Sunday, August 19, 2018

Through the ages

Abba are a band with plenty of fervent fans (myself included). On the eve of the release of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Guardian journalists spoke to a number of devotees, from a six-year-old girl from Newcastle to (somewhat improbably) Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle. The revelation that Cosey Fanni Tutti used to strip to 'Dancing Queen' in pubs and clubs means that I probably won't be able to listen to it in the same way again.

(Thanks to Zoe for the link.)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The importance of being idle

Ever feel guilty about just doing nothing? According to Brian O'Connor, a professor of philosophy at University College Dublin, in an opinion piece for Time, you shouldn't - and, in fact, the ability to be idle is an important freedom.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Friday, August 17, 2018

Quote of the day

"Every time we sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine. Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade - our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance."

Barack and Michelle Obama on the late Aretha Franklin.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hate speech

It'll be interesting to see the British mainstream media's reaction to the latest pronouncements of Fraser Anning. The Australian politician used the phrase "final solution" in calling for a return to the White Australia Policy in his first speech to the Senate, and has since insisted "I don't regret anything. I'm not going to apologise or regret anything that I say". Judging from the photos, he doesn't have much hair that he can artfully ruffle in an attempt to seem harmlessly bumbling, and it remains to be seen whether he's got an array of ill-matched mugs in his kitchen cupboard to be able to serve reporters tea.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The slow death of the dream

Photographer Niko J. Kallianiotis describes his series America In A Trance as "an ongoing observation of the fading American dream so typified in the northeastern Pennsylvania landscape but widespread across the United States". This is smalltown America left to decay slowly, rather than self-combust or dramatically collapse like Detroit.

As the BBC's Tom Geoghegan recently noted when reporting on the revival of some American towns, Kallianiotis' images of tatty houses, boarded-up shops and solitary figures shuffling along scruffy streets serve as "a sharp reminder that the recovery is leaving many behind".

Monday, August 13, 2018

Touts out

Back in May I wrote in praise of those pressuring secondary ticket sellers such as Viagogo as part of a concerted effort to rid the live music sphere of the scourge of professional touts. So it's equally pleasing to learn that one of the industry's biggest hitters is now on board, with Ticketmaster announcing that they're to scrap both Seatwave and Get Me In in October.

As the BBC article notes, there's a possibility that Ticketmaster have jumped before they were pushed, and have done so for business reasons rather than any genuine desire to take a firm stand against the touts. Nevertheless, whatever the circumstances and motivation, it's another step in the right direction and puts the ball firmly in the court of Viagogo, StubHub and others.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Making Enjoying Hay while the sun shines

C'mon, I was hardly going to spend a whole week in Hay-on-Wye and NOT  buy a load of books, was I? Special mention for Addyman Books, the source of all but one of the music titles.

I should also take this opportunity to recommend Raquety Lodge: not the lap of luxury, admittedly, but perfectly adequate, eco-friendly, with great views over the valley and within five minutes' walk of the town centre. All in all, a perfect base camp for a week of canoeing, pottering about bookshops, yomping up hills, river swimming, barbecuing, stargazing and comfortably exceeding the government's guidelines for alcohol consumption.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Killing Joke: no laughing matter

Its appearance on the website of cosmetics firm Lush might be somewhat baffling, but this stout defence of Killing Joke by John Doran of the Quietus is well worth your time. The catalyst for Doran's argument is that in accounts of post-punk history (most notably Simon Reynolds' exceptional Rip It Up And Start Again) the band are often overlooked, dismissed or ridiculed as reactionary goths when in fact, he contends, they were true innovators capable of suggesting "the collapse of normal values and negative transcendence through the intensity of music alone", and as such worthy of as much acclaim as the likes of Joy Division.

It's a bold declaration, to be sure - though one with which a couple of friends of mine (including Nightshift editor and long-time Killing Joke fan Ronan) will probably agree, and one that has very much prompted me into checking out a band with whom I'm only very vaguely familiar.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ale trail

It shouldn't really come as any surprise, but Wales Online writers Steffan Rhys and Joshua Knapman's "ultimate Cardiff pub crawl for people who love their beer" kicks off in my neck of the woods (Canton) before heading (via Pontcanna/Cathedral Road) into the city centre. No other area of the city gets a look-in.

Their suggested starting point is the Lansdowne, after which they recommend Crafty Devil's Cellar and St Canna's Ale House - all of which I'd endorse, though the omission of Chapter is perhaps a little harsh.

I'm yet to visit the Pontcanna Inn or the Brewhouse & Kitchen (formerly the Cayo and the Mochyn Du respectively), but both are definitely on my list. Of the city centre establishments on the itinerary, I'm a fan of the Queen's Vaults, the City Arms and Tiny Rebel - all of which are within conveniently easy reach of each other.

Time to identify a free Saturday afternoon/evening, methinks...

Thursday, August 09, 2018

It's all academic

The stealthy privatisation of the NHS under the present Tory government is little secret, but what's less widely reported is that a similar process is taking place within education. Here's the Guardian's Aditya Chakrabortty on the way some schools rightly or wrongly identified as "failing" are being removed from local authority control and forcibly converted to academies, at the expense of democracy and transparency and in flagrant disregard of the opinions and wishes of staff, governors and parents.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Quote of the day

"A wonderful dance album: recorded in a Maltese cave with fennel stalks and a bamboo panpipe, but full of squelching London rave juice."

