Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recent gigs – Diamanda Galas

Last Monday Diamanda Galas played a free show in Barcelona courtesy of the local government and the Festival Of Poetry. It was the second time I had seen her after an appearance at the Perth International Arts Festival several years ago. The set up was the same, Diamanda and her piano, but this time the setting couldn’t have been more apt. The concert took stage outside on a balmy evening in Palça del Rei, a little square in the gothic district next door to the Cathedral that is surprisingly sheltered from tourists despite its location. It was apparently in this square (or the buildings attached) where Christopher Columbus first informed the Catholic King and Queen of his discoveries in America. But tonight it was the queen of gothic, gothic buildings and of course, many goths in the audience. Diamanda’s set was her usual selection of songs ranging from Chet Baker, Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” of course songs of genocide and despair, with plenty of poetry mixed in. Surprisingly, she spoke decent Spanish and often gave long, humorous introductions to the songs and generously gave two encores before being carefully lead away by a minder. Not quite the same as the elctro-satanic mantras of her distant past and the second video, but more in tune with the first. In this case, “Gloomy Sunday” was also the final song of the set.

Somos la hostia o Volem mes

Saturday night turned out to be a landmark evening of sorts, a (hopefully) once in a life time experience that will be hard to forget, even if admittedly memory is a bit hazy already for various and different reasons.

The match had finished (see also below) and my two friends, a Belgian guy and a Czech girl, decided we would go to visit the protesters in Plaça Catalunya on the way to meet a Colombian friend (not that sort of Colombian). The square is more or less at the end of my street, maybe 2 minutes walking. Arriving at the top of the street things seemed a bit quiet given that Football Club Barcelona had just won the Champions League. There was the zumbido (hum) in the distance of what seemed like people in the near distance celebrating as is traditional at the Font de Canaletes part of La Rambla, just where it meets the square, another two minutes’ walk further on.

Instead of revellers we were meet by a disperse cordon of riot police. Since they weren’t doing anything and neither were we, we approached gingerly. I went up to one and asked if we could go to the square. He gruffly replied no and to go away. I told him, we just want to go to the square to see the people. This time his reply was harsher, but not quite as harsh and intense as his colleague who suddenly started to open fire with his automatic assault rifle right next to us. Ok. We won’t go to the square then. As shots rang out next to us, as visors were lowered and positions held, we backed away slowly from the square in an orderly fashion to not cause more alarm and problems. Behind us in the street a crowd had cautiously approached with us, but as the police opened fire they turned and fled. Last thing we needed was a baton across the head or a rubber bullet in the ribs.
We went another way and found a horrible club and went inside. And so ended the first and hopefully only night that the police ever shoot at me.

Friday wasn’t such a good day however.. The excuse was that the local government (the Generalitat) needed to clean the square, so the garbage trucks arrived early on Friday morning. With the police. Even before I was out of bed I knew something was happening as there was a helicopter circling overhead that wasn’t leaving the vicinity. Even poor Kafka the cat was annoyed by the noise. My only regret is not trying to get closer to the square to film a little before I went to work, but as always, there is more to do than should be sensibly done to make a living.

The result of course was the usual mêlée between the police and unarmed protesters and a fair bit of blood shed (see video). Just to clean the square, apparently.

I did go to the square to film again on Saturday morning and it was almost as if nothing had happened. The mood was more bullish and more urgent perhaps than it had been (a contributing factor perhaps being that the socialists were well beaten in the recent election) and there was a newly erected stand where citizens were able to fill out forms and declarations to denounce the police activity. Ironically, there were plenty of people there cleaning the square (despite the odour of piss still lingering near some parts of the periphery). This is actually not a surprising activity.

When I first moved to Barcelona I had the privilege of living in the suburb of Vallcarca, just next to Parc Güell, in a little street surrounded by Okupas (squatters). Perhaps I was almost the only paying neighbour there, it’s hard to know. But from our terrace it was always possible to see the Okupas, see inside “their” houses and their culture.

Essentially their practice is to enter into buildings that have been sealed closed by their owners while they await sale, demolition etc as part of property speculation and investor “gentrification” of areas. The Okupas connect electricity and water (illegally probably, but in the end for living purposes), they clean up and decorate. In my street they established a library that was open to the public and they regularly cleaned the streets in droves surrounded by their dogs. An outsider looking at them would just see dirty and/or dangerous punks and not really know what it is they are really doing. They wait outside the supermarkets to see what food they throw away at the end of the day and take it home. Many are drug free and organise concerts, speeches and distribute information. Sometimes I saw young business men with briefcases climbing through roughly cut holes in bricked up doorways on their way to work. The dissatisfaction with society runs deep, but the need to participate is often unavoidable, which is itself perhaps the problem. “No escape from society” as sung by Gang of Four.

