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.