Saturday, 26 September 2009

Festival (Edinburgh)

Brief, synoptic rundown of things i saw, did, enjoyed, hated.

Jane & Louise Wilson "Unfolding the Aryan Papers" (Talbot Rice Gallery):
Stunning, visually overwhelming meditation on Stanley Kubrick's abortive "Aryan Papers" film, abandoned after months of pre-production and characteristically meticulous research by Kubrick. Repetitions and revisitations of history, archive and memory. Cinematic without being vacuuous. Images, both from Kubrick's archive and orchestrated by the artists that live long in the memory.

Eva Hesse "Studiowork" (Fruitmarket):
Lots been written about this, endless coverage and 5 star reviews. Fragile and enigmatic sculptures. Really interesting in terms of how these small experiments constitute "work"; masterclass in how process and practice rather than finished artifacts are the elements that artists themselves find most interesting/worthwhile. Or something.

The sound of my voice. Citizens Theatre adaptation of Ron Butlin's superb meditation on alcoholism. Intense stuff which possibly hewed a little too close to the text to let the production really come alive theatrically. The cramped setting heightened the tension as the narrator descends into a white knuckled, mud soaked alcoholic white out. Billy Mack's performance elevated things. I definitely preferred the book which permits sufficient shades of grey to allow you to begin to like the profoundly disfunctional protagonist.

Up. First play by a good friend of mine. About a man committed to an NHS psychiatric institution, replaying the circumstances of his commital to an unseen ward-mate. Funny as fuck and dark as pitch, a really successful meditation on mental illness, depression, sexuality and alienation. Really well written, thrilled (if a little jealous) of James for his success! Laurie Brown's performance was nothing short of astonishing, he got nominated for a Stage Award for it and well deserved it.


Tons of stuff as I was working as part of the childrens festival. For fun I saw...

The Moth: Baffling New York based storytelling night relocated to the Spiegeltent for one night only. I hated it while it was happening but was thinking about it for days afterwards. 4 storytellers got onstage and had to tell a 10 minute true story. Some were good. Some were awful. There was a definite disconnect between the american performers expectations and a characteristically sceptical Edinbugh audience with many pregnant pauses for applause lengthening into chasms of silence. Also, not entirely sure the atmosphere was helped by the setting, a large, billowing tent with every emergency vehicle in the city (and a military plane fly by for the tattoo) disrupting the vibe on a number of occasions, more suited to a darker, more atmospheric situation. Definite highlight was George Dawes Green's breathless Georgian saga.

Alasdair Gray: True to form Alasdair Gray departed from his brief to read from "Fleck" his adaptation of Faust to read from "Voices in the Dark". Magic, anarchic and occasionally infuriatingly digressive it was vintage Gravian fare. I got my copy of "The Book of Prefaces", Gray's amazing anthological history of introductions to a thousand years of literature inscribed to me by the man himself which was a massive, massive thrill!

Colm Toibin & Patrick McCabe: Two of my favourite writers on the same stage. Probably the most enjoyable hour I spent at the festival this year. Real knockabout fun, both authors have clearly done this before and managed to provided insight and entertainment despite disappointing chairing and an unavoidable "What does it mean to be Irish" line of questioning.
Audience seemed to be more interested in Toibin than McCabe but both writers engaged in a meaningful, if meandering discussion with one other. You can get the audio from the EIBF website. It's well worth a listen.

That's it for the time being...


It's been an insanely, insanely, insanely busy few months round my way.

This is a desultory attempt to catch up in whatever way I can.

Will try and split it into three posts.

Festival (Edinburgh)
Festival (Croatia)
Edinburgh Club activity (recent)


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Friday, 14 August 2009

Tiny Hairy Disco Deathmatch.

Get yourselves along to Kris Wasabi and David Barbarossa's disco grudge-fuck* at Sneaky Pete's tomorrow (Saturday 15th) night.
6 hours of non-stop disco shennanigans.
I'll be there.
Dressed as Grace Jones.
On the cover of Island Life.
In my mind.

Mega, mega busy round this way. Even though I'm on holidays. And have spent most of the morning on teh internets.

And another thing, i'm increasingly thinking that the festival is Edinburgh's Christmas. It's impossible to walk down the street without meeting someone you know and inevitably ends with the question "Fancy a scoop?"

Sure, it's fun to complain but there's something in the air this year.

* I know, eww.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


Edinburgh Art/Music collective FOUND unveiled their emo-robot band creation, Cybraphon at the open of NewMedia Scotland's Edinburgh Art Festival exhibition at the InSpace gallery yesterday.
Cybraphon embodies the type of new-old-new aesthetic I was talking about previously. "Cybraphon consists of a number of instruments, antique machinery, and found objects from junk shops operated by over 60 robotic components, all housed in a modified wardrobe" (although the majority of Cybraphon's functions run off custom software). For the how, go here. The why, go here. It reminds me a little of Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller's "Opera for a Small Room" that was exhibited last year.

Cybraphon is resolutely modern too, being obsessed with social networking and the web, to such a degree that its prowess and popularity online impacts on its emotional state, which in turn has an effect on the music it composes. There are rumours that Richie Hawtin consulted with Cybraphon on Myspace and stole some of its ideas in surveying fans about what they'd like the return of Plastikman to look like.

