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.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Noise annoys delights

Back when I lived in Cardiff, Noel Gardner used to promote noise rock gigs under the name Lesson No. 1 as well as writing for the local culture/listings mag Buzz. He's since worked for the NME (let's not hold that against him) and now frequently contributes to the Quietus but has clearly (and pleasingly) not lost his passion for all things eardrum-annihilating. Many of the bands featured in his recent article I know already - but many others I don't and am going to have to investigate.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Have the lunatics taken over the asylum?

The Donald Trump phenomenon could never happen here, could it? Crackpots and conspiracy theorists formerly on the political margins could never seize the centre-ground, could they? Perhaps, suggests the Guardian's Rafael Behr, they already have, "in an understated, low-key, parochial and idiosyncratically British kind of way" - and regardless of the fact that "we tell ourselves that we are smarter, more civilised, less credulous and worldlier than our American cousins".

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Monday, April 04, 2016

The calm before the storm

As the BBC's Phil Coomes suggests, it's hard to look over these recently discovered and published photos, taken by poet Edward Thomas during a 1913 cycle ride from London to Somerset, without doing so through a filter or imposing significance upon them: "The pictures are snaps of the road, yet the passage of a hundred years of history changes our perception of them. The last breath of a country about to change forever, or a romantic wish for something lost, perhaps."

The images are inevitably imbued with an added poignancy by the fact that the imminent conflict not only threatened the green and pleasant land depicted but actually cut short the life of the photographer, who was killed four years later at the Battle of Arras.

Killing joke?

For someone who had never considered the parallels between Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Murder Ballads and gangsta rap, Dele Fadele's article for the Quietus, marking the twentieth anniversary of the album's release, makes for interesting reading.

Even if you don't buy his argument, the piece is nevertheless useful for establishing the exact number of murders that the album details: 75 humans and one dog. When they played at Glastonbury back in 2009, my party's body count sweepstake was blown apart by the fact that the set ended with 'Stagger Lee'...

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Feel good hits of the 3rd April

10. 'Mothers Of The Sun' - Black Mountain
"Starts out narcotized and builds up to some prime universe-crushing riffage". If only, Tom Breihan. For me, 'Mothers Of The Sun' suffers from the same problems as Black Mountain's previous work: essentially, neither "narcotized" nor "universe-crushing" enough. As the video suggests, they seem torn between seriousness and silliness - although it certainly proves that The Besnard Lakes aren't the proggiest outfit on the Jagjaguwar roster. At least Amber Webber is front and centre here.

9. 'Ochansensu-su' - Tricot
Given Battles' love of Japanese trio Nissenmondai, you'd imagine they'd be as rabidly keen on their compatriots Tricot as the Clwb Ifor Bach crowd was at the beginning of March.

8. 'Summertime' - Ringo Deathstarr
The woozy encore from the Texans' March gig in Oxford - mollification for both our battered ears and those of us who were desperate for something from the back catalogue.

7. 'Swastika Eyes' (Jagz Kooner mix) - Primal Scream
If there was an upside to having to endure Screamadelica for Episode 2 of Sounding Bored, it was finding myself prompted to rediscover the joys of XTRMNTR, Primal Scream's only decent album (in my view), and its furious, pounding lead single in particular.

6. 'Disappointed' - Field Music
Disappointed? Absolutely not - or, at least, not by this track and the others clustered together early on Commontime. Unfortunately, the album is rather front-loaded and as a result struggles to retain my interest all the way through. With a bit more careful consideration of song sequencing, though, it could have been a gem.

5. 'Xed Eyes' - Holy Fuck
Has it really been six years since Latin? One listen to 'Xed Eyes', from the forthcoming album Congrats, is enough to convince that we shouldn't just be welcoming the Torontonians' return to action with open arms but by throwing all-night parties in beachfront bandstands.

4. 'I Am A Poseur' - X-Ray Spex
X-Ray Spex have never really been on my radar - until, that is, watching Thurston Moore's edition of Artsnight and Zillah Minx's rockumentary She's A Punk Rocker UK in quick succession. 'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!' is their most famous track, but 'I Am A Poseur' was adopted as the theme song for Minx's film and it's bloody great. Poly Styrene is the female yin to Johnny Rotten's yang, and I'd never have thought a saxophone would be quite so effective in an old-school punk song.

3. 'Fleetwood Math' - Axes
If that title isn't enough to win you over immediately, then the track itself certainly should be - a playful mathy take on Iron Maiden (yes, really). The undisputed highlight of their recent appearance in Cardiff in support of the aforementioned Tricot.

2. 'Cecile' - Pumarosa
If Pumarosa had turned out to be one-trick ponies, I wouldn't have minded - last year's 'Priestess' was one hell of a trick. 'Cecile' is almost as good, though - not as long, but similarly rhythmically hypnotic. This installment's second example of a saxophone put to superb use. Of all the latest additions to the Truck line-up, they are the ones who particularly caught my eye.

