July 28, 2005

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do defend the practice, but I had to call out this article by Daniel Gross for Slate. In it, Gross argues that while Sony’s acts do break the law, these “payola laws seem outmoded and backward-looking.”

Fine. I’m happy to listen to an argument that seems so at odds with typical thinking on the matter, but you’re going to have to have a tight case to convince me on this one. Gross’s article is sneaky, in that it’s thoughtful, well-written, and full of logic. It just happens that he’s wrong.

Let’s start with his claim that “Spitzer was shocked, shocked, to discover that commercial radio … has programmers who act for reasons other than artistic worthiness.” It’s a rhetorical trick designed to add an element of ludicrousness to the prosecution’s case. Spitzer wasn’t “shocked” at all — if that was the case, he wouldn’t have been digging.

Gross goes on to argue that “With declining record sales, the rise of Internet and satellite radio, and the advent of iTunes, iPods, and podcasting, radio stations and record companies have become an object of pity more than fear.” Really? Where I live, Clear Channel is a monster out to chew up independent production, downloaders buy music, and record sales still fluctuate. Radio and record companies might be stumbling, but it’s because they’re having trouble shifting to new market conditions, but because they’re the pitiable entities. And “Michael Powell” is a good way to swear in my family.

As he continues, he sounds as if he’s lost all touch with the regular old world. Sure, intense music fans scour webzines and message boards for new acts and original tunes, but the average person driving to work isn’t yet pulling in XM radio. Top 40 is still Top 40.

Gross argues that with all the alternative outlets available today, artists don’t need radio play to succeed. For someone looking to gain critical acclaim and a cult following, that’s true; but it’s still not usually the case for someone looking to make even enough money to pay for their next album (check to see how many underground bands have day jobs).

Comparing payola-based radio-play to product placement in movies is inaccurate for several reasons. First, it assumes that theatrical placement is ethical and good. I’d argue that, even though people know that happens, it’s still an insidious form of corporate control. Seeing your film hero hoisting a Pepsi several times is going to make you thirsty, and you’re not going to choose Coke. The second flaw, as my example suggests, is that movie placement is usually an aid between two large equals, rather than a platinum act trumping a new band hoping to sell 5000 records. He also misses the fact that music gets into our heads more easily and insistently than a simple movie visual. It’s like the “Co-stan-za” theory of dating. If you hear it enough, you *will* want it around.

Gross’s suggestion: change the station. Fine, except that every station is playing the same songs. It’s not escapable, especially considering the national ownership of many local stations. If you live in or near a college town, your odds go up a little, but for the average American, you don’t have that many radio options, and none of them are diverse.

Finally: yes, it stifles creativity. Talk to someone at a small label or in a struggling band. I’ll admit that I’m unable to draw a pure link from more money = more time for art = more creativity, or something like that. It’s not that simple, but there is a correlation between starving and deciding to take a “real job”.

Defending payola may seem like a constructive way to explore the music industry, but it’s short-sighted and, what is worse, sounds like you can do it best if you’re not much of a music fan.

Justin Cober-Lake | 2:40 pm | Comments (1)

July 27, 2005

As hard as we may try, us guys at Stylus can’t review EVERY record that comes out immediately upon its release. Occasionally something is bound to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, such a scenario was the case with Medications’ All Your Favorite People In One Place, released on Dischord in June. But after the masses continued to gather outside of my home for weeks, picketing and hurling stones through my windows, demanding that this record be given its proper review, I have finally relented.

Medications certainly posess that unmistakable Dischord sound, appealing mainly to fans of angular DC post-punk, and, if you’re like me, people who have spent the last several years wondering if there was any possibility that another band might rise from the ashes of what once was Faraquet.

Medications first emerged late last year with a self-titled EP, and this is their debut full-length. It’s tempting not to write them off as Faraquet in new clothes, but doing so isn’t exactly a bad thing. Faraquet leader Devin Ocampo, along with Chad Molter and new member Andrew Becker, still steers the ship, and by and large, Your Favorite People feels like a follow up to The View From This Tower.

The album starts off ambitiously with “Surprise!” which builds slowly but eventually covers a lot of ground; it’s nearly seven minutes long. Ocampo’s guitar is immediately identifiable, as it was on Faraquet’s signature track, “Cut Self Not.” Indeed, Ocampo is the consummate post-punk guitarist. His licks are played so proficiently and so quickly that they congeal and gain momentum like a snowball rolled down a hill. “… Or At Least As Bad” sweeps from verse to chorus to verse, sounding like Ocampo’s bid at the next James Bond movie theme song.