Plaça Catalunya has become the same, a microcosm of this model where society can be created, just like anything else. Of course this means work and commitment, it means a foundation of ideas and direction. This also means alienation of those with opposing ideas. But here is “the illusion of democracy” (to quote Primal Scream) where there is no alternative, no choice of participation. Clearly the men upstairs have been getting it wrong as we cannot seem to find a way to slow down, to make a system that is equal and sustainable. The last words of the video I took are in Catalan and from, ironically, a massive billboard promoting the Barça football team and overlooking the square. Perhaps unintended, but “Volem mes” (We want more) somehow seems an appropriate principle for the people, despite its double edged consumerist meaning.

Perhaps saddest of all was despite the victory of truly one of the greatest football teams ever, they decided to attend the day after the concert of Shakira (the girlfriend of central defender Gerard Pique), oblivious one wonders to the police preventing their fans walking the streets and celebrating in the usual tradition, and oblivious to their people who are chronically unemployed, deeply disaffected and working for change. An offering of support seems a world too far despite the fact that the revolution is taking place beneath their banner and with their words.

Here is a strange mix of Mary Antoinette and Leed's Gang of Four and their track "Natural's not in it" from 1979.

"The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
The body is good business
Sell out, maintain the interest
I do love a new purchase
A market of the senses
Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances
Remember Lot's wife
Renounce all sin and vice
Dream of the bourgeois life
This heaven gives me migraine

Coercion of the senses
We are not so gullible
We all have good intentions
But all with strings attatched
Fornication makes you happy
No escape from society
Natural is not in it
Your relations are of power
We all have good intentions
But all with strings attached"

So long and thank you for the music

It was with great sadness that I learned from a friend last week that demolition had already commenced on the Perth Entertainment Centre (PEC). Hardly a bastion of world music, but nonetheless, like all good venues, it played its role in delivering many epiphanal moments to many on the ground.

The building itself also commands a special place, having arisen from the barren flat city centre in the early 70s and gradually becoming iconic of both Perth’s second big boom (after the 19th century goldrush). Its distinctive sun bleached orange corrugated roof and circular structure were certainly evocative of the summer heat and the shadowless sun that bathes the city throughout its yearly, endless summer. It was the closest Perth had to the Opera House or a silhouette on a skyline, a skyline that back then only had the AMP building in it.

In the 90s the short lived arrival of the Perth Wildcats basketball team gave it a new lease of life, perfectly coinciding with Australia’s growing closeness to and infiltration by US culture. Their short lived tenure is probably testament enough to how that bubble burst, but it was only later in its career, when it really acquired its status. Long periods of sustained inactivity and indecision turned it into an eyesore that somehow encapsulated Perth’s Dullsville tag. Not even the Entertainment centre was entertaining anymore.

Now with the restructuring of the city centre to make it more open, attractive and interesting it must make way. In the end, there was not enough money and no clear ideas. Now it is no more. In its place, or where its carpark used to be, shall rise the Perth Arena.

My first musical experience was in the PEC at the ripe age of 3.5 years. My parents took my elder sister (10 months older) and I to one of the two concerts that ABBA played there on the 10th and 11th of March, 1977 as part of their Australian tour that saw ABBA-mania throughout the country and birthed a tour film called ABBA: the movie that features footage from the Perth show. My mother tells me that my father was not impressed at having to pay for the tickets, but we were adamant we had to go. My only recollection is of being somewhere near the back and that afterwards we were each bought a cap, mine with primary green and blue stripes and my sister’s with yellow and red with ABBA written across the forehead.

This song "Tiger", played here at the concert, is not one of my favourites, but it gives me one of my distinct early memories of listening to this song on my father’s reel-to-reel player and hiding from imaginary tigers behind the curtains in my parent’s bedroom with my sisters. It surprises me as well to find that there is even a bootleg album available of the concert which seems like a strange souvenir to have from a time that you can barely remember.