1. 'Changes' - Charles Bradley
As Pitchfork's Stephen M. Deusner has said, "it's a wonder nobody has transformed 'Changes' into a stirring soul anthem before now". Credit to Charles Bradley, then, for seeing the potential and for executing it so perfectly. It's not much of an exaggeration to say that this does for the Black Sabbath ballad what Johnny Cash did for Nine Inch Nails' 'Hurt'.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Sons and lovers haters

Most of the time, my spell in academia feels like a lifetime ago rather than just a decade, but every now and again I read something that takes me straight back to it. Most recently, it was the news that the D H Lawrence Heritage Centre in Eastwood has been closed down by Broxtowe Borough Council.

Despite their promise to invest in the Birthplace Museum instead, the response of the Nottingham City of Literature chairman David Belbin is unsurprisingly critical: "Notts needs a vision that embraces education, literature and tourism. Instead we have penny pinching."

The decision partly reflects the region's strange ambivalence towards arguably its most famous son (admittedly an ambivalence that I noted a few years ago was most certainly mutual), but, in the council's defence, is perhaps more a consequence of the swingeing cuts imposed on local authorities by the present government (and the Coalition before them). So chalk it up as yet another example of the Tories' perpetual cultural vandalism north of the Home Counties and yet another reason to despise the bastards in power.

The downward spiral

Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne isn't exactly noted for his reticence when it comes to offering an opinion, so when The AV Club invited him to take part in their I Made You A Mixtape feature a couple of years ago, he - "ever the shit-starter" - selected songs by (in his words) "bands that were good, but blew it". The list of featured acts included Isis, The Who, Black Flag, The Rolling Stones, The Replacements, Metallica and The Birthday Party.

In the article, Osborne accuses Bob Mould of apparently disavowing his work in Husker Du - perhaps unfairly, given Mould's recent comments to the New York Times about the trio being "a really important band and a really important part of my life". That said, Mould is adamant that they won't be reforming: "I think it's best left where it is." Still, it didn't stop him rocketing through Husker Du songs with the backing of No Age a few years back...

Religious discrimination

If only it wasn't an April Fool's and the National Secular Society really had launched an app to bypass Radio 4's Thought For The Day...

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Friday, April 01, 2016

No future - but plenty of history

Handed the opportunity to present an arts programme on a subject of his choice, it was hardly surprising that Thurston Moore - a veteran of the New York punk/no wave scene now resident in London - chose to focus on British punk, which (it was claimed, somewhat spuriously) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

If there was a fault with his Artsnight, it was that it was too short and perhaps tried to pack in too much, featuring everyone from the increasingly grizzled Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks (on the DIY ethic of setting up your own label) to Julien Temple (on his contrasting celluloid representations of the Sex Pistols).

Talking to Tony Drayton, founder of punk fanzine Ripped And Torn, Moore underlined the pretty extraordinary fact that a type of music once openly derided on BBC radio by DJs like Simon Bates is now deemed worthy of tribute in the form of a serious BBC2 show.

The undoubted highlight of the programme was Moore's reaction when Celeste Bell, daughter of the late Poly Styrene, played him a bootleg recording of one of X-Ray Spex's shows during their fortnight-long residency at CBGBs in 1978, on which it was possible to hear the young Moore, in attendance as a fan, duetting with her mother for the chorus to 'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!' - Moore reckoning it was the first time he sang into a mic in public. My eternal gratitude to Poly for helping to him along the path he took.

Moore's first interviewee was Chrissie Hynde, with whom he discussed punk's sexual politics and broadly egalitarian bent. These are also central themes in Zillah Minx's She's A Punk Rocker UK. The documentary film may be blighted by irritating visual effects, a lack of structure (a punk gesture, perhaps, but a narrator would have given it a greater sense of direction and focus), a concentration on fashion at the expense of the actual music and the implicit championing of several sub-par bands (including, perhaps inevitably, Minx's own Rubella Ballet). Nevertheless, it offers valuable insights into the lives of women on the front line of the movement.

Minx's interviewees (including Poly Styrene) discuss everything from anarchism and anti-racist politics, individuality and community (the ironic situation of hundreds of people all feeling somehow "different"), being treated as equals with men, dressing so provocatively as to provoke abuse in the street and getting spat on on stage, resisting societal pressures to conform to conventional norms of attractiveness and behaviour, and the freedom of self-expression that punk entailed. If the documentary was to be reduced to a soundbite, it would come courtesy of Michelle Brigandage: "If you're forced by society to be on the margin, you're a victim. If you choose to be on the margin, then you're the victor".

Arguably the most astute observation, however, belongs to Julie Burchill, who notes the irony that punk was supposedly all about there being no future but in fact gave futures to a whole host of people, many of them women.

