Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Maths class


Gawd bless the good eggs at Idiot King. Not only have they brought a taster of the forthcoming weekend’s ArcTanGent festival to Oxford for the benefit of those of us distraught at missing out on the likes of Deafheaven, Deerhoof and Blanck Mass, but they’ve done so in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Heading back to Bristol for a second consecutive year are 100 Onces, who kick the evening off with the sort of set that screams “Follow THIS!”. At first the duo come across like fellow LA natives No Age if they’d not skipped so much school to smoke pot, but later a discernible affection for the technicalities of thrash metal edges in. No bad thing, I assure you. When guitarist Barrett Tuttobene declares that it’s time to get serious and there should be no laughing or smiling, he’s fighting a losing battle.

If their name alone isn’t enough to recommend Alpha Male Tea Party (and let’s face it, it bloody well should be), then how’s about song titles like ‘I Haven’t Had A Lunch Break Since Windows Vista Came Out’? Revelling in the luxury of having both a sound engineer and a hotel for the night, the band may not need to worry about day jobs for much longer. They’re at their best when most uncompromising – a shame, then, that their thuggish, stomping instrumentals start to take unnecessary detours into the drearily epic with increasing frequency.

Headliners Tangled Hair, meanwhile, should dispense with the vocals. Actually, they should arguably dispense with the guitar and bass too. The stupendously talented James Trood, who also drums for former Colour bandmate George Reid in AlunaGeorge, is the undisputed star of the show. Little wonder that not one but two of his drumsticks feel so overworked as to give up the ghost, splintering and snapping mid-song.

Collectively, Tangled Hair’s set is like being taught maths by a really cool supply teacher wearing a Dismemberment Plan T-shirt – ultimately, it’s still a maths lesson. This is music that, in its audacious time signatures and self-conscious complexity, is very easy to admire but rather harder to actually love.

(This review first appeared in the September issue of Nightshift.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Listening and learning

Truck was, by and large, a good festival this year - but that's not to say there wasn't room for improvement. The acute shortage of toilets was the source of much irritation, as were queues for food and to leave the site on the Sunday. So it's good to see that the festival's organisers not only sought to survey attendees' views but have taken them on board and have committed in writing to doing things better next year. If only all festivals gave quite so much of a shit about the opinions of those who hand over their hard-earned money for a ticket.

Monday, August 31, 2015

In the margins

I'm no connoisseur of science fiction and fantasy novels, but nevertheless this article by Liz Lutgendorff for the New Statesman makes for depressing reading. Setting herself the challenge of ploughing through the top 100 as claimed by NPR, she found herself disappointed, troubled and angered by "the continued and pervasive sexism - even in seemingly progressive books for their time".

After a while, she started subjecting novels to an adapted version of the Bechdel test - and the results certainly weren't pretty. Women characters are few and far between, are largely peripheral, lack individual identity and agency, and are frequently victims of sexual violence.

As Lutgendorff suggests, surely when you're inventing a whole world or worlds, it doesn't take a great feat of imagination to create some strong, rounded female leads?

Unacceptable in the 80s, and even less acceptable now

I'm not sure what's most remarkable about this story: the fact that the city trader in question couldn't look more like a city trader if he tried (suited, corpulent, greasy) or the fact that that there's a "Margaret Thatcher-themed club in Fulham". Isn't the point of nostalgia that it involves getting misty-eyed over the past? There hardly needs to be such a club when we're still living in the Thatcherite era, with our present government doing their very best to make Maggie proud.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hung up on hook-ups

A whole host of reasons have been proposed for the decline in the popularity of live music, and the corresponding financial pressures on venues and clubs, but this is a new one on me. Melbourne venue owner and promoter James Young has claimed that responsibility lies with Tindr and Grindr. His argument is that these apps are becoming a more popular route to a hook-up than going to a gig or bar, and that meetings arranged via them are more likely to take place in cafes and restaurants.

Personally, this all seems rather speculative and, if a factor at all, is surely just one among many. It'd be interesting to know what the Music Venue Trust make of the claim, though...

A plague of locusts wasps

As headlines go, "Angry, drunk and unemployed German wasps are invading Essex" is something special. I can only assume they chose Essex as they're specifically targeting the only UKIP-held constituency in the country. No doubt David Cameron's pleased - he can happily and freely talk about "swarms" without fears of being condemned by the Politically Correct Mob.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Aural treats for the autumn

Summer may nearly be over, but there are plenty of good reasons to be looking forward to the autumn - as far as new music goes, at least.

First up, there's Natasha Khan's new project Sexwitch, a collaboration with TOY and producer Dan Carey that sees her reinterpreting out-there psych and folk songs from around the world. 'Helelyos', from Iran, is the first taster, though Green Man attendees got a preview of much more in the form of a surprise set - after which she chatted about the project (and more) with Pitchfork's Laura Snapes. It's good to hear there's a new Bat For Lashes album in the pipeline too. After the discernibly poppy edge of Two Suns and The Haunted Man, it will be interesting to see which direction she chooses to take - psych-folk would have been one of my guesses, but that may not happen now she's found an alternative outlet for that particular passion.