My second epiphany at the PEC was witnessing INXS at the height of their powers during the Kick/Calling All Nations tour. We saw the first night of three at the PEC, having got lucky with tickets through my friends mum who also came with us. The first two shows had sold out, but tickets for a third show, which was played first on November 6 1988, became available. It was a perfect moment: with your best friend at the end of the school year, days getting warmer, Kick was the best album ever and you have your first teenage rock experience. We were in the so-called “lounge” the pit in front of the stage, close enough to see into Michael Hutchence’s eyes. The band played two sets complete with costume changes and Hutchence and Kirk Pengiley finishing the first half alone on acoustic guitars with their “hippy song” (so said Michael at the time) “Shine like it does”. This was one of those concerts where you don’t want to shower afterwards to avoid washing the magic away.

"Don’t Change" was the last song they played that night and and will always bear that melancholy feeling of knowing that the show was all over even though you wanted more. The ticket stayed glued to the wall next to the bed for a long time. This version is from San Francisco around the same period.

My next concert there was exactly a year later on Friday 27 October 1989. We went to see Jimmy Barnes, that most particularly Australian rock icon on his Barnestorming tour. The Christmas before he had released the Barnestorming live album which my mum gave me on double cassette. The opening track “Driving wheels” was the sound of that summer. But Jimmy`s show was disappointing even to us amateurs back then. Something about the performance just wasn’t heart felt enough, like it was too heavy for Barnes to perform every night. You could see he wanted it, but he wasn’t touching the same level as his albums. He was getting older and had punished himself enough. After that show, his star in my mind began to fade, but a musical lesson was learned about how to approach your idols.

But this night is arguably more memorable not for Jimmy’s show, but for our escapade outside before the doors opened. I was with some school friends and the oldest looking one of us, probably me because I was tall, had bought a couple of UDLs (premix alcohol drinks) at the bottleo to drink before we went inside. Standing in the park we were approached by two men who began to talk to us, asked what we were doing, about the show and who we were meeting. My two friends D and J had their cans, whereas B and myself had already finished, even though we had another stuffed into our trousers for inside. As we talked an aboriginal man also joined us, carrying a blanket and asking the same sorts of questions. He left us for a moment to fish a silver 4 litre bag of goon (cheap wine) from under a tree. After drinking from the plastic tap he offered it to us. This is when the two men produced their police badges. One went to the side with the aboriginal man and the other stayed with us taking D and J’s details. Since B and I were not drinking at the time, we were let off with no fine. The business over, we scurried inside. B and I were still shitting ourselves since we had alcohol hidden on us, but had luckily not been caught. After entering we dashed off to the bathroom and quickly downed our bourbon and coke. Breath wreaking of booze, we entered the “lounge” knowing that Jimmy would be proud.

Perhaps the last time I ever went inside the PEC was January 13 1995 when REM opened their Monster world tour in Perth. MTV and all the media outlets were in town. Support was Grant Lee Buffalo and Died Pretty and guitarist Peter Buck had been married only days earlier in the Cottesloe Civic Centre where we had our school balls. Mike Mills the bass player fondly recalls playing golf at the Vines and getting disturbed by kangaroos. Expectation was high despite the disappointment of the Monster album, the first turkey REM had ever released. The follow up New Adventures in Hi Fi was a return to form, but also signalled the end of the participation of Bill Berry, the drummer retiring after suffering aneurisms. It was the end of the first and great era of REMs music. Since then I have been too timid to try and discover them again, being content with all the great albums up to this point. More poignant then. that we should see the opening night of the last world tour of the original band. Sadly it didn’t live up to the expectation, with even the band admitting at one stage it was a rough show. The next night was better, apparently, but by then, their star was also fading.

So long Perth Entertainment Centre, and thanks for all the music.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jumping the shark

I came across a great media term recently which is called "Jumping the shark". The term derives from an episode of Happy Days where the Cunningham family and the Fonz travel to California and the Fonz is egged on to jump a cage containing a hungry shark on water skis and of course his leather jacket.

The term refers more specifically to the turning point in a TV series where more and more absurd plots and outrageous characters are developed and introduced to revive waning interest. One wonders if the same can be applied to record labels?

What is the term for when a label tries to radically change direction in order to remain relevant or at least to pull itself from the quicksands of sameness? In particular, there has been a trend for electronic music labels that are long in the teeth to take on board some more indie and/or rock associated acts to broaden their appeal or market. Warp being one of the oldest labels was probably one of the first to attempt this. Seefeel was apparently their first guitar group, but hardly “rock” in the more classical sense, arguably their first true foray was Maximo Park with their 2004 release “The coast is always changing”.

The Warp roster has gone on to include other groups like !!! (who technically predate Maximo Park, but their semi-electronic formation and dance floor intentions perhaps make them less notorious), Grizzly Bear and Battles.

