Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Shonen Knife - The Portland Arms - 11/04/2018

With the evenings still dark and the weather still heavy and wet, there are few things more fun to do on a weeknight than fit a couple hundred middle aged alternatives into the back of a pub and have them remember back to the 90s, when all the things we were angry about were so much simpler and the NME was still a thing (Ha! Die, you devil, DIE!). There is a chance that someone in that room, other than the touch-screen wielding venue technician) wasn't around when people first heard of Shonen Knife, thanks mostly to the words of Kurt Cobain, but if they were then they were nowhere near where I was standing. This was a place packed with weary travelers, making a journey after a busy day of adult things to see two sets of sprightly journeymen entertain and enliven them all. The atmosphere before the first chord was plucked was a mix of apprehensively buzzy mixed with reverent anticipation. People wanted to make a night of it, then get back home in time for the next day.

First to take the stage were the unknown quantity: The Kolars. If anyone in the audience knew them they didn't give it away, as the reception to them as they walked on stage was polite, warm, but not too personal. Both members were bedecked in sequins and 50s chic, the guitarist's hair a majestic quiff, but with enough glam and modern touches to gave nothing too much away. Then the drummer stood atop her bass drum, and people just knew this was going to be different. The first three numbers were stompingly good rockabilly, stripped down and oiled up like a modern day Cramps that grew up on Happy Days and hope. The sound was embracing, the tapdancing drummer was an excitement to watch - halfway between a go-go dancer, a cheer leader, and an honest invitation for everyone to just have a good time - the lyrics were vivid and touching, and it if that had been the next 30 minutes people would have been happy with a great novelty Rock-And-Roll act.

Instead, at song four. they knocked it up a notch and threw in a mix-tape blend of their native LA's space rock drenched in pop sensibilities to the proceedings and sat there for the rest of the set, turning the audience from welcoming observers to won-over participants. Nothing to thick or confusing, everything perfectly placed and approachable, but adding depth and colour. All of this was helped by the duo visibly having a good time, Lauren the drummer more so than the sometimes zenned out Rob, the singer guitarist. If you don't want this in your car when you're driving in the summer then you are missing a trick, and if this act doesn't get more attention then I don't know what's wrong with the world.

As good as they were, the night was always going to be for Shonen Knife and their own take on power trio punk. Sitting halfway between early Buzzcocks, later period Ramones, and what Yo Gabba Gabba could have been if it grew up on the mean streets of Osaka. This is straightforward, easy to listen to, bouncy tunes about whatever Naoko Yamano has decided to sing (it takes a lot to get a cheer from the line "This is a song about my hobby, tennis"). Given that they have been playing music, that you can easily call twee and simple as a criticism or a compliment, around the globe for over 35 years, the reaction to them walking on stage in their powerpuff girls meet early 80s glam-metal costumes was about as welcoming as you would expect.

They had nothing to prove, as everyone in the room already loved them, and very little to do other than rip through an hour of tunes with minimal pauses and almost no mucking around. There was a little banter, but it wasn't clear if the minimal discussion was because they didn't have great English skills or if they just wanted to get on with playing with as much gusto as if they had just discovered how to hit their first note. It wasn't business like or disinterested, it was just efficiently wanting to entertain and show off their latest creations along with their classics. Their mood was infectious, the crowd lapped up every moment up, and whilst the whole thing only lasted an hour it was a perfect one.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

We Are Fucked - Flesh Eating Foundation

Lets not beat around the bush here, the three-piece industrial collective that is the Flesh Eating Foundation are not in a happy mode in this new album. They are most clearly fucked off, and they want to make music that reflects this. Whilst they have retained some of the beats and groove that were ever present in their previous releases, this time the sound is bigger, the crushing distortion is more encompassing, and the urgency of things just being fucked are more present than ever before. This is not a fun album, this is a collection of angry thoughts and violent noises ejected out to share the hurt. Which is a long way of saying "this is bloody good stuff."

It's also a fairly experimental album, with a lot more variety in sound and approach than previous offerings. Tempos, themes, densities, and just what can be done to a soundboard to make it cry, are all played around with in varying forms of gay abandon. Not only are you not going to get bored at any point, you are also not going to get used to the punishment being hammered into your ears. Sounds as diverse as digital hardcore, aggrotech, and even ambient noise are all at play here, meaning that there is likely to be something for everyone (assuming its an everyone who likes a bit of a hellscape). This is the sound of a band isn't worried about having a specific sound, but determined to just go with an emotional backdrop tone and see how many directions that can take them.

