Saturday, July 04, 2015

Fell on black days

A few days ago I wrote about the Guardian's article on the stresses and strains of life on tour. Noisey have now published a more general piece on musicians and mental health, incorporating the thoughts of (amongst others) Alanna McCardle, who recently quit Joanna Gruesome out of concern for the impact it was having on her state of mind.

Much as with footballers, there seems to be a prevailing view that musicians (particularly professional musicians) have no right to suffer from depression or anxiety, given that they're doing many people's dream job and a few are handsomely rewarded for the privilege. However, as with footballers, it's a view that has to change. Equally, though, it's important that those who do experience mental health problems aren't simply romanticised as tortured geniuses.

Thankfully for troubled artists, assistance is at hand in the form of Help Musicians UK, who offer support at all stages of a career that is, for the majority of people, "a pressurised and financially insecure existence". What's slightly worrying, though, is that McCardle wasn't aware of the charity and their work. A bit of awareness-raising to ensure a higher profile is obviously needed.

(Thanks to Jonathan for the link.)

Creation myths

Work in the so-called creative industries? Your job might sound cool, but Chris (Simpsons Artist) has an idea of what it really involves.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Fine point

"Woman let off parking ticket because it was missing a comma": proof that it pays to be a pedant.

Friday, July 03, 2015

To the Max's

CBGBs may have stolen the limelight and established itself more firmly in the popular imagination, but the equally scuzzy Max's Kansas City was another vital ingredient in the fertile and creative atmosphere of New York from the 1960s until the early 1980s. In addition to being accompanied by a great photo of professional weirdos Devo in their prime, this short history of the club reveals that there's a documentary in the pipeline - one to keep an eye out for.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

If your name's not down...

The internet is all about accessibility and freedom of information, right? Not for Justin Foley, who's taken the trouble to create the Most Exclusive Website, which allows only one visitor to enter at a time. If he really wanted to run a site with no more than one visitor at a time, he could just have started up a personal blog and written about stuff like this...

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Don't mind the gap

The tax burden gap between rich and poor may have narrowed since David Cameron became Prime Minister, but a gap nevertheless remains - which is why Labour and the TUC are right to demand that plans to cut tax credits (which will inevitably cause the gap to widen once more) are scrapped. Will the Tories listen? Not likely. True to type, George Osborne appears rather more inclined to cutting the top rate of income tax instead.

And that's not all the Tories are up to. No doubt well aware that the tax credits cut is likely to push more people into poverty (with the inevitable impact that has on children and their life chances), they've simply decided to scrap the eradication of child poverty as a target. You'd have thought Iain Duncan Smith might have some sympathy for those in debt, given his own much publicised financial woes.

So, in sum, what a truly lovely bunch the Tories are. And what a lovely bunch of fuckwits a sizeable proportion of the electorate is, for putting them in the position to take these decisions.

Quote of the day

"Human: What is immoral?

Machine: The fact that you have a child."

Google's latest AI "chatbot" is nothing if not judgemental.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


Despite my best efforts, it proved impossible to avoid the coverage of Glastonbury entirely. One thing I did glean is that Kanye West received a decidedly mixed reaction. One of those who apparently couldn't be bothered with the self-proclaimed "greatest living rock star on the planet" (he's not noted for his modesty) was the BBC's subtitle writer, who essentially shrugged his shoulders and gave up.

I have no time for West, but had I had a Glastonbury ticket I wouldn't have signed the petition protesting against his appearance for the simple reason that the identity of the Pyramid Stage headliners never matters - there's so much else going on. Anyone wanting to avoid West had the choice of seeing The Mothership Returns (George Clinton, Parliament, Funkadelic & The Family Stone), Jon Hopkins and Leftfield amongst many, many others. So if you don't like West, there was no need whatsoever to go and indulge his gargantuan ego.

(Thanks to Martin for the link.)


