Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Quote of the day

"Congratulations to Ken Loach for Palme d'Or - I look forward to Cameron hailing this triumph for British film-making..."

Former BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 man Paul Mason reacts to the news of the Palme d'Or win for Loach's I, Daniel Blake, a film about living on the breadline in Cameron's Britain - dehumanising bureaucracy, foodbanks and all.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Stars of the showcase

OXFORD PUNT, 11TH MAY 2016

Kicking off this year's Punt - Nightshift's annual one-night showcase for the Oxford music scene, featuring 20 acts across five city-centre venues - are MOOGIEMAN & THE MASOCHISTS. This being the Punt and the venue being the Purple Turtle, they are of course late. One song, with its repeated line "I want to shoot you again and again", nods vaguely in the direction of the Velvet Underground, but otherwise the true masochists are those of us in the audience, expected to stomach horrible synths, songs about "complicated girls" being like quicksand and pseudo-intellectual lyrical references to existentialism.

It's been nearly a year since I saw THE BECKONING FAIR ONES (Wheatsheaf) make their live debut, during which time they've bulked up considerably (at least partly thanks to a powerful new rhythm section) and gained or even surpassed the intensity of frontman Niall's previous outfit Dallas Don't. Even a song about going on holiday seems to rouse him to vein-popping fury, while the ear-chafing Mogwai-esque coda to final track 'Billy' ensures a thrilling climax.

SLATE HEARTS (Cellar) are incontrovertible proof that, in the year Nevermind turns 25, the grunge revival has reached Oxford. The bassist's dungarees and the choice of Placebo's 'Every You Every Me' as a fig leaf to cover over a technical issue might be deemed questionable, but they've got the stage presence, the hair, the youthful exuberance and perhaps even the songs to excuse any errors of judgement. My inner 16 year old has a new favourite band.

CHEROKEE (Wheatsheaf) are here not so much to play a set as to put on a show. Bassist/vocalist Jack appears to be wearing a matador's jacket and sombrero (though the latter is soon frisbeed out over the heads of the crowd) while drummer Felixx is dressed as either a droog or a dissolute morris dancer (we're not quite sure which). Appropriately enough, their thunderous alliance of Royal Blood's beef and Iron Maiden's theatrics proves to be ultraviolent with bells on.

The itchy, scratchy post-punk of THESE ARE OUR DEMANDS (White Rabbit) is neither ineffective nor unlikeable, but with that name you do wish that they'd fully commit to holding a pub full of people hostage.

Portishead's lax work ethic might be the cause of much exasperation to fans, but not to STEM (Cellar), who seem eager to capitalise on the Bristolians' protracted silences. They don't exactly deal in spectacle, and the bass should be significantly louder (loud enough to rattle fillings loose, ideally), but there's nevertheless enough about their music - portentous without being pretentious - to captivate.

Countless bands split citing personal or musical differences; far fewer have the nerve and courage to stay together despite them for the greater good. The misfit members of TOO MANY POETS (Wheatsheaf) look as though they're not so much on two different pages as two different planets, but the creative tension that ensues is precisely what makes them currently one of Oxfordshire's most intriguing and original bands, located somewhere in the hinterland between Bauhaus and Soundgarden and destined for a cult following.

Like Slate Hearts before them, LUCY LEAVE (White Rabbit) appear to be doing their best to convince us that dungarees are perfectly acceptable apparel for people who are neither painters/decorators nor convict characters in O Brother Where Art Thou? They're also nicely noisy bastards, heavier than predecessors on the White Rabbit stage These Are Our Demands - though I don't see enough to pass proper judgement. No matter - no doubt we'll meet again.

(Parts of this review appear in the June issue of Nightshift.)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Off-colour

I'm late to the party on this (as usual), but if you're a fan of the Perry Bible Fellowship comic strips or just have a twisted sense of humour, then you'll enjoy the simultaneously bright and dark work of Joan Cornella. As a friend commented, arguably what's most unsettling is the fact that so many of Cornella's characters are smiling.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"Technically English"

Such a shame that US series Castle has been canned. Not that I'm a fan, or even a regular viewer - I just enjoy the show's attempts to depict a Geordie for the benefit of US audiences. Apparently some research was involved - hard to believe, given the actor has a staggeringly awful accent, significantly worse even than the already bad Keith Fitt on CBeebies sketch show Gigglebiz (a cross between The Fast Show's Julio Geordio and Harry Enfield's Scousers)...

(Thanks to Simon for the Castle link.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

X-ray vision sound

You can't stop the rock. You can try, as they did in the USSR by heavily censoring music - with Western music in particular outlawed. But desperate people often prove extremely resourceful, and so it was that in Leningrad fans of illicit forms adopted a DIY ethic and started manufacturing their own records out of old X-ray plates. As picture discs go, these were pretty extraordinary.

Good looking

Kim Jong-un: like father, like son.

(Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Whatever the weather

You should of course know better than to trust the Daily Express on anything - but on the evidence amassed by Scott Bryan, when it comes to the weather, one of its favourite subjects, "the nation's most popular combined Diana fanzine and publisher of serialised fiction" really isn't to be believed. In the paper's defence, their forecasts probably would be correct if it weren't for those pesky gays interfering with the weather patterns.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Head music

Last month I wrote about former Futureheads frontman Barry Hyde's struggles with mental illness - a harrowing tale - so hats off to Noisey for recognising the importance of the issue and extent of the problem by spending Mental Health Awareness Week exploring music and mental health. Articles already up on the site include Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus and Alanna McArdle, formerly of Joanna Gruesome, each talking about their own personal experiences of manic depression.

