Friday, November 05, 2004

No, ta

Amidst all the kerfuffle surrounding a certain popularity contest across the pond, a significant event in the democratic process rather nearer to home has been kept in the shadows.

The North-East has delivered a curt "Haway and shite, man" to John Prescott's pet project, and there now won't be another referendum on the issue of a North-East assembly for at least seven years.

The margin of victory for the 'No' campaign was enormous - 78% of the vote, compared to just 22% in the 'Yes' camp.

If you'll excuse some amateurish political reflections, the result shows my fellow North-Easterners to be a cynical bunch. Though one of the most commonly voiced complaints is that London is too distant to be sensitive to our needs and concerns, the proposal to bring aspects of government closer to the people - an honourable one in my view, at least in principle - has been met with suspicion, and ultimately rejection.

Though the North-East is traditionally very much a Labour heartlands, there does seem to be a strain of conservatism running through the region, in the sense that the state is often regarded as being too large, and the Government as meddling and interfering unnecessarily in people's lives. Many of those critical of the proposal used the standard Daily Mail / Telegraph line that it would be a waste of taxpayers' money and create yet more levels of bureaucracy.

The bottom line, though, has been the lack of assurances over exactly what powers a regional assembly would have. As someone who voted 'Yes', I have to concede the point made by mmChronic of Geordie website New Links that I was voting for an "unknown quantity".

Though I don't feel as though I was sucked in by the Labour propaganda machine, I guess that, as with most things, I was voting with an ideal in mind, on a matter of principle, rather than allowing myself to be put off by the carping over specifics and confusion over what it would mean in actuality. It doesn't matter now anyway.

One final thought: turnout was under 48%, compared to 70% for the American presidential election. Should we be ashamed? Or is it simply a measure of the fact that the national apathy towards politics is more pronounced in the North-East? If so, then I find it quite staggering that so many people showed no interest in such a potentially major decision (whether for better or for worse).

(For the thoughts of fellow Geordie Paul, click here.)
Blogwatch

The blogosphere reacts to Dubya's victory, the SWSL verdict being "That way madness lies...":

Paul: "Bugger".

Amblongus: "Well, that sucked ... Now to listen to Godspeed! You Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae To Heaven and reflect on the prospect of four more wars".

Bob Mould: "Last night's outcome leads me to believe the majority of this nation is comprised of God-fearing Christians. We are represented by a leader who has divided the country, and has turned a deaf ear to the rest of the world. We are in a holy war, and our European predecessors are very concerned. We have been instilled with fear: fear of God, fear of the Muslim world, fear everywhere we turn. Fear and hate is in the air; can't you smell it? They call it faith".

Pete: "I heard on the radio today that the Bush win was a victory for the moral majority. It's a queer notion of morality that rewards, lying and cheating and turns a blind eye to thousand upon thousand of unnecessary deaths, which willfully wrecks the environment, which rewards it's already rich friends and generally struts about smirking, gloating, like the the most spoiled frat boy in the history of frat boys. The tit won fair and square, probably, but that doesn't make him any less odious, or any more right, or any more fucking moral!"

Nick: "I am, of course, less than delighted with the outcome of the US presidential election, but not exactly surprised. For the last month of campaigning I could feel no hope for Kerry, only an overwhelming sense of dread and pointlessness. American friends, there is a spare room in our house".

Inspector Sands: "It's nothing short of baffling how anybody with a working brain could think George Bush's continued presidency could somehow be a good thing. The Americans had the chance to show one of the warmongerers the finger over the disaster in Iraq - which is more than we're going to get - and passed on it".

Agnes: "I really don't know what goes on in people's minds to vote someone into office who is so obviously bent on destroying the world. I'm really full of rage and sadness today, but there is nothing that can be done but to move on and live your life. Still. My belief in the essential goodness of people really took a blow today. I am scared for the world, but at the same time, I still want to believe that things will work out ok eventually, provided people don't give up and keep defending their basic human rights".

He Who Cannot Be Named: "More than anything, it is not anger or resentment or bitterness or a modulation of any of the kinds of feelings that make you grind your teeth and shout and hit stuff, I feel heartbroken. Heartbroken that a majority of the American people are either too shit scared to change their leader in wartime or because they think this smirking fuckwit and his evil band think that they're doing the best they can for the country and the world AND THEIR MORALS. They crave only money and power. That's all. But of course, you know that ... But to those who did vote Democrat (even that bowling chap Michael Crick interviewed who supported action in Iraq but still went for Kerry) thank you. I believe you can still make America great in the eyes of the world. Let's grit our teeth and get through these next four years together, thinking of a brighter, Republican-free future".

Jonathan: "What we have to do now is hold Bush to account wherever we can on whatever he does to further erode civil liberties, human rights and global peace. Many decent Americans and Europeans have spent much of the last four years campaigning and fighting for justice; that won't stop now. By any measure, the re-election of George Bush is a catastrophe; but plenty of moderate, sensible people - all across the world, including the US - will continue to oppose Bush's naked avarice, bigotry and beligerance; this burgeoning groundwell of activism will continue".

Thursday, November 04, 2004

American idiot (re)elected by American idiots

An email from a friend which pretty much says it all:

"What in the name of fuck has just happened? I was so sure that the American people would come to their senses and vote out that murderous, amoral, moronic little bastard. Even in the last few weeks of the campaign Bush proved, as if there was ever any doubt, just what an imbecile he was, in every single debate and every single speech. A man who has without shame admitted that he doesn’t give a fuck for the environment or any other country than his own. Neither health care nor civil rights have troubled his thoughts once in the past four years.

His idiotic foray in to Iraq was done (shamefully) with the collusion of our own government, but without any thought given to the consequences once Saddam Hussein had been captured and Baghdad had fallen. That every week more and more allied soldiers and civilians are losing their lives there has not worried him even slightly.

And yet again he has been given four more years to fuck up the entire world.

I realise that you understand this already. As such I am only writing to convey to you my almost complete loss of faith in humanity as a result of this betrayal of reason by the American public.

The only hope I have been able to take from the whole sorry mess is that many more Americans actually bothered to vote at all, rather than 2000’s disgusting spurning of the democratic process.

P.S. Because I don’t have a lot of time I have omitted to mention his reprehensible views and policies on homosexuals, gun control and capital punishment. Needless to say, these are other areas of his administration that worry me greatly.
"

As a Brit, I have to ask: what is with the American system? How can one presidential candidate announce victory? How can the other concede defeat? And how can results be called by television stations? Is there an independent electoral body, and if so, what exactly is their role?

Long live American democracy, a political system to be proud of and which should legitimately be exported by force to uncivilised countries around the globe.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Reasons To Be Cheerful #1

It's now well over a month since I swapped East Midlands for West. Initially I made the move with a heavy heart - leaving Nottingham for Birmingham felt not so much like venturing to greener pastures as to barren wasteland and concrete jungle. Having spent a good deal of time here over the course of the last three years, despite being permanently based in Nottingham, I found myself still unable to come to terms with the city, still searching for assets which remained resolutely hidden.

Which is why, once the move was made, I resolved to redouble my efforts and find reasons to warm to the place and make myself at home. Thankfully, they seem to have been suggesting themselves with a pleasant regularity over the past few weeks.

Reasons To Be Cheerful is a new semi-regular feature in which I aim to highlight some of the places and events that give Birmingham its appeal. It remains more an attempt to convince myself than anyone else, but the thoughts and views of fellow second city residents and those well-acquainted with the place are very welcome indeed.

#1 - Birmingham Book Festival

(Meant to write about this a while back, but laziness dictates that I'm trying to shoehorn it in here inconspicuously...)

The BBF is an annual event comprising of an assortment of talks, readings, workshops and other gatherings which take place over the course of about two weeks in a variety of venues around the city. This year's event, which ran during the middle of last month, boasted appearances from the likes of David Lodge, Roddy Doyle, Hanif Kureishi, Tony Benn and Maggie Gee amongst others.

I went to two events towards the end of the festival. The first was an evening session entitled 'Cities', which brought together the novelist Jim Crace, renowned for his fictional creation of urban spaces, and John Reader, author of a non-fiction book about the history of cities from their beginnings to the present day. Also present were the festival co-ordinator and Terry Grimley of the Birmingham Evening Mail. I was expecting a discussion about the writing of cities, but in the event the session morphed into a lively and engaging debate about the extensive redevelopment of Birmingham which, for someone relatively new to the city, was particularly fascinating and helped nurture my recently-discovered warmth of feeling towards a place I've very often found myself maligning to others. (A fuller review can be found on Parallax View.)

