Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Let them drink gin!


I may have narrowly missed out on tickets for the Blood Brothers / Help She Can't Swim gig, but that wasn't going to stop me going to Clwb tonight. You see, while the godfathers of screamo and the Brighton punks are doing their thing upstairs, there's plenty to enjoy downstairs too, courtesy of Kruger.

Evils, for a start.

Jamie Hale's music has found favour with everyone from Radio 1's Steve Lamacq, Rob da Bank and Huw Stephens to Hot Chip and Akira The Don - and it soon finds favour with me. Hale may perform from within a wendy house, but there's nothing remotely fey, drippy or Belle-&-Sebastian-influenced about the often playful but occasionally sinister electro that he creates within (for evidence of the latter, just check out the opening to 'There Is No Santa Claus' on the Evils MySpace page...).

Above Hale's brightly coloured plastic temporary accommodation, images of primitive computer equipment are projected onto a screen, and footage of Jeremy Beadle on 'Eureka' follows. Often playful but occasionally sinister, as I said.

Once the wendy house has been dismantled and returned to its flat-pack state, it's the turn of Gindrinker to pick up that same playful-but-sinister thread and run with it - something the maverick duo do with relish. They open with 'Ian The Dog Murderer' and follow it up with 'Covered In Bugs', the latter (concerning the discovery of a dead child) embellished with a genius additional couplet: "Two weeks of piano lessons WASTED! / They paid upfront DAMMIT!" As introductions go, it's rather more offensive than "How do you do?"

Thereafter there's a message from Kim Jong-Il, two fingers up to Tom Jones, the customary Q&A session, mutterings about being "a milksop" and "a dog trapped in a man's body", a song about 'Bullseye' and another about a local pub which manages to include both the catchphrase-in-waiting "EFFING AND FUCKING JEFFING?!" and a reference to Dionne Warwick.

Imagine if Chris Morris was a fan of Big Black, and you'll be close. This is the third time I've been exposed to Gindrinker's unique brand of terrorism, and I'm fast becoming convinced they're the most entertaining band in Cardiff.

After complaining that local bands were unjustly overlooked at the Kruger Christmas party, I'm pleased to report that the line-up the magazine had assembled for their first gig of the new year was entirely Cardiff-centric. Kruger had an additional reason for wanting to promote Space In The 50s' debut live performance, though. In the most recent issue, they point to several bands who (they suggest) were killed off by "The Curse Of Kruger"; these include Death From Above 1979, Clor and The Martini Henry Rifles - and two thirds of tonight's headliners used to be in the latter. An attempt to make amends, then.

For guitarist / vocalist Chris Warlow and bassist / vocalist Fudge Wilson, Space In The 50s don't mark a significant departure from their earlier exploits - no matter how many times between songs Warlow mentions the band name as if to stress the Martinis are dead and this is something new. There's not quite the same intensity and brick-in-the-face brutality that terrified a whole host of delicate Young Knives fans back in March, but the songs are still driven by low, meaty bass riffs and contain copious quantities of abrasive guitar.

I remain pretty much unmoved by their twenty minute set, though, not least because drummer Marvini Phillips often struggles to keep up with the necksnapping pace set by those in front of him. That said, the partisan and expectant crowd hardly cares - and perhaps these glitches will have been ironed out by the time they come to play their next gig at Buffalo in a couple of weeks' time. I might well be there to find out...

Monday, January 29, 2007



Tonight's gig is the first organised by new-kid-on-the-promoting-block The Mad Hatter. The very late withdrawal of support act Truckstop Bandits could have derailed things right from the start, but in the event it gives the DJ duo (of whom the frontwoman of The Physicists is one) longer to entertain us with a brilliant sequence of songs including Sonic Youth's 'Silver Rocket', Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Miles Away', Le Tigre's 'My My Metrocard' and The Raveonettes' 'That Great Love Sound'.

The live music kicks off with Lily Green. Since I last saw her perform her solo material, when she was making her debut in Cardiff, Lily's played a Meltdown event and become a favourite of BBC Radio Wales' Adam Walton and the Peppermint Patti team, as well as having her CD named Demo Of The Week by Organ Magazine. Suffice to say that tonight's performance suggests her star will be in the ascendancy for some time to come.

The most striking thing about Lily - aside from the way her lightning fast fingers attack the keyboard - is the sheer passion and intensity of her performances. Whether she's playing the relatively difficult and experimental electronica-tinged tracks or lightening the mood with a simpler but no less poignant song about a ladybird (which, with its sense of inquisitiveness, humanity and wonderment at the world, is reminiscent of The Flaming Lips), she is equally spellbinding, and the audience unanimously affords her due respect in the form of complete silence.

Drunk Granny, however, are a different prospect altogether. Like Gindrinker, the duo have been terrorising venues in and around Cardiff for some time now, steadily acquiring fans and cult status in the process.

The kind of drunk granny they conjure up isn't one who is mildly sozzled on sherry and who falls asleep on the sofa on Christmas Day. No, it's one who takes the occasion of her granddaughter's wedding to down glass after glass of wine, polish off a few G'n'Ts and then stand on the table, flash her knickers to the assembled guests and loudly announce she's coming out. Before falling face first into the cake.

But, intriguingly, they're not just the chaotic post-riot-grrrl blitz that that might imply. Beneath the looseness of the performance and the song structures themselves, there are melodic ambitions and some great tunes fighting to get out, like ferrets in a sack. A little bit of spit here and polish there, and songs like 'Care Home Rock' and 'Secret Garden' could buff up nicely.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

In The Dock: Radio 1

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Radio 1

The case for the prosecution (Damo)

Deep breath.

Let me start with what I’m NOT saying, and if you disagree with anything I’ve written, please refer back to these points:

1. I’m NOT saying that Radio 1 will only be good if it just plays everything I like and disregards everything I don’t.

2. I’m NOT saying any kind of "anti-populism" is a good thing. I’m not suggesting it should be wall-to-wall Godspeed! You Black Emperor songs during drivetime.

