Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Earning the right to be difficult

So, it’s been a while since my last entry – apologies for keeping you hanging and festive cheer to one and all. Here at last is the follow up to the ‘Particular or pretentious?’ entry (see previous entry) about difficult interviewees I’ve encountered over the years.

First there was the minimal US techno act that I was on the verge of interviewing. Setting the interview up was a long protracted process. In the meantime I was sent their music, which frankly was so minimal as to be virtually non-existent. Every track on the album used the same sounds and the 'evolution' of each track involved such minute changes that only the most fanatical techno geek or sound engineer could have picked up on them.

It’s always hard to interview someone whose music doesn’t inspire you but you can still do your job as a journalist and find out what makes them and their music tick. When the editor then told me, "They’re renowned for being a bit difficult," I thought it over long and hard and wondered on what grounds could they afford to be difficult? Their music is bland, directionless and non-eventful! I mean, The Aphex Twin AKA Richard James is renowned for being difficult, contrary and frankly a bit of a shit in interviews but have you heard his music? He's earned the right! I turned down the interview in the end. I am sure they would have sensed I didn’t care much for their music so left the interview for someone that did.

More difficult interviewee stories in a few days time. In the meantime, Happy New Year and a fantastic 2010 to you.

Useless music fact #8: So well done to Rage Against The Machine for grabbing the Christmas Number 1 spot from the evil clutches of Simon Cowell and his (s)hit factory that continues to leave bland, monotonous skidmarks on the collective pants of popular music. For those of you lucky enough to hear RATM's live performance on BBC Radio Five Live, doesn't it make you wonder how stupid people are to think they could ask a band to play a track with the line "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" without the 'sweary bit' and expect them to obey orders? They managed four 'fucks' before being faded out. Anyway, the fact... When 'Killing In The Name' was first released in 1993, Bruno Brookes played the completely uncensored version on his Top 40 chart rundown on BBC (again!) Radio One. Is this the first time one band has managed to turn airwaves blue twice? Was Bruno Brookes an anarchist hiding under a fluffy mullet? If this isn't a good enough useless fact for you, Bruno also went out with Anthea Turner for a while, but was cruelly usurped by fellow Radio One DJ Peter Powell as Turner's number one on her wheels of steel. The shame!

Originally posted on on 30 December 2009.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Particular or pretentious?

Writing about electronic music and interviewing artists that produce it seems to be a relatively ego-free experience, thankfully.

Perhaps it's the lack of 'the frontman' who feels the need to assert his authority, attitude or personality at every given opportunity. Maybe it's the fact that electronic musicians are masters of their own sonic universe, creating every sound on their recordings meaning there is less room for paranoia and fear about having to prove themselves the big man (or woman) at every opportunity and giving it some 'rock and roll attitude'.

This is a mass generalisation of course but in all the years I've been writing about music, I've only come across difficult characters on a few occasions. I often do phone interviews on my mobile which involves an audible beep every 30 seconds. I always explain why to the interviewee and apologise for it and all bar one interviewee has been fine with it.

He happened to be the frontman of a long forgotten (and never really remembered in the first place) indie band. "Can't you stop that fucking beeping?!" he said. To which my answer was a simple, "No, sorry." I explained the beep beforehand but it obviously wasn't something he could stomach in his rock and roll world.

Perhaps the beep is more acceptable to electronic artists as they spend their lives creating beeps of their own? Who knows. That's not to say I haven't come across difficult interviewees in dance music however... more of which on my next blog.

Useless music fact(s) #7: Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders (who was once in a band tastefully called The Moors Murderers with Steve Strange who went on to do vocals for Visage) was once married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds fame. The very same man who was one of Patsy Kensit's candidates for 'Musical Man Of The Moment I Must Marry' (which has so far taken in Gary Kemp from Spandau Ballet (just a fling), Dan Donovan of Big Audio Dynamite (marriage), Jim Kerr, Liam Gallagher (marriage) and one-time superstar DJ, Jeremy Healy (married)). Jim has kids with both Chrissie and Patsy while Chrissie also has a daughter fathered by Ray Davies of The Kinks. Ray and Chrissie have teamed up again this year on Ray's 'Postcard From London' Christmas song. Patsy is meanwhile hoping to marry someone in music more famous than she's currently married to, probably. Well, it's easy than resurrecting her own pop career.

