Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dummy Monthly #3

We've just sent out the third issue of Dummy Monthly, our all-new email newsletter. This time we've got an interview with grime producer DJ Wonder, singles review, and about a million end-of-year lists - plus an exclusive DJ mix by Gildas and Masaya, founders of Paris' Kitsuné, which will only be available for a short time. This is how we do!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sous les pavés, la foret!

Go here to listen to some nice demos by Taken For Trees, the solo project of ex-Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman. You may also know her from her guest vocals on Peter, Bjorn and John's Young Folks, which has been cropping up a lot of 'best singles of 2006' lists).

My laptop's bigger than yours...

As someone whose idea of battling with a laptop normally consists of shouting abuse at them when my own technical ineptitude causes 2,000-word articles to disappear into the digital ether, I'll admit that I wasn’t the best qualified to be one of the judges at the second Laptop Battle in Bristol a few weeks ago. (Although, as a music scribe, I do own a fair few records that sound like laptops insulting me back, so maybe that’s why.)

Anyway – the script is this. Originating in Seattle, it’s like an electronica version of a turntablist contest or an MC mic battle, with eight producers getting a few rounds to play the best beats they can on their laptop in a knock-out competition which is then judged on ‘composition’, ‘technical ability’ and ‘crowd reaction’ until a winner is crowned. Unfortunately I didn’t get to use any of the stinging Simon Cowell put-downs I’d prepared in advance (of which ‘Time to press Ctrl-Alt-Delete. On your career!’ was – sadly – the wittiest.)

Some of the producers fell into the laptop trap of never letting a beat go for more than 30 seconds without mauling it into undanceable abstraction, but the time limits on each contestant means they could never go up their own fundament for too long, and MC Gusto Fresh’s comical chatter kept things moving along nicely. And although I suspected that plenty of the contestants had brought along their mates for vocal support, there was certainly more whooping, hollering and smiles than you’d get with Autechre.

After knocking out obvious losers like Company Fuck – a man in Kiss make-up who just screamed ‘fuck!’ over what sounded like a sample of a jammed photocopier – judging became a bit tighter in the next rounds as the contestants began blasting out their best bleeps and beats. Although – having little knowledge of technical ability myself – I began knocking marks off in this particular category for things like ‘slight resemblance to Dane Bowers’ and ‘taking his T-shirt off – it’s Bristol in winter, for God’s sake.’

Which brought us down to defending champion and local favourite Headphobe and dark horse/new pretender Shinra from the Net-Lab label. Who absolutely kicked arse with some deep but wonky electro beats that seized him the crown. Laptop battles might lack the dexterity of the DMC or the creative cussing of a mic battle but they’ve certainly got more byte than most laptop gigs. That’s an electronica ‘joke’, by the way.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Warm 'n' DVDeasy

Bristol has always been the first city of bass. You can trace B-Town's natural obsession with the sublow back to the soundsystem parties that kickstarted The Wild Bunch, Three Stripe Records and all the musical goodness that coalesced into early Massive Attack (and of course way back into it's slave-trading past). Then came Krust, Roni Size, Full Cycle, Flynn and Flora and speaker-busting parties on the Thekla. For years now, drum 'n' bass has run things out west, but that's all changing: the newest incarnation of Bristol Bass is obvious in the city's vibrant, musically innovative and super-tight dubstep scene. As well as throwing out talented producers like Pinch, the scene has birthed the first dubstep documentary, Living Inside The Speaker. It's an energetic round-up of the scene, featuring interviews with Pinch (check anything on his Tectonic label), Bristol lynchpins and keen hedonists H.E.N.C.H and a night-lit, in-club interview with Londoners Chef and Skream who, thanks to the lo-fi lighting arrangement, look green. As well as providing another opportunity to check Pinch's awesome Qawwali it's a neat street-up insight into what's quaking Britain's bassbins.

Like they say on Rinse, this one's a wobbler.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

'I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables...'

An ‘announcement’ popped into my inbox last week that raised an eyebrow, furrowed my brow and made me grab my knees to calm my quaking legs. The Zutons, those purveyors of Commitments-style pop, were available for DJ bookings. Not weddings or barmitzvahs, I hasten to add, but I’m sure Hull University Ents officers were probably doing cartwheels at the prospect of getting a top ten act in to put records on one after another.

The rock star as DJ is an odd little club. For some it’s a second career, like footballers who buy into pubs when their days on the pitch are up. Rock stars can pick up a pair of headphones and still command some semblance of adulation and enough of a fee to buy some wolf repellant for their front door. A Smiths reunion seems unlikely but Andy Rourke from the group bides his time, with a glimmer of hope that he may still get the call from Morrissey, by playing old Smiths records. Ageing bass monster Peter Hook is actually a rather in-demand chap for his prowess on the decks. This, to be honest, is no big surprise as he is one quarter of the most potent ever fusion of club music and punk rock. He has earned his stripes. Not only did he invent indie dance but he, and New Order, lost a fortune on the Hacienda so that kids had an inspirational place to dance. He can do what the hell he likes, to be honest.

A Bloc Party DJ set is also available but at least promises to be cutting edge; Kele is often seen soaking in the sounds of Shoreditch at Bastard Batty Bass or Boombox and the one who hides behind that ludicrous fringe was seen at Bugged Out last month checking out Uffie and Feadz. But let’s take another look at the Zutons. What’s their ‘way in’ to this world? What the hell are they going to play? Cosmic Scouse House? Will Abi play sax over the top of the music like the lanky bloke from Groove Armada was prone to? Have they ever actually programmed a set of music before other than at one of their Uncle’s 60th at a Bootle Social Club? They’re going straight to Hull, boys.

A Christmas Miracle

You may have thought Sufjan's five-CD Christmas box-set was going to be the last word in seasonal hubris this year; but now Lancashire's excellent Filthy Little Angels bring us Hark!, a free download compilation featuring seventy (seventy!) bands - including one with perhaps the best band name ever, Nosferatu D2. It will be available from Monday from here, but until then you can download some highlights from here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Duke Spirit, The Electric Ballroom, London, 12.12.2006

I felt lost last night. I was there because of a band; the band were there because of a photo exhibition; the photo exhibition was there because of a sunglasses company; and the sunglasses company were there, I suppose, because of the inescapable nightmare circus of late capitalism. In other words, the Electric Ballroom was in danger of collapsing into some kind of public relations singularity, and I began to wonder why there was nobody there to hype poor old Ned Beauman. These expressions of the Spectacle only make sense as a whole. So, in descending order of power and ascending order of quality:

The inescapable nightmare circus of late capitalism: swag. 2/10

The sunglasses company: everyone was meant to get a free pair of Ray Bans as they left, but they ran out before I got mine. Luckily it gets dark by lunchtime at the moment so I can manage without. The point is, if they can afford to hand these out like fucking canapés, think what an utterly obscene mark-up they must be taking in the shops. Admittedly, when Liela from the Duke Spirit complained that the lights were too bright and briefly put on some Ray Bans as a little ironic gesture, they did look nice on her. But then so would pink polka-dot plastic pince-nez, because, of course, she is Liela from the Duke Spirit. 4/10

The photo exhibition: when Mick Rock launched a related show in New York, Mischa Barton came. No free sunglasses and no Mischa Barton! I was ripped off! Still, this was a fashion press event, so for once the band weren't the hottest people there. I saw one guy apparently dressed as a 1930s arms dealer.

Exhibition like this normally concentrate on gig photography, which has never made sense to me. After all, if there is really anything heroic about rock music – and my profession has no choice but to insist that there is – then it's to do with writing the songs, not with droning them out for the hundredth time in front of a stadium full of drunkards. The majesty is in the creative process. (I should point out that in the current Dummy, you can see The Killers in the studio, which is exactly right. Unfortunately Brandon Flowers wouldn't know a creative process if it broke into his house, tied him up, and shaved off his preposterous little moustache, so it's not quite the triumph it should have been. Not to worry.) But in these photos, you get neither, just competent magazine-cover shots of bands looking grumpy. When are we going to see Robert Smith cooing over a baby panda? 5/10

The band: as I said, this was a press event, so it was half-empty and most people were just there for the free drinks and shades. But the Duke Spirit managed to tear it up anyway. 2005's Cuts Across the Land remains maybe the greatest (and certainly the most underappreciated) album of straightforward rock music that Britain has produced this century. It takes PJ Harvey and the Velvet Underground and emphasises the tension and jeopardy and adventure – it's music for gun-fights and car-chases and love-scenes with the mobster's wife. This was even clearer last night when an added horn and saxophone gave them an almost Blaxploitation edge.

