New Music Releases w/c 1st June 2015

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Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes

Eternal Summers – Gold and Stone

Damaged Bug – Cold Hot Plumbs

Ravi Shavi – Ravi Shavi

Lil Durk – Remember My Name

SOAK – Before We Forgot How to Dream

Porcelain Raft – Half Awake (EP)

Algiers – Algiers

Florence & The Machine – How Big How Blue How Beautiful

Communions – Communions (EP)

Major Lazer – Peace is the Mission

Daughn Gibson – Carnation

Zella Day – Kicker

Jamie xx – In Colour

Friend Roulette – I See You, Your Eyes Are Red

Ben Lee – Love is the Great Rebellion

Girlpool – Before the World Was Big

Dawes – All Your Favorite Bands

Nordoff Robbins fundraiser: @GizzButt to do cycle ride from London to Download Festival!

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Gizz’s Heavy Metal Truants 2015

“I am cycling from London to the Download Festival for Nordoff Robbins (UK) because I want to make a difference and this is a good way.”

Nordoff Robbins uses music to transform the lives of vulnerable people across the UK living with a range of challenges such as autism, dementia, mental health problems, brain injury, depression or a life-threatening / terminal illness. Through music, we can dramatically improve quality of life.

See the fundraising page for more details and to give a donation if you wish. Thank you so much!

Gig Review: The Dead Ringers’ (The Stranglers Tribute) Debut Gig, 22nd May 2015

This evening’s entertainment kicked off with The Expletives offering a veritable horde of classic late 70s Punk and New Wave tracks, which they performed with much aplomb.

By the time they reached their sweaty, ruddy-faced climax, the band had banged through sixteen belting tracks in short order.

DSC_2573Stand-out moments included Stiff Little Fingers’ “Suspect Device”, “Rockaway Beach” (The Ramones) and “Babylon’s Burning” by The Ruts.

I’m going to be watching these guys a lot in the future!

The Expletives are Sean (Vocals), Angus (Guitar), Joel (Bass) & Luke (Drums). Keep up to date with what they’re up to on facebook and twitter.

DSC_2681Looking suitably “Meninblack”, and with a particularly intimidating looking bass player (who had a high level of accuracy on the crucial bass lines), The Dead Ringers chopped out an essential set of Stranglers fare, with a few nice surprises and obscurities for good measure.

DSC_2718High points of the set were “London Lady”, “Hanging Around” and “Something Better Change”. As any fan of The Stranglers knows, keyboard skills are extremely important, and we were certainly not disappointed in this department – however, I’d have liked to have heard him have a go at “Golden Brown” and, from a picky point of view, “I Feel Like a Wog”. Mind you, with six solid formative era albums to choose from, I am sure they will fill in any gaps as time goes on.

DSC_2713AThe optimistic response from the crowd, and the crowing for encores, bodes well for this brand new tribute.

DSC_2652I am curious to see how The Dead Ringers will develop and polish their homage to this iconic band.

The Dead Ringers lineup is:

Nick Moon – Vocals & Guitar

Geoff Green – Keyboards

Geoff Hayward – Bass & Vocals

Scott White – Drums

You can contact The Dead Ringers on facebook and twitter.

Decades in Music; Part 12 – The 2010s: A Golden Age – guest blog post by @Rosbif65

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Initially, I thought I’d drawn the short straw. What does a man shortly to enter his sixth decade, whose musical touchstones are David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Richard Thompson, Marvin Gaye, Laura Nyro, Sandy Denny, etc etc, have to say for himself when it comes to music in the current decade? What do we even *call* the current decade?

Two things became evident as soon as I started thinking about this: firstly, that I have *far* less disposable income now than I did before becoming a parent in 2005; second (and related): that my consumption of music these days is strongly shaped by my chosen method of acquiring it. I was a relatively early adopter of EMusic, and am still on a tariff which became obsolete for new subscribers many years ago: for $US10 per month, I get 40 tracks. Forty! There have been times when I’ve struggled to fill my allotment; now there is too much music I want to get – I have a waiting list. Emusic has a vast and varied catalogue, none of it from major labels. It’s something of a lottery what is and is not available. But by and large, excepting a shrinking number of artists whose latest works I will always want and will buy on CD if it’s not on Emusic, it’s what’s available on that 40 track plan that I listen to most.

As it happens, this is something of a Golden Age for me in this regard: five of the best records (yes, I know, and yes, that is what I still call them) of the last year have all found their way on to my smartphone and into my heart through the good offices of Emusic, who are not paying me to shill for them, and whom I will try to stop mentioning from here on in.

Let me start with what is certainly the least well known of the five: Robber Bride by Julia Gray. Julia has been writing exceptionally good songs since she was a teenaged A Level student playing the Kashmir Klub some fifteen years ago, before forming Second Person and achieving some cult success. Her song constructions are sophisticated without being at all ostentatious, the arrangements simple and mercifully uncluttered; her melodies are warm and sinuous, supported by her supple piano playing; and her voice is small, sure and intimate. And then there are her lyrics, which aim for and reach places that far too few writers even think of attempting. Her first solo album, I Am Not the Night, takes in Greek mythology, classic films, modern literature and obscure Morphine songs, alongside tales of love and loss and jealousy that are more familiar colours on the songwriter’s palette.

Robber Bride is her second album, and all its songs are based on literary themes – not that you need to know that. An attentive listener might work out that You Were No Good is about We Need to Talk about Kevin, but the song is strong and unsettling enough to survive on its own merits. Conversely, I have no idea what the inspiration for Home Is Where the Heart Is is, but it couldn’t matter less. The duet with Vin Goodwin weaves a dark and dangerous web, leaving the listener to impute their own meaning. The closer, a musical setting of John Donne’s sonnet Death Be Not Proud, is an object lesson in stillness and restraint, featuring a vocal so perfectly suited to the song that it is impossible to imagine anyone singing it better.

Musically and sonically timeless, Robber Bride could have been made any time in the last 30 or 40 years. This is certainly not true of Kate Tempest’s Everybody Down, which needs no introduction from me, as you probably knew about her long before I did. Everything about this brilliant record shouts “NOW!”, to the extent that it might well sound dated in ten years. But frankly, who cares when the ride is so exhilarating? Such is Kate’s facility with words that I was riveted from the first verse of Marshall Law, and followed the story, rapt, through to its denouement in Happy End. Story? Oh yes: this, dear reader, is basically a Concept Album, albeit one that might sound alien to lovers of Camel and Genesis, what with its Sarf London accent (which has been lambasted by a number of people, some of whom I can’t help feeling are Missing The Point), juddering rhythms and tales of drug-dealing chancers.

If Kate sounds very Now, Bjork continues to sound eerily Tomorrow. There are very, very few artists whose music seems quite as future-proof as Bjork. There is some alchemy at work which is beyond my power to delineate fully; what I can say is that she continues to combine cutting-edge technology (she has a rare ability to make machines live and breathe) with timelessly formal orchestral and choral arrangements, a trick she mastered on Vespertine, and which she may have refined even further on the new album, Vulnicura. The songs are long and overwhelmingly emotional. The string parts on Family are as riveting as anything I’ve heard this year.

There is more than one way to do “timeless”, of course. There are no painstakingly constructed microbeats on Mount the Air, which is increasingly sounding like the Unthanks’ magnum opus – so far at least. While still rooted in folk, they have gradually enlarged their range, to the point where I feel the need to coin some unwieldy portmanteau term like chamber-folk-jazz. They are writing more of their own material, which is giving their music an ever more personal skin, while Adrian McNally’s warm and exquisite arrangements mean they could just as likely pop up on Radio 3 as Radio 2.

Perhaps the most welcome development to these ears is that I have finally learned to love Becky Unthank’s voice. Rachel’s is and has always been immediately engaging: a crisp, pure voice of bell-like clarity. Becky’s is more of a harmonium, an airy, complex instrument which one reviewer memorably described as “singing chords”. Their sororal harmonies were always sublime, but I wanted Rachel to sing all the leads. Now, either Becky has changed or I have; she’s more in the spotlight than ever, and sounds beautiful, as showcased on the mesmerising title song which opens the album. The Unthanks seem pretty much unstoppable as they sweep into their second decade.

Also making the best music of a superb career in its second decade is Gemma Hayes, whose debut album appeared a couple of years before the Unthanks’. Her fifth, Bones and Longing, maintains the stratospheric standards she set with Night on My Side and has maintained ever since. On this record some of the songs are so stripped-back and spectral that they seem to defy the laws of how much you can take away from a song and still leave something compelling that makes you lean in. Palomino is a hypnotic, almost nursery-rhyme-like tune with a lyric that effortlessly achieves profundity without seeming to try. To Be Your Honey finds Gemma’s voice at its most adorably alluring. Why she’s not better known continues to baffle me.