Cybraphon, like many others, is naturally livid with Hawtin. Not because he stole his idea but because Cybraphon only sees the online component of its existence as informing rather than directing its practice as an artist.

There's a face off between FOUND and Cybraphon next week, unfortunately the website is saying it's sold out. Hopefully Cybraphon will notice I've written about it and grant me some sort of special robo-guestie.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Retro Stylings

Two seemingly disparate articles looking at similar tendencies in disparate musics floating around just now.

Philip Sherburne's column on Pitchfork looking at the return to analogue prevalent in the post-minimal climate. He's got some interesting points, most notably about Clone's increasing quest to refine and redefine the electronic canon, looking at the (small c) "continuum" of musics that have been growing out of the roots of disco/house/boogie/techno/acid/etc. Talk of innovation (although Sherburne uses the neat phrase "sonic novelty" in addressing the excesses of the minimal boom) has moved to talk of authenticity, a phrase that in all cultural forms is loaded with as much baggage as i've seen being lugged through the streets of Edinburgh this week.

Michael Tumelty's piece in the Herald looks at the Edinburgh International Festival's current programme and the furore over the sheer volume of Early/Historical/Authentic music in this years lineup. His point being that after a number of years where Historically Informed music was percieved as a niche, specialist pursuit it is now ready to go (for want of a better word) mainstream.

There's a lot of pleasure to be gained in seeing artists who've grown in relative obscurity getting plaudits for their mastery of their chosen form. I'm eagerly anticipating watching Legowelt break out his boxes at Substance this weekend just as Tumelty seems excited at the prospect of seeing Bach Collegium Japan.

So this is really just a wee screed, saluting all the interesting music programming this year in all its forms in Edinburgh's festival this year. It's a welcome relief from the depressing uniformity of a lot of the fare on offer at the major Fringe venues- acres of posters on boards plastered with easily recognisable visual references on posters.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Self Service (Polemic 2)

The current furore surrounding writers, child protection and school visits sheds more light on the self-serving imaginary landscape around which of the appointed cultural titans roam. It is a classic demonstration of writerly vanity and illustrates the vacuity of much commentary about culture in our society. It's a manufactured, orchestrated bunfight in which the shrill voices of our doomsaying heroes drown out any semblance of reasoned or illuminating discourse.

The bunfight centres around new requirements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland requiring everyone who wants to work or volunteer with children or "vulnerable people" to be vetted by the
Independent Safeguarding Authority. The requirement will make it compulsory for anyone who has "regular" or intense contact with children or vulnerable adults have the checks.

This provoked the following measured responses from a predictable assembly of people what write kids books and have publicists:

"The whole idea of vetting any adult who visits many schools, but each only for a day, and then always in the presence of other adults, is deeply offensive," (Anne Fine)

"It's actually rather dispiriting and sinister. Why should I pay £64 to a government agency to give me a little certificate to say I'm not a paedophile.
Children are abused in the home, not in classes of 30 or groups of 200 in the assembly hall with teachers looking on." (Philip Pullman)

"In essence, I'm being asked to pay £64 to prove that I am not a paedophile.
After 30 years writing books, visiting schools, hospitals, prisons, spreading an enthusiasm for culture and literacy, I find this incredibly insulting."
(The database)...poisons the special relationship that exists between children and authors they admire". (Anthony Horowitz)

What is revealing about this is the manner in which the systemic insult is personalised.

No matter that this requirement covers a massive range of people who work with young people, this is transmogrified into an attack on the integrity of some of our most beloved childrens authors. Particularly hard to stomach is Pullman's sanctimonious, simple-minded assertion about abuse; coupled with both Pullman and Horowitz having the moxy to suggest that they'll be paying the £64 (unlesss blockbusting authors have ceased engaging the services of accountants these days?) we're left with a masterclass in vanity and self-regard disguised as social conscience.

For the thousands of us up here in Scotland who for a few years now have had to go through the Disclosure Scotland procedure when starting a job working with children or vulnerable adults it's less of an insult than an inconvenience. I don't believe for a second that my potential employers think that I'm a paedophile, it's just that they have to check. And that's fine. Although my flexibility in this regard may have more to do with the fact that I have to work to earn a living.

The likes of Horowitz, Pullman and Morpurgo, for all their undoubted talents, can afford to hold forth at length about "sinister" "insults" from a faceless bureaucracy. Just don't expect me to applaud their fearless decision to stop bothering to do something they don't need to do very often anyway.

It's heartening to see that the new childrens laureate, Anthony Browne
offering some some much needed perspective:

"I feel that as writers we shouldn't necessarily be granted an exemption. If all people who work with children have to be vetted by the police then we shouldn't be an exception. It seems a bit odd that we have to pay for it, though."

Don't worry Anto, I'm sure you'll be able to write it off against tax.

Even better was
Robert Muchamore's suitably combative Twitter message:
"Irritated at another round of whinging by the usual grey haired mafia of 'renowned' kids authors"

Anyone who works with vulnerable and damaged young people will tell you that even ordinary experiences require extraordinary effort. In their unwillingness to demonstrate even the slightest flexibility in this matter our heroes have demonstrated the true extent of their commitment.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Polemic 1

Irksome post on the guardian bookblog gives way to discussion in which the usual observation-commentary-extrapolation continuum betrays one of the classic intellectual blindspots of our times whereby broad, uninformed statements based on imaginative interpretation of a strangers behaviour is presented as some sort of psychological/sociological insight.