When exactly did iced celebration cakes become the battleground on which culture wars are fought? First it was the request for a pro-gay marriage Bert and Ernie cake that resulted in a Northern Irish bakery being found guilty of discrimination, and now it's Walmart banning cakes bearing the Confederate flag but making one featuring the black Isis battle flag. For a supposedly sweet treat, cake is causing some bitter rows.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"After the success of Grey, have you considered re-telling the story from the perspective of someone who can write?"

Twitter user Andrew Vestal with just one of the many insulting tweets sent using the #AskELJames hashtag, after it was announced that the author would be doing an online Q&A. As another user, Summer Heacock, commented, "Whoever planned out the #AskELJames tag has obviously never, ever met Twitter".

Silent skies

What's happened to the country's disused RAF bases? Some have fallen into disrepair or been demolished, but others have become aircraft graveyards or are now home to airship manufacturers and paintballers.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Quote of the day

"I am a feminist. All this means is that I am extremely hairy and hate all men, both as individuals and collectively, with no exceptions. Nope. Not even Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen/Paul Hollywood/Ronnie Corbett/Trevor McDonald/David Attenborough or John Nettles circa Bergerac are good enough for me."

Thus begins the excerpt from Bridget Christie's forthcoming A Book For Her recently published in the Guardian. On this evidence, it'll be well worth buying.

(Thanks to Kaajal for the link.)

Fighting talk

Who says economics is dry and deadly serious? Hats off to Bloomberg for illustrating their piece on Paul Krugman's skirmishes with the so-called "austerians" using old-skool computer fight game graphics.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tourbus blues

It might quote an odd assortment of musicians, but Luke Morgan Britton's Guardian article about the stresses and strains of life on the road is still worth a read. While many people (myself included) would instinctively say they'd love to live the lifestyle of a touring musician, only working for an hour or two a day, the reality is less glamorous than might be imagined, inevitably involving a lot of tedium, whether travelling or sitting around waiting.

What's more, as the article underlines, going from the highs of a successful tour or from a gig in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd to being at home and trying to readjust to normal life can be extremely psychologically challenging for individuals, as well as a potential threat to their relationships with others. All things considered, suddenly a 9-5 desk job doesn't seem quite so unappealing.

Hardcore will never die, and perhaps Mogwai shouldn't either

I've been feeling a bit guilty ever since suggesting that Mogwai should perhaps call it quits - and it really doesn't help that to mark their twentieth anniversary they've released a video for golden oldie 'Helicon 1' and are also responsible for the Godspeed You! Black Emperor gig at the Roundhouse that I'm going to on Tuesday night...

(Thanks to Ian for the link.)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"A cursory listen to the soundtrack to the comeback, TFI Friday: The Album, which went to number one in the iTunes chart following the live show, suggests what this is really about: an exercise in extracting more readies from £50 man. We’re already living through a deeply conservative cultural moment, and dad rock fronted by the new presenter of Top Gear tips the balance even further."

At last, I've found someone else - Tim Burrows, writing for the Guardian - who refuses to put on rose-tinted glasses and express delight at the return of TFI Friday. It was, as Burrows rightly comments, "the place that Britpop came to die". Much as I'm glad it died, it was a slow, drawn-out and painful death.

If there's one good thing to come of TFI Friday's revival, it's that it's had me chuckling once again at the thought of Luke Haines' characterisation of Evans when they met on the pilot episode: "an unpleasant creature: a shallow bullying man-child, a jumped-up kissogram-turned-light-entertainment-colossus. Camp commandant of the joyless Radio 1 breakfast show, and now about to extend his metier as a kind of Britpop Joseph Goebbels to a torturous television show of his own creation".

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Quote of the day

"Key Markets is in places quite abstract but it still deals heavily with the disorientation of modern existence. It still touches on character assassination, the delusion of grandeur and the pointlessness of government politics. It's a classic. Fuck ‘em."

Jason Williamson on the new Sleaford Mods album. I haven't heard it yet so can't pass comment, though some of the lyrics are marvellous, as is the term "Rupert trousers".

