Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Once upon a time, the default playground accent for kids in the south of the country was cockney. You wanted a shorthand for cool? Just drop a few ‘H’s. Right now, it’s all about sounding gangsta, blud. Kids all over the country are adapting their natural voices for the elongated drawl of a perceived ghetto. ‘Oh my god!’ has been usurped by ‘oh my days!’, itself a term used by Christian families in south London who preferred their young not to blaspheme.
Previously strictly rude terms like blud have become common currency. Eight-year-olds in suburban primary schools have been heard throwing around phrases like wasteman (abbreviated to ‘wace’ by older users) instead of looser, proof that the linguistic grapevine between rude and the youth is just as strong as it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s between a mythical East End and the rest of the south.
The north of England is not immune, although with strong regional accents of their own, are less likely to start sounding like a Bow-born grime MC once they’re ten foot away from their parents. Ali G still bears some responsibility – after all, it was he who made it acceptable to mimic another’s accent without fear of being labelled racist. But it’s more to do with aspirations – the desire for something at the edge of society; a space once filled by cockney geezer gangsters and now epitomised by Britain’s rude bwoys.
In truth, it’s the middle-classes who tend to take patois to the greatest extreme, falling prey to the downwards mobility and class-denial endemic in their social strata. Whilst everyone – well, almost everyone – can shift their accent to fit youth culture’s fixation with rude, only a certain type of private school privilage will allow the phrase ‘yes blud, I got to Westminstaaaaaah, innit’.
Poor Ned Flanders: unsure about what blasphemous, satanic or perverted downloads Rod or Todd may have stored away on their iPod (or ‘iGod’ as he’d most likely prefer). And all while still reeling from the time he took them to see Chris Rock after misreading the date as ‘Christian Rock’.
For him, some entity insisting that it represents America’s moral majority has at least alerted him to the practising sodomites out there plus – praise the lord! - other artists that are supposedly “propagating a gay message”. Interestingly, this doesn’t include Cyndi Lauper (despite her Junior Vasquez reinventions) but does include Ghostface Killah and Metallica as part of an ongoing project to make Jesus-loving parents aware of safe and unsafe bands. Suggesting, as it does, that “one of the most dangerous ways homosexuality invades family life is through popular music”.
Most bizarre is how this hardly extensive catalogue of sin, which naturally features the extreme queercore shock tactics of Elton John and Cole Porter, also includes an underground producer like Justus Köhncke. [Nobody has yet alerted its compilers to Steps or Bloc Party.] However, when sent a link, Köhncke replies with a euphoric “that’s the most glamorous, fundamental listing I've ever had the pleasure to find myself in” while fellow disco darling Daniel Wang – whose same-sexing has been ignored by the Houston-based Love God’s Way crew – responds to his omission with “I have no idea how Justus got on there – I’m not famous enough” before adding “I will be releasing a new album this year, hopefully shooting myself like an uncorked champagne bottle to the top of that list”.
“I actually suspect it’s a Borat style hoax,” says an unconvinced Richard Smith at Gay Times, “some of it is a bit too knowing.” Either way, this kind of thing is not to be taken seriously.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
But for all the anarchic fun, there was a somewhat jarring, more ‘serious’ note to the concert, as interspersing the songs Coyne indulged in a little flippant Bush-bashing. I find it striking that the current climate appears to compel every American band I see to deride US foreign policy, with a loud vitriolic derrogation of George W as an entrée to their performance. For what it’s worth, Fischerspooner did it particularly well on their last tour before introducing We Need A War, but with the Lips it felt more of a coincidental intro to their latest blockbuster single The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.
There is a certain irony to such statements too, quite apart from the fact that it shouldn’t be taken for granted that 8,000 Hammersmith concert-goers share the Lips’ views. Ironically, while many Londoners might oppose some ‘traditional’ conservative American values, and more pertintently, policies such as the war on terror and the death penalty, it is American cultural hegemony, arguably part of the Bush struggle for ‘Hearts and Minds’ that is in some ways responsible for the Lips’ large fan base in the UK. Of course, most bands have political sympathies, and Coyne has raised these in many an interview. But the compulsion to stir some cheap empathy with the audience seemed to strike a dischordant note with the sensual abandonment (balloons, a choir of Father Christmasses, confetti, bells) of the rest of the concert. When the rest of the chat from on-stage barely rises above announcing the next song, one wonders whether things have come to such a pretty pass with global tensions, or whether Bush-bashing is just a sure-fire cheer-raiser.
