Billy Mather – Art in the Brighton Music Scene

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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.

Instruments from Sofar Sounds Brighton

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.

Click to enlarge

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.

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Links:

Billy’s Website

Facebook

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”

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 “Stream: Submotion Orchestra – Blind Spot”

Kill Moon Interviewed

Kill Moon may have been birthed from the ashes of What’s Your Vice?, but it’s channelling an altogether different kind of energy. I sat down with one of the most entertaining live bands on the Brighton scene to talk about how they’re planning to bring ‘Dirty Noise Pop’ to your attention. If their successful endeavours with previous musical outfits are anything to go by, Kill Moon will soon be injecting their expansive, and strangely ethereal, sound straight into the calm centre of your brain, filling it with glorious fire.

Kill Moon Press Shot 2
Left to Right: Chris, Izzy & Tommy are Kill Moon

Izzy, Chris and Tommy picked a Brighton pub in the North Laine, The White Rabbit, to sit down and tell me about their latest musical toil. We nestled on one of the picnic tables that furnish the small square of smoker’s concrete, surrounded by quiet afternoon patrons and a grey, wet afternoon of April showers.

Although I hadn’t seen it at the time, the seeds for the new project had already been sown in the fertile ground of their last band. In the Audible Thoughts review of one of their last gigs, I’d noticed the change in pace, from an explosive burst of repressed energy to something similar, yet contemplative and planned. The notoriety they’d already achieved for tempestuous live shows and turbulent song writing had shown no signs of decelerating, but it seems there were a few creative itches they just had to scratch.

Tommy gave a short explanation for the change in direction: “We felt like we needed to move on from it, like we’d got ourselves in a little box.”

Izzy: “Democratic, that’s a word we use a lot. This is definitely a democracy. We vote on everything.”

Tommy: “Whenever Izzy doesn’t agree with something we do, yeah” (laughs).

So… why Brighton?

Tommy: “I fancied the scene, the music down here – and being close to London. I wanted a change after living in Glasgow, which I love, but I fancied a change.”

Izzy: “I sort of landed here, and fell in love with it. I originally went to London, but events landed me here…I think people are very quick to speak negatively about other bands in Brighton. Yesterday, I saw one of my friend’s bands, The Witches. I was sat with everyone after, and realised we have a massive group of talented musicians here. I’m one of those people who feed off the environment, and if there’s really talented people around you…then, you know, it gets me excited when I see bands who are really good. Some of the Brighton scene is really pretentious, which is kind of inevitable and it’s got a reputation for that. We try to steer away from it and focus on people uniquely into their own sound.”

Chris and Tommy recorded the new EP in their bedroom studio, I asked them about the process of song writing and committing the sounds to tape.

Chris: “We’re in our own little bubble at the moment. We haven’t played a proper show in about 6 months. We’ve just been in a little writing cave.”

Tommy: “From a creative point of view, it’s great. We can literally do what we want. You can add as many guitars as you like. If we want to put Morse code in something, we can just, do it, without having someone else produce. [Home recording] obviously has its drawbacks as well, because outside influence is normally a good thing, but with where we’re at now it’s good to learn exactly what we want, and how we want the record to sound so that when we start working with other people we’ll have more focus.”

Your music seems to have slowed down, broadened somehow…

Chris: “We’ve experimented more, we’ve broadened our horizons…”

Izzy: “There’re no limits”

Chris: “Before, we kind of had a little framework and everything came out of the air in the studio, we found it quite counter-productive sometimes. With this stuff, we’ve stripped it all back – acoustic guitars and vocals, that’s how we start our writing now. Then we kind of develop it while we record, and we’ve found the production side of it as creative as the songwriting stage… if not more.”

Izzy: “We’re still learning together.”

Chris: “Yeah, I mean the songs don’t come into being until they’re finished recording nowadays. With the recent ones, like Jupiter for example, I wrote the last guitar parts after recording it. Literally everything was done apart from the guitars. It kind of came to life when we finished recorded it.”

Izzy: “Lyrically, its a very…raw…thing. I’m being much more fearless with these new songs. Trying to say things that I really feel. Sometimes its a bit embarrassing, if I feel a certain way, or ashamed of something. I’ve learnt, with these guys encouraging me, that those are the sorts of things to write. When you write about something real to you, if it’s so deep inside that its uncomfortable, that’s ok.”

“All of us contribute guitar lines, but we normally like to write around themes. So ‘Jupiter’ is that atmosphere of space – its that universal thing, you know? It’s a bit more metaphorical, but I tend to write more literally. ‘Home’ is a tribute to what we’ve been going through these last three years. Lots of people interpret it as a love song, but it’s about us.” Continue reading “Kill Moon Interviewed”

Review: Konoba – Mind the Gap

 

Konoba MusikThere are hundreds of directions music could take in the new web wide world. Records like Konoba’s ‘Mind the Gap’ provide an exciting glimpse at a destination any aspiring singer songwriters should be endeavouring towards. It culminates a life’s work. There’re plenty of releases with great songs well performed, but what makes this stand out is a production style that’s unique to one man.

Konoba (real name Raphael Esterhazy) is a native French speaking, Belgian born architecture student. He took the chance to travel to London to study music, then to Brighton to study production, and then brought the two worlds together with a playful flair that demonstrates the huge potential for a creating with a home studio.

The album kicks off with the track ‘Everything is Everything’ and a few bars of a hard edged industrial loop, made using a sample of a broken printer. The minimalism of the opening bars opens up to a flowing acoustic guitar part and a warm vocal; a whole chorus from one voice. He uses the studio and the technology as another instrument in itself, made up of smaller individual sounds, but ultimately built into the track in a way that gives it a voice of its own.

