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Thursday, 27 December 2012

My 20 best gigs of 2012

So, welcome to my humble contribution to the end-of-year round-up genre. Yes, it's a tired-to-death format. One which I berated only recently. Really I should ignore this year-end listing obsession. But no, bleedin' hippo-critter that I am, I've decided that when it comes to my take on the year's gigs, then a retrospective review is in order. So, settle down for my 20 good gigs gone by during 2012. Here they are ....

I'm Being Good - Chameleon, Nottingham, 20 January
These were definitely one of the better bands from the "post-hardcore" (or somesuch) scene that I saw this year. Some unmistakably "grungy" riffs to make proceedings swing a little and plenty of the usual intensity you associate with these bands (they ARE a serious bunch aren't they!). I perhaps also liked them because they didn't seem quite as identikit as some other bands from this scene.

Little George Sueref - The Apple Tree, London, 12 February
A cool geezer, this chap sings the blues with a lovely clear voice (a tenor?) and has plenty of rhythm to spare. There was a mellow quality to this gig - partly the effect of Sueref's voice - but, to judge from YouTube, he also knows how to rock as well. I'd like to catch him again in 2013.

Little George Sueref

Fountains - The Windmill, Brixton, London, 14 February
"Indie-Shoegaze" apparently, but don't let that put you off! They were a nifty indie-rock band in my book. The sort of outfit that could have had a session on John Peel at any time between about 1982-1992. It's a sound that's almost unfashionable now, with its earnest vocals and "polite" arrangements, but I like this "classic" indie approach. Forget Crocodiles, listen to Fountains!

Klangabusus - Hafermarkt, Flensburg, 1 March
Straight away a distinctive gig because: (1) people were smoking at it (bloody Germans!), and: (2) one of the band was wearing a joke shop Giant Quiff (the same sort I'd seen in a shop window that very day!). Otherwise, it was grindcore-y stuff played with enough variety and humour to keep it interesting.

A Fat White Family - The Social, Fitzrovia, London, 20 March
An excellent gig from a band that I missed more than any other in 2012 (ie despite being on their Facebook invite list for about 10 gigs, this was the only one I actually made it to). As I was saying in a post about them at the time, this gig had plenty of their trademark twisted-out-of-shape, off-kilter blues-grind beating time to a singer who likes to writhe about on the floor with his top off. I also had them in my best gigs of 2011. Hey, they must be good!

A Fat White Family

Dolfinz - The Windmill, Brixton, London, 3 April
Intense stuff from a two-person unit who often sound like there must be twice as many in their ranks. They've got that rather epic Marychain-meets-Spectre sound, which must be a lot harder to pull off than you'd think. It's sort of "spirit of C86" - in other words, a pretty good thing.


Slowcoaches - The Windmill, Brixton, London, 3 April
Same gig as the Dolfinz one, but ... I'm doing 'em separately! Quite an odd set actually. This band's brand of punky pop didn't initially do it for me. For about 20 minutes of their (fairly lengthy) set I was unimpressed. "Yeah, OK. Bit so-so though" etc. But somehow they seemed to get better. Maybe my tired old ears were deceived, but their five or six closing songs began to take on a Buzzcocks-like buzzy-pop quality. They chimed, they charmed. Slowburners!

Oh! Gunquit - The Windmill, Brixton, London, 4 April
Kings of hula-hoop rock! This band's jivey rock and roll is a winner I reckon. Lots of excellent punk-funk saxophone, a rocking singer-guitarist and a nicely deranged-in-a-B52s-sort-of-way singer: Oh! Gunquit just ... er, won't quit. The singer's (amazing) hula-hoop dance usually gets the audience going (it is good!) but actually the band are good in general. After the gig I saw some of the band plodding through the rain in Brixton, one of them carrying the hula-hoop. Rock 'n' roll eh?

