Sunday, 19 December 2010

Christmas Shopping...

When I awoke on Saturday morning it was after a Christmas party, three hours sleep and to the prospect of snow, and standing around in it for a lengthy period of time. No matter, I was on my way to shut down Oxford Street on their busiest, most profitable day of the year; a clear window of opportunity, our Death Star moment.

My target in particular was the Vodafone shop at 374 where, to protest their recent let off of a £6billion tax bill, we were staging a read-in. The idea was that protesters would infiltrate the shop and, at the allotted time, whip out a decent book, sit down and read it. What’s less violent than that universal good, reading? This was to highlight the fact that, if Vodafone paid what they owe – not any extra because they’re super rich, have broad shoulders and can afford it, simply what they owe – it would not only cover the cuts to libraries but actually cover all of the cuts to local councils that were made in the Crazy Spending Review. If all of the high street banditos – Arcadia Group, Boots, Marks and Spencers et al – paid up, we’d probably all find a nice little banker style tax-rebate bonus in our stockings this Christmas.

In the end, Vodafone had seen us coming and closed the shop for us. Apart from the cold, it didn’t really matter that they’d sent the Imperial Fleet to intervene: it was closed and that was the point.

Some highlights:

• An American man - entirely missing the point - shouting ‘get a job and pay some tax’. I assume he pays his, somewhere, but given the rage in his voice, perhaps not.

• The perma-tanned business man who has just paid a £200,000 tax bill and was outraged to learn Vodafone have been avoiding theirs. ‘…What? …How? ….I mean, I’m really angry about this.’ Imagine his reaction when I told him the extent to which the high street was at it:’…WHAT?!’ This was a pretty universal reaction.

• The heartening news, from the lady from the Librarians magazine who was stood next to me, that every council must provide libraries by law (the Libraries and Museums Act). They must also be ‘comprehensive’ but this is open to interpretation, and the loophole that will allow the government to make cuts. Still, at least someone has recognised their value at some point and thought to enshrine that in law.

Actually, the most heartening thing was the level of support, and not just the usual protestor solidarity either. We had to do a little explaining but once you pointed out to people that they pay their taxes fair and square, and the super rich companies do not, even those who had no idea previously were on our side. I’d echo what others have said: walking away from the protest, it did feel like a difference had been made, that people were watching and that, above all, there was momentum. It also seems to me that the word ‘protestor’ is becoming more and more a part of common usage, and the lines between student protestor, tax avoidance protester, anti-war protester, are being blurred - the movement forming into one Rebel Alliance against the both the cuts and the status quo. It's not that it's becoming any more us and them, just that perhaps people are beginning to realise quite how us and them it's always been.

In the end our numbers dwindled until there were just five of us left holding the banner outside Vodafone, which meant we each had our own personal police guard. At 17.37 the Chief Inspector came over to negotiate; they’d been quite reasonable in ‘allowing’ us our democratic right to freedom of assembly but now their reasonableness had gone on for long enough. They told us that either we leave now or get issued with a Section 14 and be arrested. A section 14 is normally used when there is potential for violent disorder or damage to property; we argued that five protesters reading in the cold could hardly amount to that. The other incidence in which a Section 14 can be applied is if our actions impinged on the rights of others, and it was explained to us that our right to protest had now become less important than other people’s right to shop. Freedom of association has its limits, and they are dictated by Vodafone’s opening hours, it seems. They were the legal equivalent of a bent mechanic: determined to find something to charge us for. The inspector further threatened us that his chief had a limit to her patience and has arrested people for less (than reading?). He tried all manner of warmth related pleading: I told him that it would not be the cold that sent us home, but his dodgy threats.

Earlier on I had seen riot vans outside of Top Shop, and scores of police inside. These agents of the state were more into property than your average estate agent, determined to protect people’s right to buy, even if that tramples over people’s right to protest. We discussed whether it was worth getting arrested to make a point but decided that the negative press would harm the cause more than help it. So we left, cold but ultimately content. The Death Star was not destroyed, but it was dented, and the Rebel Alliance will be having another crack at it very soon indeed…

Ps. Apologies for any incoherence in this post: the combination of three hours sleep on Friday night and five and a half hours stood in the snowy slush in my converse on Saturday afternoon has left me in a state of head pounding delirium. I feel like I’m in Crime and Punishment; did I murder someone? I certainly murdered that Star Wars analogy…

Monday, 13 December 2010

Fat city...





Fat city

There’s no such thing as a free meal.

Sounds cynical doesn’t it? It’s a sad indictment of our society that one of its axioms tends to suggest no-one would ever be willing to feed you unless they were getting something in return – that you’d starve before anyone intervened through empathy. Well, the same instinct that produced that proverb has also produced a society of enormous excess that, ironically, means there very definitely are free meals to be had. You’ve just got to know where to look.

What we put in our bodies, that which sustains us, is so important that some people can’t quite get their heads, or their stomachs, around the idea of freeganism. Skipping meals is something models do. Indeed, on the face of it, skipping (definition: foraging for food that has been discarded) is quite galling. This stuff has been thrown away, discarded; it’s lying in bins or bags on the side of the street; no one wants it and, if no-one else wants it, why would you? What are you, an animal? Where’s your humanity, man? And yet, just a moment ago – before closing time – you would have eaten it, felt satisfied and paid for the privilege. But then it had the reassurance of a price tag: a value, a worth. For the freegan it’s the green food waste bags that contain this so carefully packaged food, marking it as untouchable, that gives it worth. Sure, it’s passed its best, but it can still fulfil its destiny, still have a purpose. Don’t we all deserve a second chance?

In my naivety I’d initially asked my squat mates if there was such a thing as too much skipping. This stuff is waste, right? No one wants it, so we can just fill our boots. Wrong. There are countless others out there who are also skipping, a whole skipping community, and an etiquette that goes along with that. You only take as much as you need and leave your residue in as decent a state as possible. Do unto others remains the rule of thumb.

Earlier this year I lived with an odd Frenchman in an odd apartment in Cairo. Neither myself nor the two English girls I lived with could quite understand his odd habit of peeling mushrooms before he cooked with them. It took a Spanish squat mate doing the same thing with a load of grey-brown fungus – that I’d dismissed as a pointless pick-up – for me to realise that, much like the onion, the mushroom has layers. Peel back the dead stuff on the outside and underneath is pristine and sparkling white. Alive. When did we, my generation at least, forget about this?

Globally, we waste a third of all the food that is produced. Your childish instincts were quite right: it would be highly impractical to send your scraps to sub-Saharan Africa by air mail. But we all operate as part of a free market where banks and bomb makers are endlessly propped up by your tax dollar; but the vagaries of supply and demand mean that widespread waste on the tables of the west pushes the price of food up in the third world, and makes it unaffordable. Think about that next time you’re about to chuck a browning mushroom.

Of course, all this hippy bullshit is deeply uncool; are you really going to go ferreting around in bins in your best sneaks, anyway? But there’s nothing cool about being taken for a sucker. There’s certainly nothing cool about Sir Terry Leahy et al getting fat off your hard-earned. They may not be laughing out loud, but somewhere inside their soul lurks a self-satisfied smirk.

“It’s fat city, brother… how do we work it?”

Ps. If anyone’s interested in setting up a skipping date, do get in touch. Only wolves and lions dine alone, said Epicurus; the same surely goes for grubbing around in bins.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Our radio rocks...


History doesn't repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. So it was when I found myself doing some radio again recently. Last year it was the evil BBC, drivetime (driving straight down the middle of the road) and a Sony award. This year it's London Fields Radio in a coffee shop in Hackney and a man and his wing.

Listen to our little radio show here.

Art for art's sake...


Art for art's sake...

I haven’t met all of the squatters in London, but those that I have met have been almost exclusively cycle couriers or artists – or cycle couriering artists. Squatting gives the artist the opportunity to practice their craft unfettered and free; not having to worry about whether what’s produced will fetch a price can only help the creative process. Otherwise the whole effort has been bought way before any money has changed hands; the only art that has real value has no value.

Trying to test the theory, I’ve also been seeking various avenues to view the arts for free, which this weekend led me to the Wellcome Centre and the High Society exhibition. The Wellcome is part medical, part art centre and its exhibitions always have an educational bent. Looking and learning and liberation from a ticket price? If you tried to complain, they’d laugh you out the door.

High Society asks the perennial question: are drugs a sin, a crime, a vice or a disease? But it seems to have forgotten about fun. I don’t mean to negate any of the negatives with that three letter f-word, but surely this is the main spur? It also seemed a slightly mixed message: half the exhibition is a warning, the other half is cool stuff to look at when you’ve taken drugs. I certainly wasn’t the only glassy-eyed hipster walking around its halls late Saturday afternoon. There was even the ubiquitous uncontrollable giggling fit, from a couple of girls in a darkened projection room that was designed to enhance the experience of an acid trip.


