Sunday, February 25, 2007

Riots Guys

From an interview with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon in Ablaze!, a Leeds-published indie fanzine from 1992 that I picked up at the Wills Moody Jumble Sale:

'I think Riot Grrrl is a really good thing. But I'm also interested in the concept of Riot Guy. Eric from Sebadoh and Pavement are kind of Riot Guy.'

Shame that didn't catch on.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dummy Monthly Issue #5

This week we sent out the fifth and finest ever issue of the Dummy Monthly, our email newsletter. This time you can read interviews with Bonde Do Role and Mister Who, plus reviews of Explosions in the Sky and Nico; download an exclusive dancehall mix by London's DJ Turna; and, if you're very lucky, win an Epiphone electric guitar! Read it here, sign up for future issues here.

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'FabricLive 32' mixed by Tayo

I know absolutely nothing about nu skool breaks, nor have I ever particularly wanted to. But if I weren't so lazy, this DJ mix by Tayo – the breaks pioneer rather than the potato-based lactose-free milk substitute – might convince me to find out more. He draws a line through breaks to breakstep to dubstep, a move which in theory is pretty obvious but which in practice is, I think, unprecedented on a CD compilation like this one.

The first twenty minutes, though, bring an unexpected shanty house vibe, with a lot of gunshots and shouty MCs and charity-shop production values. Then things get serious with the Bassbin Twins' Woppa, which has bass like an outboard motor and is sparing enough with its snares that it could almost be dubstep. In fact, dub is all over this mix: get deep enough into dubstep and you could almost convince yourself that it was the first genre to conceive of putting an echoing synth skank over molten sub-bass, but breaks tracks like Tayo's own Dutty Bomb have just as much dub in their bones. Si Begg's Move Up and Deekline's remix of Ursula 1000's Step Back, on the other hand, keep the pace up, landing blows like Guile from Street Fighter II. There's none of the rigid plod here that you might associate with breaks if, like me, you've only occasionally wandered into the second room at Fabric.

Benga's taut Comb 60 signals the arrival of dubstep proper, followed by widescreen breakstep from Elemental. But the mix's most thrilling moment comes when his Soul Fire snuffs out and Warrior Queen kicks down the door. Here she's toasting over More Than Money by Sarantis, the Leeds-based producer who's putting together most of her forthcoming album. After that it's into the grated Amens of Skream's anthem Lightning., followed by some Digital Mystikz classics.

The only thing a dubstep fan hates more than hearing 'It's just slowed-down drum'n'bass, innit?' is 'It's just breaks but less cheeky, innit?' But Tayo's excellent mix shows that some of what dubstep does, breaks actually does better, because breaks has been doing it for a lot longer. And it's proof, if proof were needed, that the halfstep loyalists are missing out on a lot of fun.


Out now on Fabric

Thursday, February 22, 2007

NME Awards Show, The Astoria, London, 21.2.06

What you need to get booked on a Shockwaves NME Awards Show:

1. Sexual chemistry. There's nothing better than a boy-girl vocal duo, and if (like Blood Red Shoes), the members are pretty, don't share DNA, and the drummer points his drum sticks to the ceiling like an amateur gymnast at the beginning of every song, you've already made it. Breathy overlapping vocals, post-punk serrations and a noise far bigger than the two waifs making it – all that doesn't hurt either.

2. A gimmick. Hot Club de Paris would be your average band singing about the mundane details of being a Northern lad if it weren't for the crucial novelty factor. Clustered round a mic, they start most of their songs with a barbershop-style burst of a capella singing in pitch-perfect close harmony. Is it funny? Yes. Does it make them a good band? No.

3. Onstage antics. The awesomeness of seeing !!! live derives mostly from the fact that there are fucking loads of them. Always good to see a band in which drummers and dancers outweigh guitar players three to one.