Where Sebastian Faulks WWI snoreathon "Birdsong" soothes the savage Staffy-wielding proletarians our heroine is forced to share public transport with, the spectacle of a man reading a novel by a
national treasure is a transparent (and creepy) attempt to seduce and destroy. I acknowledge that my irritation probably stems from the possibility that people would misinterpret my adoration of Smith's work as an attempt to curry favour with the sisterhood rather than the fact that she is bloody marvellous.

Anyway, this tendency seems to extend throughout the literatosphere: the use of observation as a springboard from which the (normally reasonably well established) author can vault headlong into a soup of their own anxieties and present them as a problem for society. Frequently, observations of this nature reveal more about our author than it does about the subject. This is something that makes my heart sink as the "hook" for the author is that the subject is, in itself, interesting.

An example?

Let's have a look at a
recent profile of arch-charlatan Sue Palmer trailing her latest notional treataise on the plight of 21st Century boys:

"NOT SO long ago, Sue Palmer was walking through Edinburgh's Queen Street Gardens. She had her dog on the lead and was minding her own business, when she happened upon what she describes as a "dreadfully upsetting sight".

"There were these three young women from a nursery having a chat, and they had nine little children with them on leads," says the Edinburgh-based author, who has published several acclaimed books about modern childhood. "I looked at those children and thought, 'they're getting less attention and time than my dog'. I don't think the women were being uncaring, but the fact that the children were on leads was just symptomatic of the fact that we seem to have comprehensively lost track of one of the most important elements of raising children: personal, loving contact."

I don't know if Ms Palmer has ever experienced the butt-quaking terror of trying to organise a group of young children anywhere out of doors but it does betray the fact that the origins of many of her theses reside in a school of thought we can call Nosey-Parkerdom. Furthermore, there is no indication as to whether Ms Palmer made any effort to ascertain to what extent these children were being denied personal, loving contact. Is the fact that these young children in nursery in itself neglectful? Or is it the use of leads? Coupled with Palmer's suggestion that children should not enter primary education until age 7 we're right into stay-at-home-parent territory aren't we?

"We've got screen saturation in our homes now, and we've got lots of ways little boys can and do end up in front of screens. We've got faster and faster in terms of the amount of technology we now use, and we've sort of forgotten that children are still the same creatures they've always been. They're born with these stone-age little brains and in order to bring them up well we have to slow down a bit and acknowledge they exist in biological time not technological time. We're fastforwarding them into the 21st century and that is contributing to an increase in emotional behaviour and social problems."

Speaking to people with experience of working with young men who would be considered as having what is charmingly titled Social Emotional and Behavioural difficulties I can't see how screen saturation (or technological exposure) necessarily feeds into their specific problems. The vast majority of their problems stem from broader social problems, poverty, neglect, deprivation, delinquency, early exposure to alcohol, drugs, solvents, absence of a strong or coherent community outside a peer group. You know, the kind of stuff that doesn't really stoke the ardour of Conservative Party Conferences as much as the simplistic Modern Life is Rubbish agenda peddled by high profile chuckleheads like Palmer.

"Boys need a lot of outdoor activity and play in order to develop the control of their limbs and minds that will allow them to sit down in class. If you have a little five-year- old boy trying to make a den or build a fort, it doesn't matter in play whether it falls down or not, but if we put them under pressure with targets in a classroom, they know this is the grown up world and they've got to please grownups, and if they're not capable of doing that at that age and they fail you've got a good chance of turning them off for life."

Here again we have a simple, innocuous statement (children need exercise) acting as a springboard for a Flying forward one-and-a-half somersault, pike
into an imagined pressure cooker school where p1 & 2 where boys are expected to knuckle down and forget about all that nonsense about playing and sharing or ever going outside again.

We have the imagined world of worried little boys, locked up inside with no place for creativity and fun, this is a world which, in the interview, has been entirely fabricated without recourse to any basis in fact. It is the authors OWN NIGHTMARE.

This, again, doesn't tally with experience of working with young people on the sharp end of the behavioural spectrum. The circumstances that lead young people to fail at school and to be turned off education for life are likely to have more to do with disruption in their educational experience. Every local authority will have a number of children (boys and girls) who from an early age are percieved as being SEB. The profound sense of alienation from education they will almost certainly experience will be learned by these young people as they are bounced from class to class, school to school, unable to settle into groups and perpetually viewed as a burden on the schools physical and human resources. This has precisely nothing to do with Palmer's imagined dislocation and everything to do with the all too real psychological horror of vulnerable children being pushed to the margins of mainstream society at an age when their need for basic education is most pronounced.

"With teenage boys, the peer pressure is to be edgy – to do bad things that are anti-establishment, anti-education and anti-social. They want an edgy, cool image that comes from media and marketing and computer games."

The gobsmacking revelation that young men want to be seen as individuals in their journey towards adulthood is so self-evident and banal as to inspire skepticism of practically everything that's gone before.

