Friday, 29 April 2011

Back in the day.

I decided to put on The Vines debut album Highly Evolved earlier and it took me back to the music industry of old. A time when bands were allowed to enjoy growing from an unknown act to a festival headlining, multi-platinum selling, Grammy Award winning band without any rush. Fans could watch them evolve and feel like they played a part in their move from playing pub gigs to arenas for example. This was a time when up and coming bands would play at a Virgin Megastore and do a signing afterwards and you didn’t even have to buy a ticket to get in.

I used to regularly go to a humble little venue in Cambridge called The Boat Race. Now this venue is long gone now, I believe it is a wine bar these days in fact but when I went it was a dingy gig venue with a capacity that I can’t believe was more than 150 people. Sweat dripped off the ceiling and the crowd spilled onto the stage making every gig intimate and very high in energy. You’d hang out with the band afterwards getting to know the people behind the music as it were, and then chances are a couple of weeks later they would pop up in the NME as the ‘next big thing’.

Now I am not saying that every band I saw play there became huge - far from it in fact, but I should think that 90% of them went onto play bigger venues such as The Forum and The Astoria (RIP) in London maybe. But there were one or two that had good careers - The Datsuns went on to play main stage festival slots, I believe they are on their fifth album now and still going strong. However when I saw them for the first time I had the drummer come up to me afterwards to apologise for throwing a drum stick at my head. The Libertines became pretty huge (bit of an understatement), and I can say that I was a part of the beginning of their career as I watched Carl BarĂ¢t and Pete Doherty fighting outside The Boat Race as I was thinking to myself “wow they are a rubbish band” (I take it back now I’d like to add).

These days the music industry doesn’t allow bands or music fans to have these moments. Most of the time the only acts you see at small venues are unsigned, and if they’re not then they are either simply terrible or the tickets are so exclusive the venue is only full of industry bods. As soon as an artist/ act begins to make a name for themselves they are put on some kind of NME Unsigned Extravaganza Tour with huge amounts of press and big venues like the Brixton Academy. They are kept well away from fans of the music and treated like superstars when they probably haven’t even finished writing their first album yet. I’m not saying that seeing unsigned bands is a bad thing, in fact I believe it is great for the industry and even better for the music but the odds of a band making it now are so slim that chances are your favourite unsigned act will always stay exactly that.

Feeling like I was there at the beginning of a bands career as I watched them grow was, and still is a great feeling. Listening back to albums such as Highly Evolved reminds how the music industry used to be much less money grabbing and intrusive. A band could go at their own pace and enjoy every moment of it and in turn probably appreciated it more as they got more attention. I can only hope that one day the the record labels and the likes of the NME will take a step back and allow bands to grow naturally - for the fans sake if no-one else.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The state of festivals today.

I went to my first music festival in 2002; back then a weekend at Reading Festival cost £90 for four days of entertainment and it was worth every penny. It was a great line-up (Foo Fighters, Muse, Feeder, The Prodigy, Incubus, NOFX, The White Stripes, Blues Explosion, Rival Schools, Aphex Twin… the list goes on) any modern day festival could only dream of a line-up full of acts that current and well established.

Fast forward a few years and Reading & Leeds boast what can only be described as an overpriced B-Festival. My Chemical Romance, bottled at previous years of playing Reading & Leeds and since have got more and more pop oriented - not the best choice to headline in my opinion. The Strokes who have done nothing in the last few years of note and are still living off the success of their first album (I am prepared to put money on them ending their set with ‘Last Night’). I’m not going to bore you by analysing the whole line-up, but as you look at all the bands playing, as with many other festivals this year they are either A) a rehash of festival line-ups from the past ten years, or B) just plain average. There is nothing really new for the festival goers to experience, so why then do the organisers feel they can charge through the roof???

I have had this argument with a few people recently; I think that £200 to go to an average weekend of music is ridiculous. Yes, I know if you wanted to go and see any of the headline bands separately it would cost £40-50 a go, but each of those concerts would be more intimate with better sound and a better atmosphere so that really is a non-argument for me. I also understand that if you see 50 bands over the weekend it works out at £4 per band, however the majority will only play for 20 minutes and to be honest, 50 bands over the weekend is near impossible unless you cut watching each acts set short. There is no way that £200 is justifiable and all it is doing it making it harder for ‘average earners’ to buy tickets.