Breathing life into technology the way Konoba has managed to on this is no small task. It means creating an extension of an idea that has been explored before in the music of people like Radiohead: how do you express emotion through technology? ‘Mind the Gap,’ explores this, perhaps unconsciously, and provides a very strong argument that technology doesn’t hinder the pursuit of true expression. In his own words: “There’s a lot you can these days with a little bit of equipment, if you know how to use it.”

Continue reading “Review: Konoba – Mind the Gap”

10 Cheap christmas gift ideas for 2011

Getting hold of good, original musical gifts can be very frustrating…which I discovered over the past few weeks. I like to get all my Christmas shopping done before December, and whilst desperately trying to resist buying anything that I didn’t need, I compiled this quick list of awesome gift ideas, which you’re more than welcome to use, if you like.

Continue reading “10 Cheap christmas gift ideas for 2011”

“What about the kids trying to make it in this business?”

Stevie Nicks’ opinion on the Internet:

By Matt Becker (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons“Children no longer develop social graces. They don’t hang out anymore. I’m financially stable. I’m okay. But what about the kids trying to make it in this business? If you’re not an established band, if you don’t have a hit single, they’re gonna drop you. There are a lot of people out there as talented as we were, but they can’t sustain being in a rock ‘n’ roll band for long without success. We were able to, but we’re going to die out.”

Unfortunately for Stevie’s opinion of the modern world, I can say (from experience) that young people today do have social skills and they do hang out… what else can we post on Facebook? I think it has much more to do with how the Internet bombards us with so much music with so little effort that its difficult to care about it as much as we used to.

To save space and your sanity, I’ve condensed my points and not included as much detail as I’d have liked to, so this is more of a summary of my argument.

As the modern world turns around and finds out that it has accidentally stumbled into something called the ‘digital age,’ most of the major players in the music industry woke up to the worrying realisation that they were no longer as high up the food chain as they were yesterday. The entire culture industry, along with support from legislation has placed the blame in the laps of online “pirates.” Although distributing large quantities of entertainment free of charge has had a short-term effect on the bank accounts of the major players, I believe that specifically in the case of music, the pirates are indicative of an attitude change towards music (driven by the extent that we can now produce digital reproductions of art) which was predicted years ago.

So what do we do? For me, pushing music forwards as an art form is the primary goal. Experimenting with sound, combining it with as many elements as you can is, in my opinion, the best way to create amazing artistic statements. I don’t feel like we can do that if we carry on selling music in the traditional way, genre specific people in genre specific clothes playing chords arranged in a genre specific manner. We’ve also had groups which broke out of some or all of those elements. Maybe there’s another way? We all need to grow up, get over the end of the 20th Century and stop trying to be Rock Stars. Let’s be artists.

Many people in Western societies now have the god-like ability to conjure entertainment, including text, pictures, audio and video, at will with nothing more then a swipe of a finger across a piece of transparent plastic/glass/whatever-it-is-they-make -smartphones-from. For the first time in history, we have a massive cultural pool of entertainment sources, which we, as users, can pick from as we choose. Music is in the background on websites, during videos or short animations all across the web. It increasingly permeates our daily lives too. So why isn’t it more important & profitable?

Listening to an iPod (or any other perfectly good mp3 player) whilst you go about your daily business allows people in an increasingly atomised society to separate themselves from the world around them and create their own headspace. As you pop the headphones in and find your favourite album, you block out as much noise from the outside as possible, overlaying your personal sound track over the top. In this way, music isn’t something you go out of your way for, it now has more in common with the atmosphere: it’s sort of just there.

By Bernardherrmann2 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe emphasis seems to have shifted and it appears as though the arrival of truly personal computers (aka smartphones), permanently hooked up to the Internet and attached to their respective owners are starting to change the expectations consumers have for their sources of entertainment. In the time between the Gutenberg press’ introduction, and the arrival of Edison’s phonograph, only entertainment (including sheet music) that could be written down could be faithfully reproduced and redistributed across our entire society.

However, assuming you have decent enough literacy expertise to read the book of your choice, you need the relevant practical skill, or a friend with them, to provide the actual entertainment. The book acts simply as an instruction manual. This means if you want to listen to whatever music you please, you have to learn to read music and pick up an instrument, or travel to see the musicians perform.

Why would you want to do that now? Why bother? I don’t even need to buy their CD or even bother downloading it, I can just look up my new favourite band on Spotify! Then next week, I’ll look up that week’s favourite band instead.

Music synchronised with moving images can make or break a film. The famous example, that Jaws wouldn’t be anywhere near as scary if it didn’t have music is true. I don’t think that all music needs to copy John Williams, but the synergy between music and picture create something special.

TV and the internet have helped to permanently blur the line between image and musical artists. We’re now hearing thousands of pieces of music for free every day, without even trying, in the background of adverts and programs, edited onto that cat video I keep watching on YouTube, etc. It’s now quite likely that most people, particularly young people and children surfing the web, will come across more content where music serves to enhance the visuals then the other way round.

Despite this, music isn’t unable to stand on its own, I just think that it’s heyday has come and gone, and it may be time for a new art, or a reinvented older art form to come to the fore.

Refs:

Walter Benjamin in 30 seconds

5 minute video on Walter Benjamin (Thanks to Jon Stewart for the link!)

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Stevie Nicks’ Quote