Saturday, December 20, 2014

Party pooper

So it turns out that, when you're self-employed and work from home, office Christmas parties aren't that much fun. Still, at least I didn't get too hammered and insult/make an ill-advised pass at the boss...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brum: bostin

When I first started visiting Birmingham regularly in 2001, the prospect of it ever being named among the top ten cities in the world would have been laughable. So it's testimony to the city's remarkable renaissance that it's received that accolade from Rough Guide - and not without good reason.

Alongside the most visible landmark projects such as the revamped Bullring, the new Library of Birmingham, the Mailbox and the ongoing, much-needed and radical improvement of New Street Station, there have been more widespread but equally significant developments such as the decision to make the most of the extensive canal network and the replacement of dark, dank subways with ground-level road crossings (counterbalancing the focus of the 1960s city on serving the needs of the car). The city centre is now a mecca for gastronomic delights of all varieties and boasts an excellent array of real ale and craft beer establishments including the Post Office Vaults, Pure Bar and the Wellington. It's only eight years ago that, with ample justification, I described the latter as "a veritable oasis in the desert" - how times have changed.

Perhaps most remarkable is the transformation of Digbeth from a post-industrial no-go zone adjacent to the city centre into a vibrant cultural quarter that's home to a booming arts and music scene (with the Custard Factory at its heart), the increasingly highly regarded Digbeth Dining Club and a smart, light coach station a far cry from its predecessor. It's a transformation that doesn't seem to have come at the cost of the area's grittiness, either, with the Anchor Inn happily co-existing alongside the trendier new watering holes.

That said, hard times may yet lie ahead for the city, despite the veneer of bright modernity, success and prosperity - as with my own Newcastle, the government's budget cuts are set to wreak havoc with the provision of council services, though naturally it's not Rough Guide-reading visitors who will be affected.

No complaints

So Michael Garcia's complaint that FIFA's summary of the report into corruption in the World Cup bidding process was "incomplete and erroneous" has been rejected as "inadmissible" by FIFA themselves. Of course - why would it be admissible? After all, he's only the person who conducted the two years of research and wrote the full report.

How long before nations start doing the principled thing and leave FIFA, as former FA chief David Bernstein has urged?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Three's a crowdpleaser: ATP Nightmare Before Christmas 2011

(First and second installments here and here.)

Sunday 11th December: Caribou

No, Brian, I am not up for a swim. I'd be up for a neck massage, though. That ache is the tell-tale sign of a great two days - and there's more to come.

Brian returns, telling the tale of spotting a severed hand in the pool. Thankfully, it turned out to be plastic.

We're all glued to a comedy sketch show called SCTV, starring John Candy, Eugene Levy and Rick Moranis (looking a lot like Woody Allen), amongst others. With that cast, it was never going to be a disappointment.

Pizza Hut is calling, and we duly carboload for the afternoon, evening and early hours ahead. The fact that the Very Berry smoothie - which should have been patented as a hangover cure - is no longer available on the menu is offset to some extent by a (relatively) soothing dining soundtrack that features Cat Power, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth's 'Little Trouble Girl'.

Given that - like their fellow curators Les Savy Fav and Battles before them - CARIBOU (Centre Stage) will also be playing a headline set later, their first show of the day isn't exactly low-key. There are three brass players and a flautist, and two drummers playing different drum lines, all contributing to a euphoric free jazz skronk overlaid with sweet Beach Boys vocal harmonies. As my first sip of lager of the day coincides with a white noise section, I get a huge headrush and feel myself in danger of falling over and faceplanting that grubby carpet. Still, I'd die happy.

Reds has seen a few things over the course of ATP weekends, but I doubt it's ever played host to a Steinway baby grand piano before. PHAROAH SANDERS is a man with serious musical pedigree, having made his name as the saxophonist in John Coltrane's band, but in truth his supporting cast are equally phenomenal. The double bassist is a ringer (how on earth do you just pick this stuff up?!) while the drummer is simply sensational, the best of the weekend, and all the more loveable for making monkey faces throughout. The music is hard to get a handle on at first, but then an upbeat number makes a connection, even if it's the plaintive mood pieces that stand out. There's even some call and response for the final song, the assembled heathens understandably rather happier singing "Hello" than "The power of God". Overall, it's perfect for a Sunday afternoon, and, even more so than Gary Numan, Sanders is overwhelmed by the love radiating from an audience very different to his usual.

