Saturday, April 18, 2015

Come together

(I've been meaning to post this review for a while - what better time than on Record Store Day?)

Good Vibrations tells the story of the record shop of the same name, which was founded by Terri Hooley in defiance of the bad vibrations of the bomb blasts in 1970s Belfast. Sectarian violence tore the city apart, opening up fault lines and setting former friends against one another. Hooley resisted the pressure to take one side or the other, instead choosing to walk a narrow tightrope of neutrality until he discovered in the nascent Northern Irish punk scene a side all of its own - a world where Catholics and Protestants came together in spite of the Troubles, a world where religious and political differences mattered not a jot.

This perhaps explains the longevity of punk in Northern Ireland (and its epicentre Belfast in particular) relative to the mainland UK, where it soon exploded into smithereens with the demise of the Sex Pistols and gave birth to post-punk. As Hooley (Richard Dormer) declares from the stage of the Ulster Hall during a legendary showcase gig for his roster of bands, "New York has the haircuts, London has the trousers, but Belfast has the reason".

Northern Irish punk bands may have had more cause to be angry than most, but that's not to say that they necessarily addressed the dangerous reality of everyday life. 'Teenage Kicks', the signature song of the Undertones, a band Hooley discovered, focuses on the thrills and melodramas of adolescence; one label exec, when confronted with the track by an evangelical Hooley, confesses to being disappointed and wondering exactly where the darkness is. But then that's part of the point: Northern Ireland needed punk, but it needed it as much for escapism and as a unifying social force than as a vehicle for directly addressing the Troubles.

While Hooley may not be a teenager, he nevertheless spends much of the film acting like one. His narrative follows the familiar tragic trajectory, his self-destructive streak regularly manifesting itself and inflicting collateral damage on his nearest and dearest. There are definite shades of Alan McGee and Tony Wilson in his naivety and lack of hard-nosed business sense, as he gets himself up to his eyeballs in debt and lurches from crisis to crisis. The aforementioned Ulster Hall gig, a showcase of Hooley-backed bands, is typical, in that a triumphant event intended to give a timely boost to the coffers somehow ends up losing money.

But Hooley is also like a teenager in his wide-eyed and boundless enthusiasm, his sense of ambition, his hopeless romanticism, and his unsullied and obstinate idealism - all characteristics that prompt him to set up Good Vibrations in the first place. At no point does the viewer stop rooting for the loveable rogue, and arguably the film's most heartwarming moment comes when The Undertones finally get their big break, hugely influential tastemaker John Peel so immediately smitten with 'Teenage Kicks' that he plays it twice back-to-back.

"Hey man, where’s all y’alls CDs at? The ones with the music on it"

Today is Record Store Day - a concept that may well be deeply flawed, but that was at least initiated with good intentions and in aid of a valuable cause. Let's face it, staff in record shops deserve some credit and respect for some of the moronic shit they have to put up with from those on the other side of the counter and the other end of the phone.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Bouncing back

Back of the net! Jurassic Park! Cashback! etc etc. No doubt prompted by the success of both Alpha Papa and I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan, Steve Coogan and his fellow writers Rob and Neil Gibbons are hard at work writing a new Alan Partridge book, which will be "a collection of diary entries, letters, opinion pieces and programme and business ideas". Much like the bits and pieces that separate the scripts in Every Ruddy Word, then - and if they're half as good as those, then the book will be well worth buying.

Chain reaction

Meet the lovely folk at The Social Chain, a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings who are controlling Twitter and making a fortune through the venerable art of plagiarism. They don't post about ebola, though, so at least they've got some principles, eh?

A useful reminder to take care about what posts you like or share on social media, if you don't want to be unwittingly lining the pockets of these tossers.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

A leap of the imagination

I'm not quite sure how or why the idea occurred to Japanese artist Yuki Aoyama, but his photos of dads jumping next to their daughters are pretty extraordinary - and not just because a couple of them barely look as though they're out of school themselves.

