Friday, March 30, 2007


Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (Original Mix)

‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ by Spiritualized. If I ever have to name my favourite album of all time, I end up naming this one. Everything about it excites me, from the pill-packet packaging to the prescription sleeve-notes. Every track is equally as important and as potentially inspiring the next. It’s a whole album, an absolute classic, and somewhat unbelievably, released ten years ago this summer.

The opening title track to the album is simply breathtaking, and it can still now, practically a decade after I first heard it, have the ability to move my mind to another place, and turn my face into a tear-stained mess. A hushed NASA beep takes me to a star-filled darkness, and a lyrical overlay of such beauty and emotion that all I want is a little love to take the pain away. Could you change what I would consider to be perfect, and still end up with the same result? Well, he already had. Jason Pierce re-recorded his original version for the album, after the Elvis Presley estate refused the use of some lyrics taken from The King’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, and used in the title track, a decision that seems ridiculous when you consider some of the things that have been allowed through the Elvis machine over the years.

This “original” version, including the Elvis lyrics, appeared on some early demo editions of the album and is posted above. I’m not saying that I think it’s better or worse than the album version, just that it’s different, and I think it’s interesting to hear what Jason Pierce’s original ideas for the song were. Obviously, there is the slight lyrical change, but the main difference is the gospel choir. Absent from the album version, this original lends a different ear to the dream, with a busier and fuller crescendo. I cannot state a personal preference for either version; I love them equally, in the same way that I would do my children.

I have since seen Jason perform ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ on the recent Acoustic Mainlines tour at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and again it’s different, although more like the original version, and as always, so very beautiful. Rumoured to have been recorded for release, we could soon have three versions of this perfection to float around to.

There is another Spiritualized Acoustic Mainlines tour in April. Ticket details can be found on the Spiritualized website below. If anyone has a couple of spares for Shepherds Bush, let me know!

The official Spiritualized website
Buy Spiritualized from Norman Records
Spiritualized at My Space
Elvis Presley website


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Your Soul Has Been Touched By Hidden Forces

They say every picture tells a story – well for me, pretty much every piece of vinyl I own comes with its own unique story (apart from the many I mindlessly blagged during my time working in the music industry). I’ve got a lot of records, so that’s a lot of stories, but that’s what this place is for. Take this Spiral Tribe 12”. It’s rarer than a lump of tuna that's barely on speaking terms with the frying pan, and there’s hardly any information about it anywhere on the internet. It was released either late in 1991 or early 1992, I can’t remember which, but I do remember buying it during my doomed year out between college and university, which I wasted signing on, until finally getting a job working on a fruit farm for 6 months. Highlights of that year were few and far between, with only a dysfunctional relationship to keep me entertained, so a shopping trip to Bristol with friends stands out as one of the better moments. Flicking through the racks in Revolver, I came across the familiar Spiral Tribe ‘23 Face’ logo, which I’d seen on flyers various friends had brought back from raves. I hadn’t been to a Spiral party at that point – my brother went to loads, including the early raves at a disused hospital in London, and the exotic sounding Torpedo Town festival – but I’d always been fascinated by them. A journalist writing at the time, remarked that in the olden days kids ran away to join the circus, but these days they ran away to join Spiral Tribe. They were a loose soundsystem collective who organised free parties wherever and whenever they could at increasingly high profile venues, until the advent of legislation contained in the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 turned them into criminals and forced them even deeper underground. I would eventually catch them at the apocalyptic Castlemorton Free Festival in May 1992, which you can read about here. Also, certain members of the collective (in particular, DJ Aztek and MC Scallywag) took a shine to Dorset and would play at hastily arranged illegal raves in random locations like local woods, where a strobe light up a tree provided the only illumination to a crazy night of impromptu raving. Golden days. I used to have a brilliant tape of Aztek and Scallywag playing in someone’s kitchen, but it got flung out of the sunroof of a car for reasons best known to the person who did the flinging.

Anyway, back to the vinyl – it was a self-produced, self-financed release on no label and they pressed somewhere between 500 and 1000 copies. I snaffled it up for a fiver, but on my return to Dorchester, friend, rave mentor and drug dealer Al Smooch flipped his lid when he heard I had it, and pestered me incessantly until I agreed to give it to him. It seems crazy that I would just hand it over, but I’m sure he sweetened the deal with something I wanted, and he could be extremely persistent. Plus, he had a phenomenal collection of early rave and techno vinyl, whereas I was very much an indie kid and the record did seem out of place in my collection. So, I reluctantly gave it up to Al, who sadly died in tragic circumstances a few years ago. A load us went back to Dorchester for his funeral, and it was at his wake afterwards that Al’s brother DJ’ed a set selected from the Smooch’s awesome collection, including tracks from the EP I had given to him. I was drunk at this point and almost went and asked if I could have it back, but luckily common sense prevailed and I didn’t. Definitely not the time or place. A year or so after that, I found a tape with the EP on that Al had recorded for me to make up for not having the actual vinyl any more. I was determined to get it back, and after months of searching on eBay, I finally managed to pick up a copy, shelling out £70 for the pleasure, but it’s worth every single penny, both for the memories and the music.

I’m posting all four tracks from the EP as they are completely different, representing Spiral Tribe’s first recordings and showcasing their love of deep, dark techno. The music was completely different to their more commercial outings on Big Life, and the intense nosebleed gabba of the material they recorded under the SP23 alias. It was far more experimental than you might expect; an eclectic collection of densely layered tracks.

**** Update - May 2009 - I've uploaded all four tracks from the EP as one zip file due to popular demand. Only up here for a limited time, so spread the word if you know people who will want to download it.****

Spiral Tribe - Spiral Tribe EP

'D.J. Nasty' develops with a surprisingly subtler touch than the opening salvo of chaotic tribal drums and distorted, twisted analogue effects suggests. A measured, melodic bassline combines with light drums and sinister whispered intonations. The production is fairly primitive, and it is unclear which members of the collective were responsible for this experimental slice of far from pristine techno.

'Wasp I', the second track on the EP, is perhaps the most interesting of the lot. Opening with a dirty, squelching bassline and spooky Native American chanting, it develops with rudimentary drum programming and an insidious, high-pitched oscillating acid line, giving the whole track a dark and eerie atmosphere. It's techno alright, but not as we know it, and definitely one designed to totally bend the mind rather than inspire the feet.

Flip it over for 'U Make Me Feel So Good', the best known track of the lot as it later received a release on Guerilla Records, under the Drum Club moniker, the eventual nom de plume of it's composer Charlie Hall, a founding member of the collective. I'm not sure what part he played in the rest of the compositions, but this is definitely the most accomplished track of the four, demonstrating slick studio and production skills. It's verging on the trance-like with the repetitive barking synth, funky tribal drums, a mystical Eastern sounding guitar loop and vocal samples, including one from the Mad Professor that would also be utilised by the Orb on the 'Blue Room'. Seminal stuff.

The final track on the EP, 'Wasp II', has very little in common with it's namesake. This is the most straightforward banging techno track on the EP, but it still has hidden depths that make it unique. Driving cymbal heavy beats, a pulsing bassline, twitching acid and vast, spacey synth effects provide an elongated intro into the deepest, darkest realms of techno, before a euphoric, reverbed choral melody kicks in to send you off your nut.

Search eBay for Spiral Tribe
Spiral Tribe at My Space - there's a mixtape by Aztek and Scallywag to stream, plus loads of pictures, You Tube video links and info about what the collective are up to these days
Informative Spiral Tribe entry at Wikipedia
Spiral Tribe photo archive here
A brief overview of rave culture from a Spiral perspective here


Sunday, March 25, 2007

I Know That I Can Count On You

The Longcut - You Got The Love (Shadow Dancer Remix)

We're going all post modern on you this Sunday morning with a remix of a cover version of a bootleg. To break it down - brothers Paul and Al Farrier aka Shadow Dancer remix Mancunian post-punkers the Longcut's cover version of The Source featuring Candi Staton's huge club hit 'You Got the Love', which started out life as a 1989 bootleg comprising Staton's acapella over Frankie Knuckles' classic 'Your Love'. The Longcut's cover erases all semblance of spirituality from Staton's original gospel vocal, with singing drummer Stuart delivering the lines like a man clinging to a sheer cliff face in a force 10 gale, his impassioned howl bringing a whole new meaning to the song. Shadow Dancer get their claws into it, staging a distorted lazer beam battle over crunchy electro beats and the filthiest bassline I've heard in a while.