Originally posted on on 5 November 2009.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

USA: Bland Of Opportunity?

I was lucky enough to be in New York last week and ended up chatting to someone who works in local radio. A point they made stuck with me which basically boiled down to the fact that new and up and coming talent in the USA stands little chance of breaking through due to commercial pressures. No one wants to be first to play new track in case its fails, all is about money and advertiser satisfaction.

It makes me so glad that we have the likes of the BBC in the UK. With no advertisers to please and the funding from the British public through the license fee, DJs have infinitely more freedom it seems. Yes, daytime radio on Radio One can seem commercial or cheesy at times but look at the wealth of alternative music peppered throughout the daytime schedule and the likes of Zane Lowe who has the freedom to pride himself on breaking new music during every evening show.

Yes, there is also XFM to champion new and alternative music but, aside from that, precious few radio stations break new music, or indeed can afford to. Just look at what has happened to Kiss FM over the past 15 years, the only trace of its original pirate roots can be found during the early hours, if at all.

So whatever you think of public service broadcasting, and it is by no means perfect, it may well just form the lifeblood of the UK music scene. Its ability to take those risks away from the commercial line means our ears are exposed to far more cutting edge, exciting music compared to other radio outlets where no music makes it on air unless it makes financial sense. We are lucky to live somewhere where creativity has more sway than cash.

Having said all of this, the internet may well serve a similar purpose but with the web you have to know where to look in the first place to be able to find anything whereas radio is there as a constant, easily located and ready for mass consumption.

Useless music fact #6: In 1983, Clubhouse released 'Do It Again / Billie Jean' which was a mash-up between Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' and Steely Dan's 'Do It Again'. Frankly it was sacrilegious musical murder but reached the loft heights of number 11 all the same. More amazing things could have been done with that 'Billie Jean' bassline by my Nan than was managed by Clubhouse.

Originally posted on on 7 July 2009.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Intelligence and appreciation

The recent, bizarre Mike Patton gig brought up some thoughts that often whirr around my head when I’ve experienced something ‘out there’, ‘challenging’ or ‘avant garde’.

There’s much room when it comes to high art for people to scoff at anyone who criticises it and dismiss that listener’s opinion as being indicative of their lack of intelligence. This is merely narrow-minded arrogance though. It is your right not to like something, just as it is other people’s right to like anything they want to. Whether this applies to modern art or music or architecture or literature, everyone is entitled to an opinion even if it doesn’t tally with the accepted wisdom of the majority. I have as much right to say that some of the Aphex Twin’s music is unlistenable, self-indulgent rubbish as I do to say that some of his music is inspired, beautiful, challenging and verging on musical genius.

Anyone that denies someone else that right, whether it’s someone dismissing someone’s opinion as ‘arty farty crap’ or someone dismissing another’s opinion as they ‘clearly don’t have the intelligence to grasp the inherent meaning’ of a creative work, are merely closed-minded snobs (whether inverted or not). It pays to remember that their opinion is no more valid than anyone else’s and that whether you prefer reading Dostoyevsky to watching the X Factor or like going to a football match rather than going to the opera, your preferences make you no more or less stupid than the next person.

Useless music fact #5: The Aphex Twin said he used to dream a lot of his music while snoozing, which is exactly how Sir Paul McCartney came up with 'Yesterday'. The Aphex Twin may have been lying though, as that has always been one of his favourite pastimes.

Originally posted on on 6 July 2009.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The gig-athon is over!

Four out of four gigs now done and dusted, so what has my Meltdown gig-athon taught me? Well, I attempted to write the review of Monday's Yo La Tengo gig on the night of the gig but ended up with my brain scrambled after two paragraphs and tiredness beating any coherent sentences out of my tiny mind. At least I tried though. The review eventually went live on Wednesday which you can read here: Yo La Tengo @ Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Moby’s gig at the Royal Festival Hall was good but veered more towards his downtempo chilled side, as does his new album 'Wait For Me', rather than his more uptempo, frantic dance side, which he last unleashed on previous album 'Last Night'. This decision could have been down to the atmosphere of the all-seater venue but when he did play 'Go', for instance, everyone leapt up and danced anyway.

Well almost everyone. I now know that hacks are placed next to the aisles at the RFH and QEH. I shall keep an eye on them in future to see if any of their empty soulless husks show any kind of flicker of enjoyment when they're doing the job thousands would happily wring their necks for...

