Nov 12, 2017
Burial's Untrue album turned ten last week.
The album is feted by critics. The BBC calls it "powerful". Drowned In Sound called it "unspeakably romantic". Pitchfork just banged on for ages and used the word "sophomore" six hundred times.
Burial's mystique helped. It took the press five years to discover Burial's identity. "I wanted to use the sound of the earth," said Alan Titchmarsh after being exposed by Homes & Gardens magazine. "If you listen closely, it's mostly trowels."
His production techniques have been much copied, although we seem to forget that, famously, Untrue was produced by ghosts. This posed difficult logistics for studio staff. "They couldn't use the water cooler," I remember one assistant saying in an interview, "because their hands kept going through the little cone cups."
The album is a beautiful listen. Here's a Resident Advisor tribute to the album, which is a pretty good primer for those yet to get into Burial. Long may Alan's (and his ghosts') excellent work continue.
Nov 2, 2017
By and large, I can lance my ear-worms pretty quickly.
You know what an ear-worm is. Those snippets of music that get caught in your thoughts. The "oh oh oh oh oh" of New Kids On The Block's Right Stuff. The "I don't want a place to stay" bit of Technotronic's Pump Up The Jam. Little audio hooks by Alice Deejay, MGMT, Drake or flipping Adele.
Usually when I can name an insistent melody, it slowly fades.
But I had a tune in my head all day yesterday I couldn't name. A cheesy melodic wash that was tickling me something rotten.
I can't explain it here, but it went "da doo do doo de doo doo". I'd heard it somewhere before, maybe from Spotify's New Music Friday service.
Was it new, though? I tried to put lyrics to it, but I couldn't tell if it was a shiny recent single or something dusty from my youth.
Last night, I went to bed with it in my head. I yearned for a good sleep so I could wake afresh and immediately declare "yes! it's so-and-so b-side from (insert obscure indie band)!"
I slept. I dreamt. Then in the morning, my phone alarm woke me up.
The ear-worm was my chuffing Samsung phone alarm.
Flipping heck. The cheesy melodic wash I couldn't identify was in my pocket all along, set to go off at 8am the next day.
Consider this particular ear-worm lanced, skinned and boiled into mulch.
Oct 31, 2017
The picture you see here is from the 808 State website, but there's a pretty neat photo of me online somewhere sporting the tee in my early 20s, gurning and looking very young.
I also had a t-shirt for their 'Don Solaris' album which said, emblazoned on the front, "there is no love stronger than that between a man and his cock". I never wore it because of any braggadocio - it was just, y'know, cock, hur hur.
You can see that t-shirt design here (from the Attic Raider blog) - click to see it bigger. I believe this was a design by music journalist Paul Morley, who had signed 808 State to the ZTT label.
It's been so long since I wore band t-shirts. I had a great Smashing Pumpkins "ZERO" long-sleeve, a spacey-looking System 7 shirt, and no doubt a few Orbital ones here and there. I also had a couple with flashing LED lights because they looked great at raves.
It's the 'Gorgeous' one I think of most.
That is, if I ever sit gazing into the distance reminiscing on the t-shirts I loved, which I flipping DON'T.
But if I could get back together with one of them... ah, Gorgeous, we were good together.
Oct 22, 2017
Someone set Plaid's haunting track Host to this clip from Inception.
If you look too closely at this clip, you'll fall inside your screen and you'll be inside the video and everything will be half the speed or twice the speed or however the heck it worked in the film.
Anyway, despite the low YouTube resolution, I thought this was nice.
Oct 18, 2017
The Bristol underground scene spawned some big hitters that were heavy in sound and in influence: Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky, Timmy Mallett. Wait. No, not Timmy Mallett.
Way Out West came from that scene too, but their sound was lighter. A music meringue. They straddled trance and drum 'n' bass, and I think they hit a particularly sweet spot on their 1996 singles The Gift and Domination. The latter sampled three different John F Kennedy speeches, all for just three words: "madness, power, domination". Not that we have any of that kind of nonsense in today's political climate. Ahem.
I had a chat with the Way Out West chaps today. We talked about the old days, when all this was just fields. They both mentioned their love for LTJ Bukem, and their recollection of playing on Top Of The Pops was particularly amusing - although you'll have to wait for a future edition of Electronic Sound for that story.