Red terror

Reason for small celebration: atheists are no longer considered by the American public to be the least electable group of people, were they to stand as presidential candidates. I say "small celebration" for good reason, as the least electable are now socialists, for whom 50 per cent of Americans have declared they would not vote even if in every other respect they were sound and well-qualified candidates. It's like the 1950s all over again.

(Thanks to Peyman for the link.)

Kicking up a stink

I've heard of bands causing venue managers headaches by trashing the place - but doing so by farting and then considerately opening a window to let the smell disperse? I love the fact that the culprit is named as the drummer - not even one of the more important members of the band...

Friday, June 26, 2015

The OED gets the shakes

Sorry Miley. While you may have popularised twerking to the extent that you've become famous for it, you can't claim to be the originator - the word "twerk" (with the variant spelling "twirk") seems to have been in use since 1820. Somehow I can't imagine Queen Victoria approving of the practice.

This revelation means that "twerk" isn't so much an entirely new addition to the Oxford English Dictionary as a term that has been rightly reinstated after a period of absence. Also now included in the dictionary are "meh" and "Twitterati". Given that, "for a word to qualify, it must have been in popular use for at least 10 years in both novels and newspapers", those two additions seem rather odd - "meh" has been in circulation for a lot longer, whereas (as a friend has pointed out) surely "Twitterati" can't be ten years old yet?

Quote of the day

"I would tell you right now if I were the Chief of Police, I would reopen this investigation."

Norm Stamper isn't the Chief of Police in Seattle - but he was at the time of Kurt Cobain's death. In yet another new Nirvana documentary, Soaked In Bleach, Stamper refuses to rule out the possibility of mistakes having been made during the initial police investigation - and, ultimately, the possibility that Cobain was murdered.

The inside story

"Blue Peter presenter to reveal internal organs on live television." No, do not adjust your set - this really is happening (and not just in Chris Morris' imagination). In truth, it'll be slightly less dramatic than Radzi Chinyanganya taking a knife to his stomach, but all the same Blue Peter has clearly changed since I was a kid.

Everybody dance now!

Was Japan the inspiration for Footloose? The country has lifted a ban on dancing that has apparently been in place for 67 years. If the ban meant no Strictly Come Dancing, then I suppose the authorities had a point.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The shape of punk to come


"This is our love song. It's called 'Hating Is Easy'." It's safe to say that Cassels aren't romantics. And they aren't likely to play an Age Concern charity gig any time soon, either, given that new song 'Ignoring The Tunnels And Lights' (written yesterday, we're told) is about getting old and "carrying on when you should just give up".

What they are, however, is a pair of snotty, precocious nihilists who sound like Iceage experiencing a particularly messy and violent breakdown after bingeing on cheap gin and even cheaper speed. Their songs are ragged and raw, threadbare in places, permanently teetering on the brink of complete collapse but somehow holding together against the odds. This, it should go without saying, is A Very, Very Good Thing indeed.

'The World Doesn't Need Another You Or Me' is essentially a punk rewiring of Philip Larkin's infamous poem 'This Be The Verse' ("They fuck you up, your mum and dad..."). For those of us who are already parents, it's too late to heed the warning, so the best we can do is to spread the word. Consider it done.

As bad ideas go, having to follow Cassels is right up there with the worst, especially with music that is so solid and predictable. Likewise, ex-hardcore types softening up and showing off their sensitive side should be criminalised. Lincoln's Bad Ideas, enjoying their first ever visit to Oxford, are full of bonhomie at the end of a four-night tour with the evening's headliners, so it seems a bit mean not to reciprocate. But their clunky, functional, in-touch-with-its-feelings punk isn't really punk at all, even if their anthemicism and sense of melody evidently come as a blessed relief to the ears of those left shell-shocked by what has gone before.

