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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Blowing the whistle on people whistling at gigs

You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow.

Yeah, I know how to whistle, thanks. And unfortunately so do some of the people that go to the same gigs as me. Why's that a problem? Well ... SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEECHHHHHHH! And ... PHSIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSST!

Sorry, some idiot was whistling right by me just now ...

It's quite simple really. I go to gigs to hear some musicians do their stuff (good, mediocre, whatever) not some show-off guy (it's usually a man) doing one of those very piercing, high-volume whistles at the end of each song. Not only is it excruciatingly dull (whistling in the gaps between songs with metronomic predictability), but its laddish exhibitionism is the exact opposite of what I like about gigs in the first place. (Hey, look at me everyone! Check out MY appreciation of the band. Cool, eh?)

This sort of behaviour drags any musical event down. Similarly, those shouts of "yeahhhh!" - always now done in pseudo-American accents as if the humble British gig-goer can only be openly enthusiastic if disguised as an American. Dull.

No, in general I prefer an audience (preferably small in the first place) that's rather parsimonious with its appreciation. A little light clapping will do. Be grudging with your responses, not fawning over every small thing the band does. I usually refrain from even clapping if everyone else is whooping and frenziedly applauding. What's the point? The only time I actually make an effort with a bit of (relatively) sustained applause is when there's a single-figures-type audience and er, every pair of clapping hands counts.

It's a fine line sometimes. It's actually better if an audience almost doesn't like (or doesn't care about) the musicians out front supposedly entertaining them. As with those restaurant-bar affairs where some jazz pianist is toiling aware in the background just to provide some atmosphere for the diners. Or, more interestingly, like those occasions where the band shows something like actual disdain for the audience (Sex Pistols, Selfish Cunt), which is quickly reciprocated by those watching.

But back to whistling. On the one hand it's out-of-fashion in everyday life (when did you last hear someone whistling to themselves in the street?), yet on the other it's often excellent when used in musical compositions themselves. Meanwhile, during the heyday of raves it was virtually a requirement for audiences to go along with referee-type whistles, shrilly blowing away to the thumping house beats and acting as if they were contributing to the music themselves (they sort of were).

That was different though. Exhibitionists whistling at small indie-type gigs are just plain annoying. On this blog I've previously moaned about all sorts of annoying behaviour at gigs - from audience and bands alike. Niluccio, the moaner-in-chief. It's almost like I'm a sort of traffic cop or referee. PHSIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSST. Yes! I'm blowing the whistle on people whistling at gigs ...

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Not talking about them, Podcast #140 (Mar 2017)

Not sure what to listen to? Too much choice? Sick of those bloody mixes that YouTube keeping throwing your way? Tired of those "essential" Spotify playlists from know-it-all musos forcing their tastes on you? Yeah, me too. Sick of it all. Sick, sick, sick. Sick! There's only one way out. A new Niluccio on noise compilation ...

Yep! So actually, forget what I just said about know-it-all musos. The Niluccio on noise comps are different. Entirely different. They're above criticism. Totally sui generis. Surely you understand? When I'm criticising the ubiquity of "curated" music I'm not aiming any of my remarks at the Niluccio oeuvre. No. I'm not talking about them ...

1: BassDrop, 6 million ways
2: U-Man, Pizza
3: Dane Law, DION
4: Moon Balloon, Fools game (Old Blue Last, London 27/3/17)
5: CW Stoneking, How long
6: J.Kong, Ambush
7: Not talking about them
8: The Bloody Beetroots, Theolonius (King Voodoo)
9: Neurotic Fiction, ? (JT Soar, Nottingham 12/3/17)
10: Allister Thompson, My name is death
11: Mahjongg, The stubborn horse
12: KieLoBot, Lobo had a problem
13: Eleuthis, UAN
14: Ataraxia, System
15: Fabian Hanso, Stoff und schnaps
16: Zoot Sims, Small garden
17: Superman Happiness et al, ITT (international money thief)
18: Renick Bell & Steph Horak, Improvisation 261116
19: Asie Payton, Goin’ back to the bridge
20: Hamdi, Capital
21: Alex Campbell, Engine 143
22: Razabri & Lezet, Electric saw 7

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Jungle of Screaming Souls

"... it was called the Jungle of Screaming Souls. Just hearing the name whispered was enough to send chills down the spine ... Here, when it is dark, trees and plants moan in awful harmony. When the ghostly music begins it unhinges the soul and the entire wood looks the same no matter where you are standing. Not a place for the timid ...".