The second event was on the very last day, an afternoon workshop aimed at people who wanted to improve their short fiction writing skills or who, like me, were simply interested in finding out more. Amongst our number we had a couple of published poets, a dramatist, a Young Adults author and a Creative Writing MA student. The course was run by Helen Cross, whose first novel 'My Summer Of Love' has just been turned into a film. Over the course of three hours we discussed the basics and practised a variety of techniques, my only complaint being that the session wasn't long enough to really get to grips with anything.

I never thought I'd catch myself saying this, but with any luck I'll still be in Birmingham this time next year to take greater advantage of the festival's events than I did this.
"There is a war coming"

Friday night saw me once again enduring with gritted teeth the inane banalities of no-necked ivory-tinkling tosser Jools Holland, as well as the extraordinary dullness of Manic Street Preachers and Kings Of Leon, to revel in the delights of the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds material.

For the show Cave concentrated on material from Abattoir Blues, the louder half of the marvellous new double album, which is their first since the departure of guitarist Blixa Bargeld. Single 'Nature Boy' I expected, but not the brooding title track and its thumping drumbeat, nor a fabulous rendition of 'There She Goes, My Beautiful World', hammered out with furious gusto to bring the programme to an end.

Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus is unremarkable in the context of the Cave canon, but then that canon is almost uniformly awesome. A trademark collision of love, beauty, despair, violence and apocalyptic visions, the album also finds Cave indulging in the rich vein of humour so often ignored in his work - he frequently pricks his own tendency towards pomposity with lyrics which tend towards the absurd rather than the sublime.

All of which means I'm now salivating in anticipation of this coming Sunday's Wolverhampton show...
You WHAT?!!

The internet is a magical place, where information on all of the following can no doubt be found:

pat sharpe james joyce
chuckle brothers gay
horse semen removal
cornish pasties filling buckingham palace
bowing for columbine
what does a thorny devil's shelter look like?

Just not here, though.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Fireworks night

Anyone switching on to watch 'Question Time' last night could have been forgiven for wondering why the BBC were televising a chimp's tea party, such was the level of moronic whooping, cat-calling and even wolf-whistling from the predominantly American audience. As a friend commented in a text, "It's a farce! Watch 'Trisha' for a more intelligent audience". David Dimbleby was like an exasperated secondary school teacher struggling to retain control over proceedings, repeatedly having to ask people to be quiet and not talk or shout over others.

Viewers could also have been forgiven for thinking the fireworks had come a week prematurely. No doubt in the interests of avoiding violence, panellists Michael Moore and Richard Littlejohn were kept at opposite ends of the desk, as far apart as possible. Moore was, however, seated next to David Frum, Dubya's speechwriter, who patronised him throughout and even began sneeringly calling him Mr Springer at one point.

Most pleasing it was to see Littlejohn squirming like an eel under a stiletto at having to grudgingly give his public support to the actions of Tony Blair, a man he loathes. For the most part, the Sun's firebrand was remarkably restrained, but then provided an explosive conclusion when, seemingly unable to rein himself in any longer, he embarked on a rant about Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11', labelling it a "tsunami of bile" which dishonours the memories of those US soldiers who have perished in Iraq.

Well, not really, Dick (may I call you Dick? Thanks.). You see, you can say a lot of things about that film, but two things of which you absolutely cannot accuse it are biliousness and a lack of compassion. Yes, there's undoubtedly intense dissatisfaction if not anger standing behind what the film says, but his arguments are made calmly, with reason and humanity. If you want to know what a "tsunami of bile" is, then why not read your own column once in a while?
Blogwatch: in brief

Our Man In Hanoi is asking for help in raising money for a building project, and for sponsorship for a 70km charity bike ride. If you're interested in helping out, you can find out more by clicking on the link or emailing him at ourmaninhanoi@gmail.com.

Elsewhere:

Jonathan details the extraordinary influence John Peel exerted on his evolving musical tastes and listening habits;

Nick reports on an encounter with The Youth Of Today;

Secret Knowledge Of Backroads gives an illuminating insight into its author's daily routine, in an, ahem, defiantly unpretentious variation on the Day In The Life theme - "I sit down on the toilet as I’m too tired to stand and my aim isn’t that good with sleep in my eyes. Anyway, have you tried doing a number two whilst standing up? Whilst I’m there I’ll flick through Heat which is normally plonked over the side of the bath for times such as this. Of course, I just look at the pictures. When I see J-Lo I toy with the idea of having a Barclays. Then I see Donatella Versace and forget all about it";

Neil's been banned from every branch of McDonalds in the South-East;

and Mish is taken aback by her first exposure to Gaydar profiles - "You pink darlings! I appreciate that love and affection and Mr Right is a little hard to find in this cruel age, but do you really have to post a photograph of yourself like that? Doing that? Waving it in the air like that? And offering to do that to someone whom you haven’t even MET yet?".
Vanity Project #11

The latest issue of Vanity Project is out now, featuring the following and much more besides:

Features: Edinburgh Festival round-up

Interviews: Red Letter Day

Album reviews: The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Sufjan Stevens, Gibby Haynes & His Problem, The Radio Dept, Wolf Eyes, Holly Golightly, Nina Nastasia, Tokyo Dragons, Polysics, The Open, Cake, Cranes

Single reviews: The Hives, The Kaiser Chiefs, The Hidden Cameras, Mylo, The Others, The Departure, Aberfeldy, Maritime, The Boxer Rebellion, The Detroit Cobras

Live reviews: The Magic Band, The Fall, Belle & Sebastian, Jeffrey Lewis, Truck Festival, Dawn Of The Replicants, The Blueskins

Perhaps I ought to place extra emphasis on the "much more besides" - like many fanzine writers, Skif and his merry band continue to carry the torch lit by John Peel, passionately championing the obscure and the unknown alongside the relatively established. Which, if any, of the unheard-of bands enthused over here will make it? Halflight? Merchandise? Superelectric? Or Ripped In Half, a death metal band whose Excremental Illness LP features such ditties as 'Bury Me In Shit' and 'Poke My Pus-Filled Wound'? Who knows. What matters, though, is that there are people out there fighting the corner of the the underdog.

For more information on how to get hold of a copy free, visit the Vanity Project website.
Geordonia: the promised land?

In advance of the next week's vote on devolution, Wednesday's Guardian featured this piece asking the question, "Who does the 'Geordie nation' think it is?"

Though the article contained some points of interest - most notably the fact that despite having a shared regional and cultural identity, North-Easterners do not have any real sense of a common political identity, and thus it is by no means a foregone conclusion that the outcome of the referendum will be in favour of devolution.

However, to me it seemed handicapped by a lack of real research - surely they could have canvassed the opinions of more than just one "expert"? We could have done without the nostalgic dribblings of Tim Healy, too - Newcastle, like the rest of the region, is a modern and vibrant place to live and work, something which his sepia-tinted warblings gloss over.

Currently, just as is the case with the rather larger poll across the pond, it's too tight to call. A vote in favour of devolution may mark the first stage in the foundation of a separate nation state - Geordonia, anyone? We've already got our own language...
Magic 'Dust'

Anyone see 'Monkey Dust' on Monday night? It's an animated comedy series that's just made the transition from BBC3 onto BBC2. As someone keenly interested in British comedy I've only just heard about it, which suggests it must have been a well-kept secret, but, judging by Monday's episode, its virtues are legion.

A deliciously dark satire, it's set not in some horrific dystopia (as some, including the BBC's own website about the series) might have you believe, but in contemporary Britain. The sketches involving the Paedo-Finder ("By the power invested in me by News International, I pronounce you to be a paedophile!") and the dad dressed up in a Spiderman outfit committing suicide were particularly sharp. As with the best comedy, anger seems to be a primary inspiration.

As 'Little Britain' starts to tire and wear thin, lapsing into the complacent catchphrase comedy that did for 'The Fast Show', 'Monkey Dust' can claim to paint a more savage but also, crucially, funnier portrait of 21st century Britain.

(Thanks to Inspector Sands for recommending it.)
This week on Stylus

Kyle McConaghy interviews Amadeo Pace of Blonde Redhead - "I don't ever want to make a record and think about how to duplicate the sound live. I'll think about it later and we will deal with it somehow. We want to try to do something on an album that we have never done before and I think that if we started thinking about it, we would stop growing and stop experimenting";

Andrew Unterberger chooses his Top Ten Worst Lines On Interpol's First Album - suffice to say that Paul Banks's lyrics do not emerge with much credit;

and Colin Cooper writes about Sigur Ros's 'Staralfur' for the Perfect Moments In Pop series - "I may be listening now to metal and machinery manipulated to sound like seventy-two virgins playing for me in Nirvana — but it's still beautiful.".
Lyric-that's-stuck-in-my-head-and-won't-leave of the day

"If you're gonna dine with them cannibals, sooner or later darling you're gonna get eaten."