Meanwhile, Deerhunter's newie Fading Frontier is due to drop on 16th October, and, judging by the evidence of 'Snakeskin', is set to continue the stylistic experimentation of Monomania. I grew to love the latter despite its scattershot approach, but the oddball funk of 'Snakeskin' - albeit overlaid with Bradford Cox's typically tormented lyrics - has me a bit worried that this might be the point that I end up falling out of love with them.

Perhaps best to forget about that for the moment and just get blasted to smithereens by the first sample from Deafheaven's forthcoming album New Bermuda, 'Brought To The Water', which suggests a shift away from shoegaze towards more "conventional" extreme metal. The Soundcloud comments include one that reads "Fist me to this song". Lovely stuff.

To those three you can add new records from Lanterns On The Lake (Beings) and Low (Ones And Sixes). All told, it's set to be an expensive few months...

Pharaoh 'nuff

If you haven't seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet and don't want a plot spoiler, then look away now. An artist has told the story of the film in the form of a mock-Egyptian hieroglyph. Why? Well, why not?

(Thanks to Cat for the link.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

"A totally overrated clown who speaks without knowing the facts"

Want to feel like you're being insulted by the charming Donald Trump? Look no further. This, from a man who, in the wake of the televised murder of two Virginia journalists, has claimed: "This isn’t a gun problem, this is a mental problem." And, sadly, a man who still has a strong chance of securing the Republican nomination for the US presidential elections despite a series of gaffes and controversial comments.

(Thanks to Nick for the first link.)

Know Your Enemy

"You're lacking a human dimension of some sort if you're not interested in the arts. And I think it's a terrible fate to be ruled by philistines and barbarians as we seem to be at the moment."

Philip Pullman nicely sticks the boot into Cameron and company.

(Thanks to Alice for the link.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Shooting stars

It really shouldn't have taken the fact that we're going on holiday to Bruges (well, the environs) on Friday to induce me to finally watch In Bruges, but it did. What a film.

In a variation on the hackneyed good-cop-bad-cop set-up, In Bruges centres on two Irish hitmen who are mismatched in terms of personalities but perfectly paired in terms of dramatic tension. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) is the older, calmer head, happy to pass the time patiently waiting for their boss Harry's call by taking in the sights and immersing himself in the history of the Belgian town to which they've been sent. By contrast, Ray (Colin Farrell) is young, fiery and impetuous, restless and irritable at being trapped in "a shithole". Initially just a disembodied voice on the phone, Cockney crime overlord Harry - played by a rather miscast Ralph Fiennes - puts in an appearance in the second half.

The plot twist (such as it is) halfway through is predictable, but that doesn't detract from the way in which In Bruges plunges to its denouement. In the juxtaposition of violence and sharp, lean, profanity-laden and frequently comic dialogue, the film reminded me of Quentin Tarantino's finest, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction - a comparison that could potentially do it no favours whatsoever, but it's good enough to actually hold its own in that company.

I was expecting all of the lingering shots conveying the history and aesthetic allure of the town, but not the amount of bloodshed. Here's hoping that when we visit, we get to appreciate the former without any of the latter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The end of the world as we know it?

Given Jeremy Corbyn's continued popularity, many people - Blairites within Labour, the Tories and those in the right-wing media - are now having to come to terms with the likelihood of him assuming the Labour leadership. The Mail On Sunday recently went further, inviting David Thomas to paint an apocalyptic picture of Britain if Corbyn were to be Prime Minister. Needless to say, the resulting article was complete and utter drivel at best and deliberately scaremongering and inflammatory at worst. Here's Vice's Gavin Haynes giving it the respectful response it deserves.

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Simon Punnery

He may not have won the gong, but it's nice to see Simon Munnery getting an honourable mention in this year's list of the Edinburgh Fringe's best jokes, as voted for by viewers of Dave. Munnery's effort ("Clowns divorce. Custardy battle") trumps most of the others on the list, though I do particularly like Mark Nelson's quip about Jesus and the feeding of the 5,000.

An unlikely style icon

If you thought Prince George looks ridiculous in some of the outfits that have been foisted upon him, then how's about a 23-year-old journalist called Max Knoblauch? His conclusions from a week of sartorial mimicry (inspired by the news that GQ named the prince the 49th best dressed man in Britain) include the observation that "it's surprisingly easy to dress like a baby by shopping at Macy's".

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Quote of the day

"We want someone to remember that democracy does not begin and end at the ballot box. We want someone to represent the interests of the young, the poor and the marginalised in parliament. These are simple, modest demands. And the most damning indictment on the British political machine is the way in which these simple, modest demands look like a revolution."