Stand out tracks, at least to these ears, include the jackhammer direct, and probably most dancefloor friendly title track "We Are Fucked", the bad acid nightmare of "Punch Drunk", the stark, Cronenburgesque, "Futurelast", and the brutalist poetic rush of "Stand Up And Be Discounted". But pick any of the songs and you'll be happy with the results, or at least smiling once you've been rinsed out by it, and the diversity of it all shows that there is still more to come out of the Flesh Eating Foundation stable. Even if it might want to punch you in the head at first sight.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

2016 May Brawl - The Portland - 11/06/2016

Cambridge University has a grand tradition for traditions, and one of them is the Rock Soc's annual live show, being held at the same time as the colleges May Balls (which are mostly run in June, because Cambridge University does that kind of thing a lot). After being absent from them since back when they were held at the Man In The Moon, mostly due to them turning into black/death metal overkill and me then not keeping track of them, I decided to give this years event a go. Besides, how can you go wrong when it's £6 to get in?

The event started quietly, with maybe 20 people milling around in all. Then a guy in leopard-print underpants walked onstage from nowhere, put a gas mask on and started making what can best be described as "one hell of an unholy racket", before then upping the ante by picking up an accordion. Then two other members of the audience walked up, jumped upon guitar and drums, and joined in with trying to redline the soundboard with what I can't really describe as songs or tunes because it was more of a wall of sound experience than anything else. Once it became clear that they were actually a cohesive band, I got around to trying to get their music, and failed in a quite pleasant way. It wasn't that it was especially cleaver or hyper-complex, it was closer to Muse on mcat than mathrock, it's just that it was filled with overdrive, feedback, and lyrics that were audible and poetic but basically a fever dream. I liked the experience, and when they focused on hammering out the tunes it managed to stay just far enough away from hipsterism to not irritate me. If pushed to pigeonhole it, I would say "avant garde alternative stoner", but given how wide-eyed the semi-naked vocalist was, a piss test would be required to prove the last bit.

Malignant Germ Infestation
Next up was a werewolf in a boiler suit on the mic accompanied by a pig scientist on guitar, with a stage setup of a sacrificial satanic alter, bathed in blood, and assorted gender blowup sex dolls with sausages tied to them. The music was very heavy techno-grindcore, with 90's game/tv/porn clips thrown in between rounds, and the show consisted of the singer thrashing on the stage, at the front of the stage, and around the audience, like.... well, like a werewolf in a grindcore band. From time to time they would molest and / or torture the sex-dolls, suspending a number from meathooks on the stage, and given the titles of songs there was a strong over-the-top porno-gore thing going on but someone would have to workout what the lyrics were to give a call on that. It was certainly energetic and the duo were clearly playing their deranged parts with just the right levels of seriousness, including the final section which was a quiet, introspective bit of mime. In the grand scheme of things, it was more an art project than music, so as long as they continue to come up with dafter things to do on the visual side (and they don't kill themselves) they should keep on charnel-housing in the free world.

From one novelty extreme band to what appeared to be another, but whilst Gout came in with Hawaiian shirts on and Human Centipede level-of-humour song titles, it all soon got lost in them being a death metal band. Quite a good one, if that's your thing (which it was for a good chuck of the crowd were), but still essentially a death metal band in Hawaiian shirts. For devotees of the genre its probably a breath of fresh air, and I can see things like the whole band being listed as "backing vocals, backing drums" etc being comedy gold, but whilst they were quite good at what they did they could have been dressed in anything they wanted, including just a bunch of black jeans and t-shirts, for all the difference the schtick made. Not dull, not bad, I'm quite probably not their target audience.