'Cannibal's Hymn' - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Text message of the day

"You know Ant and Dec? It's the same bloke - they just do it with mirrors."

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"I've never said fuck off to anybody because I just can't"

So, the only DJ I've ever cared about is dead. Legend is too small a word for John Peel.

To quote Billy Bragg in today's Guardian: "Although he became an institution at the BBC, he was, in effect, running his own pirate radio station from within the corporation".

I met him once, watching Godspeed! You Black Emperor at All Tomorrow's Parties in 2000. He was amiable, decent, patient - a thoroughly lovely bloke.

After all my carping on Monday about public displays of grief, someone passes away who deserves to be mourned by the whole nation. Peel's death puts into perspective last week's grotesque spectacle of the media beating themselves off into a masturbatory lather about that vicious narrow-minded bitch Lynda Lee-Potter.

On Excuse Me For Laughing, longtime SWSL friend and former colleague He Who Cannot Be Named mentions the time he interviewed Peel for an article. That feature - from June 2001, to explain some of the references - appears in its entirety below.

With the benefit of hindsight, the allusions to death come to seem prominent, and Peel comes across as a rather paranoid person, fearful and all too aware of his own mortality.

But I think it still stands as a fitting tribute, revealing for the most part a man who, despite having earnt the right to feel some pride in his considerable influence on British music, possessed not a shred of egotism but instead modesty in spades and a charmingly self-deprecating sense of humour.

RIP.

If I asked you to name national institutions, you could say Lloyds of London, the MCC or Radio 1. Then there’s the institution within Radio 1. John Peel. His night-time shows have guided the nation’s esoteric tastes since the station’s inception in 1967 and now he stands as the only survivor of a line-up that included such blazing mediocrities as Tony Blackburn. Now John Peel commands a respect that no other DJ can.

After a letter and a series of comical phone calls, I find myself in Radio 1 reception waiting for the man. The reception area is underwhelming. About the width of a run-of-the-mill garden shed, Chris the security guard is perched on a stool in what can only be described as a poncey corridor. I expected a grand courtyard and rolling carpet. When John finally arrives through the front door I expect a regal trumpet salute. Instead I hear the evil whine of Limp Bizkit’s ‘Rollin’ on the reception’s speakers.

I am then issued with a visitor pass and follow John to the main office, a wide open space rammed with autographed memorabilia and dishevelled stacks of promos. I think, ‘God I wish I was working here’. John then leads me down to his studio past a board adorned with press cuttings entitled ‘Filth On Radio 1 In The Papers’ and a 5ft picture of Sara Cox’s visage.

In the immaculate and somewhat sterile studio, John is effusive and self-deprecating. Welcoming and just plain nice. When I say that I’ve heard someone else who had interviewed him had sat in on his programme and was politely told to leave because John was getting paranoid, he protests. “That doesn’t sound like me. Not unless he was flossing with a switchblade. I often meet people who say, ‘I’ve met that bloke you said fuck off to’, and I say I’ve never said fuck off to anybody because I just can’t.”

John’s laconic tones have infected the media for so long that some people have forgotten that he still does his Radio 1 show. But he has survived. Is he surprised? “If I said no that would sound a bit conceited and if I said yes that would sound like false modesty so I don’t really know. I think one of the reasons why I’ve survived is because I don’t have any ambitions to do anything else. I’ve never wanted to get into TV or anything. Well, not in a serious way.”

I suggest that the powers that be think he is irreplaceable. “It would be madness to assume that. A lot of people have made that assumption and have found out they were wrong, and I never believe that for a minute because if you do you stop trying to get things right. It would be a serious error of judgement to believe that.”

His show has maintained its cult credentials and devoted audience and John is proud to say that he’s old enough to be a grandfather to some listeners. This is despite the fact that John admits to not reading the music press. “By and large they don’t seem to be writing about the things that I like”, he says. John claims they seem to be more locked into what is on Steve Lamacq’s show, whilst his own 10 o’clock show instead extols the virtues of the arch-obscurist. He recounts a tale of when he took a record he thought was wonderful to his school’s jazz club. “It was this elitist knobhead organisation and they just laughed at it and the more they laughed, the more I thought I was right and they were wrong. I thought: ‘You bastards have completely missed the point.’”

It’s an anecdote with stunning relevance when you realise John caters for the audience that doesn’t want the conventional, an audience that wants something different. However, criticisms that he sometimes plays a pile of crap may be valid. He says: “I reserve the right to be wrong. I don’t say my shows are infallible. If I live for another ten years I might think back: ‘What the hell was I listening to?’”

I then enquire whether he is afraid of being too ubiquitous. In one week I had listened to his show, seen him talk of Liverpool FC’s European glory on TV, congratulate Amnesty International on their work, host the Royal Festival Hall’s 50th birthday gig and do countless advert voiceovers. “I don’t think I am. I always say if you look at the number of years I’ve been doing Radio 1, you can either see it as passionate dedication to public service broadcasting or a shocking lack of ambition. It’s the same thing but it depends on your perspective. I think it’s a consequence of doing the same thing for a long time and being reasonably approachable. When they’re looking for someone to talk about Liverpool, they don’t have many showbiz supporters for which I’m always very grateful so people say, ‘We’ll have to talk to Peel again.’”

He admits that he does the voiceovers because he has to put three kids through university. However, contrary to popular belief, he does turn them down. “Oh good Lord. I walked out of one today because it had a line in it – I won’t say what it was – but it was something I strongly disapproved of and I said, ‘Sorry but I’m not going to read that.’”

John also gets emotional. When he received the NME Godlike Genius Award in 1994 he started doing a Niagara Falls. “I cry far too easily. I wanted to make a speech about my wife but I broke down and made a bit of an arse of myself.” He also gets bleary-eyed over the recent success of his beloved Liverpool football team. “I couldn’t bare to watch the cup games and the FA Cup. I went for a six mile walk. When it kicked off I started walking and I took my mobile phone. When the match was over Sheila, my wife, phoned me and said they won 2-1. I burst into floods of tears in the middle of the road and my daughter came over and collected me and we had a celebratory drink. I just get too wound up and think I’m going to drop dead.”

The guiding light is his family and especially Sheila. On his ring finger is a wedding band with a silver pig coiled upon it. As listeners to his show may well know, he affectionately nicknames her The Pig. John states his weaknesses as being red wine, Indian food and family. “I’d sooner spend a day with my wife than a day doing anything else. You could say it’s a weakness but I would say it’s a strength.”

However, there has been trouble in marital paradise. Over the matter of beard shaving. “When I last shaved it off, my wife was so furious she told me I wasn’t to leave the house until I’d grown it back. But it was a bit of a shock because I’d had it for 16 or 17 years and I’d expected the same bloke to emerge from behind it. Strange thing is if you haven’t shaved for a long time there’s a bloke in the mirror you’ve never seen before and it’s a really unnerving experience. I looked like a fusion of Mussolini and my mother.”

John is a victim of the middle-aged spread. Once asked if there was anybody he’d like to look like, he said, “Anybody thin.” His tone is almost mournful when he talks about it. “You see yourself in the mirror and think ‘Oh my God, look at the state of that’. Obviously I suppose if I went on some sort of Geri Halliwell diet I could probably lose weight but then I’d probably die as well.”

Like I said, self-deprecating. However, he remains an iconic figure. When I ask whether the title ‘the most important figure in popular music for the past 25 years’, as proposed by his friend John Walters, haunts him, he shrugs. “It’s just something he said in the course of an interview like this when you’re struggling to find expression for something you’ve not thought about terribly deeply. You can’t quantify these things.” John cheerfully admits he has no idea what is in the charts and he has no doubt benefited from not being exposed to the horrific knowledge of the existence of DJ Pied Piper and MCs or Allstars. For now the show will go on, but first Britain’s greatest living DJ has to contend with the nadir of his summer. “I think Wimbledon is the real low point in the year. I don’t like tennis. Playing it I don’t object to but as a spectator I find it most irritating. Thank God the football season is starting fairly soon.”


