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… ÁsgeirTrausti.
In fact, John Grant is working with Ásgeirto translate the younger artist’shighly 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’sYouTube 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 “Ásgeir Trausti supporting John Grant – 17th May 2013”→
Wandering around Oxford Street in London today, the amount of spiky black leather may surprise you. There’s a lot knocking about. However, the traditional protective shell of crusty old punk guys has been hermitted away and is now inhabited by young pulchritudinous women working in Topshop and Mango. However, the girls in Oxford Street today don’t seem to have the look quite right…maybe more people should check out Captain Zip’s punk footage captured in Death is their Destiny below, shot on Kings Road in 1978.
The film is short, to the point and incredibly punk. The first of 8 films that he’d eventually produce, the original cut was completely silent, with Chelsea by Elvis Costello and Look, There Goes Concorde Again by …And the native hipsters (that one was new on me too) only added in 1991.
We’ve all been there… You become conscious of your surroundings for the first time in god knows how many hours and realize you’ve definitely taken advantage of one too many drink offers in a bar somewhere in Brighton. Dimly self-aware and currently micturating, you glance up and realise that dancing around you are lines and colours, grins and eyes and shapes that hint at what demons might occupy and enjoy the gradually ubiquitous blurring and slurring of your senses. A vague thought bubbles up about the artist behind it, but you’re too drunk and too determined to waste what’s left of your work-fried brain to think about it too much. So I’ve decided to write you this.
Billy Mather is an illustrator who lives in Brighton. Influenced primarily by the darker side of our music scene here, he seems to have a gift for channeling his thoughts into darkly comic expressions, scattering themselves across the seaside of sin from gig posters to toilet doors and pianos. He’s got plenty of other work too so check it all out on his site, link’s at the bottom.
Billy told me that he’s never forgotten a piece of advice given to him by one of his illustration tutors on the BA in Southampton. In art, there is a difference between being accurate and being believable. What comes out of this guy’s mind motivated by that phrase is some of the most distinctive art in the city, somehow managing to retain an incredibly strong sense of the artist’s character; even as the lines and colours begin to intertwine in your head and become part of your thought process. Just like editorial illustration accompanies words on a page, so his work complements and influences your internal monologue as you’re exposed to it.
For a Brighton local, the sense of familiarity that emanates from even the most twisted smile and reptilian eye in the center of his most contorted face feels commonplace and natural without ever needing to veer toward a convention. The faces in Billy’s work dance at the edge of recognition, demonically dancing on the ledge between chaotic artistic interpretation and comfortable verisimilitude, which is a long way of saying you really need to check this guy out and give him more work.
Unlike those last two paragraphs, the artwork never smacks of too much thought or trying too hard. It stands out in its naked honesty; it’s inclination to bend further towards expression than conformity. His work across the toilets of the Blind Tiger Club stretch out, allowed a luxurious amount of space yet still reaching further, expanding and moving as you look. Other pieces to watch out for around Brighton decorate Sticky Mike’s Frog bar and Northern Lights.
Please forgive the following phrase, (I promise I’m not just being lazy) but you really can’t sum his work up in words. That’s why this art exists. It expresses the feeling of standing in that space, the artist’s thoughts as he listens. Somehow, he translates the committee of voices that characterise an active mind and regiments them with ink and paint, producing expressions of the space or the event that simply couldn’t exist any other way.
“My hands were tingling because I got to sing on the actual microphone that Al Green recorded with. Nothing has changed. The down-home acoustic treatments are still in place.”
Except, outside of the studio, things have changed since Al Green recorded there. The world has turned round several times since the ’70’s. That quote gives you some idea of what this album must mean to the man with his name on the cover, but it doesn’t tell you anything about just how much he must have going on in his mind. Cody ChesnuTT is very much living with and reflecting on the society of today throughout the most authentically soulful piece of recorded music of 2012. Landing on a Hundred‘s genius lies in modernising the message whilst preserving the medium.