Liela, rather military in all black, started off looking like her heart wasn't quite in it, but by the end she was whirling and strutting. Their new material sounded good – actually some of it may have been off their recent covers project - but, for the few of us who were actually there because we loved the band, nothing could beat older songs like Lion Rip and (with those doomy toms) Love Is An Unfamiliar Name. See them at the ICA tonight if you possibly can. 8/10

Ned Beauman: on the way out, I was given a black Ray Ban bag with a box inside. There weren't any sunglasses in it, but it would have looked like there were. I got to the bus stop on Camden Road, and wandered over to look at the timetable, in front of which a young couple were standing. From my bearing and/or appearance as I stooped between them to check out the 253, the couple assumed I was trying to sell them the contents of the bag, and a confusing conversation ensued. This isn't the first time I've been mistaken for some kind of high-class rag-and-bone man, and I imagine it won't be the last. 10/10

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dummy Blog Record of the Week: 'The Blinding' by Babyshambles

The Blinding is proof that for all the predictability of his blood-spraying, crack-imbibing behaviour, Pete Doherty can still shock. Because The Blinding contains two very vital ingredients that have been massively absent in the troubadour’s previous works- melody and rhythm. Down In Albion was a more or less shambolic affair, with Doherty apparently oblivious to any sense of meter, but at least it lowered expectations for Babyshambles' follow-up.

But now we’re reminded that Doherty is actually very good at carving out nice little tunes- nothing earth-moving, nothing profound, nothing life-changing. Just nice, tightly-produced little ditties that would be all the easier to enjoy if he didn’t insist on taking himself so bloody seriously. Even when he croaks the lyrics ‘I’m piping almost every night… I wish to God I’d been stabbed, oh’, on the Ska based I Wish, and you know he can vouch for every word, it’s so predictable that his self-loathing begins to bore. Every post-Libertines song that Doherty has ever made has me convinced that his lyrics could benefit from the purveyor getting a sense of humour. Instead of toying with the tabloid-perpetuated image that has been cultivated for him, he falls for his own hype hook, line and sinker. Still, The Blinding retains those aspects of Doherty’s music that it is impossible not to be seduced by- the throaty, spittle infused vocals, those brief moments of remorse and sensitivity. The closing minute of final track Sedative is a minute of melodic clarity that is enough, perhaps, to remind you of the genius that Doherty provided on For Lovers. On an otherwise rudimentary collection, The Blinding offers enough of a glimpse into the lead singer’s talents to suggest that one day he may make a record that eclipses anything he managed with Carl Barat or Wolfman respectively. But, sadly, The Blinding is not it.

5/10

Out now on Regal

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Maccabees, ULU, London, 5.12.06

It must be utterly exhausting being in The Maccabees. They rattle through tonight’s 45-minute set at a speed that makes ‘breakneck’ seem sluggish. “Do they have any slow songs?” I ask someone from the band’s record label. “Not really,” comes the reply. It’s something of an understatement. The last person to fire off guitar chords at this kind of machine gun pace was The Wedding Present’s David Gedge – see Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? from 1987. But while The Maccabees are a band that operate with the accelerator floored at all times, there’s romance and emotion as well as aggression. X Ray sounds like an anthem in the making. Jack Penate expresses his approval by pogoing maniacally throughout the song. Exhilarating, high octane fun.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Nina Nastasia, Komedia, Brighton, 29.11.2006

Seeing Nina Nastasia do I Say That I Will Go on Wednesday was like finally getting to see the uncut bootleg of some seventies Italian serial killer movie. On the album version, she lets her voice move in its usual heartbreakingly lissome way, but on stage, for that one song, she dropped it to a low, droning, psychotic monotone, and you just knew someone was coming to get you.

The rest of the gig wasn't so scary, which was both a disappointment and a relief. Nastasia, sprinted through songs from (I think) all four of her albums – with, of course, a bias towards September's On Leaving, from which One Old Woman was particularly beautiful - plus quite a few promising new ones. As on record, her bandmates (on accordion, cello, piano, bass, guitar, and drums) were like good friends: supportive but never intrusive.

Early on, she teased us by asking if we thought she should move to Brighton, but cut down on the banter after concluding she was 'too drunk to talk' – and indeed there was something remarkable about the way that, when she spoke, she sometimes mumbled and tailed off, but when she was singing, she was flawless, even when she came back out for a low-key unaccompanied encore.

I first heard Nastasia on John Peel's show, and I expect it's largely because of his support – she did six Peel sessions - that she comes to the UK so often. Having said that, a lot of people last night were really there for anti-folk wag Jeffrey Lewis, who performed the hilarious fifth part (China) of his long-running, cartoon-illustrated History of Communism.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Florida Funk' compiled by Jazzman Records

Deep funk, to appropriate the name of Keb Darge's immortal club night, is one of those scenes that just cheerfully hums along without anyone ever really taking any notice. It must be the only genre of music where, paradoxically, the rareties actually sell more than the classics – by which I mean, compilations like this one come out all the time and make great birthday presents for people you don't really know, but how many people, these days, actually buy albums by the Meters or the Ohio Players?

Florida Funk follows Texas Funk and Midwest Funk. Like its predecessors, it comes with several thousand words of liner notes, giving you the full story of all twenty-two of these bands, many of which only ever released one or two singles before breaking up. The compilers drove across Florida hunting down these records and interviewing their creators. Where do they advertise jobs like that?

I am not half-way comment on the selection here. When DJ Shadow and Dante Carfagna (who worked on this) finally bring out their long-awaited (and possibly mythical) Bible-length discography of funk 45's from 1965 to 1975, maybe I will be able mug up. Until then, some observations.

Most of these tracks are tremendous. There's a lo-fi grit to the recordings that perfectly brings out their swampy impudence. A lot of them have a James Brown-esque hypeman grunting and yelling, while a few have proper soul vocals. The musicians were, of course, masterful back then, even the ones in the small-town bands: listen to the drumming on Pearl Dowdell's Good Things or the saxophone on Little Beaver's Everbody Has Some Dues to Pay. (And even when it sounds like you've come across an amateur, like the drunk-sounding drummer on Frankie Seay and the Soul Riders' Soul Food, you can turn to the liner notes where the guitarist explains that they were 'just playing that “juice” pattern'.)

On the other hand, for a compilation that sells itself on digging up the very rarest old wax, it's disappointing to see a couple of tracks that have already been compiled elsewhere: Pearly Queen's Quit Jive'in is on several other anthologies, presumably because DJ Shadow sampled it on Endtroducing...; and James Knight and the Butlers' cover of Aretha Franklin's Save Me, which is nearly as good as Wanda Davis' cover of the same song on Midwest Funk, is on Soul Jazz's essential Miami Sound. Still, Florida Funk has the last laugh over Miami Sound by picking Vanessa Kendrick's obscure version of 90% Of Me Is You instead of the more common (and almost indistinguishable) Della Humphrey cover that the other compilation chose. I expect musket duels take place over stuff like this in the torrid world of deep funk.


7/10

Out now on Jazzman Records

Serena Maneesh, Water Rats, London, 24.11.06

Life can't be easy when your sister is about seven feet tall and looks like a beautiful cross between Edie Sedgwick and Legolas the elf. I expect no one pays you much attention. Especially if she plays bass in your band. Perhaps that's how Emil Nikolaisen, the frontman of Serena Maneesh, learnt to rock out.

Never has the term 'shoegaze' seemed so wildly inappropriate. Both Emil and Hilma kept throwing shapes for their whole set, even when there was nothing to dance to but tides of feedback – which was quite often, since these Norwegians do love their My Bloody Valentine. These days, if you want to see someone waving their guitar at the amp for five minutes while audience members hold back tears of pain, you have to see a post-rock band like Mogwai, so I couldn't be happier with a night of shoegaze revival.

Serena Maneesh, complete with violinist, played most of their excellent 2005 self-titled debut album, and, live, it all sounded much the same, but that didn't really matter. Really, with music like this, as with dubstep, the medium is the message – you want to be deafened and caressed at the same time, and you don't really give a shit about where each song ends and the next one begins. On Friday, the avalanche of distortion never quite crushed the hazy, Velvet Underground-style eroticism beneath, which is just how it needed to be. Sadly, the Water Rats is not a big venue, so it couldn't be that loud – I'd like to see them somewhere with a speaker stack as tall as Hilma.