So what's my point? That the current urge to pathologise every aspect of youth development only fuels the profound sense of unease with young people, the fact that this perspective is marketable by publishers to an affluent and influential class of people who are psychologically and socially remote from the vast majority of ordinary society only serves to tighten the discursive circle where a diminishing clique claque about the "crisis" in their imagined childhoods.

Where previously a tension existed between the adult worlds instinctive protective instinct and natural generational distaste at adolescents, the adults are now locked out in the cold. The adult world observes, annotates and wrinkles its nose in distaste at a youth culture they can't understand and so they attempt to imagine they understand. And by imagining they understand the problem, their solution is rooted in how they imagine the world rather than how the world actually is.

Important caveat: This is merely an anlysis of the profile of Palmer and not a review of the book (which, despite my deep seated reservations, I will read on release and attempt to trawl through it without harrumphing the world back to the stone age).

Friday, 26 June 2009

Whatever you do...

...don't turn on the telly...
...for the next 3-4 months...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Let there be night.

Off on a wee holiday around the Baltic.

Gdansk, Shipyards, Herrings, Vodka, Old battlefields, Lakes and all manner of Hanseatic hi-jinks.

Oh, and this.

To say I am excited would be an enormous and reckless understatement!

Friday, 5 June 2009

We're jammin'

As the weekend approaches I wearily notice I haven't updated this in an age.

Work is the curse of the discursive classes. Or some old winsome guff like that.

Any road. This week is the last chance Edinburgh residents will get the chance to check out the unmissable Francesca Woodman retrospective. Anyone who doesn't bother to do so is on the shit list forever. Or at least goes into the book as a philistine who chose not to take a rare opportunity to gawp at a distinctive and unnerving body of work by a fascinating and obviously uniquely talented photographer.

There's some great background information and online galleries at the Ingleby site for those of you who can't make it along but it's well worth the trip. There's a limnal, haunted melancholy to Woodman's work, the circumstances of her death (by suicide, aged 22) amplifying the already creepy and disturbing erasions and distortions in the pictures- it's absolutely incredible to think that many of the earlier pictures featured in this exhibition were taken by Woodman when she was (by my calculation) only 13 or 14. This poignancy is heightened by the knowledge that few prints saw the light of day during Woodman's lifetime.

The exhibition coincides with a smaller collection of Woodman's work in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art as part of the Artists Rooms series.
The experience of being in the Ingleby pristine, quiet, sun-drenched gallery is slightly disconcerting as the building previously housed Edinburgh's legendary dark, sweat and booze encrusted "Venue".

Anyway. Event of the weekend is the Firecracker night at Jam the Box in GRV.

Local friendly vinyl pusher Fudge Fingas goes back to back with Linkwood Family member House of Traps in a three hour vinyl pile-up. Hopefully it'll whet appetites for the forthcoming Disco 3k weekender in Croatia.
Deviants may want to check the bizarro burlesque bacchanal Confusion is Sex tonight with FriendOfClom Kris Wasabi playing bangers in the main room after Gutter Klinik, a band "specialising in gayer-than-cum-on-a-moustache pop". Indeed.

I'm tempted but I'm a one-night a weekend man this weather.
More to come soon, I promise, including something about all these fuds who've retrospectively decided they never liked Sonic Youth because they were never really a band anyway more a late-capitalist curatorial project enslaving us all in some sort of po-mo whorl of tasteful countercultural signifiers until you just can't tell what's properly avant-garde anymore! Or you can obviously, and do, with a side order of obfuscatory dialectical mince.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Two baldheads fighting over a comb.

Delightful story in which bland, soulless venues operating as nighttime holding pens for Edinburgh's burgeoning no-brow Edinburgh market slug it out over customers who, in my experience, exhibit a manifest absence of discernment regarding where they choose to catch dysentery off the toilets on a Saturday night.

It's not clear whether the citation of acts like Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs and the Sugababes formed the basis for Simon Frith's evidence.

Or whether any answer as to for the love of fuck WHY these shitholes are so successful.

Is it any wonder the weejies smirk knowingly whenever Edinburgh's nightlife is mentioned?
To dispel all thoughts of indie-gonk-moppets wiggling their uncoordinated arses and braying along to the Kaiser Chiefs I'm off to Riddim Tuffa tomorrow to see Jahtari Riddim Force at the GRV.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Waxy treats.

Things that are making my life worthwhile.

Nacho Patrol- Futuristic Abeba
- Danny "Legowelt" Wolfers' new album is getting a lot of attention and i'm looking forward to checking it out but this, his second release as Nacho Patrol, is a surprising beautiful slice of african influenced, organ-soaked joy. Everything is so organic, summery, warm and delicious. Quite different to last years spiky imaginary soundtrack "The Maze of Violence" (a record my wife forbids me from playing when we have company round!).

Juju and Jordash- Dekmental 001 12"- Dutch producers first release on their own new label. Great, bit more driving than usual but retains the interdimensional galaxian feel that they always bring to the table. The end of "Super Blue Meanies" stopped me in my tracks when the lads in Underground Solushn played this when I asked for it. Made me go immediately to Levon Vincent's "Six Figures" from earlier in the year. Lerosa remix on the b-side is a loping dubbed out treat too. Online mixes provide a superb introduction to their sound, a rich, varied no-boundaries style that i can't get enough of.