The Longcut cover version was recently released on Melodic as a limited edition double-A side 7", with a cracking brand new track, 'Idiot Check'. A four track EP featuring the original tracks, plus the Shadow Dancer remix and James 'Pedro' Rutledge's stunning mix of 'Idiot Check' is available from i-Tunes.

Buy the 'Idiot Check / You Got the Love' 7" from Norman Records
The Longcut website
Shadow Dancer My Space
The Longcut My Space
Melodic website


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Celebrating 100 Posts With Some Alpine Techno

Hey-O-Hansen - Moon

This is our 100th post, a landmark that deserves a very special song and I think this more than fits the bill. 'Moon' by Hey-O-Hansen sounds unlike anything you've ever heard before, unless you inhabit a strange world where the standard music is traditional gypsy accordion folk cross-bred with thunderous dub techno. And if indeed you do, invite me over, I bet it's great! Hey-O-Hansen are a genre-busting Berlin based collective who continually defy categorisation, though they opt for "charming afro-alpine dubstep band", which works for me. 'Moon' was part of a series of six 12"'s they released on their own Hey Rec imprint, which have recently been collected together and released on CD. The first time I heard this song, my mind collapsed under the weight of its sheer brilliance. The flip-side of the 12 featured a remix from Thaddi Herrmann, which was described by Boomkat as an "unlikely blend of minimal jacking Chicago acid and Alpine folk, sort of like Mr Fingers with accordions!" I don't really know what else I can say that can add to the experience of cranking up the volume on this killer track and involuntarily busting out some bizarre Russian-style kossack dancing in appreciation of the crazyness that unfolds. Even my cat loves this one, cementing its place as one of the greatest 12"'s that currently resides in my collection. Here's to the next 100 posts. Thanks for reading and listening and keep buying the records and supporting the artists.

Buy 'Hey-O-Hansen - The 06 Singles' from Boomkat
Enter the wonderful world of Hey-O-Hansen at their official website
Hey-O-Hansen My Space


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful

I really thought I had rid myself of that twatty arrogance that the majority of music obsessive’s carry around with them. You know, the sort of attitude so eloquently exposed by James Murphy in LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Losing My Edge’, which makes you dislike music when it becomes popular, and has you snorting derisively and proclaiming that you’ve been there, done that, when anyone else proffers love for a band. I used to be a bit like this, and I’m sure I’m not alone. A forward-thinking, pioneering mentality and a willingness to seek out the new, undone by a dismissive reaction to people who are a bit slower at getting to the party than you were. It’s not good, and as I said, I thought I had got it out of my system. For starters, I’m definitely slower to getting to new music than I was. Entire new scenes are built and smashed to pieces before I’ve got my ears anywhere near them. But providing I do get in there early, these days I like to share, as this blog bears witness.

Maybe I have changed, but there are still moments when that old mentality rears its ugly head. Take last year – my 40something, Bruce Springsteen-loving boss came up to me at work and jabbed a finger at the T-shirt I was wearing and said, “Boards of Canada? I like them. They’re not as good as Zero 7 but some of their album is alright.” I grimaced, smiled and nodded. ‘The Campfire Headphase’, BOC's third album, had been out for a while, and I was troubled. I had a sinking feeling that I wasn't into it. I suspected it was lightweight and wasn’t going to grow on me as other doubters I knew seemed to think. Hearing their name mentioned in the same breath as Zero 7 set the alarm bells ringing once again. That was it. They’d made a generic ‘coffee-table’ album, destined for the stereos of floppy-fringed middle managers who wear suit jackets with jeans and buy exactly five albums a month from HMV. No, that wasn’t it. I was just being a snob again. They hadn’t sold out, their sound had evolved and maybe I wasn’t on board, but just because it appealed to a wider audience, didn’t mean it was shit. They had finally broken through, and deserved critical acclaim would turn into financial reward and widespread recognition. Surely, this was what all artists’ craved, and why should I begrudge them that? Did I really hate the fact my ‘friends’ had become successful?

Did I? Well, my love for Boards of Canada runs deep, ever since an old flatmate gave me a copy of their ‘Hi-Scores’ 12” in 1997. This unexpected act of generosity had wider implications, as I fell head over heels in love with BOC’s unique mix of whimsical melodies, deep emotive synths and awesome hip hop beats. I wanted more, but was dismayed to find that, despite having a considerable back catalogue of material, with the exception of the 100-only vinyl pressing of ‘Twoism’ from 1995, all the rest of their music was only available on cassettes that they’d given away to their friends and were virtually impossible to find. It’s bizarre, but this frustration made them more appealing; a bit like being given the come-on by an attractive girl, only to keep on getting blown out when you moved in for a kiss. Yep, Boards of Canada played hard to get, and I fell even deeper in love. The second major attraction was the origin of their name. They took it from the Nation Film Board of Canada who were partly famous for wildlife and nature documentaries made during the 1970s, one of which I had been shown several times at school when I was about eight. We were doing a project on birds at the time, and as well as watching ‘Look and Read’ (which had a drama about poachers stealing peregrine falcon eggs), there was this documentary about an eagle. I don’t remember much about it, but it had spectacular shots of golden eagle’s soaring over their natural habitat, with a calming, instructive voiceover and distinctive melodious music to accompany the footage. This piece of film stayed with me, and when I first came across BoC, their music resonated strongly, partly because of the “forced nostalgia” their melodies invoke (making you feel like you’ve heard them somewhere before) and partly because they reminded me of that film, so perhaps I had, in some strange way, heard them before.

The love affair was sealed with ‘Music Has the Right to Children’, their masterpiece LP, which was a joint release between Warp and Skam in 1998. It’s hard to explain the impact this album had on me, but I don’t think I listened to anything else for a while after it first came out. It was so addictive, and sounded like nothing else. The familiar, nostalgic melodies, the buried vocal elements and all the mystery that surrounded their subliminal meaning, the impeccable beat programming, the wonderful one-minute songs, the enigmatic artwork – it was like an album masquerading as a whole new way of life, and I closely guarded my promo copy, listening to it obsessively, but rarely playing it to anyone else. Eventually I broke ranks and started taking it round people’s houses and playing it and it had a similar effect on them. I wouldn’t be allowed to leave until they had taped their own copy. It was that sort of album. Once you’d heard it, you had to have it, as nothing else in your collection could come close to it. Genius is a word used with far too much freedom these days, but ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ was definitely beaten to within an inch of its life by the genius stick. It became my lullaby music and I used to fall asleep to it all the time. I didn’t buy into all the BOC conspiracy theories that continue to do the rounds with fans who are closer to stalkers than obsessives (see here), but had definitely found a special new band, and an album that is to this day, one of the best my ears have had the privilege of being serenaded by. It spawned a host of second-rate imitators and changed the landscape of electronic music. Its influence is still being felt today, and its creators, the Scottish duo of Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison, have remained an enigma, with sporadic live shows and hundreds of conflicting rumours about their existence circulating among fans. Though we now know they are brothers, something they were keen to keep a secret for some strange reason.