Just like Timmy Mallett, they're still going. Unlike Timmy Mallett, they haven't taken up fine art. (Seriously: check out Mallett's Palette.) Way Out West's latest work has a distinctly Balearic feel, which is probably a reflection of soaking up all that sun on their international DJing schedule. I live in Manchester so I have to ask Timmy Mallett to paint my suns. He really brings out those yellows.
Have listen to recent track Oceans and old track Domination below.
Oct 8, 2017
Me: I AMM SELLOTAPING A HROSE
Mother's Ruin: That's fine, but would you like to compere Mother's Bloomers in November?
Me: I CANNOTE LISTEN TO YOU BCAUSE I AM PUTTING SELLOTAP ALL AROUNDD THIS HORSE
Mother's Ruin: It's the best event to see bold, brave new queer performance, and as Manchester's leading gay spoken word cartoon prop comedian, we think that--
Me: I HAV RUN OUTOF SELLOTAPE BECAUSE HORSES ARE VERRY BIG OMG
Mother's Ruin: We'll take that as a yes, then.
Buy tickets for Mother's Bloomers at the Royal Exchange on November 14th here.
Oct 6, 2017
I've been feeling a little fragile of late. An ongoing medical niggle mixed with danker evenings, I guess. My head's full of an American Beauty style turmoil, which is why I've been turning up in your bed scattered with roses.
I woke up miserable this morning. Just now, I saw the bin lorry collecting my paper recycling, and I harrumphed. Who harrumphs at a bin lorry? Bin lorries only do good in this world. I really need to get this head-funk sorted out.
And then I saw something telling me Kiasmos are releasing a new EP today.
I remember Kiasmos, I thought as I scowled at the bin lorry's compacter winch mechanism. Their astonishing 2014 debut on Erased Tapes was one of my bestest albums of that year. I wonder what they sound like now. Oh my. Have a listen below to Blurred, taken from the Blurred EP.
It never fails to astonish me how music lets light into the darkness. Props due to Erased Tapes who, alongside bringing back Kiasmos, also release an album from Gus Gus chap Högni this month. That's a corker too - I can't help thinking of him, somewhat reductively, as a male Björk. Have a listen to the evocative and eccentric Crash below.
Things feel brighter. Now... do roses go in the paper recycling or what?
Oct 4, 2017
This is despite my regular attempts to sabotage the magazine with my ugly words. Oh boy, they're ugly. When I'm in draft mode, I have to put bags over the letters' heads. Especially the g's. I write very ugly g's.
Electronic Sound makes everything beautiful. If you have an ugly home - and I'm sure you do - you can introduce a bit of Electronic Sound style with some luvverly cover prints.
Have a browse here. I'm in all of these issues, so it will be just like having a bit of Fat Roland in your home but without breaking the restraining order.
Oct 2, 2017
You remember Daphni from Neighbours, right?
There was Kylie Minogue the curly-haired mechanic, there was Mrs Mangel and her invisible husband, and there was the amiable couple Des and Daphni.
Turns out Daphni has just released her second album Joli Mai, which is made up of a bunch of rejigged tracks from her recent Fabriclive appearance. From what I've heard so far, there's a nice loose feel to the house tracks here, although what Bouncer the dog makes of it, I have no idea.
What? Pardon? Daphni is nothing to do with the Neighbours soap character Daphne Clarke, the "saucy stripper with a heart of gold"? Dammit.
Listen to Daphni's Carry On here. You'll know him better as Caribou.
Sep 30, 2017
That kind of makes it seem I was watching on as if he was a telly programme, expecting A Big Brother narrator to chip in at any moment. Prodding his nose to see if the channel changed.
Actually, someone else was nattering with 999, and my sum contribution was gaining some pertinent medical detail to pass onto the paramedics, sheltering him with my umbrella because Manchester city centre was piddling down, and nipping to Spar to see if they stocked aspirin. They didn't.
He was way too young to kick the bucket, and I'm hopeful that Manchester Royal Infirmary will stitch his ticker up good and proper and send him on his way. Although the Tory conference is in town at the moment and they're probably burning down all the hospitals within a ten mile radius.