ATP TV comes up trumps again, with Deconstructing Dad, a tribute to Raymond Scott (the inventor of the sequencer and the composer of the Ren & Stimpy theme tune) by his son, being followed by Paris Is Burning, an eyeopening documentary about transgender balls in 1980s New York. You could easily spend all day watching, and we have to remind ourselves that there's still plenty to enjoy going on beyond the four walls of the chalet.

Among the stars of last year's Godspeed-curated shindig, THE EX (Reds) are back, and this time they've got GETATCHEW MEKURIA for company. While on paper a collaboration between a Dutch post-punk outfit and an Ethiopian saxophonist of a ripe old age might seem odd, it soon sounds incredibly natural, both on the same rhythmic wavelength - no doubt a result of the fact that they've actually been playing together on and off since 2004. Mekuria has no mic and so is a bit quiet (like the rest of the brass section, in truth), wandering around the stage like a drunk grandad while guitarists bounce around him like playful puppies. He later dons ceremonial robes and a headdress, as the crowd are whipped up into an ever greater frenzy and the set ends in a frantic moshpit and a joyous party atmosphere.

There are no such scenes over at the Centre Stage. An outfit for whom "flavour of the month" probably applies, TORO Y MOI - actually just Chaz Bundick and some anonymous supporting members - essentially seem to be a wet indie band who happen to have been to a club or two. In that respect, they're not dissimilar to Metronomy - which is to say they're very mainstream compared to what else I've witnessed thus far today. Darker and harder would have been nicer.

Martin recounts overhearing our destructive Dutch neighbours talking excitedly earlier and the words "laughing gas" being used - tonight could be about to get very messy. I mean, we're already semi-drunk and watching the climax of The X Factor, hoping that against the odds the evening's live performance comes from Nissenenmondai.

Electro duo ROLL THE DICE (Reds) feature a member of Fever Ray and come with the enthusiastic endorsement of Fuck Buttons and Fourtet as well as Caribou. They lure us in Pied Piper style by the sound leaking out of the doors but then tease the crowd by taking an eternity to get anywhere before finally delivering headrush climaxes that are only just good enough to justify the wait.

More electro in the Crazy Horse, this time courtesy of a pioneer of the genre, Simeon Coxe III aka SILVER APPLES. Their processed minimalism may have been hugely influential on krautrock and dance music, but, as much as I cringe at being mean about a 73-year-old, I can't find anything to love. There's a big rush to get in, but after a quick sighting of Coxe's wide-brimmed hat and exposure to his deadpan lyrical delivery, there's an equally big rush to leave. How does ATP like them Apples? Not all that much, it seems.

Sadly, things are no better in the Centre Stage, where JUNIOR BOYS' self-pitying 80s synth pop is failing to win over a small and decidedly disinterested crowd. Dispassionate and drab, they never really unleash full dance mode, and I'm left wondering what exactly the point is of a live drummer playing an electronic kit.

While OMAR SOULEYMAN (Reds) certainly couldn't be branded dispassionate or drab, it would also be pushing it to describe him as good. Not that that seems to matter to the raucous mob in attendance, who are apparently only too delighted by the spectacle of a happy-clappy Saddam Hussein impersonator repeatedly doing a karaoke version of the same song. Like Shellac, he's fast becoming an ATP institution - but, unlike Shellac, I can't for the life of me understand why.

A quick return to the chalet brings neither solace nor respite, as I have the misfortune to witness the manner of Newcastle's defeat to Norwich on Match Of The Day 2. Surely the evening must start picking up soon?

Not with FOURTET (Centre Stage), unfortunately. Kieran Hebden proves a big draw, but one boffin and his laptop on that big stage doesn't make for much in the way of visual spectacle and I'm bored almost immediately.

At least FACTORY FLOOR (Reds) are something to look at - or, at least, their backing visuals are, crazy and swirling patterns that are mesmerising and mindboggling at this late hour and to someone whose mind is already feeling boggled by excess of booze and lack of sleep. Their malevolent industrial/techno is bolstered by a live drummer, but they're not as heavy, nasty or punishingly noisy as I'd been led to believe. It's the programme's fault for overselling them.