Looking back now, it’s easy to see that I fell too hard, too quickly. If I’m to be completely honest, I didn’t really get into ‘Geogaddi’, the duo’s follow-up released in 2002, and as any ‘proper’ BOC fan will tell you, if you don’t get ‘Geogaddi’, you don’t get BOC, period. I was so wrapped up in the magic of the original album when it was fresh and new, and it would have taken a miracle for any of the proceeding music they made to draw me in so completely. I do like ‘Geogaddi’, I play it often, but I don’t LOVE it in the same way I love ‘Music Has the Right to Children’. And as for ‘The Campfire Headphase’ – I’m not really into it, but it’s not really a big deal is it? We’ll always have ‘MHTRTC’, won’t we Marcus? Right, Mike? They’ve moved on, I’ve moved on. And I certainly don’t begrudge them their success, as they deserve it. Despite saying all of this, I could still barely suppress the rage I felt when my boss proclaimed herself a Boards of Canada fan, mentioning them in the same breath as Zero 7. I can’t repeat what I would have liked to say, but of course, I didn’t. I value my job too much for that. Besides, I shouldn’t really be wearing the band’s T-shirt if I’m not really into the band anymore. They’re not trading on past glories, so nor should I. It really is time to move on…

Boards of Canada - Everything You Do Is A Balloon

…but before we do, let’s have some music, from BOC’s golden era, circa 1996-1998. Starting with ‘Everything You Do Is A Balloon’ from the ‘Hi-Scores’ EP. This really is peerless music. I’m sure they had their own reference points, but their keyboards make sounds that nobody else has ever made, yet still manage to be completely familiar. Warm, fuzzy melodies envelop you and carry you away, back to your childhood. It’s unnerving how they can do this, almost as if they have some way of tapping into collective nostalgia and finding the sounds and melodies that evoke key memories that connect all of our lives. There used to be a photo on their old website, with a kid in this climbing frame that was a hexagonal fibreglass structure, with round holes you could peer from or climb in and out of. I hadn’t seen it since I was about five (one of the few things my camera-mad Dad didn’t take a photo of!), but seeing it again brought on an overwhelming rush of memory that hit me like a tidal wave. The plasticy, new smell of the fibreglass; the feel of it, warm and hard against my hands as I clambered around, and the echoey reverb of my voice when I called to my brother from within. It’s this strength of memory their music stirs up, and if I could, I’d climb inside this song and live in it forever.

Boards of Canada - Orange Romeda

‘Orange Romeda’ was Boards of Canada’s contribution to the ‘We Are Reasonable People’ compilation, Warp’s 100th album release. Seeing as I couldn't possibly post the entire ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ album, and am not able choose a single track, this is a pretty good replacement. It’s typical of what went on that album. This is classic BOC, the sound of the duo hitting their collective stride. The beats stand-out - repetitive, shuffling and with that superb, fizzing bass drum that goes right through you. The intricate flute-like melody takes a while to reveal itself, combining with the lush, warm pads that permeate the whole track with gorgeousness.

Bubbah's Tum - Dirty Great Mable (Boards Of Canada Mix)

Boards of Canada have always been choosy about the acts they’ve chosen to remix. Those selected have often been surprising. These days it’s Beck who gets the nod, but back in 1998, they accepted the challenge of reworking the insane and virtually unknown ‘Dirty Great Mable’ by Bubbah’s Tum for the late, great Ill Recordings. Toning down the thunderous, shit kicking drums of the original they play with buried vocal elements; children’s voices, snatches of phrases and shouts, cut-up in the mix, along with what I can only describe as trademark ‘BOC melodies’. That term became a journalistic byword for any form of woozy, analogue synth work in music, but BOC did it first. This is about as hard as BOC ever got, but it really does suit their sound. I'm ever hopeful that they'll return with an album of stuff like this one day.

Official Boards of Canada website
Buy Boards of Canada from Norman Records
Boards of Canada's My Space
Incredible Boards of Canada fan resource
Boards of Canada discography
Boards of Canada at Warp Records
Boards of Canada entry at Wikipedia


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Thursday, March 15, 2007

I Think Therefore I Ambient

Humans have been chilling out since Stone Age man kicked back with a doobie and listened to the birdsong. So, despite there being a precedent, I imagine the whole concept of the chill out room in nightclubs must have been met with the same incredulous guffaws that greeted the first person who suggested that the world may in fact be round. “You want to put sofas into a nightclub and play laidback music to a bunch of gurning, pilled-up mentalists?” Despite the seeming incongruity, as we all know, it ended up being a hugely successful concept and for me personally, the chill out room was often my salvation. Depending on what state of mind I was in, I was often more up for a sit-down and a chat than I was for chucking out crazy shapes with my head wedged in the bassbins. Every time someone mouthed, “Fancy heading to the chill out room?” I would nod gratefully and race into it’s cosy seclusion. It was a bit like hanging out in someone else’s front room. A blim burnt sofa, the odd UV making teeth glow and everyone look like they had chronic dandruff, some batik wall hangings and an old hippy spinning Gong and Brian Eno records on a single deck. Of course, as time progressed they got more sophisticated, until the ‘Chill Out Zone’ became just as important as the club itself. DJs started to forge careers around their liking for the more mellow elements of music, and artists like the Orb and the Mixmaster Morris became stalwarts of the ambient music scene. It wasn’t long before the music that was previously confined to the chill out room became the focus of entire club nights as, during the early 1990s, promoters like Megadog put together hugely successful DJ tours all over the country. And it wasn’t just in the clubs that chilling out became de rigueur. The post-clubbing experience was all about where you could go and have a relaxing comedown. A mate of mine used to fill his lounge with all the pillows, cushions, rugs and duvets he could get his hands and we’d all go back there and drink tea, eat toast and marmite, smoke gigantic reefers and fade out into oblivion, to whatever mellow sounds were selected.

Some of my favourite musical memories are associated with ambient music; from driving through Yosemite National Park with Boards of Canada on the stereo, to being up a mountain in Austria, looking out over an incredible view to the lake below while listening to ‘Feel So Sad’ by Spiritualized on a walkman. I didn’t intend for this post to be a chronological guide to all things chill out and ambient as I couldn’t possibly write about all the music I like, and there are many gaps in my knowledge of the genre. However, I would like to touch on some of the music I’ve enjoyed or more accurately, “chilled out to”, starting with the KLF’s seminal and self-explanatory ‘Chill Out’ album, released in 1990. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve passed out with this burbling away on the CD deck, then woken up to the sudden sound of a freight train hurtling past or spooky Tuvan throat singing, before being lulled back to a comatose state by the distant reverie of Elvis singing ‘In The Ghetto’ or Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’. It was recorded live in one take in the basement of Jimmy Cauty’s Stockwell squat, and as a body of work, I think it is unsurpassed in the ambient genre. I would post it, but an extract wouldn’t do it justice and if I uploaded the full 44 minutes, I wouldn’t have any space left on my server. Therefore, if you don’t own it already and want to revel in its awesomeness, you should buy it. The KLF’s other masterpiece of this era was ‘Space’, a series of extended sparse ambient workouts, taking the listener on a voyage through the solar system.

I long to get my hands on a cassette a friend of my brother’s made, which spliced a Tangerine Dream album with dialogue from episodes of Star Trek. It was a bizarre union but it worked perfectly as music to lose yourself in, the dreamy soundscapes of Tangerine Dream combining with Kirk and Spock’s out-there and often hilarious observations on beaming down to yet another strange planet. Every time I hear the sound of the doors on the Enterprise (shishtikoof, or something similar), I am transported back to my brother’s house in Oxford, lying around with a bunch of altered heads, going on fantastic mind journeys to distant planets…

The Orb also provided many musical high points for me, and their live performance at Glastonbury in 1992 was probably one of the greatest I have ever seen. They managed to combine the ambient concept with very danceable beats, thus making the perfect music for both mind and feet. I absolutely love them and they deserve (and will get) a much longer and more detailed post from me, but I couldn’t really write this without at least mentioning them.

The Irresistible Force - Sky High

Now to the music... first up is ‘Sky High’, a wonderful 12 minutes from the stone cold ambient classic that was the debut album from Mixmaster Morris’s Irresistible Force. ‘Flying High’ was released by Rising High on 1992 and featured 6 lengthy tracks, which combined found sound elements like faraway planes and twittering birdsong, with dialogue from meditation instruction tapes, undulating analogue synths, ambient washes and live instrumentation, taking the listener on a magical journey wherever their brain fancied going. Morris started out DJ’ing with the Shamen as part of the Synergy collective, putting on parties that utilised strobes, projectors, psychedelic lighting and virtual reality equipment, creating a multi-sensory experience and revolutionising the clubbing experience. He went on to become famous for his all-night DJ-sets in chill out rooms all over the globe, and songs like ‘Sky High’ were central to these sets, which clubbers likened to spiritual journeys.