Hieroglyphic Being- So much noise 2 be heard- Impeccable future machine jazz. Geniunely mindboggling emotion and feel from pretty much everything on these two 12"s. Hard to classify, there are just so many ideas. Everything feels so, so, so right. Sensational in every sense of the word. Checked out the Les Aeroplanes 12" on Mathematics that's getting a lot of attention just now. It's also very good but times is hard and I had to leave it.

Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics- Inspiration Information
- Was really looking forward to this and not disappointed. Saw Heiliocentrics live a few years ago at Headspin and was really impressed with the way they manage to keep it weird as all hell and so tight at the same time. Reminds me a little of the underrated Up Bustle and Out when they went to Cuba and really opened up their sound but there is a lot more depth and experimentation here. I always get the sense that UB&O were never given the credit due to them, especially for the slightly demented feel of their later, live sessiony stuff. Mulatu Astatke is a complete legend, there's a nice piece on him (and further stuff about Soundway, Strut and Analog Africa) here.

Banda los hijos de la nina luz- Dejala Corre/El Sapo/Crees Que Soy Sexy
- Demented Afro/Latin medely version of If you think I'm sexy on Soundway 7". Woot!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Politics, Protest, Resistance.

While I generally find a lot of online political discourse pitifully by-numbers and prone to simplistic, "so, what's in the papers" nodding-dog-ism you occasionally stumble across a screed of online opinion that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Below is possibly the most inspiring thing I have read this week.

Some small edits from the posted article and addition of my own emphasis.

" My experience of union meetings though is that there is a vast reservoir of libido waiting to be tapped; at meetings, there was an animated disaffection with auditing and new bureaucracy which immediately dissipated when the 'official' agenda - pay and strikes - was dutifully returned to.

New forms of industrial action need to be instituted against managerialism.

For instance, in the case of teachers and lecturers, the tactic of strikes (or even of marking bans) should be abandoned, because they only hurt students and members...

What is needed is the strategic withdrawal of forms of labour which will only be noticed by management: all of the machineries of self-surveillance that have no effect whatsoever on the delivery of education, but which managerialism could not exist without.

Instead of the gestural, spectacular politics around (noble) causes like Palestine, it's time that teaching unions got far more immanent, and take the opportunity opened up the crisis - their crisis, our opportunity... - to begin to rid public services of business ontology. (When even businesses can't be run as businesses, why should public services?)"

The increasing managerialisation extends beyond education into every sphere of social engagement, the necessity that outcomes of unstarted programmes be drafted and agreed on before anyone's got in a room to discuss the practical work of funded projects, pervades most forms of cultural engagement (in the broadest sense, including the arts, sports and any form of work with young people). The priority to legitimise all money spent rather than the boring, invisible, yet substantive and crucial element to any form of engagement, namely the development of human relationships and the time and effort required for these to bear fruit.

This managerialisation prioritises an immediate, ephemeral, illusory impression of work ahead of the sloppy, unreliable, frequently tardy yet real and lasting reality of any form of constructive and deeply engaged practice. With the papers full of spending squeezes and efficiency savings the overriding impression is that more time will be spent accounting for money spent and less time spent engaged in actual activity.

In times when there's less money around surely the one resource we should be afforded more of is time?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Upside to Downturn with Downsize Reprise

Belated bleating return to the lately neglected posting.
Last Friday saw the long awaited return of Downsizesound, a sort of preparatory post-apocalyptic hoe-down.

Volk-mensch Drew Wright aka Wounded Knee ("A man hard at play"- Plan B, "a collaboration between Scatman John, Steve Reich and Alasdair Roberts"- Alternative Ulster, "Tuvan-Paul Robeson throat singing"- Buzz, "We won’t be needlessly cruel, but avant-garde is still French for bullshit"- NME) was joined by Alisdair Roberts, Issho Taiko Drummers and One Ensemble's Peter Nicholson for an evening of strange, ageless chicanery, electricity free.

Wright's opening gong assisted incantation welcomed us in a cheery, well considered hymn before getting down to his purple scanties, jaunty socks and snug fitting vest in a shameless piece of exhibitionism designed to get a large turnout on side. Mission accomplished and away we went. Plugged in the Knee ranges over a lot of territory, incorporating ideas from super traditional Scottish folk to noise, to Sun Ravian freeness, to house music and out to a ever sprawling transit through world musics. In downsizing he still managed to fit a lot in, an audience-assisted noise piece dedicated to ill friend, collaborator and drone prince Fordell Research Unit, some old favourites (21st century worksong "Lanyard", the hummable, plaintive ecological call of "Canary"), devastating, age-old folk songs like "Glenlogie" and "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" were interspersed with illuminating and engaging introductions to the songs and great singers and recordings of them. He finished positing the interesting and convincing theory that come a world where our worst predictions are realised that the humble cassette tape will be our only remaining available connection with recorded history before wondering whether his final tape would be the ones we treasure more. He pressed play on a battery operated tape machine and a tape of birdcall, complete with RP-inflected commentary. A magical and evocative beginning from someone who is clearly comfortable in their skin, practice and possessed of a burgeoning creative energy. Well done fella!