- Bảo Ninh, The Sorrow Of War

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Joy to less fortunate children, Noisepod #11 (Mar 2017)

Like Elizabeth Windsor and her adorable down-to-earth relatives, I bring you ... joy to less fortunate children. Party's over, okeh?

1: Sex Vid, Under the rug
2: Venkman, Nick Martin
3: Eskro, Hitos de guerra
4: Hey Colossus, The drang
5: Seven Sisters Of Sleep, Ghost plains
6: That circus is fucked
7: Haymaker, Ten Bucks Of Rope
8: Nachthexen, Cheer up luv
9: Dethscaltor, Midnight feast
10: Amorous Dialogues, Party's over, okeh?
11: The Stooges, I wanna be your dog
12: Welcome to lab 257
13: Congential Haemorrhoids, Concerto for noisegrind Pt1
14: Hexis, Tenebris
15: Art Of Burning Water, Happiness always ends in tears
16: Mass Grave, Yin and yang
17: Wild Childish & The MBE, Joe Strummer's grave
18: Roll up roll up
19: The Chickens, Shit city
20: No Form, Meander
21: Siege, Dispossessed
22: Atomic Suplex, Rock & roll must die
23: Crass, Chairman of the bored
24: Sbirros, I married a monster from outer space
25: Hammer Of Hathor, Dancing with triangles
26: Meeting some of you in April 1970
27: Theatre Of Hate, Propaganda
28: Dixie, One hand dragon pt3
29: Facebreaker, Reanimating the dead
30: Factorymen, Treblinka (going back)
31: Jensen, Ghosts

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Feel the rush: an all-nighter reading Life After Dark

Phew, after my marathon all-nighter I've emerged from the experience drenched in sweat, shivering in the chill dawn air and absolutely dog tired. Euuuugghhhh! It's almost as if, as if … as if I’ve been to a nightclub or something. But no, I’ve been reading Dave Haslam’s Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs and Music Venues. Blimey! Gimme some more dexies, mate …

In other words, it's a long session at the decks. Four hundred and thirty pages' worth. It's by no means uninteresting. On the contrary. But Haslam goes in for breathless pack-it-all-in "slice-throughs". Lots of names thrown our way - bands, venues, towns, promoters, DJs, records - and a helter-skelter pelt through music scene after music scene. Across chapter after chapter. Here's an example: on page 300, with Haslam jogging us through one of many mini-episodes in the early-ish post-punk scene:

"On 5 June 1980, U2 played for John Keenan at the F-Club. The night before they'd been in Manchester at 'The Beach Club', an almost regular Tuesday night at Oozits, formerly known as the Picador (the first club owned by Manchester drag act Frank 'Foo Foo' Lammar). The Beach Club had been launched in April by a group of friends around the New Hormones label, and the City Fun fanzine, including, among many others, Richard Boon, Eric Random, Lindsay Wilson (Tony's wife) and Sue Cooper."

And so on. Feel the rush: of dates, locations, bands, DJs. Paragraphs twisting and turning among a never-ending thicket of people, places and musical acts. Like a lot of other musicians, poor old U2 pop up, keep their heads above water for a couple paragraphs, then get submerged again.

But hey, let me take this already-boring record off the turntable and flip it - let's see what's on the B-side … well, OK! A good tune or two. To my taste, Haslam is over-hurried and verging on the superficial with some of his broad-brush approach, but there's still a lot of interesting stuff in his book. A few of my favourite Life After Dark nuggets:

*According to Jeff Horton (the recent owner of the 100 Club: is he still?), in 1964 there were over 200 music venues in just Soho and the wider West End part of central London.

*The Jamaican sound system operator Duke Vin memorably described 1950s Britain as lifeless: "I couldn’t find nowhere for a dance. The country was dead".

*Haslam reckons that cinema was the primary means of popularising insurgent music - first jazz in the 1920s and 1930s, and then rock and roll in the 1950s. A fascinating point which I must admit I don't recall coming across previously.

*The future Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon staged an early Sex Pistols gig in the painting studio of the art department at Reading University by getting his course tutor to consider the performance a part of Boon's assessed course work. (Fail!)

*The Torch soul all-nighters in Tunstall near Stoke-on-Trent in 1972-3 managed to head off complaints by people who lived in the same street by employing them as cleaners at the club, apparently more or less putting them on the payroll so they wouldn't complain about noise and traffic.