Which leaves Caribou - or, rather, CARIBOU VIBRATION ENSEMBLE (Centre Stage) - to save the day at the last. They duly do so, and in some style, aided and abetted by the likes of Kieran Hebden, Junior Boy Jeremy Greenspan and Sun Ra Arkestra saxophonist and band leader Marshall Allen, who is resplendent in gold jacket and baseball cap while everyone else is in dazzling white. The set is completely different to the early afternoon jazz/noise freakout, with the emphasis firmly on getting limbs waving and heads nodding - a task effortlessly accomplished well before they peak with 'Sun', which ranks as the most intense moment of the weekend.

Exhausted and feeling pretty dreadful - but there's not much that fish and chips from Finnegans can't fix.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Behind bars

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communist rule in Eastern Europe in 1989 brought scenes of delirious joy and delight. But it also resulted in images of neglected, emaciated and traumatised shaven-headed children rocking back and forth in Romanian orphanages - the tragic and innocent victims of dictator Nicolae Ceau┼čescu and his crazed determination to encourage rapid population growth - being beamed into living rooms around the world.

25 years on, the Guardian's Wendell Steavenson has spent time with one of "Ceau┼čescu's children" - and understandably the resulting article doesn't make for easy reading. The truth was tough to take at the time - and it's even harder now that I'm a parent myself.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Sex appeal

Struggling for Christmas presents? How's about taking some pointers from this list of "products that have been pointlessly gendered"? No doubt inspired by the now infamous BiC for Her, it might come in very handy if the woman in your life has a hankering to take up the bagpipes but generally finds them too masculine.

Things that make you go "EH?!"

I've reported on some pretty ridiculous music news stories this year, some of which make a justified appearance in Pitchfork's The Year In WTF. Apologies for missing the fact that Brett Hinds of Mastodon had carved a massive wooden cock.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"This man is not a cartoon character ... He is a pound-shop Enoch Powell."

Russell Brand lands his best blow on Nigel Farage during Thursday evening's Question Time.

I couldn't bring myself to watch it all (couldn't stomach the thought of Farage's face for that long), but the clips I've seen suggested Brand was rather nervous and subdued and didn't make the most of the opportunity. Reviewing the experience on his blog, he had some more choice words for his opponent: "Farage is worse than stagnant, he is a tribute act, he is a nostalgic spasm for a Britain that never was; an infinite cricket green with no one from the colonies to raise the game, grammar schools on every corner and shamed women breastfeeding under giant parasols."

Friday, December 12, 2014

Exposing the neo-liberal myth

Giving free rein to the market and savagely cutting back on public spending are the key to economic growth and national prosperity - or so the current Tory government would have us believe, as would right-wingers stretching back to Thatcher and Reagan and their pet economic theorists, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.

As it turns out - and as many of us suspected all along - that's actually complete bullshit. In fact, a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has revealed that the exact opposite is true. The question now is how long they can dare to have the nerve to persist with the myth - but then of course their underlying concern has never really been for greater equality or sharing the wealth, but for their own enrichment and the protection of their own status.

At least, I suppose, George Osborne and chums are pushing ahead with the Diverted Profits Tax - the so-called Google Tax. However, as Robert Peston argues, it's not yet clear how it'll work or how much effect it'll have - and there's a suspicion that the government are rather less interested in addressing the issue because they feel it's one that needs tackling and rather more interested in assuaging public anger in the hope of securing a few votes...

Quote of the day

"The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome. The reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome."

Yes, believe it or not, that really is how Fox News presenter Andrea Tarantos reacted to the announcement that the report into torture perpetrated by the CIA had been made public. Someone appears to have been watching too much Team America.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Have yourself a very merry metal Christmas

If it's surprising to see that Los Campesinos! have decided to make a Christmas record (a very dangerous business in that your credibility's very much at stake), then it's certainly less so than discovering that Christopher Lee - the 92-year-old star of such films as Dracula, The Wicker Man and The Man With The Golden Gun - has been releasing heavy metal Christmas songs for the past few years. Here's a taster.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"It’s Africa, not another planet. Stuff about 'Do They Know It’s Christmas?' It’s just like, actually people live normal lives here and do normal things. That sort of cultural ignorance is a bit cringeworthy. There’s a lyric about ‘death in every tear,’ it’s just a bit much."