A quick pee and beer break later and One Ensemble's Peter Nicolson launched into a stirring set with a (open to correction) Central European folk song that suits his soaring voice and cello to a t. He played a longer free piece that was riveting, as he careened up to the bridge, playing high, jarring staccato, jagged wrong notes and leaping around matching his voice to each and every note. I don't know enough about Nicolson's work to speculate but he's a virtuosic player without ever shutting an audience out, although some people I spoke to found it really intense, coiled and nervy and dark. Not necessarily a bad thing.

I was a bit overawed by the Alasdair Roberts performance, had heard a couple of his albums but never really returned to them, this was the first time I was able to see him live after repeatedly been too lazy to go and see him. It's difficult to describe the music he makes, you could call it folk or traditional or even stick him alongside the likes of Smog or Will Oldham or Joanna Newsom but I don't think it really does him justice. Some of the new songs from his new album "Spoils" are absolutely fantastic, especially "Eternal Return" and a hilarious and cynical about the three aspects of Man that inspire us all to be "complete bastards". His lyrics are complex and on the surface can seem a bit hokey, there's much talk of types of trees and birds and esoteric heraldry but have a pleasantly baffling contemporary resonance. He's a really inquiring, questing writer and his lyricism is occasionally flabbergasting. Sometimes when he delivers a line it's a bit like the sun coming out, it actually warms your face to hear it, the lines elemental inevitability is exhiliarating. Steady!

To finish the evening off we had the Ishoo Taiko Drummers. Four Taiko drums dominated the setup all evening and I alternated between excitement and apprehension, I've been to too many places where bombastic, directive massed drumming completely batters any sense of nuance out of a performance. Ishoo are a fundamentally "plugged" group, as a band member said early on the show required a significant rethink of how they'd perform. A beautiful introductory piece with restrained taiko tempos, acoustic guitars and flickering flute stops quickly dispelled any fear this was going to be a juddering, predictable drum circle. A later piece used four tuned acoustic guitars played with steel skewers, letting the reverberations echo through the space. A later piece saw two performers demonstrate the xylophone's hypnotic synthy possibilities in a piece that was strongly reminiscent to everything that's wonderful about Steve Reich, a sort of motorik, percussive Mogwai.

I ended up buying a CDR on the strength of the performance which was a great end to an interesting and varied evening. Well done and thanks to Drew to organising it.

Hopefully I'll get some pictures from the evening.
Everyone loves pictures of a man in purple pants.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Credit to the Nation.

Thanks to all the fine Irish patriots who last night contributed to the stinking lake of boozy urine all along the Cowgate.

There's nothing that makes an Irishman prouder than the rancid pissreek of his compatriots.

Hail. Glorious. Etc.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Adjective invective

Jonathan Meades, broadcaster, writer and most wonderful man on the planet sticks his exquisitely polished loafers into "iconic" and its lazy, arbitrary usage in a profession that is evidently aware, but way past caring it's on its deathbed.

"Here are some nouns and compound nouns that have been prefixed by this most dismal of vogue words. These are all found constructions of recent provenance: none is my invention.


iconic injury-time winner, iconic itinerary, iconic jihad target, iconic jigsaw, iconic jingle, iconic jockey, iconic joke, iconic kitchen utensil, iconic knife, iconic knowledge, iconic lawnmower, iconic leprechaun, iconic light fitting, iconic lion, iconic lip balm, iconic mascara, iconic milkshake, iconic mittens...iconic radiator, iconic relationship, iconic restaurant, iconic retail mall, iconic robot, iconic rodent, iconic saddle, iconic sandwich, iconic sausage, iconic shampoo, iconic shoe, iconic shoehorn, iconic shop, iconic silhouette, iconic snack food..."

Impassioned, erudite, thought provoking and delivered with characteristic rhetorical élan, I could read his prose all day and night.

For those who haven't entered the invigorating, sardonic cult of Meadues you could do worse than to dig up the BBC DVD of Jonathan Meades Collection which is a compilation of some of his unique TV programmes from 1990-2007.

Try to ignore the fact that the dullards at 2entertain didn't bother their lazy arses licensing the original music and you're left with dreary MIDI tracks where a brilliant soundtrack enhanced Meades' high-falutin' grand guignol on topics as diverse as 1960's church design, uterine yearning in Finnish modernism and East Anglia as a marooned extension of Holland.

There are also links to a number of articles on Clive James page who describes him as "an educated upstart who not only doesn’t know his place, but knows far more than his allotted share about all the other places."

More Meades related wonderfulness in the New Statesman in which he digs up Kenneth Clark and defiles the memory of the respected"Civilisation" series saying "If the Edwardians had had telly, this is what they would have put on it: it was stately, formal and ponderous."

Oh sweet suffering...

Archived music press' feature on early live UK techno.

My particular fave is
Reynolds' contention that "Yank Dj's can't compete with Brits when it comes to building peaks and plateaux".

Peerless and utterly groundless snarking from the 'nuumfinder general, along with some supreme prime
high-hattery about "regressive strain in rave culture...exacerbated by the fact that half of them look like they're only 13".

