Sunday, December 25, 2005

Season's greetings

Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year to all our contributors and readers.

We'll be back early in 2006 with the next installment of the A-Z Of Music feature, but until then eat, drink and be merry. And rock.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Pelican, Mistress, Una Corda - a gig review

And so it was off to the Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham for the Capsule Xmas Party gig for a wodge of rock with two locals and a US import.

Una CordaUna Corda were the first support and it was interesting to see them so soon after Moff Fest. They were still superb and rattled through the set to a room that rapidly filled with new converts and by the end got a rapturous reception. I think they've become my favourite band at the moment, surprisingly beautiful music for such a heavy band, and they have that rare stage presence you often don't get with guitar-based instrumental outfits. Lovely stuff.

During their set I spotted a lot of people with chunky cameras - at least four, maybe five - doing the rounds. I'd noticed this at the last Capsule event I went to as well. Most of the gigs I go to have one or two "professional" camera people (I use quotes because having an expensive camera doesn't make you a pro by any means) but these Medicine Bar events seem to attract them like flies. It's a kinda weird experience, checking out other people's kit with, well, let's be honest, envy really. Don't get me wrong, I love my camera, but standing next to some guy wielding a DSLR with a fancy lens and flash does lead to penis analogies. Speaking of flash, they were all using it so, since I wasn't getting the results I wanted I abandoned my no-flash rule and joined in, with quite spectacular results. I think I might be sold on this now, though it will have to be tempered. Despite Andy (who, being the most active guy on stage, was beaming like a strobe light) saying he didn't notice the cameras I'd imagine it can be fucking annoying having all this going off a couple of feet from your face. But I found my hit ratio increased dramatically so a balance shouldn't be too hard to find. I'd also be curious to see the photos these "pros" are getting, if only so I can learn from them. If any stumble this way, might I point them towards the Birmingham Live Music pool on Flickr, which could do with some more members. Or of course I could just say hello.

MistressAnyway, back to the gig. Next up were Mistress, a local band of the hardcore thrash metal variety. I moved forward but the room was getting rammed so couldn't get to the front, finding myself pretty much in the middle. Suddenly, as the second song kicked off, there was an explosion as the chap right in front of me instigated a mosh pit, joined in a split second by about 10 others who had been waiting, coiled up, for this moment. As they moshed and moshed hard I quickly buried my camera away in its case and took a few steps back. But these few had created quite a space and I noticed a slot right at the front under the singer, so after waiting for a rare quiet moment I marched through (receiving a mere elbow to the mouth) and took my position. I was later informed that being at the front for a Mistress gig is considered somewhat hardcore and while this was probably a mild one for them, what with most of the crowd being here for the less raucous Pelican, it certainly had that war-zone vibe.

Now I'm not a huge thrash metal fan and to be honest wouldn't listen to this kind of thing at home for fun but I fucking loved watching Mistress live, especially at close quarters (there ain't no zoom on those photos). The power and fury they generated was utterly intense and they seem to understand that what they do is vitally important yet has to be fun. And did I detect some tunes in-amongst all the roaring? I think I did, and a thick grin was plastered over my face when it was all over. Magic stuff.

PelicanAnd then to the headliners, Pelican from Chicago, USA. I again found myself right at the front, though this time slightly to the side, right by the speakers that look like fighter jet exhausts, so having been warned that Pelican were loud I put in my ear plugs for the first time at a gig. It was a very strange experience, like being there but not being there, swimming through the physical shock-waves of the dull audio. Not ideal for the listening so I got my photos and moved back to appreciate them properly. Pelican were good, but something wasn't really working for me. There was plenty of power and musicianship going on but it didn't really go anywhere and after about 20 minutes I was starting to think I'd maybe had enough. Maybe I was missing something, I dunno. I was standing next to Doug from Una Corda who reacted to something with a "C'mon!" and raised fist and for the life of me I couldn't figure out what had prompted this.

Fortunately the catching of the last train home saved me from an hour of this stuff, though I did feel a slight pang of regret in not seeing what the guitarist would do with the violin bow I'd seen him wax up. So, a mildly disappointing headliner more than made up for by some stellar support. More Capsule events will be attended next year for sure.

Originally posted here

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music: E

Please excuse the intervening week's silence...

E is for …

… ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ (Damo)

So, this week I pinned myself into a stupid corner. Why? Because I invited readers of my blog to come up with suggestions for what I should do for E, promising to use one of them. I forgot one teensy crucial fact.

Nobody reads my blog.

In fact, that’s not strictly true. I got given two choices: Extreme and ‘Ebeneezer Goode’. Tempted as I was to write about the poodle-permed Queen / Aerosmith wannabes with their “insane” guitar solos and songs about holes in hearts, I have plumped for the other one. So (deep breath) …

The Shamen had a chequered history, starting as a psychedelic rock act, before losing two out of four members. Then one of the remaining two drowned. Many people would have given up, but not Colin Angus. He had club hits such as ‘Move Any Mountain’ (a staple of my student years) and then…

Naughty, naughty / Veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery naughty…

It was the end of the summer of 1992 and according to the papers, the biggest threat to society (apart from single mothers) was Ecstasy. With new rapper Mr C in tow, came this story of a cheeky chappy. Apparently “he’s refined, he’s sublime, he makes you feel fine, though very much maligned and misunderstood”. Seems like a decent chap, huh? Then the chorus…

Eezer Goode, Eezer Goode… he’s Ebeneezer Goode…

WAIT A MINUTE! Are they saying what we think they’re saying? IT’S AN OUTRAGE, I TELL YOU! And we all know what an outrage means in popular music – that’s right folks, the tabloids went mad. Oh, and it spent four weeks at number one. Oddly enough though, it was never actually released as a single in America… make of that what you will.

Of course, The Shamen denied that the fact they appeared to be singing “Es are good” in the chorus was anything more than pure coincidence, and anyone that said otherwise was a liar and a charlatan. Before, that is, finally admitting to it about five years later, to nobody’s great surprise.

Unfortunately for them, they discovered one of the golden rules of pop music: if you have a big hit with something so distinctive, your career will never be the same again. They continued making albums until 1998, but apart from a couple of compilations that was it and they never came close to matching the feat that was ‘Ebeneezer Goode’. Rumours that they intend to try and tap into the cultural zeitgeist again by releasing a comeback single called ‘Harry Potter Is Satan’ remain unfounded.

I’ll choose my own topics from now on, I think. Far safer.

… Echobelly (Paul)

Cards on the table time – I fancied the pants off Sonya Aurora Maden when I was 16. Sadly we never crossed paths, and in truth I’d probably have lost the capacity for conversation if we had.

However, whilst I casually fancied the lead singer, I really loved Echobelly’s album On. Released in 1995 and featuring classic singles (no hint of irony here, thank you very much) such as ‘Great Things’ and ‘King Of The Kerb’ it epitomises everything I loved about Britpop.

The album itself I fell upon, almost by chance, in a record store in Cambridge, whilst holidaying at my uncle’s, and it became my salvation as my sullen teenage self took every opportunity to hide behind my Walkman headphones rather than engage with my relatives.

Now I’ll accept that Britpop and indeed Echobelly weren’t everybody’s cup of tea [Got anyone in mind here, Paul?] , and that’s their prerogative, but to me it carries so many memories that I can’t help but smile whenever I hear any of the songs on that album.

The album itself is filled with energy and heartache in equal measure, and touched so many of my nerves at that time that it will always find a place in my CD collection (thanks to the wonder of Ebay I eventually got round to replacing my tape copy with a CD a couple of years ago).

Beyond the sparkly upbeat numbers at the beginning of the album, it is the slightly more melancholic ‘Dark Therapy’ which really gives the album its soul.