Like with the better moments on The View From This Tower, Your Favorite People benefits when its songs steer away from the hard-charging guitar attack mold. “This Is the Part We Laugh About” is the album’s most memorable track during early listens. It slows things down and focuses as much on Ocampos voice as it does his guitar. Ocampo seems be fully aware of what his capabilities as a vocalist are, never reaching too far while still delivering an impassioned performance.

Some of Your Favorite People’s songs seem to run together toward the end, but the record contains no major flaws. The best songs are the longer ones (”Magazines for Entertainment,” “Occupied”), as they allow for the band to vary things up more. They do well when shifiting from loud to quiet and seem to be aware of this.

Your Favorite People probably isn’t going to blow any critics away, but I would still highly recommend it to avid Dischord listeners, especially those who yearned for more than one album from Faraquet.

Ross McGowan | 4:38 pm | Comments Off

July 26, 2005

I last saw Teenage Fanclub as recently as possible; they hadn’t played in Canada for four years prior to tonight, and even if I didn’t love them irrationally it seemed fitting to round out my undergraduate career with another viewing.

[Fannish details and setlist past the cut…]

I can’t remember who opened for them last time, but I’m pretty sure the Rosebuds will stick in my memory - they were great live, with Kelly Crisp in particular adding a lot to the band’s sound via keyboards.

It was neat enough that she fills in for the bass (playing long sustained tones rather than actually trying to play like a bass guitar, usually), but I also liked that she bothered varying her sound. We were right at the front and from glancing at her set list it seems like particular keyboard settings were only repeated once or twice, which gives the Rosebuds’ otherwise basic set-up a lot more variety. They’d also added a second guitarist who added a lot of power to the songs, and although I’d never heard them before and hadn’t felt the urge to do so, we walked out with a copy of their debut album.

Teenage Fanclub were, of course, magnificent. The set was fairly similar to what I saw in 2001, albeit with about half of the new Man-Made added in - the new tracks generally worked well live, with “Slow Fade” and “Don’t Hide” being the best. “Verisimilitude” was again done in a version that added substantial oomph to the chorus and that should get even those who hated the album version to pay attention (it’s one of my favourite Grand Prix songs, so naturally it was a highlight), and “Starsign” was probably the single biggest highlight. It’s interesting to note that the band generally play newer songs in near-identical to the album versions, but with older songs they keep the melody and lyrics while varying the guitar parts (this was especially noticable on “The Cabbage”). This was both good and bad - we were all a bit wrongfooted when a particular song went in a different direction, but the newer parts were at least as good as what they replaced.

I’d been kind of silently competing with the guy a few people down from me for the space in front of Norman Blake’s set list, so as they launched into “The Concept” in closing I leaned forward and just yanked the thing free from the tape holding it down and hastily stuffed it behind the monitor in front of me. I looked up afterwards and Blake (who my girlfriend says “looks like a hobbit”, although I believe she means this positively) was grinning at me, clearly both glad tosee such devotion and amused by my cheek. I grinned ruefully and gave him the thumbs up and he nearly lost it before singing the next line, which is both one of my favourite concert stories ever and oddly emblematic of the high spirits of the evening.

Any fans of the band wondering if they’re still worth seeing live are strongly encouraged to go, both for the generous smattering of classics and the strong performances.

Set list:
About You
Time Stops
Slow Fade
Near You
The Cabbage
My Uptight Life
It’s All In My Mind
Dumb Dumb Dumb
I Need Direction
Start Again
Don’t Hide
Don’t Look Back
I Don’t Want Control Of You
Born Under A Good Sign
Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From
Neil Jung
Sparky’s Dream


Ain’t That Enough
Did I Say
Can’t Feel My Soul
The Concept

Ian Mathers | 3:06 am | Comments (2)

July 18, 2005

Friday, July 1st @ ABC, Glasgow, UK

As you’d expect this night was all about the star of the show Antony, as capable as The Johnsons are as a backing band there wasn’t a single clap or cheer from the audience when they arrived Antony-less onstage. His arrival at his Piano was greeted with a tumultuous roar only broken by the first few notes of the opening song.