Autechre - Chatter

The Artificial Intelligence series on Warp took ambient music to a completely new dimension over the course of eight albums, released between 1992 and 1994. The sleeve image from the original ‘AI’ compilation that kicked it all off, featured a robot sat in an armchair blowing smoke rings with headphones on, and the album’s subtitle of ‘Electronic Listening Music From Warp’, gave a very clear image of where the label felt this album would be best enjoyed. The compilation was a seminal release, creating ambient techno in the process, and show casing the early work of Autechre, Black Dog Productions, Aphex Twin (as Polygon Window), B12, Speedy J, Richie Hawtin (as F.U.S.E.) and many others. The six artists mentioned also released albums as part of the series, all of which are incredible. I could quite happily listen to nothing but these albums for the rest of my life. The series concluded with the second ‘Artificial Intelligence’ compilation, from where I have plucked ‘Chatter’ by Autechre. Out of all the music Autechre have produced, this has to be my favourite song of theirs. I’ve watched a roomful of people dance in bizarre slow motion to this song, and while it may not be ambient in the truest sense of the word, it is a wonderful piece of music, and a surprising one, given that its composers are better known for dark and complex compositions. A long intro of resonant bleeps leads you towards gentle, layered beats and warm atmospherics to create something that is about as close to pure joy as you can get.

Chapterhouse - Delta Phase (Retranslated by Global Communication)

Chapterhouse’s second album ‘Blood Music’ was, if I can be frank, a bit shit. I was a big fan of the band, but the direction they took their music in post-‘Whirlpool’ left a lot to be desired. Their second album, ‘Blood Music’ was a kind of wishy-washy mix of shoegazer rock and electronics, which ended up being neither here nor there, and was eventually withdrawn due to sampling issues. However, redemption was on the expansive horizon, as the mighty Global Communications reworked the album to stunning effect in the shape of ‘Pentamerous Metamorphosis’. The sleeve notes describe it as being ‘Composed from the cells of ‘Blood Music’ by Chapterhouse’, and although many elements from ‘Blood Music’ are present, it really is a transformation on a par to that Jesus fella’s alleged magic trick with water and wine. It’s really hard to get hold of, which is perhaps why it isn’t mentioned more often alongside other great works from the ambient genre. All five tracks (or phases) of the reworking are amazing - complex, deep and unbelievably beautiful. I’m posting ‘Delta Phase’, as I love the combination of guitar, deep bass and lush, warm pads and effects. Seek it out if you can, it’s a masterpiece.

Buy 'Chill Out' by the KLF
Buy everything by The Orb
Search eBay for 'Flying High' by the Irresistible Force
Buy 'Artificial Intelligence'
Have a car boot sale to raise funds to buy 'Pentamerous Metamorphosis' on eBay
KLF website
The Orb's website
The Irresistible Force at Ninja Tune
Global Communication at the Reload website
Chapterhouse fansite
Tangerine Dream website


Monday, March 12, 2007

I Think I'll Call Myself Johnny Racket

Feedle - song for dogs live

Feedle is a prime example of how a bit of exposure from a net label can lead to bigger things. Despite our apparent love for downloading music, we are all still reluctant to trust anything that isn't also getting an 'official' release, and by that I mean pressed onto vinyl or CD and available to buy in HMV. The odd exclusive download from an established artist here or there is fine, but labels that exist solely on the internet are viewed with curiosity, but aren't yet accepted as the real deal by the majority. Feedle first came to prominence when his debut album, 'Leave Now for Adventure' was released as a download-only album for a bargain £3 by the fantastic SVC Records, a net label spin off from the music blog Spoilt Victorian Child, back in February 2006. The low-key release was picked up on and championed by Huw Stephens and Steve Lamacq at Radio 1, and also received an unbelievable review from Drowned in Sound, where the reviewer was moved to say, "It may come from a near-wordless place with a synthetic heartbeat, but this album packs the sort of intense emotion and hot, blustery passion that by rights should have people fawning over it past a time when the bar is raised even higher.

The net release brought Feedle to the attention of the London-based indie label Illicit Recordings, who are releasing a remixed and remastered version of the original net release with additional tracks, along with a 12", 'Song for Dogs', which should be in your local record emporium as of today. To follow is an interview with Feedle's owner, Graham Clarke, the Sheffield-based purveyor of odd melodic noise, in which he drolly expounds on a variety of subjects, including his tardiness, how the burning of stubble inspired a song and strategies to get coverage in the NME. He has kindly given me an exclusive live version of the single 'Song for Dogs', which is epic, inventive and constantly surprising, and reminds me of the Orb when Dr Alex and Thrash were at the peak of their powers. Over the space of a thrilling 10 minutes, Feedle weaves elements of other songs (including his own) through the original distorted barnstormer. It's a case of spot the track - I've identified elements of 'Cannonball' by the Breeders and Vashti Bunyan's 'Diamond Day', along with 'Everything Slow' by the man himself. This version of the song has been providing the conclusion to his sporadic live sets for a while now and is probably going to be retired soon, so do try and go and see him at some of his forthcoming live dates (listed below) in order to catch it while you can.

Joe C: Morning Feedle. Cram you life thus far into a glib sound bite that could be carved onto your headstone were you to cark it tomorrow.

Graham Clarke: "Here he is, dead now. He slept late and missed everything, then pretended he didn't care."

JC: Most people are fairly snotty and dismissive of internet record labels, but you are a prime example of how a net release can lead to bigger and (some might say) better things. How was that process for you?

GC: Refreshingly hassle free. It's good to have that extra stepping stone in the process, I think.

JC: When I'm telling people about what you're doing, I often use Kevin Shields as a reference point, mainly because the way you manipulate white noise and distortion into something rather beautiful is reminiscent of KS in his pomp. Who or what are your influences, musical or otherwise? And does it annoy you when people like me go round comparing you to other musicians?

GC: It's not annoying, it's obviously flattering. It does however leave lofty impressions which I then have to try and live up to, and feel like a failure for not doing, so in the long run you're making my life a living nightmare.

It's hard to pinpoint musical influences, because that just sounds like you're going cherry picking through your record collection. You just write stuff and each song dictates it's own rules. If other people see connections with other artists then that's fine for them. I suppose it helps.

JC: Tell me a story from your childhood that had a direct bearing on the music contained on 'Leave Now For Adventure'.

GC: That's a very strange question. Not childhood specifically, but when I was young and lived near the countryside they used to burn the stubble on all the surrounding fields and for a few days every Autumn the air was filled with ash and burning smells. It was gently surreal on a morning. So 'burn the fields' was an effort to try and capture that feeling. I've since discovered that 'Cattle and Cane' by the Go-Betweens appears to reference the same thing, but with words, and better. Late, as usual.

JC: You have chosen to make a home in Sheffield. Does the city influence the music you make? If so, in what ways? It's obviously famous right now for being the hometown of the Arctic Monkeys, but it has a rich heritage in pioneering electronic music, from the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire, through to Warp Records. Do you feel part of any specific scene? Is it a supportive environment in which to work?

GC: I don't really like living in Sheffield that much, and I suspect that Sheffield is not that fond of me living in it. I suppose a lot of what I write at the moment is a result of sheltering from it, or trying to take ownership of a part of it, and make it how I prefer it to be. People often speak of the 'rich cultural heritage' of Sheffield – what is this thing? Is it like a sauce, or some kind of relish? I'm not aware of it, whatever it is. I don't think it's helpful to think of yourself as part of anything. As soon as you do that, you're erecting boundaries of some sort, and that's counter productive.