Meanwhile, the Guardian have for their part published an article by Fiona McGugan, general manager of the Music Managers Forum, on the growing recognition within the industry that managers need to be sensitive and supportive with regard to mental health issues, even if they shouldn't be expected to be fully fledged counsellors.

A bad taste in the mouth

So one of the casualties of the cuts being enforced on the Beeb by the Tories is the BBC Food website - justifiably described by Dan Lepard, one of the chefs who has contributed recipes to the site, as an "extraordinary, world-class archive". Mumsnetters are among those up in arms at the decision to close the site - and I too am very disappointed, having found it a great resource to have at your fingertips when in possession of random ingredients and but devoid of inspiration. The sheer number of users, reviewers and comments make it a site you can really trust. Here's hoping that either there's a change of heart or the existing archive is preserved in its entirety, at least.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"It was a pity Mr Lilley didn't speak for longer, because it would have been interesting to hear him expound on this view. He could have spoken, perhaps, about the glass ceiling that, throughout this nation's history, has prevented Conservatives from securing top jobs in business, politics, newspapers and the clergy. He could have demanded to know when Conservatives would be admitted to the Garrick, or White's, or Eton. And he could have asked, voice quivering with passion, whether we will ever see a Conservative rise to the office of prime minister."

Marvellously withering sarcasm from the Telegraph's Michael Deacon on Tory MP Peter Lilley's claim that Conservatives "are the greatest oppressed minority in this country", which he made in the course of accusing the BBC of having a left-wing bias.

The rest of Deacon's article mocks Labour for being wrongfooted by Culture Secretary John Whittingdale backtracking on plans to "destroy" the Beeb. Writing in the New Statesman, David Clark has offered valuable insight into both why Auntie is the target for attacks from the right (it's a successful public institution that "punctures the myth that markets are always better at allocating resources and giving people what they want") but also why the proposals in the recent White Paper have been watered down ("One of the genuine virtues of conservatism, properly understood, is its reverence for established institutions, especially those that function effectively and command a large measure of national loyalty").

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hip and happening

After a three-year hiatus, the 1-2-3-4 Festival is back, boasting The Jesus & Mary Chain as well as Crows, a band that seriously impressed at Dials Festival in Portsmouth last year. If I didn't already have plans for 3rd September, I'd be considering going.

I went to the festival's previous incarnation twice, in 2010 and 2012, and was fortunate enough to see a number of brilliant performances (Fucked Up, Invasion, Bo Ningen, The Pre New and Rolo Tomassi in 2010; Buzzcocks, The Pre New and Bo Ningen in 2012). In 2010 there were a few problems (poor sound and disorganised stage management, for instance), though these were improved for the 2012 event.

Both years the site was crawling with bizarrely dressed hipsters - inevitable, I guess, given that it took place in Shoreditch. This year's bash has a new setting, Three Mills Island, but as that it's still within East London, the crowd the festival attracts is likely to be much the same.

I was a bit uncomfortable with the level of corporate branding everywhere, but this no doubt helped to keep ticket prices ludicrously cheap (a mere £20 in 2010). This year, though, it looks as though a ticket will set you back the best part of £50, so presumably the organisers haven't got the same level of sponsorship this time around.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pool party

So I go away for ten days and return to discover that Radiohead are back, dropping new album A Moon Shaped Pool online with little advance warning, as has become their standard practice these days.

I haven't heard the album yet (it's set to be the featured album on Episode 5 of the Sounding Bored podcast), but the pedant in me is already irritated by the lack of a hyphen in the title... Lead track 'Burn The Witch' has certainly grown on me, though, with its superb Camberwick-Green-meets-Wicker-Man video, unsettling strings and classically obscure yet ominous Yorkist lyrics about "a low-flying panic attack" and "red crosses on wooden doors".

While the exact target and subject matter for the song might be unclear (authoritarianism, the European migrant crisis and mass online surveillance have all been proposed), those lyrics do suggest a return to the politically engaged Radiohead of the pre- and post-millennium period. That period is the focus for a Pitchfork article by Alex Niven, in which he ventures that 'Burn The Witch' is "an interventionist revival of sorts".

The band's left-of-centre politics and consistent anti-capitalist critique sits a little uncomfortably with their adoption of corporate models when it comes to managing their business affairs - but, then again, maybe that's just sensible in allowing them the financial security to be able to remain focused on the creative side of things, as the Guardian's Alex Marshall has suggested.

Meanwhile, the release of A Moon Shaped Pool has prompted Vulture's Marc Hogan to rank every single Radiohead recorded song. The result - inevitably headed "I Might Be Wrong" - is recommended to anyone who's a fan of the band, of lists and of quibbling with other people's assessments. 'Exit Music (For A Film)' at #20?! Pah.

(Thanks to Rob for the Guardian link.)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Bard for life

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death, who better to present a brief guide to "the king of the bards" than Philomena Cunk, the idiot savant of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe? Over the course of an enlightening half-hour, we learned that Shakespeare had a childhood, he invented computer games and Hob Nobs taste like thatched roofs. I'd never thought about comparing Hamlet to Liam Neeson action flick Taken, but thanks to Philomena I'm now convinced of the latter's superiority.

Her material presented to camera was hilarious, while the encounters with Simon Russell Beale, Iqbal Khan and others were excruciatingly awkward - it's a wonder Diane Morgan was able to stay in character. You'd hope for more programmes along similar lines, but, as happened with Ali G and Chris Morris before him, the format probably has a short shelf life because people will soon cotton on to what's going on and either refuse to engage with her or (worse) knowingly play along with it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A taste of Italy

Spectacular cathedrals, picturesque streets and piazzas, beautiful countryside, delicious food - and yet the sight from our ten-day Tuscan holiday that will endure longest in the memory is that of an old man feeding ice cream to a parrot sat on his shoulder.