(Thanks to Tony for the documentary link.)

The audacity of hope

Suitably appalled by Donald Trump's latest pronouncements? Well, never fear - there's hope for US politics, and it's not just Bernie Sanders. Andrew WK has launched the Party Party (of course) and is asking for backers. Where do I sign?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

OBE: Outstanding Bristolian Entertainer

Heard the one about the white, bespectacled, cardigan-wearing pensioner and former accountant with a penchant for tours of Wetherspoons pubs who made his name as a reggae DJ and has been called "a reggae encyclopedia" by Don Letts and "an ambassador for cultural exchange" by Massive Attack's Daddy G? Well, I hadn't either. It's just a terrible shame that it took the tragic death of Derek Serpell-Morris aka DJ Derek Sweet Memory Sounds to bring it to my attention.

The tale of Neil Baldwin's improbable life made for, well, marvellous viewing, so here's hoping that someone might decide to celebrate the life of another great British eccentric by making Serpell-Morris the subject of a film.

(Thanks to Del for the link.)

Avalanche swept away

In Episode 2 of Sounding Bored, in the course of celebrating Glasgow's musical legacy, we briefly considered why (by contrast) Edinburgh has historically punched significantly below its weight. I mentioned that few of the Scottish capital's venues have much renown beyond the city limits (unlike Glasgow's), but that it does at least have a fine independent record shop - so it's a real shame to learn that Avalanche is to close.

Manager Kevin Buckle has blamed a perfect storm of factors for putting pressure on Avalanche and squeezing them out of the market: competition from HMV and Fopp, who are able to overstock with vinyl; the PledgeMusic model, through which fans help to fund albums before they're even released; labels (including indie labels supposedly sympathetic to independent record shops) offering deals and incentives to fans, sometimes including exclusive early access to new albums; bands selling their records directly through their own websites; Record Store Day, which arguably now works against independents more than it helps.

Presumably other record shops are suffering from the same variety of factors - here's hoping that the likes of Spillers are somehow better able to withstand them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter resurrections

Jim Ward may have bailed out on the eve of At The Drive-In's live comeback, but his departure doesn't seem to have negatively impacted on the shows - according to Stevie Chick's review of their show at the Roundhouse, at least. The Guardian critic was most struck by their "depth and complexity" rather than their reliable punk "dynamism": "Where once they seemed to be helplessly careering into oncoming traffic, tonight they prove no less thrilling when in total, triumphant control, a glorious riot of jagged riffs, flailing bodies and galvanising anthems. They seem, for the first time since 2001, like a band with a future."

Meanwhile, LCD Soundsystem's own much anticipated resurrection kicked off (appropriately enough) on Easter Sunday at Webster Hall in New York. While the gig suffered from some technical gremlins, the setlist was staggeringly good, a reminder of just how many superb tracks they have in their arsenal, and one of those lucky enough to be in attendance concluded that "[James Murphy's] dance-punk underdog collective still has a taste for the fight, belonging not to the history books but very much to the present".

The band have since announced another pair of shows, this time at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado and with Savages in support, and will be appearing at a whole host of summer festivals - most notably Glastonbury, for which further bands have just been announced. Murphy's crew will line up alongside PJ Harvey, Bat For Lashes, Savages, Beck, ZZ Top, Foals, New Order, Chvrches, M83, Mercury Rev, Kurt Vile, John Grant and post-rock godfathers Sigur Ros and Explosions In The Sky - and a refreshing lack of landfill indie. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Glastonbury often gets a bad rap from musos, but the fact is that if you ignore the headliners, the organisers' choice of bookings is almost always laudable.

Know Your Enemy

"There is a danger in reducing very complex countries and peoples to singular characteristics. If the trains are only defined by cultural stereotypes, the result will be a calculated, and destructive, nod to diversity and inclusivity."

Social justice and pop culture researcher Tracy Van Slyke on the announcement that Mattel are introducing 14 new trains from around the globe to the Thomas The Tank Engine range. Given that the Chinese train, Yong Bao, is described as "driven to achieve and make progress", you have to suspect that her concern may be justified. All of which begs the question as to why Daily Mail readers are so horrified at the news - don't they usually endorse cultural stereotypes?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pop pickers

Judging by this Skinny interview with John Reis of Rocket From The Crypt, Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu on the latter's forthcoming ATP weekender, he's untroubled by the last-minute switch of venues from Pontins in Prestatyn to the Victoria Warehouse in central Manchester and looking forward to the bash with as much boyish enthusiasm as ever. As well he might, given the line-up. Even the bands I know little or nothing about - The Blind Shake, King Khan, Soulside - sound great. I'd never have guessed that Suicide were a prime influence on Hot Snakes.