Right. What I AM saying is this: there’s something called a license fee. The BBC doesn’t have to slavishly chase listeners just to survive (if I’ve lost you already, see point 2 above). The BBC has a duty to entertain, to inform and to educate. Many of its stations do that rather well. But Radio 1 is aimed squarely at the young (no, not the young at heart, the young) and it makes the mistake that so many organisations do in this position: it patronises them. It’s as though if they try and do anything a bit, well, different, people will run off screaming, or at least turn that dial. And perhaps they will, so low have their expectations been driven this last few years.

Some examples? OK then...

1. The playlist. Depending on whether you’re one of the bands on the A, B or C list, you can expect (respectively) 20, 10-15 and 5-6 plays a week. And that encompasses a total of 45 tracks. How much of the schedule do you think that clogs up? Do the math, as the Americans would say. Would it blow people’s minds to vary it a bit? How much room does that leave to play a decent amount of new music? If you think the answer is plenty, I suggest you give the daytime shows a listen sometime soon.

2. The patronising approach to new music. Not so much in the evening (I’ll get to that shortly), but in the daytime when you could turn people onto new things, how rarely does something truly new get dropped into the mix? A perfect example was when they decided to have a week dedicated to new music in the daytime. How did they do this? By choosing a total of six tracks by unsigned artists for the occasional play during the week. And then making a big deal of how much they were supporting new music.

3. You can’t even listen to the news (sorry, Newsbeat) anymore without a banging beat in the background. Because the kids would turn over if their pulses weren’t kept racing 24/7, wouldn’t they?

4. The butchery of the evening schedule part 1: the "indie" sector. Steve Lamacq? Too "nice" apparently. So why not marginalise him and bring in the "so hot right now" Zane Lowe who has accidentally confused shouting for enthusiasm. His love for new music is beyond question, but whether you can actually listen to the show for more 20 minutes without feeling like you’ve overdosed on E numbers in order to find out... that’s another question.

5. The butchery of the evening schedule part 2: John Peel. A genius, and there was certainly no point in trying to mimic him. Yes, he played "weird stuff", but if you didn’t like something he played, there was also something along in a minute that you did. How have they replaced him? Three "themed" shows. The whole point of what he did (and you don’t need to mimic his style to do this) was to turn people onto all sorts of music. Nobody can do that now. You need to listen to "dance", "indie", "hip-hop", "reggae dancehall"... choose your flavour. As Andy Kershaw said, that’s not broadcasting, that’s narrowcasting.

6. The butchery of the evening schedule, part 3: marginalisation. If you discount Zane’s show for the reasons given above, it doesn’t get remotely interesting in the evenings until 9pm now. Safe from the young kids, the people at work with a radio on, people who aren’t actively choosing to listen to something a little different. I refer you once more to the BBC’s duty to use the license fee to educate and entertain.

This is only a brief summary as I’ve only got 750 words, and hope you’ll see that I’ve attempted to be constructive rather than just homing in on "annoying DJs" or making blithe comments about "crap chart music" (a phrase which makes no sense). If you only remember two words I’ve written though, make them these ones:

Chris Moyles.

The case for the defence (Paul)

Before I start with my defence, I’d just like to clarify the relevant parts of this debate, and hopefully allow you, the jury, to understand the issues which are at stake in this case.

Radio 1 pitches itself at the younger end of the music listening spectrum.

It's vital that you remember this, because when judging it you may find yourself judging something on the basis that it's not like it used to be (when you were younger) and therefore should be found guilty.

The problem with doing that is that it is just like a teenager saying "Kids' TV is rubbish these days", or your parents saying "Music these days is all noise, not like the good old days, when it had a tune you could dance to...".

What I'm not looking to do is condone "modern pop music" or for that matter condemn it. That's not the point of this debate, and as such arguments about the Radio 1 playlist being dominated by middle-of-the-road dance and R'n'B are completely irrelevant. What is relevant is Radio 1's place in the music world, its influence, and legacy.

Taking those points in turn, it is clear that Radio 1 is unlike any other global station. Funded by BBC's licence fee it is free from the constraints that come with carrying advertising. This has two obvious benefits for its listeners: firstly we don't spend twenty minutes an hour listening to adverts for car dealers, insurance brokers etc and secondly their playlist isn't as constrained by the demands of advertisers and audience shares, and as such the Radio 1 has more freedom than any of its commercial competitors.

The influence of Radio 1 is massive. They (in my view, justifiably) boast about having the power and influence to attract bands and artists to do more than any other comparable radio station. How many times has Capital FM et al convinced Noel Gallagher to play guitar in a listener's house (something Radio 1 did towards the end of last year)? The answer is they haven't, and the reason being that they lack the influence to convince a record label that it will be to their artist's benefit to do so, when only a handful of people will hear the result.

As someone now in their late twenties, I'll admit I'm starting to cast my eyes (or should that be ears?) around and listen to other stations, with Radio 6 catching the ear at present. However, that's a sign of my own ageing, not a criticism of Radio 1. As the station found to its cost in the 80s, if you try and grow old with your audience, you don't recruit new, younger listeners - and to move the station forward Bruno Brookes et al were shown the door. This is something which the station has repeatedly done throughout its time, and whilst a core of embittered DJs may be left in the wake, no doubt hankering after the good old days, the focus of the station (and its raison d'etre) has to be the younger market.

In terms of legacy, how many other radio stations can justifiably claim to have seriously boosted the careers of a massive number of top artists - Lily Allen might point to MySpace, but Coldplay owe a lot more to Steve Lamacq, Queen to Kenny Everett’s championing of Bohemian Rhapsody and as for the hundreds of bands indebted to the late great John Peel I'll casually point to The White Stripes, The Fall, The Undertones and Mike Oldfield but the list is much longer, and I'm sure you all have your own favourites. All bands which subsequently went on to be played on commercial stations, but would not have received the widespread acclaim necessary to make their playlists without Radio 1.