Life After Dark, 
with a rare photo of my dad 'hammering it' on the dancefloor in 1961

One of the things that comes cross very clearly in the book is the significance of key individuals, usually DJs and/or promoters, who did a lot to forge a scene in one or two key locations (in some cases these mercurial figures keep popping up in different cities in the midst of different music scenes). So you have the soul-R'n'B-and-much-else DJ Roger Eagle playing at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester in the 1960s, before re-appearing in 1976 with Eric’s in Liverpool and gigs for the Sex Pistols and early punk bands. Between times, he'd also run the Magic Village in Manchester, putting on psychedelic freakshows, playing Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa and Doors records. Far out, man.

Other key DJ/promoter/hustler impresario types include Andy Czezowski (The Damned, the Roxy club, the Fridge club) and Guy Stevens (the Scene mod/R'n'B club, The Clash). Not to mention Jimmy Savile. Haslam champions these figures (Eagle and Stevens especially) for caring about the music they played more than their own fame or earnings. It’s commendable, eminently likeable. But there are times in the book where Haslam seems to slide away from this "it's for the love of the music" value system. In a chapter on the New Romantics - Billy's, Blitz, the Batcave et al - he comments on Duran Duran and how they'd played several of their early pre-Rum Runners gigs in the small upstairs room (the "Star Club") of a Birmingham pub: "I guess there aren't many artists who'd be happy to spend their careers playing dives." Oh, they’re dives now, are they? 

Coming in a chapter featuring quite a few popstar wannabies like John Taylor, you rather get the impression that here Haslam's excusing or subtly aligning himself with the careerists of the music world. It happens a few times in the book. Even the slightly romanticised final paragraph of Life After Dark features a set-piece scene of imagined excitement outside a venue with a "queue" and "taxis pulling up". This might be how it is where Haslam goes these days, but there aren't any taxis or queues outside the venues I go to. (Ahem).

I don't mean to disparage Haslam or his book. It's packed with interesting snippets (about 5,000 of them) and covers a lot of ground. His heart generally appears to be in the right place, but I think the book's just over-ambitious. On the plus side, it seems to be on its most secure footing when it's chronicling the scene Haslam was himself a part of - the Hacienda, house, rave and the 90s big beat / D'n'B fall-out. In this area I think Haslam is pretty good when discussing important topics like violence in the rave scene (something I sensed an undercurrent of myself at the Hacienda or Konspiracy in Manchester) or the still-continuing tragedy of Ecstasy deaths.

Unsurprisingly, he also seems securer talking about Manchester than any other city. On London, where I've lived for over 20 years, I think he's often wide of the mark. Especially with contemporary (or near-contemporary) London, in particular the "indie"/experimental scene, which I know most about. For example, he rightly points to Café Oto as an important venue for adventurous music programming in the city, but he ignores - or just doesn’t know about - numerous other venues: the Old Blue Last, DIY Space, Sound Savers, Boat Ting, the Windmill, New River Studios, the Shacklewell Arms, plus other now-deceased but recently-important places like Power Lunches, the Buffalo Bar or "ROTA" at the Arts Club. Meanwhile, out of London the best venue in modern-day Sheffield (the Audacious Art Experiment) or Nottingham (JT Soar) both fail to get a mention.

The sins of omission, eh?

But hold it! I should take this miserable, downbeat record off the wheels of steel and play something more uplifting. Yunno, kind of spirit of Hacienda 1989. Airhorns blasting. Blokes stripped to the waist dancing on the podiums.

In all likelihood me and my purple t-shirt-clad student mates ourselves danced to some of Mr Haslam's tunes back in our Madchester undergraduate days, so I feel I ought to end with a positive sentiment. In fact what better than quoting DJ Sasha remembering what it was like at Shelley's Lazerdome in Longton near Stoke-on-Trent during those heady rave times:

"It had a real innocent energy. The big thing for me was holding the crowd back; they'd be gagging to hear a record they knew, and as soon as they did the whole place would go mental. From that point onwards I had to completely go for it. I knew that as soon as I put that one record on the airhorns would go off and that would be it. I'd have to completely hammer it."

Woah, another hard day's night hammering it! Sasha, you should take a night off. Read a book or something. What about Life After Dark …?

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Don't question, just obey, Dubpod #17 (Mar 2017)

As you may have noticed (and to quote Dennis Brown), we're living in changing times. (As opposed to all those other times that never changed. That just stayed the same).