Backed by electric bass, acoustic guitar, accordion, violin and cello the sound could be as fragile, delicate and full as Antony’s own voice. Far from the shy huddled figure that he comes across as in press and TV interviews he chatted amiably with the audience seeming both gregarious and grateful, mentioning his last gig in a city in a small café (”What Happened!?” he asked). Playing a fairly quiet set from both LPs he squeezed in covers of songs by Moondog, Nico, The Velvet Underground (the “Candy Says” finale) and Current 93 into the set, once again making “Soft Black Stars” his own. Rumours that Glasgow resident David Tibet (hey, if Antony still calls him by his old name I can too) would be joining the band onstage proved sadly false. Despite the abundance of other people’s songs he crafted the highlights from his own songs as recent single “Hope there’s Someone” was received like the future classic it is. But the most magical moment came with Antony’s now obligatory but still breath taking reading of “Dust and Water” accompanied only by the audience humming a single note as the musical backing. Anyone pausing to take another breath was met with a 360° wall of sound from the surrounding audience that shifted, swelled and fell around them; it’s a rare occasion in these cynical days when a person feels at one with so many others.

Scott McKeating | 4:40 am | Comments Off

July 16, 2005

There’s something duly exciting about elder statesmen. I take personal comfort knowing that there are those who haven’t retreated into preening, or faded into the dubious pages of the canon. Having never given Ralph Stanley a first thought - let alone second - I bought his 2002 LP upon hearing the man on live radio turning the ethereal “Lift Him Up, That’s All” into an earthen monument. At Emo’s last night, the between-set discs alternated between the Fall and Wire, those perennial post-punk comeback kings.

Joe Carducci has a theory (or had, at any rate) about each generation of African-American musicians overthrowing the music of their fathers. I used to see Eric B. and Rakim videos on “106 and Park,” now it’s called the Flashback Joint and today it was Beyoncé and Jay-Z. So maybe there’s something to that. I tend to have the opposite problem. I’m often too busy building a canon that stops about five years before the present, flitting between styles and cities and connections, building a ragged spiderweb out of the used bin.

Anyway, I got to have it both ways last night. ‘Twas the 13th anniversary of Emo’s in Austin, and we were feted by Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, and Mission of Burma.

There was an apathetic response to the Moves, but I don’t really care. They knocked out what seemed like fifteen two-minute power pop songs, like the Attractions - if a meth addiction had stolen their hooks. The occasional breakdown of electric piano was welcome. They had two songs to play but the tattoo’d black-socked venue stereotype had other plans. A serviceable opener.

Chosen Darkness brought their smart blend of malaise-rock to the stage. Once in a while, a bright chord change or a keyboard hook stirred things up, but for the most part we got four-on-the-floor Interpol yearn - a lot less intriguing live than their records would indicate. I nicked the setlist for research purposes, so I could report that either “Hot Summer” or “Never Leave” was a nice ascending barrage of hi-hat ‘n’ synthwash.

Then the main event. Burma set up, turned on the BlueBlowers, and pulled out “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate”. It was if the OFF had never been. Diehards and blowhards alike crowded the stage; as by and large we were weenies, moshing was minimal. A few new songs dotted the landscape, and as much as I want to gush, I was left cold by most of ‘em. The one exception was a raver that dropped a couple f-bombs and wrapped things up with a nifty hardcore chant. Between two sets and an encore (dedicated to Michael of Silkworm, who had just been killed in a car accident), all the bullet points got hit: “Trem Two,” “The Enthusiast,” “Johnny Burma,” “Dirt,” “Academy Fight Song,” “The Setup,” “This Is Not a Photograph,” “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”. Drummer Peter Prescott tore through a textual overhaul of “Learn How”; his yelps and bellows punctuated the set with a manic glee. Plus, he had on a shooting range shirt, in a nod to guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus. In lieu of an MoB shirt, I have to get me one of those.

Oh, and Martin Swope’s replacement on the live tapedeck, Shellac’s Bob Weston, did a superb job of integrating on-the-fly snips and warps of atonal solos and phrases into the set. Four men staring down their latter years with a sense of humor and determination. I came to worship; instead, I caught a really tight rock show.

Brad Shoup | 8:53 pm | Comments Off

July 14, 2005

It’s high time I shut my triflin’ yap about M.I.A. I’ve offered up my two cents, but I find I keep coming back to her month after month, as if the hype has maintained its freshness. I suppose she regains my curiosity so often because every time I skim through Arular, it enduringly strikes me as the most inimitable album of 2005. Or perhaps it’s due to her cunning choice of producers and growing remix archive. Or maybe it’s because she landed such a promising deal with Interscope. It could also be on account of her dreamy chicken legs and bashful, pouty brown eyes. Most recently though, it has to do with her latest music video, directed by Anthony Mandler, who has also afforded his directorial talents to 8Ball & MJG, Snoop and Black Eyed Peas.