Weird day. Look after yourselves, blog chums. Don't make me have a difficult conversation with you on a rainy Manchester street.
Sep 29, 2017
Cor. It's not been a bloggy month. A lot more silence than words. A whole load of white space rather than brain-splurges on your screen.
I was doing so well writing regularly too. Don't worry, I've not been skiving. I've been running stuff at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, penning words for Electronic Sound and Manchester Wire, and working on that Lowry show I've been banging on about.
Am I too busy? You're probably right. I should take it easy. I should make a hammock, hammer it into the walls of my writing shack, and lose myself in Four Tet's pastoral new track Scientists.
The track is taken from his new chill-out album - yes, I said chill-out album - called New Energy. The album release follows a few equally meditative singles in recent months. I chose Scientists to preview here because it's beautiful and reminds me of a sad Plaid.
Right. Enough listening to this track. Let's write about it! *presses publish*
Picture: Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns/Getty Images
Sep 17, 2017
My cartoons got an airing at The Lowry when I performed fragments of my 2018 show to a room of theatre bods. I've been planning event bookings at the Burgess, which almost derailed when I had to go to hospital with a poorly leg. And I bogged off on a retreat with writing friends to recharge, revive and re-e-wind the crowd say bo selecta.
Things I've learned in the past week:
> The recording of Factory Floor's album 25 25 was delayed by a spider.
> When you pick a kicked-over Mobike off the floor (the hire bicycles that can be found across Manchester), they bleep at you angrily.
> I know way more LCD Soundsystem tracks than I realised.
> Children don't know what cassette tapes do.
> If you join the syllables of Nickelback, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, Menswear, Air and Aerosmith, you get NickelbackstreetboyzIImenswairosmith.
> Cumbria community hospitals are very friendly and have doctors whose first name is Johnson.
> Never google the lifespan of an alpaca.
Sep 8, 2017
You know what the LCD in LCD Soundsystem stands for, right?
I was in Lidl shopping for lightbulbs and I bumped into James Murphy. Typically for him, he eschewed the customary trolley or basket, and he was clutching at least a dozen polar bear plush toys to his chest.
"What does LCD in LCD Soundsystem stand for?" I asked James.
James frowned. His reply was a bit muffled. He was struggling a bit with the polar bears and I think the fluff was tickling his nose. "Mffmmfff mfmfffff," said James Murphy.
"Pardon?" I said. "Loud Clashy Drums? Lairy Chorus Drawling? Lazer Computer Dance? Lawks, Calamitous Din? What did you say, James Murphy?"
He then said something else, but it could have been anything to be honest. I would have shifted one of the cuddly polar bears from his nostril, but I didn't want to drop my lightbulbs.
I punched past him to get to the front of the queue, and once I'd shouted at the cashier, unplugged the card machine for a laugh then scooped an out-of-date bus pass from the bin outside the front door, I'd almost forgotten about my chance encounter with James Murphy.
"He probably said Lovely Compact Discs," I said to the bus driver as I tried to blur the expired bus ticket in front of his angry face.
Lovely Compact Discs. The LCD in LCD Soundsystem stands for 'Lovely Compact Discs'. You read it here first.
I've written a review of LCD Soundsystem's latest album 'American Dream', which may or may not be available on compact disc, for Electronic Sound. Here's the single 'tonite' you've probably already heard but probably should hear again.
Sep 6, 2017
John Peel called Dave Clarke the "baron of techno". Which probably makes me the jester of journalism. The butler of blogging. The scullery servant of scribbling about electronic music.
I first happened across Clarke with his Red recordings from the 1990s. His debut album 'Archive One' came in a red cardboard case with a perforated strip. I still remember tearing that strip. I do the same on washing detergent boxes, but the powder inside doesn't sound as good as techno.
Dave Clarke is back with his first full-length album since 2003. 'The Desecration of Desire' will be out next month on Skint Records. Yes, THAT Skint Records. The lead single 'Charcoal Eyes (Glass Tears)' a fairly functional stomp with a nice elastic bassline - listen below. There's a Terrance Fixmer remix that pumps up that bassline with some kind of industrial Viagra - worth desecrating your ears on that too.