Either the strapline for Harry Sword's review of Capitol K's new LP Goatherder is Peak Quietus, or it's a knowingly ridiculous nod to the club news section of Chris Morris' Blue Jam.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

When it comes to the crunch

If pushed to identify the one foodstuff I would find it hardest to do without, I would probably say crisps. My love of crisps in (almost) all their many wondrous forms is both deep seated and lifelong - as, judging by this superb piece for Vice, is Joel Golby's.

The article had me regularly crying with laughter and nodding along in "So true, so true" fashion - sometimes at the same time. The rules and etiquette for consuming crisps in the pub? Spot on. The conclusion that the inventor of the Twiglet must have been dangerously deranged? Yep. The sense of shame that comes with being an ardent leftie who enjoys Tory crisps? Understood.

While I can't agree with all of Golby's assessments (there's something to be said for Skips and particularly McCoys, surely?), the ways he describes and characterises the different varieties of the food of the gods are consistently brilliant. To take just a handful of examples...

On Quavers: "essentially peelings of air that got slightly too proud of themselves and got packed up and sold to children."

On beef and onion crisps: "Venn diagram of people who like Beef & Onion crisps and people who laugh at their own burps is a circle the size of the sun."

On Pringles: "Pringles are for people who say: 'I don't care how dirty it is, I want to have fun.' They are a drunken kebab. A pint of Foster's with breakfast. Dogging up against the bonnet of a Fiesta. They are life."

On roast chicken crisps: "You know that weird lad in your halls who ate the flavour sachet from a Pot Noodle dry like a weird umami form of sherbet? He's graduated on to Roast Chicken-flavoured crisps now, from his cell in prison."

On Monster Munch: "Monster Munch belong in a special sub-category of snacks I like to call 'Cuck Crisps', because every time you decide to eat one you are basically talking yourself out of having sex with anyone for the next 24 hours, minimum, while your body processes the sheer flavour of the crisp and pumps it out of every flap and pore you possess."

Monster Munch are my current post-gig snack of choice. Expose me to music and fill me with two or more pints in a city centre venue and I'm practically guaranteed to stop at the all-night garage on the walk back to Canton and pick up a couple of bags (pickled onion and flaming hot, not roast beef - I'm not a heathen). The next morning the stench on my fingers is as much a giveaway as to the previous evening's activities as the still-discernible ink stamp on the inside of my wrist.

On that note, the all-night garage is calling...

Monday, August 06, 2018

Not just another brick in the wall

Books can help to break down borders/barriers and have a profound impact on the world. How better to represent that visually than artist Jorge Mendez Blake's 2007 installation El Castillo?

(Thanks to Julian for the link.)

Sunday, August 05, 2018

"It's not about being deliberately provocative"

Much like a dog, the League Of Gentlemen's comeback wasn't just for Christmas. On the contrary, the foursome are now gearing up for an arena tour. Kate Mossman's excellent interview feature for the New Statesman captures much of what is so special about Royston Vasey and those who inhabit it.

The article also gives illuminating insight into the town's creators - Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson - who were (self-)raised on an incessant diet of TV and video in the 1980s and 1990s and whose strong (though not uncritical) sense of northernness made them outsiders to the Oxbridge mainstream.

The decision to revisit Royston Vasey was evidently a tough one, given both the League's legacy and the various different projects that the writers/performers have since worked on (not least Shearsmith and Pemberton's Inside No. 9, accurately described as "a series of macabre and wondrous half-hour teleplays increasingly described as the best thing on TV").

However, the practicalities of making it happen were arguably even more challenging - from accounting for the fact that sensibilities are in many ways now more delicate than when the series was first screened (particularly with regard to Barbara) to finding a merkin big enough for Gatiss' Val Denton and coping with the gentrification of Hadfield, the real-life Royston Vasey ("We had no choice but to spend energy and money trying to make it not look nice").

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Party politics

The rave scene in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s was about much more than a bunch of mindless hedonists getting off their faces and having a good time. As BBC correspondent Rayhan Demytrie explains, a similar scenario is now playing out in Georgia, with clubbers, members of the LGBT community and drug liberalisation activists fighting for personal freedom in the face of fierce opposition from far-right groups and the Georgian Orthodox Church, as well as the police and the state. Her report from the front line in Tbilisi gives the impression of a tinderbox situation, set against a backdrop of Western-Russian tensions, that could explode at any time.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Yorkshire pride

It's been a while since the last episode of Sounding Bored aired, and even longer since one dedicated to a music city. So Episode 31, focusing on Leeds, is a very welcome treat - and even more so as it sees the return of my fellow co-founder Niall Kennedy. Now resident in Yorkshire and a regular visitor to the city's various venues, he's well placed to talk about its musical past and present, including goth's heyday in the 1980s, the brilliance and influence of Gang Of Four and the NME's ill-advised celebration of a mid-noughties scene on the strength of the existence of Kaiser Chiefs, Pigeon Detectives and The Music.