The video for her Diplo-produced latest single, “Bucky Done Gun,” is by far the best visual manifestation of her labor yet. The healthy, high-budget camera work incorporates glimpses of Maya’s graffiti art as well as her keen fashion sense. It punctuates her good looks without exploiting them and showcases garbage pale percussionists, rando booty-tremblin’ breezies, and scenes from a modest, fictitious live show in a small club, showing that although she’s on her way up, she’s still very tied to the underground.

It is my wish that M.I.A. will one day become a bonafied superstar, that she’ll shatter the tired, aging staples of mainstream urban music and rebuild them from the ground up on an international scale. This would involve the eventual eradication and unemployment of the majority of current rap and R&B household names. 50 Cent would become the Winger equivalent of this much needed and long overdue upheaval. This video is the best indication I’ve had so far that such an aspiration may actually come true. Maya, sweetheart, this Bud’s for you. Kill ‘em dead.

[stream the video here]
[buy the single here]

Will Simmons | 8:45 pm | Comments (6)

July 11, 2005

So there it is. After 41 years Top of the Pops tonight shuffled out of the mainstream and, as of this Sunday, will reside in the not-so thrilling environs of BBC2’s early evening Sunday schedule. Rock on! For those not in the know, Top of the Pops is the longest running TV music show in the world and for many years was pretty much the only place you could see pop music on British TV. With performances entering Britain’s shared heritage on an almost monthly basis, there’s not a person under the age of 65 who can’t tell you their particular TOTP highlight. Whether it was Morrissey’s hearing-aids, Prodigy overloading the BBC switchboard with the most number of complaints EVER received by the corporation for “Firestarter”, Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Jockey Wilson incident, The Sweet scaring the shit out of a million living rooms or just a flash of knickers from the erstwhile Pans People, it was part of British tea-times (and Christmas Day) for generations. Then they fucked with the format.

First it was moved from Thursday evenings at 7pm to the graveyard of Friday’s at 7:30pm; a slot that put it head to head with Coronation Street and made sure that most of its core audience would be down the park polishing off their second bottle of White Lightening. Secondly, in response to MTV and the slew of other music shows sucking up ratings like a box-fresh sponge, they decided to get kid’s TV presenters in and dilute the band-after-band-after-band-after-band format that had stood it in good stead since the Saville-era; introducing an incoherent mash of videos, live performances and artist/news features. Now we had a couple of waxy robots in distressed denim, gurning into the camera and introducing a “news” section, whilst the actual music became ever more marginalised. It was painful to watch.

Some people will say this is merely rose-tinting the past and Top of the Pops was always a load of bollocks punctuated by brief, but coruscating, performances that went down in popular culture folklore. And, to be fair, they’d be right. But TOTP always straddled the line between outright infuriation/horror and chin dribbling glee to perfection. Recently it just got damn boring.

A good example of its demise was last Friday’s show (July 8th) where, due to the terrorist attacks on London, they were missing two acts (Queens of the Stone Age and Pete Doherty) who hadn’t been able to attend for undisclosed reasons. Rather than use this opportunity to stick a finger up to the wankers who had perpetrated the bombings by showing a classic performance from TOTP’s formidable archive of a quintessential London performance (anything from The Clash would have done), they instead chose to conduct a pitiful ‘video vote’ amongst the audience and then ran Gwen Stefani’s dreadful M.I.A. rip-off. It was embarrassing to watch and indicated just how far it had fallen as a barometer of the nation’s tastes and attitudes. Compare this to the days of John Peel dressed as Henry VIII introducing Tight Fit or even the Brit Pop renaissance enjoyed in the mid-90’s, and you can only conclude that the BBC wanted rid of this scheduling quirk in their primetime slot and set it on a course of self destruction accordingly. Well it worked and I’m quite glad it’s gone; relegated to a new channel and a new format it might just get chance to be great again. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Adam Park | 4:39 pm | Comments (4)

July 10, 2005

Ultra-cautious rail network employees, sick pranksters, global terrorists, forgetful commuters… It hardly matters who was ultimately responsible for the chaos at Manchester’s Piccadilly train station last night – security was paramount and no risks were being taken. It seems a package was found neglected in the station and, following recent events in the capital, panic ensued: the station was closed; trains were delayed/cancelled/unsure how far along the line they would be permitted to run; and well would Sigur Rós even be playing tonight if the authorities’ suspicions were confirmed?