Petrol Bastard
For some this band are the logical end result of 90s industrial / underground electro; observing the disappointment of the promised future that never arrived, slapping it in the face with the realism of parochial, low-rent hedonism, and holding it up on an absurdist, reductivist, pedestal for loving parody and brutal ridicule. For others they're two blokes singing rude, daft, belligerent songs with choruses even the most drunken of audiences can vomit up, that are all done to a jackhammer up-for-it techno backing track that was ganked out of the Prodigies bin. Either interpretations is right, so you can be at the back with a wry, knowing smile or up-the-front dancing-your-tits-off and love it just as much. Easily the act that got the most motion out of the audience (including a can-can line) and certainly the most obsessed with shoving electronics up their arses,

Outright Resistance
Four musicians on stage, thrashing away like the late 80s were back and they wanted to make it into the Big Five. Singer out front, belting out with fury and heart, and scaring everyone backwards because they might as well have had "Face Towards Enemy" stamped on their forehead they were that explosive. It was fast, it was furious, it was jolly good fun, and they are clearly on a mission. They also do requests, finishing on the most chest pounding version of "Safety Dance" I've heard because one of their fans asked them to. The fans that helped them recover from having £5,000 of kit stolen, and the ones that the band are happy to talk to whenever because sometimes you just need someone to talk to and if your listening to this kind of stuff it's likely that your life isn't just roses. I had a chat with the singer at the bar afterwards, and that just confirmed that they are a very genuine act. It's probably not redefining any genres or pushing back that many musical boundaries, but it was good, it was personal without being introvert, they were clearly enjoying being up their to give it their all and, that often makes all the difference.

Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight
It's a stoner band, playing stoner blues/doom rock in a stoner style. Their sing like their from Alabama and they talk like their from Essex. They introduced a song about wanting a women to get naked with them by saying it was about "a women putting their clothes on my floor" when the song is called "Clothes on my floor" and the hook lyric is "I want your clothes on my floor". Badoom-cha! What they did they did well with no surprises or deviation from the script. They mentioned that they had their album available in "delicious vinyl", I don't know if that was a comment on the format or it's taste. I wasn't stoned, so I failed to give a monkeys.

Whilst the line up was possibly a little heavy on novelty acts, rather than straight up rocking, there was enough range with the acts for their to be something for everyone to like (assuming you like the heavier side of rock in the first place). The crowd was pleasant, the beer was good, the venue just the right size, and I'll be adding the May Brawl back into my calendar.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Collective Punishment

In a move to bring back the excitement to Eurovision, in a similar way that exploding nipple-clamps brings back excitement to a doomed marriage, the powers that be have decided that the 2016 dross-a-thon will have a public vote. Oh yes, I can hear the joy on your breath already - because, like I do - this brings to the forefront of the world's largest abuse of the word "talent" show, two of the things I love the most in the world: voting systems and throwing heartfelt and whimsical abuse at the Eurovision Song Contest.

First, the technical side of things. Previously the vote was done by each country getting a jury of "music experts" / coked-up shaved monkeys to vote on the best act, the people of each nation that actually think Eurovision is worth voting on, to hit their phones to record their vote, and then it gets averaged out to give out the countries votes in preferred order/Russia as number one if within invasion range. So far, so inevitably not England winning and, because of the number of countries involved and a max of 12 points to hand out, it meant that half of the voting section of the show was wasted as a quarter of the way through someone had mathematically inevitably won and there are only so many times over twenty minutes you can show the same person trying to emote shock, surprise, and joy over something only an act of a god with a decent taste in music could stop.

The new system "creates TV magic" (their honest to god words, all complaints to info@eurovision.tv) by giving each countries' public an equal number of votes to their jury. After all, the official voting is drummed out with the monotony of a Thursday afternoon school assembly, and they will then, in reverse order, read out how many total votes each country got from the plebiscite. Technically this means that no-one knows who will have won until the very last moment, in reality it means that you get to sit through even more tedium on an already interminably slow show. Oh yeah, and it'll give the public an enhanced sense of empowerment, so it'll drive a lot text messages and give them more dollar. There is also, thanks to the app, the increased chance of someone trying to rig the vote in a more direct fashion, however Eurovision have assured everyone that that isn't possible, mostly by not admitting it is.

Anyway: on a technical level its main advantage is that "politics" (i.e. Russia) can't be too involved with the final decision and the Jury can't disagree as much with the public as before, so there will be less outcry if "the wrong act" wins. However, you still have the same basic issue as before of, if a countries Jury gives an act a 2 and the public give it a 10 it still averages out as a six, it's just now out of a possible 24 rather than 12. You also continue to have the problem of the public voting politically, rather than on an "is it actually a good act" level (Russia is basically never getting another point from the Western public) that the jury may actually be skilled to vote on. You also continue to have the issue of Cultural Closeness, wherein countries with similar musical traditions and cultures will tend to vote for each other because they 'just like the tune' because it sounds like what they hear on the radio all the time, rather than being able to make an objective evaluation of it. Oh yeah, and boobs are really going to come into play here, as there are going to be a lot of votes up for grabs if you can convince the audience that there is a chance of seeing more butter being churned, even though