A selection of well-worded blog tributes: Auspicious Fish, Parallax View, Casino Avenue, Underground Base Of An Evil Genius, Alex McChesney Dot Com, Amblongus, No Rock & Roll Fun, Wherever You Are, Danger! High Postage

No Rock & Roll Fun has a whole load more links here.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Sense and sentimentality

Amidst all the brouhaha surrounding the infamous Spectator article, I found myself deeply troubled by the possibility of actually being in agreement with the only half-penitent Boris Johnson and, worse still, with the Daily Mail.

Despite retracting the editorial's insinuations about Liverpool's relishing of victim status, the floppy-haired fop Johnson refused to apologise for the overarching sentiment of the piece - namely, that Britain has become a nation of people quick to display disproportionate levels of public grief in the wake of events which barely touch their lives.

Mail columnist Melanie Philips appeared on Thursday's edition of 'Question Time' and defended the overall message of the article in the same terms - perhaps unsurprising, given that a fellow Mail columnist, the despicable Simon Heffer, was behind it. When I last saw her on the programme, she was savaged and destroyed by Will Self in the cleverest and sharpest way imaginable, but on this occasion her point was, I think, valid.

Britain has for so long been associated with stoic reserve and the stiff upper lip, but over the last few years, things seem to have swung to the opposite extreme. In principle I'm all for the expression of empathy and sympathy for those who are neither immediate family nor friends - but then why do people choke themselves with tears over the death of the Queen Mother whilst at the same time not giving a shit about the victims of genocide the world over? It's just a grotesque kind of exhibitionism which, in the words of a Mclusky album, shouts to all within earshot "My pain and sadness are more sad and painful than yours".

So it seemed, then, that the Mail and me, we were suddenly, horrifyingly, in agreement.

But it only lasted for the briefest of moments, before it struck me, and not for the first time, quite how hypocritical Ms Philips and the Mail was being in all this. After all, what was the catalyst to this societal shift towards excessive public mourning? Diana's death. And which paper did the most to artificially arouse and stimulate the nation's grief? Yes indeed.

Thankfully - and I mean thankfully - the Mail's most poisonous writer Lynda Lee-Potter died last week. As if to disprove the point about mawkish sentimentality made by their own columnists, the paper did its best to get the "sad" news on the agenda, the result being a procession of obsequious obituaries trotted out in the mainstream media.

What's more, the fact that I agreed with every single word of Inspector Sands's alternative send-off assured me that I'm not in danger of becoming a fearful, snivelling, self-interested, Buckinghamshire-dwelling wretch just yet.
Quote of the day

"I guess it happens to us all. I knew I’d reached a certain point in my life the other day – an old episode of ‘The Good Life’ was on and I realised that I’d rather shag Margot than Barbara."

Jonny B on growing old.
Feel good hits of the 25th October

1. 'Evil' - Interpol
2. 'Nature Boy' - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
3. 'Mason City' - The Fiery Furnaces
4. 'Untitled #8' - Sigur Ros
5. 'Golden Retriever' - Super Furry Animals
6. 'Meantime' - The Futureheads
7. 'I Don't Like Mondays' - The Boomtown Rats
8. 'Take A Chance On Me' - Abba
9. 'Rebel Rebel' - David Bowie
10. 'Boys Don't Cry' - The Cure

Friday, October 22, 2004

Right To Reply #3: Part Four

The subject: The future of recorded music

The participants:
Ben - your host
Nick - Contributing Editor for Stylus and author of Auspicious Fish
Simon - the one and only Mr No Rock & Roll Fun
Leon - Portsmouth's very own musical renegade
Kenny - the man behind the hand and the brains behind ace popcult blog Parallax View
Jez - Stereolab afficionado instrumental in introducing me to the delights of The Smiths and The Wedding Present
He Who Cannot Be Named - the shadowy figure behind Excuse Me For Laughing

Does downloading herald the end of the traditional record store?

Kenny: No, but Jeff Bezos and Amazon probably do, if they can keep it in profit.

Leon: Free downloads are payback for years of record companies and record shops overpricing their product and becoming complacent that people will forever consume it in the same manner. In this country, in the short term, the likes of HMV should start worrying about Tesco and Asda. Those people buying all the MOR dross or the stuff that’s in this week’s chart – which I assume is where HMV’s core turnover lies - will be able to pick up CDs with their weekly shop.

Jez: I fucking hope [it does herald the end]. They are there purely to sell. It would be idealistic to expect otherwise but those bastards are corrupt and always have been. They rent space to companies and then involve themselves in a massive fight to draw all attention away from the discs that will hardly sell. I’ll settle for Amazon as long as I can go to spend a couple of hours in Selectadisc.

Kenny: Most 'megastores' are becoming discount DVD warehouses anyway, in my experience.

Simon: The future of record shops? Not good. Obviously, it's been several years since there were record shops on any high street in most towns – Tower and Our Price have withdrawn, Boots has dropped its record shop, Virgin and HMV do still have a couple of racks of CDs, normally tucked away behind the T-shirts and mobile phones. Those stores will continue to repurpose their real estate for higher-yielding products. Independent stores which had weathered the onslaught of the chains may hang on for a while longer, but it's hard to see how they'll be able to survive much beyond the end of the decade. Second hand shops might last, but new records? They'll not be selling in large enough numbers to keep the little guys going. Of course, the great shame is by 2015, the joy of going into a charity shop and finding a bunch of great music for cheap is going to be lost forever.

He Who Cannot Be Named: Record stores have to try harder and please their customers and create, gulp, brand loyalty. I know friends to go to record shops to have the coolness of their purchases validated by the record clerks (what's the English word?), where they can pick up gig tickets and get recommendations from the musical equivalent of social workers. Yes, that is me sometimes. But record stores should try and play on the theme of community.

Ben: There’s surely still something to be said for the sort of independent record store staffed by passionate and enthusiastic people who aren’t just there because it’s a better or more respectable option than McDonalds (I could have sworn a baseball-capped HMV worker once said “Have a nice day” to me…). Perhaps this is over-romanticising it, but a trip to Selectadisc is less like a cold, transactional exchange and more like an enriching and wholesome experience. Over the years I’ve grown to trust the stickers describing what the more obscure albums sound like – you know they’re coming personally recommended by someone who’s given it a spin and knows what they’re talking about. In the short term there’ll still be plenty of Luddite customers like me who are yet to embrace the future, but it’s difficult to see how even well-established and popular independent shops like Selectadisc will be able to survive the downloading revolution.

Nick: Downloading does not herald the end of traditional record stores anymore than home taping did.

He Who Cannot Be Named: What signals the end more so is the advent of cheap CD sites like Play.com. I was on there today and bought Antics and SMiLE. Did I consider the traditional record store while doing so? Hell no. I did what was easier. Easier at other times walking past Sister Ray or Rounder and walking in there and buying a couple of CDs, as you do.

Leon: Long term, I think record companies will sell to consumers direct and the big record stores will be forced to radically alter the way they operate. Why should the record labels pay out for distribution etc when they can cut out the middle men? Consumers will go to the record label’s online store and either download a track or, as an option, say, download an album and then order the CD version if you want a ‘hard copy’.

Ben: How significant is it, then, that a label like Warp has deliberately chosen to make their entire back catalogue available to download?

He Who Cannot Be Named: It is great because it opens up (weirder) avenues to the casual browser on the internet. It spreads the gospel. In the long run they can only profit. And it's better than letting their back catalogue rot at the back of CD racks in Music and Video Exchanges.

Kenny: It seems like a smart, forward-thinking move, but I have no idea how much money they make from it. If you have to pay for it, why not buy the record from Amazon for just as many clicks? Although as my Tricky Disco 12" jumps here and there, I might just go and check their site out.

Nick: As for Warp making their entire back catalogue available online… well, I’ll get excited when EMI does that, with every song at 320kbps, costing 20p and downloading in ten seconds.

Ben: It’s a bold move that Warp have made, and at least it’s a start. No real surprise that it took one of the most forward-thinking labels around in musical terms to stand up and reject the official RIAA party line that downloading is bad for the music industry full stop. It’s a myth, utter bullshit – pure and simple.

*****

And, to wrap the whole feature up, it’s over to Nick for some concluding thoughts on the downloading phenomenon, MP3 blogs and internet music writers:

The thing that most internet-based music writers (I was going to use the word ‘journalists’ but we’re not, are we?) don’t realise is quite how hermetically sealed the net makes you; the free access to a diversity of opinions, to a wealth of knowledge far in excess of anything we’ve ever been able to utilise before, has opened up a huge amount of doors, of opportunities. People with the time, conviction and broadband connection can discover and fall in love with things they never would have had access to before – you only need to look at recent blog-friendly trends for grime, dancehall, microhouse and a thousand other new (and not so new) genres that keep neologists just as happy as music fans. And that’s great and good and positive and empowering and allows people to broaden horizons in ways hitherto unthought-of etcetera.