Lots of galleries aren’t really galleries at all, they’re art shops. It’s towards the acceptable end of the scale, but Marks and Stencils is one. The aesthetic is meticulous, and cool fairly drips from the ceiling: but you’re going to have to stump up if you want to take anything home with you. It’s best summed up by Ian Stevenson’s ‘Street art: now in a gallery near you’ in the window, and the fact that someone was scrubbing off a giant tag from the outside of that window as I left. Expression has its place, it seems.

I also made a Sunday stop off at the Stolen Space gallery (art shop) to see the Penguin ‘Never Judge…?’ show. I’d held high hopes but got the distinct impression that the space was not, in fact, stolen, unlike the Beaconsfield gallery, which I visited recently for an exhibition launch. It was also free to see, but nothing was for sale. I was with Simon Tyszko who knew one of the exhibitors, and in the course of conversation it transpired that the old Victorian ragged-school had been squatted in the seventies and turned into a gallery. Ownership rights had long since passed to the current occupiers. Why fork out for a ticket to the Tate when you can just steal a building and start your own?

The best free art happening I’ve been to recently, however, was November’s exhibition opening at Flaxon Ptootch. It was my first one, although the monthly nights have apparently been going for nine years and 11months now. Billing itself as ‘less a hair dressers, more of a fruit salad’, it’s mainly a hair dressers but it also doubles up as a gallery space with month long exhibitions filling its white walls. And sometimes, when those exhibitions officially open, it becomes a sort of wonderfully weird speak easy party. The best art inspires joy, and the air was thick with it – all are welcome and there is no price of admission…

“They came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission…”

Never judge?

Never judge a book by its cover is fine advice in principle, and indispensable when you apply the metaphor to people: but for books, I think it’s somewhat lacking. Of course, what’s on the cover bears no relation to the worth of what’s contained within but, hey, you’re going to put that little tome on your shelf once you’re done reading it; so, much like the album cover, it ought to look lovely hadn’t it? We’re dealing with art, after all, so let’s not abandon the aesthetic entirely. Taking that idea to the next level is Penguin’s Never Judge exhibition at the Stolen Space gallery, in which literally lots of artists have reinvented the covers of some well-loved literary classics. Go once round before you ask the guy behind the desk for the list and figure out exactly which story that contemporary cover has to tell…

www.lecool.com/london

Feeling the benefit...


Feeling the benefit…

This past weekend has definitely been colder than the week that preceded it, but somehow I felt it less. I’ve always wondered how, with no prospect of respite, the snow-bound peoples of the planet cope. I once saw a film about a Norwegian choir, who went out into the tundra to sing Nordic hymns, their voices howling around with the frozen wind. How could they think, let alone sing, in that climate? Since their winter is a permanent one, why not just fly south and stay there? Now I realise it’s a question of adaptability, and context.

It’s hardly an original idea – the concept of getting things for free being probably only marginally older than that of paying for them – but this week I had my first experiences with Freecycle. I’ve been aware of it for a while but only ever renting furnished flats has meant I’ve never needed it. Now my room is a cold and empty 8x5m space that needs to be filled; I’ve been sleeping on an air bed for the past three weeks and my clothes are still in the bag which I brought them in, or else strewn around the floor.

Freecycling turns out to be one of those things where if you know, you know. From the outside I could appreciate that it is a jolly good idea, but it’s only once you’ve made the connection and walked away from someone’s home with an item saved from an early grave that you really feel it. Altruistically inclined anyway, the people I’ve met have been utterly delighted when I turned up to dispose of their detritus, to rescue their rubbish; cups of tea have been offered, and no small amount of lyrical waxing has taken place.

I thought that the best approach was to join the freecycle groups of the good and the great: Hampstead, Kensington and Chelsea, Notting Hill. The rich just have the best stuff, and they’re always replacing it with bigger and better stuff. This tactic paid dividends on Monday when I picked up a beautiful brass standard lamp from Maida Vale. My housemates were a bit shocked that I’d lugged it all the way back, that the time invested wasn’t more valuable to me. But a month ago a Monday evening might have been spent watching some shit or other on the television. I felt I’d made a net-gain: I could return the lamp I’d borrowed from Eva, and have my own source of illumination.

Every up has its down. Some time after the revolution, Castro and the new Cuban government made public transport free; shortly after this they introduced a very small charge, because people were using it frivolously. This is the danger with free stuff. My former place of residence was the flat above the five-years disused Tabby Cat Lounge in Hampstead, and the owners had allowed me to take some of the sofas and tables which were still inside. I promptly hired a Streetvan, drove north and filled it with old club-furnishings.

I say promptly, but it actually took me about 6hours in all. Stuck in traffic in the Saturday-night-sparkling West End (every time a traffic light turned red costing me 20p), I began to feel a bit silly and a lot greedy. My room is much fuller now, but it also looks like a pretentious Hampstead nightspot. No cash has changed hands but I seem to be buying-in none the less.

Lesson learned: temperance in all things applies regardless of the price tag, or lack of. And, despite feeling a bit finkish, the initial joy of nesting for nothing has, in fact, removed some of winter’s sting. I also have a mattress, on which I now lay curled up; luxuriating, blowing out breath like smoke rings and letting the cold wash over me…

Choices, choices...


Choices, choices...

Life is all about choices. It has been pointed out to me that talking about needing to move into a squat as being ‘good fortune’ may not, in fact, be very sensitive to those for whom it is not. In fact, one of my housemates found my first post to be so offensive that he posted it on Urban 75, to see what others would make of my Nathan Barley-esque nonsense. Within minutes he was reading, through peals of wicked laughter, uber-violent death threats from the capital’s homeless. Lack of stable shelter, it seems, has not dimmed their imagination one bit.

I’m stuck between a squat and a posh place. If you’ll forgive the enormous generalisation, the middle classes hate squatters and squatters hate the middle classes. I’m now perceived as straddling both these worlds, so there’s potential to feel the wrath of both groups. I don’t like being subject to a powerful, ruling elite but I do like humus: what is a boy to do? Ideally, I’d live in a world without these pretty useless definitions: a classless society, and fuck their food preferences, anyway.

One of the most vehement threats came from someone who questioned the choosing of this way. Certainly, to move into a squat simply to say you have moved into a squat (, man) is completely cuntish. Moving into one simply to have had the experience should be a different proposition entirely. Is not life all about new experience; wouldn’t we get bored pretty quickly without it? You’ll never get to the next chapter without turning the page, and the page I was on was getting pretty dog-eared. For me, it was time to read on.

Of course, that smacks of what my housemate describes – brilliantly – as poverty porn. Mere masturbation, not proper fucking: ultimately fruitless. Of having a diamond and testing it between hammer and anvil merely to prove its worth – and losing it in the process. This assumes that I had a diamond in the first place; and even if I did, that that standard represents anything more than 24 carat comfort. It’s not comfort per se that I’m turning away from: it’s the easy option. And I understand that this makes me as pathetic as the drunk, the gambler and the serial shagger: why not simply say no?

Well, it’s not that simple: as the junky stands no chance so long as he’s still hanging out with his drug-friends, so I have no chance of curing myself of consumerism when being bombarded by messages to buy, buy, buy. The cheeky fuckers even came into my home at night – in glorious Technicolor - just to make sure I got the message that I might be fat, ugly or otherwise inadequate, and I’d better buy myself better. How can I attempt to wean myself of wastefulness when there are those out there who clothe their children, take care of their education, by encouraging me to waste? The pound is a powerful incentive, and only the best is good enough for their kids.

But in my new place of residence the speaker-box has been firmly and finally shut off. One of my housemates, Eva, returned home this week and told me of an afternoon spent shopping with her sister; she went on to explain that she sometimes seeks sanctuary in shops and stores. Wandering around the aisles, even trying things on, has a profoundly calming influence upon her. When I go shopping I feel anxious: compelled: judged by my choices. Eva’s calm comes from knowing that she doesn’t need any of this stuff. She walks out of the shop empty handed, soul intact, her choices made…

Ps. I promise to be more practical next week: to have done so this week would have been dishonest…

Police and thieves…


15.11.10

Police and Thieves...

The age of austerity is upon us. Maggie may be scraping at death’s door but her bum-cheeked boys are alive and well and wreaking havoc. They take with one hand and they take with the other, shame-facedly looting the nation; the ground is dry tinder, just waiting for a spark to ignite the flame. It was against this backdrop - and with Conservative HQ burning behind me - that I was detained, along with hundreds more, by the police on Wednesday night. I felt no shame: disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue, said Oscar Wilde once. And, when asked for my address, the answer allowed me to take back a little bit of control: ’no fixed abode, officer’. ‘Really?’ Really.

For this week I moved into a squat in south South London. It’s not what you think: I have a job and I have a salary; like you, I am a wage-slave. A year away from capital - spent slumming around Egypt, Palestine and Wolverhampton - has left me rather short though and, on moving back, there were creditors to be taken care of before I could start to consider taking care of myself. The landlords of London will have to wait for their rent cheque. This is the need that made possible the want: I wanted to move into a dilapidated house and do things differently for a while: that I need to is simply good fortune.