So will any of that change things for the UK? No, obviously it won't because our selection criteria continues to be "are they a bloody disgrace compared to everything else we have on offer?". It's just that now we get to firmly see how much the voting public of Europe hates it, in unequivocal terms. But mostly it's just a bit of pointless deckchair moving. As an attempt at trying to be a bit more representative of the public tastes it fails, as populations aren't taken into account, as an attempt to inject some excitement it fails, as there is still the tedium of the jury section before most of what's gone before gets made pointless by the lighting round, and as an attempt to remove politics it fails, as the assumption that the audience isn't political has been proven well and truly false over the last couple of years.

About the only thing it really does is prove that the Eurovision are unwilling to deal with the basic overblown nature of the show, and that they think a bit of mid 2ks interactivity will shake things up in any meaningful manner. Because as far as Eurovision are concerned, the show will always go on, and on, and on, and on....

Saturday, 23 January 2016

War On The Dancefloor - 22.01.16

Frighteningly accurate enactment
My first DJing of the 2016 and it's the stompy grounds of War On The Dancefloor at The Q Club. Laying down the sets before me were Darren (who needs to be more confident and move himself up the listing) and Chris, and then Hallam kept them going till the end. For a Friday before the post Christmas payday it wasn't that bad a turn out, and they have started stocking McEwans Champion at the bar so it all got a bit tired and emotional near the end....

11:30 to 12:45

Police State - Birmingham 6
Land of Rape and Honey - Ministry
Bomb the Clubs - Caustic
Scumbags and Spent Slags (Be My Enemy mix) - Flesh Eating Foundation
Airstrike - Seething Akira
Run You - The Quemists
Hallo Spaceboy - David Bowie
I'm Afraid of Americans (Nine Inch Nails mix) - David Bowie
Ace of Spades - The Chaos Engine
Survivalism - Nine Inch Nails
Beast - Rabbit Junk
Skinny Little Bitch - Anglespit
   {Brief Technical Pause}
Torn Apart - Stabbing Westward & Wink
Hammer of the Gods  - Fadderhead
Everything is War - Combichrist
Revolution Action - Atari Teenage Riot
Ghost Rider - Suicide

The Brief Technical Pause was due to DJuced 18 crashing when I tried to move a song from another playlist into the one I was using. Bug report filled and hopefully it'll be fixed in the next update, but I'll be looking into an alternative program if it's going to start playing silly buggers like that. Thankfully the floor waited for me to get things back on the go and they keep moving 'til the end.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Turntables at CES

To go with the recent news that "Vinyl Is Saving Music!" (it isn't, it's 7% of the market that happens to be a more expensive product so makes up a lot of sales value),  Sony and Panasonic have turned up to the Consumer Electronics Show ("This is what you could have had for Christmas!") with a pair of turn-tables. And thus "Vinyl Is Back!" screams everyone who hasn't got a clue what they're talking about but this time hopes they're going to be on the Cool Train.

Now firstly, and I want to make this very clear, the two decks in question are "Nice!". As in 'audiophile says these things are good bits of kit' nice. The Technics are essentially a more modern version of the SL-1200G which everyone of "a certain age" and calibre in DJing has used, because they were actually that good. Even if you weren't of the right calibre you've played on a rip-off of them, because they were just that ubiquitous for a reason, and now they have a nicer direct-drive motor in them so you'll get a smoother mix IF you still use vinyl. Which most people stopped doing years ago, which was why they stopped being made.

The Sony offering PS-HX500 is different approach entirely; essentially the most tricked out version of the "convert you're vinyl to MP3" that everyone one in the days between after you started switching to digital and before you found out you could download someone else's better copy from Pirate Bay. It's got internal audio-to-digital conversion, edit/mixing software, and you can technically hook it up to a audio rig and play out on it at a real good quality.