Yeah, but that was in the past. Things are better now. There's plenty of activity these days. It's a veritable whirlpool of ever-changing stuff - new cars (some that aren't driver-less), new presidents (sad!), new politics (oh so new), new everything. It's getting so you can't even listen to a Niluccio dubpod without wanting to revolt and demand "new stuff". Yeah well, tough. Because this killer collection is a copy. A copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy (etc). Don't question, just obey ...

1: Upsetters, Longer way
2: The Abyssinians, Abendigo
3: Junior Murvin, Muggers in the street
4: King Tubby, Unit dub
5: Zap-pow & Black Intentions, Zap-pow in Zion
6: Don't question, just obey
7: Dennis Brown & The Crystalites, Changing times
8: Al Campbell, Take a ride
9: Nicodemus, Computer knife and fork
10: Lone Ranger, Dub a natty dread
11: Soul Syndicate, 6 sixty 6
12: End of our rainbow
13: Cedric 'Im' Brooks, Satta
14: Junior Ainsworth, Thanks and praise
15: Bim Sherman/Scorpio, Trouble
16: Zoot Sims, Small garden
17: Bobby Kalphat, Raw roots
18: Dub the hop
19: Eek-A-Mouse, Ganja smuggling
20: Tommy McCook & The Discosonics, Tenor on the call
21: Burning Spear, Bad to worst
22: Desmond Dekker, Fu Manchu
23: Mr Foundation, See them a come
24: Time travel
25: Vivian Jackson, God is watching you
26: Hugh Mundell, Africa must be free by 1993

Friday, 17 March 2017

Malaysian soap, Podcast #139 (Feb 2017)

So cool down. Switch on the air-conditioning. All of them. Clear your mind of all distractions. And ... check out some Malaysian soap. Clean sounds for a brand new age ...

1: Cozmic Corridors, Dark path
2: Malaysian soap
3: Subtonix, Today’s modern woman
4: Csum & Sacha Rush, Oh my DOS
5: Charlie Jack, ? (Inspire, Coventry 4/2/17)
6: Sir Victor Uwaifo & His Melody Maestros, Osalobua rekpama
7: Len Liggins, All the dead men
8: Species Of Fishes, Crash recovery
9: Orkes Sinar Murni, Ibu mithali
10: Polo Pepo Y La Sociedad Corrupta, Donde estan?
11: Manuel Duval, Résultat clinique
12: Two Steps On The Water, Cold winter, 2012
13: Maria De Alvear & Drums Off Chaos, Tannenbaum
14: The Routes, No permanence
15: Oil Thief, The figment
16: Dit + Uta, Science fiction park BRD
17: Altin Gün, Goca dünya
18: Wolf Suit, ? (Inspire, Coventry 4/2/17)
19: Stab vests and helmets
20: The Birth And Death Of Silence, Sensorica
21: The Nigeria Police Force Band, Asiko mi ni
22: Discepoli-Barbiero, An eclipse of images: Atopos
23: The Moodists, Enough legs to live on

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Sounds that never stop ...

" ... Even sound can trick the mind. Just because you don't hear a sound doesn't mean it's not out there. Dogs can hear it. Other animals. And I'm sure there are sounds even dogs can't hear. But they exist in the air, in waves. Maybe they never stop. High, high, high-pitched. Coming from somewhere ..."

- Heinrich, in Don DeLillo's White Noise

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Best Hits Of Iwan Shahman

A clutch of CDs bought from a market stall in Kuala Lumpur. Any good? Dunno yet ...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The king of R&B music

KL Skins

Not sure if they're still listening to the Angelic Upstarts or Jimmy Pursey's lovely Sham 69, but some evidence of Malaysian youth's interest in bovver boy music. Or is it suedehead ska they have in mind? Or something different again? Anyway, this plaintive graffito presently adorns a wall in an unkempt bit of central Kuala Lumpur. Oi, oi, oi ....

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Music is life: submitting to its organised flow

Anthony Storr's Music & The Mind is the book about music I didn't know I wanted to read. But I have read it and I'm glad I did.

It's not in any way a book about "popular" music, confining itself to classical music, not something I know much about. But Storr's book is still fascinating.

So, when Storr's going on about Hayden, Mahler, Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner, what he's doing is trying to get to the heart of how music affects human beings. Even more than that - he's asking what music is, what anthropological/cultural purpose it serves in human history. Stuff like that. It's not exactly the memoirs of a 90s Britpop drummer.

