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

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dubstep Post #51,129

Some gossip from the messageboards: 1. there are tracks by Digital Mystikz, Kode 9, Random Trio and the Bug on the new Alfonso Cuaron film Children of Men. 2. excellent forward-thinking drum'n'bass label Inperspective are starting a dubstep sub-label called Inprint. The launch party is at Mass on October 7th.

Magda, make the tea!

Is there a single minimal techno DJ who doesn't have a gorgeous loft apartment with white walls? (cf. Ubercoolische)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'The Roots of Dubstep' compiled by Ammunition and Blackdown

I wish I could say I'd been going to FWD ever since it started at the Velvet Rooms at 2001. Unfortunately back then I think I was just listening to The Bends over and over and over again. (I know I'm losing credibility here, but unless we have the odd anguished personal confession then there's no way this site is going to compete in a blog marketplace which is still ninety percent self-harming emo teenagers' Livejournals.) So I've got nothing but love for The Roots of Dubstep, which lets me pretend that I had any idea what dubstep was before Rephlex's (misnamed) Grime compilations came out in 2004. (Although I'm not sure when I'd actually have to pretend that. Maybe at a party. A really grim music journalists' party.)

Of course it doesn't sound much like dubstep does today, even though you'll spot familiar names like Skream, Benga and Digital Mystikz on the tracklist. This stuff (some of which is previously unreleased) is from around 2002/3, and no one had heard of halfstep back then. The phrase, really, is dark garage. You've still got the shuffled beats and smooth keyboards of classic two-step, but the punishing sub-bass, troubled dub landscapes, and general minimalism of later dubstep are beginning to creep in. Everything's instrumental apart from El-B's 'Buck and Bury' with Juiceman. My favourite track's probably Menta's 'Snake Charmer' with the Middle Eastern flute sample and grimey handclaps.

Tempa say that The Roots of Dubstep, co-compiled by Martin Clark aka Blackdown, 'is the only compilation to definitively document the early years of dubstep' – and I should note that while it may be the closest to definitive, it's certainly not the only compilation of its kind. Around the same time the Grime comps came out, I picked up the terrific Bingo Beats Volume 2 on DJ Zinc's label, which covers fairly similar ground without using any of the same tracks apart from Artwork's 'Red'. (The highlight is the unforgettable 'Said The Spider' by Darqwan, who seems to have found a new home on Storming Productions.)

The main problem with The Roots of Dubstep is that, unlike Bingo Beats, it's unmixed, which is nice for the DJs but also means that most of these tracks outstay their welcome (particularly DJ Abstract's 'Touch' at nearly nine minutes). A lot of them are still great, though, and not just as historical documents – in a way you've got the best of both worlds here, with garage's sinuous beats meeting dubstep's world-famous bass pressure. After Burial's LP came out, people were hoping it would inspire other dubstep producers to go back to those shuffled hi-hats, but I haven't seen much sign of that so far.

Remember, though, that there is still dubstep being made where you don't have to time to skin up between snares. The aforementioned Storming Productions and its sister label Destructive Recordings are still putting out dense, breaky dubstep of the highest calibre: listen to clips from their newest twelve inch, Elemental's 'Soulfire', here. And for more of this stuff, seek out their utterly amazing compilation Back to the Underground, which I must confess I still prefer to The Roots of Dubstep, Bingo Beats, Grime, or any of the Dubstep Allstars series.

7/10

Released 25/9 on Tempa.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Police and Thieves

I never thought I'd be linking to an article in the New Statesman on this blog, but then I also never thought I'd one day have to get a real job, so you just can't tell, can you? And even by New Statesman standards this article is brain-shrivellingly dull - it's a transcript of a round-table discussion by two-dozen music industry executives about copyright reform. But before you click back to that YouTube video of a Wisconsin teenager masturbating in time to Fergie's 'London Bridge', pause to consider that when that many record company stooges get together, the fate of the world is always in peril.