It was amid this climate that Michael and I boarded a train to Manchester, aware that our little gig was the least of anybody’s worries, aware that the train might only go as far Bolton before the journey is terminated by those in the know who deem it unsafe to go too near the city. It sounds awfully self-centred and trivial I know, but we were also painfully aware that we were missing the show. Privately I tried to justify this selfishness. I’d been looking forward to this for a long time, it’s one of the many reasons I’m not still in Asia, Michael would be gutted, and isn’t it the responsibility of everybody affected by such malicious intent, however they’re affected, to do everything in their power to continue as normal?

With that thought process over and my conscience more or less satisfied, we settled into good seats in the Salford’s Lowry Theatre towards the end of warm up act Amina’s beguiling set. It transpired thatfour fairies in dress reminiscent of some Victorian fairytale or other had been imported straight from the bottom of the garden to tinker with violins, ‘cellos, glockenspiels, saws and laptops. Playing subconscious lullabies seemingly to themselves, Amina appeared blissfully unaware of the ever-filling auditorium, spread right out in front of them.

Their stripped-down, no-nonsense stage set impressed, but didn’t engulf. That’s what Sigur Rós did, weirdly with the help of all four members of Anima, contributing strings and things to various parts of the headline act’s set throughout the night. Epic visuals, mood lighting and a the angular, statuesque shadows of band members projected and deleted from the thin screen covering the stage all added to the already complex atmospherics of the band’s performance.

The venue’s acoustics were some of the best I’ve heard, not a sound out of place or lost in some ridiculous domed ceiling or other – so just what prompted one moron to stand up between songs and personally address the “sound guy” to “turn the drums down” I’m not sure. As Truman Capote once wrote, “everyone has to feel superior to someone”, and I guess it hardly mattered since the man in question was quickly beaten, bludgeoned and disintegrated by willing members of the audience. The rest of us weren’t subjected to his cries – it all happened during a drum solo, I think.

The show sounded, looked and felt like being airborne for the first time. Playing a pleasing mix of songs from Ágćtis Byrjun, ( ) and the as-yet-untitled forthcoming LP, the band played faultlessly for around two hours, with a backdrop of two silk mountains echoing the scenic connotations of “Starálfur”, the epic highlight of Ágćtis Byrjun. Perhaps my only criticism of the whole show would be that they didn’t play this.

Outside, in the pleasance of a summer evening in one of the more upmarket areas of Greater Manchester, audience members milled about with their t-shirts and cigarettes and whispers of the aftershow, utterly stunned. Half a dozen people approached me to tell me they’d never seen anything like it, that it was “something else”, and other bewildered clichés that lack the objectivity of the morning after. Fact is, I probably approached the same number of people to utter the same banalities, and now, in what can only be described as the first half of the following day, I feel exactly the same.


Colin Cooper | 6:31 am | Comments Off

July 9, 2005

Unfortunately this event, part of the MFA’s “Concerts in the Courtyard” series, was moved inside due to the freaking torrential downpours that hit Boston on Wednesday July 6th. Playing out of doors might have lent a certain atmosphere to Sunburned Hand of the Man’s ramshackle faux-disorganization, which came off as childish, though not necessarily immature. Starting things off by dumping a couple of crates of random objects all over the stage, SHofM supported their seemingly improvised meanderings through large-scale (eight members) guitar-and-electronics drone and primitive percussion with decent sense of humor. They destroyed a crude portrait, poking out the mouth and an eye, giving it a voice, dropping the microphone through the holes, and so on; the drummer seemed fascinated by his helicopter-like creation made from drumsticks and a cymbal, and elected at one point to bash on his kit with rubber snake. The set was also what the folks like to call “indulgent,” (someone behind me later called it “not music”) and no one really seemed to have the chops to back up their antics. I appreciated their willingness to explore new forms, but what SHotM came up with wasn’t so captivating.