(Incidentally: "Dire Straights" - ouch. Dear Independent, if you're looking for a freelance proofreader...)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Leftfield?

Is it just me, or is this year's Glastonbury line-up shaping up to be a little more cool and cutting-edge than normal? There seem to be a lot more Pitchfork/ATP-friendly acts (Goat, Perfume Genius, Caribou, FKA Twigs, Future Islands, Spiritualized, The Fall, John Hopkins, Sharon Van Etten, Fat White Family, The Pop Group) and less landfill indie (Catfish And The Bottlemen being one of the obvious exceptions). Quite what Lemmy and Sleaford Mods will make of it is anyone's guess...

Know Your Enemy

"On Yesterdays Chase Today, Noel’s lyrics have reached an almost admirable new nadir. Lines such as 'I’ll follow you down to the end of the world just to wait outside your window' cower in the mix like frightened, unflushable turds in the shitter. Luckily, Noel has found a new role as a sort of People’s Raconteur, and a new Noel album is an excuse for the Noel Gallagher Interview. And whenever Gallagher is called out on some questionable view, he responds with the line, 'Come back to me when you’ve headlined Glastonbury.' It’s easy to imagine William Blake trying to explain his visions of Christ and Noel raising his eyebrow in that mock-quizzical way, looking into the camera and saying, 'Tell you what, mate, come back to me when you’ve headlined Glastonbury.' In fact, Noel seems to lay claim to ownership of playing Glastonbury — and if I ever refer to it as 'Glasto', make me go there for the weekend as punishment — but then I guess it was the one time he was never questioned: on his musical conservatism, his dwindling songwriting, even his godawful lyrics. It was a time when 300,000 people could sing back drivel at the beaming songwriter. A kind of human mass-entertainment version of the dog having his vomit returned to him."

Given the evidence of Bad Vibes, his book about being on the fringes of the Britpop maelstrom, Luke Haines was never going to be particularly complimentary about Noel Gallagher's new album. Haines - quite rightly - has no time for Gallagher's hypocritical criticism of music's current blandness, holding him personally responsible for dad rock.

Haines' piece appears on the ever excellent site The Talkhouse. Other articles well worth a look are Gang Of Four's Andy Gill on Sleater-Kinney's No Cities To Love, an album that is still very much flavour of the month around these parts, and Andy Falkous on independent gig venues, which was of particular interest personally speaking in light of my skim-reading of the recent Music Venue Trust report and the references to the Point (though Falkous could write about anything and make it entertaining).

(Thanks to Chris for the link.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Paying the price - or not

Is it ever justified to expect artists to donate their work for free? That's the key question to come out of the recent spat between photographer Pat Pope and Garbage. To sum it up in a nutshell: Garbage approached Pope (and others) asking if they could use their pictures gratis in a proposed self-published book, an indignant Pope posted an open letter refusing the request and criticising the band for even having the nerve to ask, and Garbage responded in self-defence.

My own personal view is that it's not necessarily wrong to enquire as to whether someone will work for free. It all depends on the project. I myself have been happy to write plenty of pieces for various books, magazines and websites for no financial return, on the simple grounds that I'm keen to support and be associated with the endeavour. Garbage make this point, by citing Amanda Palmer's book on the subject, The Power Of Asking.

However, Pope too has a point in arguing that expecting artists to work for free could be construed as disrespectful in devaluing their creative efforts. While I'd say it's acceptable to ask, there should be no expectation; the artists in question are perfectly within their rights to refuse (and in indignant terms, if they want - as Pope did). Garbage's self-defence appears to acknowledge this, claiming: "Any refusal of permission would be respectfully accepted and no further questions asked". But the existence of the self-defence itself suggests something other than respectful acceptance - they've clearly been stung by the criticism - and it does seem dubious that a band of Garbage's stature couldn't scrape together a little bit of money to compensate those whose work is set to feature in the book.

