Why?

Charity & Local Bands

Why do you play music? Honestly, the more I think about it, the more mental it seems. It’s the question everyone should ask themselves when they start to figure how much they’re spending on practise rooms/gear/studio time. Some people I’ve asked have just told me “cos it’s fun”, “it’s something to do” and “I was like 5, right, when I first ‘erd the solo on that track by that band, and I was, like, just hooked from there on mate”. That’s all good, but, like most of the explanations we give ourselves for the stuff we do, it’s a bit brief and doesn’t really stand up when you consider just how much arsing about and stress that regularly affects the life of the local band. Maybe the people I asked wanted to get rid of me quickly?

 

 

Either way, every band and artist needs to find their own answer to THE QUESTION, either collectively agreed or individually decided, and there are probably some pretty eloquent answers that have already been discussed at length during valuable practise room time. The more extroverted among us might love the attention, the introverts might find that it’s the easiest way to interact with other people, their confidence boosted after having fret wanked in front of the whole room for 40 minutes.

I’ve got no problem with people telling me it’s fun by the way. When I’m not in my Internet writing mode it’s the answer I’d give too, and I can’t find a single argument against having as much of it as you possibly can. The problem is, outside of the all too brief moments where stick hits drum and finger meets fret most of the time as an unsigned band you’re not doing anything fun. Maybe I’m biased as a drummer, but I spent a great deal of my time shifting gear, driving around looking for obscure venues and worrying about whether I was a tad too hasty lending out my drums to the giant currently beating seven bells of Satan’s shit out of them.

But I did it, and if you’re reading a music blog, it’s pretty likely that you spent, or spend a great deal of your time living the fun of being in an unsigned band. So when you talk to people and they tell you it’s fun, when you hear that little lie slipping past your own lips too many times without a second thought, and you really think hard about how much fun you get for the effort you put in, playing in local bands starts to look like an addiction.

So lets take a quick look at some of the literature. The primary theory that’s dominated the thoughts of the people tasked to come up with theories about these things; the act of playing music was an evolutionary accident. A happy one, but one that’s arisen from complex systems in our brains and bodies originally intended to keep us alive happen to combine together into something of a magical coincidence and form music. This is, in a word,  bollocks as far as I’m concerned. And I feel quite confident saying that, because I’ve read loads of issues of the New Scientist and can therefore sound clever without trying too hard.

[CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],

By Klaus-Peter Simon (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Anyway, they’ve written about recent archaeological finds in Turkey, that point to people developing religion, and therefore culture, as something that came before, and maybe even inspired the agricultural revolution, which was quite an influential revolution due to it being the reason why you’re reading a blog instead of foraging for berries and shitting in the woods. I’m tying culture to religion, because we’ve got no record of music specifically, but we have the remnants of what looks like shamanistic gatherings places and carvings of animals. And what did these tribal people do on the few days of the year when they could let their hair down? Probably the same thing people do at Glastonbury – get fucked up and dance about.

EdwardGuglielmino

Some dude rockin’ out

Yup, looks like they found the first example of human hippies coming together to talk about nature and make some music, which (based on looking at the tribal music available via Spotify/Youtube) was repetitive, with a heavy and complex rhythm and chanting over the top. Taking chants as simple phrases hypnotically repeated. This would have created a disorienting atmosphere which swept people up in the event. Hypnotic sounds, disoriented people and simple lyrics?… Sounds like a basement gig or a rave to me. Ok we’ve got better tech, and more tropes to draw on (probably) than they did, so your modern performance might sound more digital, but the point is hulking gear about has been a human pastime for as long as there’s been humans. It’s not going to go away anytime soon, and it bloody well didn’t come about as a result of evolutionary accidents. To be honest, the VERY first time anyone bashed a stick on a log to make sound was probably just to stave off this emotion called boredom that existed before Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution appeared.

 

But all that isn’t to say that interesting and emotive subjects like politics can’t be a part of good music. I’ve chatted to people who say they are whether you want it or not. But being in a local band doesn’t really afford your opinion much of a voice. I mean, you could spend your days down at the local club shouting angrily about Cameron’s broken Britain, but you’re gonna have to try harder than the current crop of local bands doing that, and trust me, some of them are trying VERY hard.