Sep 1, 2017
I'm off to see Transglobal Underground at Band on the Wall tonight. Their 1993 album 'Dream Of 100 Nations' has always been a favourite: full of forthright pan-Afrasian techno, and a great introduction into the world of Nation Records, Natasha Atlas, Loop Guru and Dreadzone. Fusion techno that's as agitated as it is celebratory.
Below, I've plopped down some YouTube embeds for you to listen to, all taken from that album.
Banco De Gaia is DJing too: his 'Last Train To Lhasa' album is a modern ambient masterpiece that, thanks to dreamy samples, changed the way I heard choo-choo trains forever. The same way The Orb made fluffy clouds magical for evermore.
Put aside your chores - grouting the cat can wait. Listen to Banco De Gaia's Kincajou below.
So much of my blogging seems to look back to the 1990s, and this post is no different: but I'm proper looking forward to seeing this lot right now in 2017. The world needs their trippy madness more than ever before.
Aug 27, 2017
On the last day attending shows at the Fringe, I saw Sofie Hagen. She was really good, with plenty of warnings about the power of men in family units. I then popped off to see 'Parsley', which was by Michael Brunström and it was all about parsley. He even had someone making parsley sauce.
I decided to end my Fringe experience with Transit, a big ole circus performance with lots of people jumping about. You'd think I'd find no inspiration for my own show here, but even that had structure and audience interaction and oodles of light and shade. After 20 shows in three days (technically three days and four hours), I became an expert in picking apart the building blocks of the stuff I was seeing.
Performance elements I liked throughout my time in Edinburgh:
> Unpredictability. Brian Gittins's volatility on a double decker bus as he allowed the audience to almost ruin the show is something that will stay with me for a long time.
> Failure. It was okay if things went wrong. Some phone responses during Siri seemed to misfire, and the balloon-throwing finale at Tape Face missed a beat because the 'victim' didn't follow his instructions. Indeed, the circus performers made mistakes. Doesn't matter. The ideas still worked.
> Generosity. From John Luke Roberts' ramshackle props to Joe Morpurgo's frenzied hijacking of his audience, my favourite moments were when the performer seemed to give abundantly to the audience. The ideas and jokes came quickly.
And things that turned me off:
> Just watching. I was less keen on performances that seemed a static, in which we were only onlookers. It wasn't so bad, though, if there were interesting things to look at - or if the performer(s) was a powerhouse.
> Laziness. By this, I mean, ideas that weren't explored enough. Bolting a theme onto already-written routines, or ideas that didn't go far enough. Wasted opportunities. Not that there was much of this - overall, I'm very happy with the shows I chose to attend this year.
I've been back from Edinburgh for a couple of days. I've been in a bit of a comedown funk, which is probably natural. I've had the Will Smith single 'Wild Wild West' going around my head. Which, as I commented on a friend's Facebook feed, is a tragedy. This is the curse of Will Smith. Despite 'Men In Black', 'Summertime', 'Miami', 'Boom Shake The Room', Gettin' Jiggy Wit It' AND the Fresh Prince theme, his weakest hit 'Wild Wild West' will always be the one that sticks.
This is the kind of thing I dwell on when I'm on a Fringe comedown.
This Edinburgh Fringe trip was an attempt to gain inspiration for my new show for The Lowry, which will premiere in May. Read more about all that here.
Aug 24, 2017
I came to the Edinburgh Fringe to chug Windowlene and get inspired. And I'm fresh out of Windowlene.
Today got me fired up about my own show. I saw seven things and they were all great. Well. Sort of. Anyhoo, it led me to a conclusion about my planning process, which I shall share at the end of this blog post.
I caught a bunch of stand-up comedians. Tony Law was in typical free-wheeling mode with added shadow puppetry... which was also free-wheeling. With this being Tony, the puppetry didn't really need to lead anywhere. It was just fun to watch.
Speaking of not particularly leading anywhere, Simon Munnery's on form this year. 'Renegade Plumber' made me want to central heat my tent. I even got to meet his dog (pictured). Like me, Munnery has props, and he isn't afraid to furrow a particular niche thought, such as his long technical explanation about inventing a new water heater.