From a different angle

German PoWs being forced to watch footage from the concentration camps, Fidel Castro eating an ice cream while visiting a US military base, the original "HOLLYWOODLAND" sign, the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon avoiding interception by a furious race organiser, behind the scenes of the filming of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer logo: all featured in a fascinating gallery of photos from the last century.

A sound investment?

Confession time: I'm now a reluctant user of Spotify. The experience is proving to be the cause of even more self-loathing than I'd anticipated - I mean, what the fuck is going on when one of my recommended playlists is called "Indie Brunch"?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Terrible Terrific two

Somehow, as of today, I am the proud father of a two-year-old. He's a big fan of football, likes Shellac, devours books voraciously and is fond of shouting "Pork pie!" in the manner of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. I'd say I'm making a pretty good fist of this parenting malarkey, wouldn't you?

Hands off

"HEY DOUCHEBAGS. THIS MAKES ME WANT TO STOP PLAYING GIGS." Thus declared Drenge on their Instagram page, after a fan posted a comment about the extent of sexual harassment she and other girls suffered from male gig-goers. Good on them for having the principles to take that element of their audience to task.

(Thanks to Damian for the link.)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"After five years of a government which pledged to protect the NHS, this election campaign makes it timely to assess its stewardship, since 2010, of England’s most precious institution. Our verdict, as doctors working in and for the NHS, is that history will judge that this administration’s record is characterised by broken promises, reductions in necessary funding, and destructive legislation, which leaves health services weaker, more fragmented, and less able to perform their vital role than at any time in the NHS’s history. In short, the coalition has failed to keep its NHS pledges."

Thus begins an open letter signed by more than 100 senior health professionals. And they should know.

(Thanks to Terry for the link.)

Pattern recognition

Nikola Olic's photos transform the facades of real three-dimensional buildings into abstract two-dimensional patterns - to stunning visual effect.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Negative creeps

Another day, another couple of election-related news stories to be filed under "Depressingly Predictable".

First, there were the revelations that the Tories seem hell-bent on campaigning negatively against Ed Miliband rather than positively for their own party's merits. Why attempt to promote your own leader, policies and manifesto when you can attack those of the opposition?

Second, there was the announcement by UKIP that they're supporting the current campaign to have the so-called "tampon tax" scrapped. Of course, the decision shouldn't be construed as evidence of a sudden enlightened volte-face by a party that has hitherto shown scant interest in women's rights; on the contrary, UKIP are merely eager to seize any opportunity to attack the EU, who are behind the tax...

And politicians wonder why the electorate can seem apathetic and cynical...

(Thanks to Rob for the first link.)

Wide of the Mark

Ever assumed it must be a rather tough gig working as a sound engineer for Mark E Smith? Well, you'd be right.

Friday, April 10, 2015

As happy as Larry?

I've made little secret round these parts that the Greens will be getting my vote on 7th May. The Green Party candidate in our constituency, Oxford West & Abingdon, is one Larry Sanders - American-born, though (as far as I'm aware) neither the troubled basketball player nor the fictional 90s TV chat show host. His campaign literature takes pains to point out that "his brother, Senator Bernie Sanders, is running for US President". If the pair are successful, then it'll be interesting to see what happens in the constituency, given that our MP will have the ear of the White House...

The world is not enough

Easter, like Christmas, is a time of overconsumption. Here's a gallery of seriously depressing (if aesthetically impressive) photos illustrating the effects it and overpopulation have on the natural world.

(Thanks to Ali for the link.)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Keeping the flame alive

As someone appalled by the indirectly enforced closure of the Point in Cardiff and the continuing threat to the likes of Manchester's Night & Day Cafe, I read with interest the Music Venue Trust's recent report Understanding Small Music Venues (featuring research conducted by the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance). The title says it all - they're all too often misunderstood, or underestimated in their importance.

The report was preaching to the converted in terms of underlining the value of such venues to performers, gig-goers, communities and grassroots music in general (if you're in any doubt, here's Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd putting it in a nutshell), but the interview section was enlightening in presenting the full range of pressures and difficulties currently faced by venue owners and managers.