However, I always return to the song with which they will forever be associated:
I want to do great things, I don’t want to compromise, I want to know what love is, is it something I do to myself?

Rarely has a lyric so neatly described my feelings when first I heard it, and as a consequence will have a place in my heart forever.

… Eels with Strings, Park West, Chicago, Illinois, 22nd June 2005 (Alison)

I wasn’t very familiar with the work of The Eels before Ben introduced me to Daisies Of The Galaxy in spring this year. First listen and I fell in love with the album. In June I found myself sight-seeing solo in Chicago where, needing some new music for company, I picked up Blinking Lights And Other Revelations. Ghetto-blaster slung over my shoulder (or at least Walkman discretely tucked in rucksack), I set out to explore with what I discovered was a fantastic soundtrack. By chance, it turned out that The Eels were touring the album with their “Eels with Strings” show in Chicago that week.

On initially walking into Park West I was a bit worried; the “historic” 1920s theatre was set out with booth seating and decorated with candles throughout, no hint of dancing space. My friend and I had tickets for one of the balconies which auspiciously had its own dedicated bar despite only holding around 30 people.

The gig opens with a slideshow ‘Rock Hard Times’ which introduces the band (“29 transient members. One deeply troubled permanent member”) and presents clips of inane interview questions addressed to Eels frontman E, which he handles with dry wit and sarcasm. I expect journalists label him as awkward, but he comes across as funny and refreshingly bullshit-free.

The band arrives on stage to ‘Pure Imagination’ (from ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’) and the tone for the evening is set. There is a very pretty and quirky-looking string quartet, Big Al and Chet. Finally E slowly meanders onto the stage bent over a walking stick (reminiscent of Wonka), dressed in an old grey suit, with thick black-rimmed glasses and a beard. The majority of the set is from Blinking Lights… which means it’s beautiful and moving but sombre and occasionally dark. Interspersed, there are a few more up-tempo songs where the quartet throw down their violins and violas in favour of percussions. Throughout, E is surrounded by a cloud of smoke from his fat cigar and he charms the audience with much banter.

The sounds are generated by 20 or more instruments; guitars, an upright piano, a slide, a double bass, a mandolin, but the majority of which I can’t name (notably, drums are entirely replaced by a rubbish-bin lid and an old suitcase). The band members continuously switch between each, it’s like watching grown-ups enjoying the Willy Wonka experience with instruments replacing sugary treats. Most notable are Chet’s turns on the saw, which he manages to make the most astonishing and captivating sounds with.

This was a gig for grown-ups, sitting, drinking, by candlelight. Despite my initial misgivings about the set-up, I loved it and can declare Eels with Strings my favourite gig of 2005. And the exciting thing is it seems that there are a multitude of alternative guises for The Eels and hopefully a diversity of live shows still to experience.

… Elastica (Swiss Toni)

For all that Oasis and Blur were undoubtedly the main players, no band sums up the whole Britpop phenomenon for me better than Elastica. In spite of the fact that the band had a string of hit singles and their debut album charted at #1, they will always be best remembered for the fact that their lead singer, Justine Frischmann, was Damon Albarn’s girlfriend. They were Britpop’s golden couple. Probe a little deeper than that and it just got better: she was Albarn’s girlfriend now, but before that she had been a member of Suede and dating Brett Anderson. With those credentials, how could they fail?

Elastica also summed up Britpop by being deeply and unapologetically derivative, although unlike most of their peers, at least they were stealing from bands other than The Beatles and The Kinks: the chorus of ‘Line Up’ is more than a little reminiscent of ‘I Am The Fly’ by Wire, the intro to ‘Connection’ is lifted from ‘Three Girl Rhumba’ by Wire, and ‘Waking Up’ sounds disturbingly close to ‘No More Heroes’ by the Stranglers. When confronted with this, Frischmann tended to shrug and suggest that all music was recycled, but both Wire and The Stranglers eventually received royalties for their “inspiration”.

It seems a little hard to believe now, but for a brief period of 1994, before the release of Parklife, Elastica were actually bigger than Blur, and even enjoyed a modicum of success in the USA. But the second album never materialised, Frischmann and Albarn broke up and the momentum slowly disappeared amidst rumours of perfectionism and heroin addiction. The band didn’t formally break up until 2001, but they had long been finished.

Listen to the album now though, and you will find that actually it has aged remarkably well, and certainly stands up to scrutiny better than Blur’s The Great Escape or the dreadfully self-indulgent Be Here Now by Oasis. Yes, it’s derivative, but the music has definite energy and verve, and in Frischmann’s sneering vocals, they had something that really set them apart from the pack.

They looked great too.

… The Electric Soft Parade (Pete)

AKA why do promising young bands bugger it up?

Back in late 2001, my mate (and fellow muso) Andy introduced me to Brighton band (and British Sea Power pals) The* Electric Soft Parade. Their debut album Holes In The Wall had with a fresh sound, full of youthful vigour and guitars to match, but was well-balanced with moments of simple poignancy; ‘It’s Wasting Me Away', and in particular its outro, were excellent examples of this. They were never going to sell out arenas, but they looked having a productive few years.

Unfortunately, by the time I got to see them at the London Astoria in May 2002 at a long-waited gig on what was their first decent-sized tour, the brothers White had lapsed into onstage petulance. After a couple of petty tantrums before an unnecessarily long and tedious jam session, I walked out of a live performance for the first (and up till now last) time.

Andy's seen them about six or seven times by now, probably because the second album was equally as good, if not better and he kept his faith. The songs were less obvious and showed signs of a willingness to try out new ideas, with the mellow and thoughtful 'Bruxellisation' my favourite, followed by the second part (or untitled song) at the end of the title track.

Nevertheless, despite several opportunities, since the Astoria farce, I've left Andy to risk seeing them live. According to him, out of these six or seven times, they've only put in a memorable performance once, hence his very brief flirtation with the idea of running them down as they crossed the car park of the Truck festival two years ago.

Their new material sounds pretty ropey, so unless things change very much, they will continue downhill. And this it left me wondering why so many bands simply fall by the wayside after so much initial promise?

*I've never been sure whether they are The Electric Soft Parade or simply the Electric Soft Parade. Perhaps someone could clear this up for me, because at times it seems the band haven't been sure either.

… electroclash (Jonathan)

What is it about electroclash - the much-maligned music scene which pre-dated the punk-funk phenonemon as the hipster preoccupation in late 2003 - that makes it simultaneously such uninspiring headphone music and yet at the same time the absolute best music for dancing to?

It's impossible to dance to indie, near-impossible to dance to drum and bass, impossible to dance to hip hop without making humiliating hand-gestures, and impossible to dance to techno without gurning.

Yet friends who routinely demur from any dancing activity seem somehow transformed by the sound of, say, Tiga's 'Pleasure From The Bass' or the unbelievable DFA mix of Le Tigre's 'Deceptacon' into unhinhibited disco divas, grinning manically and throwing shapes (powered, it should be noted, by little more than a couple of bottles of Becks from behind the bar). There's something addictively exhibitionistic about the sound.

I think it's the fact that electroclash, for all its best attempts (and despite the fact that LCD's 'Losing My Edge' and the subsequent punk-funk movement managing to take much of the same sound and filter out its uncooler elements) it never managed to be anything approaching fashionable. It's impossible to look cool while dancing to a song which sounds even the tiniest bit like Duran Duran, no matter how ace 'Planet Earth' still sounds. It's impossible to pretend cool while dancing to a song by a band who LOOK like Duran Duran. Much less Fischerspooner.