4. Reverence for tradition. If, like Maximo Park, you go for this option, you can ignore all of the above, and be a completely generic four-piece rock band. This may or may not include: matching outfits, dancing a bit like Pete Doherty, 'anthemic' choruses. Sometimes bands like this up their game when they realise that hungry youngsters are starting to upstage them - and last night we saw Blood Red Shoes really apply some pressure.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Unkindest Kurt

Kurt Cobain would have been forty this week, giving music pundits across the world the chance to ask some courageous questions - 'What if he'd never killed himself? Where would he be? What would he be doing?' - and then follow it up with a hilarious joke about his taste in plaid shirts. But because Dummy always goes the extra mile, here are some equally hard-hitting and pertinent hypotheticals about the music you love:

What if Lily Allen had travelled back in time to kill Hitler as a baby?

What if the Arctic Monkeys had never invented the internet?

What if the Chemical Brothers had been raised by parrotfish?

What if Zane Lowe had been born as a real human boy with hot red blood in his veins instead of cold white synthetic goo?

What if Kevin Shields had been able to communicate with moss?

What if Oasis had been good?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

St Valentine's Love Massacre, Bar Monsta, London, 17.2.06

This was a fundraiser for the London Rollergirls, which my girlfriend has just joined. So we got entertaining hardcore punk - mostly of a goth, lesbian, or goth/lesbian variety - from Bloody Heels (lead singer on rollerskates), Voodoo Hussy (with a guest verse from MC Angel), and Love And A .45; plus some disconcertingly misandric compering. In the hierarchy of pop-cultural events vaguely related to roller derby, it probably beat the episode of CSI: New York where a roller girl dies from using poisoned shampoo.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Disco Romance' by Sally Shapiro

Sixty minutes of sculpted kick drum with a faint squirting sound every nineteen bars and a wild electric zither solo about half-way through – this is my prediction for the next Ricardo Villalobos single, and, yes, I'm looking forward to it, but the minimal hegemony isn't for everyone. So maybe that's why everyone's getting excited about Italo Disco right now - a phenomenon I first woke up to when I saw Thom Yorke's Eraser, of all things, compared to Italo Disco in the Guardian. Italo Disco - or space disco, or beardo disco, or whatever - is the anti-minimal. Lindstrom and Black Devil Disco Club and Metro Area never did much for me, but Sweden's Sally Shapiro is a different matter.

'You were so sad, you were so blue,' she sings at the beginning of Disco Romance, in a deadened voice reminiscent of Victoria Bergsman's guest verse on Young Folks. (By the way, isn't the guest verse a concept that indie should definitely, definitely steal from hip hop?) She's happier by the time I'll Be By Your Side's chorus kicks in, but the important thing is that Italo Disco's endemic naffness – those synths barging in with their big fake grins – is not here. Instead, these are perfect little pop songs, which basically means you could listen to them when you were crying and they wouldn't grate. (Not to get too emo or anything.) And unlike this year's other anti-minimal dance genre, nu-rave, Johan Agebjörn's production values are sumptuous: every little arpeggio or snare drum is made from the finest crimson analogue velvet. Songs like Hold Me So Tight soar so high they almost remind you of trance at its most moistly melodramatic. Although they'd still be great without the Italo or the Disco.

The only problem with Disco Romance, and the reason it only gets a 6, is that it's really more an EP at an LP price. Take away the dozy Sleep In My Arms and the two remixes, and you only have six proper songs. Still, every one's a killer. Sally Shapiro reminds me of Junior Boys or The Knife in that she wouldn't sound out of place on daytime Radio One and yet, for whatever reason, she'll never get there. It's pop music that will never be very popular; and if you're a pop fan who (sob) will never be very popular either, you're going to love it.

Out now on Diskokaine

Monday, February 12, 2007

Repeat To Fade

I love remixes. I (perhaps naively) think of them as a creative collaboration instead of a dreary marketing tool. Although even I draw the line at remixes of remixes.