Incidentally, I hadn't realised that most of Serena Maneesh have side projects, so I'll be spending the rest of today listening to the likes of Silver, The Unmist, and Mourning Leaves. Plus Emil's played with Sufjan Stevens! One more potential buyer for my upcoming run of 'GAY FOR SUFJAN' T-shirts?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Tectonic Plates' compiled by DJ Pinch

The last big dubstep release of 2006 arrives from Bristol label Tectonic. Generously, they give us two CDs: one, for the DJs, unmixed, and the other, for the rest of us, mixed by label boss DJ Pinch. Together, they collect almost everything that Tectonic's put out in its short but impressive history.

A lot of Tectonic Plates is truly earth-moving. Skream's Bahl Fwd may be his best work yet: the synth melody flits out of the same flying saucer as Midnight Request Line, while the percussion sounds like Squarepusher taking on tablas. Loefah's System is brought alive by machete rave stabs and echoing drums – one of the best things about dubstep, and one borrowing from dub that it should never give back, is the paradoxical feeling of dancing to the faded after-image of a sound instead of the sound itself. MRK1's Slang sounds like one of those car assembly robots, a little plug of silence in between every precise beat, not a movement wasted. Loefah's remix of Pinch's Punisher follows the increasingly familiar template for a heavy, scowling, stripped-down club track but somehow makes it interesting again.

Inevitably, though, not all of CD2's twenty tracks are so good. Whither the next generation? Armour's Iron Man, with its rusty industrial textures, sounds like something left off Vex'd's Degenerate LP, and dubstep certainly doesn't need two Vex'ds; it wouldn't matter so much if Pinch didn't let it chug away for nearly five minutes at the end of the mix. Contributions from Headhunter and S.N.O. are better but they don't make much of an impression. Still, even the old guard aren't infallible: Digital Mystikz's Molten is perhaps their first ever weak track, with its damp wobbly bass that stumbles along after the beat but never quite catches up.

A few disappointing tracks don't drag down a very solid mix. But what Tectonic Plates shows, as if we didn't already know, is that dubstep has mastered the prevailing style, and it needs to move on. At the end of 2006, this stuff sounds great – but by the end of 2007, I want it to sound dated!

7/10

Out now on Tectonic

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Jarvis Cocker, Koko, London, 15.11.06

Perhaps it was too much to ask. Jarvis Cocker’s debut solo album is poised to top every Best Of 2006 chart going. However, tonight’s gig, only his third since Pulp were put on ice in 2002, falls disappointingly short of the record. It starts well enough with the punked-up Fat Children and a rousing version of Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time. All the old moves are there: a pipe-cleaner-thin Jarvis strings together a series of elbow jerks, limp wristed flourishes and nervous tics, the overall effect not unlike the Mr Muscle man trying to fight his way out of a paper bag. “It’s good to be back at what I have to call The Camden Palace,” he says. “Why name a venue after a drink that puts you to sleep.” It turns out to an unfortunate gag. The album is made up predominantly of slow songs and somewhat unavoidably, after an upbeat start, things slow down to a crawl. Jarvis gamely tries to deflect attention from the fact that the next song is going to be another downtempo number with extended and amusing between-song banter. It’s only partially successful and sag threatens to turn into a somnambulant slump. But then he rallies: while Tonight and From A To I loose the stately grace of the studio versions, Big Julie is fabulous; the rear guard action continues with a brilliantly loud Black Magic; and by the encore, Running The World, he’s turned it around. However, why he teases the crowd with the promise of an old song for “being good” only to cover Bowie’s Space Oddity is hard to understand: why play someone else’s crowd pleaser when you’ve got so many of your own? A Pulp song would have been so much better. Not a triumphant return to the live arena, then, but an adequate one.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dummy Monthly #2

We've just sent out the second issue of Dummy Monthly, our all-new email newsletter. This time we've got interviews with Beirut and James Holden, reviews of Jarvis Cocker and Josef K, and much more - plus an exclusive DJ mix by Simian Mobile Disco which will only be available for a short time. Hurry! Update: if you haven't got the mix yet, you're too late. Subscribe now and next time you won't miss out.

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'No Certain Night Or Morning' by Home Video

The problem with Brooklyn electropop duo Home Video is so glaringly obvious that it seems gauche even to mention it, like if you were at a party and a girl walked in with a baby mole clinging to her leg. But here goes:

They certainly do sound a lot like Radiohead.

Specifically, singer Colin Ruffino sounds almost indistinguishable from Thom Yorke. And it's not just the natural timbre of his voice – he flattens it into a nasal dirge much like Yorke does on songs like Everything In Its Right Place. Keyboardist David Gross also takes a lot from the Kid A era, combining those Arctic synth harmonies with a little bit of New Order's foundry disco.

Home Video's debut single That You Might and debut EP Citizen both came out on Warp Records, and since Warp is one of Thom Yorke's favourite labels I did even wonder for a moment if Home Video could possibly be a contract-dodging Yorke side project. Home Videoteque? But it just wasn't quite as strong as I (correctly, it turned out) expected a Thom Yorke solo effort would be.

The rule is, of course, that the one old band a new band won't list under 'Influences' on their Myspace page is the old band they actually ripped off, and naturally there's no sign of Radiohead on Home Video's Myspace. Sure, it could be that they genuinely aren't into Radiohead - but they must at least be aware of Radiohead's existence, so why don't they make more of an effort to set themselves apart? That said, after a million bands that sound like Radiohead's The Bends era, it's nice, I suppose, to have at least one that sounds more like their unpopular recent work.

Anyway, none of this is a reason to ignore Home Video, because Citizen was great, and No Certain Night Or Morning is nearly as good; by which I mean that all the best tracks on No Certain Night Or Morning were already on Citizen. The stand-out is We - named after Yevgeny Zamyatin's 1921 dystopian novel? - which, despite featuring some particularly egregious Yorkisms on Ruffino's part, builds a sense of almost apocalyptic regret out of the most minimal of materials, its tumbling synth chorus like a suicidal I Feel Love. All Home Video's melodies, in fact, sound extraordinarily distant and attenuated and chilly. The result is that, when they bring in even the quietest little fake string section for the chorus, the contrast feels like strobe lights going off.

And when these vampiric Junior Boys try out other genres, like rock on Gas Tank with its live drums and bass, or techno on Melon with its 4/4 pulse, these lonely textures spoil the fun in the most exquisite way. Even the remix of Penguin by The Loving Hand, aka Tim Goldsworthy of the DFA, doesn't – can't - party as hard as the average DFA product. I'd love to hear a remix by James Holden or Ricardo Villalobos, which would wallow in, not resist, Home Video's sadness, and at the same time punch up the dancefloor potential that never quite comes through on No Certain Night Or Morning.

7/10

Out now on Defend Music

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Duran Duran get Sexy Back

The news that 80s pop stars Duran Duran have completed three tracks with Timbaland may be as big a surprise to some as the time Ice T declared his love for Phil Collins on British television. But is it really that odd that the world’s hottest producer should want to work with the band who once sang ‘You’re about as easy as a nuclear war?’

Timbaland is in his mid 30s, so the young Timothy Mosley would have been a teen when Duran were in their prime. What 14-year-old wouldn’t have been impressed by a band that made soft porn videos (Girls On Film), sound-tracked James Bond films, swanned around on yachts in videos (later owning their own vessels) and picked models out of magazines to date or marry. Let’s face it, hip hop in 2006 is pretty much modelled on Duran Duran’s 80s lifestyle. Diddy was certainly observing their antics and he and Biggie Smalls sampled their hit Notorious (a single produced, along with The Reflex, by the Timbaland of the 80s: Nile Rodgers).

Justin Timberlake apparently brought the project to fruition after presenting the Duranies with an MTV award and gushing forth praise. So keen was he to work with his heroes that they had to knock him back from their 2004 album Astronaut as they didn’t want the reformed original line up to be overshadowed (so they worked with Jason Nevins instead).

I’ll wager a stunning pop record (with stuttering beats, mad FX, odd grunts and exclamations) will emerge from the sessions. I would have put less money on Nelly Furtado becoming a cutting edge pop sensation a year ago.