You may not like all (or any) of the DJs. You may not approve of the playlist (although the music played from 7pm through the night is as brilliantly diverse and all encompassing as it is possible for any radio station to be), but you can't deny the influence, the relevance and the legacy of Radio 1. The simple fact is that without Radio 1 the musical landscape in this country (and indeed the world) would be massively different and a great deal poorer.

As such I urge you all to side with the defence and save Radio 1.

* * * * *

Thanks to Damo and Paul. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, January 26, 2007

In The Dock: House music - the verdict

Once again, an In The Dock feature becomes the subject of discussion on a fans' forum...

In favour of Caskared's case for the prosecution: 3 (Mark, Ian, Lord Bargain)

In favour of Del's case for the defence: 9 (Damo, Paul, Mike, Jonathan, Betty, Geoff, jgeffen, Swiss Toni, Nick The Snick)

Abstentions: 1 (Ben)

So house music walks free.

Thanks to Caskared and Del for their contributions.

Coming soon: Damo and Paul go tete-a-tete over Radio 1.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Every Rose has her thorn


Llan Clan take to the stage early - probably a good thing, too, as it's sure to be past their bedtime before long. The bilingual fivepiece are on the youthful side, y'see - long-haired drummer Tomos Ayres in particular can't be much older than fourteen, and it's proud parents who make up the first few rows.

But the sprightly indiepopsters have been personally selected to play by promoters Peppermint Patti for a reason, and whatever they lack in years (and occasionally in timing) they make up for in freshness and enthusiasm, closing with a heartwarming paean to their hometown Blaenau Ffestiniog. You see, Daily Mail readers - being a teenager isn't all smoking glue and sniffing crack. No, the kids are all right.

Whereas The Physicists are all wrong - but in a good way. The quartet, who count ex Bikini Kill star Tobi Vail amongst those they've impressed, are purveyors of thrashing, brattish punk songs that snarl and bite and are about "homosexuals and crack and dogs".

What really distinguishes them, though, is a guitarist who's keen to kick out warp speed AC/DC riffs and thereby divert them from towing the narrow riot grrrrl party line, and a gobby frontwoman with a sense of humour: "I just looked into the crowd and thought someone had their back to us. Then I realised it was their face. Is that bad?" Er... Anyway, The Physicists: it ain't rocket science, it's only rock 'n' roll - but I like it.

As if Sonic Youth weren't marvellous enough already, now it seems as though they can justifiably claim responsibility for effecting a 21st century entente cordiale between England and France. For Underground Railroad, whose members met in Paris but who have set up home in London, recreate the sound of the angry discordant Youth of the mid to late 1980s, just as they were working their way up to Daydream Nation.

There's a case for saying that guitarist Marion Andrau takes things a little too far into hero worship, Kim Gordon her role model in everything from dress sense to onstage movement to vocal style. After all, didn't the New Yorkers once say something about killing your idols? But I for one am glad that it's resurrection and not murder that's going on here, though their sound is murderous enough - a kicking, screaming and thoroughly satisfying racket.

And so to the headliner - not, as one wag at the bar downstairs puts it, Ross Kemp, but Underground Railroad's labelmate Rose Kemp, the daughter of Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp.

Two things are likely to dog the 22-year-old, whose album A Hand Full Of Hurricanes is released on One Little Indian early next month: firstly that her prominence is down to her parentage; and secondly, particularly given the fact that she has taken up residency in Bristol, that she is the new PJ Harvey. The first isn't anything she can control and so is grossly unfair; as for the second, she does at times court the comparison, but it's far too lazy to leave it there.

What tonight's show demonstrates is that Kemp has a raw talent of her own, most vividly apparent when she performs two solo songs (one of which, 'Fire In The Garden', can be heard on her MySpace page), sampling herself to create a choral effect, and later following them up with a breathtaking acapella song delivered from the front of the stage unassisted even by a microphone.

But it's a different matter when her backing band (consisting partly of members of one of her other groups, experimental doom-metallers VILNA) are involved; her voice is all too often submerged and lost beneath the muddy guitar sludge. Perhaps it's the fault of the sound technicians rather than Kemp's hairy cohorts themselves, but either way it's frustrating that this rough diamond is allowed little opportunity to shine.

Afterwards we're lingering downstairs before leaving when we catch Llan Clan guitarist Sion Jones being hoisted up onto someone's shoulders in order to unpin a bill poster as a keepsake. A spot of light-fingered liberation - and who could blame him? Apart, of course, from the Mail reader muttering "Damn hoodies" under his or her breath...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bring the Noise

The Noisettes/The Victorian English Gentlemens Club/Mayor McCa, 21st January 2007, Leicester Charlotte

Looking like he got left behind after the last My Morning Jacket tour, right down to the Eagles T-shirt, Ontario-originating one man band Mayor McCa might just be a one-off. That list of instruments played during a 25 minute opening slot in full: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, Mini-Moog, drum machine, sample player - including pre-taped applause - bass pedals, tambourine, harmonica, kazoo, wristband maraca, clarinet. Oh, and tap shoes, which he demonstrates the use of on the concrete floor after a nifty leap over the barrier before realising he's been stood in front of a metal section all along. While Tilly And The Wall's Jamie Williams has nothing to be fearful of yet, it's an impressive feat to throw into the middle of a stew that's reminiscent of the mad blues of Bob Log III, who some may recall confusing big halls opening on Franz Ferdinand's last tour of their first album, with dashes of Eels and pre-Prince obsession Beck, none of whom ever looped a keyboard motif while heading offstage to play his clarinet while wandering through the crowd.