Being in a catatonic state at a gig is almost forgiveable compared to what happened at Thursday's Mike Patton and Fred Frith gig though. Yes the gig was extremely experimental, self-indulgent and at times unlistenable. This changed however when hugely talented beatboxer Shlomo came on to assist but the lazy jaded hacks in front of us had long since fled and missed this. Surely this resulted in a poorly written, inaccurate review?

I just want to know who was sitting in Row E, seats 12 and 13 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday night. I reckon they should be named and shamed! These people are paid to do their jobs and I'm not getting paid a bean for this and being more professional. If this is indicative of the level of commitment and professionalism among journalists within the newspaper industry then perhaps it's a good thing many of them are looking over their shoulders and wondering if they’ll still have a job in a year’s time. It may make them a bit more committed to the cause and more willing to prove their worth.

Anyway, back to the gig. The girl next to me sneezes. Does it add to the music? Brian Eno, who pioneered the concept of ambient music in the seventies, may well have said it did. The background noise is a relevant as the music itself, part of the music even. At the risk of disappearing up my own arse though, I have to say that while I'm glad I witnessed Patton and Frith jamming to their hearts' content, I am glad I didn't pay to get in. Paying £35 to watch a set that is only an hour long and contains no discernible music would have left me feeling short-changed, especially when you bear in mind that everyone needs to look after their pennies at the moment. In a way it was inspiring but then I can afford to be inspired by something I haven't paid for can't I?!

Last night was again hugely experimental as Kieran Hebden (AKA Four Tet) teamed up with his serial collaborator, jazz drummer Steve Reid. Mesmerising stuff it was too. Review to follow. UPDATE - here it is!

Overall I had a realisation this week. Staying up till silly o'clock to write a review that I'm not even being paid for is ridiculous, especially when I am snowed under in my day job at present and need to be alert and focussed during the day. This may sound blasé but I think I'll stick to writing a review of a gig the night after it happens in future. It means it'll get published just a few hours after one written by a fully paid, full time journalist who couldn't even be arsed to stay for the whole gig. I don't think it’s my journalistic professionalism that should come into question when you look at it like that, do you?!

Useless music fact #4: Brian Eno came up with the concept of ambient when he was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a serious accident. He asked a visiting friend to put some music on before they left but after they left the room and the music started the volume was very low. Eno noticed how the sound of the rain falling outside merged with the music he was listening to and so was born the concept of ambient music.

Originally posted on on 21 June 2009.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Meltdown meltdown?

Over the coming week it's possible I may be biting off more than I can chew. I've agreed to cover four gigs in six days for this year's Meltdown festival down on the South Bank which is being curated this year by Ornette Coleman. Tomorrow (Monday) holds New Jersey indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo, Tuesday it's Moby, Thursday I'll be hoping for some melody from Faith No More's Mike Patton and his latest project, Tomahawk, and then Saturday will be spent watching Kieran Hebden of Four Tet fame jousting with jazz drummer, Steve Reid.

Four gigs in six days? 'You lucky swine!' I hear you cry but the challenge will be in writing all of the reviews. So I'd normally write a gig review up the night after, but then I'll be at another gig so I am contemplating writing the reviews on the night the gigs actually happen. Crazy perhaps but it could just work though it will take a new approach on my part to do it. The whole process of procrastination will have to go out the window (see previous blog entry) and the perfectionist in me will have to be bound, gagged and left in the cupboard under the stairs for the next week. Can it be done? I'll keep you posted but if I can find a quicker way of working through this coming week then that can only be a good thing. Alternatively the 'Meltdown meltdown' could happen and I'll end up quietly sobbing on my keyboard at 4am every night/morning...

Whether I manage it and how I go about it remains to be seen but four gigs in six days? I can't wait!

I nearly forgot this week's useless music fact (#3). One for the old skool cheesy quavers out there. Did you know that Altern 8's Mark Archer was once in Bizarre Inc before they found chart success with the likes of 'Such A Feeling' and 'Playing With Knives'? Archer of course enjoyed his own flirtation with the Top 40 when he strapped on his chemical mask and teamed up with Chris Peat to release glostick anthems like 'Infiltrate 202' and 'Activ 8'. Bizarre Inc went on from rave to release chart-friendly house before mutating into Chicken Lips while Archer has since picked his mask up again to DJ under the Altern 8 banner once again to make many an old raver misty-eyed.