It's much the same story with Tellison, whose affable frontman Stephen Davidson thanks the "very respectful crowd" for not throwing bottles or coins ("Coins are accepted, though - and bank cards, cheques, postal orders...") but whose music is equally mild-mannered, recalling the preppy, singalong, heart-on-sleeve emo of The Get Up Kids and The Promise Ring. Sorry chaps, but no amount of woahing and ohing can disguise the dearth of memorable hooks, while token slowie 'Freud Links The Teeth And The Heart', an apparent crowd favourite about being smitten with your dentist, is more excruciating than root canal surgery.

Punk, loosely defined, can be many, many things - but feelgood? No. Punk gigs shouldn't be group hugs. Give me Cassels' ill-tempered, antagonistic, scabrous, feral, risk-taking racket any time.

(An edited version of this review appears in the July issue of Nightshift. You can hear Cassels interviewed by BBC Introducing in Oxford's Dave Gilyeat here, talking about their forthcoming T In The Park appearance among other things.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Green (with envy) man

There I was, happily bumbling along, almost ignorant of the fact that Glastonbury takes place this weekend - and then I stumbled across this feature, proceeded to read (against my better judgement) and am now once again insanely jealous of anyone who's got a ticket and heading there today.

It's funny to think that I was last down on Worthy Farm way back in 2011, less than a month after getting married. 2012 was a fallow year, while in 2013 I conveniently avoided any pangs of regret at missing out (and any possibility of accidentally watching any of the BBC's coverage) by being on holiday in France, and did likewise in 2014 by being at a cousin's wedding in the proper wilds of Northumberland. This year, though, we'll not be incommunicado and so the danger of catching televised highlights is clear and present.

Needless to say, it remains the daddy of all festivals for me, regardless of how it's changed over the years (read: got more commercial). With any luck, I'll get to go again someday - hopefully when my body is still capable of withstanding the physical exertion of five days of drinking heavily, sleeping badly, standing up and striding both aimlessly and purposefully around the enormous site.

In the meantime, though, it is wrong to wish that it rains and everyone gets stuck in the mud and is forced to watch Catfish And The Bottlemen?

Red alert

Many people are aware of the Hollywood blacklist that existed during the mid-twentieth century, but fewer, I imagine, know that Hollywood also churned out films filled with anti-communist propaganda during the same period. Most of these are laughably crude, but - according to the Paris Review's Willie Osterweil - there are exceptions, such as Pickup On South Street.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

A tight squeeze

"Skinny jeans can seriously damage muscles and nerves"? Being a hipster is clearly a dangerous business.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Quote of the day

"When it comes to extending opportunity - there is a right track and a wrong track. The right track is to recognise the causes of stalled social mobility and a lack of economic opportunity. Family breakdown. Debt. Addiction. Poor schools. Lack of skills. Unemployment. People capable of work, written off to a lifetime on benefits. Recognise those causes, and the solutions follow. Strong families that give children the best start in life. A great education system that helps everyone get on. A welfare system that encourages work - well paid work."

It's baffling and depressing that David Cameron somehow thinks he's on the "right track". If he genuinely wants to address "the causes of stalled social mobility and a lack of economic opportunity" and to promote "strong families that give children the best start in life", then he could begin by ringfencing funding given to local councils to run childrens' centres. It's all fine and well to talk about the importance of schooling, but kids are already five years old by the time they get to that stage, and the damage may well already have been done.

Happy music for happy people

It's official: listening to extreme music can induce calm and happiness rather than anger and aggression. I'm not sure that a sample size of 39 is sufficient to be making such grand claims, but then again who am I to argue? Get that Napalm Death album on again, I need cheering up...

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Feel good hits of the 22nd June

1. 'Kids In Heat' - Hannah Lou Clark
Gorgeously simple, classic-sounding single from the recent support to The Thurston Moore Band. It's like the best song not to make it onto Howling Bells' stellar debut album.

2. 'Meantime' - The Futureheads
To think, I'd forgotten how brilliant the first Futureheads album is. The shame.