The turning point must have been when Timo Maas transformed the otherwise forgettable Doom’s Night into a big-on-the-2Step-scene quaking ‘wamp!’ assault which prompted a reissue as a bigger, supposedly brighter package. What followed were inferior versions made up from all the parts of Timo’s accidental anthem.

Now there’s the Switch remix of Freeform Five’s No More Conversations which hasn’t been within four miles of the original. Instead offering a fidgeting rework of Mylo's old retread, it’s – at the very least - a bit of a shame. The original is a fine piece of pop music that sounds like Blondie being poked and prodded by Xenomania. You can find it on the Strangest Things album. It was previously tweaked by Richard X [a fun clubby alternative], Soul Mekanik [a bit dull really] and Alter Ego [a completely unrecognisable tune]. Mylo’s similarly-timed commission, to be fair, has probably been the most consistent in terms of compilation licensing but that doesn’t mean we need the usually reliable Dave Taylor to provide a slightly different setting for those wobbly synths.

That said, ‘cannibal house’ – merely as a concept – is beginning to appeal.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The edge of the indieverse

I went to a fancy dress party this weekend. In one corner, a 13-year-old telling me how she's going to see Klaxons and CSS next week. In the other, two fifty-somethings dressed as Laurence of Arabia and Audrey Hepburn, loudly exclaiming their happiness at having got tickets to see The Killers next month. Say. No. More.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

'... by the grace of God...'

This 1300-word account in the NME of how Klaxons are 'reshaping guitar music... forever' just about sums up British music in 2007 for me, although perhaps not in the way the author intended.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Breaking shit

At FWD>> two weeks ago, Loefah redlined the previously unassailable sound system. Yup, he broke it. The tune he achieved this sonic feat with? It's called 50,000 Watts by new school American dubstepper Matty G. This is what happens when you get your shit cut at Transition.

But it's nothing compared to Kode 9's breakage styles. When Nine played a club in Singapore recently he blew the system – and the electrics for the entire club. So that was lights, till, fridges – the lot – gone 'til a clever engineer fixed things.

Dubstep: got power.

Mutant Dancehall vs Sky News

Some people might be surprised by the swiftness that a track called Bird Flu by XL Recordings signing M.I.A. has surfaced. But, despite being perceived as ultra-topical, this addition to her MySpace player isn't even a recently completed track. This, we hear, actually pre-dates her last sighting, Xr2. And while a subject that's emerged as big UK news this week (following a fair few potential Turkey Twizzlers being destroyed by Bernard 'Bootiful' Matthews), this avian flu story is one that has previously dominated other areas around the world.
M.I.A. - aka Maya Arulpragasam - is an artist more than aware of what's going on globally: especially after travelling extensively with the likes of Dave 'Switch' Taylor while working on the forthcoming follow-up to her Arular debut. She has then witnessed the first stirrings of a possible pandemic well before it made the British front pages. And exclusively documented this in her unique style.
Now just tell us where we can sign-up for hourly updates from this informed London talent.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Abandoned Language' by Dälek

Dälek have done a great job on Abandoned Language despite having two famished hounds gnawing at their ankles. The first hound is indie hip hop. The reason I'd never checked this band out before is because I assumed they were part of that same Anticon/Def Jux axis of whining 'poets' who make clunky, pretentious art-rap for people who think they're too cultivated to listen to Ghostface Killah shout about cocaine. The second hound is trip hop. Apart from maybe slap-bass jazz funk, there can hardly be any genre less fashionable today than mid-nineties Mo'Wax/Ninja Tune-style 'blunted' instrumental hip hop, and that method of swathing tough old-skool breaks in a tensely cinematic gauze is not so far from what Dälek are doing. But Dälek shake off both those dogs because they're not afraid of real hip hop.