Need and want taken care of, the opportunity was provided by the man who had first introduced me to the squat scene (by indulging a quasi-artistic folly of mine). And so it was that on Sunday I spent my first night under this strange new shelter. An experiment in living free – or cheap, at least – I aim to prove the age old hypothesis that the best things in life definitely do not cost an arm and a leg. Life is learnt lived and, hopefully, in the process of learning these lessons, I will be able to impart a few of my own. That, then, will be the intent of this blog: lessons in living free. Whether that means rescuing the rich’s residue, liberating the posh cakes of Paul’s commercial waste sacks; finding freebies from freecycle; or getting into the nation’s art emporiums gratis.

The first lesson came before I’d even moved in. Packing for a squat is a pretty interesting proposition; it felt like I was preparing for a trip: there’s a limited amount of space, and you want to travel light. Should I pack the first-aid kit? I’m pretty sure I won’t need a mosquito net. But this is no life holiday, this is life now, and choosing what to take from the old one to the new could be pretty tough. I got through the cull by telling myself, ‘it’s just stuff’: if you can properly internalise that notion - forget about the fact that it’s your stuff - then what goes into the box ceases to matter.

And already a little bit of freedom is found. The wolves have eaten the door: it’s what I do with that freedom that’s important now…

“You have talked so often of going to the dogs and, well, here are the dogs, and you can stand it – it takes off a great deal of anxiety…”

Belch...

30.11.10

‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,’ said Mark Twain, once upon a time in history. The Cradle Will Rock is more like history repeating on itself, and bringing up a beautiful, echo-y belch; a release. I have to admit that, being an extra-macho, manly man, I was already sceptical about the genre; that musical theatre should try and tackle the serious subject of union busting in 1920’s America - workers’ solidarity in the face of uncaring and unrelenting greed - seemed absurd. And, to a certain extent, it is: but it works. Something like Bugsy Malone meets Noam Chomsky (or maybe Michael Moore), the humour only adds to the pathos, and never takes away. It’s camp as Christmas – there’s even a piano in the corner, tinkling out the pace with a ragtime, blues-jazz backdrop – but it’s very solidly acted and very self-aware. Above all it’s highly enjoyable; you’ll walk out with a big smile on your face, your still-tapping feet carrying you along in search of your nearest union organiser. I guess it’s all just a little bit of history repeating…

www.lecool.com/london

Sancho Panza...

Some people can be a bit neg where Carnival’s concerned: some people can take their boring, no fun asses elsewhere and stop bringing everyone down. I for one lap the whole thing up like it’s free Redstripe served betwixt a carnival queen’s sequined bosom. Sure, there’s the oft talked of and supposedly ever-present threat of it all becoming a bit stabby, but even fake danger makes things a smidgen sexier, no? Certain sour-pusses may even opine it’s all a bit unoriginal: but you wouldn’t stop doing Christmas just because it’s been around for 2000 something years. Upholding some of the finest traditions of Carnival are Notting Hill legends Sancho Panza, your very best bet for a first class boogie down. And when you’re done with daytime, their Carnival Top Up Party is get-getting down until three in the morning; so there’ll be nuff love for Notting Hill all night long…

www.lecool.com/london

Splurge...

Ah, the ubiquitous apology for neglecting the blog that nobody reads, that nobody will read. I've been away, mentally if not physically. What follows is a splurge of some of the stuff I've written during that time...

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Spiderman and Benazir Bhutto...

It goes with out saying that you love your parents, who are, of course, completely irreplaceable and unique; that said, if you could have any two fantasy folks, who would they be? Never mind all the ‘at first sight’ stuff, the exact moment I fell very deeply in love with my girlfriend was when she told me hers were Spiderman and Benazir Bhutto. I definitely dig strong women. One of the most important political figures of our lifetime (BB not SM) - certainly the most shocking of assassinations - the twice elected Prime Minister of Pakistan was the first woman ever to lead a Muslim nation. I need very little excuse to go and watch a film at the ICA, but as her widower, President Zardari, flounders in wake of flood waters and her son, Bilal, is groomed for that problematic Presidency, what a perfect time to be reminded that hope can exist in the world…

www.lecool.com

Jungle Drums Secret London Feature

Phlight

Artist Simon Tyszko has gone to great pains – around nine month’s work by a team of trained aeronautical engineers - to install a forty foot Dakota plane wing in his fifth floor Fulham flat. No, really. As well as being a comment on that 9/11 thing, it’s also about ‘living with your art’, so visitors are actively encouraged. Climbing on top of it is also welcomed and, if you ask nicely, Simon will even cook a bespoke meal for you and your friends; in what are surely the most interesting surroundings you’re ever likely to eat…

www.phlight.org

Neasden Temple

The world’s second largest Hindu temple – first largest outside of India - really shouldn’t be in Neasden. Tucked away behind the North Circular, it’s not even anywhere near a tube stop; its three giant peaks slowly emerge from behind the warehouses and factories of North-West London as you make the walk there. The closer you get, the more the ultra-ornate carvings – set against their ordinary industrial neighbours – make it seem like some miraculous mirage. But it is real and, better still, you’re actually allowed to reverently roam around its even more intricate interior…

www.mandir.org

Secret Kitchens

It’s no secret that the most exciting way to eat out in London is by visiting its secret kitchens. These days everyone’s a chef, and lots of those chefs are inviting perfect strangers round to their flat/house/studio for supper. There are lots of them out there, and due to the illicit (ok, ok, illegal) nature of their existence, you generally won’t find out their addresses until you’ve been granted a place at the table (usually via email). What I can tell you is that three of the best – if you can find them - are Tony Hornecker’s Pale Blue Door, The Secret Ingredient and The Underground Restaurant…

http://tonyhornecker.wordpress.com/

http://marmitelover.blogspot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/City-of-London-United-Kingdom/The-Secret-Ingredient/114200085161?ref=ts&__a=26

Cycle tracks will abound...

Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia’ said H.G. Wells once, and by the sight of the big blue Barclays’ beasts
booming it around the city you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re almost there. London is all a-bike, its new mantra two tyres good, four (or more) bad. So it’s time to get on yer bikes and ride, and if you’re in the market for new wheels (and maybe a machine that is slightly sleeker than the blue behemoths) you should make for Re-cycling
. Not only are all of their wares second hand and, therefore, greener – to say nothing of cheaper - than yer average, they also operate a ’no lemons’ policy. Friendly staff and an uber ethical ethos mean positivity is in pole position; indeed, it’s like your man H.G. said, ‘every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race…’

Brasil, if you will...

Brazil (Brasil, if you will) is exceeded in fame for football and flip flops only by fun. Lashings and lashings of fun; from carnival to Copacabana the stuff oozes from every pore of the nation’s very being. So you can trust its representative in London, Jungle Drums Magazine
, to throw one heck of a fiesta; they’re putting on four gigs over four months for free and, of course, for fun, damnit. The snappily titled Sunday Live Sessions
will be stirring up your soul and providing funky Afro-Brazilian beats, energetic drumming and old school ska and bossa nova in Camino’s Kings Cross yard. Oh, and big fat jugs of Monday misery making Amstell on offer. So go ahead, Latin up your London life while the summer’s still going strong…

Chill pill...

Poetry is so hot right now. Rhyming things – or not – in verse is totally in. Forget goatee beards, a faint smell of nutmeg and clicking fingers as applause, the sonnet is officially on it. From the Southbank’s Year of the Poet to more street spoken wordists like Scroobius Pip, everyone’s a poet (and, yes, they very definitely do know it). But how should one separate the marvellously metronymic from the iambic pap? Well, getting yourself down to Chill Pill at Shoreditch’s Scream Bar is a fantastic start. Hosted by Mr. Gee, the Russell Brand Show’s poet laureate, it boasts all of the backstreet-basement, NYC vibe and none of the pretentiousness that can sometimes be associated with the avant garde. And with a door fee of absolutely nada, why not drift in and get down with what’s happening tonight?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Nozzle Know-How

To quote Banksy, the would be godfather of 21st Century graffiti, ‘so many people are willing to die for their art; so few are willing to learn how to draw.’ Yes indeed, who has not dreamt about stalking the streets of the East End under the cover of darkness and making their mark with a can of paint, but stayed at home for want of actual artistic ability? See, the trouble with tagging is that you can’t really practice at home (tried it once, landlord not impressed) before busting out on a bigger canvas/underpass/tube carriage. Well, to give you that much needed nozzle know-how, to fill you in on filling in, street artist Andy Seize is giving lessons. And, even if you’ve never picked up a paint can, don’t know your ear’ole from your aerosol, in just a few short hours he promises to turn you into a veritable Van Gogh of vandalism…

www.lecool.com

Click, click, click...