In the light of all this fulsome praise, you might imagine that I am loving music in the 2010s, and that all is hunky dory. Well, not exactly. As in every decade, there’s a whole ocean of music that is terrible, or – worse – mediocre, on which is floating, sometimes precariously, the music we love. This has always been so; specific current gripes would be:

  1. The surfeit of droney singer songwriters with scarcely an interesting idea between them, a select cohort of whom are selected, possibly at random, to be granted excessive coverage, record-of-the-week baubles and glowing praise, which is then recycled (like their songs have been) for the next lot. Tom Odell; Laura Doggett; Ben Ezra. What are these people actually *for*?
  2. Formulaic writing by teams of replicants. It’s easy to moan about songs written to a formula, another longstanding gripe. What seems to be happening increasingly now is songs that sound as if they are *literally* written to a specific template: certain chord changes recur; melodic tics that make one tune an anagram of another; a few increasingly hackneyed lyrical tropes. It’s the death of creativity (except in an extremely narrow sense), and it’s deplorable.
  3. The rise of the Ducks. I realise that the email announcing that male singers must now quack instead of singing must have gone straight to my spam folder, but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to complain about it. Sam Smith, John Newman and the hilariously misnamed Maverick Sabre are the three most prominent offenders, but there are plenty more where they came from. That silly old snark about “music for people who don’t like music” has hopefully been retired (along with the egregious “guilty pleasure” nonsense), but regrettably our ears are now being assailed by Singing For People Who Don’t Like The Sound Of The Human Voice. No good can come of it.

So, yes, in summary, there’s plenty to grouse about and plenty of good music if one knows where to find it. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Decades in Music; Part 11 – the 2010s: “Fast and Fierce” – guest blog post by @lazerguidedblog

10sAAh; the 2010’s. A plateau built upon sex, religion, existentialism, and records. Mainly the records. And having been asked to write about this demi-decade from a musical perspective, I’m struck by just how much music there is. The shape of it. The weight of it (quite literally, should you get locked into a serious vinyl habit). “You can holler, you can wail, you can blow what’s left of my right mind,” to quote The Kills and their 2011 single ‘Future Starts Slow’. And it’s a fine sentiment, except that the future hasn’t started slow. Anything but. “Fast” and “fierce” would have been far more coherent statements; I distinctly recall lying in ditch, drunk, as December 31st 2009 hit the run-out groove, and the thoughts that dribbled though my consciousness were full of excitement for our musical itinerary, but also trepidation, the risk of becoming overwhelmed… rather prescient, as events transpired.

For we live in era in which the obsolete machinery of vinyl pressing plants can’t keep up with demand. When every band of our giddy youth reforms for one last payday, in the process selling out far larger venues than they ever did the first time around. And when the nicest thing to say about the records that the mainstream offers us – those that predictably shift the most units – is that they’re the musical equivalent of lettuce. The acme of generic, delivered by identikit munchkins with slipshod hair and all the passion and bite of the Zane Lowe voiceover invariably employed for the TV ad. “So-and-so, blah blah, and the incredible new album, Slippers Are Splendid and Keep Your Feet Warm, available in all good supermarkets.

Indeed, it’s fascinating to watch those 35 year-old episodes of Top of the Pops BBC4 have been furnishing us with throughout the 2010’s. For however much rubbish clogged up the charts back then, at least it was interesting rubbish. Varied rubbish. Rubbish bedecked in a range of different fabrics – should the crinoline not appeal, there’ll be some cracking chiffon along in a minute. And in amidst the dross, some rather marvellous records gatecrashed proceedings. For instance, watching Public Image Limited mime along to ‘Death Disco’ on Top Of the Pops (#20 in 1979) is both an education and a weird, warped kind of joy. And were such a record to be released in the present day, I’m betting it wouldn’t receive exposure on primetime, fun-for-all-the-family TV.

We’re not allowed contemporary Top of the Pops (except at Christmas, which doesn’t count). We were too naughty; some of the presenters naughtier still. And that’s probably for the best; a peek at the hit parade of a 2015 vintage is akin to that 3am insomnia fugue when you flick on the television, only to find each channel is showing some Hungarian movie from 1951 – without subtitles. Everything’s badly lit, nothing makes any sense, and the credits flash up names little more than a random jumble of letters.

Okay; I’m an ageing music obsessive who struggles to come to terms with the fact that it’s no longer 1988; I’m not in chart music’s demographic, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Yet even a cursory glance at now versus then – pretty much any then – reinforces notions that the mainstream has spent that last however many years ghettoising itself. That having erected barricades against sound even remotely challenging, it’s free to exclusively shift product to such discerning audiences as pre-teens, the deaf, the recently deceased, and those eager to stuff yet more £50 notes into the waistband of Gary Barlow’s Agent Provocateur undercrackers (and he’ll be paying the appropriate level of tax on all that dosh – Tory’s honour).

This is all rather odd, considering that we’re at the midpoint of a decade stuffed with shiny. For whilst it’s difficult to critique artistic endeavour of any particular timeframe with objectivity – too recent, and we haven’t had the space to effectively evaluate; too far away, and nostalgia skews the narrative – I have the sneaking suspicion that the 2010’s (or at least its first five years) will be viewed by the music geeks of the future as a moment of high tide.

The steady snap, snap, snap of textured, nuanced records will do that to a hunch. Yet this is more than mere treasure unearthed in new release racks (after all, every cross-section of the rock and pop era ripples with albums and singles both jaw-dropping and life-affirming); if the contemporary musical landscape – or that of the very recent past – does carry significance, it’s the manner through which rejection by the mainstream has liberated musicians and audiences alike.

Because the mainstream has never been a meritocracy; success and longevity reliant upon vogue, image, marketing and serendipity as much as talent or invention (see also: a willingness to sell your soul to the lowest bidder). And supposing that the hit parade was far more of an open arena than it is today – eager to embrace less commercial styles and genres – then so the price of entrance was subservience to the aesthetics of fad, fashion and fickleness; a watering down like so much cheap beer.

It’s how the mainstream subsumed the cold experimentalism of synth-pop, taking music that in the late 70’s was sited beneath a flyover, JG Ballard novels and Kraftwerk records the main currency, and reconfigured it for a far wider audience, so that by the mid-’80’s, the analogue synth was shorthand for cheap and ubiquitous, and as such so disinteresting that it took fifteen/twenty years for the oeuvre to regain its initiative.

It’s how, in order to sell records, hard rock became synonymous with riff, hair and spandex (rather than anything as fundamental as song).

It’s how the jangly guitars and outsider indie-pop sentiment of the early ’90’s became, under the mainstream’s sponsorship, the bloated monstrosity we call Britpop, where songcraft and nuance fell a very distant second to the cheeky grin, Small Faces posture, and the sort of general buffoonery that makes aficionados of the cultured song do a little sick in their mouths; it’s no coincidence that a genuinely interesting band such as Pulp released their weakest singles in the mid-’90’s – which also became their biggest-selling – just as it isn’t chance that the most “celebrated” band of the era (inverted commas highly intentional) were a bunch of Mancunian ape-like creatures who’ve always sounded to these ears like a fifth-rate Rutles covers band without any of the grace or the humour.

And now that we’re in the 2010’s… not only would Oasis (were they up-and-coming) fail to sell anywhere near as many discs as they did, but the element that made them so popular in the first place – the mainstream’s appropriation of scene – no longer functions. Because chart music exists as narrow entity and the rest of us have been forsaken, leaving us to a musical landscape where vogue, image, marketing and serendipity hold very little value. Years ago we were dependent upon the radio (i.e. John Peel) introducing us to the new and the remarkable – or failing that, music press say-so and the recommendation of a clued-up friend. Now, and it’s as if sonic textures reveal themselves at every turn, the internet (and allies such as BBC 6Music) representing a gravity well of high-order eclecticism that translates so well onto vinyl.

(Or even CD, whatever those are).

In order words, by rising above prevailing fashions promoted by the mainstream, then aligning itself to a democratisation of distribution, this era’s soundtrack is as varied as it is formidable. A context in which artists and audiences celebrate spectrum rather than sit (passively) betrothed to specific sonic components. Whilst writing this piece I’ve listened to a number of albums released in the last five years, pulled from the shelves at random, and whilst we should always be wary of small sample sizes, in no way would I argue that such a playlist is unrepresentative of this here and now.

From the pristine jangle of Veronica Fall’s 2011’s eponymous debut to the Krautrock-infused Chilean psychedelia of II by Föllakzoid. The event horizon electronic assault of the self-titled Blanck Mass LP to John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts, 2013’s examination / celebration of the erudite confession. There’s baroque RnB (Janelle Monáe’s The Archandroid); folk-tinged space-rock (The Silver Globe by Jane Weaver); lithe and playful post-indie (Cadenza by Dutch Uncles). Records full of cold surfaces and wide-open spaces (Field of Reeds by These New Puritans), ambient folk (Diamond Mine, the collaboration between King Creosote and John Hopkins), sly and robust blues-pop (Fears Trending, 2015’s release from The Phantom Band).