BUT, no matter how diverse internet boards such as I Love Music are, now matter how broad a church the blogosphere is, these are STILL, in the scheme of things, very small communities made up of individuals with a great deal in common – hence the diversity so often lauded is, at least in part, illusory.

And I often wonder whether the illusion of diversity is actually more dangerous than out-and-out narrow-mindedness. Anyone who spends any amount of time using a messageboard particular to one artist could quickly come under the entirely erroneous (and frankly ridiculous) impression that the regulars of that board constitute the entire fanbase of the artist, even if there are only a couple of dozen regular posters. Who then makes up the other couple of thousand (or hundred thousand, or million) people who attend concerts and buy records by said artist?

Despite the apparent ubiquity and inclusivity of the net, it’s still a very specialist concern, and nowhere near as representative as it likes to think it is.

*****

And that's a wrap. Thanks to all the contributors for making this the best and most extensive Right To Reply to date. There'll be another one along in the next couple of months.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Right To Reply #3: Part Three

The subject: The future of recorded music

The participants:
Ben - your host
Nick - Contributing Editor for Stylus and author of Auspicious Fish
Simon - the one and only Mr No Rock & Roll Fun
Leon - Portsmouth's very own musical renegade
Kenny - the man behind the hand and the brains behind ace popcult blog Parallax View
Jez - Stereolab afficionado instrumental in introducing me to the delights of The Smiths and The Wedding Present
He Who Cannot Be Named - the shadowy figure behind Excuse Me For Laughing

Has the record industry been left behind by the pace of change, or is it catching up? Could / should it be doing more? Have they got any legitimate cause to gripe about loss of earnings?

Jez: Yes they can gripe, well sort of anyway. They have been overcharging for years and now they have to try and justify that without a material product. However, illegal downloading is theft. There are degrees, though.

Leon: In principle I am totally for the free downloading of music. As a musician I wouldn’t want someone making money out of something I had created but this isn’t why people download for free. In my experience the majority of people downloading stuff for free are doing it for their own personal use or to preview a CD before actually going out and buying it.

Jez: I don’t care if someone wants to download a U2 song (although I can’t think why they would) but if a band is independent, and there will be a steep rise in these, then they should get the money they not only deserve but also need. Just because it’s entertainment doesn’t mean it should be free. This is an industry we are talking about here, it’s naive to think otherwise. If somebody decides to get their carrots from a local shop rather than Tesco do they expect to get them free because they are supporting small businesses? Do they fuck.

Nick: The internet won’t kill music in exactly the same way that home taping didn’t, that digital recording at home (Minidisc, in other words) didn’t, that CDs didn’t kill vinyl (well, OK, they maimed vinyl, but DJs exist and clubs exist so vinyl will never die). And when I say music I mean the music industry; the current climate is nothing more than a crisis, and if we know anything we know that crises are always overcome. There are too many records still being sold, too much money still being made, too many people still with an interest in the business side to let everything go to pot (or P2P). After all, if people didn’t buy records then other people wouldn’t be able to afford to make records and then no-one would have anything to download in the first place…

He Who Cannot Be Named: The record industry is a pack of decaying dinosaurs who just want to screw everyone, and I mean everyone, for maximum profits. I despise them for their gall in complaining about loss of profits, as if they were creating the product rather than channelling it. Of course I'm not talking about the Rough Trades of this world, but all record companies should go in whatever direction the consumer is, rather than try to criminalise them. It has no legitimate gripe about loss of earnings because like any business it feeds demand and demand changes. Our custom is not their God-given right but a favour we are doing to them.

Simon: Of course, the record industry is right to be upset by downloading – and it's understandable why it was reluctant to create a legal download to take on the illegal downloads until the very last moment. Because the whole concept of downloading makes the current business model obsolete and – while it makes their back catalogue worth more – it brings into doubt the question of how much of a future the labels have as creators of talent.

Leon: For years, the number of ‘independent acts’ that the major record labels have signed and promoted has been in decline. (When I say ‘independent acts’ I’m referring to bands or artists that wouldn’t be considered strictly commercial – recent examples might be Franz Ferdinand or Goldfrapp. I’m not suggesting these acts are signed to majors, just that they are examples of the type of music major record labels would consider ‘risky’.) No big shocks there. However, this situation won’t be exacerbated by the rise in downloading. Even without downloads I think the labels would have continued to limit the amount of money spent on less commercially viable acts.

Simon: One of the justifications the RIAA and their lil' copies round the globe make for charging loads for CDs is that they need to make lots of cash from the hits in order to fund the flops – only by all of us paying fifteen quid for U2 and The Darkness can The Man hope to support the careers of the Help She Can’t Swims and The Delays.

Leon: The ‘downloading will destroy grass roots music’ argument is a convenient one for the labels to drag out to try and prick the conscience of those who care about music. Are they really suggesting that if I download Madonna’s back catalogue some band in Norwich won’t get signed this week? Of course not. Partly because there is no-one looking out for talent in anywhere other than London or, perhaps, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. Partly because the majors are happily swallowing up the independents. But mainly because the majors have no intention of spending money on ‘new’ music – they want to endlessly re-package and recycle through endless money-spinning compilations.

Kenny: Like pretty much all large corporations, the music business is crippled by short-term thinking, number-crunching morons and people who believe their own PR hype to such a degree that they have become just as deluded and detached from reality as your average schizoidal panhandler. I have no sympathy for them whatsoever and have no interest in their predicament at all, which is as solemnly predictable as karma.

Leon: What do we gain from the current situation, where our independent / alternative acts are swallowed up and spat out? Loads of people complain that too much time is given by the media to commercial crap. But the same people seem to complain when the acts they like break through (‘sell out’). So why don’t we save everyone’s time and leave the commercial stuff to the labels, and seek out the good stuff ourselves?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Right To Reply #3: Part Two

The subject: The future of recorded music

The participants:
Ben - your host
Nick - Contributing Editor for Stylus and author of Auspicious Fish
Simon - the one and only Mr No Rock & Roll Fun
Leon - Portsmouth's very own musical renegade
Kenny - the man behind the hand and the brains behind ace popcult blog Parallax View
Jez - Stereolab afficionado instrumental in introducing me to the delights of The Smiths and The Wedding Present
He Who Cannot Be Named - the shadowy figure behind Excuse Me For Laughing

If singles are designed to sell albums, and the album format could potentially die out, where does that leave singles?

Leon: I think this means the single format as we know it will be phased out. Thank fuck! Occasionally you still get the odd single with a couple of quality B-sides but this is by no means the norm. Lame remixes, live tracks and album tracks are all too frequent. I think the fact that singles are used to promote albums is the cause of the problem. Bands used to regularly release singles and EPs that had no relation to an album. Now we get 4 or 5 singles from an album which means between 4 and 10 B-side slots to fill.

Nick: Singles aren’t just adverts for albums. On a financial, turn-a-profit, use them as a loss-leader basis, yes maybe they are, but in the hearts and minds of people who buy singles and listen to radio they’re much, much more than that.

Kenny: Singles may well be 'designed' to sell albums but the reason people buy them is because they like the tune and want to have easy and ready access to play the thing as often as they can. Either that, or they want to fuck the life out of the singer. And, in total pop harmony, sometimes both. As long as there are still good tunes and fuckable singers and the price remains within the purchase range of pubescents, the single will still live on.

Ben: That’s precisely the problem, though. CD singles are ludicrously expensive, and on the rare occasions I buy them I either go to Selectadisc where they’re permanently cheap or else pick them up from HMV in the first week of release when they’re £1.99 because I resent shelling out four quid for three tracks.

He Who Cannot Be Named: I haven't bought a single since 2002. They're way too expensive, at least the last time I remember. I don't think singles are specifically designed to sell albums – that's a record company design, but I would download them should I still be doing so. I sometimes think singles are pointless because the album will come sooner or later.

Nick: Had it not been released as a single ‘Toxic’ would just be a good album track on a record that bombed and Britney would be heading for farm work and half a dozen fat babies. The significance of a number one single is still massive. Net-heads may doubt it, but you ask hardcore Streets fans or Mike Skinner himself – it matters.

Ben: The number one slot might still be much coveted and retain much of its cultural significance, but it now means very little in terms of sales, and hard cash is the only language the major labels understand. On a slow week you can top the charts with a piffling 30,000 sales.

Jez: It can’t continue as it is. It will go one of two ways: death or glory. The trouble is who buys them now and what do you have to do to get a different market to start buying them?