That discussion is bookended by Niall and host Rob's reflections on the nominations for this year's Mercury Music Prize (big up Nadine Shah!) and on the best albums of 2018 so far (with Microshift by Leeds' own Hookworms rightly lauded despite its baffling omission from the Mercury list), and by the pair's verdicts on Sink Ya Teeth's eponymous debut LP.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

The price of progress

As the subtitle of Peter Finch's fourth Real Cardiff book has it, the city is "flourishing" - but at what cost? That was very much the local author's focus when he appeared at the Central Library's Open Space event earlier this month. The number of historical buildings, monuments and sites that have been sacrificed, obliterated and lost in the name of progress is staggering.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Quote of the day

"The right to travel for work, for education and even for pleasure is increasingly being restricted and often along racial and religious lines. ... Musicians travel for a living, and almost everywhere I have travelled I have been met with kindness and generosity. Do we really want a white-breaded Brexited flatland? A country that is losing the will to welcome the world?"

Womad co-founder Peter Gabriel reacts to the news that several performers were unable to appear at this year's festival due to post-Brexit visa problems.

Prior to the referendum, there were concerns about how leaving the European Union might negatively affect British musicians wanting to tour abroad - but it seems the consequences are proving to be equally (or even more) damaging for those coming the other way.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The health lottery

That the wealthiest people in this country have a significantly higher life expectancy than the poorest is, in the words of Stockton GP Dr David Hodges, "a disgrace", though not necessarily surprising. That this inequality is being knowingly exacerbated by the creeping privatisation of the NHS is even more so.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Free thinking

Freelancing has been on the rise since 2001 - but is it all it's cracked up to be?

There's no doubt that, for me, there were perks: most significantly the flexibility to fit work around childcare, but also being able to choose what projects I took on and having no commute (with the attendant savings in terms of cost and time).

But, on the down side, freelance editorial work was poorly paid and therefore the awareness that I had to create my own safety net was a burden - plus the ability to work anywhere and at any time meant that I often found myself doing just that. Freelancing can be great, and it certainly suited our circumstances at the time - but there is also something to be said for regular paid employment that gives you your evenings and weekends back.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Welsh "not"

Thanks to the Observer for enabling me to get better acquainted with another of the dads on the school run. Gruff Rhys spoke to journalist James McMahon of his childhood in Gwynedd, of a love of music that developed (and was encouraged) from an early age and of his strong sense of Welsh identity.

Personally speaking, it was particularly cheering to hear that Super Furry Animals were never very comfortable at being lumped in with Britpop - but it did seem odd that Rhys then went on to laud Welsh-language anarchist punk outfit Anhrefn for finishing their gigs with a rendition of the Welsh national anthem. However, it subsequently turned out that he'd been completely misquoted, much to his mortification, because an all-important "not" had been omitted: "Anhrefn ... refused to sing the national anthem after gigs which was often the norm until then in a Welsh-language context. As a teenager I found their stand to be revolutionary. They helped me form my political outlook in that self-determination and cultural self-confidence didn't mean competing in 19thC-style jingoism, or being hateful or phobic towards others. Popular culture could be incisive, inventive and forward thinking."

The error has now been corrected, thankfully, though Rhys did nevertheless issue "apologies to the visionary Anhrefn that it was ever insinuated that they would have been an anthem-happy kind of band!"

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The female gaze

The superb Swaps photography exhibition gave visitors to the National Museum in Cardiff an initial glimpse of just a fraction of the veritable riches bequeathed to it by David Hurn. Women In Focus also draws much of its material from Hurn's donation, and, as I discovered when I went along to view it, the first part of the new exhibition - entitled Women Behind The Lens - is scarcely any less impressive. Recommended just for the Tish Murtha and Donna Ferrato images alone.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Split decisions

It gave me great pleasure to learn that Kim Gordon is a big fan of Angel Olsen - though, in truth, everyone should be. Asked by Rolling Stone to choose her five favourite break-up songs, she picked Olsen's 'Unfucktheworld' from Burn Your Fire For No Witness, as well as an Eleanor Friedberger track I hadn't heard before ('Roosevelt Island') and one of PJ Harvey's less celebrated singles ('Shame', from Uh Huh Her, which might not be among many people's favourite Peej LPs but is certainly one of Gordon's).

The prompt for the Rolling Stone feature was the fact that Body/Head, Gordon's collaborative noise project with Bill Nace, have a new record out (The Switch), which is made to sound amazing by this review. Having listened to 'You Don't Need', I'm not at all sure I'm on board with it - but perhaps it's a grower (as well as a growler).

Know Your Enemy

"You played with the truth, you led us down a dangerous path. You have corrupted discourse for the entire world by going along with these lies."

There was certainly no pussyfooting around from the BBC's Emily Maitlis when she interviewed Sean Spicer on Newsnight. If Trump's former Press Secretary had expected an easy ride and just another opportunity to plug his new book, then Maitlis soon disabused him of that notion.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Close encounters

I've raved many times previously about all the delights right here on my doorstep in Canton, but those delights don't very often extend to gigs. Saturday's Bubblewrap Collective Presents show in the Printhaus courtyard was an exception, featuring the cream of the local label's current crop in the form of Sweet Baboo and Quodega, plus entertaining support from Farm Hand. Here's hoping that such events might start happening on a more regular basis. So, promoters, if you fancy pandering to my laziness...