Stanley Brinks & The Flying Kaniks - Taylor Johns, Coventry, 11 May
A return to form from Brinks if you ask me. In recent years I've been finding the ultra-stripped-down, unadorned stuff from Mr Taciturn a little hard to take. Where was the rhythm? The variety? The life? Well, The Flying Kaniks' gently swinging folk rock did the job. Here Brinks could skulk around the stage, tapping a triangle or blowing a clarinet while the gig still rocked (sort of). And his plaintive, keening vocals still worked. 

The Juneau Brothers - Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, 7 July
A cool, rather slick outfit who created enormous layers of pummelling electro sound and then added to the effect by turning on strobe lights until everyone in the audience was thoroughly blasted. For example. I saw The Big Naturals at the same venue the year before and they produced a similar effect on me. My top 2012 band for sheer brain-bashing bravado.

Weird Menace - Old Blue Last, Shoreditch, London, 8 August
Slightly anonymous in places, this band's drone-rock sound can maybe come across as a little "ordinary" at first, but I reckon there's enough going on to make them interesting. In particular, they had one tune that I totally dug as soon as they began to play it. Actually, I'm including them largely because of this fact. Is that allowed? Yes! It's my list ....

Frank Fairfield - Taylor Johns, Coventry, 24 August
A real one-off. Fairfield's speciality is the so-authentic-seeming-that-it-can't-possibly-be-authentic backwoods US folk-blues. It's 2012 going on 1842 with Frank. So, plenty of feel-bad murder ballads from the killing fields of the Wild West. And lots of whoopin', hollerin' and foot stompin' (check out the very last minute of the gig here). Also, impressively pacey violin and banjo playing, and a clever way of ensuring it doesn't become tiresome bluegrass-style "party" music. Cool.

King Lemon & The Slim Customers - Paper Dress, Shoreditch, London, 6 September
Quite a rum gig this one. The singer seemed to be half battling the soundman in this improvised venue (an east London clothes shop-cum-cafe). Anyway, the singer's shirty behaviour seeped into his performance in a way that made the band's primitive swamp-blues look and sound more "punk". Check out my (also very primitive) video.

Theee Bat - The Windmill, Brixton, London, 10 October
Chaos! An acquaintance of mine recently described a Damned gig from 1980 as "totally mad" and this gig was maybe the latter-day equivalent. These dudes go in for surf-rock played so fast that it starts to implode (or something). Very entertaining. Not dissimilar, actually, to the equally entertaining Sundae Kups. Theee Bat wear plastic old-style police hats, which only adds to the madcap atmosphere. Krazy kops.

Anarchistwood - Taylor Johns, Coventry, 13 October
The best of several pretty good bands at a feminist riot grrl night (although I also liked Skinny Girl Diet, not least their amazing screaming).  But Anarchistwood: quite a rocky take on punk 'n' roll. Very energetic vocals from a sort of mutant clown-woman who was one part comedy MC, one part political ranter. Best use of politics at a gig for some time in my book.


Josephine Foster - Taylor Johns, Coventry, 1 November
Fantastic warbly neo-operatic voice (vibrato, apparently). Foster's music was previously known to me only in the form of two excellent songs (Sangre Colorado, Child Of God). If I'm honest the gig didn't transcend the promise of those two tunes, just sort of consolidated her in my mind. I sense she's getting plenty of critical acclaim already, so I won't bang on here. Good gig though.

Tenebrous Liar - Ort Cafe, Birmingham, 3 November
I've liked this band since seeing them in east London about five years ago. This was slightly too "rocky" for my taste in parts, but the doomy washes of vocals against the driving guitars and percussion still worked well enough. Here the small venue - some kind of community cafe carved out of an industrial unit - improved the overall listening experience (as they often do). 

Gateway Of Trance Illusion - Enjoy, Leeds, 23 November
There was a nicely "experimental" feel to this gig, not least because it was in a small art gallery (I wish more gigs were). Drum machine, laptop noises, guitar and - best of all - saxophone played in a sort of Sun Ra-y way. Their long, improv-type compositions weren't exactly rock and roll, but then I don't want the same food at every meal.