Despite the presence of both a three-year-old bundle of energy and my parents, the locals' driving skills (no wonder all of their cars are dented and scratched), and trying to fathom the opening times of anything (including the local tourist information office), it proved to be a very relaxing break. Our time was largely spent pottering around towns (we did Orvieto, Chianciano Terme, Montepulciano and Siena over the course of four days), enjoying/enduring dips in the cool supposedly thermally heated swimming pool and eating copious quantities of food and drink.

And oh what food and drink. Before we went, I was salivating at the prospect of pizzas, fresh pasta and lots of wine. I wasn't disappointed - though soon realised I should also have been looking forward to the coffee and the gelato. The holiday's gastronomic highlight was undoubtedly a date night trip to Da Gagliano, understandably ranked as Sarteano's top restaurant on Trip Advisor. The service was effusive, friendly and welcoming; the atmosphere was cosy (it only has space for 20 covers); and the food - Tuscan ham and sundried tomato salad, broad bean pie with asparagus and creamy pecorino sauce, Florentine beef stew, baked pork loin with artichoke and ham, warm custard and chocolate truffles, cantucci with homemade vino santo flavoured with orange and lemon - was uniformly sensational.

It's now even more incredible to think that neither of us had never been to Italy before. Suffice to say we'll be back...





Thursday, May 12, 2016

May the fourth episode of Sounding Bored be with you

Episode 4 of Sounding Bored finds us reflecting on the latest sorry chapter in the ATP saga, the short-notice cancellation of the Drive Like Jehu weekender, with Niall contributing to the discussion from the perspective of someone who (unlike me) has had his fingers burned by the promoters' previous flakiness. There's a look back over some of the best records released so far this year, with me taking the opportunity to wax lyrical about The Besnard Lakes while Rob praises PJ Harvey's The Hope Six Demolition Project and Niall picks Teleman's Brilliant Sanity. We wrap up by offering some thoughts on post-punk godfathers Wire's new album, Nocturnal Koreans, and setting it into the context of their hugely impressive and influential 40-year career.

On the offensive

There was a time when Azealia Banks was seen as a fresh, provocative voice (around the release of '212', perhaps), but - numerous spats and tirades later - it seems she's set her sights on becoming the Katie Hopkins of rap. Her latest outburst saw her accuse former One Direction man Zayn Malik of plagiarism and following up with a whole host of colourful racist insults. She's since apologised only for causing upset, not for the words themselves, claiming that "as an individual I have the creative freedom to say whatever the fuck I want". As a result, she's been dropped from Rinse FM's Born & Bred Festival, due to take place in London next month, with the organisers stating "We celebrate inclusivity and equality" - a laudably swift indictment.

As if she wasn't toxic enough already, she's also recently expressed her support for Donald Trump (with reasoning that doesn't exactly stand up to scrutiny)...

Quite Very interesting

Most bizarre music news of the day: Corey Taylor of Slipknot is to appear on QI. I wonder what he'll make of Ross Noble?

(Thanks to Steve for the link.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Centre stage

When we paid a brief visit to Hebden Bridge early last month, it was abundantly clear that the town is only now just starting to get back on its feet after the devastating Christmas floods. Many of the shops next to the river still stand vacant or in states of partial repair, with messages of defiance stuck in many windows. (In the circumstances, Fat Face should perhaps have considered whether it was appropriate to adopt the same window display promoting jeans as other stores nationwide, given the large slogan reading "Washed in happiness"...)

If it was hard to imagine how grim the situation was in December, then this Clash article by Nick Rice does an excellent job of conveying it - but goes further by explaining how the town's semi-legendary music venue the Trades Club proved to be absolutely essential in providing a paddle for people who had been left up shit creek. It's a perfect example of how important small gig venues can be to the local community, often in ways that go beyond music, and why it's worth supporting the Music Venue Trust's campaign to preserve them.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Songs of innocence

Following on from the Arab Strap article posted in February, here's another old (unedited) university magazine article I unearthed recently - this time, my interview with writer Blake Morrison that took place in late 2000 or early 2001.

* * * * *

Fresh-faced and full of the naivety of youth, Blake Morrison first arrived at Nottingham University from his native Yorkshire in 1969, eager to experience all that university life had to offer. 32 years on, older, wiser, and perhaps more cynical, he's been invited back as one of this country's most respected writers to talk about a distinguished career that has taken in literary reviewing, poetry, an award-winning memoir of his father and an acclaimed book on the Bulger case, As If.

This official invitation to address an audience of postgraduates seems rather curious; as a young idealistic English undergraduate Morrison once participated enthusiastically in an occupation of the Trent Building. In the late 1960s even conservative middle-class universities like Nottingham were hotbeds of political activism, and it wasn't long before he found himself caught up in the spirit of the times. "There had been student riots all over the world", he says, "and frankly those television images rubbed off on people." But times change, and it's hard to imagine such revolutionary fervour today. "There was probably much more interest in politics and alternatives then", he agrees. "At least when Thatcher was around there was something to rally against. People have huge doubts about Blair, but it's just a bland consensus thing. It's hard for anybody in public life and politics as well as at universities to get worked up." Apathy reigns, it seems.

However, careful not to romanticise his own experience, Morrison fears the introduction of tuition fees will herald a return to the days of restricted access and elitism. As a former resident of the "depressingly all-male" Hugh Stu Hall, he also welcomes the demise of single-sex halls: "on the whole", he argues, "you want to be encouraging a co-educational environment where you're getting rid of suspicion and misunderstanding between the sexes." But he nevertheless clings to the hope that university should be more than just a finishing school, lamenting the current emphasis on employability and transferable skills. "Part of university should be having the chance to be a bit distant from life and the workplace and power structures, and to question them", he suggests, adding, "I think you're much more pressurised than we were, so you neither have the time for intellectual reflection beyond the subjects you're studying, nor maybe do you have the time to have a good time."