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Pushing the wrong buttons

That sexism sadly remains alive and well in the music industry is hardly a revelation - but it's alarming that it even extends to the gear manufacturers and surrounding community. Not only did TC Electronic release a guitar effects preset called the "Pussy Melter" in collaboration with Satchell of hair-metal oafs Steel Panther, but those who simply signed and shared an online petition against it in protest, such as Braids' Raphaelle Standell-Preston, were subjected to a barrage of abuse.

As Braids' remarkable track 'Miniskirt' underlines, Standell-Preston is not one to sit back and accept sexist abuse in silence. Sure enough, she's responded by recounting the experience for Pitchfork and offering a robust defence of her position, quite rightly dismissing accusations of being a feminist killjoy getting worked up over something that is merely harmless, parodic fun and insisting that the industry should not denigrate women - and indeed cannot afford to ignore half of its target demographic.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Endurance test

While I'm not the biggest fan of traditions, there are some that are worth preserving and celebrating - one of which being Nightshift duo Ronan and Sam's annual account of attempting to survive (and even eke some enjoyment from) the Cornbury Festival. It looked as though the tradition would die out with the demise of the festival itself, but thankfully the organisers decided to resurrect it so us readers could once again take vicarious pleasure in not being there.

This year the torture to which they voluntarily subjected themselves included headline sets from UB40 and Alanis Morissette, but at least there was the consolation of seeing the likes of Mavis Staples and The August List while getting baked alive. In fact, they make it sound infinitely preferable to the well-intentioned but horrifyingly hippie Tandem festival, also reviewed in the August issue of the magazine.

Nice to see, too, that the issue features on its cover Ghosts In The Photographs. A band whose post-rock has always packed plenty of punch (I'm not the only one to have detected a post-hardcore influence, it seems), the trio are starting to transcend their influences and carve out their own niche.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Offensive self-defence

You don't have to look very far for evidence underlining just how fucked-up the US is - in fact, you don't have to look any further than Donald Trump - but here's a bit of news that is particularly staggering: MGM Resorts International are suing many of those injured in the mass shooting in Las Vegas last year, and their family members, in a pre-emptive bid to prevent liability claims.

Wow.

Just wow.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

You have been warned

First we were transported to Royston Vasey, and now it's off to Scarfolk. Richard Littler's brilliant blog has already spawned a book, and it's little surprise that a TV series is to come. The creator of the fictional town stuck in 1979 is working with Veep writer Will Smith on what the producers have described as "a terrifyingly topical dystopian comedy drama that refracts the world as it is today through a horrifying kaleidoscope of 1970s culture and attitudes". Needless to say, it's eagerly anticipated round these parts.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

(McFadden's Cold) War: what is it good for? Absolutely everything

One of the joys of the internet is that even the unlikeliest of things can find an appreciative audience and take off. Take McFadden's Cold War, for instance - though that's not to imply that it isn't genius.

According to Al Murray, "It's so funny you can't really parse it. To say any more might shatter the thing I love about it." True, but the Guardian's Andrew Male has had a commendable stab at summing it up as a "phantasmagoric photomontage world", "a blackly comic Twitter account where the likes of Trump, Kim, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are pilloried in a purgatorial Albion of abandoned caravans, flat-roof pubs and dank laybys, amid a rogues' gallery of low-rent celebrities, serial killers, football managers and the ever present figure of [Steve] McFadden."

It turns out Murray isn't the account's only celebrity fan - Kathy Burke and Jon Savage are both quoted raving about it. (Though the latter's claim that the images' creator Coldwar Steve is "a modern-day Hogarth" is perhaps a little hyperbolic, given that he knocks them up "on the bus into work with a £3 phone app".)

Male has tracked down Coldwar Steve himself - aka Christopher Spencer - who reveals that making the photomontages has been a form of therapy. It's great to hear that he's found his way to a better place thanks to the account - and the fact that he's been able to make a lot of people (myself included) guffaw at their screens in the process is an added bonus.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Feel good hits of the 20th July

1. 'Heat Wave' - Snail Mail
Indie-rock summer jams don't come much better than this. Lush is an effortlessly accomplished record - and all the more remarkable for the fact that it was released (on Matador) a week before its creator, Lindsey Jordan, turned 19. Mary Timony might be keeping us waiting for a second Ex Hex album, but, as Jordan's guitar teacher, she can claim some credit for another fine LP. Lush also partially staves off the hankering for new material from Angel Olsen, whose ice rink video for 'Shut Up Kiss Me' seems to foreshadow Jordan's for 'Heat Wave'.

2. 'Paperback Writer' - The Beatles
One of the consequences of having 1 on practically constant play in the car for the last three or four months is that I'm fairly sure that this is now my favourite Beatles song. Don't hold me to it, though...