What links all of these LPs (and the above is by no means a definitive list) is the skein of modernity that runs through each. There’s no kowtowing to trend; no playing to the gallery. Instead, a detectable confidence to reside outside of categorisation, the influences behind each deployed knowingly, delicately, making new shapes out of tired tropes.

These are discs that exist purely on their own terms – and that, for me, is what makes this decade stand out from the white noise of back catalogue; we’ve thrown away the template of what a decent record apparently sounds like, and whilst neither universal nor necessarily permanent – for whilst there’s a mainstream, there’ll always be scenes and bandwagons and a moribund music press telling us what we should be listening to – this freedom to dip in and out of stylistic vestige without record sales being hit or inflated by vogue, image and marketing should be celebrated.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some sex, religion and existentialism to be getting on with.

Decades in Music; Part 10 – The ’00s: “Filling the void with beats, gadgets and trainers” – guest blog post by @indieover40

When Dotty asked me to write about what the 2000s meant to me musically I knew instantly what I would be writing about. My life essentially became dominated by three divergent forces that intertwined and seemed to feed off each other. Dance music, the iPod and personal fitness crashed into my world and dictated the course of my life musically throughout that decade.

As 1999 passed into 2000 at midnight 31st December and the world was not destroyed by the anticipated millennium bug, I was 31 years old and living in the Polish city of Krakow. I was 4 years into what ultimately became a 6 year sabbatical from my post-school career which had taken me from a university campus in Northampton to a communist built apartment in Eastern Europe via the Midwest of USA and Florence, Italy.

Musically I was in a void which seemed to reflect the sparse apartment I was living in. I had no affinity to any artist or even a genre and it had seemed that way for a very long time. When I look back I wonder if the instability in my personal life in the final years of the 1990s had manifest in my musical world. That maybe bouncing from country to country and from one set of friends to another had prevented any meaningful musical attachment.

I was still technically an indie kid and my staple diet remained guitar bands. However, I had become disillusioned with the post-Britpop scene. This was particularly disappointing as I was a university student between 1996 and 1999 and had always assumed the campus would be fertile ground for the discovery of new musical tastes. However my resounding memories of late 1990’s music seem to take the form of Babybird’s Your Gorgeous and Reef’s Place Your Hands. I could probably still cut the same shapes now to Stretch & Vern’s I’m Alive as I did all those years ago in Ritzy nightclub on a student night, such was the mark it left on the formative years of my life.

Musically I was simply meandering along and really not in a good place. Something had to fill the void and I didn’t have to wait too long into that new decade for a musical epiphany.

Whilst living among the British expats In Krakow I’d become pally with a lad from Durham called David who liked his dance music. This generally took the form of heavy techno whose monotonous driving bass was headache inducing and was played in some of the less salubrious cellar bars of Krakow. David was one of the only expats in our circle to have satellite TV and Sunday afternoons would see us all gathering around his apartment for tinnys and Eastenders omnibus sessions. It was at one of these soirees that the seeds of a new musical direction would take root and pretty much consume me for most of the decade.

As I said, David liked a bit of heavy duty techno and among the reading material at his apartment was a Mixmag magazine, which I felt impelled to flick through one afternoon. Pretty much most of the content was a world far removed from my own as I sat in an apartment block watching Eastenders in a freezing Poland looking at photos of Bermuda short and bikini clad beautiful twenty-somethings partying on the beaches of Ibiza and Miami.

My skimming had taken me as far as the new releases section towards the back and I was just about to put the magazine down as those warm and inviting photos began drying up, when an album review caught my eye. It was for an album simply titled Uruguay and the artist concerned was someone called Darren Emerson. Among all the faceless DJs and Producers whose names had meant nothing to me as I flicked through the magazine, Darren Emerson was one that held much resonance.

Darren had been in the year below me at secondary school and we had trampled the same streets of our shared home town of Elm Park, a suburb that struggled to decide if it was in London or Essex. It would be a stretch to say that Darren and I were friends, although we knew each other well enough to pass the time of day if our paths crossed on the streets or on the underground station platform.

That Darren was an internationally renowned DJ and Producer and gracing the pages of Mixmag was no surprise to me or probably anyone who had grown up in Elm Park in the 1980s. I had certainly followed his career with interest in the early and mid nineties as one third of cross over pioneering electronica group Underworld and had purchased most of their early releases diligently. Although my interest in Underworld had gradually waned by the mid 90s, I was at least aware that Darren left the group in 1999 following the release of the Beaucoup Fish album.

From what I could gather from the review, Uruguay seemed to represent Darren’s reintroduction to the dance music world post-Underworld. It was a very short review, with no visuals and spoke mostly of BPMs and blending loops. I resolved to purchase Uruguay at the first opportunity but with Krakow lacking a credible record shop (at least to me) that opportunity did not arrive until the summer of 2000 whilst back in the UK for one of my periodical trips back home.

As was usually the custom when back in the UK I headed off to London’s West End to check out HMV on Oxford Street and the records shops of Berwick Street in Soho. It was in HMV that I found the Uruguay CD among the Dance section. There staring up at me from the cover was Darren’s partially obscured but unmistakable face and just for a split second I was transported back to the streets of my youth. Where school kids wore deerstalker hats, carried their books in Aquascutum plastic carrier bags and spent their dinner money on 10 Benson & Hedges.

Darren EmersonAt the time I made assumptions about the CD that ultimately proved to be way off the mark. I had assumed for instance that the CD would be a solo album with tracks written and produced by Darren himself, in the vein of Underworld’s own work from the previous decade. However a glance at the track list told me immediately that this was a compilation album featuring a variety of artists whose bizarre names were unknown to me and none attributable to Darren. What it was in fact was a set that Darren had played one night at a club in the fashionable resort of Puerto Del Este in Uruguay.

I also ascertained that the CD was No 15 in a series released under the label Global Underground with presumably 14 predecessors. I discovered later that this Global Underground series were not live recordings but a facsimile of the sets recreated and engineered later in a studio. Call it curiosity but I vowed to go ahead with the purchase despite the initial disappointment that this was simply a mix tape of tunes that I had never heard and probably would not be to my liking either.

It was a flying visit to the UK so it wasn’t until I had returned to my apartment in Krakow that I got the first opportunity to listen to the CD a few days later. Global Underground’s motto as displayed on the CD was “Travelling the world in the speed of sound” and what a journey of sound it was! Within literally 10 seconds of the CD starting I was exposed to chirping crickets, bongos and Minnie Ripperton’s infamous “Loving You” as the The Orb’s A Huge Ever Growing Brain opened proceedings. From that moment on and right through to the final note on CD2, I was sucked in and then dumped in a delightful world of pulsing beats, driving baselines and layered melodies I’d never really heard before. It truly was a journey through sound.

There was also something smooth about the whole listening experience as well. Despite the high BPMs the music flowed effortlessly with seamless transitions between tracks but at the same time you were able to distinguish each tune clearly. The tracks had their own identity and flavour so that rather than the lengthy monotonousness of dance music that had left me frustrated 10 years previously, these actually felt like songs that had been written and created by artists.

I’d long assumed that clubbers weren’t particularly serious music purchasers, that who was actually making the sounds they were dancing to was unimportant to them as well as the song titles (if they had one). This was drawn from my own experiences of dance music culture of the early 90s which entailed occasional clubbing trips to Shoreditch Town Hall or The Leisure Lounge in Holborn.

The problem was quite simply that I wasn’t a recreational drug user at that time and neither were any of my friends. We were pub-goers and gig-goers and we drank beer. However, we felt compelled to experience club culture because it was happening and we had to at least give it a try. Behind the bars of these clubs were lines of fridges full of bottled water with a solitary token fridge at the end for bottled lager and we always seemed to be the only people in the place drinking the hard stuff. We rarely ever lasted the distance and usually left before the tube stopped running. The lack of mind-expanding drugs in my system ensured no meaningful attachment to the thumping monotony coming from the DJ booth. So in that musical battlefield that raged within me in the early 90s, indie and shoegaze had firmly won the war by this point.

But as I listened repeatedly to Uruguay I realised that this was dance music I could get into. It was reeling me in swiftly with the bonding process beginning in earnest. Music that was being played by underground DJs at exotic playgrounds in the southern hemisphere seemed dark and edgy. I knew that none of my friends would ever like it and that was an added attraction. I could own this sound, create from scratch a musical world around me without any outside influence and on my own terms. Who knows where it would take me? Suddenly the musical vacuum was starting fill.

Throughout the decade I slowly built a library of dance music whether it was CDs purchased in shops or later in the form of digital downloads or through Spotify and other music sharing platforms. I started off by purchasing earlier episodes of this Global Underground series. CDs of sets played in the cities of Buenos Aires, Melbourne & Budapest by DJs such as John Digweed, Nick Warren & Dave Seaman. They weren’t always easy to find and so progress was slow in the early years. Then one day around 2003 whilst surfing the internet I came across a deal to purchase the whole collection in a double box set for about £100. There were around 20 in the series by this stage. I cared not whether I had the money or whether my wife would go ballistic, or that I already owned 25% of the collection by that stage, I simply had to buy it and I did.