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Dirty Deeds Done Dead Cheap

Amazing stuff here with an inventor/creator/mad genius making an instrument a day for a month. There are so many great ideas here, the best/most useful design is probably the mobius strip but i think the garden turntable (pictured) is the barkingest, most wonderful thing I've seen this year! Photos, videos, sound samples; follow the link.

This was a part of a wider "Thing-a-day" project where people made one item per day for the entire month of February, the kind of thing that makes me feel phenomenally lazy.

Seen on and stolen from AudioLemon.

Friday, 6 March 2009

A square peg in a round (k) hole

The seemingly endless theoretical wrangling over the existence and extent of the fabled "Hardcore Continuum" reaches something approaching a tabloid bunfight today as noted theory gonk, Simon Reynolds (someone for whom the existence of the HC represents a something of a meal ticket) kicked wonky to the HC curb for ideological heresy.
The crime? Not fitting neatly with Reynolds' thesis and key producers rejecting Reynolds' analysis (and possibly implying that he's, like totally old). What emerges from this little narrative can be summarised thus:

doesn't really like wonky. He can't dance to it. It's influenced by musics outside those universally decreed to be part of the HC "canon". Some people might take Ketamine at dances. It smells. Luke Vibert probably did it first. It involves producers from outside London engaging with a broader community, enabled by the internet. There are no 'zines. Or if there are the 'zine authors are insufficently conversant with Marxist theory and refuse to engage with an overwrought dialectical style birthed by hip young journalistic gunslingers in early 90's London.

Heaven forfend! The struggle for the discursive high-ground regarding wonky fails to see the energy, invention and excitement in that "scene" at the moment.It seems Reynolds would prefer if the major players conformed more to geographical or ideological boundaries, he seeks to
compare/contrast it with sounds that have a more philosophical basis. He doesn't seem to want them running around, hanging out, collaborating and learning from producers from all over the world. It's disappointing that a writer, who professes allegiance to the energy, anarchy and vitality of hardcore seems so intent on decrying ideological heresy among young producers.

I like Reynolds' writing, he's written some superb analyses of significant recent music history. But there are limitations to how far you can apply theory to reality. Throughout the history of dance musics there has been a "folk" element to certain scenes, locality and the sense of community that's formed through friendships and going to the same parties, listening to the same records, hanging out in the same pubs all contribute to productions.
Disco in 1970's New York was a diverse genre with certain clubs forging a distinct musical identity. From this chaos history is made, certain records were deemed "Garage" records, certain ones "Loft", certain ones "Studio". The Glaswegian Numbers crew are clearly influenced by Dopplereffekt and other US musics, undoubtedly through the Club 69/Rub a Dub crew. This is its own continuum, one that doesn't begin and end at the Watford Gap.
The Scottish Hardcore continuum (if such a thing even exists) is a significantly different beast (and has a different legacy) to that of, say Ireland. Through donning the straitjacket of Reynolds' theory we only see part of the picture, and one that is possibly seen through the rosy tinted specs of hindsight.
In a recent post, ISM's Pipecock really articulates the excitement of discovery, the simple joy of playing, listening to and losing your mind to records; looking to a musical continuum that isn't theoretical, one that's personal, that's formed through friends, great parties and just fucking doing it without fully understanding it.
One that "inspired damn near everyone I know to go buy record by cats like Drexciya and Basic Channel and start throwing them in the mix with any old funky electronic shit we could find."
Amen to that.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


I'm unconvinced as to the extent to which My Girls and Your Love work together. It feels a little forced. Isn't the whole idea behind this mashup malarkey to juxtapose unlikely things over each other rather than just spotting similarities between synth lines?

I don't think it quite syncs up either, although towards the end the addition of a kick indicates that lurking inside My Girls' baggy shuffle there's the makings of a great disco mix.

Anyway, if it's reworks of Your Love you're after you're better off with Edinburgh's xvectors who covered it a few years ago. Imagine a grumpy Chic fronted by Elvis Costello and you're half way there.

They play Optimo in Edinburgh on the 31st and will apparently be playing a heft of new tunes.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009



persons unknown, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that this blog merits nomination in the "Best Personal Blog" category of the Irish Blog Awards!

thank you mysterions! i am flattered and charmed at your benevolent generosity in the face of repeated procrastination, barely comprehensible rambling and inelegant, overcomplicated phrasing.

the lovely logo at the top was created for the wonderful Confessions of a Film Critic blog by Annie and stolen by me from her comments on the Irish Blog Awards site.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Together we're stronger.

So, Merriweather Post Pavillion is finally out after what feels like a whole year of claims and counter-claims as to its ability to cure the sick, lame and wounded. It's a wonderful, charming piece of work that will surely satisfy anyone who has taken an even passing interest in their varied and extensive body of work over the last 8 years. I got a vinyl copy and was delighted to get a little card that entitled me to a 320kbps mp3 version although I had to wait for the official digital release date last Monday to redeem it. Thankfully this meant I was able to listen to it on the bus through to Glasgow on the way to see them. As the bus trundled along the M8 and the setting winter sun blinded me through the window I got completely lost in the spiraling, morphing beauty of the closing "Brother Sport". Most of the talk has been about "My Girls" but for me they've kept the best 'til last- from the opening round-singing to the blistering finale it represents the band in all their exuberant, yelping glory. The album had a real buzz about it, I spoke to someone in Glasgow's superb Monorail shop who said that they'd sold more than 35 copies in the first week of release, pretty much the biggest seller they've had for years. He also said a lot of those sales were to people they'd never seen in the shop before. The record has obviously captured the imagination of the storied Download Generation as well as format gonks like yours truly.