Nick: I don’t think there’s any danger of singles vanishing – albums won’t vanish, and demand for radio stations in the DAB / broadband age is only going to increase. Net-addicted musos who burn CDRs with 700megs of downloaded, themed MP3s to listen to at work and who never turn the radio on are a tiny minority.

Leon: I think the traditional Top 40 will continue, but be based on download sales. Here’s hoping the ‘preview’ times for singles will decrease too. Currently, singles seem to be played on the radio etc 6 to 8 weeks before release. This is far too long. Who’s going to be interested by the time it comes out?

Nick: The advent of downloading would seem to privilege singles (or, rather, individual songs) over albums, simply due to the fact that (a) they’re faster to download and (b) you’re no longer under any obligation to purchase a full album in order to acquire one song anymore. But this is more problematic than it seems. Firstly there’s the bugbear of sound quality, especially when it comes to legal download sites, which seem to run at such low bitrates that you may as well record stuff off the radio to dodgy old cassette tape. P2P networks make this better, as long as you can find someone with what you want ripped at an acceptable bitrate, which isn’t always possible. Dodgy sound is one of the reasons why my iPod has lain unused for the last fortnight, while the clunkier, clumsier, lower-capacity Minidisc has been sought out.

Ben: To someone with no experience of downloading, it seems curious that sound quality should be so variable that it’s hardly an improvement on technology that’s now decades old.

Nick: Secondly there’s the vague distaste of the furtherance of the me-me-me now-now-now philosophy which immediately downloading single songs engenders – no delay of gratification, no prolonged engagement with a set of songs you may not necessarily already like (or even know) means that no longer are people going to be susceptible to songs that one might deem “growers” – what’s the point when you can download something instantly satisfying in a different way? As if we weren’t ADHD enough as a culture already.

Ben: True enough, but then singles are – generally speaking – chosen for their immediacy and accessibility. That’s not to say, of course, that a song released in single format can’t be a grower, though.

Nick: And thirdly, this view of singles encourages the idea that they are somehow more natural, more right, than albums, that the 2-5 minute long pop song is somehow the platonic essence of pop music when really the length of songs is as arbitrary as the length of albums (albums comprising as much music as you can fit on a black plastic disc which rotates at 33rpm, singles lasting as long as a single crank of a gramophone). (Obviously both these examples are overly simplified, but there’s a germ of sense, and a host of other reasons [single sensory concentration spans, radio advertisers demands etcetera] which add further foundation to the reasons for the lengths of recorded music but obviously there’s the live tradition of folk music which throws a spanner in the works – folk songs in my experience either last thirty seconds or else ALL FUCKING DAY).

He Who Cannot Be Named: It seems I have but regressed back to the cave from whence my music habits have formed. I see it slowly changing though. Future generations will be more techno-literate and old traditions will be forgotten.

Update: Simon chews over Colin Murray's views of downloading and its impact on the sale of singles.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Right To Reply #3: Part One

The return, a mere two months after its previous appearance, of the feature in which an assortment of friends / associates / bloggers get together to offer their thoughts and opinions on a disconcertingly nebulous subject. This one's mammoth, folks, so it'll be coming in four separate installments (the first of which is by far the biggest), one a day for the rest of the week. Join in the debate by leaving your own comments - the more the merrier.

The subject: The future of recorded music

The participants:
Ben - your host
Nick - Contributing Editor for Stylus and author of Auspicious Fish
Simon - the one and only Mr No Rock & Roll Fun
Leon - Portsmouth's very own musical renegade
Kenny - the man behind the hand and the brains behind ace popcult blog Parallax View
Jez - Stereolab afficionado instrumental in introducing me to the delights of The Smiths and The Wedding Present
He Who Cannot Be Named - the shadowy figure behind Excuse Me For Laughing

Does the advent of downloading herald the demise of the album format as we know it – a tangible sequence of songs selected, ordered and packaged according to the intentions of the artist? Is this a good thing?

Leon: (Bear in mind all I say is partly through conviction, and partly through a half imagined utopia… kind of halfway between how I think things are, and how I think things should be.) For me, a great album is the pinnacle of musical achievement. Yes, a perfectly realised single can be as thrilling as a cocaine rush. But I’ve always preferred getting drunk – and an album can intoxicate over time, slowly seeping through you. Far from killing off the album I think downloading will save it.

He Who Cannot Be Named: Why should it be a bad thing? I am sick of fillers.

Leon: Those ‘commercial’ acts that currently release an album full of singles and filler won’t get to release albums. It’ll be single after single; endless product to promote. Independent or alternative acts won’t be forced to release singles coz they won’t be able to compete in the commercial onslaught. Instead they’ll concentrate on realising grand album statements.

Kenny: Of course, in 2004 we've been reminded that the concept album WILL NOT DIE. EVER. For better or worse.

He Who Cannot Be Named: Instead [downloading] should focus the artist's energies into creating song cycles that are worthy of the listener's whole attention. I like the fact The Fiery Furnaces, Sufjian Stevens and The Streets have produced concept albums.

Simon: As artists only need to grub up a bit of studio time in order to get music in a form to take to a new market, they also no longer need to comply with the physical demands of CDs. CDs, 12" albums and 7" singles have only evolved from the physical constraint of the format – artists won't need to deliver a set of seventy-four minutes worth of music any more. Some bands may choose to stick up songs as and when they write them; others may still work on a body of songs, but they'll be able to make the body as large or as small as they wish: no more writing a couple of fillers, no more having to leave off a potential classic. Instead of albums, we'll probably see songs grouped according to sessions – the time they were recorded rather than the point of the marketing campaign's big hit.

Leon: Instead of album artwork to look through you’ll have an interactive website to explore while listening to the album. There will be no limit on artwork or liner notes. Every album will be an all-encompassing experience. There is no reason why the artist can’t have as much control over a downloaded album as a commercially released album. The album could be downloaded as a ZIP file with a track listing. As long as the filenames of the tracks are named properly, they would play in the correct order in your media player. Sure, the listener can rearrange the album at will, but you can do that with any CD album anyway.

Ben: I only wish I could be so optimistic and look forward with such relish! I feel laughably mired in the past, such is my enduring predilection for the physical artefact – the picture on the disc, the smell of the inlay booklet, the space occupied on the CD rack… The advent of downloading has made me horribly sentimental and wistful – and prematurely so, given that the CD album is something that is still very much with us.

Nick: The album as a medium for the delivery of music, as a conceptual cohesive whole, has for far too long been held up as a rockist straw man by downloaders and poppist revolutionaries, when really all it is, is a way of putting songs together. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with sitting down and listening to a 45-minute record all at once, anymore than there’s anything intrinsically wrong with cycling through iTunes on random. You only have to look at the furore surrounding the release of the re-recorded SMiLE to realise that the album as a format or medium is far from dead. Even if the poppist revolutionaries preach the death of the album and the triumph of the single, they all salivate when a Kish Kash comes along. Contextualisation isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Kenny: Things that have proved intrinsically popular for a substantial period of time tend not to become obsolete anywhere near as quickly as certain futurologists are wont to predict. People have been saying that 'the single' is dead for over 25 years now, but people still buy them in numbers. And good old 7" vinyl, although now very much a specialist market, is still with us. Why? Because people like it, and there are still sufficient numbers of people who resist the seductions of so-called tastemakers to make a viable market for it. Which is my roundabout way of saying that the album format will still be with us, in some shape or form, within my lifetime.

Jez: This depends how the companies work their systems once the dust has settled and people are regularly buying music from the internet. Unless a radical and unforeseen transformation takes place in the way people want to listen to music (which is highly unlikely) then the companies will direct consumers towards their methods of sale with the largest return (as always). The companies may be poor at recognising and adapting to change, but they are masters at maximising their profits. The synergic possibilities will now increase greatly. If an artist has a single that is linked to a film it will also be linked with a soft drink, a cereal, a computer game and so on. This has often been the case but now everything is available from one visit to the internet (cornflakes and Dido from Ocado anyone?). So things will change greatly in that respect, but it depends whether smaller companies will still have demand for albums. I reckon they will, just to be different. I don’t really care what Madonna, or Britney or Xtina do. I can’t even listen to 3 minutes let alone 63. What will matter though is how the more interesting artists react and position themselves to the synergic monsters. Action – reaction.

He Who Cannot Be Named: It depends on how people in the long term will listen to music whether on computer or your MP3 player. Dropping the latter was a good thing in my case because I actually listened to the albums I bought. Then again it also depends on the prevalence of ADHD in future generations.