Dalek are probably the only rap duo ever to name My Bloody Valentine as an influence – or to sample them, which they did on previous LP Absence (update: apparently, no, they didn't) - and while Abandoned Language isn't as heavy on the screeching feedback as their older material, the wall of sound is still here. Songs like Lynch drown in a swamp of dissonant strings, while many of the other drones sound neither orchestral nor synthesised but simply elemental, like the wind. Most powerful is the epic ten-minute title track, which ends with three minutes of deafening elegiac clamor (as every song ever recorded would, if I had my way; especially Jolene). Shoegaze hip hop, like nu rave, could be one of those ludicrous joke genres you invent for fun but, unlike nu rave, it actually has thrilling results: Dalek sound like nothing else in the world.

Dalek have mentioned in interviews that, just like My Bloody Valentine (and, for that matter, Prefuse 73), they often use the voice of their MC – founding member dälek-with-a-small-'d' - as merely an instrument, and sometimes his verses are so muffled or distorted as to be inaudible. Don't assume, however, that it's all noise and no signal: dälek has a forceful, wary flow and lyrics that are political but never glib. On Corrupt (Knuckle Up) he even manages a rousing, shout-along chorus which is something you never, ever find in underground hip hop. And articulate scratching from turntablist Rob Swift, formerly of X-Ecutioners, is the perfect finishing touch to an album which may revive your interest in the discredited notion of a hip hop avant garde.


Out 27/2 on Ipecac

Friday, February 02, 2007

Here come the dubsteppahs

Once a marginal music made by stoned geezer boys in the concrete-coated suburbs of south west London, dubstep has evolved into a worldwide movement run by an ever-increasing army of obsessives. Warm and easy!

Dubstep, some say, should come with a health warning. There’s the hot, ringing ears from a night being assaulted by basslines that rattle inside your cheekbones and the cash that devotees funnel into online record stores like rooted, boomkat or the big daddy, And most dangerously, there’s the overwhelming obsession that can hit when first exposed to the dizzying, hyper-creative, ultra-rich world of dances like dmz and FWD>> and a spectrum of producers who, as well as creating music ranging from proto-ambient 2-step to wobbling bass bangers, can usually found on the dancefloor of the clubs their pals are DJing at. As rudetone, a member of the always informative and frequently laugh-out-loud funny said to a newcomer: “big up for dippin yourself into the dubstep scenage but watch out, you’ll be sucked in before you can say brockout…”

He’s not wrong. The music scene, which grew out of the dark garage offshoot from UK garage – we’re talking producers like Wookie and El-B rather than the glossy soul-pop of acts like SFA and Shanks and Bigfoot – is in serious ascent. It’s happening on a micro level, a fact neatly surmised by some figures: in January 2006 there were 200 members, most of whom knew each other in real life. A year later there are five thousand. “It's a 24/7 experience,” says Bristol’s Tom Peverelist, who runs Rooted Records and the Punch Drunk label. “Because the scene is so open, there's so many ways to get involved, from making beats to designing flyers to running websites and blogs. It's really easy to get involved and it's addictive.”

It’s also refreshingly open to newcomers. Although, as Peverelist says, “you’ve have to put in the work and earn those stripes.” The effort required to follow dubstep is reflected in the degree of devotion – and ownership – felt by followers. As with jungle and reggae before it, much of the music remains unreleased and tunes are played for months until they’re made available to the massive. In truth, you can’t really say you’ve heard dubstep until you’ve heard it in context, at a dance. “Hearing it on a solid system is the ultimate way to experience the sound,” says photographer Georgina Cook, who runs the drumzofthesouth blog and is the scene’s top lens girl. “Locking onto Rinse FM allows you to hear the music via the people directly involved with it. They’re very honest stations and the people behind them are not in it for the money, just the music.”

Dmz’s playful yet heavyweight MC, Sgt Pokes, aka 26-year-old Jody Charles, agrees that exclusivity – that only a handful of DJs will have a tune – helps keep the scene strong. “That’s why you go and see Loefah play, innit? If everyone’s playing the same tunes it’ll get stale, bored. It’s so important that DJs and producers have an identity because of the music they play.”