JC: I know you are a subscriber to the Martin Carr-school of never repeating yourself, even over the course of one song. This is very evident in the music you make; each song is crammed full of ideas, making it refreshingly unpredictable. Do you find this ethos piles on the creative pressure? Do you work under the mantra 'Must Not Repeat', or does it just come naturally? Would you deliberately shelve an idea for being too similar to something you've done before?

GC: Well, I try and most probably fail to not to repeat myself, but yeah ideas do get shelved if they sound too similar to something else. I chuck away the majority of what I write for being either done before or too rubbish. But then again, there are always going to be sounds I like and keep coming back to, so I always repeat myself to an extent, despite my best intentions. I always preferred those records which swerved off at odd angles – ‘Wowee Zowee’, ‘Giant Steps’, ‘Parklife’, ‘Barafundle’, so really it's just trying to be attentive to keeping it fresh without being too academic about it at the same time. I've just heard ‘The Faust Tapes’ for the first time, finally, and that does remarkable things with that idea. Then again, there's stuff like 'Halleluwah' by Can or ‘Selected Ambient Works II’ which do relatively little for seemingly hours, and are genius. So I don't know what to think, frankly. I don't think I'm going to worry about it.

JC: I've been lucky enough to hear the recent session you recorded for John Kennedy's XPosure show on XFm, and all four songs contain vocals of some form or another. On the album, you only sing on the one track ('This Troubles All Dust'). Are you deliberately taking your music in a more vocal-led direction? If so, why has it taken you so long to start pairing your voice with your music? Could you ever see yourself fronting a traditionally structured band?

GC: I've tried 'deliberate' before and it always ends in a mischief. It's not intentional at all, it's just another offshoot of trying to keep things interesting for me and for the listener. Plus I like singing and words, so I thought I'd make some room for them. It's taken this long for two reasons: 1) Previous lack of confidence 2) I couldn't afford a microphone. I'd love to have a band. It's definitely a direction it could go in, and probably should. I can't really see myself as a frontman, more of a 'lurking by the monitors looking edgy' sort of character. I'd hire women to stand at the front, wearing stiletto heels, so I could get in the NME. I think I'll call myself Johnny Racket.

JC: I guess this question is linked to the last - live, at the moment, it's just you and a laptop. Is this frustrating? Do you find the set-up limits the sort of venues and audiences you are able to play to? Are you ever tempted to rope other musicians in?

GC: Massively frustrating. I think people are unwilling to book it on the basis that it's not a very interesting spectacle, and for good reason. I'm concerned with show business, and it's currently watching a man operate some IT, and that's quite weird, and I wouldn't really want or expect people to pay to see it. It would be more helpful if I was a show off, I suppose, but short of pressing buttons with a mild flourish, I don't really know what I could do. I do have live visuals, which we're hoping to develop into something more central, to try and distract people from the central oddness of the whole thing. We're going to try and shoot little films to show.

JC: I notice on your My Space page you have chosen to highlight the negative reviews for the album and single garnered thus far, rather than accentuating the positives. Does this say something about you, or are you just having a laugh? Having spent so long making music without making it commercially available, are you nervous about what people might think? Presuming the two are not mutually attainable, would you rather be successful or critically acclaimed?

GC: I imagine it's a wry comment on the self-promotional nature of My Space, and how it highlights the weird desperate urge for acceptance at the heart of society. Not really, I just thought it would be amusing. My copy of the Wasp Factory has extracts from all the reviews and alternates between glowing and damning, and I always thought that was great. No, I'm not bothered by what people think. I wouldn't release anything if I didn't think it was alright. Having said that, I'm interested in people's opinions, I'm just aware that they don't validate me. I do get the feeling that people make their mind up too quickly about things at the moment, because they have the access to vast amounts of music they have to make a swift decision on whether they like stuff to move on. But that could be purely imaginary on my part. I tried to produce something which I could imagine people living with for a while, and come back to. All the best records are the ones you can climb inside of, and continually rediscover. I can't really imagine what either acclaim or success would consist of. I don't really mind if only 9 people buy the album, as long as those 9 people play it. Aspirations are for the faint hearted. I think it's more useful to not have any achievable aims, day to day.

JC: To end, briefly describe what would constitute a perfect day in your life. Then reverse the scenario, and reveal the worst day you could ever imagine. Then finally, if you could live your life alternating days between these two extremes, would you?

GC: Good - awake to the sound of woodland birds. Eat a mixture of yoghurt, honey and fresh soft fruit. The day thereafter should be utterly unpredictable, but should involve a really good sandwich at some point.

Bad - awake, hungover, to the sound of a dog snarling directly into my head. Force-fed pine cones and bracken. Vomit twice. Spend the remaining daylight hours at work. Spend evening listening to all the records in history that are better than mine.

Alternating between these two extremes made me think it would be like 'Groundhog Day' had it been directed by Darren Aronofsky. Would I like to live my life in this endlessly purgatorial manner? No.

JC: Thanks Graham. Now we know...

The limited edition 12", complete with hand-drawn sleeve by the artist himself is released today on Illicit Recordings. The album, 'Leave Now for Adventure' follows on the 26th March 2007, snugly packaged in a lovely digipack.

Feedle is the Artist in Residence on John Kennedy's XPosure show on XFm w/c 19th March, where an exclusive four-track session will be broadcast, featuring brand new material. Well worth tuning in for.

Feedle plays live at the Cheap Thrills 2nd Birthday Party at the Magnet in Liverpool on Friday 16th March, then for Opus at Sheffield's Riverside Cafe, with exclusive live visuals from Medlo on Sunday 18th March. He will also be supporting Battles and Clark at the Corporation in Sheffield on Thursday 17th May.

Purchase the 'Song for Dogs' 12" from Norman Records
Pre-order 'Leave Now for Adventure' from Norman Records. They are selling it for a very reasonable £8.95, plus they are getting it a week ahead of the official release date, so you can get your paws on it early!
Feedle website (currently in the middle of an overhaul - new site imminent!)
Feedle My Space


Friday, March 09, 2007

The purpose of this record…

The Knights of the Turntables - Techno Scratch
The Knights of the Turntables - Fresh Mess (Jam... Your Radio)
The Knights of the Turntables - Dub (The Knights Fly To Mars And Venus, With Their Dog, Woodpecker, And Cat)

This blog is for entertainment, not education, but as I was searching the vastness of the internet for information for this post, I came across an mp3 of an interview with the artists concerned – The Knights of the Turntables – from a German website Considering the paucity of information elsewhere, this interview was a veritable goldmine, as two of the original members of the crew talk about the electro scene in L.A. in 1984 / 1985 and the recording of their seminal track, ‘Techno Scratch’. It was like an electro history lesson, and considering how obsessed I am, I hung off their every word. The discovery of this interview changed my post a lot, as instead of the half-truths and speculation I was basing it on before, I have been able to transcribe some cold, hard facts, straight from the key protagonists’ mouths. Read on and learn – quiet at the back…

The Knights of the Turntables were a DJ collective who hailed from Carson, California, located 13 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Based around a core trio of DJ’s - Gerard ‘Lil Rockin’ G’ Burton, Curtis ‘C-Brez’ Harvey Jnr and Mad Mixer RMG - they came together in 1983 and set up what can only be described as a mobile disco service, playing at clubs, parties, graduations and high school dances in the L.A. area. Despite the mobile disco title, not for them a dodgy tricolour light box, glitter ball and collection of Black Lace 7”’s, oh no. The Knights were cool as fuck, serving up scratching and mixing across four or even six turntables, playing the freshest electro and techno cuts that Lil Rockin’ G would procure from record buying trips all over the US. They were joined by MC’s including Chilly G, and, as time went on, would introduce drum machines and samplers to their set-up. Everyone would come down to watch the DJ’s scratch and mix, and there would be break dancing contests and MC battles. There would also be battles against rival DJ crews, and as RMG says in the interview, more often than not, they won. The Knights used to hang out at the Radio Club, a venue made famous as the location for the dance scenes in ‘Breakdance the Movie’ where Chris ‘The Glove’ Taylor scratches and Ice T raps as the rival dance crew’s battle it out. Apparently, this was a pretty authentic example of how things went down in L.A. clubs in 1984.