Yet at the same time electroclash manages to cram in a bunch of really credible influences too, so you can hear elements of Detroit techno, Krautrock, Suicide, punk rock, microhouse and garage. At the same time, you can play records like Rachel Stevens' 'Some Girls' or Britney's 'I’m A Slave 4 U' without interrupting the mix. Ditto Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love', PiL's 'Careering', The Clash's 'This Is Radio Clash' or The Postal Service's 'Nothing Better'.

It provides a welcome opportunity to try to be cool without any accompanying fear of failing - we can dance, laugh, throw shapes, howl along to the appalling lyrics, practice our icy Germanic post-industrial detachment thing, - do whatever we like and if anyone laughs we can just claim that we're listening to daft party music.

My local electroclash night is Detournament. Find out what yours is and cast aside cool.

… Emmylou Harris – The Ballad Of Sally Rose (Del)

There are few terms in the English language as regretfully misunderstood as "country music". Hideous visions of Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and that bar in ‘The Blues Brothers’ have tainted a fine tradition of songwriting and wonderful records. For, like all great music, country has its basis in pure misery, strife, hardship and a bit more misery.

I discovered Emmylou's music on a BBC4 documentary about her eventful life and career. I was instantly taken by her, and was hooked by 'Woman Walk The Line', the hit from this LP. The Ballad Of Sally Rose was the first album where Emmylou had a hand in co-writing all the songs. It's a concept album of sorts, telling the story of a young, half native American girl who gets taken under the wing of a singer, and finds success, until her mentor dies and she sets up a radio station playing songs in his honour. It's a semi-autobiographical story, that relates to her own experiences playing with Gram Parsons from The Byrds before his death, but of course, she's never confirmed it explicitly.

The songs are just beautiful. Emmylou has a quite unique voice (you might have heard her backing up the equally sublime Bright Eyes on his recent work). For 1985, the production is just the right side of overblown, and now manages to sound timeless. Proof of what country music is capable of. It's heartbreaking and exciting, fun and mournful.

There's something magical about the album, with nods to country's great heritage in the form of an instrumental medley of 'Ring Of Fire', 'Wildwood Flower' and 'Six Days on the Road’. Nashville royalty such as Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt contribute note-perfect harmonies. But more than all that, there's something majestic and monumental about any album that starts with a deadbeat dad, but still introduces its lead character with such grace:

Her mama picked him up in south Minnesota / He promised her the world but they never got that far / For was last seen in that '59 DeSota / When Sally was born in the black hills of Dakota / She was washed in the blood of the dying Sioux nation / Raised with a proud but a wandering heart / And she knew her roots were in the old reservation / But she had stars in her eyes and greater expectations”.

The need to escape your own circumstances, whilst feeling an intense loyalty to your heritage. Finding freedom, and then relieving grief, through the power of music. It's just a fantastic album, and one of few that has me blubbing like a baby almost every time I listen to it. Tammy Wynette will always be the First Lady of Country, but Emmylou Harris is its most wayward and bewitching princess.

… emo (Ben)

When was the last time you go into a completely new scene?

For me, it was around five years ago, and the catalyst was the At The Drive-In track ‘Cosmonaut’ appearing on a CD that came free with Kerrang!. One breathtaking appearance at the Leeds Festival and one quite stupendously good LP later, and I was smitten. That prompted me to revisit Fugazi, whom I’d liked but never quite loved, and then suddenly I became aware of a whole musical sub-genre I’d never known existed.

An exclusively American phenomenon, “emo” – short for “emotional hardcore” – was, in essence, punk music with feelings, a refuge for those considered (or who considered themselves) too nerdy, sensitive or intelligent for the frat boy mall punk of Blink 182, Sum 41 and a still immature Green Day. Weezer can probably be credited with kicking it all off in earnest, heroes to legions of bands on labels like Jade Tree and Deep Elm which had become synonymous with the emo ethos and sound – though the harder-edged outfits on the Revelation label would most likely sooner point to Minor Threat and Sick Of It All as their inspiration.

And so it was that before long, and together with my fellow adventurer into the unknown He Who Cannot Be Named, I was gobbling up anything and everything by bands like Bluetip and The Promise Ring.

But it didn’t and couldn’t last.

What initially appeared an attractive “alternative” subculture soon came to seem narrowly codified, a remarkably conservative stylistic and aesthetic strait-jacket. Being in an emo band meant sounding like every other band on the periodic Deep Elm samplers. More depressingly, it also meant being white and male. Being an emo fan, meanwhile, meant wearing thick-rimmed black-framed glasses and taking a rucksack to gigs.

Emo still exists, of course, but I’ve been writing about it in the past tense because it’s over for me. Increasing mainstream visibility, Rivers Cuomo cosying up to The Bloodhound Gang on Weezer’s 2001 comeback The Green Album and Blink 182 ditching the “hooray for boobies” schtick for emo chic haven’t done the scene any favours, though.

In truth, my “gateway drugs” never had much to do with it, anyway. Fugazi were always too idiosyncratic and inventive to fit in, while post-hardcore firebrands At The Drive-In despised the scene, their decision to work with nu-metal production guru Ross Robinson on Relationship Of Command creating a quite deliberate distance. Since then, of course, Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s ambitions (some might say pretensions) – which couldn’t be accommodated within emo – have been given full expression in The Mars Volta.

As is so often the case, the most interesting bands were on the margins pushing outwards, and the Desoto label was home to three of the best: Burning Airlines, who could claim the overused adjective “angular” as their own; Juno, whose second LP A Future Lived In Past Tense is a prog-punk masterpiece; and The Dismemberment Plan, purveyors of some of the cleverest postmodern indie you’ll ever hear. All three are now defunct, but the records remain. Seek and ye shall find.

… St Etienne (drmigs - your audacious rule-bending is excused just this once…)

In the last four weeks of writing these pieces, I've ended up thinking about exactly what it is that I like in a song. And I've come to the conclusion that melody and narrative lyrics are high on the list of things that float my musical boat. No surprise then that I'm a fan of St Etienne.

I've been aware of St Etienne for many years, but it was not until I heard Finisterre playing at a party that I really paid them any special attention. They'd previously got as far as the “Oh! That's a nice track” filter in my brain, but never as far as the “Oh! That's a nice track, I'd better chase down one of their albums” filter. (NB I'm a brain scientist, and I can tell you that these filters really do exist. Mmm … )

The stand out thing about Finisterre, and St Etienne albums in general, is that they are indeed albums. These are actually albums that start somewhere, have a middle, and then an end. There's none of this “Bung 10 catchy songs together and flog it for £13.99” nonsense. No, St Etienne albums work as musical exploration of a theme, with their genre of choice according to iTunes being alternative, or dance, or electronic. You see they've had a varied and arguably influential history.

Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley started out St Etienne as two music journos unsatisfied with the music scene, and set about pioneering indie pop. When they settled on the mellow girlish vocals of Sarah Cracknell, seven albums (to date) followed. As musical fads have come and gone, St Eteinne continue to evolve. However, their songs have maintained a constant theme on the subject of urban London, and the tales to be told within. The descriptive lyrical construct of their songs is deftly swept along with their many and varied forms of chirpy / poppy composition. All of which adds up to a sound that's very attractive to geeks. Step forward moi …

From the most recent album Tales From Turnpike Lane - which is distinctly more down-tempo than the sprightly Finisterre - 'Milk Bottle Symphony' and 'Teenage Winter' are fine examples of what St Etienne are about. Curious tales that are littered with vivid nuances, designed to provoke your imagination during the pop-laced melodies. Take for example the opening lyrics of 'Teenage Winter':

"Amy checks the shopping list / Pedal bin, washing-up rack, Sandtex / And she goes to the bakers to buy a loaf / Ah! She keeps forgetting it's changed into the Tropicanan tanning salon."