After clearing off the debris, Four Tet’s dual-laptop setup was moved into place, and following a curiously overlong delay, Kieran Hebden took center stage all by his lonesome. His selections leaned toward his newer work–tracks from Everything Estatic were prominently featured, and his warped-to-shit versions of favorites from Rounds (“Hands,” “Spirit Fingers”) were given overhauls very much in line with his pummeling new approach. If this wasn’t obvious already, this set was loud. Multiple people plugging their ears loud, and the better for it, actually—people would start cheering when they heard something familiar (i.e. pastoral or “folktronic,” if you will), and he’d almost immediately shred it to bits. (See especially the closer, “My Angel Rocks Back and Forth”–a gorgeous tune he left untouched just long enough to remind the crowd of its gorgeousness before attacking it with digital hacksaws.) Again, it’s unfortunate the show took place inside–the auditorium setting really discouraged any sort of crowd feedback, aside from those who couldn’t handle the punishment getting up and leaving. Someone needs to hook Mr. Hebden up with some video projection—having big fuzzy hair ain’t enough. I have big fuzzy hair. I’m not that interesting. Kidding aside, the music was sufficiently entertaining–the horror stories I’d heard of tedious Four Tet shows were quite exaggerated, crushed to bits, in fact, by those big, big beats and swathes of crunchy noise.

Ethan White | 7:31 pm | Comments Off

July 5, 2005

Love Actually had more meaning…and Christmas!

For starters. Something to grow on (Thanks, Max!). Since the general election campaign began back in the harried days of aught-four, cynicism the word, in practice and meaning, has been turning cartwheels around the globe. If one mouths the right words, whether they’re “compassionate conservatism” or “soft bigotry of low expectations” (a phrase that more aptly describes my feelings about music year-to-date) or “charity” or “direct action” into an echo chamber of even lower expectations: public discourse. That it’s even a question whether Bob Geldof acted cynically in arranging token events around the world to “generate awareness” blows my mind; hasn’t the poverty wracked economic South been the butt of countless jokes in the interim? Didn’t Harvard president Lawrence Summers claim that areas of Africa are in fact “underpolluted” (read Doug Henwood - he’s great)and that they have saleable resources (namely those underpolluted areas) which may be used as pollution credits by industry?

Yet there are those who felt that partaking in the Haterade (the putativel nonconformist’s default mode for preserving friendships through passive aggressive behaviors rather than directly confronting issues through discourse, public or private) for Live 8 was itself an act of cynicism rather than clear-headed, if not tough-minded, realism. Why should 10 cities be beggared by a charity concert that doesn’t raise money (and please don’t tell me that hotel tax revenues will cover the costs), and instead opts to “raise awareness”? I thought we were already aware that Coldplay had a new album?

If nothing else, Geldof succeeded in creating the sort of celebrity smokescreen that eschews conflict while maintaining the semantics of class struggle. These affairs don’t work for any issues; how can one separate the interest in “the cause” from the interest in the lineup? A free concert is a free concert after all, and even with sophisticated multivariate regression who even cares about the answers? While I agree with Nick about the importance of several causes, rather than focusing on just one (fetishizing one continent’s poverty does tend to breed reactionary contempt), these events do very little to change minds or perceptions, or should we all take Toby Keith’s acceptance in Philadelphia as the hallmark tolerance of virtuous American hatred? At least we had the good sense to boo Santa Claus!

If this is indicative of global political myopia, or just middle-class self-assuredness that things will all work out (”It’s all good” being the enduring mantra of the fin de siecle American belief system), then isn’t there some way to see these things as contributing factors in even larger problems? Is liberalism so bankrupt as to not see how unifying factors help us understand complex problems with increasing simplicity? Can’t music and artists direct us, however minimally, toward those greater ideas rather than hone in on a grandiose and perverse bakesale? And where oh where is Phil Collins in all of this?

J T. Ramsay | 9:56 pm | Comments (1)

Live 8 was certainly a success for Pink Floyd, even if the effect it has had on the lives of the 60,000 – 150,000 Africans who have died because of extreme poverty since Paul McCartney and U2 first took to the stage on Saturday afternoon in London’s Hyde Park has been pretty negligible. Sales of Echoes, Pink Floyd’s ‘best of’ compilation, have grown by some 1,300% in the last two days. The Who have seen a similar, but smaller, rise in sales, as have various other artists who came together to rally for the Make Poverty History campaign once Bob Geldof had come calling. (Although The Libertines haven’t benefited – Pete Doherty’s awful, Elton-John-assisted take on “Children Of The Revolution” perhaps becoming an Emperor’s New Clothes moment, as sales of Up The Bracket and their eponymous album from last September plummeted by 50% in the days since. I would imagine that Mariah Carey’s new single is doing less well than she would have hoped, too.)