3. 'Loner Boogie' - Boy Azooga
The song that has, quite rightly, helped to catapult Davey Newington and chums from being darlings of the Cardiff scene to being on the radar nationally - via an appearance on Later... (as part of a decidedly Welsh-themed episode also starring the Manics and Gwenno), countless plays on Radio 6 Music and a whole host of gigs and festival slots. Back in April, reviewing a stupendous hometown show, I wrote that they were "a band primed for lift-off" and it's no surprise that they've now achieved it.

4. 'Maps' - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Crazy to think, isn't it, that Fever To Tell is now 15 years old? 'Maps' was a revelation at the time, and with hindsight something they were always going to struggle to top. So good it even makes me forget how much of a dog's dinner Mosquito was.

5. 'Don't Go' - Moaning
Shoegazey slacker punk on Sub Pop? Let's face it, Moaning were always likely to be a hit round these parts. While lead track and single 'Don't Go' naturally steals the limelight, I was pleasantly surprised by quite how much sticking power their self-titled debut LP actually has. Moaning aren't the first band to have Alex Newport to thank for making them sound great - if rather more polished than they are live.

6. 'Swish Swash' - Crack Cloud
Crack Cloud look so hipster it hurts, and my initial reaction to both 'Swish Swash' and its video was "What the...?". But after a couple of listens I started to get more attuned to their wavelength (itchy funk rhythms given some Gang Of Four punch and sinister intent) and after a couple more I was ready to hail it as one of the best things I've heard all year.

7. 'Nuraghe' - The Cosmic Dead
A couple of minutes of this absolute beast, from last year's Psych Is Dead LP, was more than enough to convince me that I had to go and see The Cosmic Dead last week. No regrets whatsoever. Mogwai, always play the role of patron with regard to other bands, need to do the decent thing and take their fellow Glaswegians out on the road with them.

8. 'Y Teimlad' - Super Furry Animals
My Welsh nightclass finished on Monday night with us tasked with trying to piece together the lyrics of this song, a Datblygu cover. At some point in the not-too-distant future I'm sure I'll be a card-carrying Super Furries fan - and exposure to songs like this is certainly helping.

9. 'Somewhere After Sunday' - Year Of The Kite
No longer living in Oxford wasn't going to stop me reviewing the debut LP from a band who grabbed my attention shortly before I left. Single 'Somewhere After Sunday' is representative of With Sparks Flying generally: delicately poised, meditative-verging-on-sombre post-rock that refuses to resort to the standard trick of always building to a crescendo.

10. 'Cadi' - Los Blancos
The second Welsh-language track in this selection: proof that I'm going native? An initial encounter with Los Blancos in the supporting role at Wylderness' album launch in March meant that I snapped up reviewing duties for their recent double-A side single. Of the two tracks, 'Cadi' - an ode to a dog (hence the video) - is probably the better, a veritable scuzz-pop rough diamond.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Crossed out

The news that the Malt Cross in Nottingham has closed its doors has left me absolutely stunned - as it has members of staff who were given no advance warning. Only last month, we paid a visit to one of my favourite places in the city, enjoying a typically tasty light lunch in what is a beautiful old building.

The owners have predictably blamed the closure on "the tough trading environment for bars and restaurants", but there certainly didn't seem to be any problem the day we were there, with every table taken both upstairs and downstairs.

They are now, apparently, "actively exploring new possibilities" - whatever that means. Given that the building was only refurbished in 2014 to the tune of £1.4 million of National Lottery cash, it's certainly to be hoped that it reopens sooner rather than later.

Bonfire of the vanities

As if conspicuous consumption wasn't offensive enough, its consequences are even worse - such as Burberry's destruction of clothing, accessories and perfume worth a staggering £28.6 million last year. The company announced that "energy generated from burning its products was captured, making it environmentally friendly". So that's alright then.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Art attack

That music is often used as an instrument of political torture is widely known. Take Guantanamo Bay, for instance, where prisoners were subjected to the likes of Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' and Deicide's 'Fuck Your God' repeatedly and at extremely high volume. (Not that Metallica's James Hetfield was bothered, laughing it off at the time and only last year declaring "I'm honoured my country is using something to help us stay safe".)

But I wasn't aware that modern art had been deployed for the same purpose, as it was during the Spanish Civil War by republicans. Captured nationalist supporters of General Franco found themselves imprisoned in cells designed by Alphonse Laurencic, who took inspiration from Salvador Dali and others in deliberately seeking to disorient the occupants.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Read and write

The boat has probably already sailed for me, but if you harbour ambitions of a career as a writer/journalist, then you could certainly do worse than heed the advice of Jazmine Hughes. An editor for the New York Times as well as a writer, she has spoken to The Creative Independent's Thora Siemsen about when artistry and being precious about your work is justifiable, the importance of allowing interviews to follow their own course rather than imposing a pre-imagined trajectory on them, the benefits of having mentors (as long as you're prepared to listen to them) and the value of not being a full-time writer ("It's a privilege in that it feels like something I get to do, not that I have to do").