CDs

This collection became the foundations of my listening pattern for the rest for the decade. It allowed me to filter out which type of sounds I enjoyed and which DJs were likely to provide those sounds. At that stage I hadn’t quite got comfortable with the genre I was dealing with. There seemed to be so many. House, Deep House, Techno, Tech House, Trance. I needed to pin a label on it in case anyone asked what sort of music I was into. I settled on Progressive House as it popped up frequently and it sounded like the sort of dance music mature people would listen to and so provided some sort of justification for this musical venture.

One of the biggest ironies of all this was that I had absolutely no urge at this point to actually go to a club and hear this sort of music in its natural environment. I was quite content to listen at home or on the bus to and from work every day. However, another factor entered the equation around this time that fuelled my new found musical passion and without it may not have endured. That was the iPod.

After returning to the UK from Poland in 2002 I ended up going back to my pre-sabbatical career. In the office I worked in there was a lad who had an iPod and I was instantly fascinated. Although far from being a third world country, Poland was certainly behind in terms of gadgetry and I hadn’t really cottoned on to the emergence of the iPad at that point or had any idea of its capabilities. When this lad showed me how many songs were on this tiny bit of kit I was gobsmacked. Not just songs but whole albums. Loads of them. You could flick between them, play tracks randomly. Randomly! Just that single option was enough to convince me that I must have an iPod.

This was just before Xmas and I was conscious that spending money on gadgets for myself at this time of year was going to raise eyebrows with my soon to be wife. I decided to wait it out until the New Year and purchase one after Xmas on the pretext it was a sale item. Purchasing goods in sales was a concept my wife embraced and would ensure her tacit approval.

But I didn’t have to bother in the end because a remarkable event happened. Incredibly the first present I opened that Xmas morning was an iPod Nano courtesy of my wife. That was and to this day remains the best present my wife has ever given me. It really did change my life almost immediately. The world of iTunes and burning CD’s took hold and consumed me. I gradually transferred every CD I had onto iTunes and crafted playlists for my listening pleasure. Not just my newly discovered dance music albums but the old indie and other CDs of my youth. I’d be sitting on the bus to work listening to Laurent Gainer’s Man with the Red Face merging into Adorable’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling followed by Public Enemy’s Miuzi Weighs a Ton. Sometimes I didn’t want that bus journey to end.

Incredibly I became quickly frustrated by the constraints of the amounts of songs I could have on the iPod. I recall there was capacity for about 150 songs, but my ITunes library had over 5000 songs at one point. The iPod memory couldn’t satisfy my insatiable appetite for tunes. Working within these constraints I’d end up getting stressed trying to compile playlists, especially when iTunes informed me I was over the allowed limit when syncing to the iPod.

Within this environment of the iPod and a new found love of music, particularly dance music, the third dominating feature of that decade manifest. The gym and personal fitness.

It would be fair to say that I had never really looked after my health. I wasn’t necessarily unhealthy and had always enjoyed good health as a rule. However, I had smoked from a young age, although not heavily and alcohol was a regular aspect of my social lifestyle. I wasn’t exactly a slob either but at the same time I didn’t have a hobby that required any sort of physical exertion. What made me suddenly scrutinise my lifestyle in 2003 was my wife falling unexpectedly pregnant with what would be our first and only child.

All of a sudden life became very serious indeed and my customary habit of just taking each day as it comes needed a major reassessment. It was a shock to the system for both of us as our strong emotional bond was built in part by a shared desire not to have kids. Impending parenthood forced many changes to our way of life. We started doing responsible things like eating at home, saving money and taking out life insurance products.

The subject of health was discussed frequently between us in those early weeks of the pregnancy. My wife was a borderline chain smoker but naturally she quit immediately upon falling pregnant and she vowed to stay fit and healthy henceforth. I decided to follow suit but wasn’t sure how to pursue a fitness regime. I had sporadically gone to gyms in my early 20s because it seemed like the right thing to do but ultimately with very little enthusiasm. I recall sitting on the weights bench and not doing anything but watching what was on the television screens until someone moved me on. As for running machines, I couldn’t seem to stay on the things for than 5 minutes without succumbing to extreme boredom.

The iPod provided the solution to this fitness and boredom issue once and for all. The distraction provided by hours of random music on my iPod rendered punishing fitness routines not just manageable but downright enjoyable. From the moment I signed up and handed over my bank details I was in the gym pretty much 3 or 4 times a week. The upshot was that going to the gym and getting fit was simply a means to an end. A way of listening to music uninterrupted and to feed my insatiable appetite for music.

These regular trips to the gym while keeping fit was fuelling my new found love of dance music even more. Keeping a steady rhythm going whilst switching between radical changes in tempo is not easy. Believe me, Funk Function’s Empress Zero followed by The Auteurs Starstruck can really put you off your stride. A consequence of this was that dance music dominated my iPod content for pretty much the rest of the decade as I ditched all other forms of music from my running playlists. Dance music got me through many 10K runs and half-marathons whilst raising money for a number of charities. Music was making be do good deeds and that felt good.

John Digweed, Nick Warren and Sasha were pretty much providing the soundtrack to my decade. I googled their set lists to see what they were dropping in clubs around the world and listened to their podcasts and radio shows. I was introduced to producers such as Guy J & Henry Saiz whose talents combined in the track Lamur and would be my anthem of the decade. Labels like Bedrock and Sudbeat became just as familiar names as 4AD and Creation had been 15 years before.

I hadn’t completely abandoned non-dance music and continued to dabble in other genres. My best friend Paul regularly sent me CDs in the post which he’d burnt with up to date “indie” music. Whilst I enjoyed the quirkier sounds of The Besnard Lakes and Loney Dear over Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian it wasn’t an effortless listen. The conversion rate in terms of likeability was very low compared to dance music where I was constantly being surprised by the diversity of sounds. I still went to gigs regularly but even this seemed to comprise mostly of reunions of my past indie heroes such as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Bluetones and Shed Seven. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come?

In addition to iTunes, by the end of the decade I had a Spotify Premium account, a Soundcloud account, a Mixcloud account, a Last.fm account. My iPhone was literally overheating with music apps and it didn’t stop there. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I eventually bought a set of DJ Controllers intent on learning how to create my own DJ set from the comfort of home. It was of course a flawed venture. My hectic home and work life was not conducive to learning a new art from scratch. However, I had developed enough of a rudimentary knowledge of how DJ sets were crafted through constant listening and so managed to cobble together a few mixes which I published on Mixcloud under my own DJ moniker.

As the decade closed, there was time for one last musical adventure. It would only be a matter of time before the urge to go to an actual club would be too strong to resist and the opportunity arose when I spotted that John Digweed would be playing at Fabric along with Guy J. That combination was the equivalent of the Stone Roses supporting Happy Mondays back in 1989 and so without thinking of the consequences I purchased two tickets online.

In the absence of finding any friends mad enough to go clubbing with me in their mature years I managed to persuade my wife to come along. Amazingly we both enjoyed the experience in our own special way. I got to hear some of those tunes that I listened to on the bus to work and in the gym in their natural environment. The drops and fades, pulsing beats, lasers and lights combined and gave the tunes even more energy. For my wife she got to let her hair down after years of mothering a toddler and it was the perfect tonic. We continued our little foray to clubs for another couple of years with the odd trip to Ministry Of Sound and KoKo.

So there we have it. What the 2000s meant for me musically. I’d started the decade in a musical vacuum but ended it on the dance floors of London clubs. Along the way I’d discovered a love of dance music, embraced technology and got fit. Each element feeding off each other and unable to survive in isolation.

Of course, nothing lasts forever and the next decade would see my musical world take a new direction.

Decades in Music; Part 9 – The ’00s: “Millenium Music” – guest blog post by @chops_top_fives

00s A

Millennium music.

Is it just too soon to be clear or were the 2000s the first decade you couldn’t pin down to a particular style of music? The fifties saw the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, the sixties had beat groups dominating the charts and invading the USA before the hippies took over music gained a psychedelic boost. The seventies brought disco and funk and heavy rock before an explosive end with the rapid arrival of punk. During the eighties everything went a bit electronic and, well you get the idea. I hit my teenage years in the eighties and grew up loving most of the music that had gone before but largely ignoring the popular bands of the day. This set me up for a life of wanting to seek out alternative music and the ability to do that changed dramatically in the new millennium.

The Strokes – Last Nite

In the mid-nineties I’d somewhat fallen out of love with new music. The NME didn’t make sense to me anymore and I filled my shelves with albums by musicians who’d been in bands I used to love rather than looking for something exciting. An album by Radiohead changed all that and reignited my interest in new music. I’m not sure what came first, buying “OK Computer” or buying an actual computer but these two events would change the way I sought out and bought music in the new decade. By the year 2000 I was more savvy with this new Internet thing and accumulating websites that introduced me to bands and genres I’d never heard before. It provided me with a route to alternative opinions about music and meant I was no longer dependant on whatever the small clique of paper based music press had decided was going to be the next big thing.