Tell me I’m wrong if you want, but this is now being shown by the speed of ticket sales. Every year there is a rush to buy festival tickets with the major players such as Reading & Leeds, V Festival and Glastonbury selling out in a matter of minutes. Reading & Leeds tickets went on sale a couple of weeks ago and I can still get a weekend ticket or any day ticket now. I received an email from them last night explaining there are now four month payment plans in place to spread the cost of the festival, something that I have noticed with a few events this year. They are clearly starting to get worried that with the extortionate prices and same old bands they will have a half empty field come August bank holiday weekend, and so they should be. I have a horrible feeling that unless these festival organisers pull their finger out and organise a decent weekend of music, or at least drop their prices, this could be the beginning of the end for some of the most famous and well respected summer festivals in the world.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Alain Weber – Hoover Cover (Poor Records)

Alain Weber is a musician and DJ from Switzerland that has been writing and producing music for the past twenty years. However he shows no evidence of this on his latest release ‘Hoover Cover’. Forgive me for being blunt here, but very little if any musical experience is displayed through this painfully dull forty minute album. 

The melodic ideas are that of an extreme beginner; someone who has sat down at a piano for the first time and played a couple of notes. Broken chords are used and overused throughout by a plethora of cheap sounding instruments. I can only think that Mr Weber has never listened to an album by an esteemed artist before. In fact he may not have listened to any music before. If he had then he would surely realise that a few chromatic scales, broken chords, drone notes and randomly placed timpani don’t actually create music per se. 

It is embarrassing that artists like this (and I use the term ‘artist’ loosely here) can get a record deal and release music when there are so many more incredibly talented musicians/ composers/ producers out there that are getting no recognition for what they do. I don’t really want to give this album a mark out of ten, however as I have in the past, I have to praise Alain Weber for being so brave as to release something that in my opinion is utterly terrible. So for that alone ‘Hoover Cover’ gets a solitary 1/10

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Caro Snatch – Til You’re No Longer Blinkered (Emms)

I always look forward to hearing something slightly obscure, and with the likes of James Blake and Jamie xx hitting the headlines in recent months it seems obscure might just be the ‘cool’ musical genre to be part of for the foreseeable future. Caro Snatch is definitely going for a place in this genre bracket with her mix of avant-garde, electronic, spoken word and operatic stylings on her latest release ‘Til You’re No Longer Blinkered’. So how does she fare alongside the likes of Blake and Jamie xx? 

The only answer I can come up with for that question upon listening to this, her second full length album, is “not very well”. Caro Snatch has been releasing music for the last seven years and all I can think is that now, when her style would be appreciated most, she has run out of ideas. The songs on ‘Til You’re No Longer Blinkered’ are long and drawn out: The spoken vocal style is quite uncomfortable to listen to (imagine your grand mother talking to you in what she considers her ‘sexy voice’, it’s not very pleasant). Then there is the attempted singing: I say attempted because it isn’t very melodic, and any harmonies added are painfully out of tune. The only saving grace for this album is that some of the backing tracks are beautifully crafted. The transitions from electronic to classical influences are seamless and add a real depth to what on paper might seem quite empty and bland. However the vocal lines are so overpowering that it becomes near impossible to block them out meaning it is often hard to be able to appreciate the great production on the backing tracks underneath. 

‘Til You’re No Longer Blinkered’ definitely can be categorised under ‘obscure’ music, however that doesn’t mean that it is also musically viable. Without the terrible vocals this record would be worth listening to, but then it wouldn’t be a Caro Snatch album. As it is, I can’t help but feel like some great musical ideas have gone to waste. 3/10

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Tahiti 80 – The Past, The Present & The Possible (Human Sounds)

I have been accused in the past of passing judgement on some bands far too quickly, which although it hurts me to admit is probably true. Well Tahiti 80’s latest offering ‘The Past, The Present & The Possible’ was one of those moments that I realised I need to give bands a chance. As I started listening I immediately decided that it was going to be another standard electronic pop album and was ready to give up. But I didn’t and am so glad that I carried on intently hoping for something more, because what I discovered after my first full listen was that in fact this album is a great mix of genre flipping, electronic rock full of highs, lows and lots in-between. 