Morrison's personal experience of university life is fondly chronicled in the essay 'Bloody Students'. Part reminiscence and part reflection on the current state of higher education in this country, 'Bloody Students' was inspired by his return to Nottingham in 1994. Even then he noted with some disappointment that "money is the word on everyone's lips". With the University currently embroiled in the controversy over British American Tobacco funding, little has changed. His response is animated, an unequivocal condemnation of the tobacco firm's donation. "It's very important that the whole research effort isn't tied in with a particular industry, and obviously in this case it seems very dubious", he reasons.

In February 1989, when editor of the books pages for the Observer, Morrison suddenly found himself unwittingly at the centre of a major controversy of a very different kind. Muslim leader the Ayatollah Khomeini, outraged at "blasphemous" passages in Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, invoked a death sentence (fatwa) on the author, who at the time was one of Morrison's regular reviewers. Rushdie was forced into hiding, but, as Morrison recalls, "he owed me a review and three days after he disappeared the review arrived by post – this was a world news story." A whole debate opened up in which Morrison vigorously defended the condemned man, later conducting an interview with him for the Independent On Sunday when he broke his silence. All the time Rushdie continued to get book reviews published. "I've forgotten how we got the books to him", Morrison laughs.

Controversial issues have always attracted Morrison's interest and inspired his writings, as a survey of his work testifies. Take, for instance, As If, which began life as an article in the New Yorker, and which cuts through the indignant tabloid hysteria and sensationalism surrounding the Bulger trial, instead treating the harrowing events with a careful and rational sensitivity. Or his long poem 'The Ballad Of The Yorkshire Ripper', written in dialect, which takes for its subject the convicted mass murderer Peter Sutcliffe, who claimed to have been sent by God to kill prostitutes. Or 'The Trouble With Porn', an extended review of Nadine Strossen's book Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex And The Fight For Women's Rights in which he both applauds and takes issue with Strossen's arguments. "The censorship lobby protecting children or women versus people who are saying you've got to be able to talk about whatever you like, take photographs of whatever you like – those sorts of issues interest me", he explains.

However, what is most remarkable about Morrison's work is its sheer variety. In addition to reviews, poetry, investigative journalism and biography, he has also written a play and a short film, and is currently working on a memoir of his mother. Too True, a volume of his journalism, stories and extended reviews, contains pieces on major literary figures such as Philip Larkin, Angela Carter, Alan Bennett and Ted Hughes, as well as a recollection of his childhood passion for Burnley Football Club and a fascinating article on the North-South divide. "I really like trying my hand at different things, different kinds of writing", he admits. "If people suggest something and it sounds good and interesting, I think, 'Yeah, OK, why not? I'll have a go'".

Too True comes highly recommended, not only as a showcase for the impressive range of Morrison's writing; it is also where you can read 'Bloody Students'. Touching and wistful without ever lapsing into sentimentality, his recollection of student life in Nottingham is by turns perceptive, informative and amusing, revolving around situations and places instantly recognisable to us all. "The rooms are as monkish as I remember them", he writes of halls of residence, " - bed, desk, chair, sixty-watt bulb - and the corridors have the same smell of stale sex and burnt toast." Like Larkin, he constantly strives to find poetry in the mundane detail of life, and there is perhaps an underlying sense of sadness in such sentences as "When I take the long walk round the university lake, old haunt of those nursing hangovers and broken hearts, the only sign of life I come across is a knotted pink condom". At the end of the piece he grudgingly acknowledges his student days are long gone, but did he enjoy his time at Nottingham? "I felt very at home here at the end", he says, smiling.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

"Actual dolphin calls and splashing water samples are used throughout the track"

Why I Deleted Your Promo Email: hugely entertaining, first and foremost, but also more than a little excruciating - largely because of the knowledge that I've no doubt written similar guff about undeserving bands at various points over the last couple of decades...

Friday, May 06, 2016

Rockumentaries recommended

With Heavy Metal Parking Lot celebrating its thirtieth birthday this year, the Quietus' Brian Coney has recommended eight other rock documentaries - or rockumentaries, if you will - deserving of your time. I've seen three: Anvil: The Story Of Anvil, the even more cringeworthy Metallica film Some Kind Of Monster and the entertaining but flawed Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, but all of the others - especially Such Hawks, Such Hounds - have piqued my interest.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"He celebrates a masculinity that is useless. Try going into an estate agent in Finsbury Park and come out with an affordable flat. I want to see Bear Grylls looking for a decent state school for his child!"

Grayson Perry clearly isn't hugely impressed with Bear Grylls' survival skills and thinks he could perhaps be a bit more practical.

Perry was speaking to the Radio Times about his new three-part series for Channel 4, All Man. Given the quality of his last previous documentaries, In The Best Possible Taste and Who Are You?, he's making a very welcome return to our screens - and it might not be long before he's better known as a TV presenter than as a Turner Prize-winning transvestite potter.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

"Weird. But great"

Reading the BBC's Ben Dirs' fascinating interview with Steve Davis, on the occasion of his retirement from snooker at the age of 58, you have to wonder how the six-time world champion was ever earned his notorious reputation for being boring - a pallid, stiff, suit-wearing precursor to Spitting Image's John Major.

It's a real shame that ATP looks to be dead in the water. As a huge fan of out-there art rock, prog and electronica and someone who feels his life "is like living in a big holiday camp, where everyone's nice to me", Davis would have been perfect for a DJ slot at one of their weekenders, following in the footsteps of fellow ex-sportsman-cum-record-spinner Pat Nevin. It's hardly a far-fetched suggestion, either - Davis has already had one such slot at Bloc Festival at ATP's old haunt of Butlins Minehead...