“We are in a very good space,” a beaming le Bon has said. The only fall out from the collaboration so far appears to be that Duran Duran have lost guitarist Andy Taylor as a result. Taylor was always the square peg in Duran, he always looked like he’d rather be in Billy Idol’s backing band than poncing around with the artier others. The news that Duran were to be working with a former member of the Mickey Mouse club obviously didn’t go down too well with the rocker. Apparently their website mistress also quit replacing the home page with the following message: “Duran Duran without Andy Taylor is like anal sex without lube.” Let’s hope they’re in for a smoother ride with Justin and Timothy.

Soon?

Mike McGonigal, author of the forthcoming instalment of the 33 1/3 series on My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, confirms on a messageboard that Kevin Shields is still working on the long-anticipated remastered box-set of MBV's early EPs - with unheard tracks!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

TV On The Radio, Koko, London, 10.11.2006

'People think that we wear monocles and take bubble baths and read The Great Gatsby, you know?' said TV On The Radio's David Sitek in a recent interview. 'Nothing could be further from the truth.' But if they'd actually done all that on stage last night, I probably would have been happier.

TV On The Radio are not a bog-standard indie band, so why give us a bog-standard indie show? Return to Cookie Mountain, my third favourite album of this year, was chaotic and volatile – you felt that if they'd recorded those same songs the day before or the day after, the results would have been totally different. Even much older songs like Satellite, bolted to computerised bass and drums, sounded like they could blow a gasket at any moment. So when TV On The Radio play live and sound just like on record, you feel a little bit betrayed: they're not as spontaneous as you thought.

There were one or two moments of promising disorder: singer Tunde Adebimpe began the show beat-boxing and whistling; later he sang through a megaphone; David Sitek hooked wind-chimes to his guitar; and best of all, during Let The Devil In, gawky support band White Circle Crime Club came out on stage and started banging on percussion. (Guitarist Kyp Malone, meanwhile, barely spoke, barely moved, and never smiled.)

But we wanted more. Blast out feedback until we whimper. Lock into a groove until we fall into a trance. Play with your electronics until half of us slouch off to the bar. Go acapella. Bring out a harp. I wanted this show to be like seeing My Bloody Valentine and Sun Ra's Arkestra at the same time, or at least to be shooting for that. TV On The Radio are an experimental band – so why not experiment? Even the magnificent Staring at the Sun, the inevitable last song of the encore, felt predictable, although people were cheering so hard it was hard not to enjoy it. From another band, this would have been a great gig, but from (probably) my favourite guitar band of the twenty-first century, it was a let-down. (And they didn't play Hours!) Then it was out early so the indie kids could come in for Club NME – I considered joining them, as a kind of aversion therapy to get over my fear of teenage girls with green eyeshadow and precision fringes, but instead I went home in the rain to read The Great Gatsby in a bubble bath wearing a monocole.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Balkan Beat Box & Miss Platinum, The Glashaus, Berlin, 6/11/06

When a new friend in a foreign country offers to take you out, you accept. However, I can’t say I was terribly excited about seeing Balkan Beat Box and Miss Platinum. It was the description – dub reggae crossed with Eastern European gypsy music – that put me off. Assurances that ‘Balkan beat’ is the next big thing in Berlin were drowned out by images of white people with dreads throwing a party in a squat.

Actually, both bands were brilliant. Balkan Beat Box are one of the stars of the scene and their entrance from the rear of the auditorium had a triumphal quality. Wearing pig masks and marching to a military snare roll, they led a procession through the crowd (a capacity 500 on a Monday, incidentally). When they launched into their first song, the audience reaction was deranged. The drug of choice on the Balkan beat scene is vodka, consumed neat in Slavic quantities and tossed off in a single motion that ends up with the shot glass sailing over your shoulder. It showed. Every time Balkan Beat’s two saxophone players launched into a chorus the Glashaus looked like the set for the video of Jump Around by House Of Pain. The energy was totally irresistible.

Miss Platinum is a 22-year-old from Hungary and she appeared on stage wearing a rustic frock topped with a white apron. She’s a big lass and it looked like she’d come straight from the cheese counter at the Co-op. Thankfully, the music owed less to dub and more to hip hop, with Eastern European horns and melancholy melodies that recalled the Sicilian funeral scene in The Godfather. The end result was like The Streets if Mike Skinner came from Budapest, not Birmingham (and had a fantastically ample rack). Miss Platinum releases her debut single, I Want A Mercedes Benz, in the UK in December.

“It reminds me of when I first went raving,” said the German friend. Meanwhile, it reminded me of the first time I went to a drum’n’bass club in 1994 or when I saw Babyshambles play a secret gig in a dingy East End pub – a visceral thrill all the more exciting because hardly anyone knows about it yet (Miss Platinum doesn't even have a Myspace site!).

“Do you think the Borat thing will make it seem like a joke?” asked the German. Leaving aside the geographical objection that the Balkans and the Central Asian steppes are hundreds of miles apart, yes, Balkan beat does sound like the kind of made-up shaggy dog genre that Nathan Barley might play down at Trashbat. Until you hear it, that is.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The saddest thing I've read all day

'[EMF's] bass guitarist, Zac Foley, died on 2 January 2002, due to an overdose of non-prescribed drugs. He was aged 31. EMF played just four more gigs in late 2002, before deciding to split up for the final time.

In 2005, Kraft Foods used EMF's Unbelievable in their Kraft Crumbles advertisement campaign. The surviving members of EMF reconvened to re-record the tune. The original song's chorus, "It's unbelievable," was replaced with a more "crumble-centric" chorus, declaring "It's crumbelievable."'

Imagine the mood in that recording studio. Crumbelievable indeed.

No fuss and no fight?


I've written something for the Guardian's new Arts and Entertainment Blog about Crazy Titch's conviction for murder, the full story of which can be pieced together from here, here and here. What I didn't have space to address is that creeping sense of guilt and complicity that a lot of grime fans, including me, will feel. The more over-the-top brutal a lyric is, the more I enjoy it - and I can't be the only one who, when drunk, will occasionally draw for their imaginary mekkle, pull out the gun-finger, shout 'Brap!', and merk any wasteman in the area. Grime violence is great fun - until a crisis like this, and suddenly the joke's over. This dilemma is familiar from dancehall: it's just about possible to ignore chat about 'bunnin' the batty man', or to treat it as metaphorical, or whatever, until the next time you read about a non-metaphorical gay man getting non-metaphorically lynched.

Update: Jaimie Collinson of Big Dada has written a cogent reply to my piece.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sufjan Stevens, The Barbican, London, 3.11.2006 + Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Ys' by Joanna Newsom

In my dream version of Heat magazine, the front page would be Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens caught drunkenly swordfighting (in between 'Paul Auster: look at me now!' and 'Slavoj Zizek's most emotional interview EVER'). They are made for each other, really: they both did creative writing MFAs and never penned the Great American Novel but instead ended up writing lyrics that mix intimate confession with flights of magic realism; they both command a symphony orchestra as expertly as they play their harp or their banjo; they both mix the idioms of folk and pop with an uncompromising experimentalism; they both seem to possess ambition as boundless as their talent. They're both chung tings. They both make me weep like a bitch.

The Barbican, where I saw Sufjan Stevens on Friday, is also where I saw Joanna Newsom solo last year, and where I'll be seeing her again in January (with the London Symphony Orchestra!) It warms my heart that oddities like this can sell out a big venue months in advance – OK, they're not doing three nights at the Millennium Dome like Justin, but it's something. My girlfriend pointed out that if you want to pick up a winsome indie boy with a copy of Pale Fire in his manbag, you'll never find a better hunting ground.

To my eternal self-satisfaction, I saw Stevens in the back room of a pub in 2003 when Michigan was still only available in import and no one, including me, really knew who he was. That, of course, was just guitar or banjo beneath Stevens' falsetto, which, as I put it at the time, 'fell over the room like an unexpected snowfall' – see, I was already smitten. Last night, however, the stage was full: piano, xylophone, oboe, horn, trumpet, flute, bass, and more, with the whole band wearing butterfly wings and Stevens himself wearing big hawk wings, plus projected visuals. It was a parade – although even better was when he sang quiet songs like John Wayne Gacy Jr. and I Think That Dress Looks Nice On You almost unaccompanied.

The finest moment of Stevens' faultless performance was when, during The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts, he went over to the pile of inflatable Superman dolls at the side of the stage and started hurling them into the audience one by one. They never flew very far – and that image, of a well-intentioned hero throwing himself into the unknown again and again, his optimism never quite defeated, could not have been more apposite – so many of Stevens' songs are about noble failures, whether it's Adlai Stevenson or Stevens himself.