Poetry is so hot right now. Rhyming things – or not – in verse is totally in. Forget goatee beards, a faint smell of nutmeg and clicking fingers as applause, the sonnet is officially on it. From the Southbank’s Year of the Poet to more street spoken wordists like Scroobius Pip, everyone’s a poet (and, yes, they very definitely do know it). But how should one separate the marvellously metronymic from the iambic pap? Well, getting yourself down to Chill Pill at Shoreditch’s Scream Bar is a fantastic start. Hosted by Mr. Gee, the Russell Brand Show’s poet laureate, it boasts all of the backstreet-basement, NYC vibe and none of the pretentiousness that can sometimes be associated with the avant garde. And with a door fee of absolutely nada, why drift in and get down with what’s happening tonight?

www.lecool.com

The Dark Lord...

Oh Mandy, well you came and you gave without taking! Ok, ok, not exactly without taking; there was that Lordship. And that little expenses thing. Oh, and the moody mortgage and, who could forget, the pickle he got himself into over the Hindujas’ passport? But then, he has undoubtedly given too; how many people, let alone politicians, have come back from not one, but two resignations? Well, for good or for ill he is one third responsible for the New Labour project but, perhaps more importantly, he’s that rarest of things; an interesting politician. Interesting because he’s evil. Proper pantomime evil, when the Machiavellian Mandelson steps on stage the involuntary - and entirely appropriate - reaction of most is a boooo. And it is for being a bit of a baddie that we need you today, oh Mandy…

www.lecool.com

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Viddy Well...

Some films are better suited to a smaller screen. Those that limp lamely straight on to the shelves of Tesco, for example; never even intended for bigger things – strictly for home consumption only – the purchaser’s shame easily hidden by a bunch of bananas. Then there are those which the watching of on anything smaller than the side of your house would be an out-and-out tragedy. Clockwork Orange is a film that belongs firmly in this latter category; it’s just too big, too much for a television set. Way too disturbing to cosy up with, ultra violence deserves an ultra-large screen. There’s also something kinda neat about being able to see something that was released in the seventies as part of a proper cinematic experience today, dontcha think? So, viddy well, my droogies, viddy well...

Bret Easton Ellis

What goes around, comes around. When Bret Easton Ellis wrote his disturbing cult classic, Less Than Zero, he was just 21. A shade over two decades later and, like the characters of his debut, who return for his hotly anticipated sequel Imperial Bedrooms, (free pub quiz ammunition: both of which are also the titles of Elvis Costello tracks), he’s all growed up. And, even if you’ve only seen the movie adaptations of his novels – like Rules of Attraction and American Psycho – you can hazard a guess that he’s done some pretty exciting growing up. Controversy abounds and whole novels written under the influence cement his place as one of the most interesting novelists of our generation. And if his thoughts are powerful on paper, just imagine what they’ll be like live and in the flesh...

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Craftwerk...

God damn it I need some new threads. Never mind credit crisis, I’m suffering from a severe clothing crisis. My wardrobe is in a state of depression directly proportional to that of the economy; on a graph with cool on the y axis and time on the x, my style is represented by a jagged line heading straight towards the bottom right hand corner. Even if I could get my hands on some credit for clobber, I’m at my desk every hour the good lord sends just to make rent; I’m working til I drop, not shopping. So thank the good lord, or at least the good people at Craft Central, for their Summer Pop Up Event. A recession-busting lunchtime fashion fix that showcases highly original designs made entirely out of unused materials kindly donated by their resident designers. So it’s as good for your carbon footprint as it is your pocket; green shoots all round, in fact…

www.lecool.com

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Here comes the sun...

Here comes the sun, du dn du du. The ice is long gone, the smiles plastered all over the faces. Vitamin D coursing through their veins, who could even contemplate feeling s.a.d. with that beautiful big ol’ ball of hydrogen and helium burning brightly in the sky? Little wonder that everyone from the Aztecs to the Beatles have sung its praises; it is, after all, well worth worshipping. Tonight is the eve of the Summer Solstice, the day when the great life-giver hangs out with us for longest, and isn’t that cause for celebration? It certainly is, and a lucky few can take part in this modern midsummer merry-making. Intoxicated by cosmic rays, you can drink for free, take part in a massive acoustic jam and even get married if the moment so moves you. And I say, it’s alright…

www.lecool.com

Heavy. Sick. Dope. Fresh...

Heavy. Sick. Dope. Fresh. Just a smattering of some of the adjectives I’ll be using to describe the Urban Nerds DMC DJ Championship 2010 London Heats. I may even throw in a ‘phat’ for good measure; keep an eye out, now. For, Urban Nerds have been bringing dope beats to London’s streets for three years and counting, and this weekend promises to be a benchmark in bass-heavy block-rocking. Not only does it feature fresh talent serving up tip top turntabilism - in the (hip-)hope of representing LDN in the UK DMC championship - but you know it’s some heavy ravin’ when Urban Nerds' Rattus and Klose 1 are in the house. The warehouse, as it happens; how about holding the whole thing in the super sick Scrutton Street Studios? Now that’s phat…

www.lecool.com

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

We, erm, won?

Perhaps it was something to do with the warm glow of mutual appreciation still smouldering in the hearts of Clegg and Cameron, but when they woke up on the morning after their great union was formed, they did something unexpectedly, well, nice. They did something the previous government wouldn’t, or couldn’t, and said balls to big business by scrapping the third runway at Heathrow. Cut to cartoon critters cheering, angry men in suits shaking their fists and confused looking hippies; not least because the Greenpeace Architecture Competition, to find a design worthy of occupying the site, has now been rendered slightly redundant. Not that they’re in any way bothered, they won after all, and an exhibition of all the entries is going ahead as planned. So you can still see what might have been, but thanks – weirdly enough - to Cleggeron, never will…

www.lecool.com

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Gogol Bordello - Trans-Continental Hustle

Eccentric is not the word for Gogol Bordello; it’s full-pitch, blood curdling insanity. No surprise that they’ve been invited to play the likes of Tate Modern and the Venice Beinnale - that they are, y’know, critically acclaimed - because this palpable madness manifests itself in music that is just plain interesting. Rough around the edges, honest but, above all, extremely interesting.

And for this, their fifth album, can you really imagine anything else? To the Lower East Side meets East European mix - which is already different enough from pretty much everything else in existence - Transcontinental Hustle adds a smattering of salsa. The clue is in the title; unable to shake the wanderlust from his gypsy blood, frontman Eugene Hutz has relocated to Sao Paolo. It’s clearly become a part of him, and any part of him is destined to become a part of his music. On ‘In The Meantime in Panambuco’, the guitar sounds distinctly Spanish, and a samba whistle over lyrics like "never did I fit the frame invented by the gringo", as well as referencing local firewater cachaca, completes the Latin look.

Just as much humour as ever, the record is often nothing less than sonic satire. It’s hard to hear it without imagining a heavily moustachioed Hutz hamming it up - somewhere between a polka and a pogo - on screen (see also: 'Start Wearing Purple' and 'American Wedding') or, even better, on the stage. And as with everything that’s slightly ludicrous, it can easily be loved: just try and keep a smile from your face as you listen.

For all its lightness, however, the sum of the parts feels like it means something. You may have to strain to understand quite what that something is at times, but it’s so heartfelt that it can’t be ignored. Throw away your throw away; this from the heart, to the heart. That something is this: at least in part, Hutz is on a mission to bring his much maligned Romani culture to a wider audience. And this dedication to the cause is just as obvious on their latest, with songs like 'Break The Spell': "Just because I come from Roma camp of the hill, they put me in a school for the mentally ill". Even when he complains "you love our music but you hate our guts", you definitely feel Hutz is having the last laugh.

For sure, there are moments when their tub thumper sounds become slightly strained; ‘Sun on My Side’ is as soft as they get and sombre gypsy-punk doesn't quite do it. Even the chorus seem muzzled; if you listen carefully you can almost hear the whole back line twisting and pulling at the leash. It’s fair to say Hutz's lungs work better turned up loud, much better when he belts it out with "frozen eyes, swelling black", as on ‘We’re Coming Rougher’, the track which follows. It’s certainly not singing, and it’s not quite shouting either, as always much of it is just strange sounds; incanting probably comes closest.

For the most part it sticks to that trusted voodoo formula and through Gogol Bordello they achieve another raucous record with summer in its heart, with life coursing through its full blooded songs. It’s natural born festival music, music for dancing, for head thrown back laughing. Music for losing your mind, music for life.

Over 13 tracks Transcontinental Hustle casts its spells, a record that fairly howls at the moon. It’s that mad girl with the glint in her eye; don’t attempt to understand her, just let her take you by the hand; go with it, and fall deeply in love. Let her cast her gypsy spell, you probably won’t come to any harm. It may make no sense but, really, have you any choice in the matter?