The New Statesman's Laurie Penny writing about Jeremy Corbyn and hitting the nail firmly on the head.

(Thanks to Phil for the link.)

Works of fiction

The news that Iain Duncan Smith's Department of Work and Pensions had created two fictional former benefits claimants shouldn't have come as much of a revelation - after all, they looked much too cheery in the circumstances, and the Tories have a history of inventing people (Boris Johnson is surely too improbable to be real). Neither should the fact that the story was meat and drink to Stewart Lee come as any surprise. Here's his response to the incident, which is (naturally) well worth reading, not least for the reference to the "once widely reviled public infotainer, Chilliwack the Aids Ptarmigan".

Slav to the rhythm

Hear a mention of first-wave punk and you're likely to think of London or New York around 1976, rather than Yugoslavia in the early 1980s. But, as Joze Suhadolnik's photos show, punk spirit and style was very much alive and well there, despite the oppressive influence of the Soviet Union.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

The look of a leader?

Credit to the Spectator for cutting through all the serious issues under debate during the Labour leadership contest - the sort of issues discussed by Jeremy Corbyn in his recent interview with the Financial Times, for instance - and publishing this stupendous piece of "journalism" that judges Corbyn's two female opponents, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper, on their looks.

Meanwhile, it was amusing to see that Louise Mensch's attempt to fling mud at Corbyn backfired in spectacular fashion by failing to understand how her own Twitter search history works.

Corbyn continues to be attacked from all angles but has shown he's got staying power and isn't going to fade away into the background any time soon.

(Thanks to Charlie and Matt for the links.)

Know Your Enemy

"Some people think it's a genius album, but I think it's a mishmash of rubbish."

Keith Richards on Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, reminding us that he's both still alive by spouting absolute bollocks.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Back to the future

A recent whirlwind week up in Northumberland saw me giving a nine-year-old and a six-year-old a taster of the region, and that meant cramming in as much as possible. In addition to visiting Hadrian's Wall (Chesters), Tynemouth Beach, the Blue Reef Aquarium, Waves swimming pool in Whitley Bay, Cragside, Ros Castle and Bamburgh Beach, we spent a day in Newcastle.

I'll admit that the trip to the Laing to catch the Amber exhibition was really for my benefit (more on that another day), but the Centre for Life proved much more popular. We could have probably spent all day messing about in the Curiosity Zone alone, but that would have meant missing out on Game On 2.0, an interactive exhibition of computer games and consoles.

I certainly wouldn't call myself a computer games buff by any stretch of the imagination, so it was surprising to discover how many of the games deemed sufficiently iconic to feature I'd actually played: Outrun, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Driver, Goldeneye, NBA Jam, Rock Band... It served as a reminder of how amazing Mario Kart is (my favourite ever game, even ahead of Championship Manager), and for many visitors of my age it was clearly a welcome trip down memory lane - not least judging by the parents battling it out on Street Fighter while their bemused kids looked on.

So if you fancy spending time in effectively the best amusement arcade you'll ever visit, reliving your youth in the company of hundreds of others doing likewise, then I'd strongly recommend that you get yourself along some time before 3rd January.

Tough gig

So Laibach are claiming to have become the first Western rock band to play in North Korea. No doubt the Slovenians were on their best behaviour, but you do wonder how tempted they might have been to break into a quick rendition of 'I'm So Ronery'...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Quote of the day

"Infiltration on a large scale."

I wonder how Tories feel about being referred to in the same pejorative collective terms by Andy Burnham as they've been using to denigrate Calais migrants.

Comprehension exercise

Doing the research ahead of writing a novel often involves more than just a few trips to the library. But there can't be many writers who've seriously contemplated the thought of adopting an Iraqi war orphan as a way of understanding and reconnecting with young people. Step forwards Jonathan Franzen...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Arc-tic monkeys

ArcTanGent - yet another festival whose line-up has me writhing with envy: Deafheaven, Deerhoof, Blanck Mass, Rolo Tomassi, Cult Of Luna... At least I got a taster of it on Wednesday night, when local promoters Idiot King put on Tangled Hair, Alpha Male Tea Party and 100 Onces in Oxford (review to come). If you're there, hope you're having a lovely time (he said, through gritted teeth). It's definitely one I'll be keeping an eye out for next year.

War reparations

Perhaps it's in retaliation for Tony Blair claiming that if he becomes Labour leader, the party will face "annihilation", but hats off to Jeremy Corbyn for pledging to do what the former prime minister would never contemplate doing himself: apologise (rather than merely express "regret") for the Iraq War. Of course, what's done is done and it would be a purely symbolic gesture - but a hugely significant one nevertheless, not least for those of us who have refused to countenance the possibility of voting Labour since the party, under Blair's premiership, led us into the conflict on false pretences alongside the US.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Comment isn't free

How to deal with the persistent and unpleasant problem of trolls? Some websites, such as The Daily Dot, appear to regard the solution as simply closing their comments sections.