Kompakt has arguably done the same recently. Walls was perhaps the first more guitar orientated group

but more recent signings includes the synth pop duo Rainbow Arabia and WhoMadeWho. This is not to say that the music is absurd or irrelevant, but it does suggest fundamental changes in its psychology and image.

Similarly, one of the most surprising releases of the year comes from Hamburg’s deep house imprint Dial who have just released an album-length 12” of guitar music by Dirk von Lowtzow entitled “Tod im Theben”, a follow up to his 2007 release “Septem Sermones Ad Mortuos” on the same label. Despite “Tod im Theben” sounding likeNeil Young’s soundtrack to the Jim Jarmusch film "Deadman", it turns out von Lowtzow is actually part of popular German techno group Tocotronic who have themselves released on Kompakt. These two tracks are not from the Dial release (which are not up ion Youtube), but go to make the point.

But its not all one way traffic. Indie labels are also getting in on the act, with 4AD recently signing left foield dub step artist Zomby.

Given all this, one wonders why artists would create their own new labels, especially given the economic climate? Shackleton is one such artist and also Scott Monteith aka Deadbeat has recently announced a new label. Monteith claims the closure of ~scape as a stimulus to create BLKRTZ, but whether these labels have been formed to release music only by the artists involved remains to be seen, . One assumes their existence is merely to form a vessel to better control releases and profits rather than necessarily to form a label with a particular image and/or sound policy who will one day be forced to jump the shark.

Keep calm – Take the square

Things aren’t how they used to be. Walking around Barcelona these days is almost like walking back to 1968. From my office window at work I can see daily groups of nurses, doctors and administrators blocking the local intersection.  With banners, whistles and lab coats they protest against the massive Generalitat (Catalan Government) cuts to hospital funding.

Last week when I went running I crossed the path of a massive train of people making the walk from Plaça Catalunya down Via Laietana to the bottom of Parc Citudella, several kilometres. These people were manifesting for the same cause, this time their numbers bolstered by the trade unions, the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT; General Workers Union)  and the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO; Workers Commission).

This week the people have taken to the squares in the major cities, to Puerta del Sol in Madrid (shown in picture) and Plaça Catalunya here in Barcelona. The squares have been taken in protest of the high unemployment, hitting 21% recently, government corruption, cuts and the municipal elections to be held today (22nd May). All the places around the city where they usually post the bills announcing the upcoming gigs are now plastered with campaign posters. Banners for the two main parties, the left wing socialists in red (PSOE; Partido Socialista Obrero Español; Spanish Socialist Workers Party) and the right wing Partido Popular (PP; People’s Party), hang from the lamp posts like coloured plastics gibbets emblazoned with the face of the candidate. Ironically, these lamp posts are being newly painted in the stretch of road which leads to my work and where the protesters are.

There is a law in Spain stating that there are no demonstrations allowed 24 hours before an election to allow “reflection”. The protesters in the squares were meant to be moved along by midnight last night, but Prime Minister Zapatero has stated that the police will not be brought in to shift the demonstrators. The mood is proud and righteous amongst the crowd of all ages, cooking and eating together, sleeping on the floor and making a din. A friend also pointed out to me today that there is not one Catalan Independence flag amid the banners crying out to “Fu€k the system”. This is an unusual sign in Catalonia where they are brandished daily in many places, from balconies, cars, shops, but perhaps their absence reflects a confrontation of a broader problem, one that also includes the Catalan Government.

Here is a short video I made from the protest last night. There is a lot of sound lost from the poor microphone, but the rises and rushes of noise among the people were exhilarating.

Keep calm - Take the square from Christopher Mann on Vimeo.

All the protest and political unrest brings me to an album I heard for the first time only last week. It arrived at the local quiosco (kiosk) as part of an ongoing  “mythical vinyls of jazz” series which has been running for 18 months already. One album every two weeks, all in original sleeves and hewed from 180 gram vinyl with an insert in Spanish. Last weeks issue was Charlie Haden’s debut album “Liberation Music Orchestra”. The music was recorded in April 1970 in New York, but not released until 1973 on the Impulse! label. Haden was a double bassist and as well as leading his own group, he became renowned for his collaborations with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarret amongst others.

Charlie Haden writes of his intention behind the music in the liner notes:

“The music in this album is dedicated to creating a better world; a world without war and killing, without racism, without poverty and exploitation; a world where men of all governments realize the vital importance of life and strive to protect rather than destry it. We hope to see a new society of enlightenment and wisdom where creative thought becomes the most dominant thought in people’s lives.”