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15317/reviews/4139772

Cypress Hill - Rise Up

“In 1991 an artist in Compton picked up the debut album by Cypress Hill. What he heard blew him away; futuristic funk mixed with a die-hard dedication for a certain herb. This is the story of Cypress Hill…” The opening sample is intended to be a powerful reminder that Cypress Hill have been on the block for nearly two decades: but do we really need reminding or does their career – their story – speak for itself? And most importantly, do they still possess the power to blow us away?

The question becomes more urgent when you consider that not only does Rise Up come a full six years after 2004’s Till Death Us Do Part but is also their first record since being released from a contract with Sony and being signed to Priority Records by Creative Chairman, Snoop Dogg. Coming from a more suitable stable, and under the auspices of Gangsta No. 1, there are, therefore, high expectations of the kings of getting high.

To be sure, 20 years in the business has taught them the value of proper production and it all sounds well polished, in the Eminem mould. Perhaps, then, already a touch too commercial, but there are nevertheless some more soulful moments; the sample at the start of ‘Light It Up’ nods to that funk for which they were famous, and the track ‘Armada Latina’, featuring Pit Bull and Marc Anthony, gets right back to their roots. If not the production, it’s the content that is lacking.

The title track is definitely a head nodder, but it’s never hip hop. Featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, it was always going to be Big, but it's his rock riffs which steal the show and it ends up sounding more like Rage Against The Machine feat. Cypress Hill. Apart from all that, invoking the Watts Riot of 1965 to paint a picture of modern day Los Angeles as a city "still on edge" merely to make your song make sense seems churlish, to say the least.

‘Carry Me Away’ - featuring Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda - is their big hip hop ballad, a confessional tearjerker of a track which features such soppy sentiments as “My mother was there for me every step of the way, she didn’t judge me she told me I’d win some day.” Unfortunately it’s just a bad pastiche of 'Stan' but without even employing a clever construction. It just splurges, and that splurge would feel more heartfelt if it wasn’t followed by a track titled 'Trouble Seeker' - a raucous little ditty featuring System of a Down’s Daron Malakian - which might as well be called ‘I Wasn’t Crying, I’ve Just Got Something in My Eye.’

It goes without saying that they still possess a die-hard dedication for that certain herb, and if you don’t smoke the reefer you shouldn’t go anywhere near this record; it will leave you colder than Cheech and Chong’s Arctic Adventure. The dope fiend duo actually make several limp guest appearances on the album and B-Real even opines “If Sendog’s Cheech, I must be Chong”. Quite. Any number of tracks celebrating sensei including 'K.U.S.H.', 'Light It Up' and 'Pass The Dutch', and whilst the latter comes close to fulfilling it’s destiny as a blunted smoking anthem, the rest just smacks of so much artifice, of marijuana make believe. For if they had truly been daily blazing as hard as they claim they’d be no more capable of producing an album so slick, so clinical, as Shaun Ryder is of constructing a coherent sentence.

So what is the story of Cypress Hill? These days it’s all a bit reminiscent of WWF; just as the stars of such aren’t wrestlers but athletes, recently Cypress Hill are just playing their part as performers. This is Hip Hentertainment, you know they’re not really hitting each other but it’s fun to watch. If your idea of entertainment is watching grown men in Lycra pretend to beat each other up then maybe you won’t mind listening to grown men – 20 years grown - pretending to be Gangstas. If hip hop has taught us nothing else it’s to keep… it… real, but Cypress Hill seem to have forgotten lesson number one. Hmm, must be all the shit they’ve been smoking…

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15295/reviews/4139709

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Storm Warning...

For some years now I have stood Canute-like against the inevitable tide of the digital revolution; you will not wash my CDs away. I understand, of course, that eventually my feet will get wet, and, hell, I may even be forced to paddle a bit. What keeps me clinging to my shaky shore-side position for now is the interesting inlay card, and most especially the every-so-often album art for which there is no better word than ‘awesome’. As if ‘album art designer’ wasn’t a cool enough job title, Storm Thorgerson is a, named Storm and b, responsible for some- no, most - of the iconic record covers in pop full stop. Over 400 hundred of them, from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon right up to Biffy Clyro’s Only Revolutions. Certainly enough to keep you entertained for an afternoon; hopefully enough to keep my feet dry for a few years yet…

http://www.lecool.com/

Friday, 26 March 2010

Bonobo - Black Sands

You know Bonobo, right? Even if you think you don’t, you do.

The simian soundsmith’s songs will have seeped into your subconscious via any number of adverts, video games and TV show soundtracks. Three previous albums of lovely, funky, stoner chill out fodder; always playing its part beautifully, always in the background. Black Sands, it seems, is Simon Green’s attempt to force his way into the foreground.

Opening with a prelude can’t help but grab the listener’s attention - this is rather the point of such - especially when it’s a stripped back strings and piano affair. Interesting - where’s he going with this? Just over a minute to hold your breath before the dirty dubby bassline of Kiara melds magnificently with the aforementioned instruments and a grin is allowed to appear. Ok, we’re listening… what else y’got?

A shoo-in as a single is Eyesdown, a warped, hazy, sun shimmer of a song. Something of a mix of styles, it’s as much dubstep as it is Balearic; imagine early Massive Attack holidaying on the white isle and you’re not far off. As with the rest of the record, it’s too down tempo to quite get your dance on, but it will make you want to go out all the same. For the sooner you go out, the sooner you’ll be back at home and sunk into a sofa, enveloped by its warmth, fairly smothered by its subtle, sultry sound.

That sultry sound is provided by Andreya Triana, the darling of the album who is to Black Sands what Sia was to Simple Things. She’s also the voice behind the other prominent pick on the album, The Keeper. Green has chosen his songstress well, her lungs throw it a life ring - inflated with emotional intensity - which saves it from being just another jazz-funk filler.

That said, there is still much that doesn’t stray so far from previous form, providing that heavy atmosphere he’s famous for - even if it is less insistent. Indeed, the cynical listener might look at his prolific guest appearance hit rate and be given pause: hang on, has this been produced for T.V.? It’s use in commercials a teensy bit too commercial? What came first, the instruments or the advert? On balance though it’s hardly surprising that he’s achieved such a tremendous take up by those seeking to flog their gear because whatever else it is, it is very cool; it drips the stuff from every pore. Gladly, Black Sands upholds this fine tradition.

Tracks like 'Kong' and 'El Toro' could easily be atmosphere music for Ironside or some such Sixties cop show - both are reminiscent of a Quincy Jones Blaxploitation era production. Headphones on and you’re the hero, your world a television set on mute; from nowhere you’ll notice a lengthening of your stride and an extra bounce in your step. Driving around the Bay area behind the wheel of a ‘68 Mustang GT looking for bad guys, this is certainly what would be rocking your Stereo 8.

And just when you think you’ve got the measure of the album; is that…why, yes, I do believe that’s a waltz. The arresting title track is served up last, and with good reason; it’d be hard to follow. God damn all those lazy PR wankers who have turned ‘haunting’ into such a horrible cliché because, in that it sends a chill down your spine and follows you around relentlessly, this really is. Every time you think of it a tear will inexplicably form in your eye; perhaps the ghost of some lost love taking you by the hand and turning you slowly around the room. It may not be very Bonobo, but it is very beautiful, and – like much else on his latest long play - begs to be listened to. Please, step up to the front of the room, Mr. Green; you have our undivided attention…

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15243/reviews/4139514

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Do be so Childish...

What is Billy Childish? No attempt at classification would be complete without the ubiquitous list of his prolific achievements as painter, poet, writer, photographer and musician. All branches of art yes, but what truly makes him an artist is his amateurism. As he says himself, “My ambition is to do what I want to do, the way I want to do it, and do it right.” And boy does he do a lot of it. Doing it all for himself, however, means that he doesn’t have much time for the media, and even less for the ‘art world’. It is perhaps not surprising then that this is the first time a public institution has brought together a major solo exhibition all his various outpourings. And if its rarity makes it unique, an appearance – and perhaps an explanation – by the amateurist himself makes it a must…

http://www.lecool.com

Reading well...

Ever since a battered copy of Peter and Jane was thrust into our hands and we were told, ‘This is reading, I think you’re going to like it’, who has dared question that glorious gift? Ah, but as much as we adore absorbing words, without knowing why we do, we can never do it better. Blindly buying the next bestseller is bad form indeed, and as Robert Louis Stevenson suggested, “If a man reads very hard…he will have little time for thought.” Maybe reading is just the intellectual equivalent of Wii tennis; much better to get out in the open air and have a proper game, no? Balancing the books can be tricky, but, as ever, the School of Life is on hand to help weigh up our options in a handy ‘How To’ class format; attempting to get to the very heart of our need for narrative, and make sure we are not only well read, but read well too…

http://lecool.com

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Broadcast 2000 - Broadcast 2000

For Broadcast 2000’s eponymously titled debut album we might stick a flag in an entirely new genre altogether: Glock Rock. Proponents include the aforementioned, as well as Boy Least Likely Two, Fancy Toys and all those others who seemingly have shares in Das Grosse Glokenspiel Kompanie - although Los Campesinos escape classification as such by having balls. For Glock Rock is characterised by soppy sentiments such as love, hope and happiness. You know that Coke advert where the coin goes through the slot and down the rabbit hole, the bottle meandering along all manner of Carrolesque adventures in the ‘Happiness Factory’? It sounds a lot like that.