Here’s the video for his latest single, ‘Til I Met Thee’, out the 18th March:
Buy the album (links at the bottom of the page), get hold of some headphones and allow yourself to wallow in the aching sense of hurt and wisdom in the voice, the strings, the shuffle grooves and horn melodies. Written and arranged in a traditional style, the songs use the natural volume and brightness of brass to boost the song’s volume, playing stirring snatches of melody brought to life by the instruments’ raw beauty. Even so, the album sounds fresh and to keep it sounding like something made in 2013, it’s been given all the modern love on the production side. Seriously, anybody having a bad day just needs to spend a bit of time with this.
There are tracks that capture the sound and passion that lies within great soul as a music of sex, protest, hedonism and hurt. The lyrical themes seamlessly interlock with the music they are accompanying, as the brass and strings squeal exasperated platitudes under the vocal line in ‘That’s Still Mama’. ‘What Kind of Cool Will We Think Of Next’ is typical of the classy and intelligent approach to an entire song, the refreshing freedom that has been given to the band members means that every phrase is full of interpretations and intensity. I swear you can almost follow each session musician individually as they all lend the kind of expression that sometimes feels confined to recordings originating in America’s South.
This album is almost like an origin of the species, or Hawking’s A Brief History of time, in that it’s a statement to the world of everything it’s creator has accomplished to date. It’s a historic assertion of everything the man is right now, a snapshot into his mind and thoughts – carefully mediated through music to bring themselves to you in their best possible light and with great care taken to the clarity and presentation of the message. This is one album that has significantly benefitted from the hours of thought and meditation poured into its sonic presentation.
Do you like Stax, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown or Stevie Wonder? If you do and you don’t yet own this record, you’re missing the only album available today that truly understands you. I’ve been playing it for a few weeks now, and its made for an incredible travel companion. This is the soundtrack for today, written in the key of life and it contains more than enough soul, heartache and comment for humanity to reflect on as we move through 2013.
Cody ChesnuTT is performing at the Concorde 2 on Tuesday 19th March 2013 – get tickets here.
A little while ago Erin McKeown, an American DIY musician, producer and activist, came to Brighton as part of her tour to promote her new album: Manifestra. Erin is a 2011 – 2012 Fellow of Harvard University’s Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, which studies alternative independent methods of earning for musicians. Her own research contemplated how to make a creative life a viable profession, so I went down to have a chat about her work, PledgeMusic and making the world a less violent place.
What is the most important thing for you to communicate through your music?
For me, it is a sense of another world besides the one we live in. One that is more poetic, and saturated.
You experiment with a wide variety of musical styles. Are there any genres (besides folk) that you find particularly suited to your particular blend of musical activism?
I have always thought rock was excellent for activism. A great chorus can really change the world. Also, Afrobeat has a wonderful history of activism in its songs. you don’t just need an acoustic guitar!
Do you see the current issues surrounding copyright and digital streaming services as a major barrier for a future harmonious relationship between tech and music companies?
As long as someone figures out how to make money again off of musicians, the music biz and tech world will get along fine in the future. It is the day-to-day lives of musicians that I worry more about… How will we continue to make music and be part of our communities if we cannot make a living from being artists?
It’s been a while since anything got me excited enough to inflict my opinions on the Internet (today that’s you), but that brief reprieve is now over. Something or someone (hint: it’s a someone) has me so jumpy and excited I just couldn’t make it through the weekend without letting you know about it. If you want my opinion (I hope so or this is really the wrong website to be on) if you’re not frantically Googling the name Sabrina Altan by the time you’ve heard the audio embedded here, I’m afraid you’ve probably been born with a complete lack of conscious thought and you’re most likely to be dangerously insane.