So your band could give to charity.

You don’t get paid much, but the overall rate might increase if you give percentages to charity, especially if your audience/label/employer share your concerns. If this sounds like cynical profiteering to you, stop worrying so much. This could help local bands do more good, get more from their music and could increase donations to charity. It also shows that bands are at least partially engaged in the world beyond their own egos (although if you need to convince people of this you’re maybe indulging in one too many costume changes) and it will increase the awareness of a band’s background. Even if they choose to write nothing but love songs or ambient drones.

Diogenes the cynic - searching for an honest Greek

Giovanni – Diogenes

You might know someone who expresses deep cynicism surrounding charity singles that are likely to chart. Even if the artist in question donates all the money to charity, the added exposure may boost sales of t-shirts and other albums…you’ve probably heard the reasoning before. However, if you’re doing this on your local scene, why not? Tons of bands are giving their CDs away for free anyway, or making it all available online, so asking people donate to a charity instead can’t hurt, and it might just help a few people out. When a few more people know you, make your next set of merch/CDs slightly more expensive and you’re doing well for yourself more directly as well. The counter argument to the cynic is anything that creates the best wellbeing for the most people is hard to argue against without sounding like a dick – so why not increase the amount of people who benefit from the music?

But even if it is all a big load of teenage egos and sexual competition, there are still worse things to do with your weekends. It’s always a good method to get laid, keep you out of the house, and it used to get you into loads of pubs without the anxious handing over of fake ID.

So that’s one reason. Another one is because you can get paid for it.

Also, (and I’m definitely not saying this will happen to your band) if a local band splits, they’re left with the record of the donations made in their name. If nothing else, giving to others helps to increase happiness, which will even make Goths play better music, and so if you’re just focussed on the sound, maybe a bit of outwards love towards society will boost yours and the audience’s moods and it’ll all sound better anyway. We’re trying to convince society to buy our music after all.

But then it’s true what people say – this shit is fun. And playing fun music makes you better at your instrument, which is kind of the point of practise. Maybe now’s a good time to define fun – the rush of dopamine you get when your own fumbling digits manage to coax something beautiful from something in the world. Whatever beautiful means in this context is up to you. Anyway, if you play lots of music you like, you’ll be listening better, so you’ll play it better, and you’ll get more out of your practise. The constant practise gives your brain an excuse to secrete the chemical that makes you happy (dopamine) and this process is the same thing that gets people hooked on coke. That’s what happened to Keith Richards…too much dopamine.

At the end of the day though, if it wasn’t such a convenient way for any teenager to get themselves into the beds of their beloved(s) and almost everyone on earth had an opinion and taste for something else… Just take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of someone with amusia…  Continue reading

Ásgeir Trausti supporting John Grant – 17th May 2013

Over the Great Escape weekend you probably heard a lot about the theft of John Grant’s laptop at his gig (more on that below), but definitely not enough about the support artist… Ásgeir Trausti.

 

 

In fact, John Grant is working with Ásgeir to translate the younger artist’s highly successful album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn (In the Silence), into English to try to bring his music to even more people. Ásgeir and his father have both received awards for the album, with the latter having contributed most of the lyrics. Which always brings up an interesting point… are English audiences missing out on a hidden meaning in the words, something that can only be expressed in Icelandic?

Maybe. There’s certainly a lively debate on most of Ásgeir’s YouTube videos along those lines, but I can’t think of anyone better suited for the task than John Grant. Not that anybody asked me, but if they had, I’d probably have recommended the one guy I know of who’s just moved to Iceland. Among the best currently working lyricists, John Grant is best placed to teach the younger musician how to reach out and really grab audiences with a simple, staggeringly honest couplet, and can draw on that to convey to us the stories of lyrics written in a language that still allows its speakers to read medieval texts. 

Purists will probably insist on owning the original with the Icelandic vocals, but having seen this humble and earnest performer sing in both English and his native tongue, I’m inclined to trust his judgement on this one and just roll with it. The underlying poetry inherent in the Icelandic comes through, unhindered by a language barrier even to an English speaker. But check out the English version of ‘Going Home’ and the Icelandic ‘Heimförin’ on this post and make up your own mind. Continue reading

Building a Bank holiday bongo cajón

Have you ever been out at a festival/carnival/occupy protest and not had something to jam along with? Well, next time go prepared and spend a day building your very own bongo cajón. If you didn’t know they existed before, you do now.