Perhaps it's easy for me to say, as the proprietor of a site that gets precious few comments (and therefore requires little moderation), but it's a sorry state of affairs when the trolls are allowed to win. Part of the beauty of online media is that readers can generally respond directly to content with greater ease and speed, and comment-box conversations can extend the debate far beyond the confines of a short opinion-piece. Removing the facility for leaving comments is a trend that implies mass communication might be (disappointingly) reverting from being a dialogue back to being a one-way street once again.

Any thoughts? You know what to do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Quote of the day

"Maybe, above anything, nu-metal was one of those tectonic shifts where bands both old and new had to be sacrificed to move on. How a grand disaster or mass poisoning ends up saving a population. A semi-controlled burning to save a forest. Recycling what we know for sure is good beyond current trends may be acceptable and even championed, but it’s also incredibly safe."

Decibel's Shane Mehling is pretty much spot on about nu-metal: its modest beginnings, its risible characters and cliches, the way it sucked so much into its orbit (with horrendous consequences), the fact that Deftones' masterful White Pony was a key nail in its coffin, and - in the passage quoted above - the perverse way in which it ultimately saved metal. Three cheers for Limp Bizkit, then...

(Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fighting the good fight

Amidst all the talk surrounding the Labour leadership contest about the need for the party to be "electable" (whatever compromises that involves), it's refreshing to read about Bernie and Larry Sanders, brothers who are prepared to put principles first.

As the local Green Party candidate here (Oxford West and Abingdon), having grown disillusioned with Labour, Larry got my vote in May's election. He may have lost, but he's right in saying there was "an intrinsic value in the Green Party standing" - the party increased its share of the vote and raised its profile nationally.

There's a similar value in his younger brother's challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democrat nomination for the US presidential elections of next year. Larry has commented: "The things we are talking about are not very left-wing: having a proper health service, having enough money to eat, to heat your home". It's a sorry state of affairs indeed when even such modest objectives as these are seen as somehow radical and dangerous - but it's vital that people like Bernie have the courage and determination to keep on reiterating them.

Pause for thought

It's not often you can say that you've got something in common with Osama Bin Laden, but neither of us has got any Phil Collins in our respective cassette collections. If anything could lower Bin Laden in my estimation, it would be the presence of No Jacket Required on his shelves.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Long-term thinking

How to warn people of the future about the presence of nuclear waste that will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years? How to construct a clock that will tell the time for millennia? Motherboard's Elmo Keep has taken a look at some of the extraordinary projects that exemplify the hubristic human desire to overcome the passage of time.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

What's wrong with "Ned Zeppelin"?

It often doesn't take much to make my day. Take, for example, the discovery that there's a Ned Flanders-themed metal band in the US called Okilly Dokilly. Day instantly made.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Read it and weep

Branding them "brave people" may be going a bit too far, but it's nevertheless fair to say that the members of the Piece Of Shit Book Club are hardy souls - foolhardy, perhaps - for putting themselves through hell. After all, if you attend a bad film night, it's only a couple of hours of your life wasted, whereas a book can consume so much more.

Beyond taking a perverse pleasure in literary awfulness, quite why you'd want to do it is beyond me - if I could find time to get my head into a book (which, sadly, I rarely can these days), then I'd want to make sure it was something I was genuinely enjoying reading. That said, I did for some reason force myself to endure Neil Warnock's autobiography earlier this year...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lynn, idea for programme

So, Cooking In Prison already exists (effectively) and now there are calls for Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubank to follow it onto our screens. Surely this all begs the question of why, if TV commissioners are drawing inspiration from the list of programmes that Alan Partridge throws together in desperation during his meeting with Tony Hayers, they didn't start with Monkey Tennis?

Crystal (Palace) ball gazing

Pardon the tardiness - I should really have posted a link to my Premier League preview written for The Two Unfortunates before the season actually began. It pains me to have tipped Man Utd for the title, and to have (for once) resisted the temptation to predict relegation for the Mackems. If you're a fan of Norwich, Leicester or Villa, look away now. As for Newcastle's prospects, your guess is as good as mine...

Friday, August 14, 2015

Come together

Like David Wearing, the Guardian's Stephen Moss is of the opinion that the Labour party comprises "two increasingly antithetical halves – socialist and social democrat" and that "it’s no longer tenable to pretend this is useful creative tension". So, if Labour are doomed to electoral failure and probably a miserable demise, what could take their place as the party of the Left?

Moss has taken up the gauntlet and sought the advice of a number of people, including Caroline Lucas, David Owen and Owen Jones, in the course of coming up with an alternative in collaboration with a design company. The result, Platform, isn't a wholly new party so much as a vision of local and national alliances between left-leaning parties that have similar objectives and views.

The primary aim would be to oust the Tories, but how it would actually work in practice might need further thought. After all, if ideological differences can threaten to split a single party apart, you have to wonder whether sufficient common ground could be found between different parties even to establish a working relationship, certainly over the long term.