And then I started to wonder how British bands are in foreign lands, and whether Blur ended up apologising for Blair. I tend to feel as if bashing one’s country is fair game among friends and even compatriots, but - as I would with an irritating sibling - am more reticent about sharing such views with strangers. These thoughts aside though, perhaps there is a broader question about what it is to be an artist and a representative of one’s country abroad; or even to be a musician and an American in the current global climate. Mixing music and politics is, of course, a far from original past-time. Dylan certainly liked to think he was blazing a trail, and musical movements from hip-hop and grunge to folk (I’m thinking here of the Dixie Chicks) have all railed against the US establishment. In today’s ‘independent’ music though, there seems to be a different reaction. It springs perhaps out of the desire to pinpoint a sense of belonging to a specific place and not an impersonal and malevolent superpower, but I have noticed that there seems to be a more than usually referentiality in the albums I listen to at the moment. In many songs there is a sense of being grounded in, or originating from, specific, geographic places. Here I am thinking of songs by The National, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, Interpol, Tapes N Tapes, The Postal Service, TV On The Radio and Sufjan Stevens. Whether it be the ‘Far, far away from West Virginia. I try new York City’ of CYHSY! , the New York scene that Interpol evoke (in the footsteps of The Strokes), or the Houston origins of Tapes 'n Tapes, place names are frequently referenced in their musical output, in a way fewer British indie bands seem compelled to do. Perhaps summing up the need for such musical anchoring, The National’s poignant ‘No I wouldn’t go out alone into America’ strikes a note of sadness that is hard to forget.
As well as the difficulty of finding an artistic identity in such a vast continent, one also gets the sense of seeking solace in the particular, when the broader picture is unpalatable. Walt Whitman’s reluctance to embrace the American identity was tinged with horror at slavery and the bloody Civil War; perhaps many contemporary artists feel similarly about the war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Yet Whitman saw in his writing a mission to forge a new Bible for everyday Americans; the goal of Leaves of Grass was to project an optimistic and democratic future for the country. One parallel that springs immediately to mind today is the work of Sufjan Stevens: the albums Michigan (2003) and Illinois (2005), and his stated aim to create one for all 50 states, has echoes of Edison’s and Whitman’s oeuvre. In these albums, odes to cities such as Chicago and Jacksonville sit amongst plenty of other referential material. Perhaps not so coincidentally, in the case of both Whitman and Stevens, their faith in God is a strong driving force.
Stevens is also, interestingly, involved in a more overt music-politics fusion project. Created just three years ago, Music for America uses music as a springboard to get young people talking about political and community issues, and also voting and engaging in public policy formation. It is an organisation which claims to hgave registered 35 000 new young voters since 2003, hosts a vibrant online discussion forum about issues from ‘gas guzzling’ to dating, and holds free concerts almost daily, with the involvement of Stevens, and among others Blackalicious, Cut Chemist, RJD2, Death Cab for Cutie and Sleater-Kinney. With a dedicated mission to make politics ‘cool’, and permeate the lingua franca of the street, one wonders how much the two really coincide. But maybe that’s the point. Music is music, and politics is generally conducted in sober prose, without a synth backing. I wouldn’t go as far as the ‘art for art’s sake’ argument, but watching a performance of Brecht can be somewhat draining, whereas a concert is an immersion of the senses, and possibly one to which the intellect shouldn’t even be invited. Musical belonging, and political engagement, all have their place, and songs are often a good place to explore ideas. It’s just that sometimes, when you’re standing amid rampant synaesthesia in the Hammersmith Apollo, the disjuncture is a little jarring.