Aid worker and Ebola survivor Will Pooley is no fan of the Band Aid 30 charity single - and he's not alone.

Meanwhile, Pooley and all those like him working in horrendous conditions to try to bring the epidemic under control have rightly had their efforts recognised by TIME magazine, who have named them collectively Person Of The Year for "tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving".

(Thanks to Jen for the first link.)

Rough justice?

Is it arrogant of Stephen Godfroy, Rough Trade's director and co-owner, to think that in opening a new store in Nottingham - the first UK shop outside London - they can succeed where the mighty Selectadisc (amongst others) ultimately failed? Possibly. But I'll go on record (if you'll excuse the pun) to wish them well - it's a great city, and one I'm led to believe that is experiencing something of a boom in terms of the local music scene, so fingers crossed they can pick up where Selectadisc left off. I'll certainly be paying a visit next time I'm in the East Midlands.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dunces of the political class

A Tory baroness declares that "Poor people don’t know how to cook".

A Tory MP spends a Work and Pensions Committee hearing playing Candy Crush Saga on his tablet.

The leader of a political party, in all apparent seriousness, blames the traffic that prevented him from attending a function on immigration (giving rise to this Twitter feed).

Is it any wonder that the British electorate is so disillusioned with politics and so mistrustful of politicians?

The feline-good factor

When fearsome thrash metal band Slayer came across a homeless kitten, you might have expected them to eat it or use it in some kind of ritual sacrifice to Satan. But no - they took it in and found it a new home. Aww, the big softies.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Feel good hits of the 8th December: bumper edition

1. 'Speak To The Wild' - Thurston Moore
It will come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that The Best Day is right up there with my favourite albums of this last year. Opening track 'Speak To The Wild' doesn't exactly deviate far from the course Sonic Youth were plotting with The Eternal, but that's no bad thing at all.

2. 'Dominican Fade' - Battles
A track I was earworming constantly while writing up the Battles-curated ATP day recently, and one that helps build the case that they're above all a party band.

3. 'Continental Shelf' - Viet Cong
Women may have had a pitifully short existence before self-imploding in the most spectacular fashion, but out of the ashes come Viet Cong, picked up by the ever-reliable Jagjaguwar. 'Continental Shelf' has a nicely sinister (and NSFW) video and sounds rather like, well, Interpol stuck in a snowstorm.

4. 'Central Park Blues' - Ultimate Painting
A Velvets-inspired instant hit from my first sighting of them, supporting Parquet Courts in June, and one whose merits were reinforced by further exposure at Southsea Fest in September and then to the self-titled album.

5. 'Starla' - Smashing Pumpkins
I'm not entirely sure what possessed me to revisit the Pumpkins' stop-gap B-sides-and-odds-'n'-sods album Pisces Iscariot, but I'm glad I did - it's a pearler, and this track in particular, which as a 17-year-old, I recall, I had ambitions of covering with a string section... A bit of research led me to this cover by Adem of Fridge, underlining that it's tailor-made for a loop pedal. Will I be buying Monuments To An Elegy? No.

6. 'Caught In A Dream' - FF
The latest Insound recommendation to catch my ear. Uncomplicated but tastily raucous - file next to Cloud Nothings.

7. 'Lemon' - Maiians
Maiians might be new kids on the block here in Oxford - and a side-project at that - but many more songs like 'Lemon' (think post-rock under the influence of Battles) with similarly genius videos and they may well end up making big waves.

8. 'Opaque' - Eagulls
To these ears, Eagulls' largely unremarkable debut album is at its best when they stop fighting the urge to sneak in a bit of melody - such as on 'Possessed' and this track, tucked away towards the end.

9. 'Argent' - Jane Weaver
When Piccadilly Records publish their end-of-year lists, I've learned to sit up and take note, and their #1 album of the year is Jane Weaver's The Silver Globe. One listen to 'Argent' and it's immediately obvious how she's ended up as tour support to Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier - though you do wonder whether audiences will have been able to tell where she finishes and Sadier begins...