Indeed, so happy is opener ‘Rouse Your Bones’, it takes around eight listens to realise it’s about revenge and not winning back lost loved love (“mark my words, I’ll get you back”). It seems much of the album is more about the musicianship than any deeper meaning and, in fairness, the man behind the title, multi-instrumentalist, Joe Steer, is clearly a very fine musician. His stated aim was to go further than last year’s debut EP Building Blocks by creating an album that sounds like he’s crammed a whole orchestra into his bedroom. To that end, he employs a whole host of equally talented friends - including Noah and the Whale violinist - Tom Hobden, and the result is an utterly lovely soundscape, which is nuanced and layered. But one which is sometimes sullied by the foreground.

‘Get Up and Go’ is just one example of a song which is really very beautiful… until the singing starts; thirty seconds of Eon energy advert being better than the album version. It comes as no surprise then that Joe hadn’t originally penned himself in the part of lead performer; “Although I’ve never really thought of myself as a vocalist, I started writing the Broadcast 2000 songs always thinking I’d just put some vocals on as a guide, then get a proper singer to sing them once I was happy with the tune.”

Lyrical content being secondary to the overall sound means it can come across as naïve, such as when Mr.Steer begs not to be weighed down “with things I can’t find out all about”. Not only not clever, it’s sometimes clumsy as well; the three line rhymes in That Sinking Feeling are a bit of a stretch, “I’ll wish you all the best, I’ll give my lungs a rest, and wait until that sinking feeling’s happening in my chest.” The dumb optimism is almost overwhelming in ‘Gonna Move A Mountain’, which is closer to a primary school sing-a-long than a proper pop record; it’s an epic endeavour but, just like that little old ant, he’s got – altogether now - high hopes.

And yet, and yet; it’s not without its charms. Indeed, charming probably gets right to the heart of it. One imagines Joe has many friends who like him very much, for, if his music’s anything to go by, he’s intensely likeable. And for that the record will have its fans; customers who bought Noah and the Whale also bought Broadcast 2000. It may lack the cynical irony which is surely the cornerstone of cool, but finds some salvation in just how sunny it all is; with the coming of warmer weather, it’s just the thing to put the Spring in your step. The video for Don’t Weight Me Down is almost Disneyesque in its denouement – a proper ‘eart warmer – and the overall tone of the album is snappily summed up in the line, “from the beginning of our song, I put my smiling face on.” And if you can find fault with that – heck, if you can even stop yourself la la-ing along – then maybe you’re due a trip to the Happiness Factory…

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15186/reviews/4139362

Human Rights Watch Film Festival London...

Is it cool to care? On one hand cool can be defined by cynicism, its proponents characterised by being detached and aloof. Think of the Fonz and his nihilistic nonchalance, the iciness exuded in his ‘aaaay’ - which is surely a distant relative of our very own ‘whatever’. On the other hand, cool also implies knowing what’s going on, living in the loop (hey, you’re not reading Lecool for nothing, right?). And, for all his ability to start seemingly out of order jukeboxes with the slam of a fist, Fonzarelli sometimes comes off as pretty stupid; and there’s definitely nothing desirable about dumb. The annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival - your handy one stop shop for all the issues it’s important to be across - is, therefore, a must. For, once you’re hip to what’s happening, you’ll find caring is not only cool but crucial…

www.lecool.com

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

She, A Chinese - Original Soundtrack by John Parish…

There are surely two types of soundtrack worth talking about. The ‘original motion picture soundtrack’ where the emphasis is on original composition in the John Barry, John Williams mould and the Big Lebowski type, where pre-existing songs are selected as accompaniment to the action! (You already noticed the Coen’s nod to this by having all the songs actually played within the film on various walkmans, car stereos, ghetto blasters etc, right? Thought so…) Leaving musicals aside (right aside) for a moment, the common denominator is that they must always fit the flick, although the truly great ones can sometimes take on a life of their own and be allowed to exist as a separate entity altogether.

The ‘She, A Chinese Soundtrack’ is already interesting because it crosses the streams; the vast majority is bespoke but there’s also some off the rack songs added to the mix. More intrigue comes from the fact that the original music composer is long-term PJ Harvey collaborator, John Parish. Of course, he’s got form, having won the Jury Special Appreciation prize at the Bonn International Film Music Biennale in 1999 for putting the music to Patrice Toye's film Rosie. This is, however, his first soundtrack to get a wide release and it’s, well, y’know, it’s to a Chinese film: can he make the musical translation?

It’s obvious from the off that he absolutely can. The freedom of the form allows him to be highly original, experimental even, and it’s clear that JP enjoys the challenge of placing art next to art – audio next to visual – and creating a new context. Further juxtaposition which allows for further experimentation comes from a musical meeting of East and West (though ostensibly a Chinese film – Chinese director, Chinese leads, Chinese language – half of the action is set in London) and the maestro manages to meld it all together just marvelously.

Where in places it has all the steady rise and fall of an oriental water garden - both plinking and plonking with an understated wooden magnificence – it also almost always has the Western rock guitar backing it up; an ancient sensibility driven along by decadent instrumentation. But it never soars in a Bill Conti, ‘Gonna Fly Now’ way. It’s more aerated, lighter; a gentle breeze through the willows. As such it doesn’t intrude too much on the consciousness - this is after all background music - fitting perfectly with director, Xialou Guo’s cinematography; a sparse telegraphic style which asks the audience to flesh out the details for themselves.

Less subtlety comes from the off the rack rock tracks, where composer becomes compiler and gets a chance to take you by the hand and show off their knowledge (think Reservoir Dogs and K-Billy/Quentin Tarentino’s Super Sounds of the 70's Weekend which just keeps…on... truckin'…). The best movie music moments of this kind will either introduce you to some new gem, or else dust off something old, put it next to pictures and make you fall in love with it all over again. Hang on the Box’s ‘There is a City’ is the former and comes on something like the bastard love child of Joe Strummer and LoveFoxx. I’m still trying to figure out whether it’s hilarious or genius; probably both. It’s definitely slightly ludicrous and for that it can be loved.

Die-hard John Parish fans aside, the soundtrack won’t quite attain an independent existence for most. It is, however, a proper piece of art in its own right; a thinker. Attention to detail in every note, even those that are not his own. I can’t imagine a better way to close the film than the utterly astonishing, Lonely, Lonely, an early album track by Feist, sounding, as it does, like the end of a beautiful relationship. If the greatest challenge to a soundtrack composer is making the music fit, then it has to be hats off in the final account; for there can be a no more fitting a way to say Fin than this…

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15171/reviews/4139289

Monday, 1 March 2010

Finley Quaye @ The Rainbow

‘Can you hear the voice?’ We certainly can Mr. Quaye, and t’is irie indeed. The mouth is moving but the sound comes from somewhere deeper. Finley and his band are so primed these days that when someone shouts for Ultra Stimulation it is met with, ‘yes, Ultra!’ - they launch straight into it and the skankin’ begins. So much for set lists.

The more cynical might fancy this frenzy was due as much to the several spliffs he smoked during his set as any summoning of the spirit. Whilst it’s easy for the crowd to have a good time if those on stage are too, the downside of this excess of enjoyment was some slightly shaky moments, not least forgetting the words to his biggest hit, Sunday Shining.

But then Finley is a bit like Becks; his left foot may be a bit hit or miss these days, he may even have lost a yard or so of pace, but you’d always be happy to have him lead your team out. Just for the heart, which is channelled like a lion…

www.brumnotes.com

Beth Jeans Houghton and Stornoway @ The Glee Club

Tonight was the Twisted Folk Tour and presumably by ‘’Twisted the promoters mean not very Folky at all, actually. Beth Jeans Houghton came out first in a wig that put Lady Gaga’s previous night’s Brits barnet to shame, and a super sparkly spandex dress that would have beardy old men tutting into their stout. Still, folk or freak she has an immensely powerful voice – which comes on something like a slightly Geordie Dolores O Riorden - to say nothing of sass by the bucketful. Backed up by her band, ‘The Hooves of Destiny’, we can say it’s cute.

Stornoway are less whiskey in the jar, more a nice cup of tea in the good china; the type of band you’d take home to your mom; who then wouldn’t stop asking for months afterwards, ‘how are those nice Stornoway boys?’ They made BBC’s Pick of 2010 shortlist and I imagine they’ll get lots of airtime - mainly on Radio 2. But the boys clearly have bags of talent which is most obviously manifested when they go unplugged, stand in front of the monitors and sing their little hearts out. Two fingers up to autotune, this is showing your hand and laying your vocal chords on the line with swagger. It certainly has everyone’s attention and, after all, isn’t getting your story across what Folk’s all about?

www.brumnotes.com

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A heavy dose of creation...