But, as you should know, Live 8 wasn’t about upping the sales of millionaire pop stars who already own more swimming pools than they need (although Pink Floyd have announced that profits from this surge in their record sales will be donated t charity [Dave Gilmour also donated his Mayfair house to charity a few years ago, it should be noted – this isn’t a tokenistic or one-off gesture]); it was about raising awareness of a campaign attempting to equalise the disparity in wealth between the Western World and the Third World, about trying to force the hand of the world leaders who will be gathered at Gleneagles in Scotland from tomorrow as part of the G8 summit.

Musically the bills at the various concerts may have offended indie fans due to the populist bias, but Live 8 was never going to be about esoteric or underground acts, it was about making as big a splash as possible, and that means REM, Coldplay, Green Day, Madonna, Bryan Adams and The Who. It was about 200,000 people singing the breakdown to “Hey Jude” at nearly midnight. U2 and Macca opened the Hyde Park show with a fantastic version of “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” (a song, lest we forget, that The Beatles never played live), and from then on in it seemed like the big-hitters knew what they were doing. There is a reason REM are enormous, a reason Coldplay are enormous, a reason Elton John and Madonna and Robbie Williams are enormous, and it is because they all know how to play to a mass crowd. It was evident from the way Keane and Razorlight threw themselves into their performances that they are aware of this too, and that they are perhaps hoping for a bit of the fortune that followed U2’s Live Aid performance 20 years ago.

The lack of African artists on the bill was highlighted by Damon Albarn (the blackest man in Colchester, possibly, at least now he’s animated) – Youssou N’Dour got to sing along with Dido at Hyde Park, before the pair of them were whisked off to somewhere else (Paris? Eden? I forget) so that he could sing along again. To be fair their version of “Seven Seconds” was awesome, but I can’t help but feel that he was rather wasted in the shadow of Dido’s asthmatic chirpings on “Thank You”. There were African artists on show at the Eden Project in Cornwall however, but footage during the day suggested that they were playing to a small (minute, compared to the 200,000+ at Hyde Park) audience, and, as beautiful as Eden is as a venue, it did seem as though it were both a tokenistic gesture and as if they were shoved to the very corner of the country almost to keep them out of the way of the limelight.

Live 8’s vocal proponents seem to have focused very much on African poverty, but the G8 summit is addressing World Poverty – there are people in South America, Asia and Indonesia who are just as poor and in danger as people in Africa, and Live 8 made it seem as though no one gives a damn for them. This is not right. It is also not right to think that merely by wearing a white band around your wrist and attending a free concert you are doing something worthwhile, because these are tiny gestures that amount to very little in the scheme of things. Live 8 cannot put an end to poverty around the globe anymore than Chris Martin can by writing “make trade fair” on his hand in magic marker, but it can at least encourage people to start to think about issues.

Consensus was that the parallel concert in Paris attracted much less public interest than the flagship event in London or the gigs in Philadelphia, Berlin and Toronto, but given Jacques Chirac’s current ambivalence (!) towards world politics in general this is perhaps not surprising (leader reflecting country, perhaps). The mass media coverage that the event garnered in the UK may not have been replicated everywhere, but if just one in ten of the people who did hear about it, wherever they are, have been prompted to do something for a good cause that they otherwise would not have done then it has been a positive. It may not be all we can do to help, but doing something, however small, is always, always preferable to doing nothing.

But the point of Live 8 is the G8 summit, lest we forget, and the G8 summit is not just about addressing the subject of World Poverty; of equal, if not more importance is the subject of climate change, an increasingly pressing and stressing issue which will affect everyone on the globe, rich or poor, African or American, as well as the globe itself, in even more lasting and profound ways than poverty. Most of the negotiations of aid and debt relief have already taken place behind closed doors, the decisions already made. Realistically Live 8 has come too late to affect that debate. The environment has no figurehead, no Bob Geldof, no U2 or Coldplay to play an awareness-raising concert. The environment has no cathartic images of starving children with distended bellies and flies swarming at their mouths to rend our hearts into action. Silicon wristbands do not benefit the environment. The environment is our world. We are the environment. George W Bush has not signed the Kyoto Agreement and he is unlikely to make concessions towards reducing harmful emissions and continued depletion of fossil fuel stocks despite the fact that continued consumption is likely to send the planet spiralling into serious, present danger within 50 years. America is a nation built on freedom and that includes the freedom to consume. Unfortunately the freedom of us to consume may well affect the freedom of our children to live.

Nick Southall | 9:38 am | Comments (1)

July 3, 2005

A handful of Warp mainstays and hangers on hit Japan on Friday June 10. The gig was about 20 minutes out of Tokyo at Kawasaki’s Club Citta. It was a rainy night that started at dinner with a crew of Australian electro fans en route to Sonar. Then to La Cittadella, which is like Italiantown Disneyland style, complete with a lit-up transparent Tower of Pisa.