Originally posted on on 15 June 2009.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Well, I was going to write my next blog entry sooner but I needed to erm wash the dishes and watch that programme about the sex life of fleas and then there was the reorganising of my bank statements into date order which I really HAD to do NOW, OK?! Anyone who remembers studying at school or university will identify with being faced with a deadline and feeling compelled to do just about anything else under the sun aside from the task in hand. It can be the same when faced with writing an article. Out comes the hoover, you feel compelled to call that friend you've quite happily neglected for the past three months and you find yourself taking a real interest in Murder, She Wrote for the first time in your life.

If the TV isn't a big enough distraction then there's the time sapping black hole of the internet to contend with too. The interweb is a devious beast as well because even when you do finally start researching your article online you can either find yourself distracted by the 'related links', which often send you off on a completely useless tangent, or you automatically log into your Facebook account out of habit. This can often lead to the obsessive compulsive procrastinators loop of Facebook, Hotmail, Facebook, Hotmail, Facebook, BBC Weather, Facebook, Hotmail. Neither direction is a good one to go in when you have that big black dreadline cloud hanging over you and can only lead to a very late night, two hours sleep face down on your keyboard and then the realisation when you awake with marginally more sense that nothing you wrote before you passed out makes the slightest bit of sense and even if it does there's five times the amount of words you were commissioned to write. The wood and the trees look remarkably alike but you're on a promise to get the article in first thing in the morning and that happens to be a mere 90 minutes away. You struggle through in between swearing and frustratedly tugging at clumps of your hair while feeling like some kind of drug-addled space cadet.

But somehow, you make it. You meet the deadline. The editor is happy and no one aside from you knows the ordeal you've been through to get the article written. To think you could have just bloody well got on with it without the impromptu spring clean or the assistance of Angela Lansbury... but that's something the professional procrastinator can only dream of.

Anyway, time to exorcise some more chart trivia from my overloaded noggin with useless music fact #2: The Prodigy reached number three with their debut hit 'Charly' in August 1991. The fairground style follow-up 'Everybody In The Place' went one better and hit number two but it wasn't till 'Firestarter' in 1996 that Liam Howlett and co. finally hit the top spot. However, even though that is their best known track to date, follow-up 'Breathe', which also hit number one, sold more copies. Fancy that eh??

Till next time…

Originally posted on on 8 June 2009.

Saturday, 30 May 2009


Hello and welcome to a blog that only I am following at the moment. Exciting eh? I've spent the past two evenings pitching. Once for features and once for albums. A good pitch involves having a decent sales technique as well as a good idea, because a great idea poorly outlined to an editor will simply appear to be a poor idea. I keep pitching funny feature ideas, ie not chin-strokingly academic articles on the nature of electronic music and its role in forming popular culture, rather ones along the lines of 'Bodily Functions That Sound Like Dance Tunes' as a made up for-instance. This makes for a lot of fun when I'm writing but I feel the need to get a feature about something a bit more weighty under my belt again soon. Two of my feature pitches were ideas for humourous pieces and one was based around DJ Food whose 'One Man's Weird Is Another Man's World' EP is bloody amazing. Really traditional Ninja Tune cut and paste stuff with loads of samples but heavy on quality throughout. Can't wait for the album that's due out later this year following a couple more EPs.

Anyway, my first proper blog entry draws to a close and what have we learned? Well, not a great deal but I never said it was my job to inform! I will leave you with this though as I need to clear some of the old clutter out from my brain by revealing some of the music trivia I carry around in my head. Useless music fact #1 then: Bryan Adams' 'Everything I Do (I Do It For You)' spent 16 weeks at number one in 1991 before being knocked off the top spot by a new entry at number one, U2's 'Desire'. Wet Wet Wet fell just short of equalling the lumberjack shirted, gravel-gulletted crooner's record by spending 15 weeks at the top with 'Love Is All Around'. That too was knocked off the top spot by a new entry at number one, Whigfield's novelty-dance tune 'Saturday Night'. I wonder who was the happiest about conceding the throne?! I don't think Wet Wet Wet ever recovered from that kick in the teeth did they?

Originally posted on on 30 May 2009.