I’m guessing you’ve probably heard of cajóns [kah-hons] before. If you haven’t, they’re kind of a lot like drums made from boxes. Story goes that the African slaves living in Peru under Spanish collonial rule found themselves at even more of a disadvantage in the happiness department due to harsh restrictions on their music playing (among other things), and even those rules weren’t as harsh as the ones being imposed in Mali today.

 

In Peru though, cajons appeared as a result of the  ban. Seems you have to try a bit harder than that to wipe music out, as the plans backfired and they accidentally helped create one of the most accessible instruments in the world. Seriously, if you’re older than four and you’ve seen someone playing a cajon, you’ve got all the knowledge you need. Pretty soon, you could be jamming along to The Chicken bass groove just like this guy:

 

Click here to watch the video on YouTube - opens in a new window

Assuming you watched the video…Congratulations! You now know everything you need to start playing a cajon, but you don’t want a plain old cajon like the one in the video do you? That’s probably why he looks so nonplussed, he needs a more colourful cajon… the good news for you is you can build your very own! Then feel free to decorate it however you wish. Add your own flair, holes for a wireless microphone/radio mics (you don’t want cables getting in the way of rockin’ out) or paintings of your favourite Peruvian pan flutes.

Herein lies the simple pleasure of the Cajon…people like me, with nothing to do on a bank holiday weekend, who like the simple pleasures of boxes…and annoying my neighbours. I also just happened to have a Meinl build your own bongo cajon kit lying around…courtesy of someone I’ve never met at Hi-Fi Tower (they can also sell you every mic you might need for your new hand built musical masterpiece).

Without further ado though, I’m going to assume you’re still reading and crack on with the construction.

Step one: Build your Cajon

Box

 

Imagine an air fix kit without any of the downsides. No detailed instructions, no delicate parts just asking to end up jabbed into your dad’s already age damaged sole as he stumbles around drunk after watching the football. Not only that, but the thing you make with this kit makes noise, you can put it together in less than a day and ignore it for most of that time…which makes the whole process a lot less stressful.

6 bits in total - yup I think I can handle this.

6 bits in total – yup…I think I can handle this.

Once you’ve got all the bits laid out, its time to cast your memory back to your days of woodwork at school, or the last time you used glue, whichever was most recent. Either way, I’m sure you’ll pick up the technique after a bit of trial and error. PROTIP: Try not to stick any bits of the cajon to anything which isn’t another bit of the cajon (easier said than done).

 

Glueing

Please note – the amp is not part of the cajon. It’s holding the lid down while the glue sets. Don’t let a lack of tools get in the way of building the ultimate cajón!

 

The best part of the whole process was the fact that after each stage of the build, you need to leave the glue to set for about two hours. As your brand new bongo cajon begins to take form, you can at the same time catch up on the headlines or raise your kids or free the whales, or whatever else it is you normally do on bank holidays.

The extra bits you can see in that photo are, in no particular order:

  • 1 clamp
  • 1 practice guitar amp, because I only had 1 clamp (see above)
  • Wood glue
  • Sandpaper
  • Towels

None of these come in the kit, but you aren’t gonna end up with a cajón worth having without them – so prepare in advance to avoid being disappointed. Or if it goes really wrong, compensate with decoration and add some tinsel.

Luckily, mine turned out ok, and as you can see I’m lazy about painting.

 

Finished!

 

Playing your new bongo cajón

Assuming you haven’t had to compensate for your wood glueing skills too much with elaborate designs, you should now have something that looks a lot like a wooden box with an off-centre divider in it. Pretty much just slap either side of the Meinl logo until you start to hear something like this:

 

 

Still at a loss? this guy seems to know what he’s talking about:

 

 

If you have had to compensate with some less than subtle ornamentation, consider turning your cajón into an attractive shelf instead.