Monday, May 02, 2016

Quote of the day

"The rave-style track represents a different type of whistleblowing for Snowden."

Well played Adam Gabbatt of the Guardian, well played. As if the headline "Edward Snowden releases techno song with Jean-Michel Jarre" wasn't arresting enough.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Naming rights

GIRLS' NAMES / TOO MANY POETS / SWOONS, 24TH MARCH 2016, OXFORD BULLINGDON

Noisey, Vice's music channel/website, recently managed to get Johnny Borrell to act as the guide for a potted history of landfill indie - a move akin to rubbing a dog's face in its own shit. Attending a Swoons gig would no doubt be a far more pleasurable experience for the former Razorlight frontman, who would likely see something of himself in vocalist/guitarist Luke Duffett, exuding charisma and self-confidence despite suffering the after-effects of a dodgy KFC bucket.

The trio's clean-cut, anthemically inclined indie means they have easily the greatest commercial potential of the three bands on tonight's bill, but the fact that Borrell's toe would be tapping is more than enough to get Nightshift's own stomach churning queasily.

If bands like Swoons can be found anywhere the length and breadth of the country, the same certainly can't be said of Witney's Too Many Poets. There's something of the night about the former Nightshift Demo Of The Monthers' curious yet undeniably distinctive fusion of Eagulls, grungey metal and portentous goth - unsettling for the reviewer in that it resists any attempt at pigeonholing, but occasionally thrilling for the listener.

'iMobile', the explosive lead track from January's debut EP Relying On Reflections, channels paranoia on a David Icke/Daily Mail scale in its sinister assertion that "this endless information flow" is "slowly rotting the mind of our youth". I don't investigate the merch table, but presumably they have a nice line in tinfoil hats.

You might expect that eight shows in five days would reduce a band to teary exhaustion, but Girls Names' intense SXSW itinerary (in support of latest LP Arms Around A Vision) appears to have had the exact opposite effect, energising and sharpening their headline set. It's impossible not to spare a thought for poor put-upon drummer Gib Cassidy, who has to work incredibly hard to set the pace and is barely allowed a break, like Joy Division's Stephen Morris drumming on the roof in 24 Hour Party People.

The Belfast quartet's tightly coiled post-punk, not dissimilar to Wire on record, is highly recommended for anyone who (like me) loves 'The Answer' but thinks Savages' Adore Life becomes a little tame thereafter. Live, though, the songs are largely indistinguishable in the din, as punishing as that SXSW schedule, with founder member Cathal Cully barking with exaggerated enunciation over the top, stretching words out into weird shapes. It comes as little surprise to learn that when using angle grinders while working as a labourer, he used to pretend he was in Einsturzende Neubauten.

Cully and company are at their best when they forget about keeping things concise and instead throw off the shackles and get lost in the nihilistic minimalism and principled repetition of their no wave influences - even if Cassidy won't thank me for saying so.

(An edited version of this review appears in the May issue of Nightshift.)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Never mind the bollocks

If Mischa Pearlman's Noisey article on Slaves was supposed to make them seem less like loutish knuckleheads - as seems to be the case - then it's a complete failure. "As it happens", she claims, "there's more to them than beers, willy jokes and sales figures." Um, I'm struggling to find the evidence. The fact that they're vegans? The fact that their music and anger is nominally political?

That said, on a couple of occasions, Pearlman does skewer them in passing: "they look like they've been ripped from the mood board for a Shane Meadows film, but dragged backwards through Topman en route" and "their songs wouldn't sound out of place in a television advert for a Union Jack-themed Mastercard". Never mind her contrived attempts elsewhere to make them seem sensitive and thoughtful - this is far closer to the truth.

Towards the end of the piece, Pearlman claims: "It's not that they're not punk, it's that they're a different kind - a new kind - of punk band, one that primarily exists as much to entertain as indict, as much to have fun as to shake up the foundations of society". Even disregarding the ludicrous suggestion that 'Where's Your Car Debbie?' might be both "fun" and a destabilising attack on "the foundations of society", if Slaves are the future of punk, then it might as well be dead.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"I sympathise a little with Hunt - he was born into military aristocracy, a cousin of the Queen, went to Charterhouse, then Oxford, then into PR: trying to get him to understand the life of an overworked student nurse is like trying to get an Amazonian tree frog to understand the plot of Blade Runner. Hunt doesn't understand the need to pay doctors - he's part of a ruling class that doesn't understand that the desire to cut someone open and rearrange their internal organs can come from a desire to help others, and not just because of insanity caused by hereditary syphilis."

Frankie Boyle on our not-so-esteemed Health Secretary. His Guardian piece on Hunt's sustained assault on junior doctors and the NHS as a whole has been the subject of effusive praise, much of it from those in the medical profession - and rightly so. The concluding paragraph is stunningly good.

(Thanks to Damian for the link.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cover-up story and cover stories

If you only read one piece about the Hillsborough inquest and the way the police, politicians and the media colluded to smear and blame supporters for the disaster, make it David Conn's meticulously detailed, shocking, emotive and downright superb article for the Guardian.