I'd love to see Stevens try something like Ys, with just five songs instead of a dozen or two-dozen. The longest, Only Skin, is seventeen minutes, with thirteen hundred words of lyrics (i.e. quite a bit longer than this review - if, that is, you were to set it to music, a task we should probably leave for pious future generations). Newsom is almost more a librettist than a lyricist. As you can read in this fantastic Wire interview, the lyrics are all loosely connected to the Breton myth of the eponymous drowned city. Oh, and our favourite harpist has been working with Steve Albini, Brian Wilson-collaborator Van Dyke Parks, and a thirty-strong orchestra. The point is, even if this project had been a grand failure, it would still have been fascinating – but in fact it's a spectacular success.

Music writers, like figure-skating judges, are not supposed to give perfect scores. That's for our children to decide – a classic must stand the test of time. But I'm giving Ys 10/10, because, if this doesn't get 10/10, nothing will. (Although, bafflingly, I notice that Rolling Stone give 'this EP' two stars out of five! They are going to be embarrassed in the morning.) Best album of the year? Without a doubt. Best album of the decade? I'm not quite ready to say it's better than all of these, but give me a minute to work up the courage.

People worried that all these strings would make Ys a little too syrupy. And, like Stevens' Illinois, it does have the occasional hint of the Broadway Musical. But the orchestration here is no less subtle and emotionally articulate than Newsom's harp. She skips through tempos and time signatures so fast that, as she admits in the interview, it's a wonder the other musicians can keep up.

Newsom sings as beautifully as ever. Endearingly, she still squeaks like a dog-toy on the occasional word; I remember when I first played 'Bridges and Balloons' to my friend Raoul, his response was 'I hate this more than anything I've ever heard' and later 'This should be banned'. Well, each to his own. But the magical things Newsom does with little phrases like 'But Ursula, we've got to eat something' or 'Dumbstruck with the sweetness of being' is something no mortal human should have to miss.

For me, though, the greatest triumph is the lyrics. They make wonderful reading even without the music – my favourite is the comparatively straightforward 'Monkey and Bear', about a love affair between an organ-grinding monkey and a dancing bear who are plotting their escape from servitude. Newsom has listed Nabokov and Hemingway as her favourite authors, and those aren't the names I would have guessed - not fairytale enough - but it's clear she has learnt from the masters.

Ultimately, I barely feel qualified to review this album. It's a work of art that may take me years to grasp. Music writers, like detectives, are also not supposed to get emotionally involved in what they do. So writing that I nearly burst into tears in Sainsbury's listening to Ys is as bad as standing up in court and admitting I slept with the suspect. Well, so be it. As you will all know by now, I'm a maverick who doesn't play by the rules (except, of course, those of grammar, which I will defend with my very life). Burial is all very well, but this... I can't imagine how this album could be any better; I can hardly imagine how any album could be any better.

10/10

Released 6/11 on Drag City

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Sci Fi Hi Fi Volume 3' mixed by Alex Smoke

Following instalments from techno pontiffs Ewan Pearson and Luciano, the latest volume of Soma Records' Sci Fi Hi Fi mix CD series comes from young Glasgow producer Alex Smoke. Smoke - not to be confused with Madrid's Alex Under - has already made a name for himself with 2005's Incommunicado and this year's Paradolia, and has remixed Mylo and the Junior Boys. Oh dear, this is press release stuff – can you tell my heart's not in it?

I've tried to like minimal techno, I really have, but it's just not happening. I love Ellen Allien and Booka Shade, but only because they turn techno into a kind of cyborg pop music. I love Monolake and Sleeparchive, but only because they turn techno into a kind of lunar bass architecture. But all this dessicated, clicky stuff that's like pressing your ear to an alarm clock powered by dead beatles – what's the point? I don't even get Ricardo Villalobos, who I'm almost legally obliged to love – Dexter and Easy Lee, sure, but the rest...

I'm still trying, though, which is one reason why I'm reviewing this CD. The other reason is that the second track here is Burial's Gutted, and it's pretty exciting to see yet another doctrinaire techno DJ repping dubstep – see also Cassy, who put Shackleton on her recent Panorama Bar, and of course Villalobos himself, who's been known to drop Skream's Midnight Request Line and Mala's Left Leg Out. Sadly, I suppose because it's too fast to mix properly with techno, Smoke can't do much with it: the track looms from the ambient shadows of Porn Sword Tobacco's Najat Library Card and then vanishes in a cloud of echo, like when Batman escapes the police by throwing down one of those smoke pellets.

From then on the mix treads a clear enough path: from sleepy dub to fidgeting glitch. The former comes from Basic Channel, Basic Channel's side project Rhythm & Sound, and Juan Atkins' Model 500. It's beautiful stuff, of course: languorous yet muscular, swimming against a moonlit tide of echo and crackle, plunging ever deeper. But by the end of the mix, we've moved on to the ticks and gasps and squirts and rattles of Alex Smoke himself, as sterile and microscopic and precise as an Intel laboratory. In between, we get Claro Intellecto's angelic Peace of Mind, eight minutes of Stockholm producer Aril Brikha's contemplative Aqua, and lots more. Even if you're a total techno cultist, I don't think any of this is exactly going to turn your brain inside out, but it's still a thoughtful, varied piece of work. It hasn't made me love minimal techno; but it's made me want to keep trying.

6/10


Out 30/10 on Soma

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Big On Road

Today I've been enjoying Rude Interlude - tracklist here, download here - a dynamite mix of dark garage, grime, and proto-dubstep, with added pirate radio chat. Its creator Paul also did Autonomic Computing, which is still probably the best introduction to dubstep there is.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Nervously counting fingers and toes


Even the most aristocratic bloodline can't sustain three generations of inbreeding. First we had Interpol, ripping off Joy Division - and they did a great job but it should have stopped there - but then we had The Editors, ripping off Interpol, and now we have Omerta, ripping off The Editors (but dressing like Interpol). Has there ever been a more wretchedly redundant band?

Life before dubstep

Very educational list over at Stylus of the top ten drum'n'bass basslines ever, with audio clips.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'The Dead Sea' by Xela

As soon as I heard The Dead Sea, I knew I was in trouble. The third album by Manchester producer (and Type Records founder) John Twells, it's a world away from the soft, glitch-splintered electronica of For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights or the secretive robot shoegaze of Tangled Wool. The Dead Sea is apparently about 'a doomed ocean voyage that meets an abrupt end amongst a swarm of malignant zombies', and it draws on all kinds of influences that I know nothing about, a small selection of which you can hear on Xela's excellent podcasts. Basically, I really like this album, but I don't have a clue what to say about it. If I were getting paid then naturally I'd just bluff my way through, but the wonderful thing about blogs is that there's no need to prop up the illusion of journalistic authority - so I thought the sensible thing to do would simply be to let Xela speak for himself.

How would you describe The Dead Sea?
A waterlogged horror-concept album with psychedelic and progressive rock leanings. On red vinyl.

What were you listening to while you were making it?
Now that's impossible to answer because I just listen to so much, from indie pop to black metal.. conscious influences on the sound were all the new psych folk stuff, italian film soundtracks, power electronics, noisy metal and of course prog rock. But yeah, I\'m constantly consuming music so I have to pick and choose what I plonk into my compositions when I want to make something coherent.

Each of your albums has sounded utterly unlike the previous one. Is it important to keep changing? Any idea where you're going next?
Yeah I think it's of the utmost importance to keep on changing... My mind and my reactions to music keeps on changing so I think my music should reflect that, it would be dishonest not to. I mean, my first record For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights was a reaction to the electronic music that I had just begun to hear after having played with indie/punk bands fora few years and Tangled Wool was an attempt at writing love songs. The Dead Sea was something I had in mind for a long time, but the style was a direct response to the music that excited me as I was writing it. I don't want to get into a position where I feel like I'm needlessly repeating myself as I don't respect that from other artists; I like to hear someone's mind at work, not someone coasting for the sake of it.

Do you think electronica, in the 90s sense, is a sinking ship?
It's already sunk! Hopefully someone will come along in the near future, James Cameron-style ,and raise it from it's watery doom. I'd love to see someone inject some new life into electronic music soon, but at the moment people seem to be giving it some space, and that's understandable: with the internet and the explosion of 'bedroom musicians', it was bound to become saturated very quickly.

