boomtime for ridiculous figures, and I'm trying to create scenarios that are even more absurd than they are."

Nothing, I'd venture, encapsulated the horrorshow that was 2018 (particularly the Brexit clusterfuck of its final months) better than the collage images assembled by Coldwar Steve aka Christopher Spencer. Here he is talking to Michael Hann for an Economist article about the "furious absurdism" of his work.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Buffalo bites the dust

Gwdihw in Cardiff, the Parrot in Carmarthen, the Muni in Pontypridd - and now Buffalo back in Cardiff. Just three days into 2019, yet another of South Wales' grassroots music venues has announced that it's shut down, citing a "massive increase" in business rates in particular.

I won't pretend to have been a regular at Buffalo - in fact, I haven't been since moving back to the city at the very end of 2016 - though back in the day I did see a handful of decent gigs there, as well as attend a great night with members of Los Campesinos! on the decks. But since opening in 2005 it's clearly been a vital platform for local acts and DJs (as well as an early staging post for such high-profile artists as Adele and James Blake), and an important venue for the Swn Festival.

Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens, a vocal supporter of the campaign to save Gwdihw, has mourned the loss, commenting "we all need to play our part in supporting and raising the profile of our venues". The organisers of Save Gwdihw & Guildford Crescent went further, insisting that Cardiff Council, having "pledged to protect Cardiff's live music scene", must be "held to account". In this instance, could a workable solution have been found whereby the damaging impact or scale of the business rate increase was reduced? As is so often the case, what's needed is a little less conversation and a little more action.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

HMV: the overdue death of a dinosaur?

When Penny Anderson wrote a Guardian piece welcoming HMV's collapse into administration and championing the comparative merits of independent record shops, she probably didn't expect to be subjected to a barrage of criticism from precisely those "true music fans" at whom her article was ostensibly aimed, as well as from countless musicians and indie labels.

Emma Pollock, formerly of the Delgados and founder of Chemikal Underground, declared the piece to be "horrible journalism", and Aidan Moffat was even more forthright, blasting it as "just puerile music snobbery gone wild".

Meanwhile, another Chemikal Underground-affiliated Scot, Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite, responded by posting a link to an article he wrote for the Scotsman back in 2013, when the chain first found itself in desperate trouble. Similarly sensitive, sympathetic and (most crucially) informed pieces were published by Pete Paphides and Jimmy Martin, guitarist with Teeth Of The Sea and himself a former HMV employee. The latter article appeared on the Guardian site, a swift corrective to Anderson's.

Personally speaking, I have no great affection for HMV. I haven't shopped there for years, having been repelled by the exorbitant amounts they used to charge for CDs, and (at the risk of echoing Anderson) prefer to spend my money in local independent stores like Selectadisc in Nottingham and Spillers here in Cardiff where specialist knowledge and the personal touch are guaranteed.

However, I've undoubtedly been very lucky to live in or near cities where such shops exist. As has been widely pointed out, this is not a luxury afforded to everyone. Even if you do have the good fortune to have a Truck, a Monorail or a Piccadilly on your doorstep, high-street stores like HMV are (as Paphides argues) usually where "true music fans" are born. They were certainly the source of some of my earliest music purchases.

What's more, HMV plays a vital role in giving people access to music in physical form, thereby helping to keep alive the idea of buying records. This isn't merely a matter of fetishising the material over the virtual (something of which I'm often guilty/proud); to use Braithwaite's terms, sustaining "ownership culture" in the face of "streaming culture" is essential in ensuring that artists are properly paid for their work. In this sense, the way that Anderson sets HMV in opposition to independent shops is fundamentally misguided; in fact, they're on the same side - the real conflict is between bricks-and-mortar retailers and online giants like Amazon and Spotify, whose business models are contributing significantly to the devaluing of music.

Add to this the observation that HMV and indies generally cater to different customers and serve different needs (to the extent that most towns ARE big enough for the both of 'em) and the labels' insistence that HMV is absolutely crucial for their distribution networks, and you have a fairly compelling case in support of Moffat's claim that "Anyone who thinks the demise of HMV would be anything less than devastating to the UK music industry is a fucking idiot".

A number of people commenting on Anderson's article also pointed out the irony in the Guardian publishing a piece expressing a lack of sympathy for a business struggling to survive in the internet age while the paper continues to appeal to readers for money so it can stay afloat...

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Top pop tips

Asked by Buzz music editor Noel Gardner to single out a local artist or band to watch in 2019, I had no hesitation in choosing Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard. It comes as little surprise to see that the glam-rocking scamps are being tipped for big things in the national media too, featuring in the Guardian's "best new music of 2019" list on account of their "songwriting omnipotence". As one song title has it, 'John Lennon Is My Jesus Christ' - it might not be long before frontman Tom Lees is following in his hero's footsteps and declaring his band to be bigger than the Messiah.

Congratulations too to Oxford hardcore crew MSRY, who also merit a mention. Heartily endorsed by Nightshift, the publication that does more than any other to champion the city's up-and-coming talent, the trio are included for their ability to "upend a moshpit in seconds flat".

It's worth adding that Nilufer Yanya was one of the acts tipped for greatness at the start of this year by Rob of Sounding Bored (c'mon Guardian writers, try keeping up...). Meanwhile, Twin Temple ("Satanism and doo-wop") sound sufficiently bizarre to be intriguing, but Spielbergs - despite the Cloud Nothings comparisons - promise to be hard to stomach given the fact that they've written a "post-rock ballad called 'McDonalds (Please Don't Fuck Up My Order)'"...

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The salvation of the sea

I can't remember having ever spent so much time on the beach as I did in 2018, even in my childhood. The prime factor may have been having a sand-loving five-year-old son, but I certainly wasn't complaining. I certainly don't usually subscribe to alternative therapies, but can well believe the claim that the sea can have a very significant positive effect on mental and physical ill health. There's no doubt that I found myself at my most relaxed floating in the warm Welsh surf. Hats off to global warming...

Friday, December 28, 2018

Grand designs

Over the centuries, architects have designed countless buildings that have remained unconstructed. Had the projects been built, the impact would probably have been negligible. But what of whole cities? Could the course of history have been different if the grand visions for reshaping the centres of some of the world's most prominent cities been realised? In this piece for the Atlantic, Darran Anderson reflects on what lessons can be learned from such bold, ambitious plans.