But perhaps it is his opening phrases which are more revealing as to where the music owes its stylistic origins: “This album was conceived several years ago when I first heard the songs of the Spanish Civil War.” Structurally the songs are a blend of both the improvisations and carefully arranged solos of Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, amongst them Don Cherry, as well as several revolutionary songs, some of which are layered beneath the groups playing.

El Quinto Reginiento (The 5th Regiment).

This piece opens with Spanish flamenco guitar before breaking into a processional waltz and eventually a jazz free for all, before returning to the beginning. Like many of the tracks on the album, this piece evokes the left wing struggle against oppression, in particular by referencing musically and thematically the 5th Regiment which was a military body formed in 1936 at the onset of the Civil War and composed mostly of volunteers from the Communist Party of Spain and the United Socialist Youth (Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas). The importance of the 5th Regiment in the Civil War was not only military, but as a symbol of possibility through their extra effort in social activities, distributing books and pamphlets, educating allies and workers as well as their relationship with many poets and artists.

Two of the other Spanish Civil War songs included on Hadens’ album, but not on Youtube , are "Los Quatro Generales" (The Four Generals)

And Viva la Quinta Brigada (Long Live the 15th brigade)

Apparently Haden had encountered the Civil War songs in this documentary about the Civil war from 1962 entitled “Mourir a Madrid” (To die in Madrid).

Song of the United Front.

Also covered is the workers song "Einheitsfrontlied", originally written in 1934 by Hans Eisler with words by Bertolt Brecht although no words are used in this interpretation, only the marching rhythms of left, two, three… Eisler is shown here on the left with Brecht on the right.

“And because a man is human
he won't care for a kick in the face.
He doesn't want slaves under him
Or above him a ruling class.

So left, two, three!
So left, two, three!
Comrade, there's a place for you.
Take your stand in the workers united front
For you are a worker too.”

Song for Ché

This was a Haden original written in response to the news of Chés death in 1967 and it precedes the Ornette Coleman track “War Orphans”.

The closing of the album is “We shall overcome” a piece written in 1947 around a gospel song and under various forms and versions became associated with the Civil Rights movement.

Joan Baez was one of the most high profile performers to recird a version around the same time as Haden in the 60s.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


This week I did a lengthy review (that I am sure will be cut) for Resident Advisor about the new Mokira album "Time Axis Manipulation" on Kontra Muisk, which for me was a fantastic and dynamic journey into ambient dub techno. The artist in question is one Andreas Tilliander from Malmö in Sweden. He has been releasing music for over a decade under several aliases and was one of the earliest figures to play a role in developing the glitch sound with his album “Cliphop” for Raster Noton back in 2000.

His recent album however, finds him in ambient-dub techno terrain. While dub techno is rightly maligned for being formulaic, particularly where it approaches the dance floor, there is clearly plenty of new space to be found there for inventive artists. In particular, Mokira’s take on it was eschewing a more orgramming aesthetic for a more patient, modulated and indeed “shepherding” approach to the music. That is to say, Tilliander lets it wander, but in his case the music knows where the grass is greener.

These two videos are nerdy, but they make the point: banks of machines and Tilliander apparently doing nothing, just pushing buttons or twiddling knobs, but the gradual development of the sound is impressive.

Here, the sound seems in its infancy compared to what is on the album which is richly layered and highly organic, resembling more Vladislav Delays “Multila” album and perhaps also Rhythm and Sounds lengthy tack “Imprint”.

On a side note, Brendon Moeller aka the Echologist also just released an album of ambient dub techno called "Subterranean" on his own Steadfast imprint with quite differing results. Moeller comes from a more dance orientated background and his album sounds fighting and at times heavy, but cleverly resists the urge to drop in beats even if the music suggests the space for them.

Tilliander on the other hand comes from a more ambient/avant garde background, despite having dance floor and IDM roots himself, and works more the textures and evolution of the sound. In particular, his previous album “Persona” on the Type label has many of the same dynamic elements as “Time Axis Manipulation”, but without referencing dub techno. The palette here is smoother and warmer even when it strays into more industrial passages.

Two curiosities about this album are firstly its reference to Ingmar Bergman’s film “Persona”, one of the greatest films ever made, in the cover art particularly and perhaps in mood (not to mention that both are also obviously Swedish).