If you choose to look for coverage in either the Sun or the Times, good luck - Murdoch's two rags left the stories off the front pages (initially, at least). As Gary Lineker has commented on Twitter, "As disgusting as it is unsurprising. They have no shame."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shop talk

It's been a while coming, but Episode 3 of Sounding Bored is now up online, barely hours after being recorded. Inevitably we had to kick off with some reflections on Prince's legacy, before getting into the meat of the episode: a discussion of record shops, the pressures they're under, their prospects for the future and the (questionable) value of Record Store Day. Needless to say, I took the opportunity to sing the praises of Spillers in Cardiff and Piccadilly in Manchester, as well as paying tribute to Nottingham's late, great Selectadisc and very recent casualties Avalanche (Edinburgh) and The Music Exchange (Nottingham). We wrapped up with an appraisal of Anna Meredith's extraordinary debut album Varmints, out on Moshi Moshi.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

You can't stop the rock

Brian Johnson's first official statement since parting ways with AC/DC suggests that maybe the manner of his departure wasn't quite as acrimonious as was first reported. He talks about his hearing issues leaving him with "no choice" and being unable "in good conscience" to risk embarrassing the other members of the band. That said, his refusal to name Axl Rose as his replacement (he can only bring himself to refer to "a guest singer") does perhaps hint at disgruntlement about the indecent haste with which a stand-in was sourced and announced.

While Johnson's condition may have brought the curtain down on his time on his 40 years in AC/DC, he's determined not to hang up his mic just yet and has been given the all-clear by doctors to continue to work in the recording studio. Hearing problems or no hearing problems, meek-mannered acoustic ballads are unlikely to be on the agenda...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Capital gains

Faced with the revelations contained within the Panama Papers, David Cameron and chums have come out fighting, blathering on about "the politics of envy" and perpetuating the myth of trickle-down economics according to which the super-rich, rather than being vilified, should instead be venerated as wealth creators. Judging by Andrew Sayers' recent article for the LSE, his provocatively titled new book Why We Can't Afford The Rich is a comprehensive (and timely) debunking of that particular fiction.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Quote of the day

"I don't know. Ask Prince."

Eric Clapton's response when asked how it felt to be the best guitarist in the world.

At the start of the year, if you had to name another living solo musician as iconic as David Bowie, it would probably have been the man born Prince Rogers Nelson. And now 2016 has claimed the lives of both.

No doubt it's heretical to say this, but my two favourite Prince songs are 'Manic Monday' and 'Nothing Compares 2 U'...

Keeping themselves busy

Some cheery news amid the gloom. The band formerly known as Viet Cong are back, with a new name: Preoccupations. Hopefully, as frontman Matt Flegel says, they can "move on" from all of the toxic controversy surrounding their old one and "focus on our music". Their 2015 debut LP was an absolute corker so I for one can't wait for a taster of the new material.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"It's a cult. And the only thing that's going to adjust their ideological fixation is reality. I predict that this hashtag generation - look, for everyone that's out there spinning their little New Year's toy in your reporter's face - and I've watched those clips and I'm horrified as somebody who believes in free speech and is an artist, because those people are gonna be coming for me. Let's face it. It may not be tomorrow, but it's soon enough because I said the wrong thing on the wrong day because I was tired and I didn't take my X2 that day, or whatever. You know what I mean? It's like, to live like that, to live where every word is a landmine - you know what I'm saying - it's not the world I want to live in."

Billy Corgan - a man who could easily be the sole supplier of quotes for the Know Your Enemy features - attacks "social justice warriors" in a diatribe in which he compares them to the KKK. Yes, Billy (or should I call you "William"?), it's all political correctness gone mad, isn't it?

Corgan no doubt felt encouraged to vent by the fact that he was in conversation with Alex Jones, the rabid right-wing conspiracy theorist once branded "the worst person I've ever interviewed" by Andrew Neil. Not so much a meeting of minds, then, as a meeting of megalomaniac nutjobs.

Destroying the evidence

Top scientists prevented from speaking out against government policy? Something you might expect in North Korea, China or Russia perhaps - but not in the UK. However, unless there's a sudden change of tack, academics and researchers in receipt of government grant money are soon going to be barred from campaigning for changes to the law.

It's nothing new for unpalatable scientific findings to be either ignored or rejected - note Labour's sacking of Professor David Nutt and the present government's apparent determination to pay nothing but lip service to the concept of "evidence-based policy" when it comes to the badger cull and climate change - but for this to be formalised would be both ludicrous and sinister, and a blatant assault on academic freedom.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Partied out

When the Drive Like Jehu ATP weekender was suddenly switched from Pontins in Prestatyn to the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester, alarm bells should have been ringing - and indeed probably were for many people. I, however, continued to keep the faith - and so the news that the event has now been cancelled on the grounds of "its lack of financial viability" comes as a crushing blow, though of course not quite as crushing as for those who had forked out for it, whether they did so blissfully unaware of ATP's track record or very much against their better judgement.

In a lengthy message posted on their Facebook page, accompanied by a picture of a toilet roll with "ATP" written on it, the curators expressed their hurt, disappointment and anger: "It's a uniquely cruel hoax to appeal to Drive Like Jehu's ego and ask us to create a program based on personally inviting the bands and musicians that have inspired us and changed the way we hear music and then subject them and their supporters to this." They explained that none of the bands wanted to cancel, but several of them found themselves left without the means to make it across the Atlantic.

There was also a sense that the band are angry at themselves for failing to heed the warning signs: "We were so committed to seeing this through that we remained hopeful (blind in retrospect) amongst the ritualistic turmoil and crisis and trusted their solutions that would ensure that the show would definitely go on and the attendees would be treated fairly and the bands would be respected and celebrated."

Surveying the carnage, the Quietus' Alex Marshall has pointed the finger of blame at everyone: Barry Hogan and his now glaringly obvious lack of business acumen, for sure, but also the fans, curators and bands who have persisted in trusting him. Long-time ATP ally Stuart Braithwaite took to Twitter to (quite rightly) denounce those being "gleeful" about the whole sorry situation, but provoked a barrage of reasonable, non-abusive comments from people who had clearly lost patience with ATP, including Hookworms, who appear not to have been paid for their appearance at the Loop weekender back in November 2013. Braithwaite's Mogwai bandmate Barry Burns had an exchange with fellow ATP advocate Geoff Barrow, with the Portishead man conceding that it's "hard to argue when the skint bands you love don't get paid".