Seemingly by accident but perhaps worth conspiracising over, the Pixies' Gigantic is playing immediately before The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, a band often compared to Boston's finest, take to the stage. If in the new Cardiff scene (it's the new Birmingham, you'll see) they're only an adjunct to the Twisted By Design coterie Ben's been talking up (and certainly when I interviewed them last August they weren't totally au fait with its goings on) they're certainly its best dressed, singer/guitarist Adam Taylor properly besuited while Emma Daman eschews the practical problems suggested by a low set drumkit and a short evening dress. Art school founded, they're evidently into their onstage offbeat theatrics, starting with communal drumstick beating into the opener, introducing an immense Stupid As Wood with a noise session mostly caused by Taylor and not unglamorous bassist Louise Mason rubbing their instruments together (yes, yes, stop that) and generally indulging in the kind of faux-aggressive shape pulling and audience stare-outs not seen since British Sea Power. Yes, the Pixies comparisons are valid in Taylor's cryptic, slightly nasal yelps and Mason's sweet and sour harmonies, backing vocals and a couple of steely leads, but in a set that includes a fair amount of new material while neglecting two of their three singles there's elements of the Cramps' boggle-eyed determination and the Fall's offkey melodies, and it's a fair bet there's much played Tiger and Ikara Colt albums in there too. It's a energetic, properly exhilirating set, and when Taylor suggests before livewire closer Ban The Gin that if we liked them we should "kill someone and tell the police we told you to" it was almost tempting. And the very good Daman had a bell attached to the kit.

Apart from the realisation that it actually was her I was standing immediately behind during Mayor McCa's set, there's very little to say about the Noisettes' frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa that can be properly expressed without actually seeing her perform. Sporting a green head wrap, lengthy skirt and a bass that's virtually the same size as her, she and her bandmates rip into opening triumverate of previous singles Don't Give Up, Scratch Your Name and Iwe that immediately demonstrates why their recorded output is akin to catching lightning in a bottle - indeed, the other tracks from forthcoming album What's The Time Mr Wolf? I've heard come a clear second best to the full tilt live versions. The sound is best pigeonholed as visceral garage blues-punk that resembles the White Stripes at 110 volts, Shoniwa's voice somewhere between Billie Holliday, Karen O and and her band's most obvious stylistic predecessor, Bellrays leader and Basement Jaxx collaborator Lisa Kekaula. It's her sheer presence that really takes it over the edge, though, covering the whole stage and beyond, up on the amps on occasion, attempting to play bass with a shoe at one stage and while on her back on another, and in one moment of manaical genius adding a vocal rendition of the Dance Of The Sugarplum Fairy to a ramped up version of The Count Of Monte Christo. Not to overlook her colleagues' contributions, Dan Smith blazing through twelve bar Jack White power chords with the odd excursion into white noise and delay pedal in the manner of Bloc Party's Russell Lissack, while at the back the huge haired, Animal-esque Jamie Morrison hits his kit so hard the hi-hat has to be screwed back into place after virtually every song. Like ¡Forward, Russia! they're one of those bands that are tighter than they ever seem and still manage to make what on record only strains at the leash out of mastertape necessity explodes into spectacular technicolour like a block of flats in Glasgow rented by Sony, to much approval down the front. It may be frustrating to read in a live review - you are, after all, more likely to consider buying their record then see them live, even if the ways of crossover potential probably won't see them grow in venue size that much more, not counting their recent Muse supports - but this is a band whose whole-hearted approach should be seen live to get what they do.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In a spirit of positivity

At the moment I'm living in a place where there is only really one good radio - Užupio Radijas, and when I say good, it's fantastic! It's eclectic and consistently inticing. One song will be Herbie Hancock, followed by David Bowie, followed by Judas' song from Joseph, followed by a nice bit of favela funk. Love it, especially as the alternatives offer basic international pop or Belarussion hits, justs not my thing. So when I want to listen to something else the internet is my friend.

Here are links to some of my favourites: – listen according to mood
Last fm – a place to find new things
The Hype Machine – collects what is being talked about on the bleeding edge of the blogosphere (at least 2 buzzword bingo points in that sentence)
MySpace and You Tube – all over the place, but for a reason!

And, my stalwart, the wonderful BBC radio player, oh how I love it. Aside from all the spoken-word stuff that keeps me sane, I am enjoying Stewart Maconie's Freakzone, Late Junction, Queens of Noize,
and Mixing It. Go listen!

-from Caskared

In The Dock in the dock

I should have picked up on this earlier, but it seems as though In The Dock finds itself in the dock, as it were.

More specifically, the installment about The Levellers has become a topic of discussion - and provoked some disgruntlement - on a Levellers messageboard. "Focus more on stuff you like and stop whining eh?" Well, that kind of misses the point, really, doesn't it? Oh well.

Although the voting has long since finished, there are still comments being added to the original post - enough to suggest that things could have been a lot closer had the post been picked up on earlier.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

In The Dock: House music

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: House music

The case for the prosecution (Caskared)

Before coming to write this I kinda forgot why I had put down to prosecute house music. I adore with a passion my electropop and synthpop, hip-hop works for me, I enjoy a night of trance, and I love dancing the night away, so why did I jump on house music? All of the aforementioned genres use samples, beats, loops, clicks, cuts, electronics... so what’s so different about house? Well, having a quick glance over some articles about house (of which there are many right now with the resurgence of rave so it’s all rather timely), and more importantly, LISTENING to some house, my hackles began to do whatever it is hackles do when they’re a bit grumpy, and it all came flooding back, and here is my list of reasons why I am the prosecution:

1. House as played in the Ministry of Sound and the like of superclubs or small-town house nights is one of the most arrogant genres (although R'n'B wins the title for most arrogant in my book), it’s all about strutting your stuff on the dance floor and not in a good way, in a meat market club where oneupmanship is the way. It’s smarmy, glib, and both like and liked by the girls at school who decide they are more popular than everyone else even though when you look at their actual number of friends they are no more than any other social group in the class.

2. House music is the child of disco with no imagination. I’m talking the mainstream stuff here – the stuff that found its way onto the terrible compilations mixed by superstar DJs or on Radio 1 on Friday nights in the 90s. It is never surprising, it never takes any twists or turns, it just reiterates.

3. It’s offshoots like happy hardcore and the like are horrible.

4. It’s the soundtrack to the reinforcement of the bad reputation of British people abroad through the phenomenon of Ibiza. (OK, I’ve turned into my mum now... hey, my mum rocks! I don’t mind!)

5. On the more personal note, house mix tapes were played in the car-share on my way to college when I was 19, it was hell... especially when there would be a remix of something I otherwise liked - for example 'Spin Spin Sugar' was wrecked.