Kenny: Today's student with plenty of time on his / her hands will soon enough become tomorrow's stressed-out professional who will just about have enough time to press 'play' on their hi-fi. So the 'attention deficit' generation will all calm down and become lazy, boring tossers, the appeal of downloading and compiling playlists will wane and there'll still be a need for artists to present their tunes in an interesting and creative fashion, because generally they're better at doing so than your average punter if for no other reason than they have the time.

He Who Cannot Be Named: I am no seer when it comes to predicting the effect of downloading. I only know that easing access to the music that people want is the crux of the issue. But there is such a huge weight of history behind the album that it will surely survive for the time being.

Will downloading affect the way music is produced, and if so, how?

Jez: That depends on how people listen to their music. When the car radio freed people from the family crystal set it gave birth to pop music. Entertainment systems are changing and even more people will listen to music as a mainly solitary pastime. This may ultimately change the way people listen to music when they gather together.

Leon: Personally I feel the future of recorded music is brighter than ever. The rise in home recording has given all musicians the ability to record and release their own CDs, with better production values than ever before. Now, big recording studios will try and play this down through fear for their own business. They will say that you can't get good results at home. Although, with their big ranges of equipment, the big studios still have a part to play, they are increasingly obsolete, especially to the musician on a budget. Put a half decent soundcard in your PC, download some free software, and you can get better results than that crappy old 4-track cassette machine ever could. This is liberating, but also means anyone searching for new music has to wade through a fair amount of shite in any given genre. As the labels are spending less on promoting new independent music it is ever more important to stand out from the crowd in order to claim a slice of their financial pie.

Ben: Should artists even be bothered with striving to get signed?

Simon: For all the talk of nurturing talent, the real value the music industry provides to the artist is access to shops and underwriting manufacture and distribution. Record companies currently invest in studio time, that's true: but the bulk of their investment is in the actual product itself – pressing up records, stacking them in warehouses, sending spindly legged guys out to record shops to persuade them to stock the titles, designing point of sale material, collecting, distributing, managing stock, collecting unsold CDs, taking them back, grinding them to make wellingtons or whatever else it is they're doing with unwanted records. Set against that, the cost of hiring a studio for a week and a couple of producers is chicken feed. Anyone with a bit of confidence could make a record; you sign with a label to get the records out there.

Ben: The internet, of course, gives artists the opportunity to distribute their own material direct to the consumer and therefore to bypass labels altogether.

Simon: In a world of downloads, the disappearance of physical records reduces the requirement for a record label. Sure, the labels have greatly skilled marketing departments, but their talents aren't as important in the new world: they can get a record on daytime radio? Or CD:UK? In a 300 channel, listen again, on demand world, who cares? Mass marketing of music isn't that great a tool.

Ben: So, from the perspective of the artist, the opportunities for making a good quality recording on the cheap may have improved, as have the means of distributing music and getting it heard. But what about touring? Even on a modest scale, it’s expensive and generally dependent upon decent financial backing, usually provided by a label, to underwrite any potential losses (of course, they’re also there to collect a fat share of the profits when they come rolling in). If the relationship between artists and labels changes radically, as seems likely, might small-scale tours not come under threat? Another consideration is the issue of professionalism. Kenny suggested that artists are “generally better” at what they do than the average punter primarily because “they have the time”. But what if they don’t have the time? What if, without the support of a label, they’re just “average punters” with day jobs themselves, rather than professional musicians?

Leon: The bigge[st] issue facing musicians, I feel, is the context in which the public wish to consume music, and the circumstances in which the musician can be creative. Increasingly, I feel, bands and musicians will have to reconcile themselves to music playing a different part in their lives. Less and less bands will be able to make a living from music. Now, you may think that this is negative and that music will simply become a ‘hobby’. But this is to undermine the efforts of those artists who face this reality now.

Ben: It’s not to belittle such artists in any way, though, to argue – as I would – that money and time facilitate creative freedom. Of course it can also be a constraining factor, but I think there are undeniable advantages to having the support of a label, even if it is only grudging and half-hearted.

Leon: How many bands can you name who had an amazing debut but then seemingly lost their creative spark? Hundreds! It’s coz they have nothing to kick against; they become comfortable. On the other hand, I’ve lost count of the number of bands I’ve seen blatantly aping the sound of the moment. If artists face up to the fact that being signed is not the be-all-and-end-all – or even a reality – they might concentrate on making the music that is true to themselves. Yes, this means music may not be a career option. But is that such bad thing?
Feel good hits of the 19th October

1. 'Slow Hands' - Interpol
2. 'Type Slowly' - Pavement
3. 'My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found' - The Fiery Furnaces
4. 'Heatwave' - Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
5. 'California Girls' - Beach Boys
6. 'Beautiful Freak' - Eels
7. 'Monkey To Man' - Elvis Costello & The Imposters
8. 'Milkshake' - Kelis
9. 'Freakin Out' - Graham Coxon
10. 'Danger Of The Water' - The Futureheads

Friday, October 15, 2004

Blogwatch

As far as candidates for the most jaw-droppingly powerful blog post I've read this week go, there can be only one: this, on Bits And Also Bobs, about the death of the writer's bigoted father from cancer. (Thanks to Mike for the link.)

A warm welcome back to Angelo and Agnes, whose dormant blog The Remote Part has been reincarnated as Rented Rooms.

Congratulations to Jonathan, whose blog Assistant has won the title of Best Personal Site in the Brighton & Hove Web Awards.

Lots of music-centred postage of late. The Albums You Should Have Listened To Before You Die meme can now be found on Troubled Diva, Assistant, Cllr Andrew Brown, Auspicious Fish, Fractionals, The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha and Underground Base Of An Evil Genius, while Nick is trying to instigate a rival list - hopefully I'll get round to picking up that thread soon...

Meanwhile, both Nick and Inspector Sands offer some thoughts on C4's 'UK Music Hall Of Fame'.

Elsewhere:

Paul writes about his arduous half-marathon experience - "2 hours of standing around looking resplendent in bin bags, listening to local 'celebrity' Alan Robson later and we were both ready to sprint all the way to London, such was our desire to get away from the idiot. Being local, I've known about Robson for a while, and always thought him something of a smug tosser, however exposure to him was a totally new experience for the Mrs, who was somewhat underwhelmed by his attempts to gee up the crowd. Suffice to say that by the end of his warm up, we were both hopeful that Kelly Holmes had shot him with the gun used to start the race. No such luck";

Neil delights in the joys of good karma;

Phill has met both Irish crooners Westlife and Brummie Domino-dwellers Pram in the space of a few days - quite a double act, that;

Marshall deciphers those platitudes that pass for reasons for breaking up - "'We just need a bit of a break'. No you don't. You want to end it. Permanently. 'We just need a bit of a break, two, maybe three-hundred years should do it'";

Mish has been locked out of the house by her dozy other half;

and Jonny writes of how he nearly came to look like a Batman villain - "I really, really didn’t want to look like the Joker from Batman. For a start, I am self-employed which means I need to meet people face-to-face and charm them, and I don’t think this would be feasible in this event, unless I started up some bizarre government clown outsourcing services agency".
"God loves his children, God loves his children..."

The latest installment of the Stylus I Love The 1990s series, featuring contributions from Nick and myself - this year, 1997. Boy did I relish the opportunity to wax lyrical about OK Computer and sound off about Jay Kay...

Part One: 'South Park', 'Bittersweet Symphony' - The Verve, the Chicken Soup books, Marilyn Manson
Part Two: Spice Girls, Hanson, 'Boogie Nights', Puff Daddy, 'Pop-Up Video' / 'Behind The Music',
Part Three: Lilith Fair, 1-800 numbers, 'Daria', big beat
Part Four: 'Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery', 'Virtual Insanity' - Jamiroquai, UK Championship Manager, ska revival
Part Five: 'Titanic', 'Ally McBeal', 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', Beanie Babies, Radiohead - OK Computer

Elsewhere on Stylus this week:

Nick Southall reviews the new Tom Waits LP - "not a departure for Waits inasmuch as it’s another album of febrile, canine blues / country wrought by a madman who is actually saner than anyone who would call him ‘mad’ in the first place";

Mark Edwards refuses to believe Razorlight's self-propagated hype and actually listens to the record - "I feel like a school teacher writing this, but Johnny Borrell and company need to stop banging on about how fab they are and put their energies into the music. This is a good debut album—no more, no less. The second album could very well be as good as they think this one is. But they’re going to have to wait a while before they get what they so desire";

and Todd Burns assesses the latest offering from The Blood Brothers - "for the past few years, the group has been one of the most forward-looking and exciting bands to emerge from this underground, unafraid to take chances and to sound different from their contemporaries. This time around they seem to be consolidating those differences rather than exuberantly flouting them, but Crimes is nonetheless a strong document of post-hardcore experimentation".
Quote of the day

"Read what the devil you like. The only thing I should like to read is the death-notice of a vast number of particular people."