No doubt the ugly repercussions and accusations will continue to rumble on over the next few days and weeks, but this really does look like curtains for ATP, who have surely lost any residual brand loyalty they still had. A crying shame, particularly given that despite the odd logistical hiccup (and John Cale's withdrawal) last weekend's bash curated by Stewart Lee appears to have been a roaring success.

Thanks for the memories, ATP.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A new Rose

So the worst-kept secret in rock is out: Axl Rose is the new frontman for AC/DC. Following Brian Johnson's apparently unceremonious ousting, the Guns 'N' Roses vocalist has stepped into the breach, meaning that the famously indolent singer is now fronting not one but two active concerns. To mark the announcement, Angus Young joined Guns 'N' Roses on stage at Coachella for renditions of a couple of AC/DC songs, 'Whole Lotta Rosie' and 'Riff Raff'.

Meanwhile, fellow Coachella performers LCD Soundsystem - themselves staging what not so long ago would have been considered an improbable comeback - paid tribute to Axl Rose's original crew by dropping a chunk of 'November Rain' into the middle of 'New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down', as well as covering David Bowie's 'Heroes' to good effect. A new LP, their fourth, is scheduled to drop later in the year.

Back to 'November Rain', though: the video trilogy comprising it, 'Don't Cry' and 'Estranged' has been celebrated by Pitchfork's Ryan Dombal, who lauds the videos' "magnificent excess". They had certainly come an awfully long way from Appetite For Destruction by this point.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Trash talk

Who better to help trace the decline from the musical heights hit by The Strokes to the nadir of bland, commercial landfill indie during the noughties than one of its chief architects, Johnny Borrell? In this piece on Noisey, the former Razorlight man tries to deflect some of the blame onto his bandmates, particularly drummer Andy Burrows, but accepts (with a measure of megalomania that is both perverse and characteristic) that 'Before I Fall To Pieces' was "where we totally fucked it up for everyone. I think you can kind of say that in 2006, at the start of this video, music was in quite an interesting place. Then three-and-a-half minutes later it's fucked."

I can't disagree with the selection of the songs marking the decline, though the inclusion of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Bang' (and Borrell's enthusiasm for it) does rather unfairly tarnish the song and the band by association, even if it's only featured so as to illustrate how rapidly and how radically things went downhill afterwards.

(Thanks to Chris for the link.)

Friday, April 15, 2016

"This is the 'eleventh hour' and there is no 'Plan B'"

Laughing at the plight of Britain First: when Schadenfreude is not merely mean-spirited but perfectly acceptable. The group have sent out a panicky "emergency message" by email to supporters urging everyone to "up our game, dig deep and re-double our efforts" because leader Paul Golding's London mayoral campaign is "dangerously close to being a humiliation".

How they think that failure in the polls will make them "a laughing stock" is beyond me, though - they're clearly blissfully unaware they've been a laughing stock for ages.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Know Your Enemy

"This whole industry fucking sucks and this little get-together you guys have here is like a private boys' club and it's a bunch of jackasses and jerks and fucking gangsters and crooks who've fucking stolen everything from a fucking artist. Telling the artist to come out here and tap dance."

Just a short excerpt from Steve Miller's rant delivered immediately after his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. It's fair to say he didn't show much gratitude for being given the accolade...

Caught up in it all were The Black Keys, fans of Miller's music who accepted the invitation to induct him but who (as Dan Auerbach told Rolling Stone) now very much regret doing so: "He said, 'The whole process was unpleasant.' And for Pat and I, honestly, the most unpleasant part was being around him."

The dark arts

Musician, music reviewer, footballer, guitar designer - and now co-director of feminist horror films. Is there no end to Annie Clark's talents?

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The needle and the damage done

"Quietly stunning" is how the Radio Times' Kasia Delgado described Chasing Dad: A Lifelong Addiction, a documentary that recently aired on BBC3 - and she wasn't overstating the case.

What made the film so powerful wasn't simply the often harrowing portrait of a man firmly in the grips of heroin addiction (haggard appearance, zoning out mid-conversation) but primarily the fact that Philip Wood, the person behind the camera, was his son. The film-maker wasn't just a sympathetic ear - he asked his subject probing questions, challenged his subject's behaviour and routinely cast doubt on what his subject said (decades of addiction had turned Philip Wood Sr into a compulsive liar).

Time and again Wood Sr mentioned wanting to straighten himself out, though only ever seemed to be going through the motions and saying what he thought his son wanted to hear without really meaning it. So it came as a pleasant surprise to discover that a spell in rehab (arranged and paid for by his son and other family members) was proving a success. Certainly, four months down that difficult path, he looked like a different person.

It was at this point that the film-maker properly confronted his dad with the stark truth about the physical, emotional and psychological devastation that drug (and alcohol) addiction had wrought upon the family - and his dad's stunned and horrified reaction suggested the possibility that, through open and honest exchanges, bridges could be rebuilt and trust could be re-established.

The film was perhaps a little confused in (on the one hand) implicitly portraying Wood Sr as at least partially culpable for his condition, his behaviour and the damage inflicted on others and (on the other) recognising that drug addiction is an illness, control of which lies beyond the capacity of the individual. But then nothing is completely black and white, and the film-maker's sister articulated this confusion well, saying that initially she felt nothing but anger and hatred for her father (how could she and her brother not?) but that she'd gradually come to pity him on the grounds that no one chooses to become an addict and to wind up in the state he was in prior to rehab.