Type Records releases thoughtful, experimental music with, potentially, quite a small audience, yet you seem to have got a big response (i.e. not just in The Wire!) What's your secret?
I don't know, all I can say is that I love the music I put out and I'm very tough on quality control. All the music I release is music I'd buy, and I think that's an important thing for me - I have to be really proud of a release, and being so involved with music on many levels it takes something special to get through to me. Hopefully people can see that.

Released on Type Records on 23/10

The All-New Dummy Monthly

Yesterday, after months of planning, the latest top secret Dummy project (codename: Flighty Horse) was finally revealed to the world. The Dummy Monthly is our new email newsletter, created to keep your soul alive in the long, barren periods between issues of the print magazine. Unlike most such newsletters, it's not just a few kilobytes of hype and nonsense - we give you interviews, album reviews, single reviews, competitions, listings, top tens, and more. And for free! You'll be able to view it on the web every month, but if you'd like it to leap straight into your inbox, click here to subscribe. Tell your friends!

Jamie T, The Scala, London, 19.10.06


Jamie T takes to the stage tonight with his third single, If You Got The Money, at Number 11 in the mid-week charts. He’s on the brink of something big and everyone in the capacity crowd knows it. If his band are a bit ragged and the backing vocals are set permanently to ‘shout’, well, that’s part of the DIY appeal. Energy levels simmer, then when he plays If You Got The Money the audience explode. It’s nothing compared to the reaction Salvador and Sheila get. “Drunk, she stumbles down by a river/Screams, calling ‘London’…’ he sings, at which point everyone screams at the top of their voices. In the encore, he plays a cover of Billy Bragg’s New England (the B-side to 'If You Got The Money'). It’s a great choice. If Bragg was 20-years old, he’d probably sound a lot like Jamie, who subtle acknowledges his roots in the process. Shame, then, that it’s so lacklustre. But the night ends on a high with the full throttle jig Brand New Bass Guitar. Wouldn’t it be great if he went Top Ten…

Jamie T is one the cover of issue three of Dummy, out now.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Skream!' by Skream

'Every time I think about an album I think of reasons not to do one,' said Mala from Digital Mystizk in a recent interview in The Wire. And I'm afraid Skream may just have given him one reason more.

Of course, Skream had a near-impossible task. Unlike Burial and Kode 9, he couldn't give us something shadowy and introspective – Skream's followers want something that hits as hard in the club as it does on headphones. Few dance producers know how to sweep that dichotomy aside, and, in 2006, most of those that do are making techno (see Ellen Allien or Claro Intellecto or Monolake).

So Skream keeps it varied. We get DMZ anthems ('Midnight Request Line', 'Rutten'), vocal tracks ('Check-It' with Warrior Queen, 'Tapped' with JME), cheery head-nodders ('Dutch Flowerz', 'Summer Dreams'), club weapons ('Colourful', 'Stagger'), and filler ('Kut-Off', 'Auto-Dub'). What we don't get is classics like 'Lightning' and 'Deep Concentration', presumably because Tempa didn't want to repeat anything that's already been in either of Skreamizm double-vinyl packs. That's a shame, because, for better or worse, a lot of people buying Skream! will have heard about it from the Observer or the Telegraph, and they need to be hearing dubstep at its very strongest if they're going to stay interested.

Still, 'Midnight Request Line' sounds as extraterrestrial as ever. 'Rutten', the one with the leaping flute and simmering bass, is here in a stripped down version (hence the name change from 'Rottan') – but Skream almost ruins a perfect track with some fugly MIDI brass that you'll also hear on 'Dutch Flowerz'.

'Check-It' switches between wonky reggae and brutal dancehall, with Warrior Queen both singing out of tune and rapping out of time but still somehow holding her own, and I've never heard anything like it. 'Tapped' is less of a success. The instrumental version is another classic - Mala even stuck the 'Anti-War Dub' acapella over it at the last DMZ – but JME comes up with some very lazy bars here, repeating the hook ('Sometimes I think back/ Some days I felt trapped/ My line's been tapped') until it's worn right through.

The really contentious tracks on this album are going to be 'Dutch Flowerz' and 'Summer Dreams'. 'Dutch Flowerz', with its double-time skank, fairy-lights synth, and sunny guitar, has been doing the rounds for a while, and it's not a bad way to break up a DJ set of claustrophobic bassbin beasts, but in an album context it utterly fails to justify its existence. And 'Summer Dreams', eight minutes of flaccid saxophone over a rudimentary garage shuffle, is even worse. (Can it really be that Skream, anticipating the inevitable mockery, has deliberately started this track with the sound of chatter in a bourgeois wine bar?) Some people see this as a tribute to two-step, but real two-step was never as bloodless as this.

The remaining tracks are B-side material, really, although 'Stagger' packs a punch. So Skream! doesn't add up to much – Olli Jones has played the album game and lost, like dozens before him. Except I wouldn't be saying that if Skream were an unknown, rather than the purported ambassador of dubstep and saviour of British dance music – in that case, I'd be praising this LP – meaning that, Skream, at 21, is already an unfortunate victim of his own hype. A strange thing to be in dubstep, which is meant to be the genre that hype forgot.

6/10

Released 27/10 on Tempa

Good Shoes, Barfly, London, 15.10.06

“So, which one of you paid £400 for a ticket on Ebay?” asks Good Shoes frontman Rhys Jones after the first song. His band are on steep upward curve at the moment, but it’s not them that someone has parted with their holiday fund to see. Tonight, they are supporting Razorlight at the 200-capacity Barfly in Camden. If they aren’t the main attraction, they are fabulous bonus nonetheless. The whipcrack interchange of guitars on 'Never Meant To Hurt', 'We Are Not The Same' and 'All In My Head' is spine-tingling, Jones is developing into a commanding singer and the fact that many of the songs are under three-minutes gives them a thrilling energy. The album’s due next year. I for one can’t wait. Oh, Razorlight were OK,. too.

Friday, October 13, 2006

You Can't Murray Love

There was lots going on for this year's Peel Day, which has cheered those of us who still hold out hope that it may one day become an official public holiday. But what was missing was any discussion of the radio station that John Peel helped to create. Which is odd, since a glance at the Radio 1 schedule is enough to convince you that some kind of nightmarish prank has been played. The 10pm-midnight slot, which was occupied by Peel until 2003, is now being defiled by - of all people – Mr. Colin Murray.

As you can see from his playlists, Murray has planted himself so firmly in the middle of the road that frightened hedgehogs could use him as a traffic island. One of the last sessions the ever-prescient Peel booked was with the Digital Mystikz, who made dubstep what it is today. With Murray, we are lucky to get anyone as searingly avant-garde as the Killers. I truly despair.

And as a result of Murray's move, fantastic shows like Mary Anne Hobbs' get shunted back to even more unsociable hours. This is the Radio 1 equivalent of replacing In Our Time with a live phone-in about Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing. Good night, public service broadcasting. The BBC's defence is that, with the online 'listen again' function, time slots become irrelevant. But then the potential audience for specialist programmes is reduced to the few people who already know about them (and are loyal enough to tolerate the infuriatingly erratic Realplayer stream). There is no longer any possibility of someone turning on Radio 1 at random in the car late at night, hearing some Burial, and having a minor epiphany.

Yes, Murray's show will be less 'inaccessible' - but 'inaccessible' is just another word for 'difficult' - and 'difficult' is often just another word for 'new and unexpected and potentially important'. Moves like this will please the public, but what the public wants in the short term is not always what the public needs in the long term. The mainstream has always fed greedily off the fringe. Without Sonic Youth, there would be no 'Since You Been Gone'. Without old-school jungle, there would be 'Promiscuous'. Without Nick Drake, there would be no 'Nine Million Bicycles'. (Perhaps I shouldn't have brought that one up.) Take away the fringe, and the mainstream will eventually starve.

I am indeed one of the 'indie mafia,' as Colin Murray put it in his recent self-serving Guardian article, and I make no apology. Nor did Saint Peel himself.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Preview: Dummy Sunday, The Lock Tavern, London, 15.10.2006

This Sunday at the Lock Tavern Dummy magazine have assembled the squad of rising London DJs who have thrown away the rulebook as featured in our Pick A Record, Any Record feature. Come on down for some roasts, records and rave. It’s free!