3. 'Blue Line Swinger' - Yo La Tengo
While their covers are almost uniformly brilliant, Yo La Tengo's own material is hardly below par. If I remember correctly, 'Blue Line Swinger' is the song loudly requested by Tom Bromley of Los Campesinos! when the Americans appeared at the Point in Cardiff in 2006 - a request that was knocked back by a bemused Ira Kaplan because they'd just played another freeform, feedback-strewn heavy-hitter from their back catalogue, 'I Heard You Looking'.

4. 'Miniskirt' - Braids
The quite extraordinary lead single from Braids' third record Deep In The Iris - a startlingly direct feminist polemic about sexual objectification set to a synth-heavy reinterpretation of a Kid A track. I'd never heard them before, but they've certainly got my attention now.

5. 'Why Won't You Talk About It?' - The Radio Dept
As serendipitously selected from the shelves by Stanley. I never followed up this EP by buying the album (Lesser Matters) - no idea why, given that The Jesus & Mary Chain meets electro/indiepop is a great concept.

6. 'Clear Signal From Cairo' - The Fiery Furnaces
We've managed to put a man on the moon, we've mapped all the genes of the human genome, we're making extraordinary discoveries in particle physics with the aid of the Large Hadron Collider - and yet still the structural logic and lyrical meaning of Fiery Furnaces songs remain a complete mystery. No matter - 'Clear Signal From Cairo' is superb, the best track on 2007's Widow City.

7. 'Land Disasters' - Blanck Mass
Upon hearing that there's a new Blanck Mass album out (Dumb Flesh), my first reaction wasn't to buy it instantly but to revisit the first one. Compared to much of the rest of the record, 'Land Disasters' is very full-on, probably closer to Fuck Buttons than anything else.

8. 'Przebudzenie Boga Wschodu' - Stara Rzeka
Polish folk/drone/death metal. Oh yes. Quite a recommendation from John Doran of The Quietus (via my friend Dan).

9. 'Stop Your Tears' - Aldous Harding
Another recommendation, this time from Nightshift editor Ronan. It might take me a little while to get used to her voice, but the feel is much the same as Marissa Nadler, whom I love.

10. 'Amateur Rappers' - The Burning Hell
And finally, for some light relief after those last three, here's some playful indie japes courtesy of Canadians The Burning Hell, as endorsed by Marc Riley on 6 Music.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Having fun with Joy Division

As good as they are, Joy Division don't exactly make for a joyful listening experience - which must be why it seems so tempting to have fun with them.

Take Jah Division, for instance - a dub Joy Division covers band, in case you hadn't already guessed. Including brilliant Oneida and Ex Models drummer Kid Millions among their number, they released one EP more than ten years ago and still reunite for a live performance about once a year. The concept isn't as odd as it might seem, given Ian Curtis' love of reggae and the way that other post-punk outfits flirted heavily with dub.

And then there's this: 'Atmosphere', with the famous video Anton Corbijn shot for its re-release in 1988 replaced with black and white footage of the Teletubbies arsing around...

(Thanks to Dave and Owen for the links.)

Setting the story straight

I do love it when the BBC Press Office stands up to the Daily Mail and calls them out for spouting bullshit.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Kids stuffed

Standing outside 10 Downing Street on the morning after his party's election victory last month, David Cameron declared that the Tories would "govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom". He went on to explain that, among other things, this means "giving everyone in our country a chance - so no matter where you're from, you have the opportunity to make the most of your life". More specifically, it means "that for children who don't get the best start in life, there must be the nursery education and good schooling that can transform their life chances".

Fine words indeed, but completely empty rhetoric - as evidenced by the fact that barely a month later Oxfordshire County Council, beset by politically motivated government cuts and bracing themselves for further blows in the wake of the election result, is set to close Children's Centres across the county. While the Tories may not actually be pulling the trigger, they've loaded all of the chambers with bullets and pressed the barrel of the gun against the Council's temple.