Citing creation and destruction in opposition – as many fine reference books do – is not only naïve but ignores a deeper and fundamental link between the two. Dreams of death are really dreams of rebirth and even Nature enjoys a holiday from harmony once in a while by razing herself to the ground and starting afresh with something new; no great forests without great forest fires. Who amongst us has not strolled around the appliance section of John Lewis imagining what could be created if they only had a crowbar and ten minutes alone with all this stuff? Has not meandered passed Mayfair showrooms musing on what might be made of all those shiny top marques by the careful application of violence? Certainly Joel and Wajid Scrapclub have, and are once again bringing their uber-violent vision to Stamford Works this weekend. Imagine watching your heavy breath in the cold warehouse as you wait outside the smash arena, scaffold pole in hand, eyeing up a fridge-freezer you’re by now convinced has been looking at you funny; and knowing it’s got a heavy dose of creation coming its way…

www.lecool.com

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Strong Arm Steady - In Search of Stoney Jackson

This record might as well be called Why Hip Hop Sucks in 2010. It could have been, it should have been, so good; the very reason to pull on your three stripes with pride in the morning. Some dope shit to fling back in the faces of the scoffers, those that told you Wu-Tang was the high watermark for West Coast Rap and, indeed, that hip hop itself passed away around the same time as B.I.G; P-Diddy doing a sick little shuffle over both their graves.

Perhaps it’s most disappointing because of the promising pedigree. Not only does Talib Kweli lend his lungs but - following their move to Stones Throw - Strong Arm Steady have also been granted that rarest of rap honours; an entire album produced by Madlib. Not a couple of tracks mind, In Search Of Stoney Jackson is a full on collaboration with hip hop’s hit-maker. Just in case you hadn’t heard the hype, SAS put you in the picture by referencing the princely production roughly every second line; “this a Madlib Strong Arm Steady connect”. Ah, but then there’s giving props and there’s being propped up.

The maestro certainly does a fine job of carrying it all along; in terms of the arrangement the whole thing is as tight as a drum. You can’t help but head nod and there are some inspired vintage voiceovers and samples, the pinnacle of which production, 'Two Pistols', is also the peak of the whole album; beats perfectly matched to a glorious gospel backing. This is, however, supposed to be their second LP, so they really shouldn’t need carrying; it says much that if this album were a Shadow-style samples and instrumentals only affair it’d be infinitely more listenable.

Here’s the problem: if hip hop isn’t clever it runs a very real danger of getting all caught up in cliché. It seems that Krondon, Mitchy Slick and, ahem, Phil Da Agony have forgotten that guns, bitches and bling were never part of the four elements and, y’know, never will be. There’s actually a track on this record called ‘Cheeba Cheeba’. Are you kidding me? Hey guys, Harold and Kumar called and they want their stereotypes back. Easily the most bizarre lyrics you’ll hear in all hip hop come in ‘Chitlins and Pepsi’, a track seemingly about nothing smarter than swearing and cookery. It’s like Gordon Ramsey stepped up to the mic; “No time to waste, we don’t waste food on our plate. Let the haters hate, 12 ounce steak, asparagus tips, delicious, got me lickin’ my lips. On some LL-Cool J shit”. Indeed.

But it’s not only the content: the delivery sucks too. On ‘True Champs’ it sounds like they're drowning, gasping for air with every line and struggling against fast flowing beats; drawing breath like their lives depend on it. In other places the raps are not so much punchy as a punch in the face, boxed ears bleeding whilst you wince; as much from the memory of your mother naively asking ‘isn’t it just shouting?’ Cha. It’s only that, if one of the main themes of your record is how superlative your sound is, hadn’t you ought make sure it is first?

In the end, perhaps In Search... is just so inbred it’s capable of little more than frenzied tail wagging on a podium - its maniac tongue lolling - all eager and expectant that someone will pin a rosette to it just for having a nice shiny coat. The equivalent of getting ‘must try harder’ scribbled all over your school report, heaven knows you’ve got potential but you pissed it all against the wall chasing girls and acting big man; we’re not angry, we’re just very, very disappointed…

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15081/reviews/4138998

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Hot Chip Interview - Owen Clarke

Surely one of the most eagerly anticipated records of 2010, Hot Chip’s ‘One Life Stand’ aims to make even the flightiest of fans swoon, court new admirers and cement a monogamous musical relationship with all who hear it. With a list of influences so diverse they might seemingly have been pulled out of a hat one late night in the studio, there’s certainly something for everyone. UK funk and soul lines up alongside modern R&B, Northern Soul, Gospel, Golden Age Electronica and House and the band cite influential artists as disparate as Prince and Theo Parish - but these are no uncomfortable bed-fellows; all are snuggled up, warm and cosy under the familiar duvet of Hot Chip’s trademark soaring emotional intensity. Here, Owen gives us an idea of how it’ll all sound;

"There are ten songs on the album and it’s more beat pop songs broadly speaking, but there’s also some flavours from pianos and house records and steel pans and things like that."

Did he say steel pans and pianos? He certainly did and this new musical experience can instantly be felt on the title track of the album, One Life Stand, which will achieve its full release on February 1st - the same day the album is released - but can be heard now for free on their myspace site.

For all their musical moving on, however, every single member of Hot Chip still has a synthesizer up their sleeve; whether they be lead guitar, lead vocals or, like Owen, bass, they’ve always got a synth on stand by. If the boys have got a somewhat geeky reputation, that’s only compounded by their attention to detail when it comes to all things electronic - not hard to picture them getting excited about the newest Nord like your average boy-racer anticipates the arrival of some hot new ceramic disc brakes, or hornily poring over the pages of Max Moog Magazine. No bad thing when such obsessive aural tendencies result in – as in the case of 2006’s The Warning - Grammy award winning music, and when, as Owen points out, everyone from traditional garage bands to grime artists are employing an electro beat these days anyway;

"I’m not really thinking about scenes or whether they’re reaching their epoch, zenith or decline but I think that people have become much more open minded to the use of electronic instruments and things like that in pop music, I think it’s fairly ubiquitous now."

Doubtless pioneers of this new wave of New Wave, Hot Chip are far too smart to typecast themselves under any one scene; remaining free from labels and attempts at classification leaves them a much greater freedom of musical movement;

"If someone asks what kind of music do you do, it’s usually like at passport control, we try not to get into too many particulars, but broadly speaking I’d say electronic pop."

The consequent aural autonomy afforded them can best be seen in the background and around the fringes of One Life Stand; beefing up the percussion section, Hot Chip have enlisted the talents of Fimber Bravo of Steel and Skin on the aforementioned steel pans and Charles Hayward of This Heat on drums. It’s interesting to see how these new elements will fit into the live show; this is, after all, primarily music for dancing too. Owen teases us with what to expect when Hot Chip finally fulfil their on stage destiny and give us our chance to dance;

"Well, just some interesting movements when we get on stage. It’s a big set up, we’ll have a drummer with us and we’re working on the percussion side of things. Not quite sure yet, the exciting thing is that we’re still working on it. We’re in rehearsals now, just figuring out how to do all that stuff live for next year."

Ready for the floor? Just try and keep us off it…

www.brumnotes.com

Fyfe Dangerfield @ Glee Club

Poor Fyfe Dangerfield. On paper this was his night; debut solo album out today and a homecoming in the Glee Club, the audience all seated and expectant. This gig should have been the champagne against the bow of the good ship Fly Yellow Moon.

Any nerves were understandable therefore, as he tripped over the piano stool on his way onto stage before referencing his inability to find his guitar lead - ‘I’m supposed to be cool’. But he still had to answer the question on everybody’s lips; can he cut it without the rest of the Guillemots?

The first two songs certainly did, managing to have all the trademark melancholy without being dreary, and it was all going so well when he swapped acoustic to electric for Faster Than The Setting Sun. From here on in however, basically every song was plagued by technical problems.

But the boy is almost as humble as he is talented and has charm to spare; who could deny him some slack? What’s more, his voice alone can hold you hostage; he still has absolute pitch and that made the singles shine.

So his salvation was well deserved - and earned with a ukulele encore. The simplicity of the four-stringed instrument next to the soaring vocals of So Brand New was sublime and his redemption was made complete by finishing on a highly original version of Made Up Love Song #43; it sounded a little bit like a champagne bottle smashing…

www.brumnotes.com

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Mastering muerte...

You can’t conquer life until you’ve conquered death. Our greatest fear is surely the abyss that follows the ultimate event; but from this all other petty preoccupations pour forth. It is the biggest change we know – something to nothing – and spreads a nervousness of all the little ones too. Dread breeds inertia, not to mention a whole bunch of nasty little isms. All the major religions attempt to get over it by employing the caveat of an after life, but this is all just so much high hoping and hocus pocus: witness the folly of the Pharaohs. Even the artists and inventors have, somewhere in their souls, the hope of defying the d-word by living on through their work. But much better to be great in this, our only life: no need for nirvana other than now. Apt, then, that it should be the School of Life who take us by the hand and teach us How To Think About Death. Ah, a life without fear: now that’s what I call living…

www.lecool.com/

Room above a pub...