This time it's because they're talking about VRR. VRR stands for Value Recognition Right, and apparently the proposal is only about a month old. Now, of course I haven't read this article all the way through - I have better things to do - I, too, know what YouTube is - so I might be getting this wrong. But the idea seems to be as follows. DRM has failed, not so much because customers hate it - what does that matter? - but because it can always be circumvented by Scandinavian hackers. So where is the music industry's revenue going to come from? Well, lots of the bandwidth that ISPs sell is used to download illegal MP3s. Likewise, lots of the storage capacity that Apple sell inside their iPods is used to store illegal MP3s. So why not put a big levy on ISPs and MP3 player manufacturers?

Emma Pike, the Chief Executive of British Music Rights puts it as follows: '...rather than thinking: "These are our rights, let's try to find ways of enforcing them," why do we not try thinking: "This is how consumers want to get and share music. How can we adapt the copyright framework so that we can license that behaviour, thereby alleviating the aggravation that consumers are increasingly feeling towards copyright and, at the same time, making sure that we actually get paid when our music is shared?"'

In other words, the record companies have realised that, as Catherine Bell, director of rights at Chrysalis, says, 'Music to the consumer is like air. The consumer thinks it should be free... At the PRS you get all of these people saying: "It is a breach of my human rights that I should be asked to pay for this."'

Hang on. I don't download music illegally[1]. Plus, even if I did, it wouldn't be music from the big record labels that want the VRR. And yet I'm still being asked to pay, effectively, a tax on my MP3 player and my broadband connection, in order to subsidise the law-breaking of a bunch of teenagers who get the new Christina Aguilera album off Limewire because they're too young to understand that anyone has ever paid for music!

I understand that the music industry is in an impossible position. And it's not just the big labels - lots of people argue that the reason grime hasn't got off the ground commercially is that its target audience are so addicted to illegal downloads. But surely there must be a solution that isn't so totally unfair on the very people, like me, that have supported the music industry so doggedly over the years by paying real cash for every single overpriced CD. 'Unless we get the government on our side to support [VRR], it is just a non-starter,' adds Catharine Bell. Let's hope the government have more sense than to support these people who have never shown anything but contempt for their customers.

[1] For the sake of argument, anyway. Seriously, practically never!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Competition Commission

Gawker Media, the people behind Gawker, Defamer, and nearly a dozen other top-notch blogs, have just launched a music blog called Idolator. Fit.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Brainy Like Gangsterz

You can download authorised preview copies of volumes 1 and 2 of Wiley's new 'Tunnel Vision' mixtape series here. I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I were to say 'Brap!'

Update: from a post by Logan Sama on the RWD forums:

'Just been told that Wiley has finalised his deal with Big Dada to release an album in 2007. It is currently tentatively scheduled for February 2007 and will be entitled "Playtime Is Over". Big Dada have said that they want Wiley to do an album that is free from commercial major label restraints and want to help him release a definitive Wiley LP without compromising his sound. Also he is going to take Tunnel Vision up to volume 10.'

OK now this is 'Brap!'-worthy if anything is.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'On Leaving' by Nina Nastasia

Run to Ruin, Nina Nastasia's last album, was a scary piece of work. Really scary. 'I'll cut you! I WILL CUT YOU!', that's what that album said.

The opening alone! 'We'll never talk about the thing we witnessed,' warned Nina Nastasia over dischordant cello and the distant funereal thump of a bass drum. You never found out what that thing was, and, dear God, you didn't want to. I can't think of a more arresting start to an album, and it only got worse – songs like 'On Teasing' and 'I Say That I Will Go' got bigger and bigger until they towered over you, blocking out the sun, ready to collapse. Sometimes Nastasia was getting drowned out by her own backing band, but she was always in control of the storm. This stuff was way heavier than any heavy metal, emotionally if not musically. Listening to it, I got visions of Southern Gothic – lynching and incest and cannibalism and plagues of locusts and bodies dumped out in the backwoods. No doubt the darkness in Nastasia's country/folk came from the soul, from everyday life, not from anything so crassly horror-movie – but there was something about her oblique, desperate lyrics that really fired the imagination.