Now tell me you don't want a bit of that …

… The Eurythmics (Jez)

Unlike Carol Thatcher, who didn’t do extremes, I am human. I do extremes like a child on a freshly-oiled swing. For me, as inseparable as a horse and carriage there is love and hate. Forget the thin line separating the two. And boy, I HATE The Eurythmics. But it isn’t just them, for they are a metaphor for everything I hate about pop music. They represent everyone of the Live Aid generation who became the Untouchables of pop. Urging us to give as they shoved so much cocaine up their noses that they could have wiped out poverty in a single sniff rather than their septums and another grand. I’m only a waif of a man, but I’ll fight anyone to the death who disagrees with me on this.

Pop is about either a flash of inspiration just to disappear within an instant or about constant reinvention and exploration. It isn’t about one trick ponies constantly peddling the same old bollocks like a broken dishwasher regurgitating rancid leftovers time and time again. Actually, both of these idiots had a “trick”: she wore a suit and he wore sunglasses indoors. As for her, I bet someone’s actually written an academic dirge about her blurring the boundaries of sexuality with her clever sartorial sense (don’t tell the ghost of Marlene Dietrich), and for him, well, anyone who looked the feral beast in the eyes would immediately turn to stone.

During the eighties she married a different German bloke every week and whined about not being able to find love, and he had something I seem to remember as Paradise Syndrome. This involved his life being so perfect that it made him depressed. Hold on! How about the untold misery that he has caused millions of people in his pursuit of the perfect life? If they hadn’t released ‘Love Is A Fucking Stranger’ on us yet again the bastard would’ve annexed Poland. I know which of these options I find preferable.

All is not lost though. Just as an army of monkeys was called in to fight the King of Lanka I will train the primates to join me and fight this noble cause (although this time they’ll be dressed as members of The Arcade Fire), to storm the mansions of the musically evil and finish them off as they feast at the banqueting table on the bones of starving African children. It’s them or us, and me and my monkey warriors are prepared to die for this one. You’re either with or against us…

* * * * *

Don't worry Jez - I'm with you! (Phew! Maybe next time out he'll have remembered to take his medication...). Thanks to Damo, Paul, Alison, Swiss Toni, Del, drmigs and Jez for their contributions this week.

A little break now over the festive period (it's planned this time), but have no fear - the feature will be back early in the New Year.

Moff Fest

Saturday and I'm back at the Hare and Hounds for more post-rock frivolities at Moff Fest. Five bands playing instrumental guitar/drums-based music after a long day at work and I think I'll be forgiven for saying it all kinda merged into one after a while, but then I'm not a hardcore intelli-rock aficionado and this evening was for those who most certainly are. It was also a full on DIY event, the first gig organised by this chap Phil and done purely because he wanted to do it, which always makes for the niceness. You could tell it was his first gig because he'd booked five bands and organised a laptop-powered projection show for each one but the gods were smiling as it all ran smoothly with no over-runs or technical mishaps - no mean feat when you're dealing with bands with a lot of kit and the desire to sound just right.

Cornish Tin MinersOf the bands, Burnst and The Hubble Constant didn't make a huge impact on me, which is not to say they were sub-standard in any way - they just weren't my cup of noodle-rock. I really liked Cornish Tin Miners, the opening act, who, if memory serves (such is the curse of the opening act) were a drums/bass/guitar three piece who did a delicate, complicated almost jazzy set that made me think "ah, so that's math-rock!" Unfortunately their set was very short but I'd like to see them again. Kinda in the style of Tortoise and that's a good thing. If they have a website or some music online I'd like to know about it.

MothertruckerMothertrucker were a lot of fun, though they were the closest to trad-rock of the bunch so I was probably able to connect with them easier. You can't go wrong with a good solid thumping riff and they had plenty of these. On a more superficial level their background projection was quite inspired. While the other bands had random clips and images accompanying Mothertrucker simply had a DVD of Duel, a movie I've inexplicably not seen before. It started with a giant truck pummeling down the road, which was kinda obvious, but halfway through moved to a tense and paranoid scene in a diner. The projection stopped being a distraction (sorry, but I'm not a fan of this sort of thing on the whole) and suddenly merged with the music creating something quite large despite the band being unaware that they'd be playing against it. A lovely piece of serendipity, but even without this Mothertrucker were very good and I'd recommend seeing them if you like rock of the stoner variety.

Una Corda - EarlAnd then to the headliners, Una Corda, who I hadn't seen before despite one of my flatmates being in the band and the drummer having been a friend for a year or so. I've alluded to it before, but Una Corda are mountain men, giant slabs of hair and bloke who you can imagine driving 18 wheelers or wrestling cows for the fun of it. When I opened my front door to the other three for the first time I felt strangely intimidated, as if the psychic power of their manliness threatened to bring my inner mouse to the fore. And hey, I used to hang with hairy bikers in my youth, not to mention some of the characters I've worked with via the temp agency, so this is saying something. Of course they turned out to be lovely people but their collective size, especially when compared to the predominance of somewhat nerdy glasses wearing skinny chaps on this scene (which, I have to say, I like), bears mentioning.

Una Corda - DougAs for their music, I was somewhat blown away. I'd heard their EP, Proper Position for Floating (review), and what with living with one of them knew they'd be pretty good, but I had no idea they'd be this good. Comprising of two bass guitars, two lead guitars and drums you'd expect them to make a lot of noise, and they do, but it's incredibly controlled and subtle, taking the established norms of repeated layers of riffs and quiet-loud build as the base from which to develop some complex ideas and emotions. The lack of a vocalist is more than made up for by having each player lead at different times, but not in a cheesy solo way, more that they actually lead the others into one direction as part of a coherent whole. No disrespect to the other bands but Una Corda really felt professional - they had a control over their songs (and they were really songs, not tunes) that was precise yet not clinical, complicated but accessible, and they put a big grin on my face.

And then that was it. I think Moff Fest was a success - at least everyone seemed to enjoy themselves a lot and it all went very smoothly. Even though this isn't a genre I'm heavily into I had a good time and it was good to see this sort of DIY event taking place fueled by a real passion. I was going to put post-rock to one side for a bit but by golly there's another one on Wednesday (tomorrow!) - the Capsule Xmas Party with Pelican, Mistress and, oh, Una Corda. See you there?

Originally posted here

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Noise Noise Allore!, Bilge Pump, Lords, Soeza

Hi, I'm Pete Ashton and I'll be re-posting music related stuff from my blog here. This post was originally published here.

Saturday night was at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath for my first proper gig since the GDFAF fortnight featuring a roster of bands of the Gringo Records stable from around the country plus one from Birmingham. Our genre for this evening was uncertain but veered towards the intelligent loud rock end of the spectrum. In fact I learned a new genre this evening: math-rock, being music that consists of rapidly changing time signatures and patterns yet remains heavy, the meeting point between jazz and guitar-based rawk, if you like. This wasn't an exclusively math-rock event but there were plenty of blokes in glasses in the audience, and I was one of them.

Actual music and performances aside, this gig exemplified the music scene's utter inability to deal with the concept of time. The flyer said 7.30, the poster on the door said 8.00 and the doors actually opened at 8.30 with the first band starting nearer to nine. We had four bands to get through before closing time (no late licenses here) so this was going to be tight...

SoezaFirst up were Soeza from Bristol who immediately intrigued by having two drum kits along with french horn and euphonium (yes, I had to look that up...). Their music was a smooth flowing thing with a complicated undercurrent bringing to mind Broadcast a little bit, though somewhat heavier. And with two drummers. I wasn't entirely sold on them but this was probably because they were a little ramshackle performance-wise with a couple of false starts and technical issues (due to the late running sound check perhaps?), but others in my posse were highly impressed, and I have to admit that quibbles aside they were doing interesting things. Having the brass player sing into the bell of his euphonium with a mic dangling inside was utterly inspired for example and I'd certainly see them again.