(Thanks to Laura for the link.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Things'll never be the same

According to the Quietus' Brian Coney, Pete Kember's "curveballing imprint on modern experimental and electronic music is nonpareil and largely stems from collaborative interactions". That claim is substantiated with a run-through some of Kember's most significant releases, with the man himself as guide - from Spacemen 3 (widely misunderstood) and solo releases as Sonic Boom and Spectrum to collaborations with Silver Apples, MGMT, Panda Bear and Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Of the latter, Kember is effusive in his praise: "To this day, I still listen to her work and am still floored by her genius. I believe the Doctor Who theme is possibly the most important electronic piece of its era and to that time. Stockhausen and Boulez and all those dudes were pivotal, no question, but Delia took their lead and placed it in a cultural context, courtesy of the BBC, that affected millions and millions in a really transportive way."

Kember is not the first musician to be astounded by her talents, either: "Delia told me that three people sought her out at the BBC to discover who the hell was sending those amazing sounds through the airwaves: Syd Barrett, Paul McCartney and Brian Jones. I think that gives a hint as to what an impact she was making culturally - which resonated right through electronic music via White Noise, the Silver Apples, Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin."

While many of his collaborations have evidently been happy and mutually enriching, Kember is quite unequivocal in describing Spacemen 3 as "dysfunctional". With no signs of any attempt at reconciliation, the prospects of a reunion look slim - all the more so because the very same day that the Quietus piece was published, 9th July, his former bandmate Jason Pierce was quoted as dismissing the possibility: "I just don't see the point. I find it really difficult as to why. It's a weird one, because I'm not wild about anything that's, like, people just replaying their [old music]." Don't hold your breath, then.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Men: know your place

While it's good to see a piece on the BBC website acknowledging that it's not just women who experience everyday sexism, I can't help but wish that its author Matthew Jenkin had made the case rather better.

Some of the comments to which the stay-at-home dad has been subjected are more obviously homophobic than sexist (though no less offensive for that, of course), while - as several readers have noted - others are more probably attributable to the curious and infuriating tendency of some people to make a point of trying to shame parents in public, regardless of their gender.

Nevertheless, Jenkin does draw attention to the way that society's sexist expectations of mothers also serve to constrain fathers. All too often, men are assumed to be relatively uninterested and uninvolved in their children's upbringing and development, expected to be working breadwinners rather than unpaid caregivers.

Having taken over parental leave duties when Stanley was six months old, I subsequently quit my job and took on primary responsibility for childcare during the week. Even now, as he comes to the end of his first year of school and with me back in a formal day job, I still do the school pick-up and coordinate post-school activities four days a week. I don't really recall ever feeling judged or patronised (as has been Jenkin's experience), or at least I was able to shrug it off, and was fortunate enough to be accepted easily by the mums of Stanley's peers.

However, it's true that so many things are geared towards mums and therefore (whether intentionally/explicitly or not) make dads feel excluded. There was also an assumption that I would be desperate to meet and bond with other men in the same position. While I didn't feel remotely self-conscious about hanging around with a bunch of mums, that isn't true for all men - but drawing attention to the scarcity of stay-at-home dads isn't exactly helpful either.

Despite its weaknesses, Jenkin's article concludes by making a powerful point: "I am not for one minute claiming men are somehow the great oppressed. In many ways it is the patriarchal society that we have created coming back to bite us. Changes to employment law which allow parents to share parental leave are enabling more men to enjoy those joyous (and tough) first few months bonding with their child. But we need to recognise that the culture surrounding parenting also needs to change to encourage more fathers to take the plunge - gay or straight."

He's right: the number of couples taking advantage of the legal change, while on the increase, remains pitifully small, and that must be attributed to cultural factors (as well as things like the gulf between men's and women's earnings, which makes it harder for men to take on childcare duties on purely pragmatic and economic grounds). The everyday sexism that persistently afflicts fathers as well as mothers will only be eradicated once both are recognised simply as parents, in cultural as well as legal terms.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Reviews round-up

The July issue of Buzz finds me enthusing about the Welsh-language college rock of Los Blancos (first encountered in the support slot at Wylderness' LP launch show at Clwb in March), marvelling at The Wave Pictures' ability to avoid a complete car crash in the form of Brushes With Happiness and bemoaning the fact that Warp Transmission fail to stand out from the psych crowd - unlike, say, The Cosmic Dead.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Living proof

According to the title of The Cosmic Dead's most recent LP, psych is dead. Don't believe them: over the course of four songs spread over more than an hour at the Moon on Monday night, the Glaswegians proved that, in their own special way, they are very much keepers of the flame - as well as ear-botherers of the highest order.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Quote of the day

"There's no longer any way to make the case that Morrissey ever meant anything other than what he says".

So comments Stewart Lee, slightly ruefully, in a Guardian article in which he recounts largely purging Moz's music from his record collection "with sadness for the sorry state of things, not erectile pride in my own virtuousness". He's right: often the artist can be separated from the art (albeit not always defensibly), but with pretty much every pronouncement he's made for the last few years Morrissey has made that impossible.

(Thanks to Bill for the link.)

Monday, July 09, 2018

Run (the other way)

"Where did Snow Patrol go for seven years?", asks the headline of this BBC article, as if we might have been wondering rather than merely enjoying their silence.

It turns out that Gary Lightbody was grappling with some serious demons - chiefly drink and depression. While it's encouraging to hear of anyone managing to escape from crippling and indeed life-threatening addiction, the prospect of Snow Patrol's return is hardly something I'm relishing. In the interview, Lightbody reveals that Nick Cave is primarily to blame for getting his songwriting juices going again, with Skeleton Tree's 'Jesus Alone' the inspiration behind 'A Youth Written In Fire'.