The Knights of the Turntables never really planned to make their own tracks, but C-Brez worked in the stockroom for JDC Records, a disco/funk label whose owner, Jim Callon, was interested in putting out some electro tracks. He asked C-Brez if he knew anyone who might be up for it, and C-Brez put himself and Lil Rockin’ G forward. Callon invited them down to the JDC warehouse, where he introduced them to his friend, Charles Lamont. Lamont had a Prophet 5, a pedal reverb unit and a drumulator. G and C-Brez had brought along an 808, their turntables and a mixer. They recorded the basic rhythm track for ‘Techno Scratch’ to a two-track reel-to-reel recorder in one continuous 15 minute take, right there in the middle of the warehouse! The original version was over 15 minutes long, but this got chopped down to 12 minutes and finally, Callon edited it down to the 3-minute version that became one of the most influential records in the history of electro music. I first came across it on the Streetsounds compilation, ‘Electro 5’ and it made an immediate impression. That was probably due to the novelty Woody Woodpecker cut-up (I was only 11 at the time!), but the combination of sparse drum programming, Lamont’s alien synths and G and C-Brez’s rhythmic scratching made it a killer track. They weren’t sure what to do with it, but decided to cut an acetate so they would have some beats to play at jams that other DJ’s didn’t have. Eventually, Callon made the edit and released the record on JDC.

They returned to the studio later on that year and recorded ‘Fresh Mess (Jam… Your Radio)’, which followed a similar blueprint to ‘Techno Scratch’. Its maybe not as immediate as its predecessor, lacking a real hook, but I actually prefer it. The scratching flows so intuitively with the beats, which makes you realise what incredible deck technicians the Knights were. Plus I love that bassline. It all sounds pretty basic, but the impact it had on me and many others far outweighs the rudimentary nature of the composition. ‘Fresh Mess’ featured on ‘Electro 7’ which was where I first heard it. To give you an example of what the Knights live sets may have sounded like, I have also posted the ‘Dub’ mix of ‘Fresh Mess’, entitled ‘The Knights Fly To Mars And Venus, With Their Dog, Woodpecker, And Cat’. The synths are a bit of tune in places, but this adds rather than detracts, making it sound authentic and live. The signature Woody Woodpecker scratch makes another appearance, along with cut-ups of dogs and cats, and plenty of cowbell. The ‘Fresh Mess’ sessions also yielded the one and only vocal track they recorded, ‘We Are The Knights’, which featured Chilly G on a vocodered rap. This also represented the last music the Knights committed on wax.

The interview from which I gathered most of this info comes courtesy of the Bayreuth Radio Crew – a trio of absolute obsessive electro heads from Bayreuth in Germany. Lil Rockin’ G and Mad Mixer RMG both seem touched that they are still held in such high esteem in Europe. They are very charming, humble, down-to-earth people and they have lots of interesting things to say. The interview was recorded in 2005, and G mentions that he is planning an album of new Knights of the Turntables material, along with unreleased tracks from the archive, plus that original 12 minute version of ‘Techno Scratch’. As far as I am aware, this hasn’t happened yet, but I really, really hope it does.

The Radio Crew website is a phenomenal archive of everything to do with old school electro. They know their shit inside out and have the most incredible record collections. I call myself a fan but I am only really playing at it compared to these guys. They take it to another dimension entirely and I found out so many things I had no idea about. If you are interested in electro music, you really should go and check it out.

Visit the Bayreuth Radio Crew website
The Knights of the Turntables page with the 50 minute phone interview, along with archive photos and flyers here
The Knights of the Turntables discography
Search eBay for The Knights of the Turntables - both 12"'s were repressed, so don't get fooled into paying loads of money, unless you are sure it is an original copy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

One Minute Wonders

In a quiet moment recently, I sorted the music on my iTunes by song length, interested in knowing what the longest track was I had on there*. Yes, the winter nights have indeed flown by… Anyway, a nice consequence of this was that I realised just how many songs I have that clock in at around the one-minute mark, and it got me thinking… Mostly these songs are used as neat little interludes on albums, to allow the listener to draw breath, or to set the scene at the start of an album. I’m guessing that some of them are this length either because they are half-realised ideas that were deemed not worth expanding on, or because the artist’s became fond of them as miniature nuggets of their art – musical haikus if you will. Sometimes it’s baffling how they could be left so tantalisingly short, when other songs are indulged to go on and on, often undeservingly. I always found them very useful when making mixtapes, back when that was the accepted way of distributing music amongst friends. Now it’s all CDs and zip files, I’ve found less use for them, but decided to compile a playlist of a selection of these songs and was delighted to see how well they came together as a wonderful, albeit brief, compilation. Any of you out there with precious little spare time could cram your entire musical listening for the day into a short 20 minute-ish spell, courtesy of these selections. I think you’ll find it a rewarding listening experience. I agonised (pointlessly) over the order of the songs, but have concluded that it doesn’t really matter, so if you bother to download them all, you can always sequence it yourself. The tracks vary greatly, but I guess the linking theme is that they are all instrumental. I did find a few vocal songs in the time boundaries, but they seemed incongruous in the mix of instrumentals.

Super Furry Animals - Furryvision

Kicking things off is ‘Furryvision’ from the Super Furry Animal’s finest hour ‘Radiator’. Opening on an ominous minor chord, twinkling melodies and plaintive strings make it the perfect song to set the scene; a mouth-watering promise of delights still to come.

Squarepusher - Tommib

‘Tommib’ is my favourite ever Squarepusher track and shows that he doesn’t always need a chopped-up amen and his trusty bass guitar to blow you away. My wife walked down the aisle to this track, which makes it even more special to me. She didn’t have long though, so ended up practically sprinting, dragging her Dad along with her, to this majestic, skyscraper-sized instrumental.

Working for a Nuclear Free City - Pixelated Birds

‘Pixelated Birds’ is a classic example of the one-minute song as album interlude. Working for a Nuclear Free City littered their self-titled debut album with these, but this is my favourite, as its shifting, ethereal distortion reminds me of Slowdive.

Bronnt Industries Kapital - Palus Somnii

Bronnt Industries Kapital’s ‘Palus Somnii’ is an eerie, sombre little number that manages to thoroughly unnerve in the short space of time it is allowed to breathe before the coffin lid is slammed shut. *Shivers*

My Bloody Valentine - Touched

‘Touched’ by My Bloody Valentine has always intrigued me. The sole composition on the album from the drummer Colm O’Ciosoig, it sounds perfect as a bridge between tracks, but I’m always left feeling that it’s a much grander piece of music, chopped to fit. I love the groaning sound, the pounding drum and the evocative strings. I'm so used to it effortlessly segueing into ‘To Here Knows When’...

Caribou - Lord Leopard

...but instead, we jump straight into ‘Lord Leopard’ by Caribou, which is a brilliant demonstration of just how many ideas you can fit into a small time frame. Consisting of live hip hop drums, a skanking bass line and synths reminiscent of John Carpenter's soundtrack for 'Escape from New York', it ends with a crazed drum solo and psyche freak-out guitar - incredible.

Gnac - And Again

‘And Again’ by Gnac is actually one second under one minute (clocking in at 0.59) but is perfectly formed, and reminds me of the sounds you might hear as the sun bursts through the clouds after a heavy storm. It’s the only piece of music I own by this artist, and I almost don’t want to hear anything else as this song is so damned perfect. And again? – yes please.

Bronze Age Fox - Real Nudies
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Blue Turning Gray

A pair of guitar tracks, side-by-side, one from Hanham’s finest Bronze Age Fox, and the other from indie rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Both tracks are similar – I love the way you can hear the fingers scraping down the fret boards as the guitarists pluck and strum away. If you listen really carefully you can almost hear the creak of the stools or chairs they are sitting on. I think these songs may be distant cousins - 'Real Nudies' has a mournful flute, while 'Blue Turning Gray' also adds a subtle bit of wind to the strumming.