Ironically, one of the first bands I got excited by at the start of the decade remained magically anonymous despite the sudden ease of web based research. Godspeed You Black Emperor! (the exclamation mark moved later on) were thrillingly mysterious, it took me several years just to find out their first names, and in 2000 released their breathtaking second album “Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven”. It’s a genuine double album, epic in both sound and length and sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Storm

The desire to force similar bands into a “scene” seemed less prevalent, though this may be because I was no longer reading the NME quite so regularly. However, I was drawn into the Detroit Garage Rock scene, which managed to get a lot of garage punk bands who’d been on the circuit for quite a few years into the pages of the trendiest culture pages. Leading lights The White Stripes were as thrilling a band as I had seen for many a year. I remember seeing a photo of Jack and Meg playing an outdoor live show (possibly at the newly hip SXSW festival) that had me slavering over the band before I’d heard a bar of their music. I was enthralled by the idea that two people could even consider making that sort of music and the picture seemed to ooze magic. Wearing clothes of red, black & white with a packed audience stretching out into the night behind them it was a great photo that pulled me in hook line & sinker before I’d heard a note. I wasn’t disappointed when I finally heard the music, their second album “White Blood Cells” was a visceral rock n roll rush. I dived into the Detroit scene head first and was soon exploring the many (for the most part fairly traditional) bands including The Von Bondies (I had a major crush on Marcie), The Detroit Cobras (a band who’d make any party a blast), the Electric 6 (though mainly just for single Gay Bar), The Soledad Brothers (great t-shirt) and my favourite Detroit group The Dirtbombs.

The Dirtbombs – Chains of Love

Whilst I was reading the paper press less the NME still had a role to play in the music I discovered. They had begun the NME award shows to promote new bands and to back their own brand, they were sponsorship heavy affairs (precipitant of the way mainstream live music was changing) but offered the chance to see several great bands (or more likely 2 great ones and 2 crap ones) in one night at a reasonably sized venue and I leapt at the chance. This gave me my one chance to see the Libertines live. I’d gone entirely because The Detroit Cobras were second on the bill (and they were fantastic) but the chance to see the band of the moment was an added bonus even if I wasn’t a huge fan. They put in a fairly shambolic performance of which my only real memory is the moment when they took off their red guardsman jackets & lobbed them in the crowd. They were a fascinating prospect and I totally got why people fell in love with them but they weren’t for me. Maybe if I’d been younger and part of that in-crowd that always seemed to find a way to the unheard of East London pub they were playing or the set in someone’s flat that got broken up by police after only a few songs. They made great copy but for me didn’t have the tunes to back it up.

The Walkmen – The Rat

The Internet explosion provided everyone with access to more websites than we really knew what to do with. Even in the early 2000s I was struggling to cope with the quantity of data that was out there. NME might have felt old hat but at least I knew I could walk into WH Smith every Wednesday and pick up the latest copy. Trying to keep up to date with the myriad of music websites and music blogs was difficult. I adopted RSS feeds as a way to see the latest posts but even then couldn’t read everything and was finding it hard to pick out the wheat from the chaff. Drowned in Sound was launched in 2000, I guess I discovered it a year or two later, and it soon became my defacto entry point for the internet.

Bloc Party – Banquet

DiS offered a fresh take on new music. I guess it wasn’t that different from NME but it seemed to be more community led. There was (and remains) an active forum that underpinned the website and it was here as much as the features and reviews, that I began picking up new and exciting recommendations. As always when you first read about bands you’ve never heard off before it feels like people are talking in another language but I soon found out the music wasn’t totally out there it was just created by artists that hadn’t quite hit the mainstream. DiS led me to a fabulously eclectic list of artists, names that are now much more familiar but back then seemed utterly entrancing. Joanna Newsom’s miraculous album “Ys” was talked about with the same passion and enthusiasm as American punk renegades Les Savy Fav. I discovered so many bands I now consider huge favourites who have nothing in common apart from being exciting and fascinating creators of music.

Joanna Newsom – Monkey & Bear

Les Savy Fav – What Would Wolves Do?

Perhaps the ultimate DiS band was Dananananaykroyd. I must have read about them for three or four years before I finally saw them live in the heart of Soho at Madam JoJo’s in 2006. They turned out to be one of the very best live bands I’ve seen. A 2009 show at the Hoxton Bar & Grill remains a particular high point. A night during which I got very very drunk, completely destroyed a very expensive set of spectacles, missed my last train home and ended up crashing on the floor of the flat of a friend of a friend who handily lived near Russell square. Best night ever!

Dananananaykroyd – Infinity Milk

I also need to make a special mention for the wonderful Youthmovies. I first saw them supporting Hope of the States in 2003 when they were called Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies. They had something of a Red Hot Chilli Pepper vibe going on (though with hindsight I think that was entirely due to their lack of shirts) but had something going on that I liked. It was over five years before I caught them again, name shortened & shirts on, playing a pub venue in my hometown of Kingston and they were phenomonal. Sadly less than two years on they played their final shows. I’m still holding out for a reunion.

Youthmovies – The Naughtiest Girl Is Always the Monitor

Whilst the interweb introduced me to new names in music and freed me from the reliance on BPI funded music press it also marked the beginning of the end of my reliance on the words of other people. The web enabled instant links to actual music, now you didn’t have to interpret other people’s points of view you could hear for yourself exactly what a band sounded like. YouTube & Soundcloud provided quick snippets but it was the good old BBC who really took this to a new level. The iPlayer Radio allowed me to listen again to shows I’d never have heard without it – Mark Lamarr had two amazing shows on Radio 2 – Alternative Sixties was an hour of rip roaring garage rock & pre decimal R&B that took my developed my obsession with Detroit bands and introduced me to the originators.

MIA – Paper Planes

Lamarr’s three hour God’s Jukebox pushed the boundaries even further. He was outspoken about the obsession with new music, a gripe I never shared, but his enthusiasm and passion for supporting the music he loved was absolutely genuine and both shows were absolute gold dust. BBC 6music struggled early on, almost being shut down, but made me buy a digital radio and has become my main source of discovering new music. Marc Riley, Gideon Coe and Cerys Matthews all had fantastic shows that are still as vital today. Live sessions form a major part of most of these and, whilst they do bang on about it a bit, I think the station really does represent some of the spirit of John Peel. Riley in particular manages to produce a program that doesn’t care about genre boundaries and shows no snobbery about playing a bit of pop music if it’s a genuinely good tune.

Britney Spears – Toxic

The 2000s were a decade in which the way I listened to and discovered new music changed dramatically. I still buy physical formats but 80% of my musical purchases are downloads now. Having struggled with the variety of peer to peer applications early on I’m now content with my eMusic subscription and direct access to bands via services like Bandcamp. I have used the free version of Spotify for a long time but recently won a year’s worth of Premium which I’m fast becoming reliant on. Despite the ease with which that allows me to hear stuff I reckon I still buy as many albums now as I ever did.

Going back to my original question, I don’t know if the 2000s lack a decade defining genre. I suspect it’s too soon to know and maybe the reason I can’t see one is that it’s outside my realm of interest. Perhaps Drum & Bass or Dub Step or some other more dance based genre is the thing that will form the basis of Millennium Revival discos in years to come. Whatever happens I think it has been a fine decade, full of fascinating music and new ways to discover it.

New Music Releases w/c 11th May 2015

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This week’s new music releases are:

We Are The Ocean – ARK

Barbarossa – Imager

Crocodiles – Boys

Royce Wood Junior – The Ashen Tang

Novella – Land

Bernard + Edith – Jem

Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms

Patrick Watson – Love Songs for Robots (the title track of which was my Song of the Week last week!)

Juan Wauters – Who? Me?