I caught Richard Gadd's show during which he runs. A lot. On a running machine. This was a frenetic, dizzying work with a solid emotional payoff. He got a standing ovation. The audio track must have been huge fun to work on - and hugely time consuming. I don't think I'll run in my own show. I'll be doing well if I even stay standing upright.
I've seen some amazing comedy this year, but Brian Gittins had me laughing the most. His show was on the BlundaBus, brought to the Fringe by quickly-expanding newcomer promoter Heroes. Brian was, in short, terrifying. Okay, we were packed in on the top floor of a double-decker bus, but this truly was close-up comedy. Volatile, awkward, and superbly silly.
If Brian Gittins isn't winning the big comedy awards, the system's knacked.
And now non-comedy stuff. I saw a show about Siri. I've never used Siri. Did everyone's phones become sentient? Not quite. Siri, a one-woman and one-digital assistant show, was a compelling tech nightmare that felt very real. Too real. She had two projection screens - one translucent, leading to a deeply sinister big-face moment.
I saw a mind-reading show, which was great fun, but I could have explained everything that happened in the room. Especially as I saw the mind-reader asking the audience questions before the show. "Your name's Sally Smith and you were born on 31st October." The audience goes "wooo". Yeah. He, in disguise, asked her. She was next to me in the queue. Pah.
Luke Wrights Frankie Vah was an accomplishment. Effectively, it's a one-hour poem disguised as theatre. The narrative was bound in 1980s left wing politics, with all the frustration, fire and fury that entailed. At one point he acted out someone performing at their first open mic night - whimpers of recognition from me.
What else? Puppetry, plumbing, running, bus, big-face, fakery and fire. I think that's it. Enough for one day.
I've had numerous thoughts about my own show today. I need to work harder. I need to be better. I need to match my game with all the amazing people I've seen. But most of all, I'm left with one over-riding thought:
There are no rules. I've seen naked Chaucer, a fake Q&A, a tape-faced man, a treadmill tragedy and I've thrown raisins into Brian Gittins' face. There are simply no rules. Just do what works for you.
I'd imagine that's Simon Munnery's dog's mantra for life too.
I've more Fringe to go, but I'm taking it easier today. I may catch one show. Maybe three. To be honest, I'm now desperate to return home and do show writing. Stay tuned.
(This blog post is dedicated to Domino, the wonderful woof-dog who is my boarding companion during my stay in Edinburgh. Hello, Domino, if you're reading.)
Aug 23, 2017
I'm farting about at the Edinburgh Fringe, but it's not entirely for pleasure. I'm on the look out for inspiration, information and even the occasional omen for my next show. These blog posts are acting as a virtual think board as I traipse around Scotland's streets.
I started today with some proper theatre: 'Action At A Distance' was a play about a data analyst and a plumber betting on terrible things. They took drone strikes, cancer and financial desperation - all the fun things (!) - and filled the hour with humanity and levity.
Despite the horrific subject matter, the harshest brutality was in the acidic mother / daughter relationship: a volley of verbal drone strikes. It reminded me that human stories resonate most strongly, especially in a domestic environment - home is where the hurt is. Oh and they drew on the floor, which gave me ideas.
I then saw a standup show and an improv show. Both shall remain nameless because this is not a review and being negative isn't the point.
The standup show had a clever gimmick which made me buy the ticket: in reality, it was a straight-down-the-line observational comedy set with the gimmick tacked on. If only it had been braver.
I've not seen much improv, but the improv show left me a little annoyed. When I've seen Paul Merton do improv, he grabs a lot of ideas from the audience. We're given the sense of driving what happens on stage. With today's show, they did this once at the start: we chose a word that had little consequence to the actions on stage. And then they acted for an hour. Was the whole thing improvised or was it just a badly written play? With no further input from us, it was hard to feel invested.
Lesson: involve the audience.
'Dust' was great. It's a play by Milly Thomas in which a woman observes the aftermath of her own suicide. The stage set was entirely colourless, a brutal purgatory allowing space for metaphorical and literal self-examination. The sound design was immense, with crackles and rumbles of doom providing contrast to melodic moments of emotion later on. Make a note in your audio-ideas book, Fats,
I'm running out of time. What else did I see today? Oh yes - Beach Hunks, a sketch group with the sort of chemistry that makes you want to be their mate. Also, I am their mate, so I'm biased, but 'Hog Wild' is a great show.