When the Centres last came under threat, at the tail-end of 2013, I wrote about the vital role they play in local communities. On that occasion, popular protest won the day, but the Centres' card was obviously marked and there now seems to be depressingly little likelihood of being able to put the brakes on a decision that has been taken out of political and economic desperation with insufficient consideration of the consequences. As Oxford East MP Andrew Smith has commented, "It would be socially damaging and a false economy if more children and young people are held back in deprivation and troubled lives as a result, because the long-term human and economic costs of that are huge." Naturally, though, the long-term costs are regarded as immaterial - the sole concern is with the present.

The impact of the closures won't only be experienced by children, either. For many new parents, feeling out of their depth and all at sea in an unfamiliar environment, the Centres are an essential lifeboat. While it goes without saying that the cuts will hit the poor hardest, there are some issues that can affect anyone, regardless of their background and social status, such as mental health. Surely prevention is better than cure?

There's little hope of money being pumped into the already underfunded mental health services to help compensate, while other institutions such as schools - themselves operating on reduced budgets - will inevitably be expected to pick up some of the pieces. This too will be where Cameron's Great Society comes in, out of necessity - parents and volunteers may perhaps even step in to take over the running of the Centres, providing critical services that his victory speech implied (rightly) are the state's responsibility.

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised that Cameron's rhetoric was empty or that the Tories don't seem to care about the damage their austerity measures are having. After all, this is the party that has already slashed benefits in the full knowledge that those who will suffer most acutely are children. Is it any wonder that people are cynical about politics when we're governed by lying, hypocritical cunts who talk airily about equality of opportunity and life chances while enriching their chums and pushing others into poverty?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Creating a buzz about bees

If you had to guess which paper might carry a story with the headline "Bees contribute more to British economy than Royal Family", the resolutely traditionalist Telegraph would probably be fairly far down the list. But fair play to them for highlighting (albeit in a clickbaity way) the huge significance of bees in terms that the Tory government actually understands.

Here's hoping that the current petition to prevent the reintroduction of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides (in the short term) and sustained campaigns such as Friends Of The Earth's Bee Cause (in the long term) are successful. Anyone idiotic enough to respond to the Telegraph's vox pop question "Are we doing enough to protect bees?" with "Out of our hands - let nature take its course" fails to grasp the fact that the decline in bee populations isn't natural at all - it's the direct consequence of human interference with ecosystems.

Get into the groove

Vinyl fetishist? If so, you might well enjoy watching this electron microscope footage of a needle running along the grooves of a record.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Great Scots - but time to call time?

Happy twentieth anniversary to Mogwai. I hadn't really thought about it, but I guess Pitchfork's John MacDonald is right in saying that post-rock is currently unfashionable, and indeed has been so for some time (even if he's wide of the mark when it comes to Irn-Bru, which is indeed a cracking hangover cure but also enjoyable at other times). So hats off to the Glaswegians for soldiering on.

However, much as they've been responsible for some of my favourite gigs and albums over the years, and much as it pains me to say it, it shouldn't be denied that they've been playing it safe for some time. Post-rock was all about breaking with convention - which is why last year's dull Rave Tapes was so disappointing in its predictability. The first signs that they might be getting comfortable and complacent came with Mr Beast (and 'Travel Is Dangerous' in particular) and follow-up The Hawk Is Howling was a let-down. Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will was a return to form, but Rave Tapes dashed any hopes that it might be permanent.

I certainly don't say this lightly, but given that they're unlikely to better Happy Music For Happy People, seem stuck in a formulaic rut and appear reluctant to wholeheartedly pursue the electronic direction they've hinted at, perhaps it's time they called it a day and basked in the glory of their enormous legacy.

(Thanks to Niall for the link.)

Go West East Midlands

Even if Nottingham doesn't manage to secure the status of UNESCO City of Literature, it still has plenty going for it culturally speaking - as this recent Guardian feature underlines. Sleaford Mods are mentioned, of course, as (quite rightly) are Left Lion and the city's thriving film scene. I must admit to being a bit gutted that both record shop The Music Exchange and DIY music venue JT Soar have opened since I left (which was over ten years ago, admittedly). Hopefully I'll get the opportunity to pay another visit some time soon.