The report's not merely descriptive or downbeat, though - it concludes with a range of suggestions as to how things can be taken forwards, including lobbying for reviews of legislation and licensing (especially related to noise regulations), the need for investment from the public sector and for money to trickle down from the upper tiers of the industry, and improvements in the treatment musicians receive.

"I locked him in a 1x1 room until he peed himself and died in the puddle"

Given how downright sadistic they can be when it comes to playing The Sims, it's probably a good thing that gamers generally confine themselves indoors rather than getting out into the wider world.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

God is in the details

Given Jen's previous insistence that our date night films should have a plot, Jem Cohen's Museum Hours - an airily arty film about art - possibly wasn't the wisest of choices. However, at the end she declared it "quite good, although I was asleep for half of it".

The plot - such as it is - is almost entirely irrelevant: Canadian Anne (Mary Margaret O'Hara) is called to Vienna when an estranged cousin falls into a coma and, in search of a guide and confidante, befriends Johann (Bobby Sommer), a guard at the city's Kunsthistorisches Museum and a fellow lost soul (albeit more figuratively than literally). Nothing much else happens, and it's fair to say that the inclusion of identifiable central characters is purely a way of grounding ideas that would otherwise be abstract - having established the pair's relationship, Cohen is quite happy for it to be absent from the foreground for a long period in the second half of the film.

Cohen - who directed Fugazi documentary Instrument and has also worked with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Ex - includes John Berger in the credits, and certainly Museum Hours is all about ways of seeing and the importance of appreciating the minutiae. Johann and tour guide Gerda (Ela Piplits) draw attention to the fact that so much is going on in the paintings of Dutch artist Breugel (many of which are a prized part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum's collection) that the viewer continually sees new things and changes his or her perspective as regards what the focal point is.

The film isn't purely a lesson in art appreciation, though. It's also an American's ode to the culture, history and mystique of a European city, and an encouragement to view or read the urban landscape with the same level of exploratory scrutiny and fascination as you should a Breugel painting - a point underlined at the end when Johann starts describing city scenes beyond the museum's walls in the same way he's been describing the celebrated artworks hanging on them.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Timewasting

Ever felt like your work is pointless and worthless? David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology at London School of Economics, has suggested that this is true for an increasing number of us - despite the fact that modern technology is so far advanced that John Maynard Keynes' prediction that US and UK workers would be working 15-hour weeks by the end of the twentieth century really should have come true.

Academics are often egotists fond of inventing their own jargon so as to make their theories seem more opaque, but you have to love Graeber for introducing "bullshit jobs" as a technical term. He also deserves credit for the observation that bullshit jobs are generally paid better than jobs that actually benefit other people and contribute to society - a measure of just how fucked up things have become.

Graeber's original article, published in Strike! in 2013, generated a huge amount of debate. In this interview with Salon's Thomas Frank, he expands on some of the ideas and themes, arguing that priorities need to be straightened out and that different types of work should be revalued.

(Thanks to Ian and Simon for the links.)

Quote of the day

"Backstage, Slipknot and Rage Against the Machine were coming up to us and telling us how hardcore we were – how they wouldn’t have stayed out there. It was definitely the best thing we did, our crowning achievement."

Daphne & Celeste recall the experience of being bombarded with bottles of piss while attempting to perform at the Reading Festival in 2000. I was there for the Leeds leg, and it wasn't much different - though they didn't get a wheelchair lobbed at them there. "Someone lost their mobility because they hated us so much!"

Tim Jonze's interview with the pair is prompted by the fact that they've got a comeback single out - bizarrely written and produced by Ben Jacobs aka Max Tundra, who has himself been out of the limelight for some time. And it's pretty good...