6. House music that reaches the charts is some of the most cynically made stuff in this life. Lazy inanity mass marketed, ugh.

7. The videos are generally utter rot. In the comments box last week Eric Prydz was mentioned, and that shows the current nth of terrible videos. Because there is no content to the songs, there is no content to the video, so lady-ogling is rife. Pseudo sexy girls singing sampled line over and over are put in increasingly silly situations or over CGI fractal graphics in the early days, has developed into a whole myriad of scanty-clad ladies dancing in front of increasingly odd CGI settings, not to forget the affiliated genre of singer-in-front-of-cheap-set.

8. Perhaps I’d have more affection for it if I had been more than nine years old in the Summer of Love ’88 but I doubt it. I’ve danced in fields or under bridges for hours to the more intelligent electronic stuff, the stuff where you don’t need ecstacy to keep your toes going. House surely demands chemical assistance.

9. Kick drum 4/4 and irritating tinny high hats are as shallow as the rest of the music, and serve only to make headphones inadequacies more startling.

10. It’s tedious and blandly bland, perfect for its natural home – aerobics classes.

11. That "oo-ee oo-ee" thing drives me nuts, and rightly made fun of by Tyres' "Oi Oi" in Spaced.

12. It hasn’t stood the test of time. I love the fact that there’s a faction now known as "dad house", showing the element that’s dated through not innovating away from the core annoying stuff. There’s also an argument that goes that the democratisation of music production through cheap software has highlighted the fact there is limited novelty (read special in a good way) and so sales slump, everyone can make their own music-by-numbers, there is no unique selling point... but everyone isn’t making their own house music (using MySpace as a testing ground: only 5,000 or so qualify themselves as house, compared with 79,000 hip-hop, 9,000 electro, even 10,000 techno – far more inventive mediums).

The case for the defence (Del)

"Ooh baby, I feel right, the music sounds better with you."

I could just leave it there, but that might seem a little flippant. Even arrogant. But Stardust's 'Music Sounds Better With You' is a great place to start a defence of house music, isn’t it? For starters, it is quite simply a wonderful tune. One of the best. It gets you dancing. It's deliciously French. It's all about the music. It was written by two faceless white geeks. It samples Chaka Khan, a black American disco legend. It was originally released on a small independent house label, before being signed to a major off the back of huge popularity in the clubs. Because it made people dance. Oh, and it went on to take over the entire world.

Let’s go back at look at some of that in detail. Someone once described house music as the revenge of disco, and they hit the nail on the head. At the end of the 70s, disco finally floundered under the weight of its own decadence and the negative, homophobic Disco Sucks campaign. So a new sound emerged, played at the Warehouse in Chicago. And the wonderful thing is that it took the black funk and soul elements of disco and attached them to the stark electronic sounds coming from Europe. It was music created by and danced to by that most alienated selection of society, black gay men, and those early records still sound incredible. There’s a glorious, untouchable naïve optimism, songs about love, freedom and acceptance. Songs like Sterling Void’s ‘It’s Alright’, Joe Smooth’s ‘The Promised Land’ and, a personal favourite, Ce Ce Roger’s ‘Someday’.

Of course, the records spread across the world. Ibiza was a stronghold. Then the raves in the UK. Clubs across Europe, and then the rest of the world, couldn’t resist. Like disco, house has the universal language of the 4/4 beat. It doesn’t really matter if you can’t understand the words. It’s truly cosmopolitan, independent of race, sexuality or nationality. Everyone can dance to it. And with cheaper technology, you didn’t need the full bands and orchestras that made disco so exclusive. You could get by with a drum machine, a synthesizer and an idea. Come up with a few words of English, or just sample someone elses. Or just make it instrumental. So long as it worked on the dancefloor, you could do it.

And that’s what makes house music one of the most pure forms of music in terms of success. It’s all about dancefloor reaction. The DJ has to keep the dancefloor busy and the club full. So the DJ wants tunes that people like. The people decide. If a record gets played a lot, a label, most probably run by a DJ, will sign it, and it will get bigger and bigger. If the record is rubbish, it will quickly vanish. Image counts for less than in almost any other genre. Reputation does count for a little more, but mistakes are still seldom tolerated. Few house artists ever record albums. Stardust released one record. No B-sides. No sloppy album tracks. No filler. You could walk past them in the street and not even notice them. It’s just a great song.

Sure house isn’t perfect, but few other genres press my buttons in the same when I’m dancing. It may be obsessed with the late 70s and early 80s, but so is so much hip-hop. And rock similarly worships the 60s and 70s. Sure, ecstacy was key to house music’s success, but drugs are part of almost all musical revolutions: one of hip-hop’s seminal LPs is called The Chronic. Amphetamines fuelled early rock 'n' roll and punk, and there have been scores of cocaine bleached rock records, or opuses dragged out on heroin.

Yes, house can be trashy. Cheesy. Disposable. So? I love it. I really do. The unashamedly camp piano layered handbag anthems. The dark pounding minimal odysseys. The funky remakes of indie or R'n'B classics, that add a hidden dimension to great tunes, or even buff up turds til they shine brightly. Records made entirely from the best bits of other records, sampled, and looped to infinity, disposing of the chaff until only dancefloor dynamite remains. I don’t want depth and hidden agendas from house. I just want to dance.

Music without complication. Music without a subtext. Music that make me want to dance like no-one’s watching. Music I can lose myself in. Music that just is.

* * * * *

Thanks to Caskared and Del. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, January 19, 2007

In The Dock: Cock rock - the verdict

After a very sticky start, it's another landslide for the defence...

In favour of James' case for the prosecution: 4 (Simon, drmigs, Caskared, Ian)

In favour of Phill's case for the defence: 9 (Alison, Damo, Swiss Toni, Paul, Nick The Snick, Pete Ashton, Lord Bargain, Ben, Martin)

So Poison, Motley Crue, Tigertailz etc are free to wear ludicrous amounts of hairspray and seduce / molest The Ladies.