Secondly, "Persona" the album also pays homage to Indie rock, in particular Spacemen 3. Tilliander makes particular note of an encounter with Jason Pierce in the sleeve notes, whereas one track is called “Ode to the Ode to Street hassle” in reference to Spacemen 3’s “Ode to Street Hassle” itself a homage to the Lou Reed track of the same name (from the “Street Hassle” album). Similarly, another track is called “Octaves and Tremelos” a direct reference to Sonic Boom’s release of that name.

This is not the first reference to indie rock in Tilliander’s work. His 2007 album is entitled “Hateless” in obvious reference to My Bloody Valentine’s seminal album “Loveless”. The album features track names that replace “love” with “hate” such as “True hate will find you in the end” a reference to Daniel Johnston and again to Spacemen 3/Spectrum who covered the track. The 2004 album “World Industries” also sported a track called “Mary Chain” after the Jesus and Mary Chain.

A Philosophy of Boredom

This is almost a completely non-music related post, but nevertheless, I came across this video this week and found it quite interesting. It is the edited highlights of a lecture by Norwegian philosopher/writer Lars Svendsen talking about his book "A Phiolosophy of Boredom", which I cannot confess to have read. Since I am from what is apprently the most boring city in the world, boredom is of particular interest to me.

But perhaps to link it to music and to even replicate the themes of the prvious posts (ie. Japan and Norway...) we can have a track by the Boredoms, one of the craziest and most original bands ever to emerge from Japan or anywhere. This video is an excerpt from their concert 77 Boadrum which featured 77 drummers (most of them "normal" people but several being in other bands) playing at 7:07pm on the 7th July 2007 (7/7/07)at  Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park in Brooklyn, New York.

Tokyo Blues or Norwegian Wood

The Japanese film (albeit directed by Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran) "Norwegian Wood" (also known as "Tokyo Blues") has just started in Spain after a premiere in Japan in December.

The film is of course based around the famous novel by Haruki Murakami of the same name and features the famous Beatles song, the first of theirs to feature sitar and originally from the "Rubber Soul" album of 1965.

The book I read many years ago and somehow I found it a bit flat. Perhaps it is because so much had been made of it that I expected more? But my principle memory of it was of a story told through letters which meant as certain distance between the action and the emotions of the characters. The film too is kind of emotionally flat in the sense that it follows single mindedly on its gentle path of sorrow, but it is somehow more effective. One reason is the linking of the characters emotions to the seasons and to nature, particularly the volatile Naoko. But the additional visual nature of film perhaps draws out the more subtle political themes as well as the nuances of the characters a little better than I remember of the book.

But as well as the Beatles fabled song, often attributed to Lennon’s extra-marital affairs, but not to his relationship with Yoko Ono as many often claim (they didn’t meet until 1966).

The song itself is said to be inspired by Bob Dylan’s track “4th Time around” which at times paraphrases the same vocal melody as well as sharing a closemness in guitar sound. Many considered it an attack on Lennon by Dylan who himself apparently took it well, perhaps thereby acknowledging the debt of influence.

Another interesting aspect of the film, however, is the use of many Can tracks throughout. Ironically, several of these have already appeared in other films, notably “She brings the rain” from the “Soundtracks” album. Also featured is “Mary, Mary so contrary” from “Monster Movie” and “Bring me coffee or tea” from “Tago Mago”.

The remaining music of the film is also organised and written by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.

Speaking of Murakami, my cat is named after Kafka the writer, but also from Murakami's novel “Kafka on the shore” which I confess to not having read. By coincidence, Kompakt announced this week a set of three limited edition singles by Wolfgang Voigt called “Kafkatrax”. Click here to listen .

There is also another writer Ryu Murakami who has also been writing books for years, albeit somewhat less famously than Haruki. One of his earliest successes was the novel “Almost Transparent Blue” which won the prestigious Agutakawa Prize for literature in 1977. The story is a group of young Japanese people living in a town near an American airforce base and living a sordid life of sex, drugs and rock n roll. I have never seen the film version of which this is an excerpt, but it likes rather strange indeed, somewhat fitting with the original novel.

Ryu Murakami also directed the 1992 film “Tokyo decadence” which was (and perhaps still is) banned in several countries and from the brief excerpts seems almost a little like Pedro Almodovar. The plot apparently revolves around several sex scenes that link the unrequited love of one character with another. The musical score was performed by none other than Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Finally, of no relation to these writers, but there is a young techno/house artist called Ryo Murakami who has released several tracks on labels like Curle, Morris Audio, Poker Flat and more.


Last night Azerbaijan won the 56th Eurovision song competition in host nation Germany. As horrendous as the competition is, there are two earlier semi final stages which help whittle the contenders down from the 43 participating nations to the 25 finalists. This essentially means there is even more crap on display before you reach the final.