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)

Monday, April 06, 2015

The filth and the fury

SLEAFORD MODS / SALVATION BILL / HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN & UNCLE PEANUT, 11TH MARCH 2015, OXFORD ACADEMY

Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut are, you would hope, taking the piss. The duo may hail from Reading, but they come across like an East London version of tonight's headliners. Lyrics about wanking, Brixton setting drugtaking trends and Razorlight's Johnny Borrell making a serious miscalculation by fucking off to an island at the height of his fame all raise a smirk, but if they're setting out to satirise hipster culture, then it falls flat because you can easily imagine them riding to their local cereal cafe on a penny-farthing. This is pop culture eating itself.

While Here Are The Young Men... are a doff of the artfully worn flat cap in the direction of Sleaford Mods, Ollie Thomas - aka Salvation Bill, and formerly of local favourites Ute and The Old Grinding Young - is realistic enough to admit he's completely out of place in the present company. As such, tonight isn't the night to form a firm opinion of his oddball loop-heavy folk, which is met with widespread disinterest. Final song 'Dead Dog' - which features Thomas wearing a wolf mask and alternately howling and playing saxophone - does suggest that the verdict would likely be unfavourable, though.

In recent weeks, Noel Gallagher has both bemoaned the lack of authentic working-class voices in contemporary music and dismissed Sleaford Mods as being like “Brown Bottle in Viz ... shouting about fucking cider and fucking shit chicken”. Make up your mind, O monobrowed one. Just because the latter don’t conform to your particular, very narrow idea of an authentic working-class voice – namely, Richard Ashcroft or Bobby Gillespie.

For their part, Sleaford Mods – Jason Williamson and Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn – have branded Gallagher a “closet Tory” who sees music as an “instrument of social mobility”. That accusation certainly couldn’t be levelled at the duo themselves. As tonight’s gig proves, they’re very much in the gutter, but they’re not looking at the stars; on the contrary, they’re writhing around in the detritus and filth of everyday life, blind to any alternative vision or escape route. Their music – a lo-fi and distinctively British hip-hop/punk punch-up between The Streets and The Fall, peppered with profanity and fuelled by fury and disgust – is a perfect soundtrack for benefits offices, the top decks of buses and pub car park drug deals.

Beatmaker Fearn – baseball cap, Run DMC T-shirt – has already done his work in the bedroom/studio, so is free to press play on his laptop, grin, dance and drink beer, happy to leave the limelight to his partner in crime. Williamson is testament to John Lydon’s declaration that anger is an energy, pacing about the stage like a caged tiger that occasionally morphs into a menacing gibbon, swatting away invisible wasps with his hand, his words exploding over the mic in a shower of spittle. With his barely suppressed rage, wired eyes and East Midlands accent, he recalls Paddy Considine’s character in Shane Meadows’ superlative revenge flick Dead Man’s Shoes. That a firm request early on to turn up the PA is instantly obeyed underlines that he’s not a man to be disagreed with. When one punter attempts a comical stage invasion, it’s obvious he’ll make a beeline for Fearn instead.

While I suspect I’m probably the only member of tonight’s crowd to get misty-eyed at set-opener ‘Bunch Of Cunts’ (as a former long-time resident of their home town Nottingham, I appreciate the reference to the shopping shithole that is the Victoria Centre), I’m certainly not alone in enjoying the wicked wit that elevates Williamson’s diatribes above the rantings of your average white-cider-swigging denizen of the bus station. Signature song ‘Tied Up In Nottz’ starts with the extraordinary line “The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon”, while Williamson repeatedly and monotonously insisting “I’ve got a Brit Award” in ‘McFlurry’ raises a chuckle. But both are arguably trumped by the mock signing-on interview in ‘Jobseeker’, Williamson admitting he’d be tempted to steal from work because “I’ve got drugs to take and a mind to break”. Lyrics worthy of being published in book form, certainly.

It’s not so much that Sleaford Mods have recently come to attention – more that attention has come to them. They certainly never courted it and you can be equally certain that they won’t give two shits when it’s gone. But, at a time when musical novelty usually equates to youthfulness rather than invention, it’s reassuring that a pair of fortysomethings can still receive recognition for doing something genuinely original.