Go go go
She’s taken the basic elements of music best referred to as Neo-Soul and filled in the gaps with her Freudian superego. Quality Neo-Soul looks to both the past and the future – maintaining a fiery outer shell of musical elements swirling around the immense gravitational pull of the central performer, and Sabrina brings a comfortable confidence to her performance that staples her message to the front of your brain, while her band backdrop it all with the relaxed style of people who really know what the fuck they’re doing. The brief moments of explosive virtuosity shining out through each song launch each stunningly executed phrase into the next, as sultry verses suddenly mushroom into vigorously amorous choruses. Continue reading “Listen to this – Sabrina Altan”→
There’s a problem with how I listen to music. For a long time I hadn’t noticed it, I just accepted things the way they are and carried on enjoying the fruits of artistic labours. The problem is probably being ignored by you right now, if, like myself you’re prone to being caught up in the opportunities offered to you by new technology. At one point I became sick of the limited music I could access with just my own music collection. I greedily wanted access to everything, to an infinite pool of music, so I primarily rely on Spotify now. I just can’t shake the feeling that something’s been lost along the way.
I first signed up to Spotify a few years ago, before the free service limited the amount of plays on each track. Initially, I remember scoffing at the amount of music they had available, so deleted the program and went back to using my iTunes. After a while, I started to hear reports from friends that it was definitely worth giving Spotify another chance, and I haven’t looked back and thought about it until now.
The more I’ve stared at my computer screen, trying to find some inspiration on what to play, the closer I’ve got to realising what’s wrong.
As of July 2011, the Spotify catalogue comprises over 15 million songs. That’s a lot of music by anyone’s reckoning. It’s starting to become a little overwhelming.
Before a friend sent me an invitation to join the free service, I was the proud owner of a vast and diverse hoard of mp3 files, collected over years from a variety of sources. There were artists I’d discovered by myself; ones I’d been recommended or forced into buying and random files that I swear turned up out of nowhere… Most importantly it was my collection, and I could go through it and tell you all sorts of uninteresting stories about how a majority of the files ended up on my hard drive. My iTunes is still a treasure trove of musical interests, tracks I didn’t even like and would hardly ever listen to, but I granted them a permanent place purely because they were a bit interesting, and I rarely delete anything, I’m a digital music hoarder.
The mp3 files I’d collected there were given pride of place, taking up most of the screen. The lists of songs and albums are a representation of me, mostly organised and aligned with the correct artwork. Once upon a time I drew on it to provide music for parties, pre-club drinks and any other number of random occasions where I happened to have my laptop available.
I even became obsessed with buying music from the iTunes store, back when they only just started offering films, and made a few simple apps available that could be played using the iPod’s click wheel. It was just so easy to keep clicking, adding individual songs or whole albums not just to my computer’s memory, but also to my identity as a person. My collection was a part of who I am. Perusing it, you could make an educated guess at the magazines I read, the instrument I played, the people I mixed with and any other number of small influences that were a part of my life.
One day, I lost touch with my collection. It had swelled to the point where it no longer resembled me; it was more just a dump for every passing thought or musical whim that had passed between my ears over the past year. Musically, I was starting to bury the important stuff under reams of garbage. There were too many tracks added because they were “interesting” and not enough pruning.
Now though…I use Spotify.
I use the service, (or is it a program…or maybe an app?) for almost all of my listening, occasionally defaulting to YouTube for a track I can’t find, and rarely falling back on my iTunes library to rediscover a lost gem or a new CD I bought physically. I’ve been a happy customer for years now, initially upgrading my subscription to their £5 a month ad-free version, eventually finding the justification to pay for the full £10 a month service, mainly for the ability to add the app on my mobile.
I’ve begun to take it for granted, I was absolutely confident that this new way of providing legal access to the music people want to listen to for very little cost had the best chance of succeeding. It’s quicker and cheaper to use for me then iTunes, stops me impulse buying everything and accumulating too much crap in my life that gets in the way of what I want to listen. I just create playlists for songs I’m confident I’ll want again, and anything which really grabs me gets bought and added to my ever-expanding iTunes library.
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:
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
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.
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).
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 practice guitar amp, because I only had 1 clamp (see above)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.