On entry, the door girl asked if we had cameras. I said yes, so they asked me to drop it in a box. I looked at the pile of cameras and said actually I don’t have a camera, so she waved me through.

Citta has amazing sound, for what is essentially a huge rectangle box, especially considering that the bar was solidly packed from the front to the back. We could barely squeeze in.

Rob Hall from Skam was DJing complex electronics leaning more to the melodic rather than abrasive end of the spectrum. It’s funny seeing people spinning glowsticks to abstract electronic music. Out in the foyer, the merchandise stall had every Warp CD and LP you could want, well not everything, but loads of great stuff, even the Boards of Canada promo kaleidoscope. Crowds of Japanese indie kids milled about the foyer.

Mark Bell started with a dark repetitive break that gradually decayed into grinding industrial. The hordes of bright flashing lights, both above the crowd, and the mobile phones floating about (people exploit their light to find their way about the crowd), contrasted sharply with the dark music. The foreboding synths, freaky laugh samples and noisy clatter sounded like Front 242. But eventually the mood lightened as ravey siren stabs, big synths and plenty of bleeps signaled the set’s end. The bleep anthem, and Bell’s LFO calling card, with its stripped back bleep happy beats and the BBC-intoned vocal, L.F.O.

The lights went out. We had to hold hands to stay together attempting to squeeze back into the room, via the back right-hand door. We were wedged against the back corner. Autechre were spreading a fabric of twisted electronic shapes, shards of noise and deep bassy grooves. Sure they were often wobbly, syncopated or even off kilter, but they were far from arrhythmic.

Autechre’s sound is uncompromisingly abstract, but the thousands of Japanese hands in the air during a particularly brutal section of the set can attest to its impact. At other times influences poke through the mix. One messy Machine Drum/Merck-esque section gradually shows up a lineage from Detroit techno, the sparkling high hats and melody breaking out over a hip hop beat.

The duo have loads of imitators on record, but noone can touch them live. Even Funkstorung, who I saw in Paris a few years ago, needed bootleg pop to make it work. In a recent review, Michael Gill wrote that he knew Isolee’s Wearemonster was an excellent record from the first time he heard it; but after listening to the last few Autechre records dozens of times, he still can’t determine if they are filled with genius or crap.

It is a fair call. It’s a perplexing area. They set the template for this kind of abstract angular music, and despite the loads of imitators, there is simply noone else to use as a yardstick. But, if you can forgive the cliché, live it really makes sense.

We found our way out of the club, past hundreds of sleeping clubbers, hunched over and waiting for the first train of the morning. We sat about the foyer too, chatting about Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas on cultural capital and authenticity in music, especially with Detroit vs British techno (black vs white, middle class vs working class). Fascinating, but at 4:45 we were back on the train to Jiyugaoka.

Matthew Levinson | 11:22 pm | Comments Off

July 1, 2005

The main site on Stylus will not be updated on Friday, July 1st, due to unavoidable technical difficulties. In short, our usually reliable web site hosting provider has accidentally disabled our database that is used to format all of the reviews and features that you see on the main site.

In lieu of that content, we present our regularly scheduled Stypod and Stycast entires and our humbles apologies. We’ll be back on Tuesday with the features that were due to run on July 1st and those regularly scheduled for July 4th and 5th.

Thanks for reading!

Todd Burns | 4:14 am | Comments Off

Current Listening / Watching / Reading

Stewart Voegtlin
WOLFMANGLER, Protected by the Ejaculations of Wolves [Split CD w/ M0SS]
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The Hold Steady - Seperation Sunday
Annuals - Be He Me
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Ethan White
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Stevie Wonder - Music of My Mind
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Allen Toussaint - Life, Love and Faith

Ian Cohen
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Lupe Fiasco- Food And Liquor

Elizabeth Colville
Magnetic Fields - Get Lost
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Iain Forrester
The Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia...
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Andrew Iliff
Thom Yorke - The Eraser
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Tricky - Live at Leeds Town and Country

Thomas Inskeep
Cameo - The 12" Collection and More
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Josh Love
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Ian Mathers
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Sandro Matosevic
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Kashmere Stage Band - Texas Thunder Soul

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Cameron Octigan
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Peter Parrish
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Elizabeth Colville
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Swann's Way - Marcel Proust
The New Yorker, Sept 18, 2006
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