Nevertheless, the principle behind Moss' proposal - that the union of various factions will be essential if the Tories aren't to be in power for the next decade or more, with no one party able to do the job alone - seems beyond dispute.

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Surprise surprise

Sick of the glowing tributes to Cilla Black? Here's Popbitch to redress the balance and speak ill of the dead. If only the Chuckle Brothers had been asked for their own eulogy...

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Feel good hits of the 12th August

1. 'Sionara' - Maiians
Without a shadow of a doubt my highlight of this year's Truck, kicking off a late-night post-headliner set that was perfectly scheduled and that probably had people exclaiming "Holy fuck!" for two reasons. If there's any justice, they'll soon have the rest of the country in the palm of their hands, not just Oxford.

2. 'Dance Slow Decades' - Angel Olsen
Just one of many marvellous songs on Burn Your Fire For No Witness, a record that's sure to feature in the upper echelons of the SWSL Top 10 Albums Of 2014 as and when it finally appears. Those crashing piano chords around the three-minute mark...

3. 'No Lite' - Blanck Mass
A reasonably representative track from Dumb Flesh, which overall is much more like Fuck Buttons (particularly the last album Slow Focus) than the introspective, abstract and largely beat-free self-titled debut.

4. 'Feel You' - Julia Holter
The first taster - and indeed the first track - of new album Have You In My Wilderness, due out at the end of next month. Compared to the material on Loud City Song, it hints at a more poppy, more accessible and - dare I say it? - slightly more conventional direction. Either way, give me this over the new Joanna Newsom song any day. Plus the video features a dog.

5. 'Awash' - Kid Kin
Another one for the Fuck Buttons fans among you - although, with its droney synth washes and dense, brutal volume, this perhaps harks back more to the first Blanck Mass album.

6. 'Fall Back' - Factory Floor
A song I've, er, fallen back on recently. Repetitive certainly but also completely addictive. If they can produce more like this, then (a) I'll buy some of their stuff, (b) I'll excuse the phenomenally lazy video and (c) LCD Soundsystem will no longer be sorely missed.

7. 'Friday I'm In Love' - Yo La Tengo
From forthcoming covers-and-more album Stuff Like That There. Georgia's voice gives the song a plaintive tone and inevitably some daft blinkered Cure fans have seen this as a descration of the original. Take note, Factory Floor: this is how you do music videos.

8. 'Soldier Boy' - Inspector Tapehead feat. Panda Su
A recommendation from a Twitter follower, this is perfect if (like me) you're still lamenting the demise of both The Delgados and, more recently, My Latest Novel.

9. 'No Life For Me' - Wavves X Cloud Nothings
A collaborative effort from Nathan Williams and Dylan Baldi? Yes please.

10. 'Spinning Wheel' - Black Honey
My friend Abbie's description of Black Honey included mention of Nancy Sinatra and Quentin Tarantino. Spot on, I'd say. And she's only gone and booked them for Dials, the festival she's organising for October to take the place of the sadly-on-hiatus Southsea Fest, so I'll get to see them at first hand.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Stronger together or better off apart?

"I want to lead a more inclusive and united party. After all, when the dust settles we are all still Labour." Thus responded Jeremy Corbyn to the frequent claim that he's a divisive character with whom no other leading Labour politicians would work, in the course of an article in which he addresses common misconceptions about himself, his views and his campaign. However, elsewhere it's been argued that, in the current context, attempting to preserve an overarching Labour banner is futile - far better to let the various factions (the neoliberal Blairites, the social democrats and the genuine socialists) go their separate ways.

Certainly, the Labour party does seem to be too broad a church, beset by infighting and without a clear sense of what it stands for. For instance, the abstentions in the ballot on the recent Welfare Reform Bill suggest that many of its MPs no longer subscribe to the key principles of humanitarianism and social justice. In view of that, you have to wonder what the point of Labour is any more - and whether it might be a good time for what has become an increasingly uneasy coalition to dissolve into its constituent parts. At least then Corbyn would stop having to pretend he'd be able to get along with those on the right of the party, wouldn't feel so pressured to compromise and would be at liberty to help provide the robust opposition to the Tory policy juggernaut that is so urgently required.

(Thanks to Phil for the second link.)

Factual error

Studies have shown that the British public - aided and abetted by the rhetoric of politicians and the unsubtle prejudices and insinuations of the media - are wrong about nearly everything, so it's horrifying but not remotely surprising to discover quite how little credence the actual facts about immigration give to the current narrative being peddled by leading Tories and right-wing rags like the Daily Mail. Here are some handy figures for the next time someone tries to talk to you about "swarms" and "greediness".

On the subject of immigration and the Mail, it's very telling that Nazi propaganda, tweaked so as to imply reference to migrants and then posted on the paper's website, has been receiving significant numbers of upvotes. Evidence that a leopard doesn't change its spots, eh?