(Thanks to Mike for the link.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"I have become toxic"

This is in no way to dispute the idiocy of his sexist comments, but there's a part of me that's offended over what has subsequently happened to Tim Hunt, strongarmed into resigning from his post at UCL to preserve the university's reputation. It's an archetypal example of how a Twitterstorm over something relatively trivial can blow up and devastate lives, and you have to feel for those whose fleeting moment of madness destroys a long and distinguished career, or alternatively nips a promising career in the bud.

Hunt must now accept that he's not famous for his 2001 Nobel prize (the detail of which was missing from many reports), but instead infamous in the eyes of the general public for his remarks. As he himself admits, "I am finished. I had hoped to do a lot more to help promote science in this country and in Europe, but I cannot see how that can happen. I have become toxic. I have been hung to dry by academic institutes who have not even bothered to ask me for my side of affairs.” Perhaps, once the dust has settled, he might be able to rebuild his reputation - but, at 72, time isn't on his side.

All that said, Hunt certainly didn't do himself any favours by only offering an apology for any offence caused rather than for the comments themselves, which he now maintains were meant "in a totally jocular, ironic way" having previously implied that he was in fact being honest. After all, to err is human; but to compound that initial lapse of judgement by erring again, after a period of reflection, is less excusable.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Big night out

Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast is back - and, thanks to the generosity of crowdfunders (not including me, I'm ashamed to say), it's still being filmed by the Go Faster Stripe crew. The first installment of the new series saw Herring in conversation with Bob Mortimer, covering everything from pissing in hotel kettles, a mutual hatred of Keith Allen, planning a terrorist attack on the Spennymoor dog track and deliberately dropping Edam cheeses on Brendan Cole...

Know Your Enemy

"I think they're a pile of shit. They're doing my pose in photos, ripping us off. We met them at Beacons festival [in Yorkshire] last year and they asked if me and Andrew [Fearn, bandmate] would be interested in writing something for the album, and I said no. They looked like a [mid-'80s jazz pop outfit] Matt Bianco sort of thing, and now they're trying to play this working class game. I think they're fucking appalling."

Following hot on the heels of Lee Adcock's slating of their album on Drowned In Sound, Slaves have now been comprehensively blasted by Sleaford Mods' Jason Williamson. I don't really see the copycat element myself - Williamson and Fearn are in a completely different league altogether.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Down on the farm

Confession time: there's something about George Monbiot that makes him seem rather absurd, even to this confirmed leftist - probably his dog-with-a-bone seriousness and self-righteousness.

Take this recent Guardian piece on farming and food, for instance. He makes some very valid points, for sure - about the relative meaninglessness of the Red Tractor symbol, about the need for people to understand and accept where the food on their plate comes from and how it's produced, and about the influence that fictional portrayals of farming can have.

But you do have to wonder what he's pressing for when he demands that children's authors should stop "repeatedly churning out the same basic story" - does he really want or expect bookshelves to be groaning under the weight of books about battery chickens and abattoirs? Fiction for the young is usually a source of comfort rather than a means of revealing or confronting unpleasant truths. And even then, surely kids are generally well aware that they're being presented with fiction rather than reality - unless they routinely encounter talking, clothes-wearing, anthropomorphised sheep and cows...

(Thanks to Kaajal for the link.)

Home from home

From the You Learn Something New Every Day file: when postcards were first invented, they were not just a way of making family and friends envious of your whereabouts but also a means of disseminating colonialist propaganda.

(Thanks to Alan for the link.)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Rave review

Detroit and Motown, Seattle and grunge, London and Britpop, New York and punk/hip-hop, Liverpool and Merseybeat, Manchester and Madchester, Bristol and trip-hop. Particular cities have long been associated with particular genres of music. But it was nevertheless a surprise to discover that my native north-east, and Newcastle in particular, has a sound and associated subculture all of its own - and amazing to think that something so popular can remain so far under the radar. It's just a shame, though, that the music in question, makina, is "a form of Spanish techno characterised by hard trance synths bouncing along at breakneck speed"...