LordsNext were Lords, a three-piece from Nottingham/Leeds/Derby who impressed no end by having the drummer at the front of the stage with the singer/guitarists on either side. This turned out not to be some novelty thing but utterly essential as this guy really was the leader of the band, playing the most skillful and complicated drumming I've seen (with the possible exception of Acoustic Ladyland), managing to maintain the role of rhythm section but with the personality and uniqueness you'd normally expect of a singer or guitarist. He also had the cheekiest monkey-grin face, possibly an inconsequential feature but it added a lot to my appreciation of them. Meanwhile their music was incredibly loud. It started loud and got louder and eventually the whole room was filled with sound of such volume that it became a physical force. At one stage it seemed to overwhelm my senses and break though some kind of barrier, like the roar of a jet engine that suddenly goes quiet before it booms. But this wasn't an uncontrolled noise - there was a delicate beauty to it which exemplified what this whole math/post/intelligent/whatever-rock is all about. If "normal" rock is a scud missile and orchestral music is a majestic ocean liner, this is the space shuttle.

Bilge PumpOur third act were Bilge Pump from Leeds and with a name like that they had a lot to live up to because it is unquestionably a very nice name. And yes, they were good, but something didn't quite click for me. Unfortunately I wasn't taking notes and can't quite remember what it was, but suffice to say they didn't blow me away. Which isn't really a criticism and they did put on a good solid set. On the superficial side the bass player had a very nice red shirt and the drummer a most impressive Ramones-style haircut - these things matter to me in the world of gig going for some reason. Overall I'd see them again I reckon and I wonder, if they'd had a less interesting name, would I have been so hard on them?

Noise Noise Allore!And then to our Birmingham based headliners, Noise Noise Allore!, previously seen at the Melt Banana gig a month ago. This was the band I'd really come to see and at twenty to eleven it was touch and go as to how much we were going to experience. But to be honest, while more would have been great, less was more than sufficient. This is the sort of band that so easily could be terrible, but thanks to a combination of musicianship and audacity they pull it off with aplomb. Lead singer Biff set up his little Moog and promptly vanished as the rest of the band got ready, returning at the start of the set dressed in pale-blue tight shorts and a figure hugging white cotton shirt with tie. Combined with the pencil mustache he looked like a seedy games teacher or parody of a 1940s army fitness instructor. In the context of a generally blokey rock environment seeing this character on stage is very odd indeed. It fits, but it's coming at such a strange angle that you can quite place why it fits.

Noise Noise Allore!And then they start playing, and it's all quite wonderful. Mainly this is due to the other three members of the band being very accomplished musicians who appear to be using the oddness of Biff to really push the boundaries of their skills, bouncing around a staccato rock that threatens to fall into freeform jazz but never does. Meanwhile, at the front, Biff is stealing the show so all credit to the others for letting him do this. His vocal style is high-pitched yelping like a demented castrato (though thanks to the shorts we knew this wasn't the cause) or a speed-fueled tellytubby punctuated by what can only be described as spastic dancing as he throws his body around the stage and moments of jogging on the spot. Contrasted with his normal banter between songs this is all quite shocking stuff, and when you think about it, quite close to the bone. We knew it was all an act but parallels to the mentally handicapped were certainly there. I don't think this is a problem but it illustrates the power of making your audience feel ever so slightly uncomfortable about enjoying themselves so much.

Noise Noise Allore!And enjoy it I did. I found myself at the side of the stage torn between needing to take as many photos of this spectacle as possible (196 as it happens - the pick of them are here) and to just stare, mouth agape, at the glory of it all. At the Melt Banana gig I'd been at the back of the room, here I was a few feet away. It was astonishing. What's odd is that, despite being in existence for about a year, they don't have anything recorded and no internet presence. Apparently (and this is just word of mouth) they all have commitments to other bands and this is just an experimental side project that isn't really supposed to go anywhere, but I think it could go far. Musically and theatrically the whole package is there and it'll be something of a crying shame if more people don't get to experience it.

And then, the final song having been played with the house lights up, we dashed off with our ears ringing to catch the last bus home. Sure, I was tired after a day at the car park with three hours sleep the night before, but I was having trouble processing exactly what I'd seen. As my flatmates enthusiastically discussed the evening, bringing in references and pinpointing key moments, I realised I was a mere dilettante in this world. I can enjoy it and appreciate the glorious complication of the musicianship but I can't open the case and understand the inner workings. All I know is that it is excellent stuff, and at £4.00 in, incredibly good value.

The next gig along these lines is also at the Hare and Hounds. Moff Fest, on Saturday December 17th, allegedly starts at 7.00pm which it better do as there are five bands on the line-up - Una Corda, Burnst, Mothertrucker, The Hubble Constant and Cornish Tin Miners. Four of them are local and the second and fifth are described on the flyer as "math-rock", more info is here and the whole thing costs £3.00, which is slightly absurd really.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A black and white and red and white Christmas

Jingle those bells! Joyous news! Barry Hyde and Jaff of The Futureheads and the brothers Brewis of Field Music have teamed up along with an assortment of other North Easterners including This Ain't Vegas, The Golden Virgins, Kathryn Williams and ex-members of Kenickie to record a cover of 'The Twelve Days Of Christmas'. It's due for release on Monday, but as it's limited edition and likely to be sold out, you're probably best off going here to hear it.

And the best thing about it? The collective are calling themselves The Joseph & Mary Chain.

As the website says: "Even if you aren't bothered about the charity, you should still buy the record because it's mint". And I can assure you that that, in the North Eastern vernacular, is the highest form of praise.

(Thanks to Simon for the links.)

'Tis the season...

... of lists and mellow fruitfulness. Stylus's Top 50 Singles Of 2005 is the popist antidote to my forthcoming and inevitably rockist selection, and features comments and voting contributions by Mike and Ian. You'll not read a better assessment of the joys of The Futureheads' 'Hounds Of Love' than the one penned by Paul Scott - certainly not here in the next couple of weeks, anyway.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Hair's apparent


The Different Kettle Of Fish Super Special Christmas Fandango - and quite possibly the last ever ADKOF night - doesn't get off to the best of starts.

First of all, on entry we're confronted with a sign which reads: "Due to bad illness Hooker will not be playing". They are one of the main reasons I've come - and this is the second time they've dropped out and left ADKOF impressario Phill in a bit of a pickle. He's done his best to ascertain the validity of the aforementioned "bad illness" - apparently the drummer has an abcessed tooth and sounded dreadful on the phone - even going so far as to research the condition online.

Second of all, Motorcycle Stunts. An indication of what they're all about: stool-perching and furrowed brows feature heavily. There are the occasional glimpses of something more promising, and the vocalist's voice is not without power (though his lyrics are), but sadly for the most part it's over-serious, over-emotive, under-written and under-imagined stodge. And to lay claim to a band name that connotes excitement and daring - you familiar with the Trades Descriptions Act, lads?

A tad harsh? Well, perhaps. Because as it turns out, they're the perfect opening act for what follows. And what follows is quite remarkable.

The Pubic Fringe are personal favourites of eccentric curmudgeon Mark E Smith of The Fall, with whom they've toured, and approximately thirty seconds into their set they're one of mine too. Immaculately abrasive yet extraordinarily tight, they're a brutal psychobilly covers band roughly (and that's the operative word here) in the mould of The Cramps with nods and winks in the direction of The Birthday Party and The Stooges.

They sound like they've forgotten to take their medication. Like there's other people's skin under their fingernails. Like if they weren't on stage they'd be in the gutter eating dog-ends.

Vocalist Nazi Sinatra is the inevitable focal point. Clad in a tasselled cowboy shirt, he lurches back and forth apparently using the mic stand for support and chainsmoking, a fact which immediately explains his extraordinary rasping growl.

