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Give me music and give me noise....

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 ...