Death is their Destiny – Classic Punk Footage

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.

(Click here for part 2) – Continue reading “Death is their Destiny – Classic Punk Footage”

On incentives, songwriting and activism: Erin McKeown

Cover shotA 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.

 


The Jailer

 

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!

Manifestra CoverDo 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?

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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 “Songs from a room: Sofar sounds Brighton”

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 “Can removing arts from schools inspire effective rebellion?”

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 “Review: Volume Contrast Brilliance, 10th Anniversary BIMM Album”

Artist Feature: Stone Sun

The best way to describe the sound of local Brighton band Stone Sun is with some big, dramatic, Hollywood style visual metaphor. Bear with me on this. I need you to concentrate. Stone Sun is their name, and I want you to work from that, imagining scorched desert sand in Nevada, somewhere outside Las Vegas. The occasional large rock is dotted around the landscape, but watch out, because this is bat country.

 

In the distance through the mirage you catch sight of a lone motor vehicle cruising through the heat, making its way across the arid landscape towards you. Don’t worry though; it’s still far off in the distance right now, driven by a lone figure. The breeze brings you the distant sound of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The song has taken on a unique tonality telling you that the driver of the car is playing his music loud.

Nevada Valley By Cooper, in Wiki Commons known as --Cooper.ch 22:17, 20 August 2006 (UTC) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsWithout warning, the camera cuts to right next to the open top car, placing you inside the noise blasting from the car’s speakers, distorting the air around them as they frantically push out bar after bar of human emotion. Pushed to their maximum capacity, they add an extra layer of distortion to an already ferocious sound.

That’s the closest I can get you to Stone Sun’s sound live.

I saw the band perform on a Sunday at The Hope, a small venue for a band with a sound like this. Their sound is full-bodied grunge, with an appreciation of the more subtle dynamics required offset against the potency of a truly beasty riff.  At their most powerful, you hear snatches of influences in bands like Smashing Pumpkins or Pearl Jam but these moments contrast with the technical proficiency of bands like Incubus.

Guitar Ricky Bass Live ShotTake their song “Memories” for instance. It somehow manages to remind you of moments sitting with your Dad, or perhaps a more elderly relative, in his workshop, the sound of hard rock reproduced via a small, tinny radio. The song suddenly twists; it speeds up and takes on an altogether different connotation of something like anger, or intense sadness. The mental image becomes that time when you were left standing alone as a teenager. At the last moment the song twists again, this time into a euphoric guitar solo reaching a peak and pushing the energy level in the room up over the edge for the final chorus. Continue reading “Artist Feature: Stone Sun”

Stop listening to Music on your Computer

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.

Spotify LogoI 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.

iTunes ScreengrabI 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.

Spotify ScreengrabI’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.

Continue reading “Stop listening to Music on your Computer”