As a grunge kid student in Manchester in 1991, I made a weekly pilgrimage to the Boardwalk to see noisy American rock bands. L7, Monster Magnet, Smashing Pumpkins, Babes In Toyland, even Hole, all came and turned us into an excitable and heaving, check-shirted mess. The ceiling oozed sweat. It was great. Of course, it was the bands with girls in that fascinated me the most. The sight of a blonde, baby-faced Kat Bjelland roaring like a harridan "you cunt-hole bitch!" was pretty affecting for a naive 19 year old. I guess it was all about the incongruity of it all.
Which is perhaps where my fondness for Comanechi comes from. This is a two-piece who knock out furiously fast grunge punk, all thundering death chords and apocalyptic drumming. The incongruity with Comanechi is that you've got six foot Simon (in fur coat) on guitar, throwing shapes like a homicidal Suede-era Bernard Butler and a five foot one foul-mouthed beauty called Akiko on drums and vocals. Just like Kat, Courtney and also those other front-queens, she is an intoxicating presence with a mouth like a sailor.
When the pair lock in on such songs as Naked (as in "I wanna get..") and Rude, and Akiko's strangely cute London-via-Japan accent rises above the screaming guitars, Comanechi positively reek of anger, and danger and the promise of filthy sex. Much like watching Babes in Toyland back in 1991, it's hard and it's uncompromising - and you don't quite know whether to blush or go completely mental. To round things off, Akiko leaves the drums to a friend and comes to the front for her rendition of "My Pussy", which she delivers in black bra, knickers and ripped tights, "covered" by a see-through red net negligée. Some lairy blokes shout something rude - she screams at them to "shut the fuck up".
With a clutch of singles under their belt on White Heat Records, this is a band to keep an eye on. See them live and you won't be able to take your eyes off them.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Or perhaps I'm just feeling a whole shift and it's simply that dance music, electronic music and all the stuff that doesn't require peeps in stage in skinnies has reached a tipping point again. It's not just that it's good, because obviously there's always been good stuff, even in the shadowy days at the start of the decade, but that it's got relevance again. And fans, in increasing numbers, too.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
'Everybody wants to go to Jamaica' sings Sierra in Minstrel-style, cod-Caribbean accent. 'Queens in drag will surely fake you/Take you home and then they'll rape you/ But you like it so say thank you.'
There's wrongness there on more than one level. Not down with that, not one bit.
Sure, this four-piece is from Belgium – as are more than 10 million other people - and, okay, they do combine their stage-rocking rock dynamics with electronics. However Goose hails from a place called Kortrijk: where seemingly only that population is able to pronounce the town’s name and not one of those citizens has ever bothered to open a nightclub. At least not in this lot’s life time.
Bring It On is then the sound of Bert, Mick, Tom and Dave (as they like to be known) making their own noise: their own scene. And from the sound of it, their outlet is one that’s developed with Aerosmith and Vitalic held in similar esteem; a place that’s likely to be shaken regularly by the shouty vocals and fuzz-driven riffs of MSTRKRFT’s remixes and the dirty distortion of Justice. Admittedly the odd Soulwax record might have enjoyed an airing from time to time.
This debut Skint long-player sees them showcase their approach concisely. Most tracks are below the four minute mark which helps to maintain the energy and hold interest throughout. There’s versatility too with Slow Down almost taking N*E*R*D’s Rock Star to its logical conclusion, the hypnotic machinery of the album’s title track and the rowdy, dense glam-tech of 3T4. Plus, before a demented foghorn takes control of British Mode, there are regular cries of ‘I tried to hit it hard’. On this evidence, Goose has achieved just that.
Released 5/2 on Skint
Jamie Collinson, head of Big Dada, argues over at the Guardian arts blog that:
"[A] new, optimistic strain of teenage life is... witnessed in the rise of the all ages club night, previously guaranteed to raise a sneer from any self-respecting youth. Across the country, canny promoters have discovered that booking hungry, youthful MySpace sensations guarantees a huge turnout of wildly enthusiastic under-18s. These nights are a sight to behold, with near-hysteria breaking out over unsigned acts and London-weary, bigger-name artists discovering with surprise what it really means to be mobbed."