Once upon a time, Snow Patrol were part of the respectable Scottish indie fraternity, but it's a measure of how far removed they are now that they're tourmates of and collaborators with Ed Sheeran. Needless to say, they bonded over a mutual love of Bon Iver...

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The fab four

While I certainly won't be queuing up to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, I am at least grateful that it's prompted the Guardian's music writers into rating and ranking all 27 of ABBA's UK singles.

The article should be required reading for anyone who still insists on dismissing the Swedes as kitsch pop fluff (though perhaps we should hastily gloss over 'Thank You For The Music'). There's serious emotional depth to numerous ABBA songs, whose exposition and dissection of heartache is all the more gripping when you consider the fractured relationships in question weren't hypothetical but those between the band members themselves. As Tim Jonze observes of 'The Winner Takes It All' (and as Peter Robinson implicitly agrees with respect to 'One Of Us'), "Writing about divorce is one thing; asking your ex-wife to sing it quite another".

The critics acknowledge that, from the perspective of 2018, some songs do appear rather problematic lyrically (most obviously 'Does Your Mother Know', of course, but also 'Money, Money, Money', which Michael Hann admits "does feel a bit icky: the patriarchy is not being smashed").

However, the fact that the camply dramatic 'Fernando' and 'Chiquitita' and Eurovision romp 'Waterloo' all fail to make the top twenty is a sure-fire marker of the overall calibre of their output. Personally, I would have placed 'Mamma Mia' much higher, and, unlike Roy Keane, rate 'Dancing Queen' as one of my favourite ever singles, and certainly more highly than 'The Day Before You Came' (Jonze acclaims 'Dancing Queen' as "not only ABBA's most joyous song, but arguably pop music's itself"), but it's nevertheless hard to argue with many of the assessments. The song that tops the pile, 'SOS', is undeniably brilliant - even if it took Portishead's inspired cover to awaken some people to that fact.

How the band's hotly anticipated new material will compare remains to be seen, but as it stands ABBA's back catalogue is pretty much peerless in terms of pop craftsmanship.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Quote of the day

"We know who the leaders of a reactionary Englishness are. But who are their progressive equivalents? The question is no longer whether politicians should promote Englishness but rather what kind.

What one seeks, then, is patriotism without rancour and a more confident, harmonious English identity that is not inward-looking and bitter, not captured and defined by the far right or the forces of reaction, but in its diversity, openness, tolerance, rootedness, generosity and commitment to the common good reflects a country distinct from but also part of a larger multinational polity; a country that has struggled for self-definition but seems at last to be experiencing a reawakening, however inchoate it may be. Call it Gareth Southgate's England."

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley writing on Englishness and the World Cup. His point might be overstated, perhaps, but nevertheless it does seem to ring broadly true.

At the outset of the tournament, I had little time for England, but the bold and resilient mentality, calm assurance and evident harmony of the young, multiracial squad has been impressive - as has Southgate himself, a model of "thoughtfulness, articulacy and pragmatic good sense". Whatever happens this afternoon in Samara, he and his players have succeeded in reconnecting the national side with fans and helped to shape (and maybe even redefine) English national identity in the process.

"A gentle soul"

Soon after legendary Cardiff busker Toy Mic Trev was tracked down to the village of Pentre, up in the Valleys, he was back in the Welsh capital for what was billed as his final gig. And yet it wasn't - he returned some time later, without the media fuss and fanfare, drawn back by the simple pleasure of making people smile.

Sadly, though, there will be no more opportunities to chance upon him crooning away on Queen Street. Following his death at the age of 80, friends and neighbours have been paying touching tribute to the man behind the voice.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Feelgood music

Just a stone's throw from Cardiff Castle stands a statue of Aneurin Bevan, the left-wing firebrand MP who is credited as the architect of the NHS. So it was entirely fitting that former Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys should have chosen to perform 'No Profit In Pain' there yesterday, given that the song was specifically commissioned by National Theatre Wales for their NHS70 festival.

Writing in the Guardian, Rhys explained the motivation behind his involvement and the decision to temporarily abandon his customary "lyrical abstraction" in favour of something more direct: a robust hands-off-the-NHS message to "zealous free-marketeers" with "loads of swearing in it" (though perhaps not as much as one might expect given the subject matter and the fact that this is the man who wrote 'The Man Don't Give A Fuck').

In typically self-deprecating fashion, Rhys refers to his "melodramatic synth-pop power ballad" as a "heartfelt if feeble attempt" to pay tribute to the work of NHS staff - but, given that it doesn't appear on his latest LP Babelsberg and all profits go to Welsh NHS charities, there is every possibility of it making a significant impact.