Michael, row the boat ashore 

I won't try to recapitulate all of Storr's elegantly-written and carefully-argued book in this blog (sacrilege!) but here are a few things I found interesting from it:

*In pre-history music and language were probably the same thing. Primitive man made sounds that were a grunted mixture of the two, conveying all sorts of meanings, including helping to bond together groups, tribes or whatever. Later on, as speech began to develop, the musical part (yells, shrieks, moans, bits of early singing) began to be used in rituals - for preparation for conflict, for group cohesion etc (much as they have been for millennia since).

*For most of history music has actually mostly been used in conjunction with or as a “melodic imitator” of speech in one way or another. It's a comparatively recent thing (from about the mid-18th-century) for there to be purely instrumental music. Up until this period most people apparently viewed music without a vocal accompaniment as "inarticulate".

*As anyone who's ever been to a gig of any kind will know, music is intimately intertwined with bodily movement. Head nodding and toe-tapping even take place at classical concerts, and at rock gigs or dance clubs bodily movement is of course a major component of the entire experience. As reggae buffs know, it's all about riddim. And as Storr says:

"Rhythm is rooted in the body in a way which does not apply so strikingly to melody and harmony. Breathing, walking, the heartbeat, and sexual intercourse are all rhythmical aspects of our physical being".

Yep, sexual intercourse. Rocking and rolling.

*Somewhat amazingly, the first public venue designed specifically for musical performances only came into being in the late-17th-century - York Building in Villiers Street in London in around 1678. Up until then, music took place in other places - houses, churches etc.

*Music is fundamentally a human activity founded on the need to impose order. It isn't an imitation of nature however "musical" things like birdsong or babbling brooks can at first appear. As Storr puts it:

"Music can best be understood as a system of relationships between tones, just as language is a system of relationships between words ... Languages are ways of ordering words; political systems are ways of ordering society; musical systems are ways of ordering sounds. What is universal is the human propensity to create order from chaos".

Or cash from chaos! Anyway, Storr’s book has a lot else that's extremely interesting on the reasons for music and the effects it has on people collectively and individually. In the end Storr's excellent book is both a cerebral and a passionate argument for the value of music in our lives. Music, Storr notes, isn't some frippery, an add-on to our busy lives. It's a vital part of a richly textured existence:

"If there appears to be an escapist element in musical participation, it is because our culture is so concerned with achievement and the pursuit of conventional success that makes ordinary life into a tense and anxious business from which the arts are absent".

Amen to that. Music not only enriches life, it even at some level makes it possible. People with brain damage, notes Storr, can perform tasks with the aid of music that they're unable to do without it. When you've got a nagging tune on your mind (a harmony in your head) it's there for obscure and complex psychological-physiological reasons, but that's generally a good thing, probably aiding your mood or physical state. And it's a reminder, says Storr, that music is "an integral part of our inner life, and therefore of living itself".

Storr's preoccupation is with classical music, and I'm fine with that. And I think his insistence on the deep value of music is entirely right. I'll end this little ode to Storr with a quote from the composer Michael Tippett which Storr cites in his book. In my case I'd just replace the word "symphonic" with the words (interchangeably) reggae/blues/punk/drum and bass/ska/noise/any:

"Symphonic music in the hands of the great masters truly and fully embodies the otherwise unperceived, unsavoured inner flow of life. In listening to such music we are as though entire again, despite all our insecurity, incoherence, incompleteness and relativity of our everyday life. The miracle is achieved by submitting to its organised flow …".

Monday, 20 February 2017

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A really unhappy place, Podcast #138 (Jan 2017)

Completely unbidden, a Crass song came into my mind as I sat down to post this exciting new podcast. Know what it was? Do you? Eh? Eh ...? Well, it was their lovely little diatribe Heard Too Much About. As far as I can make out, the song (all one minute and nine seconds of it) was about the tribalism of social class and class politics. Something about how working-class identity politics are just another trap, like most things associated with regular politics. I hear ya Mr Ignorant, I hear ya. 

Well, this furious feline has decided he's had enough. He's going to do something about it.

But ... it's only a stencil and not real life though. He is, like they say, just acting out. Know why? He's extremely disheartened. He's downcast, disconsolate, depressed. Basically, he's in a really unhappy place ...