Casino vs Japan - Pinwheel

Casino Vs Japan’s ‘Pinwheel’ is a simple song with a beautiful, warm cyclical melody that could go on forever and I don’t think I’d get bored. Aural valium of the highest quality.

The Beta Band - Rhododendron

‘Rhododendron’ by the Beta Band is constructed from church organ, bongos, synths and a glockenspiel that sounds like it’s played by a kid in the school orchestra. It never really made much sense to me on ‘Heroes To Zeroes’, but lifted out of its original context, it sounds mighty fine.

The Art of Noise - Snapshot

It’s inevitable that the original sound collage terrorists, The Art of Noise would have a few miniature opuses lurking in their catalogue. ‘Snapshot’ is a strange little song from their debut album, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise’ and it sits snugly between the epic ‘Beatbox (Diversion One)’ and ‘Close (To the Edit)’. This is a vinyl rip so it sounds a bit like it's been lying in a dusty old cupboard for a while, but that doesn't detract from the sonar melodies and heavy piano chords. It also appeared in a slightly longer version (2.33 as opposed to 0.59) on ‘Daft’, a kind of alternative ‘Best Of’ album. I prefer this one though; short and unbelievably sweet.

King Biscuit Time - Metal Biscuit

‘Metal Biscuit’ closed the debut album ‘Black Gold’ from King Biscuit Time aka former Beta Bander Steve Mason. It really reminds me of the Art of Noise, and sounds completely unlike anything else on the album, which is maybe why he tagged it on the end. It doesn't feel like an ending and always makes me want to play the album all over again, which is perhaps intentional. Its metallic electro stylings were a pointer to the sound of his current project, Black Affair.

Feedle - Go Home Revolving Piano

How to make a grown man cry in just over a minute and a half, by Feedle. I have been known to shed a tear at ‘Go Home Revolving Piano’, usually just about when the heart-wrenching strings kick in. It reminds me of an updated take on the classic lullaby ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, and is soporific and disturbing in equal measures.

Boards of Canada - Olson

Rounding things off is ‘Olson’ by Boards of Canada. They are considered by many to be the masters of these miniature songs, with their first two albums being crammed full of them. It was hard to pick one, but I eventually plumped for ‘Olson’ from ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ as it is simply sublime, with the lush warmth of the bass line, complimented by the lazy, playful melody. I’m always torn as to whether or not I wish it would go on longer as it is so perfect as it is, but it could easily be extended and I’d be a happy chap.

* For anyone interested, it was ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld: Live Mix 10’ by The Orb which came in at 18 minutes and 48 seconds…

Buy Super Furry Animals 'Radiator'; Buy Squarepusher 'Go Plastic'; Buy Working for a Nuclear Free City 'S/T'; Buy Bronnt Industries Kapital ‘Virtute Et Industria’; Buy My Bloody Valentine ‘Loveless’; Buy Caribou ‘The Milk of Human Kindness’; Buy the ‘Melodic Today’compilation; Buy Bronze Age Fox 'S/T'; Buy Clap Your Hands Say Yeah 'S/T'; Buy Casino vs Japan 'Hitori + Kaiso: 1998-2001'; Buy The Beta Band ‘Heroes To Zeroes’; Search eBay for ‘Who’s Afraid of the Art of Noise’; Buy King Biscuit Time 'Black Gold'; Pre-order Feedle 'Leave Now For Adventure'; Buy Boards of Canada ‘Music Has the Right to Children’


Sunday, March 04, 2007

I Know That We’ve Been Here Before

The Bluetones - Bluetonic
The Bluetones - Glad To See Y'Back Again?

It was only recently that I reacquainted myself with some old friends. We hadn’t heard much from each other since the late 90s, when we really were in each other’s pockets. Way back then we shared some seriously good times, and they really meant a lot to me. Eventually we drifted apart, as people do. It was an amicable departure though to be honest. They went one way, I went another, and that was that. Things change. Now though, probably because of nostalgia and a hankering for those times when things just seemed better (even though they probably weren’t), we've reconnected.

We first met when I was an impressionable teenager who was more into indie music than into trying to get a girl to hold hands (or whatever it was they were doing) at the back of the school bus. Britpop was in it's infancy. Now it would be hard to say that The Bluetones are my favourite ever Britpop band, as that is not strictly true, but I was, and am now again, immensely fond of them.

A long since lost live tape, recorded in very poor quality from an evening show on Radio 1, had been in my bulky Walkman for weeks when 'Are You Blue Or Are You Blind?' was released. I snaffled it up and the musical friendship between The Bluetones and myself began. I liked the smooth, yet quirky and sprightly nature of their songs, and I loved Mark Morris’s voice; all light and carefree one minute, but with a sinister lyrical sound the next.

The debut LP, 'Expecting To Fly' is still a jewel within the haystack of uninspiring albums released by a host of their other Britpop contemporaries. It remains one of only a few albums that I have deliberately paid money to own on more than one format; the vinyl still safely on the shelf, but the cassette vanished, along with the slightly beaten up Vauxhall Astra Belmont that was my first car I listened to it in. Mani proclaiming them as “The Bluetone Roses” was hardly going to deter me from loving this band, and mentioning the Squire-esque guitar work on parts of the album, from me is a compliment, rather than a stick to bash the band with.

The B-Sides too, especially on those early singles, were quality. 'Driftwood' (from 'Are You Blue...'), 'Glad To See Y’Back Again?' ('Bluetonic') and 'Don’t Stand Me Down' (from 'Slight Return', their biggest single, which reached number 2 in 1995) all show worthy tunesmanship, and it should be noted, are available on their best-of album, 'A Rough Outline: The Singles & B-Sides ‘95-‘03'. 'Marblehead Johnson' was the last Bluetones single I can remember buying. It was a good little tune, but in truth I bought it as much out of loyalty and for the Bill Hicks reference as anything else. Just as Britpop was booming, I was moving on, so The Bluetones and I didn’t see much of each other for a while.

Time catches up with us all eventually though, and late last year, feeling old and subconsciously searching for my youth, I had a listen to some records I hadn’t played in years, and that is where I met The Bluetones all over again. Hearing that first LP once more, prompted me to explore the internet, and I was pleased to learn that The Bluetones are still ticking along nicely without me. Released on Cooking Vinyl, a self-titled album came out last year, and rather good it is too. OK, sure, it's never going to be how it was back then, but old friends it seems, no matter how old, will always be friends at the end of the day.

The Bluetones website
Great Bluetones fansite
The Bluetones at My Space
Buy The Bluetones from Townsend Records


Saturday, March 03, 2007

I Rant, Then We All Save Resonance FM

In a break from normal service, I am posting today to highlight the current plight of the excellent Resonance FM. For those of you that don’t know, it’s London’s self-styled “first radio art station”, which I guess means it caters for the more avant-garde amongst us, but it is utterly essential for anyone who still believes in radio as a means for challenging ear holes with unexpected sounds and discovering bands, artists and club nights you otherwise wouldn’t. It goes out on 104.4FM, which you’ll only be able to pick up if you live in London, but there are loads of ways to listen to it online – mp3, OGG or Real Audio streaming, plus there is a variety of podcasts to download. More info can be found here. If you’re not sure what to expect, in the words of the station itself, it features programmes made by musicians, artists and critics who represent the diversity of London’s arts scenes, with regular weekly contributions from nearly two hundred musicians, artists, thinkers, critics, activists and instigators.

Last Thursday's listings provide an excellent snapshot into what’s on offer – kicking off with Counter Culture Radio hosted by employees of Rough Trade record shops, the day also features a folk music hour, the works of William Blake read by the station’s resident actor, a teenage take on the world from Seth and George, an hour of microtonal music in the Clear Spot slot, Wire magazine’s Adventures in Modern Music, the awesome Soul Jazz Records with an hour of eclectic wonder and a celebration of the comic 2000AD. The whole shebang comes to close with a show consisting solely of signal-to-noise ratio, frequency and aesthetic radio art tests. Erm, OK. Coldcut’s seminal Solid Steel radio show also has a home here and if that’s not enough to convince you it’s worth saving, consider this...