10. '9th & Hennepin' - Tom Waits
I'm slowly getting into Rain Dogs, and this spoken word piece is absolutely superb - as you know it will be from that early line "All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes"...

11. 'Waterfall' - Ex Hex
While Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss have reformed Sleater-Kinney, fellow former Wild Flag member Mary Timony has moved on too. The demise of her previous outfit doesn't seem to have got her down, if 'Waterfall' is anything to go by - a splendid slice of bubblegum glam with more than a little nod to T Rex, Roxy Music and Cheap Trick, with a video featuring Kid Congo Powers among others.

12. 'Zombie' - Fela Kuti
Part of the crash course in African music a friend is insisting on giving me. When it comes to Fela Kuti, though, I'm not complaining - I wanted to hear more after enjoying his son and heir Femi at Glastonbury four years ago.

13. 'High Town Crow' - The August List
More Oxfordshire hopefuls, vying with Maiians for the title of most promising newcomers. This is a standout from their debut album O Hinterland - folky and bluesy, but with a touch of darkness and a latent sense of violence in its tale of small-town paranoia.

14. 'Medicine' - Trash Kit
Trash Kit are a trio whom Thurston Moore has not only namechecked in interviews but also invited to support his short-lived Chelsea Light Moving last year. With their wiry guitar lines, frantic percussion, inventive rhythms and sense of fun, it's hardly surprising they've been compared to The Slits.

15. 'Teenage Exorcists' - Mogwai
As has become standard practice, Mogwai have followed up an album with a bits-and-pieces EP released later the same year. I haven't bought Music Industry 3, Fitness Industry 1 yet, and to be honest 'Teenage Exorcists' (despite the typically great title) doesn't induce me to do so. While it's great that Stuart Braithwaite has finally ditched the vocoder, the song itself feels far too conventional even by their own recent standards. Certainly it's no 'Hound Of Winter' or 'Christmas Song'.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

From page to stage

Viv Albertine of The Slits in conversation with Thurston Moore about her memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys at Rough Trade East this coming Thursday? Oh to be there. Still, at least there's this snippet to give some indication of what it might be like.

While Moore will no doubt make for a sympathetic and engaging interviewer, his former bandmate and ex-wife Kim Gordon would actually be better suited to the task - as a female musician with her very own memoir, Girl In A Band, due out early in the new year.

With a little help from their friends

Flaming Lips, eat your hearts out. Ahead of the release of their comeback album No Cities To Love, the reformed Sleater-Kinney have roped in a whole host of people for a mixtape called Rip City Queens. The trio's heady fwends include Lydia Lunch, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson and Antony Hegarty, who are part of an enormous cast appearing on a track called 'Gaslight U Back', and Panda Bear and Eddie Vedder, both involved in 'All Hands On The Bad One (DJ Snake remix)'. A perfect way to whet our appetites, or a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth? We'll have to wait and see.

Quote of the day

"You know, when Bono goes cycling he likes to dress up as a Hasidic Jew."

I did not know that, The Edge, but I'm now imagining just how embarrassing it must have been for him when he had that recent bike accident in Central Park.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Nobody puts baby in the corner

Not content with merely being a tit, Nigel Farage has now spoken out to complain about tits - specifically those of "ostentatious" breastfeeding mothers. He might since have tried to downplay his initial comments, made during a phone-in on LBC, but the fact remains that he's effectively endorsing the right of businesses to break the 2010 Equality Act and discriminate against those who breastfeed in public.

Naturally, the Women Against UKIP group on Facebook came up with a swift response: a poster that can be printed and displayed in cafes and restaurants. I hope the suggestion will catch on: "If you are a UKIP supporter we politely ask, for the comfort of other customers, that you eat in the corner, or in the toilet, or under a large tablecloth that we can drape over you."

Anyway, chalk it up as yet another reason women shouldn't vote for UKIP.

Know Your Enemy

"The policy was unnecessary, irrational and counter-productive to rehabilitation. It is now rightly judged unlawful."

From a statement delivered by the solicitors of Barbara Gordon-Jones, the inmate who has successfully challenged the government's ban on sending books to prisoners. Good riddance to a ridiculous policy.