The anticipation was palpable at the Art School with the venue jammed well before the start of the gig and queues at the bar delaying much needed liquid refreshment. The Art School used to be cheap for beer, it appears that even in Glasgow you have to work hard to find a pint under £3.
Even Nice and Sleazy's, Glasgows alterna-mecca isn't immune, I was charged a mindboggling £4.50 for a pint bottle of Deuchars as I waited for the wife to come through from Edinburgh.

The band were on promptly and launched immediately into "In the flowers". All three stood in front of a big bank of lights and speakers behind their consoles of synths, samplers and various electronicey odds and sods. As the music built to the first collective peak, the lights behind them ignited, dazzling everyone and creating a neat visual ambience to go with the circling, spiralling pulse. Some of the people I was with found it offputting, a little blinding and disorienting whereas I was transported back to my window seat on the CityLink earlier that day with the sun blinding me as I pressed "repeat" on the album as we pulled out from Harthill.

The set was probably the most conventional I've seen from Animal Collective with them playing more than half of the new album and songs from Strawberry Jam alongside a number of extended works in progress that is their trademark (see edit/apologia below).

Still and all the gig was superb, a blinding carnival of sound, light and euphoria and the crowd lapped it up. "Summertime Clothes" a highlight with it's repeated layered refrain of "I want to walk around with you" and a hint of Battles' robo-deathkill anthem "Atlas" clattering its way through the second section. With the arrival of the spiralling opening synth
line of "My Girls" and the attendant whoops and cheers, I found myself thinking that this band's time has come. Avey Tare bouncing on the balls of his feet, whooping his heart out, as Panda Bear intoned as simple and heartfelt and beautiful a love song as I've ever heard. I was left with the feeling that the song has been sung better. In fact, you get the feeling that this incarnation of Animal Collective could really change someone's life in a different setting, outside, on a big stage, in front of a huge crowd, there to maybe see someone else. In an ideal world they will follow Orbital's return to the stage at this years Big Chill and emulate that bands fabled Glastonbury "arrival" in their own way.

The lengthy version of "Fireworks" strangely enhanced by smatters of clapalongs from some enthusiasts down the front, a supremely tense, trembling "Peacebone" (edit 21/1/09: i haven't remembered correctly, it was actually "Grass", well, at least as far as I can remember it was, a subsequent interview indicates it might actually have been another, at the time unrecognised, gem from the back catalogue!)
and a rousing rendition of "Brother Sport" saw them leave the stage and return for three more works in progress. The wheels occasionally come off in these jams with ideas disappearing off into the ether. As I said before it's possible that the muddy sound and indoor venue meant that the gig never quite soared, there was no massive epiphany, no bombast, just an ecstatic babbling throb. And no mean feat in itself.

They're a superb live band that have been on a rich and complex musical journey, similar in a way to Four Tet in the way that they've consistently subsumed musical influences into their work without ever really sounding like anyone else. The crackling, burbling effects and clickety-clackety drumsticks never far from the sprawling horizon they conjure. But what's strange about a band so rhythmic is how resolutely unfunky they are! Sure, there are technoey tinges to the new material; Panda Bear and Geologist are clearly talented electronic musicians but there's no bounce to the beats, it's impossible to really cut a rug to this stuff beyond doing what a friend described years ago as the "indiekid twitch". On the mix CD that accompanies the vinyl in Rough Trade shops, Kode 9 & LD's "Bad" sits alongside Erykah Badu's "Telephone": These are tracks with some serious bump. You get the feeling that elements of these tracks are more aspiration than reality, it's the next frontier for them; how to move from a pulse to a throb, from a jam to a groove?

This is where they maybe lag behind fellow travellers Black Dice, Gang Gang Dance and TV on the Radio, bands from similar backgrounds achieving similarly jawdropping feats with recent releases. All of these bands have the funk, particularly Gang Gang's appropriation of 2 step and TV on the Radio's searing Princeadelic stylings on their albums from last year. It's not that I don't love Animal Collective. It's just I feel they, as artists, are funkier than they sound. They're not incapable of it, parts of Panda Bear's "Person Pitch" album and his collaboration with Scott Mou on the Jane albums contain the elements I'm struggling to describe.

Anywwhat. No trip to the weej would be complete without a trawl through the racks of rubadub and monorail!

Great detailed dubbiness from Herr Betke. Heard this live a few months ago and have been eagerly awaiting its arrival.

Nice edit of a Loleatta Holloway track but the real gold is on the b-side. 2 deep groovy slowmo disco treats!

Beautiful beautiful beautiful time capsule of a variety of old 78's from all over the world. Bengali begging songs, a phonetic guide to the english alphabet to a beautiful old folk song "Sprigs of Thyme" sung by Joseph Taylor.

Note: Late night edits. Tidying up "grammar", occasional revisionism and general award-nominee anxiety going on here. And additional tag malarkey afoot. Drink taken. Etc.