The Holydrug Couple – Moonlust

Pfarmers – Gunnera

Icky Blossoms – Mask

Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls

The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird is Home

Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh

Roisin Murphy – Hairless Toys

Dots Jukebox: “Power” 9th May 2015

power

SONG OF THE WEEK:

Band Song Suggested by
Richard Ashcroft Music is Power @neilc79
Tom Robinson Band Power in the Darkness @ackleite
Lesley Gore You Don’t Own Me @evashadowgirl18
Manic Street Preachers Sex, Power, Love & Money @heliumdelirium @clairhorne
Arcade Fire Neighbourhood No. 3 (Power Out) @jason_dobson @damjef
Ladytron Soft Power @beatcitytone
Electric Six Danger! High Voltage! @sparkes74
Molotov Gimme Tha Power @weloveallthat
Kanye West Power @erraticbear
Snap The Power @rich_w27 @durutti74 @dronhilltweets
Spiritualized Electricity @paldinowolf @kedwondo @lucy_raggy_doll
Cat Power The Greatest @chimbonda39
Suede The Power @_sandywishart @tvermar @jamescollingwo1
John Lennon Power to the People @djfroggle @instantkarma80
The Kinks Superman @scottp68
R.E.M. What’s the Frequency Kenneth @staffs77
The Smiths There is a Light that Never Goes Out @kedwondo @richard0x4a
OMD Electricity @durutti74 @sparkypatrick
Watsky Strong as an Oak @jonesrl86
Rival Sons Electric Man @monkeymarl
Win You’ve Got the Power @durutti74 @darrenmjones
Pulp The Will to Power @musicvstheworld
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds Ballad of the Mighty I @knoxy15
Patti Smith People Have the Power @stevemac721 @ageingraver @gibsons59
Flogging Molly The Power’s Out @vesskimo
Iron Maiden Powerslave @chesterbells1 @eddiesmate1 @paldinowolf
The Clash Complete Control @vaguemclarity
Public Enemy Fight the Power @flash_harry_ @paldinowolf @sparkypatrick @tinyeibar @tvermar @guitartutorrich @cjcole01
Rage Against The Machine Take the Power Back @guitartutorrich @lsherrington1 @lauradron
The Stooges Raw Power @ladyofsonnets66 @beardedsteven
Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention Trouble Every Day @pussyquiet
Jimi Hendrix Power of Soul @guitartutorrich
The Power Station Get it On (Bang a Gong) @n1ckbab3r
The Chi Lites (For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People @contra_flow
Frankie Goes to Hollywood Power of Love @paldinowolf @tvermar

Decades in Music; Part 8 – The 90s: “A decade of wonderfully varied, innovative music.” Guest blog post by @weloveallthat

For me the 1990s were both personally and musically a decade of change.

Personally because I finished my university studies in the North of the country and returned to “the big black smoke” in 1990 and was subsequently to spend the next ten years in three different countries.

Musically because the decade was kick-started by landing my first full time job in a now-deceased London high street “music” chain (I called it a record shop, but by the time I handed in my notice the vinyl records had been sold off – a mixed blessing, I was sad to see the premature retirement of my favourite format from the racks but delighted to be able to purchase so much vinyl at discount prices) where I was introduced to a wider world of sounds by my colleagues, one somewhat wider than my favoured niche of Peel-favoured guitar bands (even HE got tired of the white indie lads playing guitars dominating the Festive Fifty, if you’ll recall) and eighties synthpop.

90sBRather than taking the preferred option of modern times and simply googling the hits and trends of the decade in question, I thought I’d keep the cheat-sheet action to a minimum and exercise the ol’ grey matter as to my musical memories of the 1990s. So here goes.

Just as any decade is usually influenced by the tail-end of the previous one, the most notable early musical movement of the 1990s was “baggy”, so-dubbed because of the loose-fitting clobber sported by Mancunians and other northern English urchins so as not to feel “restricted” by tighter vestments while under the influence of psychotropic substances. Baggy, as any fool knows, grew out of the Madchester musical mode where funky dance beats were appropriated into that indie guitar sound much loved by night-time Radio One listeners like yours truly.

Happy Mondays were the original flag-wavers for this musical microcosm (I imagine their “Madchester EP” with the Kirsty MacColl featuring anthem Hallelujah was the origin of this name) and like-minded substance (and sartorial taste) abusers such as The Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets. Not since the early days of Sarah Records had bowlcuts been so in vogue. My friends and I lapped it up, it has to be said. More electronic acts like 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald climbed aboard and soon the dance-meets-indie collision reached its logical conclusion and star remixers were also given their dream tickets to chartdom. Andrew Weatherall, whose DJ sets were as much influenced by Throbbing Gristle and Krautrock as your “bangin’ 12” white labels” gave a new lease of life to Primal Scream’s sound in the still-epic-now Screamadelica, Paul “Oakey” Oakenfold put a slicker production sound to the Mondays’ loping beats for their third album “Pills n’ Thrills n’ Bellyaches” and Terry Farley helped remix “Groovy Train” for Peel’s Scouse stalwarts The Farm. All three platter-spinners had been part of the late 80s Balearic Beats phenomenon, where anything from a Thrashing Doves b-side to a Chris Rea instrumental held court with Italo house or Belgian New Beat or Rondo Veneziano or whatever took the DJ’s fancy.

This struck the tone for a lot of the best UK music of the 90s, mixing previously discordant styles or sometimes looking back to sounds of the past once deemed “uncool” and now revived. Additionally, the “hardcore” edge of dance music was no longer seen as the nemesis of alternative rock music (as disco and punk were seen in the 70s) but as part of one big love-in, in part aided and abetted by easier access to drugs like the ubiquitous ecstasy or “E”. Without googling to check I forget if the “Second Summer of Love” was at the end of the 80s or the 90s but it became such a mainstream event that decidedly un-indie strummers Danny Wilson wrote a song about it. Mancunian record shops like 808 State affiliated Eastern Bloc imported a lot of techno from Detroit, house from Chicago and Italo house from Milan and this seeped into the collections of local musicians. The purists in the home towns of these singles may have scorned such inter-marrying but the kids in Manchester (and soon everywhere else) loved it.

Earlier non-hits by James and others got a remix and went into the charts and into our hearts. The Funky Drummer and Ashley’s Roachclip beats were milked to saturation point (I’ll leave the googling to you lot) while another “seminal” breakbeat – The Amen Break – was being sped up for drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, breakbeat and whatever. Roni Size grabbed a snatch of Everything But The Girl for his “Brown Paper Bag”, 4 Hero told Mr Kirk that his son was dead, Silver Bullet sampled Robocop and brought forth the guillotine and PJ and Smiley told London to Shut Up and Dance. The Shamen bounced back from the death of one of their founder members and notched up a “cheeky” number one the told the country that Es were “good”, with visionary Savile conspiracist Jerry Sadowitz in the video. Did I mention the Prodigy recycling an old 70s Public Information Film for their debut hit Charly? Charly the cat and Charlie the snortable clubber’s friend. Pun’s not dead!!

Just as dance acts recycled samples from 70s acts and recontextualized them, a few artists were exhuming 60s and 70s styles for their own successful futures. A personal favourite single from 1990 was the “Crosstown Traffic” Hendrix-sampling “I’m Ready” by Caveman, possibly inspired by a Wrangler ad some months earlier… while (allegedly) a lorry load of cut-price Big Star albums arriving at a Glasgow record shop helped spark the wonderful Teenage Fanclub, who also helped turn adolescent ears on to The Byrds and Neil Young. I do hope that story is true. Acid Jazz took the 60s beatnik chic sound and look and sort-of married it to the vogue of the day. Galliano, Courdroy, Brand New Heavies, Young Disciples and the Talkin’ Loud label produced some half-decent tunes appealing to the perennial mod “head” music buyer and concert goer, and the Brixton Fridge provided some overlap between this “scene” and the Soul II Soul “Funky Dread” sound system. Did I mention Lenny Kravitz being a human mash-up of Marley, Hendrix and Lennon at least ten years before mash-ups were a thing? I suppose I have now.

One more act that seemed to sum up the 90s mix-it-up ethic that was actually formed in 1990 was Stereolab, who over the decade melded motorik Krautrock beats to seemingly disparate components as bossa nova and singing partially in French about leftwing politics.

It’s hard to talk about the 1990s in strictly chronological order as the whole decade flits back and forth in influence. 90s hip-hop mustn’t be overlooked, and a golden age of alternately conscious politically aware rappers alternated with a wave of affable MCs collectively known as the Native Tongues posse (De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah and Sarf London lass Monie Love) appeared at the close of the previous decade and bloomed in the early 1990s, a Basement Boys remix of “Can I Kick It?” which sampled Lou Reed and Ian Dury being a particular highlight. It’s hard to imagine rap without an overdose of swearing and graphic sexism but apart from the likes of Q-Tip leaving his “jimmy hats” in El Segundo and Posdunos’s “Buddy”, macho posturing was refreshingly absent from these guys’ outputs.

Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy produced a masterpiece in 1992’s “Hiphoprisy is the Greatest Luxury” LP and then failed to record a follow-up, probably realising they could never top it. The same year Philly combo The Goats released “Tricks of the Shade” that suggested their fellow Americans should “Burn The (Fuckin’) Flag” because they didn’t “mind the people but the government’s a drag”. Doubt that made the White House walkman. Even those on the other side of the English Channel were recording slick hip hop in their own native tongues (pun intended), such as MC Solaar (released here on Talkin’ Loud) and Soon E MC (not released here at all, I fear). Public Enemy released “Apocalypse ’91 The Empire Strikes Black” in… er… 1991 and Beastie Boys stupendous “Check Your Head” came out in 1990. South Londoners Stereo MCs released their personal commercial apogee in the “Connected” album in 1992… I once sold a record to “The Head” – the bald one -, don’tcha know. They’re probably all bald by now, actually.

Björk’s “Debut” album came out in 1992, like so many other marvellous LPs. I’d always been fond of The Sugarcubes since buying “Birthday” in 86 or whenever it was. When I heard “Debut” (which wasn’t ACTUALLY her solo debut as she’d recorded another album when she was a child in Iceland) I fell in love with it and actually bought it THREE TIMES, I then proceeded to religiously snap up all the remixes she released (she had a bit of a thing for remixes, but a good thing). Maybe her eclectic taste mirrors my own or maybe I was just sucked in by that puffin-eating story.