D H Lawrence writing to E M Forster in June 1915.

And don't I know just how he feels. Fuckwits - they're everywhere. Take last night, for instance. The guest on 'This Week' (the politics show that follows 'Question Time') was historian David Starkey. He proceeded in the most odiously pompous way to lecture to Andrew Neill, Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott about the need to abolish the welfare state - his argument ostensibly being that it's unprecedented historically speaking (what kind of a fucking argument is that?!), that America provides a shining example for Britain to follow and that Blair needs to have a "Thatcherite moment of realisation" - before going on to label politics "dead" and all those involved with it (including Neill, Portillo and Abbott) "hollow". And then he sat back with this horrible little smug grin on his lips. It was at this point that I switched off.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Albums You Should Have Listened To Before You Die

A great blog meme, which I can't resist contributing to. Here are the original rules.

"Copy the list on to your blog, put in bold the ones you have listened to (completely from begining to end) and then add three more albums that you think people should have heard before they turn into their parents - remember, it isn't necessarily your most favourite albums but the ones you think people should listen to... and when we say listen we mean from track one through to the end... If you put a link to your follow-on post in the comments of the site where you found it, the chain will be trackable."

Mike has added another rule: "From now on, you are also allowed to DELETE up to THREE albums on the existing list, if you feel a) that this is an album which should not reasonably be foisted upon anybody, or b) that one Steve Earle album is quite enough for one lifetime, thank you."

Well, I got my list from Cllr Andrew Brown (click here to see how it's mutated from Troubled Diva via Assistant), and here's my revised list:

London Calling - The Clash
Think Tank - Blur
This Is Hardcore - Pulp
Moon Safari - Air
Elastica - Elastica
Never Mind The Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols - Sex Pistols
OK Computer - Radiohead
The Kiss of Morning - Graham Coxon
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars - David Bowie
The Wall - Pink Floyd
Setting Sons - The Jam
Come From The Shadows - Joan Baez
The River - Bruce Springsteen
The Very Best Of Joan Armatrading - Joan Armatrading
What's Going On - Marvin Gaye
Metal Box - Public Image Ltd
Orbital #2 (The Brown Album) - Orbital
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain - Pavement
Apple Venus Vol. 1 - XTC
Marquee Moon - Televison
Daydream Nation - Sonic Youth
I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) - Aretha Franklin
No More Shall We Part - Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
The Velvet Underground & Nico - The Velvet Underground & Nico
Appetite For Destruction - Guns N Roses

I've deleted Club Classics Vol. 1 - Soul II Soul, Train A Comin' - Steve Earle and Folksinger - Phranc, and added the last three.

Now it's over to you...

Update: Oh dear. It looks as though I was too late and have inadvertently managed to fray the thread. What's worse is that as soon as I shut down my computer yesterday, I realised the error of my ways in not adding The Jesus & Mary Chain's Psychocandy at the expense of either The Velvet Underground or Guns N Roses. Doh!

Anyway, Nick of Auspicious Fish has taken up my thread, and you can read his amended list here. Suffice to say that my addition of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds' No More Shall We Part to the list was short-lived...

Update: Ian's picked up the thread from Nick, and done away with both Daydream Nation and Appetite For Destruction - "boring boring boring" and "except for the singles ... utter shit" respectively. Surely shum mistake?!! OK, I'll stop wailing and gnashing my teeth now. Variety is the spice of life, variety is the spice of life...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Raising the temperature

(OK, I only saw this for the first time last night, but just imagine you're reading this post a few months ago, when it would actually have been topical...)

Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11' doesn't contain much I wasn't expecting, though that shouldn't sound like a criticism. It has all the positive hallmarks of his previous work: it's passionate and emotive; it's tenacious in its one-sidedness (and one-sidedness is exactly what is needed to combat the syrupy propaganda oozing out of the mouths of Bush, Blair, the Western media et al); it joins the dots in a predominantly persuasive and convincing way; it's an efficient hatchet job on those supposedly democratically elected to protect and defend our interests rather than their own and those of their friends, the "have-mores"; and it raises issues that have been marginalised or ignored - in this case, particularly the aggressive recruitment policy of the Armed Forces in economically impoverished areas of the US.

Something which I found pleasantly novel about the film was Moore's general tendency to take a step back and let others and his chosen images (obviously selectively edited, to be sure) to do the talking. He's not usually noted for his subtlety but this is refreshing.

But, as with 'Stupid White Men' and 'Bowling For Columbine', it's not without its faults, either: it's very much made with an American audience in mind, which means that not only is the impact on America, and particularly young servicemen and women, emphasised ahead of the carnage wreaked in Iraq, but the role of other nations, including Britain, in the invasion is hardly mentioned; despite disparaging the US Patriot Act Moore fails to take the opportunity to illustrate the hypocrisy of allegedly exporting "freedom" and "democracy" to Iraq whilst simultaneously encroaching further and further upon the rights and civil liberties of those back home; and towards the end it starts to lose focus slightly, the sharpness of its attack on Bush blunted in favour of lengthy sequences of footage of traumatised soldiers and their families which stray unpleasantly close to voyeurism.

To condemn 'Fahrenheit 9/11' for these reasons, though, would be carping - nothing should be allowed to detract from the fact that Moore is one of the good guys, no matter how blunt and unsavoury some of his tactics are to some sniffy liberals.

On the subject of Iraq, a number of bloggers have posted their thoughts on the murder of Ken Bigley - here is a selection from Casino Avenue, The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha and South By South East. In short, and for what little it's worth, my view would be that, whilst it was undoubtedly an unimaginable horror for him, his family and friends, the loss of no one life should be regarded as more significant or tragic than that of any other, whether they be a contracted worker, a member of the Allied forces or an innocent Iraqi citizen killed in Allied bombing raids.

(How come I was only seeing 'Fahrenheit 9/11' for the first time, you may be wondering. Well, I was slack and missed it first time around, but thankfully, the cinema at the Midlands Art Centre (MAC) in Edgbaston is showing it four times this week. The place is proof positive to me that Birmingham does have things going for it, and I'm going back on Sunday for a screening of 'Brighton Rock', which is on as part of the season to mark the centenary of Graham Greene's birth.)
"I am the passenger, and I ride and I ride and I ride"

If there's one question I resent, it's "Why don't you drive?"

It's always said in that tone of voice that implies you're a perverse freak with no grip on reality. "What do you mean, you can't drive? How on earth do you get about? Are you some kind of Luddite who spends his weekends smashing up factories and dreaming of a return to a mythical pre-Industrial Revolution agrarian idyll?"

Well, the reasons are fairly simple.

1. I've lived for the past seven years within 20 minutes walk of the centre of Nottingham, and now I live within two minutes of the centre of Birmingham. The public transport links in both cities are perfectly adequate, and I like to walk anyway - it's called "exercise".

2. I couldn't be doing with all the hassle of owning and running a car, even if I could afford one in the first place - parking, tax, insurance, repairs, MOT.

3. I don't have a job that absolutely necessitates driving (of which there are, I suspect, not that many).

4. I care about the environment, and by refusing to participate in the conspiracy that is traffic (phrase copyright Jean-Jacques Livereau, 'The Day Today') except when using public transport I feel I am doing my bit - unlike you, who are such a deluded autophile as to be surgically attached to your pride and joy and who are no doubt one of those millions of drivers who routinely travel negligible distances on your own and then fume about the density of the traffic.

That last one is the key - it turns the tables, making me into the smugly superior one perched atop the moral high ground. Plus it diverts attention away from the underlying fact that, at the age of nearly 27, I've failed my driving test twice and am yet to pass, and thus couldn't drive even if I wanted to...
It's not every day...

... that you're stood watching an England match in a Birmingham city centre pub next to a bunch of rowdy Burberry-wearing types and one of them turns out to be a Glaswegian Rasta author called Rob with whom you then have a long conversation about 'Moby Dick', John Steinbeck, 'On The Road' and the great American novel.
Quote of the day

"I remember once getting really terrified that I could only see out of my eyes. Two little fucking holes. I got really terrified by it."

Damien Hirst quoted in the article 'Damien Hirst: A Steady Iron-Hard Jet' in Will Self's collection of journalism 'Junk Mail'.