1: Staatskapelle Dresden, Overture [part] (Wagner, Die Walküre) 
2: Cowman, Small white stint
3: Matsu:Gravas, Voice print identification
4: Pet Crow, ? (JT Soar, Nottingham 30/1/17)
5: Rude Mechanicals, Wolfgang
6: Dog Legs, Toot toot (hey)
7: The Anambra Beats, Ayamma
8: A really unhappy place
9: Synapsis, Dubrelli
10: Henry Blacker, Shit magus
11: -, +B
12: Fatal Injection, Post nuclear trip
13: Etoile 2000, Boubou n’Gary
14: Scrap Brain, BPD
15: Masonics, Obermann rides again
16: Monplaisir, Vie et mort du fantôme de la machine
17: KimCosmik, Cosmik boogie
18: Anguish Sandwich, Carole
19: Conflict, Crawl away
20: Sea Of Åland, We belong to the sea part 1
21: Hardcore Boys, Body respect song
22: Kleines Schwingvergnügen, 10 jahre frauenbewegung
23: Socialite, Banned for life
24: The Routes, No permanence 
25: Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man, Spaceman
26: Bvbel, Vntihero

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Hot swing with Lucky Millinder

Another in a (very) occasional series in which I take photos of one of my record sleeves when something catches my eye - Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra's Apollo Jump LP.

This is nice because of the grainy black-and-white photograph and the fact that ... er, there's a very large radiator in the room where the band are congregated. Glad they were keeping their swing sounds ... hot.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Heart beats up love

What is it with the heart symbol at gigs? For years people have been scrawling a heart sign on my wrist as I thrust a fiver in their direction to gain entrance into their sweaty little gig.

I don't mind, of course. It's better than a swastika or a boring number or something. But nevertheless, why this infantile drawing, as if we're all still at primary school, just learning how to tie our shoelaces and say our two-times table? 

Crossing you off my prayer list

Hmm. I guess it's just easy. And conveys a simple "good feeling" vibe, a bit like the smiley face they sometimes used to etch into the Es that people gobbled down like there was no tomorrow back in the heyday of rave. "Loved up", dancing not fighting. 

A few years ago, I went through a mini-phase of slightly resenting people grabbing my wrist and (almost without asking sometimes) writing on it with a marker pen. One time some clumsy oaf even managed to get marker pen ink all over the cuff of my shirt. Nice one!

Anyway, these days I don't really care and the heart symbol is almost touching in its simplicity and childishness. After all, there’s something slightly infantile about grown men and women (some like me not exactly youngsters) congregating in a little room to hear songs about love (and other stuff) by a few 20-somethings who are barely older than children themselves. 

This particular heart pictured on my extremely manly wrist comes from last night's gig from Pet Crow and Pale Kids in Nottingham. A heart is rather appropriate, given Pale Kids' tremulous, lovelorn sound. They're the Undertones for in-love millennials who don't mind carrying their hearts on their sleeves ...

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Compact disc: the music format that dare not speak its name

As we all know, we're living in an age of hyper-disposability. Don't like that jacket anymore? Chuck it. Got an "old" phone? Fuck that! Get an upgrade. TVs, fridges, cars, houses, even "lifestyles": get something newer, brighter, better. (Even partners. As per the old joke: "He's traded her in for someone younger, thinner and blonder").

Out with the old, in with the shiny and new. Which brings me to the matter of ... er, CDs. Specifically, people just throwing 'em away.

Such is the current contempt for these once futuristic little polycarbonate plastic discs, it's starting to become quite common to see them disposed of in the street. Last week there were two big cardboard boxes of CDs left out on the pavement near my office in east London. There was a scrawled message, something like "Free music CDs. Lots of genres". They were probably all utter rubbish, right? No, not really. Using up a few precious minutes of my lunch hour, I emerged from my quick box-rummaging with CDs by … Low, Jeffrey Lewis, Tarwater, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Alasdair Roberts, Keith Hudson and Clinic. They might have been dumped in the street, but this wasn't trashy music.

Landfill CDs

So what's going on! OK, I know. Someone's been "digitising". Ripping their embarrassing, old-fashioned CDs so they can walk around with all their groovy music safely deposited on their phones. Yeah, but why not keep the CDs as well, with their liner notes and artwork, and their relatively neat jewel cases? Alright, maybe it's space - not enough room in their undersized, over-priced flats in Clapton or Bow. Could be, but I reckon they're still finding room for all sorts of junk, including - I don't doubt - a 65-inch monstrosity of a TV.