This follows an article in the Observer last February about all-ages gigs and another one in the Guardian last week. This is evidently going to be big in 2007, not least because the music press has already decided it is.
But as with any such 'movement' – see also nu rave - the sheer newness comes first, the clothes come second, and the music comes a distance third if it's lucky. (This neophilia, of course, is standard in arts coverage: a quite good first novel/play/film/album nearly always gets more attention than a really great second novel/play/film/album.) Consequently, all this 'near-hysteria' becomes about 90% less exciting when you get on Myspace and actually listen to the music that is provoking micro-Beatlemania all over London.
I won't name names in case battalions of their angry fans arrive here via Google – and also because we have been nice about some of these people at Dummy before – but so much of it is fatally casual and derivative, getting by on nothing but a cheeky smile and a wink and an offer to buy you a pint which never appears. This is because bands can now so easily go into a rehearsal room, put up a demo on Myspace, and attract Myspace friends like flies to a carcass even if they're fake. A lot of these bands would probably have been good in about a year's time, but because they're hyped so early, they get stuck with a case of arrested development.
If you're fifteen yourself, then obviously you'd want to associate yourself with this all-ages scene, if only so your friends can get in to your gigs. But what about the ones who are in their twenties but still play to audiences of teenagers? Now, we learnt last week that cynicism leads to heart disease, so forgive me if I drop dead mid-sentence, but then there are lots of ways of explaining why a grown man might want to surround himself with adoring fourteen-year-old girls, and the one I'm going to give you is not the most cynical of those.
My point is, don't you think it's probably easier to impress a young audience who are at their very first gig and have never heard a Clash album than an adult one who saw the Psychocandy tour and will never, ever like anything as much again? Could this be why some bands – and the 'canny promoters' - are lunging at the all-ages market: they know that, realistically, they won't succeed in the real world simply because they aren't very good? If you think young rock stars aren't so calculating, consider the confession by Jamie Reynolds (lead singer of Klaxons, the kings of 2007's even more factitious 'scene') that he meticulously planned his career according to the formula set out by the KLF in their book The Manual: How To Have A Number One The Easy Way. These boys saw a commercial opportunity and they went for it – they're not idiots. They invented a product and people bought it - what higher praise could there possibly be?
Naturally there are also a lot of genuine talents, like Patrick Wolf, who have played all-ages gigs. And I suppose all these bands are probably thrilling live. But I hope they realise this strategy isn't going to work for long. Jump forward a year: the album comes out, and it sounds like, in the words of Love Is All, 'nine times that same song', and indeed 'that same song' was much better on Up The Bracket – plus even the kids who thought they'd love this band forever have probably moved on to emo or grime. No, there's nothing wrong with wanting to appeal to the young – but I'm not yet convinced that this stuff is worth the time of anyone who's actually old enough to get into proper gigs - not when there are so many bands out there who appeal to the young without flippantly insulting the intelligence of the rest of us.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Bracken is the solo debut of Chris Adams, lead singer of Hood. Hood, from Leeds, have been toiling for more than fifteen years now, and it looks like they're just about ready to give up – 2001's Cold House and 2005's Outside Closer, two of the greatest British albums of the decade, sunk without trace, and their website now has them 'on an extended break... though something in 2008 has not been ruled out.' Those albums really comprised dozens of stunning experiments in how technology can work with desolate folk and post-rock: dub echoes, tape loops, glitches, drum machines, samples, drones, and so on. Hood, in fact, arguably invented folktronica on their early seven inch singles, years before anyone gave it a name; but while producers like Four Tet aim at the pretty, Hood aim at the miserable. In a sense, it's obvious why Hood never got anywhere commercially – they're simply one of the saddest bands in the world – but then if acts like Low and Mogwai, both of whom they've supported, attained a kind of marginal stardom, why not Hood? I don't know.
We Know About The Need could just about be another Hood album. This is not one of those solo projects which gives the lead singer a long-awaited chance to indulge his secret love of Italo disco. But it's a Hood album with the walls closing in. While Hood used to wander through huge foggy spaces, letting their instruments emerge slowly and timidly, Bracken is often suffocatingly dense. Every song sounds like it has a dozen layers.