The set careers through a series of stomping three-minute songs before reaching its peak with a much longer number about "old-time religion" which might be what The Doors would have sounded like (criminally lame rock hack cliche alert!) had they experimented with ketamine rather than LSD and spent their days chewing their own arms off.

Under the circumstances, for me to stand tapping my foot and nodding my head is akin to saying "Excuse me, would you mind leaving me alone - there's a good chap" while being savaged by a rabid pitbull. This music demands a rather less restrained and polite reaction. Curse that English reserve.

A remarkable band, then. And, perhaps most remarkably, they're from Stourbridge.

And then from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Trash Fashion left Birmingham for London seeking fame and fortune like modern day Dick Whittingtons, and their homecoming has enticed a number of "the Custerati" (copyright Phill) to stray from their spiritual home and into the sort of grotty venue they'd normally avoid at all costs. And that means assymmetrical haircuts and unusual and colourful mix 'n' match clothing. Of course, they only appear from upstairs once The Pubic Fringe have exited stage right. What a shame - it would have been entertaining to have watched them getting a new arsehole torn.

When Trash Fashion appear, they too are quite something visually. A guitarist with a bizarre ponytail-meets-Kajagoogoo haircut, a single dangly earring and a bright orange jumpsuit. A vocalist wearing a black hat, a skeleton mask, a pair of shades and a long black mac, soon discarded to reveal nothing but a pair of black 80s football shorts. And, er, a drummer with a mohawk.

And when they start playing, my first thought is of EMF gone cock rock.

My next thought is that they're the band Dan Ashcroft would unequivocally slate in Sugarape only for the Nathan Barleys of this world to read the piece, take it as an ironic commentary and flock to their gigs for fear of missing out on the hippest thing going. The idiots.

To be fair to Trash Fashion, they're not exactly serious, singing about "meat and two veg" and ditching the guitars mid-set and coming over like an electro Goldie Lookin Chain for a song about rave culture.

It's about this point when my interest is at its peak (though even then I'm viewing them with detachment if not suspicion from the back of the room), but it soon goes downhill again, and the utterly rubbish encore is an awful mistake.

The moral of the evening's tale? Beware the tide of fashion - it's often more honourable and infinitely more dignified to be washed up on the shore than to strive to stay at the crest of the wave.

To mark the death of ADKOF, on leaving the venue Phill ceremoniously launches a leftover mince pie into the canal (oh sorry, did I forget to mention that you missed out on food too?). Its silver foil tray glints in the moonlight as the baked goods arc towards the water. We laugh (though internally several tears are shed) and walk off into the night.

Who knows what happened next. I like to think that the pie rose Excalibur-like from the depths, and that ADKOF will live on - though not like some freakish Frankenstein's monster that runs amok out of the control of its creator, obviously...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The other Jonathan's Indiepop Odyssey- songs 10-15

Err... hello everyone, I'm back. I know these six songs have been on their original home at for a little while now, but better late than never, eh? I will try and get songs 16-21 up here in the next few days.

10 Brighter... Does Love Last Forever?

Well does it? Brighter were the quintessential Sarah records act, in that they were shambolic, shimmering, ephemeral, eternally lovelorn and probably recorded their throwaway jinglyjangly songs about unrequited bedsit passion in a damp attic using borrowed guitars which they didn’t really know how to play. I certainly hope so. Anyway this is the third of three songs on their one-and-only (as far as I know) 7-inch release and for a good few months in Wolverhampton I had to stick it on the turntable as soon as I woke up. I would play it while drawing furiously on the first of the day’s forty Silk Cuts, surveying the French New Wave cinema portraits on my wall, and generally considering myself some kind of Black Country Indie Pop Jean Luc Belmondo.

11 Rythym Sisters.......... American Boys

Who the hell were the Rythym Sisters? Where did they come from and what became of them after they produced this maniacally catchy ditty (it’s like something an indie-pop Bananarama might have come up with) about those pesky American Boys, who apparently fancy themselves as Elvis Presley, and ‘think that they are so damn sexy’? Something tells me that the Rythym Sisters’ only experience of American Boys was watching Starsky and Hutch in their Leeds bedsit, but that doesn’t stop them being damn wonderful, whoever they were.

12 Darling Buds.......... Its All Up to You

The Darling Buds were briefly everyone’s favourite band in 1988, until they signed for a major record label and became persona non grata in indiepop circles. Time has treated their seemingly throwaway slices of furious-paced pop more kindly, even if I did once come across their entire back catalogue in the bargain bin outside of an Oxfam shop in Keswick. This seems cruel; I would rather dwell on my favourite Darling Buds memory, which is of stumbling out of their gig at the Newcastle Riverside and, disorientated by the preceding jangly onslaught (and several cans of Red Stripe) becoming hopelessly lost in the labrynthine passageways of the Swan House roundabout. If I had not been rescued by a fellow concert-goer and pointed back in the direction of the number 12 bus-stop at Eldon Square, I might have been still there now.

13 Fat Tulips Its So True

Nottingham’s Fat Tulips were a sort of poor man’s Talulah Gosh, which is to say, of course, that they were very fantastic indeed. This single (which I think I sent off for from a fanzine) came wrapped in a DIY gatefold cover featuring a cartoon of a quintessential indiepop girl complete with floral dress and lollipop, and a mini-fanzine written by the lead singer, in which she apologised for the record ‘not quite coming out as good as we thought it would’. I wonder if she went on to a succesful career in marketing?

14 Another Sunny Day...... I'm in Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist

Another Sunny Day consisted, apparently, of one of the fellows out of the Field Mice sitting in a flat in Bristol with a set of instruments and a primitive recording machine, churning out exquisitely maudlin odes to unrequited love. This one is just one and a half minutes long but they are the mst perfect ninety seconds of unadulterated tweeness you could hear in a long days walk in your Doc Martens. I used to alternate this one with Brighter back in the day, during a time when I was (as befitted my status as a Sarah Records devotee; it was a badge of honour, like your floppy fringe and possibly stolen Marks and Spencers cardigan) In Love With A Girl Who Didn't Know I Existed. Some years later I heard it again, rather surprisingly, on Radio Nacional de Espana, where it was introduced, featuring an instructive use of the present subjunctive tense, as Estoy Enomarado de una Chica que no sabe que yo existe, by Otro Dia Ensolelado. They know their indiepop in Madrid, you know.

15 Wedding Present ........ Nobody's Twisting Your Arm

Did I ever tell you about the time me and a mate spent an hour talking to David Gedge's very charming girlfriend at a gig in Barcelona, until the man himself appeared from nowhere and scowled at us in a most unindiepop fashion until we skulked away into the darkness? Oh, I suppose I probably did- it is to date my only face-to-face meeting with any pop music luminary. I always expected Gedge to write a song about it, but maybe he doesn't remember the incident with quite such clarity. I don't remember the gig all that well, but I do remember our ill-fated and drunken attempts to get home afterwards to my mate's house somewhere in the Catalunya countryside. We walked around Barcelona in circles for three hours, then slept on a park bench until the Metros started running again at dawn. Happy days.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music: D

D is for …

... Daft Punk (Del)

They are D delirious.

They are I incredible.

They are S superficial.

They are C complicated.

They are O oh, ow, wow… wow… wow…

Woooow...wowowowoooow....wowowowoooow... wow

What the hell was that?? OK, so there’s a dog-man on crutches walking round New York. He’s bullied by kids, rebuffed by someone taking a survey cos he hasn’t been in the neighbourhood long enough and loses the cute girl he knows when she disappears on a bus. But the most striking thing about the music video is what emanates from the boombox he’s carrying around with him.