Album opener ‘Defender’ gets the ball rolling with layers of fuzz bass, dirty guitars and synths building up until it explodes allowing room for luscious vocal harmonies and big drum fills aplenty. They switch from electronic drums to live drumming taking the chorus line to a whole new musical level; a technique that is used effectively throughout the album. The songs are fast paced, eccentric and very memorable with a style that is similar to Super Furry Animals at one moment, ‘Kid A’ era Radiohead the next, and with the occasional hint of Aqualung in there for good measure. But it is when the band really let themselves go that everything gets that little bit more exhilarating: Their extended version of ‘Crack Up’ comes in at eight minutes long and is without a doubt the highlight of the album. Initially sounding like a pretty standard disco rock song, it is allowed to grow into something much more spectacular as synth tracks are layered on top of one another. The resulting sound is heavy and dance driven, like it were plucked straight out of The Chemical Brothers’ album ‘Come With Us’. 

This French six piece (as they are now) have gone through a lot in their extensive career, and have made many attempts at releasing something that will not only be able to define them as a band, but also help to make a name for themselves. It may have taken fifteen years to come to fruition but better late than never – ‘The Past, The Present & The Possible’ could indeed be that album. This is a record created by a band that are experienced at what they do and quite obviously love every minute of it, and that comes across perfectly in what is an outstanding sixth album for Tahiti 80. 9/10

Emmy’s Unicorn – Singular [Demo]

Emmy’s Unicorn are singer Emmy-Lou Kay and Welsh composer/ producer Mr Ronz. Having made a name for himself working on many television and film scores previously, Mr Ronz’s sound falls somewhere between a cinematic soundscape, hip-hop and electronica. Emmy’s Unicorn are no different on this front, being very hard to define maybe Emmy-Lou Kay describes it best when she labels them ‘Dream Pop’. However you would like to think of it, ‘Singular’ itself has a dreamscape that is easy to get lost in: Charmingly smooth pads layered with delicate arpeggiated synth sounds and clean guitars are contrasted perfectly by a busy rolling drum track. Add to this the quite haunting 'Number Station' breaks and giant vocals from Emmy-Lou Kay and you have something quite special. 

After the success of their two shows at the end of 2010, Emmy’s Unicorn are planning a host of other live dates in the near future with the accompaniment of a string quartet which will be something not to miss. However if you can’t wait until those dates are announced, they will be releasing a free single soon to whet your appetite; recorded at their show at The Union Chapel in December, it is sure to give you a taste of what is no doubt going to be a great year for the duo. 9/10

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Not Squares email interview:

Having said yourselves that you draw influence from the likes of Soulwax, LCD & Crystal Castles and with such a fast paced, dance heavy debut in ‘Yeah OK’, who/ what was it that inspired you to write music like this in the first place?
We wanted to make upbeat music that continues to move in directions. For example, recently we have felt compelled to explore the world of disco (and Arthur Russell). 

How does the writing process work? Does it come from jamming as a band or do you bring in ideas individually and work on them etc?
We jam as a band and quite often leave a voice recorder on, then maybe end up jamming on a certain part and start the process again, we each bring ideas to the mix at that point and work it out from there. We often play new songs live before they’re finished just to see if the live setting can mould them somehow more organically with the atmosphere of an audience. 

Looking at your tour schedule for December alone it looks like things are pretty hectic for you guys. Do you get tired of playing the same songs every night, or do the crowds keep everything fresh for you?
The gigs are always different, for example we’re going from Two Door Cinema Club shows where the venues are huge and we’re playing huge sound-systems to small inimate club venues and hopefully the odd house-party (basement show in Leeds next week Rich?!) 

What could someone expect from a Not Squares live show?
Wide-eyed dance riots, catchy bass riffs, and screaming grown men. 

What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Probably our album launch at the end of November, we were surrounded by friends who enjoy going nuts with our music and dancing their asses off. 

You’ve been extremely well received from the media so far in your career, is that in the back of your mind when you’re working on new ideas?
We don’t really think about media as its hard to predict, but feedback is always welcome. I guess we probably think more of what friends, bands or musicians would think rather than critics. 

What can we expect from Not Squares in 2011?
New material, remixes, a second album hopefully, we’ve already got a few new songs on the stove and we’re currently testing a couple out live. We’d like to take a couple of months in February and March to focus on writing and recording new stuff. A mega European and Japanese tour would be nice too. 

What is on your CD player right now? Or if you don’t have a CD player (I can’t quite believe I’m saying that) what was the last song played on your generic MP3 player?
On the way to Galway today we listened to Selda Bagcan and Ratatat. 

Where can you see yourselves as a band in ten years time?
Ten Years is too far away to think about seeing anything – a greek architect Christos Papoulias once told me nobody should plan anything more than 6 months in advance and I believed him. 

Finally, if you could open for any band past or present then who would it be and why?
Fleetwood Mac cos its Fleetwood Mac!