The palette is familiar – undistorted guitars, weeping fiddles, brushed drums, and Adams' dead-eyed vocals. (Actually, his singing voice is uncannily close to that of Alexis Taylor, lead singer of Hot Chip, and if your iTunes follows Hood with their alphabetical neighbours, you could be forgiven for thinking that Adams really did have a secret love of Italo disco and had somehow sneaked a secret track on to the end of Outside Closer.) But hip hop is more of a presence now – or at least the shattered hip hop of Warp Records boys like Prefuse 73, which was already in evidence on Hood songs like The Lost You. There's a real boom-bap to, for example, opener Of Athroll Slains, although thankfully the inexplicably popular Dose One, also on Anticon, who raps portentous nonsense in the style of a giant walking pair of swollen sinuses, does not guest on this album as he did on Cold House. Some have identified a dubstep influence, perhaps because DMZ, Kode 9 and Burial are in Bracken's top friends on Myspace, but I can't hear it, apart from a few sub-bass gulps – although We Know About The Need does have a mournful feel not at all dissimilar to Burial's LP.
Bracken is also even glitchier than Hood. Like in a really good horror movie, nothing lasts long without getting sliced to pieces. And, as with bands like Efterklang, the clicks and cuts don't feel like a mere stylistic conceit – they're an integral part of the atmosphere of confusion and despair. (As you can imagine, Bracken probably get asked to play a lot of weddings.) Songs like Heathens teeter on the edge of complete disintegration.
Although Adams shows he can get along very well without his bandmates, I'm left wondering if We Know About The Need will have quite the same longevity as Hood's albums. Bracken's choruses never soar over the wasteland like Hood's did. And sometimes the sheer thickness of texture and detail threatens to overwhelm the songwriting: nearly all of Hood's songs would still be great played solo on an acoustic guitar, but you wonder if that's true here. It's almost as if playing in a band sustained a sort of pessimist pop impulse which has died off on this album. But then, who knows what lurks under all those twigs?
Released 4/2 on Anticon
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Monday, January 22, 2007
Modern reggae is a total non-entity in the UK. Dancehall dons like Elephant Man get in the charts when they guest on r'n'b songs, Trojan and Soul Jazz still pump out compilations, dubstep has got us talking about dub again, and Bob Marley's Legend will sell a kajillion copies a year until the Earth falls into the sun – but that's about it for Jamaican music in the mainstream. Welcome to Jamrock notwithstanding, most people are probably barely aware that roots reggae is still being made and hasn't just died off like disco. Personally, I've never bought reggae any that was recorded in my lifetime.
Serious Times, unfortunately, is unlikely to kick off a revival. It brings together sixteen tracks plus a few remixes, unmixed on one CD and mixed on the other by Max Glazer of New York's Federation Sounds, who overdubs cheering, air horns, and incongruous rooster sounds 'to give the listener the feeling of being at a reggae club at 4am'.
The whole mix suffers by comparison to its monumental opening track, Turbulence's Notorious (reviewed in this month's Dummy newsletter), which is already old enough to have got on Diplo's 2005 FabricLive mix. Produced by Brooklyn's 77Klash, who you may also know from his bars on Team Shadetek's Brooklyn Anthem, it's the very definition of tough, even though, a bit like some of Sufjan Stevens' songs, you realise after about a minute that it's about how awesome God is. I Wayne's Living In Love is the next track and the next best thing here, as he croons about politician's 'plastic smile and wicked intention' over a vintage bounce. And only a monster would have a bad word to say about ten-year-old QQ's performance on Poverty.
But too many of these songs are overproduced like the worst of eighties r'n'b, as gooey and synthetic as Herbal Essences. On Ain't Gonna Fall Sizzla, who is capable of much better, sings over unctuous Radio 2 saxophones with a message about positive thinking so abstracted it could be a Coldplay lyric. On Lucky You, Manlo uses a dated vocoder effect to make his yearning for a wife and child even more nauseatingly earnest. Morris Man's Home & Away is as neutered and anodyne as the television series which which it shares its name. (Plus, I don't want to diss anyone's religion or anything, but isn't it a bit late in the day to be insisting, as Richie Spice does on Marijuana, that 'Marijuana cures disease'?)