1991 will probably be best remembered for a fantastic landmark album that despite nodding to the past was a taste of the immediate future. I am of course referring to Saint Etienne’s Foxbase Alpha, a sampladelic (word made up by Deee-Lite, whose Groove Is In The Heart / What Is Love 12” is one of my personal favourite double-header 12”s ever) sashay across the capital, later updated decades later in Richard X’s “Foxbase Beta” remix album. How suitable that in the era of looking back in chime with the present that its lead single be a Balearic revision of a Neil Young ballad, or that its follow-up be a danceable cover of The Field Mice.

Did I mention Chimes? Like Orbital’s Chime? Or that Sheffield sound of bleeps birthed by Warp Records such as LFO’s eponymous hit, Tricky Disco, Sweet Exorcist et al? Nightmares on Wax and Aphex Twin also released some classics on the label and off it in the early 90s.

The aforementioned Saint Etienne also namechecked The World of Twist (after supporting them) on their first album and WoT’s one and only album “Quality Street” is well worth checking out. One of the tracks is a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow”, following in the footsteps of The Soupdragons’ 90s indie-disco staple (yeah I know it’s from 89) “I’m Free” and Primal Scream’s (or more than likely Andrew Weatherall’s) appropriation of the “Sympathy For The Devil” in Loaded. One Gallagher brother was so impressed with World of Twist that Oasis were nearly named Sons of the Stage, the band’s second single. Saint Etienne album number two So Tough also namechecked Prince B from PM Dawn and The KLF (more on the latter later). And Bruce Forsyth. Tiger Bay completed a trilogy of faultless albums from Saint Etienne, featuring “troubled” guest vocalist Shara Nelson, voice of Massive Attack’s first two hits, along side Sarah “Crackers” Cracknell.

Massive Attack! Portishead! Tricky! The three pronged trip-hop triumvirate of the Bristol scene. Whether it was Isaac Hayes or Lalo Schifrin samples, filmic female vocals, Horace Andy’s dulcet tones or stoned rap phrasing with a Brizzle lilt, these three blazed a trail for a slew of coffee table compilations they no doubt all despised. Yet there is no doubting the sheer quality of these three debut albums (with a degree of overlap between them) that appeared between 1991 and 1995.

Can you believe I’ve got so far and still haven’t mentioned grunge or Britpop? Okay, I suppose the time is now. Although we did of course have our own home-grown noise movement in the Scene That Celebrates Itself, the late 80s effects pedal drenched shoegazing scene that spilled over into the 90s with Ride’s Going Blank Again, Slowdive’s entire back catalogue, and of course My Bloody Valentine’s “Glider” EP complete with dancefloor-friendly Weatherall remix, as well as ensuing full-lengther “Loveless”. All we need now is a Chapterhouse reunion and all these bands will have reformed. Were Lush shoegazers? Of sorts. The Pale Saints? Probably. All good, all very good.

Another early 90s album worthy of mention was A House’s “I Am The Greatest”. A slightly warped and cynical take on modern life that perfectly balanced vitriol and humour. Fantastically under-appreciated and more than likely out of print.

The KLF’s seemingly seamless transition from underground samplers to bona-fide international textbook popstars (and yes, they wrote the book) was another purely 90s phenomenon. Within four years they had gone from virtual bankruptcy to recording with Tammy Wynette and appearing on the Brits with Extreme Noise Terror, deleting their back catalogue and burning a million pounds on a remote island. They also got me to buy an MC5 album after hearing the intro to “What Time Is Love?”, yet another example of recontextualising the past in the 1990s.

Grunge music seemed to emerge from nowhere, although Kurt Cobain admitted that he had only been ripping off Pixies and others lumped into the scene like “slackers” Dinosaur Jr and Mudhoney and even Soundgarden had been in existence since 1984 in some incarnation or other. Sonic Youth had formed in 1981. The other big grunge band – Pearl Jam – did release their first album in 1990, confusingly named “Ten”.

Now as James called their fourth (1992) album “Seven”, and a Beatles album released YEARS after the band had split up (even after half the band had DIED ffs) was called “One” so I can only assume this was the start of a trend.

Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was the only album in our record shop that EVERYBODY liked. The hair-metal worshipping manager with a penchant for Michael Bolton, the teenage pop fan with braces, the avant garde John Martyn aficionado, the cheery Rastafarian, the spaced-out Ozric Tentacles fanboy, the clued-up apprentice Balearic DJ, the black-clad post-punk relic, the Lenny Kravitz apologist and my good self could all be found reaching for the CD with the submerged baby and the dollar bill. Was it too heavy for in-store Saturday play? As we were a mainstream high street chain it probably would have been. But it was TOP FIVE IN THE CHARTS. It was noisy, rough and rowdy, but also somehow melodic. Years of overplaying would mean that Smells Like Teen Spirit would start to grate, but one hell of a landmark album to witness the launch of. “In Utero” was a worthy follow-up as well, and I was quick to snare a clear vinyl copy at HMV.

Would Dinosaur Jr. have got onto Warner Brothers roster without Nevermind? Maybe not. They featured on the video “1991: The Year Punk Broke”, a title with rather un-American wry humour. The Lemonheads also benefitted from association with the grunge scene, as almost anyone with a checked shirt (over there they called them “plaid”) and a guitar was offered a major label record contract. Later (possibly under the influence of illegal substances) sensitive Evan Dando would allegedly share a mattress with Mrs K. Cobain (Courtney Love to lawyers) but I really can’t recall weather it was Kurt or Evan who first took to the stage in a dress. “It’s A Shame About Ray” was (and is) a fantastic album although rather on the short side even with the Mrs. Robinson cover tacked on the end.

Additionally Boston’s own “Kim Gordon with issues” – the wonderful Juliana Hatfield – released a few choice albums during this decade on the back of this grunge thing, quite possibly aided her association with Mr. Dando, including “Become Who You Are” as The Juliana Hatfield Three. They’ve just released a second album called Whatever, My Love AND YOU SHOULD ALL GO AND BUY IT. She didn’t really have a sister by the way, the song’s about her brother’s girlfriend.

Oh, and in the 90s the Smashing Pumpkins were still good too. And do Rage Against The Machine count as grunge? That first album with the photo of Buddhist monk on fire on the cover was ace as well. Especially when Bruno Brookes played the sweary bits on the Top 40. Soul Asylum and Nickelback were still rubbish though, although I did buy a discounted CD single of Runaway Train out of a bargain bin.

But this mainstream success of previously “alternative” music posed a question shortly to be blasted into smithereens of irrelevance. Could a band really be considered alternative while recording on a major record label making millions of dollars for “the man”? Could “alternative” musicians really be credibly alternative or “independent” if they were promoting branded clothing or footwear made by some huge corporation, given for free but with strings (sometimes laces) attached? Could “alternative” musicians be seen rubbing shoulders with politicians?

I could at this juncture add a paragraph extolling the merchandising finesse of Inspiral Carpets, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and another band of that ilk (the Senseless Things, perhaps? Their Jamie-Hewlett-later-of-Gorillaz designed sleeve art was always impressive) or praise for the cultural references of Thundersley Invacar celebrators Collapsed Lung (possibly not as rich a tapestry of cultural references as Carter USM and almost microscopic when compared to that of Half Man Half Biscuit who actually released FIVE albums during the 90s despite still being largely thought of as an 80s indie band). However, virtual column inches do not permit such luxury.

Anyway, on to Britpop.

According to legend, Britpop was invented as a counterpoint to the American grunge domination of post-Nevermind alterno-dom. I do have the very copy of Select magazine where St. Etienne, Denim, The Auteurs, Pulp and Suede were promoted as the patriotic antidote to your Vedders and Cobains and were there to wrestle your ears from the transatlantic feedback. Initially what linked these bands together was a vague harking back to a nostalgic England of yore, a sort of 1970s romantic view of the working class misery and much loved discontinued lines of sweets etc.

Later Auteurs frontman Luke Haines would pen a book called “Britpop – My Part In Its Downfall” (which I’m ashamed to say I’ve not yet read), Denim (fronted by Laurence from Felt) would subsequently see their viable shot at fame scuppered by the death of Princess Diana (the song in question was called “Summer Smash”), Suede would be a visible part of Britpop despite hating it all and Pulp would become huge stadium filling superstars. Sleeper, Elastica (paramour of both Brett from Suede and Damon from Blur), Catatonia, Kenickie, Echobelly, Shampoo and others would also be lumped in with the crowd.

But by the time Britpop “broke”, I had left the country. I had abandoned my native land for the land of the rising sun and the ubiquitous vending machine. I had landed a teaching job in Japan, and so my vision of musical events played out rather differently.