Quote of the day

"I'm going in with my eyes wide open. I know I'm not going to be a frontrunner. But I look at people who have been in politics for five, 10, 15 years, and muck up, you see them muck up and think, 'You guys are supposed to be pro!' People [who] have gone to Oxbridge, had thousands spent on their education, and I mean they are royally mucking up."

Fine words from Sol Campbell, announcing his intention to stand for London mayor. However, speaking as a Newcastle fan who had the dubious pleasure of witnessing former footballer Campbell's own unique definition of professionalism, I can't help but feel he's not in the best position to judge these things.

Campbell may not be a "frontrunner", as he acknowledges, but don't rule him out - after all, Londoners have already shown they have a soft spot for mayors who are clueless, gaffe-prone Tory buffoons.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Dry run

Until very recently, John Doran was familiar to me only as an excellent music writer and editor of The Quietus. So it came as some surprise to learn that he was a (barely) functioning alcoholic for more than twenty years. This brief account of his experience (a snapshot of the content of his new book Jolly Lad) indicates that quitting drinking was merely the very first step on a long road to recovery, and he pulls no punches about how tough it's been, but it's heartening to see that he's finally battling his demons and winning.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Concrete jungle

Grey, hard, inhuman, forbidding: brutalism seems a rather inappropriate architectural style for housing, let alone for children's play areas...

(Thanks to Jen for the link.)

"MOSH! And relax..."

Death metal yoga? In Brooklyn - of course.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Faking it

Another year, another missed opportunity to go to Field Day. Viet Cong and Ex Hex would both have been a major draw, but I can't say I'm sorry to have avoided any chance of exposure to PC music, a new genre of sorts that appears to have been initiated and embraced by East London hipsters but that (to my knowledge) is yet to make any impression further afield.

This Guardian article is a useful primer of a very confusing phenomenon. For starters, PC music isn't so much a genre as the output of a label of the same name. The label's performers - mainly female, often made up in press shots to look like mannequins or CGI creations - have next to no musical experience and often seem to be less interested in music than in marketing, branding and fashion.

I get the point: now that talk of musical "authenticity" is largely dead in the water, people are actively embracing artificiality and fakery, revelling in the manufactured nature of pop music and pop stars. PC music takes this to extremes and, as such, is less a genuine genre and more an intricate piece of conceptual art (or a contrived conceptual joke).

However, appreciating the concept doesn't mean that you need to appreciate the actual results, which are horrible, vacuous little Europop ditties of the shittiest kind. The fact that hipsters are going crazy for them is like something straight out of Nathan Barley. I can just imagine poor Dan Ashcroft shaking his head in disbelief now.

Know Your Enemy

"As propaganda, United Passions is as subtle as an anvil to the temple. As drama, it’s not merely ham-fisted, but pork-shouldered, bacon-wristed, and sausage-elbowed."

The Village Voice's Ashley Clark on United Passions. Who would have thought that a film about FIFA funded by FIFA would have turned out to be a preposterous hagiographic and absurdly expensive folly?

Of course, as Clark points out, "the timing of the American release ... couldn’t be more bitterly ironic", given the wave of arrests of FIFA officials in the last fortnight. All the more reason for Tim Roth, Sam Neill and Gerard Depardieu to rue their involvement and hope the ground would open up and swallow them, no doubt.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Formative years

"They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do." In the case of a group of Inuit children living in Greenland in the early 1950s, it wasn't just their mums and dads - it was also the Danish government and charities allegedly committed to protecting children's best interests. One of that group, Helene Thiesen, has told the remarkable story of how her childhood was sacrificed to a state-sanctioned social engineering project. It beggars belief that such schemes could have even been proposed and carried out, let alone that those responsible could have thought they were acting with the best of intentions.