 

The Verdict:

I guess I better come up with some opinions before we’re all out of bank holiday weekend…so…I shall say this much: if you’re the sort of person who collects hand built Peruvian instruments, or someone who likes to make noises other people will find annoying, then this is for you.

In terms of sound…have a listen to some of the videos I’ve included here and you’ll notice it pretty much sounds like a wooden box with a divider in it. Personally, I’d avoid soloing with it, and busking it alone will get you precisely nowhere (unless, again, you compensate with some really spangly decoration).

However, if you want an easy project for a weekend that isn’t going to stop you getting important things like blog posts written, then this is probably for you. Although I cannot stress enough how much pain you can avoid by not being lazy with the sand paper – so once you’re done, start rounding off those corners for a happier cajón playing experience.

 

The End

Disclosure: Meinl “Make your own Bongo Cajón” Assembly Kit supplied by Hi-Fi Tower, who want you to know about their awesome portable pa systems.

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Sofar #291: Brighton – 26th Febuary 2013

Originally posted on the Sofar Sounds blog on the 4th March 2013.

Words/Editor: Adam Wilson (Website)

Photographers: Tony Jupp (Website) & Chris Poots (Flickr)

Sorry to tell you this, but you missed it. That’s it; the best Sofar Sounds gig to date and you (probably) weren’t there. I bet you’re glad I’ve written as much as I can to convey something of what you missed. (Unless you were there; if so, ignore the first bit and start reading from here).

As I walked in, a rectangular room packed wall to wall with bodies was there to meet me. All super sexy Sofar Sounds bodies of course, but even Sofar people have arms and legs that need to be carefully folded and tessellated to accommodate everyone. It’s funny though, how marking out your territory for the evening seems so important for those first five minutes… Then the music starts.

 

 


Marika Hackman opened up the night with a track called “Retina Television”, from her album “That Iron Taste” (released 25th Feb) stripped of everything save her voice accompanied by her guitar. Appearing before everyone as a loan figure in a packed room, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans she was at once disarmingly honest and absolutely magnetic.

 

 

As her set progressed, the eerie imagery and lonely delivery of her lyrics began to have an effect on us, catalysed by the Sofar atmosphere. Her music always slightly dodges your expectations, as you listen out for the phrase to end and the section to change, it lasts one more bar, or one less. Using what sound like simple, honest comments on elements of her life, Marika’s almost supernatural aura can completely fill the audience’s collective mind, using words to paint her peculiarly magical portraits across our perception.

 

Anna Phoebe, up next, is already well known for a career including collaborations with Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Roxy music, and being as a member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This violinist is a bit different to the rest. No one seems to have told her that they traditionally do as they’re told, suppressing their personality in the name of perfecting the execution of a composer’s manuscript.

 

 

Instead, her music blends her personality with the full range of her band’s influences, utilising the underlying mechanics that first supported the music of Duke Ellington as the rhythm section sets up a smooth bed of warm sonic layers, on top of which the incredibly skilled Anna weaves complicated but beautiful melodic lines, occasionally textured with palm muted guitar. The interspersing and complimentary themes on guitar and violin echo the playing of two other jazz greats, Coltrane and Davis. Despite these comparisons, the music is definitely not jazz. Anna brings her signature blend of the concert hall and the stadium, swapping the heavier, rockier side of what she does for a chance to play something more intimate and intricate.

More than a bit Po-Mo, retaining an ambiguity only occasionally punctured using leitmotifs that anchor your attention. The range of influences and their arrangement in the live set made it feel like a live artistic answer to Sgt. Peppers, perhaps helped by the addition of the distinctive tabla, piercing the musical mix with flurries of triplets that fill out the sound and introduce more ambivalence to any sense of cultural place brought about the traditional line up of guitar, electric bass and drums that make up the rest of her band.

This lady, who narrowly escaped the possibility of becoming a politician early in her career, succinctly demonstrated to us the results of a life’s complete dedication to perfection in all aspects of her chosen artistic craft.

Coming up next and snapping us out of a trance, blowing away all mental cobwebs, were CC Smugglers.