(Thanks to Owen and Neil for the links.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Kicking against the pricks

Earlier this year I wrote about the basic inhumanity of so-called "defensive architecture", so was pleased to discover that some people have found a novel way of reclaiming the streets. Space, Not Spikes transformed one such instance of defensive architecture by converting it into a sleeping/eating area with a small library of books on architecture and urban planning. Further guerrilla interventions of this sort are certainly to be encouraged.

(Thanks to Mike for the link.)

The art of Alan

Alan Partridge is obviously an inspiration to us all - not least to the artists whose work featured in the recent Cook Pass Babtridge exhibition in Partridge's adopted home town of Norwich.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Sunday, August 09, 2015

You've got to troll with it

Generally speaking, trolling is an indicator of just how horrible and mean-spirited humans can be to each other. In some instances, though, it should be celebrated - such as when Vice's Virgil Texas managed to transform a White Power Facebook group into a group called LGBT Southerners For Michelle Obama...

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)

Quote of the day

"The Wi-Fi and all of the systems that we are introducing into our lives are destroying our own natural electro-magnetic fields. All you are is energy, remember that."

Noel Edmonds appears to be threatening to go full David Icke/tinfoil hat on us.

(Thanks to Lizzie for the link.)

Friday, August 07, 2015

Americana idols

If I didn't want to shout about The August List from the rooftops before their transcendent gig at the Unicorn, then I certainly did afterwards. And what better way to do so than to ask Martin and Kerraleigh Child - Oxfordshire's very own Devilishly Handsome Family - a few questions?

Yours is a peculiarly American strain of folk. What is it about Americana that you really connect with? And how do you think it differs from quintessentially English folk?

Martin: I think we exist artistically in an America that doesn't really exist. We take what we want to write and sing about and then filter it through influences that include films, novels, TV and music that are primarily American, but a fictitious America. Americana music also has edge to it, a lazy swagger, that's appealing to us that's sometimes lacking in the more twee English side of folk. It's also closer to a kind of alt. rock aesthetic and feel that we also love. 

Your songs are often bleak and bitter and deal with dark subject matter. To what extent are you playing a part when you're writing and performing? Or do the songs explore facets of your own characters?

Kerraleigh: The songs are honest, they do represent how we feel and see things, but it is only a part of us. We are not bleak and bitter people all the time! But that's what comes out when we write. Our world view is certainly exaggerated in the songs and the dark stuff is always more fun to sing about. 

Your backstory - a couple who got married in the Great Smoky Mountains and who live in splendid isolation in a barn in the countryside - is, for an Americana band like yourselves, pretty much perfect. Are you ever tempted to embellish the truth and create your own mythology?

Kerraleigh: Sometimes it sounds like we made it up anyway! I think if we started adding anything else that wasn't true it would start having a detrimental effect on the music. Like if we started to wear dungarees or said we rode around in boxcars, it might make the music be taken as pastiche and we're not interested in that. We don't mind stating that we got married in the Smokys or we live in a barn in the middle of nowhere, as it's true and also for us somehow interconnected with how we make music. Also we're not to fussed how people want to see us: sometimes we get classed as country, sometimes it's Americana, then it's folk, then it's acoustic and then it's all of the above with 'alt.' in front of it. It's all good. 

As is often cited, you're originally from Dorset but are now based in Oxfordshire. How (if at all) have the two different places shaped the music that you make and the band that you are?

Martin: Dorset not so much. We didn't play music when we lived there, but the nature and the landscape must stick in the psyche. Oxfordshire is similar to Dorset in that respect, a bit green and rolling! Oxford itself is an inspiring place to live near as there is a lot of great music coming out of there. 

Neither of you had ever played in a band before forming The August List. Do you think this may have been helpful, in ensuring you're not jaded by past experience and unencumbered by baggage - or has it actually made acclimatising to life in a band harder?

Martin: It's been a huge learning curve! But I'm glad we're both experiencing together and both for the first time. We had no expectations when we started, we didn't know how it all worked, and it took a while to get with it. But the path we took, and are still on, has been nothing but fun. 

As a married couple, do you think it's easier to be brutally honest when it comes to considering the merits of each other's musical ideas, or do you think it makes you more wary of hurting each other's feelings?

Kerraleigh: When it comes to the music, we are a band first. It helps that there is just two of us in the band and not four or five. If one of us adamantly doesn't like something that the other is proposing, then the idea goes no further. Brutal honesty is the only way to function. How could you play a song you don't like over and over and over again on stage? It would be horrible. 

At the Unicorn Theatre gig, Martin mentioned that a recent obsession with absenteeism has inspired some of the new material, including 'Connie Converse' and 'Old Rip'. What is it about the phenomenon that you find so fascinating?