" wow"

The riff keeps on going, like pure mutant disco. It’s early 1997. Most dance music around is either cheesy as it gets handbag divaness, or what the Yanks innocently termed electrorock (bless!); dance music with a rock edge from the likes of The Chemical Brothers or The Prodigy. But this is unashamedly house music. There’s bits of techno and disco chucked in in equal measure, and it said to this indie kid that there might just be something in this dance music lark.

The Homework album sums itself up in its first looped vocal: “The funk back to the punk, come on!” It was funky, yet had an almost indefinable punk edge. The Daft Punk monicker was born from a Melody Maker review of an earlier project by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo. When they threw away the guitars, they kept the attitude, and made Homework, an album of minimalist, seductive, repetitive, filtered house music that still had enough pop hooks to make the Top 10. In an age of superstar DJ’s, they hid their identities behind masks. They took house music, the “coolest” thing in the world at the time, and turned it into geekchic homework. And check the shouts on ‘Teachers’, amongst the house music royalty: George Clinton, Dr Dre and Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who’s also quoted on the sleeve: “I wanted to write joyful music that made other people feel good. Music that helps and heals, because I believe that music is God’s voice”.

Cripes. And whereabouts in New York are these guys from? What? They’re what?! Sacre bleu!

With the second album, they pissed off the purists by going POP POP POP. From housework to disco – very disco. Discovery ripped up huge slabs of horn with widdly prog rock guitar solos and Buggles era helium vocals with autotune and vocoders all over them. Oh, and Barry Manilow. And people DANCED to it. They went from sporting masks to dressing up as robots. Appropriately, they then became one of the first acts ever to use the internet to their advantage, with Daft Club; giving fans free remixes and bonus tracks. They made a feature length Japanese animation to run parallel to the album that puts playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon over ‘Alice In Wonderland’ firmly in its place.

Alongside this, they each had their own labels as side projects (presumably being house music overlords just wasn’t enough). Guy-Man’s Crydamoure released a plethora of wonderful records from his own Le Knight Club alias, The Buffalo Bunch (his brother, sampling Leo Sayer on one memorable release) and lots of his mates (Paul Johnson, Archigram, Deelat, etc). Meanwhile Thomas had Roule records, which released great stuff from himself, ‘One More Time’s’ Romanthony, Roy Davis Jnr, DJ Falcon et al. Oh, and a one-off record he did with Alan Braxe as Stardust. You might’ve heard of it.

Then this year they released Human After All. Which proved they were nothing of the sort, vocoders present and correct, but this time the punk was more prominent. It was dirty, funky, raw, but also in places gentle and serene. More to the point, it was as different from Discovery as that album had been from Homework. I’m still not sure quite what I make of it. But I know I can’t wait for the next release, be it another hyperlooped Bangalter track with DJ Falcon, or another Daft change of direction.

Daft Punk are like Gods to me. Dance’s current Emperor Du Jour dreams that they might one day play his house. They seem enigmatic and otherwordly: where their peers like Fatboy Slim or the Chemical Brothers trade on an image of the ordinary, Daft Punk appear to be on some higher plane with legends like Chic. Which is where they belong.

Oh, and Thomas’s dad is called Daniel Vangarde. He wrote D.I.S.C.O.

… dancing (Paul)

Whatever you choose to do – be it sway, waltz, mosh or body-pop – the most vital element to dancing is the music. To feel the sounds vibrate through your body is to want to move in time to it. It’s almost impossible to listen to music and not feel some part of your body move – whether it be tapping your toes, or your hands on the steering wheel of your car, it doesn’t matter.

The point is that it’s all part of the enjoyment and the thrill of music.

At its most graceful and stylish, dance is an art form – but on a much more earthy level it’s just great fun to do – whether you happen to be shaking your maracas like Bez, swaggering like Liam or going apeshit like Keith, it’s all part of the experience.

I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve always felt like I’ve got two left feet, but I still enjoy employing both of them to effect on a dancefloor – I may not have (much) rhythm and I may not have (much) style but it doesn’t stop me, particularly once I’ve got a couple of drinks inside me.

Dancing is something which we all do – it’s our subconscious reacting to the music in ways which we can’t always control. I challenge anyone to put on their favourite record and just stand still, don’t tap your feet, or your hands or sway and see how long you last – it feels wrong, because it’s alien to our experiences and our natural reaction to music is to feel the rhythm and dance.

Whether in a hot sweaty nightclub or alone in the shower, the power of music compels us all to dance.

… ‘Dancing Queen’ (Ben)

From dancing bear (and yes, if you’ve met Paul you’ll know what I mean) to dancing queen. Or ‘Dancing Queen’, to be more exact.

Very few acts have emerged from the Eurovision Song Contest triumphant in the long term. The lustre of winning soon dulls, and even Abba, who were victorious in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’ – a preposterously brilliant song which used the nineteenth century naval battle as a metaphor in a tale of a fractious and warring relationship – found it hard to follow it up.

It was two years before their debut album – the aptly named Arrival – and its second track in particular proclaimed their presence on the pop stage.

Contrary to the slogan on the T-shirt beloved of metallers, goths, emo kids and other assorted sheep, disco does not suck – and ‘Dancing Queen’ is the proof, every bit as essential in the Grand Scheme Of Things as the first Ramones LP, which hit record shop shelves the same year.

On ‘Dancing Queen’ Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s voices dovetail beautifully (as ever), but the key is in the keyboard melody with which the song opens and then later in the spiralling effect as it builds towards a heady chorus in which the upturn in the vocal line communicates uplifting and ecstatic feeling. At first the lights may well have been low, but now they’ve been turned up as brightly as they’ll go, and the reflection off that glitterball dangling from the ceiling is dazzling.

‘Dancing Queen’ may have long been cynically appropriated by clubs populated by hen nights and sad Friends Reunited obsessed nostalgics as a means of extorting their money. But it’s worth remembering next time you find yourself in Flares clutching a fluorescent alcopop and watching a tragicomic post office-party scene unfold (invariably a drunken and balding but afrowigged middle manager alternately dribbling and sweating on his equally inebriated secretary) and the whoop goes up when ‘Dancing Queen’ suddenly comes blasting out of the speakers, that it’s a genuine pinnacle of pop perfection and quite possibly the finest song ever to reach number one.

… ‘Debaser’ (Swiss Toni)

In common with many other people, this is the first song that introduced me to The Pixes; the song that really made me sit up and take notice. Where ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, itself a spiritual descendent of this song, grabs you by the throat from the very first note, ‘Debaser’ is different: the intro is low key, a simple stepping bass line, joined by chiming guitar. Catchy, but like many songs by The Pixies, it’s not until Black Francis starts to shriek that the song ascends to greatness.

Got me a movie / Want you to know / Slicing up eyeballs / I want you to know”.

As first images go, that’s a pretty good one, but before you really have time to take it in, the shouting has started in earnest: “Don’t know about you / But I am un chien andalusia / I am un chien andalusia / I am un chien andalusia

Is that French? Is that Spanish? Is he saying he’s a dog? What? And then we’re straight into the chorus, with Black Francis’ manic screaming of the word ‘Debaser’ being echoed by Kim Deal’s sweetly sung backing vocal. It’s 2m 33s long, and it’s practically perfect.

Apparently the lyrical inspiration comes from the 1928 French surrealist film ‘Un Chien Andalou’, directed by Luis Bunuel, and containing a scene featuring an eyeball being cut open. Frankly though, it doesn’t matter.

As Black Francis himself put it: “I wish Bunuel was still alive. He made this film about nothing in particular. The title itself is a nonsense. With my stupid, pseudo-scholar, naive, enthusiast, avant-garde-ish, amateurish way to watch 'Un Chien Andalou' (twice), I thought: 'Yeah, I will make a song about it,' he sings: ‘un chien andalou’... It sounds too French, so I will sing ‘un chien andalusia’, it sounds good, no?