There's nothing radically wrong with Serious Times, but I just can't imagine why you'd choose it over the relics of reggae's golden age in the sixties and seventies that are still being unearthed every month. To be honest, I know little or nothing about this stuff, and maybe it's just an acquired taste – but then it only took one listen for me to recognise Notorious (and, for that matter, Welcome to Jamrock) as the triumph it is.
Released 26/1 on XL
Friday, January 19, 2007
Want to know what's going to be the biggest thing since record-breaking (and banned) number one 'Gash Dem'? You might need to camp out, but the answer's just inside the doors of Dub Vendor. Bump. I'm there.
Monday, January 15, 2007
There's a massive cover versions culture. Recent unofficial refix victims include Joanna Newsom, Minnie Ripperton and Hot Chip. That's not to mention all the reggae tunes that get a dubsteppa rub. They sound good, among all the heavy, forward-thinking sonics.
All the DJs and producers go to the clubs. That guy you chat to on the dancefloor turns out be Walsh of Croydon fame. Or Reso, who did Metal Slug. Or Benga with his crazy afro and razor-sharp cardigan. Plus, dubstep's male contingent -and let's face it, it's still at least 70% man - rate highly on the polite front: my friend told me about a guy who did that cute catch-you-round-the-waist thing at fwd last week. They had a little dance. Then he whispered 'thank you' in her ear and disappeared into the crowd.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Just returned from an interview session with Muse-meets-Prodigy band Enter Shikari at one of their mum and dad's houses. They're reassuringly devoid of guile and relaxed with what they are. No faux punkisms or middle-class denial here!
(I'm approximating here because I haven't transcribed the tape yet but this is the jist)
Me: The first word you hear on your album is 'shit', screamed very loudly after three minutes of trance.
Rou: It started out as 'shout' because we didn't want to swear but then 'shit' just seemed better. We weren't going to have any swearing in it but we've ended up with three or four.
Chris: We hear people saying it all the time now. We walk into a bar and a whole load of people will all say 'shiiiiiiit!' at us. It's become a greeting.
Don't you just love a hardcore trancecore band who worry about having too much swearing in their record?
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Deapoh, a babyfaced eighteen is a future star of dubstep. The official dubstepforum.com Souljah Of The Year runs barefiles.com and has just launched Bare Dubs with a wikkid Ramadanman 10". He played his first set at dmz last night - and smashed it.
The dubstep nation are making the most of National Express. People really travel for a dance: there was a whole section of the dancefloor which seemed only to contain bouncing, energetic Bristol heads. At the last dmz in Leeds, Melbourne DJ ac23 flew over especially.
Pinch's set was worth any amount of travel hassle. Bristol's kingpin DJ played the dubstep version of a slow jams set - always a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff. This was one heavy, deep, low-slung set of tunes. Eyes closed? You bet. Talking of bets, I would wager money that this boy's read The Art Of War. He's dubstep's Photek, for sure.
Dubstep seems to attract loads of diddy girls. I'm a pretty average 5'6 and I felt TALL.
The dmz DJ trio of Mala, Loefah and Coki know how to get the dance jumping. They took over from Pinch with.... Roots Manuva's Witness. That changed the vibe, for sure. Also in their set, Loefah's supercharged Disco Wrekkah, soon-coming DMZ 11 Bury The Bwoy, and a pull-up Lean Forward. For the uninitiated, dubstep fans can initiate a reload by pressing the stop button themselves. Only advisable for faces, though.
Benga rocks a mean cardigan.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
MP3: The Violets - Descend
MP3: The Violets - Mirror Mirror
Dizzee Rascal album in April
More tuff but conscious Jamaican music as heard on XL's Serious Times compilation
Heavyweight Angolan techno from Buraka Son Sistema
DMZ 11 - Bury The Bwoy
Anything by Joakim
OK, so it's a short post. What are you awaiting with glee?