Thanks to James and Phill for their contributions.

Coming soon: Caskared and Del debate the merits or otherwise of house music.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The hit parade

It may be mid January, and everyone else has long since seen 2006 disappearing in the rear view mirror, but it would be remiss of me not to make mention of some of the end-of-year lists to be found elsewhere simply because my own was so tardy. So...

Special mention must go to the one-man blogging phenomenon that is Simon, whose output on Sweeping The Nation throughout December was little short of extraordinary. Amongst all the goodness, there was a review of 2006 as well as single and album of the year lists (with each of the Top 30 albums given its own post throughout the month). Simon also compiled a poll of UK Blogger Albums Of 2006, to which I and many others contributed.

Meanwhile, Swiss Toni came up with an end-of-year project of his own, enlisting the help of his readers and guest editors to compile a list of the Earworms Of The Year 2006. Not unsurprisingly, none of my Top Five made it into the Top Twenty-Five: Los Campesinos!' 'You Me Dancing!', The Icarus Line's 'Getting Bright At Night', Cat Power's 'The Greatest', The Long Blondes' 'Weekend Without Makeup' and LCD Soundsystem's 'Losing My Edge'.

And now for the best of the rest (in alphabetic order):

Are The Stars Out Tonight?: Records Of The Year / Gigs Of The Year

Casino Avenue: End-of-year Playlist

Danger! High Postage: Albums Of The Year

Expecting To Fly: Albums Of The Year 2006

funfunfun: Favourite Albums Of The Year (15-11 / 10-6 / 5-1)

Me And My CDs: The Best Of 2006 (also available in the form of a podcast)

Parallax View: Albums Of The Year 2006

Silence Is A Rhythm Too: Top 20 Albums Of The Year

And just to round things off, Nick Southall of Stylus presents his Top Ten Albums Released Since Stylus Began That I Did Not Realise Were Great Until It Was Too Late To Vote For Them In End-Of-Year Polls, which includes Sonic Youth's Sonic Nurse, Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People and Electrelane's The Power Out amongst others.

And so what of 2007? There's plenty of crystal-ball-gazing on Sweeping The Nation and funfunfun, while Kenny has linked to this article from the Times, one of many in which industry bigwigs predict who will shoot to prominence over the next twelve months.

But ultimately all you really need to know is that The Arcade Fire's new album Neon Bible is out on 5th March and you can hear snippets of the new material here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

In The Dock: Cock rock

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Cock rock

The case for the prosecution (James)

Let me first clarify what I mean when I am discussing cock rock. I mean that form of heavy metal – often called glam metal – which is generally a little softer and poppier. Typically, these bands are fond of lyrical content that suggests:

a) sexual prowess
b) a love of rock ’n’ roll
c) that they like to party (especially if it involves plenty of sex and rock ’n’ roll)

Examples might include: Motley Crue, Ratt, Poison and more recently The Darkness.

I am tempted in this argument to revisit elements of the previous hip-hop debate. While the misogyny is less forthright and ideological in cock rock, it is implicit to it.

It does represent the culmination of the masculinisation of rock and roll. Women are reduced to play-things, objects, groupies. While this reduction is less malevolent than in hip-hop – there is next to no discussion of pimping or prostitution for example – women are represented poorly.

However, I am aware of several contradictions here. It might mystify me, but quite often this music is exceptionally popular amongst women. While I might want to jump on some feminist high-horse and say that the music is somehow debasing them, I find that I cannot do it. Ultimately, I find myself saying that if someone finds some enjoyment in it, who am I to start throwing buckets of water around? (Although hang-on, didn’t I see that on some rock video do that one time…?)

Consequently, I feel compelled to put the feminist argument to one side, despite its undoubted relevance. Fortunately, however, there is a back-up argument that might be yet more robust – it has lost all sense of reality: it has become cabaret.

The fact that cock rock was perfectly sent up in 1984 in ‘This is Spinal Tap’ sums up the redundancy of the style. The fact that it is being revisited with insufficient irony 20 years later by bands such as The Darkness only adds to the horror. I am, however, old enough to have witnessed such resurgences first hand too many times – chiefly, the glam rock revival of the late 80s.

Every single trope used by these "artists" was perfected thirty years ago – the Led Zeppelins, Sabbaths, Purples etc developed each turn. The riffs, attitudes, movements, set designs, T-shirts, hair styles – everything was set in place from the very late sixties onwards. Musically the bands are stagnant, and personally they are stagnant.

I can accept that music – especially rock music – must be partially incestuous, and that very little is exclusively new. Cock rockers, however, have become satisfied to repeat the shows of so long ago without adding anything perceptably new to the mix. What little has changed between 1978 and 2006 has been superficial and curiously uninnovative – hairstyles, rock videos, and production techniques are the only notable developments. Even the groupies look the same.

I would not mind so much if these bands were more honest about it. If The Darkness owned up to simply being a Queen (or whomever) tribute band, but too many of them seem to take themselves just too darned seriously.

Now is this necessarily a reason to damn every subsequent cock rocker? Perhaps not, after all, a mid-adolescent spell in awe of cock rockers is a useful way to gain an introduction to the rock music of the ‘70s (which can often lead onto a greater appreciation of music as a whole). Furthermore, the closest a mid-adolescent boy is likely to get to sex is via the lyrical content of come such band and I think churlish to deny them the opportunity. However, I think that an ASBO should be in order as a minimum sentence for anyone who perpetuates this musical backwater. Preferably with some community service thrown in – something nasty… like popping zits.

The case for the defence (Phill)

I would like to begin by misquoting Voltaire: "If cock rock did not exist, it would be necessary for man to invent it."

Because you see - It has been scientifically proven that men need to rock!

They have always needed to rock, just like that have always needed to hunt, fight and eat pies.

Cock rock fills an important gap in music. It's simple no-frills rock played by macho men dressed as women, featuring cheap sexual innuendo,bad hair and spandex.

What's not to like about that?

Unlike goth music which we discussed a few weeks ago, fans of cock rock know and will admit that it's a bit ridiculous - but of course, the cartoon element of it is the whole point!