Also marking the NHS's 70th birthday, the Guardian's Alexandra Topping has spoken to some of the staff to whom 'No Profit In Pain' is dedicated. Their compassion and devotion to the job are abundantly evident, and the article, like Rhys' song, underlines the immense value of free-to-access healthcare.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Talk isn't cheap

What is it about gigs that makes some people feel as though they have the right to behave however they want, even if that includes ruining the evening for others? That's the question Annie Zaleski considers in this article for Salon. She recounts her own personal experiences of loud gig conversationalists and mentions drunken belligerence, but might also have included those who seem incapable of watching a show unless through the prism of their mobile phone, regardless of whether this hinders the view of others.

In the course of her piece, Zaleski casts about in search of explanations, suggesting that the self-centred attitude and short attention span of many contemporary gig-goers might be to blame. She also points the finger at modern means of music consumption, particularly streaming, as helping to strip music of its intrinsic value and instead relegate it to the status of mere wallpaper for social events.

All contributory factors, I'm sure, but perhaps not as significant as an issue to which Zaleski only partially alludes. I share her bafflement at why people would choose to spend good money to be able to have an extended conversation in circumstances that are far from conducive to it. But perhaps it's precisely the fact that they have shelled out a significant sum that makes them feel entitled to then enjoy it their way, with scant regard for the enjoyment of others. As such, continually rising ticket costs (and increasing bar prices) might be helping to exacerbate the problem.

Of course, though, this sense of entitlement is both unjustified (as Zaleski argues) and infuriating. Gigs that take place in nearly perfectly observed silence - such as pretty much any Low show, or Stella Donnelly's recent performance at Clwb - bear out the truth of Zaleski's closing comment: "When people shut up and enjoy the music, great things happen - and memorable, indelible experiences are created."

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Urban jungle

"In the heart of New York City lies an abandoned island." Thus begins Rachel Nuwer's Smithsonian piece on North Brother Island, situated between Manhattan and the Bronx and yet off many people's radar. Nuwer recounts the island's remarkable history, from uninhabited space to quarantine centre and back again.

The 2014 article was prompted by the publication of a book of photos by Christopher Payne, whose perspective is striking: "Most people view ruins as if they were looking into the past, but these buildings show what New York could be years from now. I see these photographs like windows into the future."

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Underground and under threat - again

When the Cellar, one of my favourite Oxford gig venues, successfully fought off redevelopment plans last year, Nightshift editor Ronan sagely observed that a significant battle had been won but that the war would rage on. He was talking about venues generally, though, so it's concerning to learn that the Cellar itself is once again mired in deep trouble, this time under threat from health and safety regulations.

The problem is that its fire escape has been deemed too narrow for the current capacity of 150 - something that has only come to light following an assessment as part of the lease renegotiations. As a result, the capacity has been limited to just 50 people until the situation is resolved - in the words of the venue team, "to such an extent that it may severely affect our ability to survive as a live music and club venue". If they want to avoid a massive drop in takings, it's hard to see how they can respond to this restriction other than by pushing up ticket and bar prices.

While not wishing to dismiss the vital importance of fire safety regulations, especially in light of tragedies that have taken place in recent years, I - like others - am somewhat suspicious of the timing. Finding a solution is extremely difficult because of the age of the building. One of those under consideration is to expand into the vacant shop unit above, formerly occupied by Lush. That might save the venue, but it would surely transform it into a very different space - no longer the dark subterranean mecca beloved by music fans.

The venue team are putting on a brave face and crossing fingers that history can repeat itself: "Suffice to say, the incredible events of last year continue to feed our hopes to be able to stay open". Here's hoping they can - ideally without having to compromise what makes the Cellar so special.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Right on queue

Festival season has been underway for some time now, so it's a bit of a surprise that there haven't been (to my knowledge, at least) any of the usual horrorshows. That seems to have changed over the weekend, though, with a lot of very negative reports from those who went to the Liam Gallagher and Queens Of The Stone Age gigs in Finsbury Park.

Organisers Festival Republic have pointed the finger squarely at the Workers Beer Company for the horrendous bar queues. The bar management firm - who, it has to be said, have years of experience, including at Glastonbury - have in turn blamed "unprecedented failure of up to 40% of our staff to turn up" and offered an apology to fans who had to wait for hours in the baking heat, often missing acts they'd paid to see in the process. (Personally, I'd happily stand in a stationary bar queue rather than watch Gallagher and some of those on the bill with him - but each to their own.)

I'm assuming that there was the standard ban on taking in your own drinks into the site, which no doubt contributed to the problem. However, as has been pointed out by a number of disgruntled fans, the shortage of bar staff is of no significance with respect to some of the other reported issues, such as overcrowding, poor sound quality, security problems and bottlenecks at the exit and by the toilets. Festival Republic clearly have some explaining to do.

He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy

I don't suppose Jacob Rees-Mogg has ever been accused of "insolence" before - on the contrary, he looks like the sort of person who, at school, would have been a smug, obsequious goody-two-shoes with not a detention to his name. But, according to fellow Tory MP Alan Duncan, Rees-Mogg's recent piece on Brexit in the Telegraph, "lecturing & threatening the PM", has earned him that label.

And Duncan isn't alone in condemning the ideologically motivated stance of the backbench toff and his European Research Group. Another Tory, Simon Hoare, described the article as "hectoring nonsense/blackmail". Nice to see those who got us into this whole mess scrapping amongst themselves as we sleepwalk/stagger into the Brexit mincing machine.