It certainly does.

… Detroit Cobras (drmigs)

Writing about music inevitably involves some level of self-analysis. That’s fine, and to some extent is part of the pleasure. However, sometimes the process diverts away from pleasure and leaves you cowering in the corner and covered in a cold sweat whilst you’re gibbering into your five-yard stare. This state is roughly where I’m at when trying to answer the question: “Why do I like the Detroit Cobras?

I like the Detroit Cobras. I really do. But it has to be said that the more I try to understand this viewpoint, the scarier it becomes. Firstly though, for those not in the know, here are the basics on the Cobras. They’re from Detroit, their exposure (to some extent) is due to the success of The White Stripes, and what they do is raw garage rock covers of (mainly) R&B and soul tracks. The twist the Cobras put into these songs is repressed passion and sexiness. Hence by the nature of such tracks, most of their songs are short and set-piece-y, and probably meant to be no more than a transient experience. Right, that’s all the basics you need to know for now.

If you’re feeling lenient, on the evidence above you’re probably happy to afford me the benefit of the doubt and say: “It’s OK drmigs! We all have skeletons in the closet. Blimey, at least it’s not some trashy 80s pop phenomena like Bananarama that you’ve not managed to shake off”. And I’d thank you for that. So what’s with all this insecurity? Well it’s little things.

All the little things about this band make me feel W(hite) A(nglo) S(axon) P(rotestant) ish. It’s undeniable that the dominant impression of the band is created by the alluring sultry depravity of lead singer Rachel Nagy’s voice. Is this all I’m drawn to, surely not? But is that all there is to the band? Their album covers; faux erotica nudity left right and centre. Despite what I might try to convince myself, I’m really not comfortable with these (and it certainly doesn’t make it very easy to pass on the CD to friends). Oh and if that’s not enough, there’s the print on the Mink Or Rabbit CD advising that it is suitable for the “uninhibited swinging set”. Eh! My inhibited WASPishness tends to think there’s something inevitably unfulfilling about sharing your partner that you’re not wholly satisfied with, with someone else’s partner they’re not wholly satisfied with. So then I’m thinking: “Is there something I’m missing in this sound that ‘uninhibited swingers’ get?” Maybe it’s that transient thing? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

All I know is that I seem to like it. And maybe that’s the overriding point to come out of this self-analysis. Sometimes music just works for you, and there’s nothing more to it than that. I think this is the type of music to enjoy for the moment and then walk way from. And sometimes that’s all that music has to do.

… Different Class (Pete)

I'm looking for inspiration by browsing through my albums that begin with the letter D. And there are quite a few candidates for the next entry. Dummy, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Dog Man Star, Definitely Maybe, but then my eye rests on Different Class. A very apt title. It's a bit of a cliché I know, but this really was Pulp at their peak.

Until then (and perhaps secretly to their joy) they had been regarded as underdogs (or 'Mis-Shapes'?), but this album pushed them to the forefront accompanied by a wit that had been severely lacking from the increasingly laddish music scene of the mid 90s.

The album is noteworthy for the humour alone, with references to the dangers of one pill too many and some choice lyrics: “If fashion is your trade, then when you're naked, I guess you must be unemployed”.

The music was pretty bloody good too. From the stomping opener to the mournful ode to urban excess of 'Bar Italia', as well as the gorgeous 'Something Changed', there isn't a dud among them. And I haven't even mentioned 'Common People' yet. The erudite and Oxfam-clad Cocker had somehow managed to write an anthem for the 90s. Despite it being an album that reflected its time, it still sounds fresh today. But it's such an endearing record too; full of hope, frustration, longing and a good whiff of sordid goings-on. Simply different class.

And then Jarvis went and took the mickey out of Michael. Fantastic.

… Domino Records (Damo)

Ah, record companies. The place where bold ideas, innovation and bands whose records sell less than a million copies in the first week go to die. Right?

Sometimes. I might even get into that side of things when we reach P (see if you can work out what label that might be referring to…).

So this week I wanted to say a big “HOORAH!” to a label that aren’t like that. And no, not just because the band whose website I do is on said label.

Domino is an “indie” label, whatever that means. An “indie” label that just had a UK number 1 album and single in October of this year with different artists. But chart-topping potential isn’t a prerequisite for being signed… nope, the requisite appears to be (and you might need to sit down here) they need to like your music. How quaint! Franz Ferdinand were signed as a promising act some time before their first major tour supporting Hot Hot Heat, and Arctic Monkeys were… go on, tell me you had heard of Arctic Monkeys before the summer. The list goes on – someone at Domino obviously liked Pavement, so they signed Stephen Malkmus AND Preston School Of Industry. Simple.

Let’s not be pious here – if a record company loses money, it goes broke; if it goes broke, everyone concerned is out of a job. But if Tesco went bust tomorrow, you’d get your tinned peaches from the Co-Op. It’s wrong to talk of the music business solely as a “business” because there’s too much in it that means far more to you and me than that. It’s gratifying to see that it IS possible to do things for the right reasons and survive in what can be a nasty little industry.

I digress. In charge is a man called Laurence whose speciality is connecting people, or to put it another way, he apparently knows everyone. And so it is that Clearlake got to have U2’s former producer work on their new record. And that a band called Test Icicles get regular national radio play.

But crucially, their modus operandi is to take bands that they like, and trust them to get on with it. Isn’t that refreshing?

(PS Two mentions in successive weeks of a certain band is a little cheeky, I know. I promise not to do it again between here and Z…)

... dry ice (Jez)

How easy it was to fool my impressionable mind. All it took was the pumping of some foul smelling smoke stuff to make it seem as though the band I had been anticipating for weeks had just returned from the mysterious world from the Tales of Narnia, rather than a pokey dressing room at the Aylesbury Civic Centre.

Roadies had set up the gear and all eyes turn to the side of the stage to those black boxes that had the potential to produce enough fog they actually had to be banned in coastal areas.

Trying to decide when the band would appear, wisps from the machine, then a full torrent of the smelly mist.

Sometimes there would be so much of the stuff it must have been like ceasefire at the Somme. And then, as if by magic, the silhouette of a fat bloke with a guitar could just be made out before the onset of the luxuriant rhythms. The music was invariably excellent, but in the case of Siouxsie the mist and the music was just an accompaniment for drivel about spiders, endless staircases and inverted religious symbolism. Even at the age of fourteen I used to giggle at it. In retrospect, I don’t think the Sisters of Mercy even turned up. I reckon we just paid to watch dry ice and listen to their albums played really bloody loudly.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a gig that attempts to build the atmosphere with the stuff. Maybe my tastes have refined or maybe people just think it’s naff now. Pop stars no longer look otherworldly, just some blokes from the suburbs trying to “connect”. Perhaps the idea was to disconnect, to appear to be above the paying throng in an effort to put on a show. To this effect perhaps the royal family should use it, the Queen suddenly appearing at the state opening of Parliament through swathes of the stuff, Camilla at a community fete, Prince Andrew on the first tee at St Andrews, William turning up for his work experience at the bank, Harry on the assault course at Sandhurst (please!).

I’m going to check eBay to see if I can buy the equipment, then I can try it at home with the cats. The neighbourhood felines will be aghast as mine appear from a flap along with the pumping dry ice.

Perhaps the reason I don’t see the stuff anymore is that it was actually made from powdered asbestos. There’s a thought, maybe I can get a job as a stagehand on the ‘X Factor’ tour.

* * * * *

Thanks to Del, Paul, Swiss Toni, drmigs, Pete, Damo and Jez for their contributions. More of the same, same time same place next week folks.