Tape Face! I finally saw Tape Face. This was my first BIG show of the Fringe: clearly with a budget much bigger than mine. He was astonishing: sweet, silly, surprising and with a truly spiriting finale. It reminded me that it's worth studying the old arts: clowning, mime, the jesters. And get a team around you that can absolutely nail the audio and visual cues.
Last and by all means most, I saw Joseph Morpurgo's 'Hammerhead'. I don't want to say too much, and it's best to go into the show without knowing what to expect. His 2015 show 'Soothing Sounds For Baby' remains the best thing I have seen at the Edinburgh Fringe: it became an inspirational template for the show I am writing now. When I plan through what I want to do with my show, I think of 'Soothing Sounds For Baby'.
His new show 'Hammerhead' is a staggering triumph, and if you were unlucky enough to miss 'Baby', then let THIS show be your best-thing and your template and your whatnot. My main take-away from Joe Morpurgo? There are no rules. There simply are no rules. Just do what you love.
Now that Morpurgo's nailed it again, I might as well go home. But I can't. I've more things to see today. Stay tuned.
Aug 22, 2017
I'm at the Edinburgh Fringe pouring culture down my face. I've decided to be poncy and give some kind of artistic reflection as I attend gubbins at this year's Fringe. Not reviews. Just (half) thoughts made of the mouldier bits of my brain.
I'm hoping to return from the Fringe with a vague mulch of inspiration for my #DevelopedWith commission for the Lowry. That means exiting shows and taking immediately to Twitter. What you're about to read over the next few days are those tweets mangled blog posts.
My first stop was John Luke Roberts's Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair! (All in Caps). Like many others, I returned to see Roberts following his previous show about a balloon-man monster. Yeah, I said it. A balloon-man monster.
This was one-man show with costumes and, er, non-costumes, and so well written. His Chaucer piece is perfection, every wayward syllable a joy as he acts out a kind of amphetamined Officer Crabtree. He's got super silly props (beard scroll) and very natural audience interaction: we easily come onside with him.
Boy, that lad can write. Not afraid of a corny punchline either: his confidence carries it. Lovely sense of the macabre too.
Next up was Graham Dixon Is The Narcissist, an exploration of a fictional Russian writer told through layers of personalities. It was silly but oddly heavy, which I put down not to the "Russian gulag" overtones of the subject matter but to the more theatrical set-up: raked seating, stark layout (a single chair) and unforgiving lighting. I wonder how that would feel in, say, The Stand.
Not a band thing but take out, say, half a dozen punchlines and it could be hard work. Thankfully, Dixon had some lovely monologues peppered with Pythonesque surreality, and a neat way of hurling an exercise book across the stage.
Turning my thoughts to my own show - which is what this Edinburgh trip is all about - the simplicity of his set confirmed in my mind that I'd want my show to have a lot to look at. Plenty of treats for the eyes. Throwaway visual gags everywhere.
Speaking of throwaway visual gags, I saw Sam Simmons too. Always a favourite. Far fewer props this time but plenty of delightful non-sequiturs. His badminton piece with an audience member is as good as anything he's done before. (No spoilers here, but it's so sharp and very Sam.)
Both him and Dixon played with voiceover: the extra voice as antagonist in Dixon's case or as reinforcement in Simmons' case as he takes against the audience. I liked that muchly, and is a device that is particularly useful for my show.
More to come - click here for my other Lowry prep tweeting.
Aug 19, 2017
I knew this world was going to pot when I realised there were two kinds of Refreshers: the sugary discs in pastel colours and the chewy bars that take your teeth out.
You can't have two sweets with the same name. We don't have a Mars Bar that's made of sickly goo and a Mars Bar made from liquorice razor blades. There's only one type of Mars Bar, albeit in different shades. And there should only be one type of Refresher.
Not that I'm totally going to hold that against Konx-om-Pax, whose new EP Refresher is a welcome follow-up to last year's Caramel. The confectionery-consumed knob twiddler leads the EP with the cheery Cascada. Love that ploddy bass drum. Listen below.