Skream’s Stella Sessions on Rinse FM are a weekly high point. The hyper-prolific 20-year-old, who comes from Croydon and has been involved with the scene since he was 13, hosts a show that is equal parts fresh new music – he’ll often play new tunes or mixes he finished that day – old-school pirate style shout-outs and loping drunken banter with off-mic mates. Skream, real name Oliver Jones, exemplifies dubstep’s good times wing: he has a can of Stella as his online avatar and subtitles his show ‘crack ‘em!’ But there’s plenty more to check: fellow Croydon boys Benga or Walsh; dmz’s heavyweight label with releases from sonic warrior Loefah, bassline king Coki and dub don Mala; Antisocial Entertainment’s Heny G (who describes their style as “liquid dub, gangsta boogie, funkadelic, sidestep shuffle, tropical juice drinking, booming bass in yr face!”) or Blackmarket’s undisputed master of the decks, Youngsta – and that’s just for starters. And if you forget to stream at the time then there’s always, a resource of mixes, shows and dubstep ephemera created by 18-year-old wunderkind, Deapoh.

The dubstep nation is also starting to register on the mainstream radar. The initial tipping point was back in January 2006 when Radio One’s Mary Anne Hobbs showcased the best DJs, producers and MCs in a specially-titled show, Warrior Dubz – which was so popular they turned it into a well-received compilation album and like Burial’s critically acclaimed self-titled LP, sold well. It’s also spreading internationally: shouts on Rinse are as likely to be for the Finnish crew as London’s homegrown steppas; DMZ’s DJs and MC Sgt Pokes are being booked across Europe and America almost every weekend; and outposts are strong in Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham and Glasgow – as well as worldwide. “Back in the early nineties, Jungle never really got the international recognition it deserved,” says Peverelist. “With the internet, you can be at the cutting edge of dubstep even if you are on the other side of the world.” Although as Georgina Cook aptly points out, it’s still a London sound at heart. “You can take the sound out of London,” she quips, “but you can’t take London out of the sound.” Brap!

"I am trying to be heroic in an age of modernity."

This, if you didn't already know, is the opening line of Bloc Party's new album A Weekend In The City, out on Monday. But has anyone stopped to wonder what it actually means? The fact that Song For Clay (Disappear Here) is based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel Less Than Zero, published in 1985, adds to the ambiguity. By 'modernity', singer Kele Okereke could mean:

1. modern times. But this would be meaningless because everyone, by definition, has always lived in modern times. In 1654 peasants did not turn to each and say 'It's pretty rubbish being medieval, but I'm sure things will look up in modern times.'

2. modernism. Perhaps Kele is talking about the artistic and philosophical movement led by Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, Brecht, Stravinsky etc. Unfortunately this took place in the 1920s.

3. behavioural modernity. This is a term used by anthropologists and archaeologists to refer to the time when humans began to use tools and bury their dead. Unfortunately this took place somewhere between 50,000 and 90,000 years ago.

4. the modern era in historical terms. Is Kele saying there is some particular difficulty common to all heroism since the mid-nineteenth century, when the modern era began? Since the rest of the song is about cocaine and sleeping pills, maybe not.

5. the modern era in sociological terms.
Which we might define as the progressive economic and administrative rationalization and differentiation of the social world since the Renaissance. Unfortunately, this was complete long before Less Than Zero, and has been replaced by...

6. post-modernity. Being heroic certainly is hard in this sense, since the very notion of heroism is absurd according to the moral relativism of post-modernist thought. But then why didn't Kele just say 'an age of post-modernity'? Perhaps it wouldn't scan.

You might say I'm putting too much thought into this, but since Kele chooses to begin the album singing this line almost acapella, he must really think he's on to something. Anyone have any clue?

MP3 - Good Shoes

South London indie four-piece and Dummy favourites Good Shoes are offering a free track 'Ice Age' from their excellent forthcoming album 'Think Before You Speak'. Get it while you can...