Arguably one of the more intriguing of acts that didn’t make the final was the entry of the group Homens da Luta (roughly translated as “Men of Struggle”) representing Portugal with their song  “A Luta e Alegria” ("The struggle is joy").

As ridiculous as their stage appearance is, like a political Village People, it was not created for Eurovision, but existed before. Apparently the group is a parody of revolutionary singers during the 1974 Carnation Revolution with each of the singers playing a particular character as introduced here in another song "E o povo, pá?" (What about the people, man?).

For example, Vasco Duarte is playing Falâncio a parody of Zeca Afonso while another is an “April Soldier”. Homens da Luta have released several tracks, all with quite obvious political messages despite the fact that the group is largely considered a comic group and not a singing troupe in Portugal. Their influence is the protest songs of the Carnation Revolution, especially the aforementioned Zeca Afonso’s song “Grândola, Vila Morena” which was the unofficial anthem of the revolution.

There are of course many parallels also with the Tropicalis movement in Brazil around the same time. But one may wonder what the modern meaning of their song is now given the impending Eurozone bailout, political unrest and unemployment?

And while we are talking of the Village People, its easy to remember the Policeman ,The Cowboy and so on, but few recall their even more ill advised last shot New Romantic look of the early 80s. There is no embed code here, but the video is still on Youtube (and yes it is the same people)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Scuba vs Trax Records

Now I am going to be a bit harsh here. I am going to have it both ways and praise and criticise in the same breath.

I have finally spent more than a cursory listen to the new Hot Flush label compilation “Back and 4th. Without paying attention to the artist or title, the track that caught my attention most was Scuba’s “Feel it”. What stands out here (in a positive sense) is essentially the composition, a standard 4-4 house track that can suddenly switch into different plateaus of tension with the flick of a high hat or the retraction of the bass  or a big drum roll.

However, on going back to visit the track again it suddenly struck me that I was essentially listening to Chicago House and another piece of music in the growing line of Trax Records-inspired tunes. This is no bad thing in a way, but it suddenly seems that the sycophantism for Chicago House has gone a little too far and that the saturation point has long been reached. After all, this is Paul Rose, Hot Flush label boss and renowned curator of the Sub:stance dubstep night at Berlin’s Berghain. Scuba or anyone shouldn’t be criticised for making house if they want to, but as a figurehead for alternative genres, it is seems more of a let down to feel he might be on a blitzkrieging bandwagon and not piloting the cart. That remains to be seen, but when I saw him back in January he played a whole set of house and techno and barely dropped a dubstep track, which seems somehow surprising. UK Funky’s proximity to dubstep and its flirtation with house is perhaps already a warning sign, not to mention dubsteps voracious assimilation of influences into its changing shape should not make this a surprise, but one wonders if it is the start of a decline in the innovation of dubstep or a new golden age of house?

But just to put Chicago and Scuba’s track in context, here is Adonis’s “No way back” from Trax Records in 1988. Even techno don Marcel Dettmann played this in a recent show. There are plenty of similarities with Scuba’s work: the rigidity of the drums and the flourishes and the the analogue colours on the production that eschews the more smoother contours of deep house, for example.

But of course it’s not just Scuba who’s in on the act. Trax Records have just released their entire catalogue as digital downloads for the first time just after releasing a poorly received remix collection. Meanwhile, in Amsterdam the genuinely great label Rush Hour Recordings has been re-releasing out-of-print albums and demo tracks by Virgo (Virgo Four) to great acclaim, including a monster box set.

Not to mention the just-released mix of Chicago House by Gene Hunt, apparently salvaged from rell-to-reel tape that must have been a nightmare to play out back in the day. The labels roster of newer artists also raid the Trax Records sound at times, with artists like Tom Trago

and BNJMN plundering for inspiration, though in both cases there is more to the artist than blind homage and if the music is good, one shouldnt complain even if it seems something of a fad.

Meanwhile drum n bass group Icicle have recruited seminal Trax Records vocalist Robert Owens for two tracks, “Step forward” and “Redemption” from their recent “Under the ice” album.

This has of course raised uncomfortable parallels with Photek’s “Solaris” album from 2000 which also featured Owen on two tracks, including the tender “Can’t come down”

Owen of course is THE voice of Chicago House and has released countless classics like “Bring down the walls”

And “Can you feel it” with Larry Heard, one of the most important house tracks of all time. Sample spotters will recognise some of the vocals from this signle were later sampled by the Revolting Cocks for the long version of “Beers, steers and queers” on Wax Trax.