At some point your life you've danced to 'Jump' by Van Halen or at least raised a smile if you are the non-dancing type. If you deny this, then your pants are officially on fire right now.

It's a guilty pleasure, like eating Pot Noodles or staying in on a Saturday night specifically to watch 'Casualty' (we've all done it). You just don't admit it to your friends and family.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't sit at home in spandex every night listening to the back catalogue of The Scorpions (I only do this on alternate Tuesdays). However, it's good to know that in times of need I can reach for the Motley Crue album and cheer myself up with Tommy Lee and the boys.

Cock rock was the final act of alpha male music before the more rebellious and intelligent rock music came along. That's right, I'm saying that cock rock is stupid - but sometimes, stupid music is good.

Yes, I'm sure under careful analysis the lyrics of Radiohead are more intelligent than those of Def Leppard - but which makes you smile. Which makes you laugh and more importantly, which one is less likely to leave you contemplating suicide?

Let's compare:

Def Leppard - 'Pour Some Sugar On Me'

"Love is like a bomb, baby, c'mon get it on / Livin' like a lover with a radar phone / Lookin' like a tramp, like a video vamp / Demolition woman, can I be your man? // Hey! / C'mon, take a bottle, shake it up / Break the bubble, break it up // Pour some sugar on me/ Ooh, in the name of love / Pour some sugar on me / C'mon fire me up / Pour your sugar on me / Oh, I can't get enough".

Radiohead - 'Creep'

"When you were here before / Couldn't look you in the eye / You're just like an angel / Your skin makes me cry / You float like a feather / In a beautiful world / And I wish I was special / You're so fucking special // But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don't belong here".

Personally I'd prefer that young impressionable teenagers listened to a comedy rock song filled with cheap sexual innuendo, rather than a hymn to loneliness and alienation.

For all men of a certain age, cock rock was an important rite of passage. Hearing your first Def Leppard song was like your first kiss, your first drink or your mum discovering that porn mag under your bed. It was essential!

Getting older, cock rock can be appreciated (mostly) in a more ironic way. Cock rock is great because it is so easy to laugh at. It is important to be able to laugh at men (with women's hair) being idiots and taking themselves too seriously. We must remember this.
Other important points that need to be made:

* If cock rock didn't exist then the greatest music film of all time 'This Is Spinal Tap' would not have been made.

* Without cock rock there would be less mullets in music. Despite what you may think, this would be a bad thing.

* Not all music should be earnest and serious. There is a place in music for songs about the size of your penis.

* Don't deny it - The Darkness opening Glastonbury in 2004 was a brilliant moment.

WE ALL NEED TO ROCK and the less complicated the chord structure and the more outrageous the outfits, the better it is to get the message across.

* * * * *

Thanks to James and Phill. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, January 12, 2007

In The Dock: Musicians dabbling in politics - the verdict

One of the best all-out debates we've had yet, I think you'll agree.

After a slow start, a late surge saw me through...

In favour of Swiss Toni's case for the prosecution: 6 (John, Suburban Hen, Lord Bargain, Mike, Alex, drmigs)

In favour of my case for the defence: 12 (Damo, Nick The Snick, James, Javaira, Jonathan B, Del, Pete A, Caskared, Phill, Martin, Herrnash, Alison)

Abstentions: 2 (Ian, Mark)

(At least I think you were abstaining, Mark - apologies if I've misrepresented your comments.)

In any case, musicians dabbling in politics are found not guilty and Swiss Toni is hereby sentenced to a minimum of three years hard listening to the entire recorded output of Chumbawamba.

Thanks to Swiss Toni for his contribution.

Coming soon: only a few weeks after their tete-a-tete over goth, it's James v Phill again, this time duking it out about cock rock...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

At last...

A full ten days into 2007 and I've finally posted the third of my end-of-year music lists on Silent Words Speak Loudest...

Top 10 Albums Of 2006
Top 20 Singles Of 2006 (of sorts...)
Top 10 Live Performances Of 2006

Sunday, January 07, 2007

In The Dock: Musicians dabbling in politics

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Musicians dabbling in politics

The case for the prosecution (Swiss Toni)

You have to wonder why musicians get tangled up with politics at all. Perhaps it stems from a deep-seated desire to "make a difference", or maybe it is motivated purely out of arrogance, insecurity and an insatiable need for publicity. The simple truth is that when musicians dabble in politics, they generally end up trivialising the issues they espouse, in the process making themselves look foolish and their audience feel patronised.

We’ll get to Geldof and Bono in a minute, but let’s first have a look at a few random examples:

'The Cutty Wren' is written to protest against feudal oppression in 1381. It may have been a potent earworm, but the Peasant’s Revolt was crushed and feudalism survived for a few more centuries.

Beethoven removes the dedication to Napoleon Bonaparte from his Third Symphony in 1804 in protest at the Frenchman crowning himself as emperor. Bonaparte is no doubt devastated, but somehow manages to cope with the disappointment.

'99 Luftballons' released by Nena in 1983 in protest at nuclear proliferation. The Cold War continues unabated.

Billy Bragg forms Red Wedge in 1987 to try to get Thatcher’s Conservative Party out of Government. The Tories win a third term and everyone is a bit embarrassed. Labour finally win an election in 1997, presumably thanks in large part to D:Ream.

In 2004, Springsteen, REM and others team up on “Vote For Change”, aiming to get Bush out of government. Bush wins, perhaps thanks to Ted Nugent’s support.

When we talk about musicians dabbling in politics though, we are drawn inexorably to Live Aid. I am tempted to argue that it is inadmissible here as it wasn’t intended to be overtly political, but focused instead upon the famine in Ethiopia. Ultimately though, I think we simply cannot ignore it because, consciously or not, it made a huge political statement. Quite how effective that statement was is another matter. Live Aid raised about £50m on the day and about £150m in all. That’s a lot of money, although it looks a whole lot smaller when you consider that U2 are between them thought to be worth more than £500m. The Band Aid Charitable Trust has also acknowledged that they don’t know how much of that money was given to organisations controlled or influenced by the ruling military junta in Ethiopia, and was subsequently used to fund enforced resettlement programmes, under which millions of people were displaced and around 100,000 killed. Bono remarked that it was better to spill some funds into nefarious quarters for the sake of those who needed it, than to stifle aid because of possible theft. I disagree. Would it not be better still to be more careful where you distributed your money in the first place?