No, it's obvious that CDs have become deeply unfashionable. Compared to vinyl, it's as if CDs don’t exist these days. While everyone is supposed to have now fallen back in love with records, CDs are being left on the shelf. (Or rather, they're being taken off the shelf and ... unceremoniously thrown away). Or, if not thrown away, they're ending up in charity shops in large numbers. I've just this afternoon returned from a (rare for me) little trip to a few charity shops in north London: lots of CDs, very few records. I even bought some (CDs, not records).

It's all a bit peculiar. Take this recent Noisey article on a bloke in the West Midlands who makes a living out of buying music from charity shops then selling it online. The article’s called "From Charity Shops to Garbage Dumps: How One Guy Made a Career Out of Hunting Old Vinyl". And indeed he does. Except one of the photos in the article shows a Status Quo CD, which he's clearly also re-selling. But CDs aren't cool so they're not mentioned in the article ...

... which is itself a strange turn of events. I remember when CDs were so fashionable they were pre-fashionable. In my early record shop days (1984) the place I worked in had a tiny handful of CDs, nearly all classical, and all quite expensive. To me they were a mystery. A colleague said "Oh, the classical music buffs like them because the sound quality's really good and you can't damage them”. Then the success of Dire Straits' godawful Brothers In Arms became a marketing tool for CDs in pop music and ... well, you know the rest. One thing I recall about the early days of CDs was how some of the more "progressive" independent labels went in for them: Factory, 4AD etc. I began to take more notice of these shiny plastic cartons thereafter. A bit like some of the restrained, design-conscious outputs from these same labels, the slightly-mysterious-while-unassuming-but-undoubtedly-modern nature of CDs gradually began to make a little sense. And now they're just junk!

But it's all rather fraudulent really. Despite the supposed "fairy tale revival" in vinyl, CDs are currently outselling LPs 25:1 in the UK, with over 53m CDs sold in 2015 versus two million records. The industry people (presumably with a view to trying to make more money out of it) are even talking about the "resilience" of the format. Yep, so resilient they can even stand being left out in the rain in the street and still sound OK when you rescue them and stick them in the CD player at home later ...

So no, they're not dead. They're very much alive, still embarrassing format snobs and still taking up room (I'm glad to say) in lots of local libraries.

Though I've ended up with a good few hundred of them, I don't think I've ever bought a brand new CD in an actual record shop - and I doubt I ever will. Instead, I'm probably destined to acquire more and more of these plasticky things as they get chucked out in ever growing numbers.

But hark! Can you hear the sound of splintering CD jewel cases? A book (on music) I'm reading at the moment mentions how human beings can identify the direction of a sound to within three degrees of accuracy (an owl does it to one degree apparently). When it comes to that familiar sound (crash, scrape, splinter, tinkle) of chucked-out CDs, I can do it with an error rate of absolute zero. Please, dear reader, kindly dispose of your best CDs in a street near me ...

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Due Wednesday 18th January, Podcast #137 (Dec 2016)

What's that! You don't like the podcasts I keep serving up on this site? For shame! Wash your mouth out with soap and water. (Or take advantage of a laverie libre service on the nearest rue to you). No, we can't allow such foul language on this site (or at least we'll pretend we didnt hear it). 

So, moving swiftly on and without further ado, here's podcast #137. It's long awaited. It's been coming for ages. And now it's almost here. It's ... due Wednesday 18th January ... 

1: Rowan Box, Deprived of senses
2: Uppercut, Cañon Leopoldo
3: Mush, ? (Wharf Chambers, Leeds 15/12/16)
4: Peanuts Taylor, Nassau blues
5: Playboy Manbaby, You can be a fascist too
6: Fleslit, 1Cafe
7: Due Wednesday 18th January
8: Mahmoud Ahmed, Alèm alèm
9: Deiezione HC, Emancipazione
10: Acid Mass, Mostly they will receive pensions
11: Tsèhaytu Bèraki, Mèdjèmèrya feqrey
12: Wolf Girl, Powerpuff girls
13: Intravene, Inner city
14: Bull City Red, I saw the light
15: Mystery Mammal, Machine language 
16: Stolen Children Surf Gang, Winter
17: Hubert Porter & Jamaica Calypso Funmakers, Mary's lamb
18: Revenue, ? (Windmill, London 19/12/16)
19: The Cow Goes Moo, Kill your masters
20: Gavin Gamboa, Allegro non molto
21: Four Brothers, Guhwa uri mwana waani?
22: Neurotic Wreck, Speak in my voice
23: Laurie Tompkins, Sweat
24: Calypso Steel-O-Rama Band, Java
25: Stereolab & Charles Long, How to play your internal organs overnight

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The sounds of the library: music without modems

We're all streamers and online dabblers now, aren't we? Listing to overrated Beyoncé on Spotify, checking out some (equally overrated) Kate Bush on YouTube.