Martin: I've always felt like I'm not really here! More of an observer than a participant. The Connie Converse story struck me as I really felt for her. She was a singer/songwriter way before it was fashionable to be one, in the late 50s/early 60s, she was based around Greenwich Village just as Dylan and the protest folk song became massive, but she wrote lovely songs about bees and stuff! She had people around her who tried to help her and she recorded an album that didn't do much and in the end she felt like she wasn't wanted and just disappeared. She vanished and to this day no one actually knows where she went or what happened to her. Because of this strange disappearance, there is now some interest in her and her songs. 

'Old Rip' references Rip Van Winkle. He was absent for 20 years and came back to find change but he himself doesn't change at all and others are jealous that he's missed all the hardship of life and war. I'm really interested in the idea of self-imposed absenteeism at the moment. We've just come back from visiting Iceland and we saw an exhibition of pictures by a photographer called Valdimar Thorlacius. He went to the remotest areas of Iceland to meet and photograph hermits living in total isolation in the harshest of conditions. Some were there because of circumstance, but a few chose to opt out, opt out of EVERYTHING! That idea really fascinates me and is invading a lot of songs as a consequence. 

You've got quite a repertoire of covers. What's your favourite, and what do you think makes for a good cover?

Kerraleigh: When we started playing in folk clubs all we played were covers, but they were so obscure that people thought they were ours! We'd do Nina Nastasia, Marissa Nadler and The Low Anthem. At the moment our favourite to play is 'Big Black Dog' by The Diamond Family Archive, we've been opening gigs with it because it really sets out our stall well, even though it's not ours! We don't play popular covers, we try and play stuff that has a kinship with our own material and can serve as a breather between our songs.

'Red Light On The Tower' imagines the possibility of an apocalyptic flood. If it ever happens, what will be the three albums you'll be keen to rescue from your house before jumping into the dinghy?

Kerraleigh: Rabbit Fur Coat by Jenny Lewis, Push The Sky Away by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Metals by Feist.

Martin: Flying Low by Willard Grant Conspiracy, Are We There by Sharon Van Etten and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco.

What are your plans for the future in terms of gigging and recording? Can we expect a follow-up to O Hinterland any time soon?

Martin: We are looking forward to playing Towersey Festival this year as we're playing both the main stage and the Showground Bar stage which is going to be great. 

Kerraleigh: We are hopefully going to get into the studio again soon. We have a few more songs to finish and then we'll hit it!

Thanks to Martin and Kerraleigh for their time.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

August List, august environs


Dressed like they've fallen through a wormhole from the very first Glastonbury, Seth Bye and Katie Griffin tick all of the requisite folk boxes: liberal use of banjo, fiddle and accordion; a lively bluegrass song about drinking; another track that draws its subject matter from local folklore (a witch who refuses to be killed); a third about trains. At least they're sufficiently self-aware to acknowledge the fact. Their use of a looping pedal is probably an offence punishable by immediate excommunication from the Folkies' Guild, though.

By their own admission, Martin and Kerraleigh Child aka The August List are more accustomed to playing “sticky” rooms – places like the Camden Monarch, where their set was apparently once rudely interrupted by a drunken loon standing in front of the stage attempting to piss on a DVD. Given tonight’s polite, mild-mannered audience of 50- and 60-somethings sipping their wine (your average theatre-going crowd, basically), the chances of a repeat are fairly slim.

Ideally suited to the simultaneously confessional and powerfully dramatic nature of The August List’s dusky, gothic Americana, the setting induces the duo to begin with a spellbinding un-amped debut live performance of the first song they ever wrote together. It’s followed by a truly stunning version of The Diamond Family Archive’s ‘Big Black Dog’ that completely eclipses the original and ranks as the most jaw-dropping thing I’ve witnessed all year.

We may be seated, but songs about Armageddon (‘Red Light On The Tower’) and being under surveillance by sinister omniscient birds (‘High Town Crow’) ensure that we’re certainly not sitting comfortably.

After the interval, they whet our appetite for the follow-up to last year’s O Hinterland with ‘Old Rip’, which – like fellow newie ‘Connie Converse’ – betrays a lyrical obsession with absenteeism. It’s easily the equal of both their older material and an array of covers that include The White Stripes’ ‘Hotel Yorba’ and ‘Acid Tongue’ by Jenny Lewis, the artist who first inspired them to play music together. An encore of ‘Cigarettes, Whiskey And Wild, Wild Women’, which they confess to having learned from YouTube footage of Peter Sellers performing with the Muppets, prompts an improbably rambunctious mass singalong.

Reviewing their album launch gig back in October, I was moved to brand The August List the best band in Oxfordshire – and it’s a verdict that tonight’s gig convincingly corroborates. Little matter that they hail from Dorset, rather than Devon (as is mistakenly announced before they make their entrance) – they’re ours to keep now.

(An edited version of this review first appeared in the August issue of Nightshift.)