Radioclit

Imported Euro-duo DJ Tron and DJ Johan hail from France and Sweden respectively. Masters of the mixtape, Radioclit like to “push bass culture hard”. That means crunk and splicing together dirty south hip hop and grime with ’80s electro and Brazilian baile funk. “It’s about ghetto music and pop music,” they say.
Favourite track: Premier Gaou - Magic System

Young Turks

The chaps behind London’s premier genre-bending night, Troubled Minds @ 333, Young Turks are major players in the new DJ movement. Style-wise, the trio of Caius Pawson, Bob Foster and Stuart Hammond keep their fingers pressed tightly on the pulse of new wave guitar music, but are unafraid to throw a few curve balls in the mix.
Favourite track: Aneurysm - Nirvana

Team Mega Mix

Identifiable by their white uniforms, Team Mega Mix's main fixation is retro ’80s soul, but they are also rather partial to a bit of grime and garage. The two Teds’ (Lovett and Pearce) atypically tight mixes and a love of the classics has helped make them one of London’s hottest DJ duos.
Favourite track: Whip It - Devo

People Are Germs

Claire Bartelomeo and Juliette Hughes People Are Germs first made waves with a regular slot at Shoreditch hipster hangout The Old Blue Last, where they attracted a huge array of guest DJs, including Bloc Party and Babyshambles. Now regulars at most of the parties on this list, the girls swing from Fleetwood Mac to MSTKRFT.
Favourite track: Something Good - Utah Saints

Fisherprice Soundsystem

Fisherprice Soundsystem are kooks straight out of the leftfield. Comprised of Frederick Blood-Royale, formerly of chaotic indie kids Les Incompetents, and fellow jockey Henry The Eighth, they have a passion for happy hardcore and aren’t afraid to crank bpms up to 300. Bootleg mash-ups feature prominently, too.
Favourite track: Hot In Herre (8-bit Nintendo Remix) - Nelly

Real Gold

Before forming Real Gold, Deano Jo used to be in the noise-loving Teens Of Thailand. Now Deano DJs alongside Ronojoy Dam, Jack Parmesan, Alexis E and Louis Enchante, all who share a love of hardcore punk, especially when sandwiched between grime and Jamaican dancehall and ragga.
Favourite track: One By One - Immortal

elPlate

When not organising his Extra Special one-off events with associate Nasty Mcquaid – guests thus far have included Diplo and Arctic Monkeys – elPlate is busy mixing electro, rave and classic house with dancehall and garage. His Myspace boast that, “We run this shit,” is only a slight exaggeration.
Favourite track: Don’t Go - Awesome 3

Silverlink

Alex Silverlink is a producer and DJ affiliated with both the oddball electro-noise label Adadat and the rave revival. His music combines vintage analogue synths and kinetic new wave electro, while his sets reflect his love of both old and new dance music. “There’s no ‘k’ in rave,” he says.
Favourite track: I Like To Move It - Reel 2 Reel

15th October, 4pm til 11pm
The Lock Tavern, 35 Chalk Farm Rd, NW1

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Memories of the Future' by Kode 9 & the Spaceape






















Kode 9 is dubstep's philosopher laureate. His aphorisms range from the revelatory:
'Most of the people that produce and DJ dubstep were into jungle and it’s almost like we know jungle so well now that we don’t need to hear the fast breakbeats; it’s in our bodies already. What was exciting about jungle has almost been internalized into our systems, so we don’t need so many elements any more to get the same vibe.'
to the incomprehensible:
'As opposed to a bass fundamentalism, I’m interested in vibration as micro-rhythm or micro-relation, so I use this as a way of accessing the rhythmic continuum which cuts across the urban frequency spectrum, constructing a cultural tectonics. I am interested in a vibrational rhythmanalysis of the control city.'
But we must indulge intellectuals, even when – especially when – they seem in danger of disappearing up their own rhythmic continuum: we live in a time where a lyric like 'I bet that you look good on the dancefloor/ Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984' apparently makes Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys some sort of latter-day Petrarch. Twenty-first century music could do with some brains. Perhaps on Kode 9's next LP we will hear him quietly pontificating about Deleuze on one stereo channel, like on Gang of Four's 'Anthrax', but on Memories of the Future he lets the Spaceape do the talking.

So which future is this? To me, it's straight out of the Orwell novel to which Alex Turner was presumably not trying to allude in the above couplet. Kode 9 gives us a kind of totalitarian dub, with Spaceape as a dictator reading out his weekly address on state radio. 'We have to take serious measures' warns Spaceape on the first track, and he's not joking. There's a Soviet severity to these beats – the sound design doesn't have futuristic sheen of, say, Skream's, which isn't to say that Kode 9 is a bad producer, just that his aesthetic is not quite what we're used to. Lots of these tracks are made of not much more than an accordion synth, a bass hum, and a brittle snare. They're cheap and bare and vast at the same time, just like the brutalist concrete tower which would house the Ministry of Justice in the dystopia over which Spaceape rules. When I hear the sluggish horns on 'Nine Samurai', I think of tanks parading through the streets as a show of strength. There's a two-step shuffle on 'Curious', but it takes all the sex out of garage (perhaps by means of mandatory hormone injections) and puts it to work on the factory floor.

On Memories of the Future, Spaceape is a psychiatrist, a prophet, a confessor, a lunatic, and a soldier as well as a despot. I have no idea whether he's the next Linton Kwesi Johnson, or whatever else people have been saying, but he couldn't be a better match for Kode 9's dark cityscapes. His lyrics creep into your head like the 'alien virus' he keeps telling us about. And of course there's that voice, that sounds like it's slowed down even when it's not.

When Kode 9 uses a pure sine for his basslines instead of the surging square wave wobble preferred by most dubstep producers, I wonder whether it's a deliberate reaction to the fact that most music these days is heard out of iPod headphones or laptop speakers – 50% of this album is simply invisible to technology like that. Listen to it on a proper rig, or don't listen to it at all. (Incidentally, I once put post-apocalyptic Prince cover 'Sine of the Dub' on a mix CD as a birthday present. Of course, the birthday girl stuck the CD on, and when it got to that track, I saw the bass reduce the party from tipsy burble to nauseous catatonia in two minutes. Maybe Kode 9 could put that in a footnote in his forthcoming text on the history of sonic warfare.)

Powerful as Memories of the Future is, it never quite has the emotional heft of Burial's LP, which also came out on Kode 9's Hyperdub label. Where Burial gave us yearning, Kode 9 gives us dread; where Burial gave us London, Kode 9 gives us a faraway place; where Burial gave us something personal, Kode 9 gives us, somehow, something political. It's strange, in a way, to talk about 'relating' to instrumental music, but I could relate to Burial in a way that I can't to Memories. Like all the best science fiction, however, Memories is of course really meant to be about the present day – so maybe I just need to be less literal, let the associations flow. Here we find ourselves, as Spaceape says, 'Locked in, and twisted out of all recognition.'

8/10

Released 16/10 on Hyperdub

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Girl Monster' compiled by Chicks on Speed

Three and a half hours, over sixty tracks by over sixty artists – reviewing Girl Monster is like wrestling a bear. But Chicks on Speed, its curators, are trying to sum up a scene – or maybe less a scene than a mindset or an aesthetic – and that takes time. The only comparable compilation I've heard in recent times is the freak-folk/psych/improv/drone almanac Gold Leaf Branches, on Brad Rose's Digitalis label, which I could never quite get a grip on either. Girl Monster is mostly what you might call electropunk – the shouty, grimy drum-machine pop made by bands like Le Tigre, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed themselves – plus detours into post-punk (old and new), some pseudo-hip-hop, and lots of odd bleepy freak-out performance art.

The accusation of 'positive discrimination' is frequently levelled at bands like Chicks on Speed – in other words, that double standards are operating because, it's claimed, these bands are so inept that if they were men, or even just women who didn't make such a fuss of their nth-wave feminism, no one would ever have let them put a record out. I used to have some sympathy with this argument, but listening to Girl Monster, I've realised that its proponents are actually sitting on their very own double standard: not between men and women, but between guitars and electronics. Ever since the seventies, we've been used to rock bands who couldn't play their instruments – rock bands, often, where that was the whole point: who'd want to stay at home mastering the suspended 7th when there are girls (and dealers) to chase? But we still, unfairly, expect music made on computers to really sound like it was made on computers – we expect sheen, poise, intricacy. We expect an autistic attention to detail. (This despite, for example, the brilliant ramshackleness of much early hardcore and jungle.) What I'm saying is, the level of technical incompetence on Girl Monster is certainly no greater than on the average hardcore punk compilation, but it seems more of an issue for reasons of genre. Punk takes many forms.