Meanwhile, the man behind April's other ATP weekender, Stewart Lee, has used his regular Guardian column to muse in characteristically sarcastic/self-deprecating fashion on the nature of curation.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Quote of the day

"We could hardly play. It was as loud as hell because if we turned it down people would be going: 'those guys can't play a fucking note'. A lot of it was just: 'Fucking hell - someone's going to find us out any minute.' A lot of it came out of our insecurity and inability, I suppose. At the time, we thought 'We can't go out and sound like an honest to goodness rock band', so we would make it so that you wouldn't forget it. If you came to see the Mary Chain, it was something that would stay with you for a while. We deliberately pressed buttons. We knew we were winding people up. For a while, it seemed like a bit of a laugh but then it got out of control. It seemed like someone was going to get hurt bad. If it was us, then fair enough, but if it was someone in the audience then I didn't want that on my conscious [sic]. We stepped back for a bit. We didn't play live for about six months, and hoped it would all blow over. As luck would have it, it did."

Jim Reid of The Jesus & Mary Chain on the band's gloriously noisy and violent early days, from an interview with Stuart Braithwaite published by the Guardian last June to coincide with Mogwai's twentieth anniversary shows at the Roundhouse. I'm not entirely sure how I missed it first time around, but it's good to have stumbled across it now all the same.

"When I grow up, I want to be a fish bender"

Many of the things people gave as their "rank, profession or occupation" in the 1881 Census were clearly real jobs that were committed to paper in amusing form ("feeding boy to printing machine", "proprietor of solution for protection of turnip from fly", "boy for general purposes"), but some suggest that a piss-taking attitude towards authority and officialdom is nothing new.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Starr quality

RINGO DEATHSTARR / THE NEON VIOLETS / KANCHO!, 10TH MARCH 2016, OXFORD BULLINGDON

For a band boasting an excellent ditty about living your life according to the contents of fortune cookies, fate has dealt Kancho! a bad hand tonight, forced to open proceedings to a near-empty room. It means that the article offering advice on how to better engage with your audience that Mike Chilcott (bass/shouting) recently read online is largely redundant - though such advice is frankly unnecessary anyway when you sound like Rage Against The Machine and In Utero filtered through Lightning Bolt and have a drummer intent on showcasing an impressive repertoire of sex faces.

Even if you'd never read about or seen The Neon Violets before, you'd be able to hazard a guess as to what they might be like before they play a note simply by virtue of the onstage props that act as visual clues: patterned sheet, chimes, skull on amp. Sure enough, a game of psychedelic/stoner rock bingo ensues.

The trio are perhaps most reminiscent of The Warlocks, but also occasionally The Doors, had they got lost on their peyote-taking trip out in the desert and stumbled across one of Josh Homme's generator sessions taking place on the set of a spaghetti western. Entertaining enough, but they're arguably guilty of both taking themselves just a bit too seriously and not properly cutting loose until the last song.

After two British bands desperately trying to sound American come Ringo Deathstarr, an American band desperately trying to sound British. With that choice of name, they hardly seemed destined for longevity - more a stellar debut EP (tick), a decent first album (tick) and an underwhelming follow-up full-length (tick) before being dropped and disbanding - but six years have now elapsed since their first visit to Oxford and they're still going strong.

Opening with 'Starssha' from that eponymous debut EP might perhaps be a strategy calculated to underline how far they've come in the intervening period, but in truth the band's dilemma remains much the same as it was when they pitched up at the Jericho Tavern in 2009: how to pay homage to their heroes (principally My Bloody Valentine and - as Elliott Fraizer's curly William Reid-esque mop-top would suggest - The Jesus & Mary Chain) while simultaneously establishing their own identity.

The solution, it appears, is to attack their material with punky vigour rather than to deliver it in the statuesque style synonymous with shoegaze, and on occasion to dip a toe in hard rock waters to unexpected but not entirely unwelcome effect.

Allotted an hour and a quarter, their set barely scrapes 50 minutes. There are no complaints, though; the swoonsome 'Summertime', which forms a single-song encore, hints at an awareness that melody and tunefulness can only be obliterated for so long (albeit to rousing effect) before tinnitus and exhaustion set in.

(This review originally appeared in the April edition of Nightshift.)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Swallowing a lie

As Tom Levitt notes, Tesco's decision to brand various foods as the produce of fictional farms rather goes against the grain of clearer labelling and greater transparency as regards the provenance of what we eat and drink. Still, I suppose the supermarket chain and others like it have to resort to this kind of duplicitous tactic because there are very few real farmers left whom their practices haven't already screwed over...

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Reunite - and fall apart?

"Notoriously combustible" was (I think) how I described At The Drive-In when briefly discussing their reunion on Episode 1 of our Sounding Bored podcast a few weeks ago. True to form, they haven't even started their world tour and already founder member Jim Ward has left...