Gateway Of Trance Illusion

Sixteen & The Sidewinders - Indo, Whitechapel, London, 28 November
Stompin' rockabilly! This stuff will never cease to be good (well not if it's played with this much twangtastic energy). Featuring stand-up bass, stripped-down drums and an excellent, hip-swinging singer-guitarist, they did two sets at a free gig at one end of a narrow Whitechapel pub. Even when the power went off they carried on. Electric!

Tigercats - Chameleon, Nottingham, 8 December
Something of a surprise. I went expecting twee-as-fuck "cardigan indie" in the style of Esiotrot (the singer's former band) and got ... well, a sort of shimmering, pulsating fusion of Talking Heads and The Four Brothers. Very relaxed-looking playing, long songs, some excellent lyrics. And pretty funky! If they can somehow keep it sharp and dark, they could be really good.


Well, there you have it. My 20 best of the year. Of course, it's all alarmingly arbitrary. Probably I've forgotten a couple. (Whoops). And then, as ever, I went to gigs in my usual semi-planned, semi-unplanned way. On a whim or not at all (last-minute faint-heartedness). So, please don't assume that these WERE the 20 best gigs of 2012. That would be preposterous ...

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Vinyl bores: please change the record!

Ah, the lovely crackle and hiss of the stylus on the vinyl. There's nothing like it, is there? 

Vinyl's where it's at. Fuck your MP3s, your FLAC files, your crappy CDs or, god forbid, your cassette tapes. No, real music fans like vinyl. And if you don't ... well I feel sorry for you. 

Such is the attitude among a fairly influential group of music critics, DJs and musicians. These days you can be made to feel distinctly second rate if you're not a vinyl man/woman. There are online forums dedicated to discussing the merits of vinyl. There are sites that feature DJ mixes of vinyl ("without mixing software"). There are numerous DJs who advertise the fact that their sets are "vinyl 7"s only". And of course there are simply people banging on about how great vinyl is in comparison to all other formats.

Papa's got a brand new pile of records

Well now. I'm no vinyl hater. I've got a little bunch of the bulky, heavy, dust-ridden things, and I regularly play them. I buy them as well. Not, perhaps, in the approved "vinyl junkie" way - picking up purchases on eBay or in connoisseur shops. No, afraid not - just a few ratty second-hand things from the odd charity shop. Nevertheless, my haphazard charity shop buys - no more than about 50p a time - have included The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction, The Modern Lovers' Roadrunner, and Simple Minds' Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call. Hey, don't knock Simple Minds! Their early stuff is pretty good.

Meanwhile, I've got a friend who buys a lot of reggae 7"s on mail-order. Mostly on Jamaican pressings, some of it off-centre, crackly and all of that. There's some phenomenal music to be had from Dub Vendor et al and I appreciate that vinyl is often the best way to get the choice cuts. OK rasta, nah problem.

But still, modern snobbery concerning vinyl is ... er, clogging up my stylus man! Do we really need websites with titles like "Fuck CD DJs. Real DJs play vinyl"? No, I think we do not. It's about the music, not the format, fathead.

OK, I confess: I don't actually know whether vinyl's acoustic properties are generally - or always - superior to CDs or MP3s. Certainly I can hear the difference with lower bit-rate MP3s, but generally I'm agnostic about this (albeit that it's an article of faith for some).

No, give me The Butthole Surfers on CD rather than The La's on record. Or Lee Perry on MP3 over Zion Train on 12".

Vinyl fetishists are no more interesting than any other kind of elitist obsessive. They should put another record on their turntable. Here. Let me grab that stylus arm. Scr-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-tch!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Two pieces of research, Podcast #88 (Nov 2012)

Atmospheric background hiss courtesy of a TDK D90 tape, the latest product of my unstinting musicological labours has arrived. Yes, it's podcast #88.