Hmm, bit tired of those, click across to Bandcamp or Soundcloud or Summatelse.com and give those a go. Nah. Boring. Try another link. Click. Enter. Return. Close that page, try this one. Ahh, the joys of digital ... it's never-bloody-ending. Truly, deliciously, inexhaustible. Have you ever tried one of those big YouTube playlists? They go on for EVER.

OK, let's ... take a moment. I've got nothing against all this. I gather some people are sniffy about the extreme randomisation of music consumption enabled (encouraged?) by the internet, but I'm perfectly happy with it. Chance connections, accidental musical discoveries through mis-typed searches - they're all part of the fun. Seemingly endless music only a quick search away - bring it on. But at the same time I think there's a place for something clunky, limited, and altogether more unfashionably solid. I’m talking about ... well, I’m talking about CDs borrowed from the local library. Yep - remember those. Libraries! So that's what this blog is about: how I got back into borrowing music from my local library.

Back in the day (let's call it the pre-YouTube era), I was quite the library user. Back in what would have been 1984 it seemed mildly amazing to me, a bookish, music-orientated 20-year-old, that I could actually walk out of my local library with several newish LPs under my arm. Books and records all in the same building! For free. Or at least, with the records, for a smallish charge.

Anyway, from those goth (and other post-punk-type) records I began to borrow in those days, through the Texas prison song collections (and masses of other things) I got out on cassette a few years later, I developed a life-long habit of augmenting my music listening with regular doses of stuff off the library shelves. For years and years. Different cities, different libraries. Until, one fateful day some time in 2010, I stopped. No more loans. No more cracked-jewel-case-with-ripped-inlay-card-"one-disc-missing" CDs for me. I'd hung up my library card for good.

Wanna know why? Of course you do! Well, banally enough I got all upset about an overdue items fine of about £15. A blatant injustice! Or so I thought at the time. And so Hackney Central Library lost one of its most loyal CD borrowers for good. Serve 'em right ... except of course I was probably wrong all along (maybe I had forgotten to bring that stack of CDs back for about six weeks).

Anyway, to bring this fascinating reminiscence to an end: I got back on board with the library only recently. The "historic" £15 fine (still there on the system!) was paid off and I was back among the greasy CD shelves, rifling through the reggae, browsing the "Experimental". These days most of the CDs are even free to loan. C'mon - that's surely good!

My point here (if I even have one) is that the local library as a comparatively large music resource is surely completely under-appreciated in the Zuckerberg/Pichai/Wojcicki-dominated age. Digital capitalism's ad revenue juggernaut versus the pathetic, terminally unfashionable wobbly-bike-riding library habitué. Jeez! Why even compare the two? Yet the half-dozen CDs I'm currently borrowing every three weeks from my local authority-funded library are providing a quite substantial extra source of music. It's my own musical torrent. Ethiopian stuff, Nigerian music, some pre-unification East German underground music. These particular recordings are possibly already available somewhere online and they're possibly free of charge as well, but quite possibly not, and anyway I've now got my hands on them and am playing them on my hi-fi at home, so that's ... good enough.

A mean mistreater of on-loan items

The moral of this story isn't that tiresome new-old idea about how solid, tangible artefacts like vinyl are "more satisfying" than downloads. I don't think they are. It’s the much more mundane - but not often-mentioned - fact that public libraries are er, quite big and therefore tend to have a lot of stock. Which means a lot of music to go through ...

In other words, a well-stocked library is truly a thing of beauty. And that goes double for a well-stocked music library.

I only got back into the library-haunting habit because I was at a loose end one hot afternoon last autumn and dropped into my local one for something to do. For about six years I'd foolishly thought I could fill the library music gap with downloads from the weird and wonderful world of the internet. How wrong I was. But now I've mended my ways. I've had my ticket stamped and I've currently got no overdue items. I'm back in the fold. See you in three weeks ...