Monday, August 03, 2015

Corb your enthusiasm

Who to believe? Blairite Telegraph journalist Dan Hodges has argued that if Labour appoint Jeremy Corbyn as leader it would be a suicide note and would make the party no longer worthy of serious consideration, whereas Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has claimed in a speech that Corbyn's popularity should come as no surprise to those "outside the Westminster bubble" and should be welcomed as evidence - alongside the sizeable number of votes cast for the SNP and the Greens in the election - that we're experiencing "a shift to a new political era".

This overstates the case somewhat and does rather discount the fact that the Tories were voted in with a majority, but it's nevertheless true that the buzz around Corbyn indicates a dissatisfaction with the status quo (and in particular the welfare cuts) in some quarters, and I agree that Labour need a leader like him simply so they can start providing some stern and effective opposition.
start of a shift to a new political era

(Thanks to Peyman and Mike for the links.)

On repeat

Chances are that if someone mentions The Human League's 'Don't You Want Me', the first thing that pops into your head will be the line "You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar". One enterprising YouTube user has responded by constructing a version of the song in which that memorable line forms the only lyrics.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Ones to watch


All you really need to know about Cosmosis is that they appear to have listened to Black Sabbath's entire back catalogue and decided that the one song on which all their own should be modelled is 'Planet Caravan'. Seriously, who does that?! And the less said about their mauling of Iggy Pop's 'The Passenger', the better.

This may be The Beckoning Fair Ones' debut gig, but their members, while nervy, are hardly novices, having assembled from the ashes of local favourites Deer Chicago, Dallas Don't and Big Tropics. Collectively, they sound little like any of their previous outfits, marrying scratchy riffs with almost playful synths in a way that makes them infuriatingly unclassifiable, albeit perhaps distant cousins (twice removed) of The Dismemberment Plan.

Ex-Dallas Don't man Niall seems to be consciously reining in his rage, though the barked declaration "I've got a condition" in the penultimate track indicates a barely suppressed fury still bubbling away under the surface. Just as there can't be many other saxophone-playing drummers in Oxford, there can't be many vocalists who would write a song about meeting former Inverness Caley Thistle striker Billy McKay on a train.

With their spaced-out visuals, sound reminiscent of Explosions In The Sky and guitarist who bears a distinct resemblance to Stuart Braithwaite, Ghosts In The Photographs have clearly missed the Pitchfork memo that said post-rock was once again tragically uncool.

A good thing they did, though, as - despite relying on a few cliches - they nevertheless bring a welcome dash of brawn and brute force to a musical style that can all too often be a sterile and exclusively cerebral affair. Thunder has been rumbling all afternoon, and Ghosts In The Photographs are well suited to soundtracking gathering storms.

Last time I saw Kid Kin, at the White Rabbit as part of last year's Punt, the volume levels were such that they pinned you to the wall like a 600 lb gorilla angrily demanding your dinner money. Tonight, the dials aren't quite set to "Brain-liquidising", which, if initially a disappointment, does allow the dynamic subtleties of the multi-instrumentalist noisenik's music (as well as an affinity with Maiians) to shine through.

Songs are deftly constructed before our very eyes, but, rather like watching a talented chef at work, you don't always want to see how a delicious dish is made. As tasty as the live performances he serves up are, you can't help but wonder whether they wouldn't benefit from the greater visual stimulus that projections would provide.

(This review appears in the August issue of Nightshift.)

Friday, July 31, 2015

The sexy old sea dog and the rudderless ship

Following on from Mark Steel's acidic commentary on the Labour leadership race is this piece by fellow comic Frankie Boyle, which avoids irony in favour of a blunt attack on the party's overall refusal to condemn the Tories' welfare bill. Boyle suggests that they "might as well ... be managed by an out-of-office email" and concludes that if you fail to oppose the sort of draconian measures set to be introduced as part of the bill, then "you have stated that you don’t want to fight injustice but are simply looking for your own role in serving it".

There is some hope, though. Jeremy Corbyn has - rather unexpectedly - now taken a 22-point lead in the leadership race, and appears to have found particular favour among the young. The reaction to these developments has been mixed. Some Tories and Blairites have come out in favour of a Corbyn win in the belief that it would be complete folly and serve to undermine the Left - when in fact it would give visibility and mainstream credence to precisely the sort of principles and values on which Labour were founded and for which they should stand. Meanwhile, others have predictably responded by attempting to belittle or mock Corbyn as a hopeless idealist, or to caricature or demonise him as a Marxist bogeyman - though he's also found the positive press somewhat "embarrassing".

(Thanks to Phil and Peyman for some of the links.)

The unhappy Mondays

Having somehow missed all of This Is England '88 (note to self: buy it on DVD), I'm itching to get reacquainted with Shane Meadows' characters in This Is England '90, due to be shown in September. This short trailer whets the appetite, suggesting that while they may now find themselves in the thick of the post-Madchester rave culture, they're not exactly all loved up.