BBC3 wants to be careful - with this following hot on the heels of another worthy and emotive documentary, Professor Green: Hidden And Homeless, the channel is in serious danger of gaining credibility and a reputation for being at least occasionally watchable...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"So many things that are painful"

We've had the biopic (which I still haven't seen) - now for the autobiography. I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir (created in collaboration with a ghostwriter) will be published in October. It'll be interesting to see how exactly the man himself paints what has been an extremely colourful life - and how much it tallies with Nick Kent's lengthy portrait of him in The Dark Stuff.

Meanwhile, to mark the 50th birthday of Pet Sounds, Pitchfork have compiled the thoughts of a number of musicians on Wilson's extraordinary magnum opus, including Ronnie Spector, Sean Lennon, Bobby Gillespie and members of Talking Heads, Matmos, Mogwai, Tortoise and Yo La Tengo. Perhaps the most curious perspective on the album is that of Deftones' Stephen Carpenter: "What I love most about Pet Sounds is how much it influenced Mr Bungle's California record. I feel it's the same album ultimately - I mean, that's the true California sound right there. I just love Mr Bungle and how they can go from beauty to straight-bust-your-face-open. I can only imagine what the Beach Boys would have done if they had some really high-gain amps and just crushed you."

Monday, April 11, 2016

A portrait of Pyongyang

What's daily life really like in the North Korean capital? In an article republished by the Guardian, NK News asked an assortment of people, including a defector, a pair of diplomats and the first Westerner to study at Kim Il-sung University. A university lecturer suggested: "Imagine rewinding the clock back to 1980, when cellphones didn't exist and people spoke to their neighbours and friends on a daily basis." Doesn't sound all that bad, does it? Aside from the censorship, repressive political climate and restrictions on freedom of movement.

Meanwhile, architecture critic Oliver Wainwright found touring North Korea to be like wandering around inside a Wes Anderson film. Take a look at the images accompanying this article and you'll see how right he is.

(Thanks to Neil and Seralynn for the links.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Disco inferno

Over the last couple of years I've written a lot about the threats and pressures to which music venues are being subjected (most recently yesterday), but, as this BBC article underlines, the situation is arguably even bleaker for the nation's nightclubs. The list of factors cited as contributing to their demise include changing drinking habits among young people (drinking less, but also buying more alcohol from shops than across bars) and the relaxation of the licensing laws and extension of opening hours for pubs and bars (why go to a club when you can stay in a pub/bar for free?).

The Guardian then conducted their own survey, and identified a range of reasons: the general shitness of clubs; the expense, stress and impersonality of a night clubbing; health and safety concerns; and fatigue. I understand all of those except the last - a lame excuse for teenagers and twentysomethings.

Personally speaking, I hardly go clubbing at all myself any more - partly because of the cost (I used to happily pay to get into Rock City every Saturday but now bristle at the thought of parting with cash for the privilege of being able to continue drinking beyond 11 pm) but also because a man of my, er, advancing years increasingly values sitting down for a decent chat over a pint or two of real ale. The fact that you can now easily do this in a pub until the early hours of the morning makes clubbing a much less attractive proposition. When I have been tempted into going to a club in the last year or so, it's generally been to Fuel in Cardiff, where entry is free, Iron Maiden's Trooper is on tap and great music is guaranteed.

(Thanks to Adam for the Guardian link.)

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Housing and live music: uneasy bedfellows?

Plenty of people are currently looking admiringly/enviously at Canada as a politically enlightened nation under the premiership of Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party. Perhaps, Shain Shapiro ventures, we should also be looking at Canada for a solution to the ongoing decimation of the UK's stock of live music venues.

Arguing that the principal threat is related to the priority given to housing above all else (both the construction of new homes and the conversion of existing buildings into residences), Shapiro identifies a solution that involves meeting housing and cultural needs at the same time. He's not so naive as to imagine this wouldn't be potentially problematic - "modern noise attenuation technologies and careful people flow and management strategies" would need to be in place, and it probably wouldn't work in "large-scale, privately owned developments" - but it's nevertheless refreshing to hear a bit of optimism amid the gloom.

Quote of the day

"Rock music's no longer the massive cultural institution it was. That's fine, because when you don't have that pressure on you, it allows you to be a bit more daring in what you do. I don't know if you can cite a path for it to go down. It's better for creativity when things exist in the margins."

Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts, in conversation with the Guardian's Michael Hann. New album Human Performance, released yesterday, sees the band stepping further away from the slacker garage-rock ghetto of their breakthrough Light Up Gold and venturing into arguably more interesting territory.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Picture imperfect

"Capacious content", unusual rule-breaking composition, a messiness that mirrors life: Teju Cole, in an article for the New York Times, lauds the photography of Raghubir Singh over the stylised, staged, "astonishingly boring" pictures for which Steve McCurry is renowned.

(Thanks to Phil for the link.)

Know Your Enemy

"Tax evasion is not just illegal it's immoral. People evading tax should be treated same as common thieves."

George Osborne tweets his disapproval of tax evasion back in October 2014. Presumably he's now going to lead the campaign to get his chum David Cameron jailed.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Survival instinct

If, like me, you were wondering whatever had happened to The Futureheads since 2011's a cappella album Rant, then Tuesday's Guardian interview with frontman Barry Hyde will have revealed the sad, awful truth: Hyde suffered a severe mental breakdown lasting from 2010 until 2013. In conversation with Harriet Gibsone, he talks candidly about those troubled years, the age-old connections between creativity and mental instability, and his debut solo album Malody, the writing and recording of which has proven a cathartic experience. Hats off to him for somehow surviving and making it through to a better place.