The mother of all marketing gaffes

Whichever bright spark decided it would be a great idea to send promotional texts pretending to be from festival-goers' mums had clearly not thought it through. The reaction of Ros Prior, whose mum had been dead three years, and others was enough to land the organisers of the Parklife festival in Manchester with a £70,000 fine.

(Thanks to Abbie for the link.)

Friday, December 05, 2014

Run-out groove?

So, vinyl sales have soared beyond one million for the first time since 1996. However, as this in-depth Pitchfork article reveals, vinyl's revival neither spells the death of digital, nor is it something to be unequivocally celebrated. On the contrary, vinyl is likely to remain a niche interest (indeed, downloads are often offered as a free extra with vinyl purchases) and the boom is causing problems particularly for indie labels, who are finding pressing plants have increasingly limited capacity to produce their albums due to large jobs for majors who are capitalising on the fashion and coining it as a result.

Nevertheless, the upward trend is so sharp that it can't be ignored, and I'm delighted that rumours of vinyl's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Personally speaking, there's something about the fact that, in this day and age, when everything is dominated by digital, people are still keen to have physical artefacts and to buy records as a specifically "aesthetic choice". While I've never been a vinyl junkie, I can completely understand that impulse - and it's especially fitting given the time-consuming and labour-intensive nature of the process of manufacturing a record. Music should still be something to be cherished and respected, after all, and digital culture undermines that.

As an aside, I was amused by Amoeba Records' Marc Weinstein's comment that in the past "everyone had an altar to their music in their homes - a stereo, speakers, and LP rack readily visible". Some of us never moved on, Marc. What's the old adage about a stopped clock still telling the right time twice a day?

Auntie comes out fighting

Given that the BBC all too often seem to be nothing but a punchbag for the mainstream print media, particularly for those publications that traditionally lean to the right, it's nice to see them willing to fight back on occasion. Of course, whether the Sun (or the Daily Heil, or any of the others) will pay any attention and feel chastened as a result is another matter altogether.

(Thanks to Steve for the link.)

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Not quite top of the league

It was once again close but no cigar for The Two Unfortunates crew at this year's Football Supporters' Federation Awards. Nominated in the Independent Website Of The Year category, we lost out to WhoScored?.com, who stretched the meaning of "independent" to its limit by being backed by Opta and could also count on nearly 450,000 followers when it came to the public vote. No shame in losing, ultimately - getting shortlisted was triumph enough.

The swanky ceremony took place on Monday night in the sumptuous setting of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel - an upgrade even on last year's venue, the Emirates - and saw us knocking back plenty of free booze and rubbing shoulders with (or at least attempting to do so) the likes of Sergio Aguero, Martin Tyler, James Richardson, assorted Guardian journalists and, er, Robbie Savage, as well as those behind very worthy fellow award nominees such as The Sound Of Football, The Inside Left, The Real FA Cup and Popular Stand.

At dinner, for half an hour I was under the impression I was sat next to the chief executive of Sports Direct, which, as a Newcastle fan, was somewhat uncomfortable - until we realised that he'd actually said "Supporters Direct". Let's just say this came as something of a relief...

Morris: minor major excitement

Hallelujah! Comedy's dark-hearted overlord is back. It's been announced that a new Chris Morris sketch will premiere on 6 Music on Sunday morning. According to the man himself, "This is a work in progress cut from a project that was stored in a vat, but still seems to be breathing or at least emitting gas. The series is set in a care home and records a number of vexatious encounters between a new resident, Victor, and his long-suffering care manager". I'm salivating already...

Apparently, it's been co-written with Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding. While the former has worked with Morris before (on The IT Crowd), the latter is a bit of a surprise - personally speaking, he seems to have jumped the shark and descended into self-parody from what I've seen (relatively little, admittedly) of Luxury Comedy and recent Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

To whet your appetite, Radio 4 Extra have aired a three-hour-long Morris special called Raw Meat Radio. I haven't got round to listening to it yet, but I have it on good authority that it's well worth it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Fringe benefits

Think UKIP are the only non-"mainstream" party to be on the rise? Think again. The Green Party has apparently doubled its membership in the space of less than a year - a staggering fact, and one that the media should acknowledge instead of falling over themselves to give coverage to Farage's mob.