But you won't if you're serious about your music, because it's vinyl and vinyl sucks. Or, at the very least, it does when compared to modern formats. Yes, vinyl had a very important place in the history of music, and, yes, there was something nice about going to a record shop and fingering through the album racks, and, yes, if you must be the kind of person who's most important format decision is how obviously you can show off that you bought a record, it's nice to have a large physical item with a big cover on the front. I know this, because I've got a collection of vinyl myself as I go weak at the knees being able to touch a bit of music history; it mostly sits on the shelf whilst I listen to the FLACs. Some people still DJ on vinyl, however the two biggest reasons to do this are because it's all part of the performance of that particular event or they are stubborn die-hards that also don't set the levels back when they've finished their sets. Anyone who does it because it's only available on vinyl has long since converted the music to digital, because it's the only way to keep such precious content from falling apart.

Vinyl is heavy, awkward to carry, deteriorates rapidly, and is expensive to produce, ship, and stock. The reason that CD and digital is doing so well right now is because it's about a million times better for most everyday usage, be you a DJ or a regular listener. At one time vinyl sounded the best for the period, before wear and tear kicked in, but those days are gone and you can demonstrably get a far better sound from digital now, as scientifically proved on a number of occasions. You can also, if you're into making music, get it out and about in minutes rather than months by using the magic of electronics.

What's happened with the recent vinyl boom is that a bunch of people decided to be hip and focus on the iconography of vinyl and the retroism of it. The novelty of buying something which a whole generation are just not used to seeing anywhere has kicked in, it's become a cheap luxury item and a means to show musical eliteness with the minimum of effort. And because of that boom Sony and Panasonic have gone "lets make the thing that everyone is asking us for, because everyone's got an MP3 player or streaming device and they all threw their record players away in 2005". They are adding either some minor technical innovation (because it's a technology that stopped advancing 20 years ago) or some consideration to how the technology is being used these days (because the other formats are just more convenient). But they are not going to break the bank with these devices, because vinyl is not going to come back as anything more than niche. No matter how much people scream about it.

Which is not to diminish the kit they are selling, because it is very nice.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The Sonics: Psycho-Sonic and This Is The Sonics

The Sonics are one of those bands that never made it as big at the time as we now think they should have, because what they did didn't really make that much sense to a lot of people until many years later. For the brothers Andy and Larry Parypa in 1964 Tacoma, Washington state, that thing was to play a style of stripped down rock and roll that burned with a rawness, a passion, and a power that would be the tinder and the fuel everything in the line of American folk music that would eventually end up being called punk. Rather than follow the norm of the time and "move on" towards psychedelia, progression, or pop, they hunkered down and tried to find out how much more could be beaten out of the original formula.

The result was the two albums, Here Are The Sonics (1965) and Boom (1966), which have been collected, along with with all the singles and alternative / live versions held from their time with Etiquette records, in the "Psycho-Sonic" album. In this you can hear their dance hall circuit origins in Boss Hoss, Louie Louie, and Roll Over Beethoven: tunes that they attack with a gusto and a sheer volume that clearly was beyond the means of that periods equipment to capture. It's a sound of people who grew up on Blackboard Jungle, rather than with it, and who just wanted to make it bigger. You can also hear the start of the outsider anthem, especially the triumvirate of The Witch, Psycho, and Strychnine, which mixed the dark social/horror themes of the blues with a James Dean swagger that had no clue where it was going or how but knew it had to get their fast. It was anger that wasn't sure why it felt that bad, and only felt worse because everyone else was having such a good time. Its a savage piece of America, but with a musicianship and core listenability that makes it enthralling and occasionally even introvert, and that carries the DNA that you can hear in the likes of The Stooges, The Ramones, and Nirvana (to name but a few of the bands fans). As an album it's a slice of a specific piece in time, of an underground that was just discovering itself, and a timeless piece of rock and roll mastery that you may have overlooked.

Given the history of the band, of their signing to a major label to then have their sound neutered and for them to split before tasting fame, it's natural to ask "what would happen if they were given a second chance now that everyone knows how great they were?". Thankfully This Is The Sonics, recorded 50 years later in 2015 with 3 of the original 5 members and following on/off live performances since 2007, answers this with a clear and concise "exactly the same thing, only louder". "I Don't Need No Doctor", "The Hard Way", and "Livin' In Chaos" are stand outs by a nose, That a bunch of 70 year old's can continue to rock as hard as before impressive in itself, but that they can do it with a sound that comes across as classic rather than retro is pure brilliance. Even the dirty-distortion of their first period is maintained, technology having improved enough to get the full glory of their overdriven glory as this is a band that could play a triangle and make it sound like it was hocked into a Marshall stack. About the only change is that they sound a little more focused, a little less confused, but in no way any more mellow nor one jot less rocking.