 

 

At Sofar, we can’t help but love bands that break the rules.  Continue reading

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Gentleman’s Dub Club Live and Q&A

(Scroll to the bottom for the Q&A)

You can tell a lot about a band from the atmosphere they create leading up to their set. Below Audio, on Brighton’s seafront, the atmosphere was a smoky mix of bright lights and deep bass – the grey haze floating above the dancers constantly coloured by the laser beams and PAR cans dotted around the ceiling. As I stepped into the room,  with every liquid molecule vibrating in time to the dub, there was no escaping the unmistakable smell of dancers and emotion, carried by the incessant pulse of the electronic beats and deep bass that thumped through the room.

 

 

From my position at the back of the crowd, I could faintly see shapes moving onstage through the smoke and lights. In the moments while they set up, Gentleman’s Dub Club revealed, for a few precious minutes, the ardent concentration and serious dedication that their music requires. All around them, the DJ and the dancing went on, seemingly oblivious to the coalescing musicians onstage. Then, emerging from the mists, a live band began to play. Continue reading

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Songs from a room: Sofar sounds Brighton

I want to make you aware of Sofar Sounds. The website gives a short, simple description:

“We have created a movement which brings music lovers together in secret living room locations to hear some of the world’s most cutting edge artists. In order to create an intimate and spellbinding atmosphere, we ask that nobody talk during performances.” www.sofarsounds.com

Here’s what it looks like:

 

 

A simple concept, but started in the same spirit that made me want to write this blog. It’s a platform for bringing people and music together in a memorable atmosphere, and by doing so, gives the art a way of recapturing its aura and authenticity. Bringing the quiet respect and reverie that accompanies a poetry reading and applying that to an art form that, at times, appears to be floundering in a miserable state, partly of its own creation.

In the good old days, it was easy to make people pay for music. They simply had to; there wasn’t an option. At first, people were able to sell recorded music in the form of written notation, distributing instructions on how to recreate the sound of the piece in your own home, using nothing more than a simple piano and your own voice. If you wanted to hear music, you had to learn how to play it. Or, you could find a friend who knew how, but you’d have to find someone willing, then sit down together and experience it, most likely with even more people involved. It was a group experience, shared interpretations of a composer’s vision. Otherwise, you’d have to go to a scheduled live performance. Music was impossible without investing either time or money, but most likely both.

Even with the arrival of mechanical reproduction, allowing for most of the 20th Century music industry to happen, the music industry held all the cards. Recording equipment was expensive. If a songwriter wanted to record, they had to find someone with enough money to buy and maintain this equipment, and they’d have to work out an arrangement with them to use their facilities in return for a fee, or a share in the profits of the music. The people who owned the equipment could make as many recordings as they liked, transforming various materials into objects that would recreate a musical performance in people’s homes. Whatever the specifics of the artist/manager/record company relationship, the audiences couldn’t get their mitts on the music of their favourite artist without going through the men who controlled the recording equipment.

Now though, we’re here. Digital reproduction allows any of us to make endless free, perfect copies of any music we own. We can call thousands of songs within a few moments of deciding we’d like to hear something, and all this does something to the power music can have to affect us. With fewer people respecting music as art, and with so many subcultures through the last century co-opted by mainstream companies and used in advertising, songs which may have once poignantly expressed a social injustice or beautiful captured a moment in time are shackled to this week’s special at Burger King or last month’s car insurance deals.

 

Continue reading

Catalyst to an uprising

Can removing arts from schools inspire effective rebellion?

Along with Grayson Perry, and “leading arts figures”, when I read about Government plans to scrap art subjects from GCSE’s (now known as English Baccalaureate or ebacc) as of next year, something inside me died. Briefly. Then I had a sneaky nagging sensation that all was not as lost as it first seemed. If Schools Kill Creativity, then surely purging them from the clutches of Government controlled curriculums will blow wide open the possibilities for the next generation of artists? These people will grow up in a world where dance, music, painting and any other “arty” intellectual pursuit will be subject to the anarchic rules of play and entertainment, and will feel no obligation to spend hours pouring over the melodic contours in Stravinsky, or over the back catalogues of bands writing songs for an entirely different time.