So positive discrimination isn't necessarily operating. But that doesn't mean, of course, that I actually have to enjoy this stuff. And to tell the truth, I don't, any more than I'd enjoy three CDs of conventional hardcore punk: it's just too rudimentary, too snotty, too attention-seeking. (And what is the point of Kevin Blechdom?) Inevitably, though, the range of quality here is vast, which means there are some gems. For example, Girl Monster gives a lot of props to the scene's mother goddesses – there are great tracks from the seventies by Delta 5, the Slits, the Raincoats, Lilliput, and other Original Gangstas of girl post-punk, plus recent remix work by Siouxsie Sioux and the Slits' Ari Up. I could list some other random highlights but I don't see the point: there's not a single song that you could call representative.

In the end, this compilation does just about win the prized Dummy Blog seal of approval. (Don't laugh, I can make or break a record. Seriously. I can BREAK YOU.) Maybe you'll have more fun with it than I did – maybe you've got more punk or feminism or both in your blood than I do. But even if you don't take it off your shelf very often, it's still just so invigorating to hear a lot of brash girls try to fuck shit up for three hours. (Also, it comes with lavish liner notes: lots of collages by Chicks on Speed themselves and some little essays on feminism in pop, which you can fold out into two awesome posters for your wall.) When she she gave away a Fender to a girl in the audience on each date on her 1998 tour of Australia, Courtney Love used to say 'Play it loud and don't give it to your boyfriend!' She should have been giving out 808's.

6/10

Released 2/10 on Chicks On Speed Records

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Preview: Dummy Night, Bardens Boudoir, London, 5.11.2006

Dummy magazine and Young and Lost Club are launching ‘Dummy Night’, which will take place on the first Thursday of every month. The first night features a stellar cast of bands featured in the mag plus DJ sets from JoJo De Freq, Faris Rotters and our hosts The Pyrrah Girls.

Live on stage:

Xerox Teens

We called them “the most giddy-making, frenetic and silly new band in London” and that they sound beamed down from outer space. They also sound like The Fall knocking knees with The Specials and have recently been augmented by a brass section. Their Casio punk fun also features a drummer so fast you won’t believe he’s not a machine. They say: “We want to be huge to the extent that we could invade Luxembourg.”

Man Like Me

Johnny Langer is the Man Like Me and with his pals makes the most exhilarating and entertaining grime-pop this side of never. Influenced by everyone from Prince to Daft Punk through Madness and The Streets with his nutty dancing, string of pearls and fez hat Johnny leads the charge through recent killer singles ‘Oh My Gosh’ and ‘Wine and Dine’. He says: Your Mother’s gonna love it.

Late of The Pier

Donnington’s monsters of synth rock conjure up an exhilarating mash up of angular art-rock, early 90s rave, punk and old analogue synthesizer-led psychedelic prog. Rhythms shift gear, vocals go from sung to shouted and synths pass the baton to guitars. They say: “We like to mess the beats up a lot. It’s probably more that we’ve all got really short attention spans so halfway through a song, we’ll turn it into something else.”

DJs on the night:

JoJo De Freq of Bugged Out! and Nag Nag Nag will be mixing up synthetic dance and vintage rave after the bands with Faris Rotters of The Horrors and the Pyrrah Girls playing in between them.

October 5th 2006, 8pm til 2am. £5 or reduced price entry if you join the Dummy mailing list on this site. For guestlist email info@dummymag.com

Bardens Boudoir, 38-44 Stoke Newington Rd, London N16 7XJ

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Because there just aren't enough lists in contemporary music journalism

A preposterously extensive menu of 'Rough Guides' to various genres, scenes, bands, labels and themes, as compiled by various members of the I Love Music forum.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Remixes' by Four Tet

Here we have Kieran Hebden's personal favourites from over forty remixes that he's done over the last five years. Forty's a lot but this compilation shows he's no hack. I'm going to go through it track by track because, why not? Incidentally there's a second disc of remixes of, not by, Four Tet, but I haven't heard it.

Lars Horntveth – Tics I submit that Hebden murdered this song and then disposed of its corpse in the only way he knows how: cutting it up into as many tiny pieces as possible and throwing them down a well. Listening is an exercise in forensics: every clink, thump, squeak and sigh is a clue. Suspicion may fall on Farben or Icarus, but in the end it can only be one man. Familiarise yourself with his MO because you will see it again.

Radiohead – Skttrbrain A dream-team, but then so was Radiohead and DJ Shadow, and the resulting remix of 'The Gloaming' turned out to be rubbish. This is better, but still not as good as Zero 7's dub of 'Climbing Up The Walls'. I wonder how many times Thom Yorke has begged Richard D. James for a remix.

Madvillain – Money Folder Inexplicably the EP of remixes by Four Tet and Stones Throw's Koushik of Madlib and MF Doom's Madvillainy was only ever made available on vinyl and from iTunes, so it went almost unnoticed. The psych-rock guitars under moth-eaten breaks reminded me of Dangermouse's The Grey Album, and prove that when Four Tet and Koushik turn to hip hop they can be as imaginative as Madlib himself. (Actually Hebden's always said that Pause and Rounds were about hip hop stealing from folk, not the other way round. I seem to remember that part of the reason he originally decided to do a solo project was that no one else in Fridge liked Busta Rhymes.) This track, the best of the bunch with its grainy, ominous vintage synth riff, has already been compiled on the Four Tet edition of Late Night Tales.

His Name Is Alive – One Year This is the revelatory hallucination a So Solid Crew instrumental B-side might have in the last moments before a premature death brought on by an accidental overdose of laudanum.

Sia – Breathe Me Nice enough, and unusually crisp percussion for Mr Hebden, but not nearly as good as either the heart-breaking original track, as used at the very end of Six Feet Under, or Ulrich Schnauss' cosmic remix.

Aphex Twin – Untitled I've never had quite the same reverence as everyone else for the Aphex Twin's copious Ambient Works. In fact I've always thought they could do with a swift kick up the arse, and here they get one from a remix that sounds very much like something off Four Tet's debut Dialogue. Nothing happens, but then that's in keeping with the original.

Madvillain – Great Day Because a Four Tet album without those reversed acoustic guitar licks wouldn't be a Four Tet album.

Bonobo – Pick Up Like many of my album reviews, this is a commentary only tangentially related to its subject matter. Four Tet discards the original's priapic jazz flute and keeps only a few stubs of keyboard and guitar, building the rest of the track out of an obdurate double bass and some astonishing drums. Getting excited about drums is probably something only boys do, and only a certain type of boy at that, but these ones really are fucking cool. Nobody seems to know where they're sampled from, and I can't even hazard a guess. Some producers would practically base a career on finding a sample that good but Hebden just leaves it for somebody else's B-side.

Rothko – Roads Become Rivers Now we know where Lucky Pierre, aka Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat, bit his style from.

Beth Orton – Carmella A tad too Radio 2, and in no way justifies its two-minute bloat. This pairing is capable of much better: 'Beautiful World', also produced by Hebden, the B-side to Orton's single 'Anywhere', is the best thing she's ever done. Get on Soulseek right now.

Bloc Party – So Here We Are When I found out that Mogwai, Four Tet and M83 were remixing Bloc Party, I was as excited as a small child who sees a dog wearing a monocle, only to be crushed when all three remixes sounded like they'd been made in the three-minute ad-break in the middle of Young, Posh and Loaded. (The remainder of the remixes album was no better: good grief, what a wasted opportunity.) Listening to this again, knowing it's supposedly one of Hebden's favourites, I still don't get it. He lays a woolly blanket of static over the top of my favourite Bloc Party song, even while the song is saying 'No, Mum, it's fine, I'm not even cold.' If I was remixing this, knowing that the track is about going to techno nights at the Camden Palace and taking ecstasy, I would of course make it into a thumping dancefloor destroyer. Maybe they should get Trentemoller on the case.

Pole – Heim In 2000 Four Tet released a split EP with Pole where they each contributed one track and then each remixed the other's track, much like the recent Ellen Allien/Audion 12”. It's forgettable, and the time-stretched piano here isn't as good as the one on 'Cradle', the neglected B-side to first Rounds single 'She Moves She'.

yet another 7/10

Released 25/9 on Domino