Unlucky, Jim

It's a sorry state of affairs when a Nobel prize-winning scientist is ostracised from the academic community and forced into auctioning off his medal just to raise the cash. Or at least it would be if it weren't James Watson we're talking about, a bigoted dinosaur who has ostracised himself through the expression of racist views. He may have been part of the pairing that discovered DNA, but sympathy for his plight is rightly in short supply.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Three's a crowdpleaser: ATP Nightmare Before Christmas 2011

(First installment here.)

Saturday 10th December: Battles

Slowly coming to, I realise that yes, I really did sleep through Les Savy Fav's headline set last night. My chalet mates are on hand to fill me in on what I missed: Tim Harrington peeling off bodysuit after bodysuit, and everything was covered in tinfoil.

Brian returns to the chalet saying he saw Gary Numan outside his tour bus. Chris: "You'd have thought he'd have a car..."

Late 70s US comedy BJ And The Bear on ATP TV. The bear is actually a monkey. I'm not sure I can cope with this given the scale of my hangover. There's an official history of Newcastle Utd on later. Given the inclusion of The Toon on their curators' reading list, someone in Battles is clearly a fan. (John Stanier, as it turns out.)

ATP weekends destroy the divide between audience and performers, and it's evident when our curators for the day BATTLES (Centre Stage) make their first appearance that they spent last night partying just as hard as us punters. "I literally threw up right before coming onstage. We love you". Not so much the blind leading the blind, then, as the hellishly hungover leading the hellishly hungover. Not, you might imagine, an ideal time to be assaulted by a technicolour melange of flashing screens, fiddly keyboard lines, heavily treated guitars and vocals and wild incantatory rhythms. But I have a brief moment of clarity during their signature song, the Godzilla-goes-glam 'Atlas', that hints at the merciful recovery to come.

NISSENENMONDAI (Centre Stage) are Battles' current pet band, an unassuming but brilliant trio of very slight Japanese women who take machine-tooled Krautrock via the dark, seedy alleyways of no wave-era New York to the back entrance of Studio 54. Songs unfold unhurriedly, the impeccably taut groove carried along by bobbing basslines that run throughout like a stick of rock. Only once, at the climax of the penultimate track, do they allow themselves to slip the tight self-imposed leash, relieve some of the built-up pressure and tension and indulge in a noisy freakout. It's good enough to make grown men cry - especially if that man is James Murphy.

WALLS (Reds) are the inevitable comedown, decent enough drone-heavy electronica with shades of shoegaze roughly in the mould of Death In Vegas. The video projections of various things being sliced up don't exactly cure me of my lingering queasiness.

Back to the chalet for that Newcastle history. It's a procession of greats - Supermac, Keegan, Beardsley, Waddle, Quinn - and, indeed, an instructive guide to ATP goers about how to do ridiculous moustaches and bouffant hairdos properly. Perfect viewing for someone trying to blot out the afternoon's 4-2 defeat at Norwich, another sign our season is starting to slide off the rails. Living in the past, us?

Like Walls, THE FIELD (Reds) call hip Cologne dance label Kompakt home. That may be so, and they may also have an acclaimed album (From Here We Go Sublime) in their back pocket, but it doesn't add up to much in the way of excitement or even interest.

There can't have been many ATPs that have witnessed the performance of a bona fide pop classic, but 'Cars' undisputably falls into that category. The song's author GARY NUMAN (Centre Stage), no doubt invited along on the strength of his vocal contribution to 'My Machines' on the curators' Gloss Drop, chooses to throw it in early doors, its 2011 incarnation in keeping with the rest of the set in its crunching industrial-metal makeover. On the one hand it's disappointing to see the goth-electro innovator now consciously aping the sound of those he influenced (Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke, even Rammstein), but on the other his obvious delight at playing for - and being well received by - an unfamiliar audience brings a smile to the face.

All I know about THANK YOU (Crazy Horse) has been gleaned from the programme notes. The comment that their latest album Golden Worry dips "into the vocabularies of Krautrock, post-punk, no wave and noise" was enough to guarantee my presence at what transpires is their last ever show. It's not hard to understand what Battles might like about the Baltimore outfit's percussive inventiveness and trebly guitar screech, and drummer Emmanuel Nicolaidis is sufficiently talented to win John Stanier's seal of approval. I join Morgan in enjoying a swig of buck's fizz to toast their passing. Thank You, we hardly knew ye - more's the pity.