My eyes cast over this month’s edition of Uncut magazine, with the iconic image of Mick Jagger loaning his brand of rebellious cool to the pages contained within. Where did he come from? I highly doubt a convincing argument could be made that a Government curriculum crafted the cultural gift that was the Rolling Stones. The fact that they were so divorced from that environment gave them the air of hedonistic freedom that people sought when they looked for entertainment. Something to distract them from and diminish any lingering memories of time spent doing anything that was unfun. Continue reading

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Thavius Beck: The Most Beautiful Ugly

So I spent my Sunday listening to the latest album from LA based Thavius Beck, ‘The Most Beautiful Ugly’.

Before I even begin tell you about the sound, take a look at the album art.

At the centre, a digital face with Thavius’ likeness fixes the listener with an intense stare, further heightened by the snatches of imagery warped inside the outline of his hair. It hints at a city struck by lightning, bordered with flames and meteors burning around the creator’s cranium. The blank stare, directly into the eyes of the beholder, converges this imagery into an idea, fixed on us with an unwavering concentration.

At least that’s what I see, now I’ve heard the noise it represents.

Continue reading

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Stream: Submotion Orchestra – Blind Spot

For the dedicated followers of any artist, experiencing the live performance of amazing records can lead to a very personal, almost religious experience unfolding inside your own head. Somehow, in the strange mess of coincidence (or not?) that lead to evolving the human brain, and our self-awareness, our noggins have found the space to allow us to stand in the middle of a crowd of strangers and connect with the sound created on stage. Perhaps it links up with the listening experience most people enjoy outside of live performance – the personal space created by headphones. Walkmans and iPods allow everyone to block all other distractions and fill their entire aural sensory experience with the music created by their favourite artists.

Transpose that into the middle of a Submotion Orchestra set, in a venue as snug as Concorde 2 (they’re there again 13th Oct), and you potently mix a recipe for an explosion of brain chemistry. The way they combine influences seems to encourage and welcome personal connection. The vocals cut through your skull and communicate on a carnal level that has little do with anything as modern as language. Despite the contemporary sound and the modern tools, the band are able to touch all the nerve cells usually reserved for quiet contemplation in the personal space, and bring them into the public sphere of a musical performance. Their music seems entirely suited to this purpose, remaining faithful to dancers, intellectuals and casual listeners alike.

This latest track offers me exactly what I wanted. More music that seems to touch all the bases at once, inspiring both the mind and the body to embrace the sound.

Continue reading

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Review: Volume Contrast Brilliance, 10th Anniversary BIMM Album

Apologies if you don’t use Spotify, but their play button was the most convenient way for me to embed tracks for this post.

Having recently completed a degree at BIMM, I remember that appearing on the BIMM album could be a contentious issue. On the one hand, you gain the recognition, and maybe some added confidence in your work, having passed through the screening process for demo submissions and been deemed worthy. You gain the pre-production with tutors, the recording and, seemingly at worst, a free recording of one of your songs. On the other hand, it does carry a reputation, deserving or not, as selling out to the man, letting the college tell you how to write and any listener will hear the recordings through the filter of their opinion of the institute.

As I don’t hold any grudges myself against good old BIMM, I feel it would be unfair to completely neglect to mention here the tight budget and time restrictions placed on the album.

So, I’ve tried to be as subjective as I can, but my own experience studying at BIMM was a positive one, and it seemed right to mention that at the start of this review.

“You gave it all for the recognition, you gave it all for the rock n roll.”

Wisely picked to open the album, Spit Shake Sisters kick it all off with a whoop, a hi-hat count and a fill round the drums that flows into the gratifying groove that follows. Almost immediately, the band play with the underlying tempo, suddenly switching to a heavily accented offbeat that jars quite satisfactorily with the cowbell groove that plays through the opening. The guitar work is almost pure virulent riffs, and the band’s attitude almost seeps from the speakers as the song plays.

The chorus lyric could have come straight from the reincarnation of Detroit garage rock, smelling of motor oil and positively wallowing in its own nihilism. “I am a man of no releejon / I believe in death and UFOs.” After being drawn in by the infectious guitar riff, the song sells itself with a relentless rhythm, pounding into your subconscious until the temporary move towards the accented offbeat provides fleeting relief. Continue reading

Musical thoughts from the seaside of sin.

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