Comedy was never created to be performed in an auditorium, or even in its own special club. No, the pub is humour’s natural home, where comedy feels most comfortable. For the main point of going to the pub is to cut loose, get lashed and have a few laughs with your mates anyway (especially if that pub is a Proper Boozer, like what the White Hart is). An altogether different brand of amusement, room-above-a-pub-comedy can sometimes be hit or miss, many of the laughs coming from the sheer nervous tension in the room. We can say it’s real. But no worries tonight because Josie Long will be upstairs and, y’know, she’s definitely very funny. We hear that this night is run more like a party than a business - a big two fingers up to Leicester Square – which is good news because, after all, you really shouldn’t put a price on laughter. Or, if you absolutely must, it definitely shouldn’t be more than a fiver…

www.lecool.com

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Chew Lips Debut LP 'Unicorn'

Oh no, not another glibly titled electro-pop outfit? Not more bedroom wannabees bringing tinny tunes and boring beats? More synth-geeks who have inexplicably managed to persuade a pretty lady to voice their Moog masturbation sessions? Well, oh no, actually, it’s not.

Unlike Kitsune label mate La Roux, you won’t be embarrassed to have Chew Lips in your record collection by September. Simply by being, y’know, interesting, they have attained perhaps the highest accolade this brand of electro-pop has to offer, in that no songs on this album will ever become ringtones and it would all sound faintly ridiculous emanating from anything with a spoiler; too subtle for subwoofers, thank god.

That’s not to say Unicorn won’t take up residency in your head; it’s just that it will be a welcome guest. And that’s primarily because of the biggest gun in the Chew Lips armoury, their own weapon of mass devotion: the lungs of leading lady, Tigs. We can say she can sing.

Over the dreamy opening bars of album and the track, ‘Eight’, her vocal comes on like the sullen lovechild of EBTG and Alanis Morrisette. A bit weird therefore, but then that’s the point of this eerie opener. The beats kick in around halfway through, allowing you to exhale and perform a comedy swipe of the imaginary sweat on your forehead. For it is over these beats that Tigs really shines, where she can begin to belt it out a bit. The sullen little girl suddenly becomes Sexy; it’s oh so sultry and comes from the same school as Miss Mossheart and Karen O.

But what about those boys - James Watkins and Will Sanderson - and their beats? Play Unicorn at half volume and it just sounds weird; turn it up to til your ears bleed and it all makes sense. Some producers seem to forget that dance music needs to at least hold your attention; a bare minimum even if it’s mainly for dancing to. If - like 'Play Together' - it can grab you by the cojenes and drag you bodily on to the floor then all the better. There’s so much going on in this track – a seriously big bass line, whirling synth washes and dirty electronic sprinklings – it’s hard to say what exactly has that hold over you, but everything has its place and, either way, it’s anything but ignorable.

There are, however, times when you’ll begin to wonder, hmm, what’s the point of all this exactly? “A high speed chase on a wedding day, give and take it’s all the same”? Whose wedding day? What does this nihilistic nonsense even mean? ‘Karen’ – an ode to the short and tragic life of Karen Carpenter it turns out - could be about any old chick of the same name – indeed, it’s so vague that it could apply to anyone or any situation. You get the impression that the actual words are mere foils to the mouth from which they’ve sprung forth and the beats which carry them along so well. But, if you can countenance a lack of lyrical cohesion, then perhaps it doesn’t actually matter; it has a sense of abandon and maybe that’s enough. Who needs deep from hands-in-the-air-grinning-like-an-idiot-music, anyway?

This aside, Chew Lips clearly have respect for their audience; a respect which lends Unicorn more longevity than - on paper, anyway - it should have. The whole record comes in at almost exactly 30 minutes - a nice round number that allows for ten songs of in and around three minutes each - which keeps it punchy and makes the whole thing move: no time to get bored, here comes the next song, anyway. It also shows a certain humility - no need to over-cook it, now is there? There’s no lack of confidence though; leaving previous singles ‘Salt Air’ and ‘Solo’ off their debut, despite their success, shows a dedication to the creative process and an originality which sets them apart from yer average synth-pop pretenders. In short, it certainly has swagger but not so much you’ll want to punch it in the face: Chew Lips have planted a carefully selected crop and, for that, they deserve to reap the rewards…

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15054/reviews/4138927

Let go me ting, Duppy, let go me hand...

When Duppy took a hold of his hand while he was writing, it seems Mr. Manuva never quite managed to shake the grip: for the Rastafari spirit of mischief has a strong influence over everything Roots puts his name to. The music policy of his latest venture, a quarterly Dub College no less, is testament to that, playing everything from mutant bashment to disco dub to electro ghetto and jazz crunk. But it’s not just grubby dub beats, this is a full on dub cabaret. Standard issue Banana Clan mayhem comes by way of a Dawn Penn PA, live magic, comedy, palm reading, a speakers’ corner and live media installations. Mr Smith himself is presiding over the whole thing, summoning up the power of Banana Clan from behind the decks and, hopefully, giving us greedy dub addicts a sample of what’s afoot on his forthcoming compilation album. Well, well, well…

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Maccabees Interview - Hugo White

December 11th 2009

You might not even expect to see Roots Manuva and The Maccabees on the same bill, let alone the same track, so on the face of it this unlikely collaboration in the November release of ‘Empty Vessels’ may have sounded incongruous. But both artists have a history of making things happen, and always on their own terms, so in reality it sounds anything but. In fact, it sounds like it was always intended: Orlando and Rodney coming on like slightly messed up messiahs over a tune that already had a driving hip-hop drum beat.

Clearly they’re not afraid of trying new things and their second record, Wall of Arms, is further testament to this. Although it has the same spirit – that same sense of abandon - as their first album, Wall of Arms is much more atmospheric. The same peaks, the same driving beats; there’s something new there as well. ‘We sort of felt we’d done a lot of that jaggedy, thin sounding music and we made a conscious effort to embed stuff more and have a bit more depth to everything.’

Some of this depth comes courtesy of the Markus Dravs production. He’s performed the same trick for Bjork, the latest Coldplay album and that master piece of the soaring song, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. If that difficult second album is sink or swim then Markus Dravs is the ever attendant lifeguard by the side of the pool. ‘Markus was pretty amazing at helping, it was his call to get the brass section in and things like that really worked out.’

They’ve gone further for sure but they haven’t lost the essential essence of the Maccabees; it’s just as sensitive, just as profound and has all the same urgency. A lot was expected of this album and that hasn’t been lost on them, something which is obvious from the attitude they took to the making of it. ‘We wanted to sort of disappear a bit and not see anyone we knew so we got a house in Paris and did it in a small studio, which was amazing.’

Whilst they clearly took the task in hand very seriously, they appear undaunted by any weight of expectation. Rather, it seems they enjoy the challenge and this is probably because everything they do is their own; they’re doing it as much for themselves as for anyone else. They don’t just write the songs, they design the covers and shoot the videos - manage the whole aesthetic - so the experience can’t help but feel personal. “In some respects, it’s just as important as the music. If you’re doing the music then it’s important that you represent it; we’ve always thought it was important to keep it coming from within the band rather than just handing it over to an outside person and saying, ‘do the artwork.’ It’s just, really, making sure that it’s our thing.”

All this independence necessarily breeds originality and whether that manifests itself in music videos which double as a documentary on cheese rolling or a doubtful but delightful duet with Roots Manuva, you know that not only can they give it, they’re always giving it their all…

www.brumnotes.com

White Lies @ 02 Academy Birmingham

Saturday 5th December 2009

Just like the iconic indie front-men of the 1980’s, Harry McVeigh didn’t give away much tonight. Even during their big moments - Farewell to the Fairground and To Lose My Life - he seemed unmoved and stood on stage like a modern messiah - your own personal Jesus - legs apart, shoulders set wide and one fist clenched behind his back.

All this confidence made it easy to see how this would work in a stadium. During A Place To Hide Killers comparisons came easily - and maybe this makes it a might middle of the road. Then again, all clad in black they looked like musical mercenaries, guitars for hire, and, at times, it didn’t seem like they were playing instruments so much as brandishing weapons.

Aptly the last song of the encore - and the whole tour it emerged - was Death. For the first time all night a huge grin cracked across McVeigh’s face as he beat a fist against his chest and implored the throng, ‘you sing it!’ A completely unnecessary appeal; they were already echoing his every utterance with full voice, rapt and adoring. In this peak, this petit mort, all the earlier swagger was vindicated and, when it had finished, the crowd lay back, sweaty and exhausted but completely satisfied…

www.brumnotes.com