OK, so I can just about face beer. This calls for a quick blast of Faith No More's Angel Dust on the chalet iPod.

For a Warp artist who I'd presumed would be way-out-there-and-keep-going leftfield, FLYING LOTUS (Centre Stage) is both much more conventionally dancey (albeit liberally laced with sampled snippets, including Radiohead's 'Everything In Its Right Place') and far less aloof than I'd anticipated, launching himself into the adoring crowd towards the end of his set rather than maintaining any kind of froideur or detachment.

CULTS' place on the bill is a bit of a mystery, but here they are, onstage in Reds, expressing their gratitude to Battles for the opportunity to play. Another fan is Lily Allen, whose label In The Name Of (a Columbia Records imprint) put out their self-titled debut, but there are few admirers among our party for their unremarkable and unexciting indie pop.

Ah, BATTLES (Centre Stage), we meet again - this time both feeling slightly more ourselves, though Dave Konopka confesses to still being rough. If John Stanier's mood has been dampened by the afternoon's Newcastle result, then it doesn't show - on the contrary, his band appear to be in high spirits. It helps, of course, that their arsenal boasts the likes of 'Futura' and 'Ice Cream', unclassifiable sugar-crazed party tunes for Pitchfork nerds everywhere. Sadly, there's no Gary Numan for 'My Machines' (presumably he's glued to ATP TV on his tour bus) and the encore is a little bit of a let-down compared to what's gone before, but I'm nevertheless left finally in no doubt as to Battles' merits and in desperate need of Gloss Drop.

Our Dutch chalet neighbours have broken their table. Life round ours is far too sedate.

So we could be watching Fuck Buttons DJ but instead we're experiencing DJ KATOMAN (we think) filling the Crazy Horse with cheese of a particularly fine vintage. 'Footloose', 'Beat It', 'I'm So Excited', 'You Can't Hurry Love' (Phil Collins version) - it's like we've fallen through a wormhole and woke up in an 80s teen movie. The Cure's 'Boys Don't Cry' and Devo's 'Whip It' make an appearance, but are swiftly followed/undercut by 'Love Shack' and Toto's 'Africa' to close. Twitter is abuzz with excitement - sample tweet: "Quick! They've turned the irony off in the Crazy Horse!"

Martin's Facebook status: "You better not fuck with Kiss, especially if you're a robot". We surmise he's back at the chalet enjoying dodgy 1978 flick Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park.

Sod a Japanese DJ playing wall-to-wall cheese, this is even better: Mogwai's STUART BRAITHWAITE DJing in the Irish bar, whipping those in attendance into such a frenzy with a mix of Public Enemy, 'Ace Of Spades', 'Beat On The Brat' and 'I Feel Love' that there's crowdsurfing and a moshpit, and a couple of evidently refreshed gentlemen enrobed in tinsel engage in a bout of wrestling. After the set, I take the opportunity to thank him for his part in getting Codeine to reform. It wouldn't be an ATP without an awkward semi-conversation with an idol, though, would it?

Gary Numan's had his turn, now it's another of Gloss Drop's guest vocalists who also failed to show up for Battles' sets: Chilean-born, German-raised producer MATIAS AGUAYO (Reds). Drum-heavy electro/house is probably well suited to this time of night, but we're starting to flag and decide to return homewards - not before Suresh is once again approached by someone assuming he's a drug dealer, though.

We're winding down nicely when one of our neighbours pays us an impromptu visit. Please don't break our table.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"Everything in this movie is fucking insane. That's not how press conferences work. That's not how diplomacy works. That's not how prime ministers work. NOTHING IS HOW ANYTHING WORKS. That's not how weddings work, that's not how audio recording works, that's not how saxophones work, that's not how hair works, that's not how business meetings work, that's not how art works, that's not how grief works, that's not how primary school Christmas concerts work, that's not how airports work, that's not how music charts work, that's not how fat works, and none of it is how 'love works.'"

Taken from a splendid demolition of Love Actually by Jezebel's Lindy West. It might be like shooting fish in a barrel, but it's brilliantly done.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)