Rest assured, all this music is fully evidence-based, with extensive data to back it up.

Track listing here: 

1: The Mother Folkers, Too much time
2: DJ Haram, Batman is haram
3: Two pieces of research
4: Old Wars, Mighty
5: Thad Jones, Zec
6: 93 Million Miles From The Sun, ? (Chameleon, Nottingham 24/11/12)
7: Studio One Musicians, Sky rhythm
8: Rachel House, Plastic punk
9: Sanmi, Requiem for victims of east Japan earthquake
10: Sixteen & The Sidewinders, ? (Indo, London 28/11/12)
11: Life might have been lost
12: Marc De Blanchard, Descendre
13: Abstract Random, OBMG’s cowboy remix
14: Mary Love, Think it over baby
15: Skinny Girl Diet, Douche bag (Taylor Johns, Coventry 13/10/12)
16: Lougow, You’ll live and die by those little dogs
17: Roland Alphonso, James Bond
18: Resistencia Chaco, Gato negro
19: Pray with you
20: The Jerry Spider Gang, When I get off
21: Gateway Of Trance Illusion, ? (edit) (Enjoy, Leeds 23/11/12)
22:  Joe Nez & His Trio, Nsonma nneme
23: The Jesus And Marychain, In a hole
24: Lowpines, ? (Windmill, London 30/10/12)
25: Not a big problem
26: Squire Of Gothos, Gimme dat!
27: The Heavy, How you like me now (Joker remix)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

End the end-of-year lists

End of year lists, eh? Fantastic aren’t they? All that vital information, condensed down to a handy “Top 20” format. Brilliant.

Er, well, no. The opposite. Browsing other people’s annus mirabilis reflections is … activitus horribilis. C’mon! Do you really want to know if someone thinks Kate Bush’s “long-awaited” long-player is “album of the year”? (Actually, that was last year, but you know what I mean).

OK, this year I see that one august music journal believes a certain Australian rock band (Tame Impala) has produced the year’s best collection of new songs in a CD-type format. Hmm. Funnily enough I caught two of their world-beating tunes on (whisper it) the Jools Holland show the other week (don’t be disturbed dear reader, it was a purely accidentally bit of viewing). Jeez ….

No, whether or not you think this particular brand of retro rock is any good (I don’t, personally), surely we can do without the hyped-up listing approach. Even “quality” publications like WIRE seem addicted to the habit. The current issue has several pages of lists (a top 50, individual contributors’ lists). I even came across a website that aggregates lists into a list of end-of-year lists. (Soon we'll have lists of lists of lists). It’s list-mania. What would Franz Liszt have said? (Sorry).

 I've got a little list

In Ye Olden Days Of Merrie John Peel his show also suffered, I thought, when he plodded through that festive 50 nonsense (the all-time top 50, dominated by The Sex Pistols and Joy Division, was even worse). Basically, he placed the show in a format straitjacket and as a result it sounded … crushed.

No, lists should be consigned to oblivion (or at least Radio 1). I have a sneaking suspicion that lists are deliberately designed to play well with the obsessive collector, the compiler-type. The psychology of list formation is akin to the Discocogs-type record collector. All that stuff about “wantlists”. It’s music criticism in the service of consumption as a habit. It reeks of payola and cynicism, while attaching itself to the music consumer’s darker unconscious desires. Buy, buy, buy. Collect, collect, collect. Just one more to complete the set …

Woah. I’ll stop there.

No, junk the lists. Listen to what pleases you. Buy (or don’t buy) anything you want. New or old.

And naturally, none of the above applies to the one end-of-year list that truly matters. The one they all look for, pore over, and quote among themselves for the entire year ahead. Yes, that’s right. It’s the Niluccio on noise 20 Best Gigs Of The Year list. 2012's coming soon …