What about the image that Live Aid presented of Africa to the world?

Africa is "a world of dread and fear, where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears ... nothing ever grows [and] no rain nor river flows"…

As we watched images of starving children soundtracked by The Cars, Andy Kershaw was reluctantly moved to comment that “Geldof appears not to be interested in Africa's strengths, only in an Africa on its knees.

Live 8 was worse. This time, the aim was not to raise money but to try to pressure the leaders at the G8 into “Making Poverty History”. 38 million people signed up to the “Live 8” list and the G8 leaders pledged to double aid to Africa by $25bn a year… but the momentum slipped away and Christian Aid was moved to remark that the Gleneagles summit of the G8 has been “a sad day for poor people in Africa”. Geldof, of course, hailed the event as a great triumph, but the reality was an ill-conceived idea and the money pledged was less than a drop in the ocean. $25bn sounds like a lot of money, but again, it’s all relative: in the wake of hurricane Katrina, the US congress released $50bn in aid, rising to $200bn… and the G8 quibbled over $25bn.

For all the worthy noises made at Live 8, what happened as soon as the shops opened on Monday morning? Artists involved in the concerts saw their album sales rocketing: Pink Floyd by 1343%, The Who 863%, Razorlight 335%... but I’m sure they did it out of the kindness of their hearts and never expected to profit from the worldwide exposure…

Musicians involvement in politics? Full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing.

The case for the defence (Ben)

I must begin by complaining about the terms in which the topic is phrased. Specifically, it’s the word “dabbling” that I object to, suggesting as it does both amateurishness and a tepid, half-hearted and possibly even feigned enthusiasm. Naturally, then, such a term is likely to prejudice you, the jury, into siding with the prosecution’s case. A more neutral term like “engaging” would have been preferable. All the more galling, then, that I was the one who idly suggested the topic and the wording in the first place…

Anyway, as I see it, there are two different ways in which musicians can be seen to engage with politics: either through their music or via some other channel that is extraneous to their music. Let’s refer to these as “on record” and “off record” respectively, and tackle “on record” political engagement first.

Say “All art is political” to a student of critical theory and he or she is likely to groan at you, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. In both its medium and its message, all art – including music – encodes a set of political values; those values are the result of the artist’s choices. Of course, art can be more or less politicised, or at least more or less overtly politicised – James Blunt’s music is less overtly political than that of The Clash, say; but the fact remains that it espouses a particular worldview.

In this extremely narrow sense, then, the very notion of musicians “dabbling” in politics is nonsensical; they are political whether they like it or not. More pertinently, far from mistrusting bands whose politics are overt, I’m automatically suspicious of those who deny that politics has anything to do with what they do; you know, the “It’s all about the music, maaaan” brigade. It’s not, and that’s almost always shorthand for “We’re a bunch of conservative dullards”. Art isn’t simply escapist fluff created in a vacuum, a pleasant diversion from the real world; it is born of that world, for that world, so why shouldn’t artists openly acknowledge that in what they do? If that excuses politically-minded lyrics which are crass, or protest songs which are ill-conceived, then so be it. Even if it excuses the existence of The Levellers, then fair enough – though I reserve the right to agree they should be prosecuted for other crimes

Bands are however more often accused of “dabbling” in politics “off record”. For a group like Fugazi, “off record” political engagement is as important as “on record”, if not more so. For them, it’s essential to practice what you preach. Their strongly held political principles are a significant factor in all collective decisions, determining everything from the venues they book to the benefit gigs they play and the ways in which their Dischord imprint operates. As such, they could hardly be accused of “dabbling”, so let’s take two rather different examples.

Coldplay’s Chris Martin routinely takes to the stage with “Make Trade Fair” scrawled on his hand. As a result, he’s been widely ridiculed, both by those who regard the overt support of a charitable organisation as naff or “uncool”, and by those who conversely see it as an act of cynical opportunism. And yet this is not merely a superficial fashion statement. Martin is an active and vocal supporter of the campaign, and has travelled to Ghana and Haiti to learn more and promote the message. He can be accused of many things (and, as Swiss Toni knows, he often is when I’m concerned…), but a political dabbler he is not.

But what about Razorlight? A dreadful band fronted by one of the most irritatingly egocentric men in rock – sure. But what of their endorsement of Friends of the Earth’s Big Ask campaign? On their recent UK tour, information videos were screened between the bands and postcards handed out to punters. Knowing Johnny Borrell as we do, it’s easy to suspect him of being rather less concerned about global warming and the environment than he has professed to be, and rather more concerned to align himself with Thom Yorke and a “cool” movement.

But whatever his motives, the simple truth is that the fans’ response was tremendous. Like Martin, Borrell has helped to raise the profile of a very good cause by politicising his public. The end justifies the means, and that’s why I think that “off record” “dabbling” can be defended too.

Even I have to concede that Bono’s a prick, though.

* * * * *

Thanks to Swiss Toni. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, January 05, 2007

In The Dock: Misogynistic hip-hop - the verdict

A valiant effort from Jonathan, but as soon as the votes began coming in the overall verdict was never really in doubt.

In favour of Caskared's case for the prosecution: 7 (Damo, James, Suburban Hen, Pete G, Mike, Nick The Snick, Ben)

In favour of Jonathan S's case for the defence: 1 (Pete A)

Abstentions: 2 (Swiss Toni, Alison)

50 Cent et al are hereby sentenced to a minimum of three years reading the collected works of Germaine Greer and Andrea Dworkin.

Thanks to Caskared and Jonathan for their contributions.

Coming soon: I take on Swiss Toni on the subject of musicians dabbling in politics.