...ever since the death of John Peel, it’s been harder and harder to defend Radio 1’s stance concerning new music. It’s original plan to replace Peel with three DJ’s under the 1 Music banner has ended up with Huw Stephens, Ras Kwame and Rob Da Bank being shunted into proper graveyard slots (with Huw admirably playing predominantly unsigned music), and Colin Bloody Murray occupying the 10pm slot that, back in the day, Peel just about clung onto. Colin Murray gets on my tits, but if he concentrated on playing music, that wouldn’t matter. Of course he doesn’t, he’s a careerist personality (coming to your screens on Celebrity Fame Academy this weekend!) and the music comes second to his ego. There’s also a token hour-long strand which goes under the misnomer, “In New Music We Trust”, which should be called “In New Music We Are Deeply Suspicious So We’ll Keep On Isolating It Until It All Dies And We Can Just Play Records By The Kooks Without Having To Feel Guilty About Doing So”.

Despite becoming increasingly marginalised before his death, it was as if John gave off a vital force field, which protected Radio 1 from slipping into utter banality, but now he’s gone the inevitable has happened, and it is fast becoming a worthless piece of crap. A friend of mine summed it all up brilliantly thus - “Remember about 1994 time when John Peel was on Radio 1 Saturday teatimes, and Craig Scanlon out of the Fall used to ring in the football scores each week and then he basically carried on playing yodelling, minimal bedroom techno and Japanese hardcore as normal? Well I reckon we're at the exact opposite state of affairs now. If I were to sum up radio experience in 2007 I would say: Vernon Kaye playing Kasabian.”

As if all this weren’t bad enough, Radio 3 have recently dropped Mixing It from their schedules after over 16 years. There were no explanations, the new controller at Radio 3 just decided to shelve it, with no plans to bring it back any time soon. The BBC didn’t even mention the fact that the show was ending in any publicity material; it wanted it to slide out of the schedules with a whimper. They even had a Senior Producer sitting in on the final show, presumably to make sure the stalwart presenting duo of Robert Sandall and Mark Russell didn’t say anything controversial about their demise. The final show went out on February 9th 2007, though it has recently been picked up by Resonance FM, which is another reason to try to save the station.

The death of Mixing It is another prime example of the BBC pushing fringe music even further to the fringes. If it was a purely commercial organisation, you could maybe understand decisions like this, but it’s not, it’s funded by public money and they seem to be making the decision for us that we no longer care about being aurally challenged and just want to listen to Lily Allen and the Kaiser Chiefs 24-7. I guess they are labouring under the illusion that digital stations are filling the void, but admirable as 6 Music is, it’s the same old crowd, playing ostensibly the same music, but with more of an emphasis to the musical archives, and not the cutting-edge. There’s plenty of shows and DJ’s with merit, but it’s not enough.

Anyway, this didn’t set out be a rant against the BBC (though it was very therapeutic to get it off my chest!), it was intended as a piece to highlight the fact that Resonance FM are facing a very serious threat of going under and if you care at all, you can do something to help. You can donate money to the cause in a variety of ways detailed here. They have so far raised nearly £10,000, but they need at least £60,000, which will still only cover about a quarter of the amount needed to keep the station going for the next year. There are lots of fundraising events going on, which you can read about here here, including one in the pipeline to be organised by Resonance patron Stewart Lee and fellow comedian Daniel Kitson. And if none of that tickles your fancy, and you want to be able to hold something tangible as a reward for parting with your hard earned cash, head to the shop where you can buy stuff, including various CD’s, books and items of clothing. Donate what you can, if you want to, or at the very least, tune in at some point to see what you could soon be missing out on.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

I found a band, a special new band

Autokat - Seven Years
Autokat - The Driver

Paul Morley wrote a good article in last month’s edition of the excellent Observer Music Monthly . Despite being one of my favourite ever writers, I often find his prose somewhat impenetrable – words for words sake - and struggle to stumble on the point he is trying to make. This time I followed his train of thought, under the heading, “I found a band just the other day, a special new band”, through to the last full stop. The gist of it was how everything new is talked up these days, to the extent that when you eventually get to hear whatever it is that is being written about with such “steamed-up praise”, you actually wonder what the fuss was all about. It’s not the life-changing experience you were lead to believe it was going to be, it’s just another band, making music that you’ll probably listen to a few times, before forgetting about it and moving onto the next hip thing.

He laid part of the blame for this at the feet of bloggers like myself, observing that, “there is so much blog-illuminated new music of such definite competence… and so many enthusiasts writing about this new music, needing to demonstrate that they are the first to find it, and make a claim for its magnificent, idiosyncratic freshness.” A fair enough point to make, and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this in the time since I started writing, though I stand by most of the guff that I’ve belched forth. In my defence, I have sometimes deliberately avoided adding to the mountain of superlatives floating around the internet by not writing about the next big thing, even if, as was the case with Beirut, I truly believed listening to the album could make a positive difference to your general well-being.

Morley advocates restraint, asking that we “shave off a star or two here and there, to control our initial excitement, to keep our thoughts to ourselves until we are absolutely sure”, which again, is not that misguided a notion, though hard to ever see happening. The music industry is bizarre in how reliant it is on up-front promotion, with the buzz about a particular artist often happening so far in advance of the release of the actual album that you’re thoroughly sick of it before it is physically available to buy from the shops. It’s rare you get a ‘sleeper’ act these days; a band that break through without being hideously overexposed in the process, or as Morley puts it, “one of those things (that) creeps up on you, and become a little more special.”

Perhaps Autokat can do it. Their debut album, ‘Late Night Shopping’ is due out on March 5th 2007, and the blog fraternity at large aren’t exactly frothing at the mouth in anticipation of its release. This is no bad thing, as you will be able to stumble upon them without ridiculous expectations, and with any luck, like me, you’ll be suitably blown away. I am treading carefully now, not wanting to ruin it by blurting out a steady stream of hyperbole that backs up Morley’s theory, though seeing as there’s precious few words being written about them, maybe I am allowed to wax somewhat lyrical. I first came across Autokat via the joyous ‘The Driver’ (which features on the album), with it’s zen-like mantra ‘To learn, to live, to love…’ , on an Akoustik Anarkhy compilation. aA are a proper old school indie label in the process of developing a strong identity, and Autokat have stuck with them for the release of this accomplished debut. The Guardian Guide described Autokat as, “…like Bloc Party, but without the earnest wibbly-wobbly worrying” and this is a fair summation. I’m all for a bit of angst, but Kele seems to have tied himself in knots to the point where all the joy has been sucked out of the music. Luckily, Autokat avoid this, throwing down dark, angular post-punk guitar pop for the mind and feet, with an absence of posturing that is rather refreshing. They don’t act like they’re reinventing the wheel, they’re not attention seeking, they’re just doing what they do and what they do is damn fine.

The album features all three singles released so far, along with two of the b-sides (the only one missing is ‘Television’, flip-side of ‘The Driver’ and it's a big miss), plus a couple of brooding instrumentals à la fellow Mancs the Longcut, and a handful of new tracks. The best of these is probably ‘Bowling’, which inexplicably sounds like Chapterhouse with it’s mix of crackling distortion and gentle acoustic guitars, crossed with I Am Kloot. The song appears to be about ten-pin bowling, though that’s probably a metaphor for something else entirely. There’s something about ‘Late Night Shopping’ that reminds me of U2’s debut album ‘Boy’ in places. Mainly in its mix of choppy new-wave guitars and chiming effects-laden riffs which are reminiscent of the Edge, but there’s also a charming naivety about the whole package which was present in the Dublin quartet’s early recordings before the bombast took over. So maybe not my favourite new band, and not the best thing you’ve ever heard, but definitely worth your time, your money and your appreciation.

‘Late Night Shopping’ is released by Akoustik Anarkhy on 5th March 2007. Pre-order the album from Norman Records

Autokat website
Autokat My Space
Akoustik Anarkhy website
Paul Morley at Wikipedia