Shortly after arriving in Japan in early April 1994, I spotted an abandoned television in the street. Having been reliably informed that the locals preferred to junk their old objects for new rather than repair stuff (I thought this was rather odd, unaware that this would be the norm in the West in another ten years), I grabbed this rather hefty TV and hauled it up to my tatami-matted flat, where I discovered why the TV had been thrown out.

Only a three inch horizontal sliver was visible when the set was turned on, although the sound worked perfectly. But as it hadn’t cost me anything, I kept it. That evening I noticed the news programme seemed to be playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I could see Cobain’s knees poking out of his ripped jeans on the horizontal bit. “Great!” I thought “Nirvana on the news! They must be coming here on tour!” The next day I bought copies of CROSSBEAT (all capitals) and rockin’on (all lowercase) and tried to decipher the katakana to see when Nirvana were coming to Osaka. When I met a Canadian teacher later that day he told me the news. I guess the Steve Martin film got it wrong. Dead men DO wear plaid.

Grunge was now dead and that cheeky Britpop thing was there to steal its crown.

In Japan we only got the upside of Britpop, and I think Blur’s “Girls and Boys” kicked it off. I remember watching the video playing in a CD rental shop feeling slightly surprised. Not the type of video I’d imagine from the band behind “For Tomorrow”, who I’d already seen live a couple of times… but fair play to them nonetheless. Was this their Mondays and Roses on TOTP moment? “Live Forever” was the Oasis radio hit out there. I bought both albums, both had extra tracks to boot. Also it was fun to be recognised for being British as opposed to everyone thinking you were American. American culture had quite a hold over Japan, although oddly not so much in the pop charts which are a mix of parochial and quirky. But more on that later.

Britpop nights started to appear at night clubs. Familiar faces from home started to appear on the magazines. Supergrass, Radiohead, Primal Scream and even The Beatles were added to the Japanese Britpop roll-call… not really surprising as some of those Beatles songs sounded not unlike Oasis. Even lesser known Britpop fodder like Whiteout, Orange Deluxe and Thurman had features in the Japanese music press, who were eagerly scouting for the next big thing. In Japan’s case the next big thing was Shampoo, and Trouble was a ubiquitous, unavoidable big-in-Japan hit. I think someone thought they’d found the 90s Strawberry Switchblade (whose style can still be seen in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park) or something. I didn’t really discover much of the insidious co-opting of Britpop by Tony Blair et al until returning to Europe mid-95, an episode best described by Pulp’s b-side “Cocaine Socialism”, a track that almost outshines their best work – lyrically at least.

Britpop’s effortless co-existence with media, advertising and party politics probably spelled the death knell of the alternative indie spirit lampooned by Rik Mayall in The Young Ones, the Meat-Is-Murder / Save-The-Whale / Free-Nelson-Mandela / Wimmin-Are-Angry brigade so visible in further education in the 1980s and so invisible now. The one that means that massive festivals are sponsored by banks or phone companies rather than promoting Greenpeace and CND. Ethics? What ethics? It was one big ad campaign for Cool Britannia and for a while it worked. But when the alternative becomes mainstream it does become a little tiresome.

Japanese radio played a variety of songs I loved in the’94-’95 period I was there… An acoustic version of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” (predating “Nouvelle Vague” and that car ad by some time) by an Aussie band called Frente!, The first Cardigans album “Emmerdale” (which wasn’t originally released in the UK), I bought it the day after I heard it, and a LOT of Japanese music, mainly from the Shibuya-kei club genre which was influenced as much by bossa nova and American soul as it was by The Sound of Young Scotland and the él records back catalogue. I was VERY surprised to see three different él records compilations sittling in a rather small selection of western CDs at one CD rental shop of which I was sadly not a card-carrying member.

The Japanese charts also differed greatly from ours as they were dominated by local acts, often idol singers or boy bands like SMAP who, oddly for a boy band 20 years on, are still recording today. Not sure whether this was before the Take That resurrection or after. Additionally old songs would sometimes re-enter the charts if they were used in TV shows or adverts, like Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita”. Also, a three-inch CD in a sort of mini version of the old skool US CD longbox was the leading “single” format back in the mid 90s. Today it’s probably some kind of chip or something.

Japanese records shops often sold three versions of the same CD album, the expensive Japanese version, usually with lyrics translated and extra tracks, and cheaper US and UK or Euro imports. All genres could be found, and Tower, Virgin and HMV were all to be found as well as various Japanese record stores like Wave that seemed to specialise more in vinyl. As my shop had just ditched the vinyl I was fascinated that there was a specialist vinyl market, special releases on vinyl that differed to the CD and that in Japan it had been the pre-recorded cassette that had been sacrificed, although the blank tape was very much alive. It really was like visiting the future.

A like-minded Japanese student of mine had introduced me to the Shibuya-kei scene (he, like me was fond of Saint Etienne and most of the artists I’ve mentioned so far. He also oddly possessed a Gazza 12” single, but that’s another story), whose artists of note featured Pizzicato Five (who had minor western hits with Twiggy Twiggy and Happy Sad), Kahimi Karie (who got Momus to pen various albums’ worth of songs for her), Cornelius (who you really should have heard of by now) and his former Flipper’s Guitar partner Kenji Ozawa. Both artists had debut solo albums out when I was there, the latter album featured a catchy duet called “Boogie Back” which featured Scharr Dara Parr, the Japanese rappers featured on De La Soul Is Dead. Occasionally Scharr Dara Parr abbreviate their name to SDP, but to avoid any confusion with Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, the late Jeremy Thorpe and the other bloke I’ve chosen not to abbreviate.

These days Cornelius produces much more experimental music, as does DJ Takemura (or Nobukazu Takemura as he’s known now) who had an outfit called Spiritual Vibes fronted by a charming young lady called Kiku who I was lucky enough to see live. I also saw a wild all girl quartet called Super Junky Monkey who I could only describe as a female Japanese Red Hot Chilli Peppers but far better and madder. The album I heard was called “Screw Up” if you’re interested. DJ Krush was one of the more internationally celebrated Japanese artists I also got into out there, and managed to miss his show (thankfully I didn’t have tickets) by being completely unable to locate the venue once somewhere in the vicinity (no Google Maps or mobiles back then).

Another great source of music on demand (this was pre-YouTube and pre-Spotify, remember) was the Video Jukebox, often found in bars. My selection was always either something by trf (probably EZ-DO DANCE), Beastie Boys “Sabotage”, Pizzicato Five “The Night Is Still Young”, Beck “Loser”, Kahimi Karie “Elastic Girl”, Cornelius “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (not a Stones cover), Björk “Army of Me”, Nokko “Ningyo” and Shampoo “Trouble”. Sometimes ALL of them if I had enough money or had drunk enough beer.

Following a massive earthquake and the visit of the future mother of my child about six months later, I left Japan to live closer to the aforementioned lady (many years before conception was even considered) in the Spanish capital, from where I am typing this.

On arrival in Madrid I was able to immerse myself in the local alternative music scene with the help of amenable national radio station RNE Radio Tres. Los Planetas (Granada based indie guitar stuff with occasionally impenetrable vocals) was just one discovery, along with Los Fresones Rebeldes, TCR, Nosoträsh (a very Spanish triumvirate of tweepoppers), Le Mans and La Buena Vida (beautifully crafted songs with female vocals which fall into the “Donosti Sound” genre due to their origins in San Sebastián) to name but a few 90s local discoveries. Additionally, arriving here during the Britpop explosion that seemed to have made smaller inroads into mainstream music-buyers’ collective consciousness I was in the enviable position to be able to see the likes of Tricky and Pulp in relatively small venues in Madrid while they were selling out stadiums in the UK.

Beck’s “Odelay” and “Midnight Vultures” were two more 1990s albums I was glad to get my hands on, while I was mightily cheered to find a CD single with a Cornelius remix of one of the tracks from the latter LP on there.

Cornelius also got to try his hand at a remix for Blur of “Tender” (an extra track on the Japanese version of the “13” album, a b-side for everyone else). Both 13 and it’s predecessor “Blur” were solid albums following the descent into self-parody of post-“Parklife” album “The Great Escape”. However the eponymous album’s “Song 2” does suffer from the same grating over-familiarity as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” these days. I blame those sports clips.

Despite the best efforts of Radio Tres, these years between my departure from Japan and the arrival of the internet were semi-wilderness years for me, and I’d often find it easier to read about an artist than actually hear the music in question. But still artists did come over, albeit most in the same week of October. I saw The Cardigans (four albums later and they were actually famous enough to come over!), Björk, Blur, Beck, Supergrass, Everything But The Girl and an APPALLING gig by The Smashing Pumpkins where they played all the slow songs too fast and the fast ones too slow. The stadium was later burnt to the ground although given this happened a few years later I doubt it was the handiwork of another disgruntled punter.

To conclude, it has to be said that the early 1990s did produce such an ENORMOUS amount of wonderfully varied and innovative music that I had almost forgotten that it was also the decade that spawned “Everything I Do, I Do It For You”, “Love Is All Around” and “My Heart Will Go On”.

But not quite.