(This review appears in the current issue of Nightshift, available to peruse here.)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Season's greetings

Not content with two 20th anniversary shows at which they're actually performing, Mogwai have gone further and curated a full season of ATP-promoted gigs at the Roundhouse. The most intriguing line-up sees Wu-Tang Clan man GZA headline above Tortoise, Loop and Lightning Bolt, and it's also tempting to go and see how Godspeed You! Black Emperor's new LP Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress sounds live - but at present it's the opportunity to see The Jesus & Mary Chain performing Psychocandy in its entirety (and with Bardo Pond in support) that's most alluring.

Cut the crap

Say what you like about the Coalition's austerity measures, but at least experts agree they've been good for the economy. Eh? Oh.

(Thanks to Rob for the link.)

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Record Store Day: fast becoming a misnomer?

In case you weren't already aware, Record Store Day 2015 takes place a fortnight from today. This time last year, I posted about an open letter from UK distributor Kudos that explained how RSD had been hijacked to such an extent that it had started to have the opposite effect from that intended.

A year on, those sentiments have been echoed by Nathaniel Cramp, head honcho of well-respected shoegaze/space rock label Sonic Cathedral, who reveals that it's not just labels and distributors that are disenchanted - a lot of record shops themselves, the very institutions supposed to benefit from the initiative, admit to finding it deeply flawed. Is it really in the spirit of things that "pressing plants are constipated with, among other things, a 'deluxe' vinyl version of the U2 album that Bono already shat into our iTunes last year"?

It's time that the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA), the organisation behind RSD, sought to answer the charges rather than dismissing or ducking them.

(Thanks to Del for the link.)

Post paint boy

Ever wanted to be able to paint with Nigel Farage's face? Today's your lucky day.

(Thanks to Tom for the link.)

Friday, April 03, 2015

No laughing matter

Each Tuesday for the last six weeks, at the suggestion of a friend, I've sent off proposed content for Newsjack, the Thursday night topical sketch show on Radio 4 Extra that has an open submission policy. Most of my efforts have been one-liners - some that I felt I'd nailed, others where the wording wasn't quite right, and still others where the kernel concept of the joke was there but I couldn't frame it in the right way. I did also attempt a sketch (about David Cameron making unreasonable demands in the run-up to the leaders' debates). But no luck whatsoever.

I'd imagine most people like to think they can be funny (especially among those who count themselves as comedy fans), and I'm no exception - so it's been a chastening experience to find my efforts falling upon deaf ears week after week. To be honest, I've not been bowled over by the material that has made it to air - it's been mildly amusing at best. That's not sour grapes, though - after all, it obviously speaks volumes about the relative quality of the stuff I've been submitting.

Even if its entertainment value for listeners isn't that high, Newsjack nevertheless serves two very useful purposes. First, it's a brilliant and democratic opportunity to get a foot on the first rung of the comedy-writing ladder, as numerous Newsjack alumni are keen to acknowledge. Second, it's a reminder that writing comedy isn't as easy as it might seem - especially topical comedy, to a tight deadline, avoiding all the hackneyed jokes that Twitter's immediately awash with shortly after a particular news story breaks.

I suppose it's a bit like The X Factor auditions, in that some people are plucked out as showing talent and promise, while for others it's a timely wake-up call that their self-confidence is misplaced and that they should stop wasting their time and leave it to the professionals. Maybe I should take the hint and stick to being a comedy consumer, then. But I can already see myself pigheadedly submitting contributions for the next series...

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The light in the darkness

Recently I posted about eminent scientist and author Oliver Sacks, who has found that terminal illness has given him "a sudden clear focus and perspective". Much the same seems to be true of Clive James, if Blake Morrison's review of James' poetry collection Sentenced To Life is anything to go by.

Not only has James' condition caused him to look back and reflect with clarity on his life (and past mistakes and misdemeanours), it's also helped him towards a sort of hyperawareness of the present moment and the world immediately around him. According to Morrison, there's no wallowing in self-pity - on the contrary, what could be a sombre volume is leavened by James' trademark wit.

One to add to the reading list, then.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)