But one big question that still remains is where is DJ International Records, the OTHER Chicago House label from the first golden age? While Trax Records have endlessly plundered their own catalogue for a host of compilations, rereleases and the like, DJ International have remained dead silent all this time.

Interviews: Ikonika and Isolee

Back in February a colleague Maider and I did two live interviews with Sara Abdel-Hamid aka Ikonika and Rajko Müller aka Isolée as part of the Micro Mutek festival in Barcelona. These have been posted to the Struments Radio site.

Ikonika was a fascinating subject, being both young and exceptionally driven without being coldly ambitious. From an intriguing background of Egyptian and Filipino parentage and introduced to electronic music via her older sisters and indirectly via video games. For someone so young her determination and clear mindedness come as a welcome surprise and with sense of relief: she feels like somebody you could entrust the future too. Not only that, her technique behindthe wheels of steel is exceptional and her genre-crossing mixes are always inpredictable, mixing dubstep, funky, juke and more.

This video has poor sound, but at least gives an indication of what she is like live.

Musically, she is still renowned for her album "Contact, want, love, have" on Hyperdub last year, but she also has a new label called Hum and Buzz up and running with Optimum.

Rajko Müller is also a gentile character, a charming and yet prototypically German personality. We had the chance to go record shoopping together after the interview, but did not find any flamenco records to his great disappointment. Serious and a little shy, he has proven again and again a capacity to innovate and overcome difficulties of fame and expectation. In 1998 he released "beau mot plage" a massive crossover hit between techno and house clubs which was followed rapidly by one of the first so-called "micro-house" albums, "Rest", in 2000 and its equally lauded followup "We are monster" in 2005. Earlier this year he released "Well spent youth", again to much acclaim.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


This week I reviewed an interesting mix CD by the French artist Agoria (aka Sébastien Devaud) which forms the latest instalment of the Fabric series. What makes the mix interesting is a blend of good technique, but better selection, often mixing several tracks at a time without overloading the music as often happens in drum n bass music, for example. Here as well he is often choosing tracks from well outside the electronic music fields, incorporating elements of jazz, classical and even of guitar-based psychedelia.

As an example, the first track of the mix is actually a blend of the following three tracks, all in less than three minutes and all interesting in their own right. Opening up is Rene Löwe aka Vainqueur’s “Ranges (theme)” which I reviewed last year and likened to Jack Kerouac watching the ocean at Big Sur.

Overlaid over this are the vocals of the Zodiac Free Arts Club a new group on the Permanent Vacation label who often confuse for releasing indie, house and disco records without batting an eyelid. The group themselves are named after the famous berlin venue which was critical for birthing many Krautrock groups, including Tangerine Dream. This track also pays homage to Krautrockers Popol Vuh, though the vocal stylings are also reminiscent of the Beach Boys as well as Popol Vuh.

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, is Ensemble Economique who have released on the Not Not Fun label, amongst others. Despite the bongos and African vibes, “Real thing” is hardly dance floor orientated. The stoner vibes and hazy production of the label and Ensemble Economique is at odds with electronica’s pristine sheen, but nonetheless in the hands of an audiophile like Agoria it works.

And for the whole album in a minute and a half:

Agoria has also just released an album "Impermanence" on his Infiné label which has a couple of interesting tracks on it, even if the whole album is flawed by trying to be “universal” somehow.  One of the standout tracks, for the right and wrong reasons, is “Speechless” which features some amazingly sublime minimal house with a slowly evolving urgency, but is completely ruined by the vocals. Sleazy and cheesy, the dubious eroticism of the lyrics was both written and delivered by none other than Carl Craig who we already saw below has a good sense of humour with the track “Shez Satan” (see April posts). Here, however, he crosses the line of good taste and good humour and the results are just cringe worthy.

“I Wanna take you to Mars Bend you over in a crater and have my way with you
Losing time on the dance floor
ohhh yeah dance for me baby”

However, opening the album is a gentler piano driven track “Kiss my heart” with vocals by the American vocalist Kid A who has a wonderful and completely disorientating voice, sounding somewhere between Björk, Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays and perhaps even Arthur Russell, more so since the track features cello.

“Waiting is half the battle
When you are alone”

Speaking of Arthur Russell, Agoria´s mix also features a remix of his track “Treehouse” from the legendary “World of Echo” album as well as extracts from Sun Ra and Ella Fitzgerald.