So it's a shame, in a way, that with On Leaving she's retreated from that darkness. (For this, her fourth LP, she's switched from Touch & Go to Fat Cat Records, although Steve Albini is still producing.) It sounds not much like Run to Ruin but a lot like The Blackened Air and Dogs, her two albums before that; which means it's airy and quiet – mostly acoustic guitar and soft piano and brushed drums. Dylen Willemsa still does his unique off-key scraping thing on the viola, but there's very little cello or bass. And there's nothing scary about these songs – wistful and self-doubting and sad, but not scary. So no more Southern Gothic. Nastasia is still a truly beautiful songwriter, sure – listen to 'Brad Haunts A Party', with its contrast between the piano chords that rise and rise indomitably and the total resignation, reminiscent almost of Leonard Cohen, in the vocals - and that voice is still a wonder, sure, but, for me, three albums of this stuff is too much.

A quick Google search, however, reveals all. (Doesn't it always?) In an interview with Slug magazine, Nastasia says 'I have quite a few tracks that I don’t use from each album that are waiting to be placed on an appropriate record. This last recording we did I went into a studio and recorded all these songs that I had lying around that I haven’t documented and I recorded a lot of that stuff.' So that's why most of On Leaving sound like a step backward: it's old material. Which may actually be good news, because it shows that Run to Ruin wasn't necessarily a one-off. I certainly hope it wasn't, because its darkness was a new direction, and that's just what Nastasia needs. (Not counting 'The Matter of our Discussion', her shock collaboration with electronica producer Boom Bip, which somehow I doubt she's going to follow up.) You could compare Nastasia to Laura Veirs, who does a fairly similar folky thing and has that same kind of intimate cheerfulness that turns every so often to bitterness and aggression. But Veirs' work is so much more varied, both between songs and between albums.

So On Leaving certainly isn't a bad album. Considered on its own, it's a great one. But considered in context, it's just a little bit redundant. We've been here before.

7/10

Released 11/9 on Fat Cat Records.

Monday, September 04, 2006

DMZ, Mass, London, 2.9.06

The last time I was at DMZ, in March, was the night they switched to a bigger venue half-way through, which just could not be more symbolic. Everything was unstable then: even dubstep's kingpins had underestimated how fast the virus was spreading. Six months later, though, the infection is endemic - if you're susceptible, you're probably already suffering. The scene's settled down. No more shock of the new, no more new blood.

Still, great night. At one point Sergeant Pokes shouted to the 'quintuple crew'. At the time I had no idea what he meant, but it turns out that, unbelievably, DMZ was the fifth London dubstep events in three days: on Thursday there were nights at Redstar and Plastic People, and on Friday at Blackmarket and Plastic People again. So now you've got options, but the bass weight is still the most crushing at DMZ. For most of it I stood next to the speakers at the back and had my uvula undulated as never before. DMZ's found a (hopefully permanent) home in the second largest of St. Matthew's three spaces, which is, Goldilocks-style, just right: small enough that it never feels empty, big enough that you don't get fat queues all night.

Pinch, Digital Mystikz, Loefah and Youngsta all played predictably tight sets. Mystikz and Loefah B2B did the most for me simply because it was the least homogenous - quite a few vocal samples and conga lines and 4/4 kicks. I realise that even in the standard half-step plodders there's lots of baroque sound design, but most of that's lost when you're a foot from the speaker. Plus, is Skream the only producer these days making tunes that actually have tunes?

I'm reminded of eighties metal. Back then, nothing really mattered except the riff. It was like everyone was trying to find the Ultimate Supreme Perfect Riff. What would have happened if they'd actually found it? Maybe everyone would just have packed up and gone home. (Not an easy task when your drummer has a kit the size of a tire factory.) And sometimes it seems like dubstep's locked into a similar futile competition, except here people are using Cubase instead of electric guitars. And, guys, really, there's only so many things you can do with a square wave. At the rate that dubstep 12"s are coming out at the moment, they may have used up every possible bass line by about 2008, and what then?