Mar 1, 2015

Shutters - actual shutters


I’ve taken myself away for a 24-hour retreat. I’m in the beautiful Cumbrian town of Kendal. The hotel room has shutters.

My problem is that boredom frightens me. People always tell me how busy I am, but the alternative is slowing down until I freeze into a waxen statue of greasy failure. That’s why this retreat is only 24 hours long – within four minutes of a newsagent – and not some wind-swept three month sabbatical on a sheeped hill in the middle of nowhere.

I’ve used the local library to update blogs. I’m juggling story ideas in high street cafes. I even performed an open mic slot at Verbalise, a live literature night up here in Cumbria that prompted me making this trip. The event featured, among others, Big Charlie Poet and headliner Simon Sylvester (Not The Booker). Both incredible talents.

The next thing on this deeply philosophical silent retreat is opening these shutters, taking breakfast with the hotel cats (pictured), and crossing the lake district on a replacement bus service. Passing the newsagent on the way, of course.

Feb 22, 2015

Dramatic PowerPoint Slide: performing in Sheffield


I managed to get lost at least 92 times in Sheffield the other night, but that didn't stop me performing a co-headline set at a prose special of poetry night Word Life.

There were some great open mic acts (a Louis Armstrong trumpet and comically-timed side effects information come to mind). My own piece was 20 minutes of deadpan PowerPointing (as demonstrated by the slide, above) where I careened between dog lists, yes dog lists, and proper short stories ("He sagged like an old house. He... dripped time.").

The turn-out was impressive and the hosting was great. Word Life's next event is in March and it will tap into Yorkshire's radical history.

Earlier this month, I teased an audience with non-origami at a Blade Runner-themed Flim Night. This was one of those moments when a new night has such an energy about it, you know they're going to have a good year. Get preppy for their next one, based on Mean Girls.

If this makes you want to book me and you run something good that's not one of those rubbish nights where everything goes on fire, then get in touch. I don't say yes to everything, but it's worth an ask. Meanwhile, do allow me some shameless self-promotion...


Feb 14, 2015

I too am a book killer: the Manchester Central Library book disposal

This is a rant. I have edited it down as much as I can. But it is still a rant.

Firstly, have a look at this story about a Manchester library disposing of books. It's an echo of a similar story in 2012.

Here are my bookseller thoughts.

I don't get the furore over Manchester Central Library​ pulping books, if indeed they have done. We all think about classics and rarities, but most old books are without value, however you choose to define value. Just look at the 1p sales on Am*z*n.

I once found a recycling bin containing old books at the back of a Manchester university. That too was a quiet disposal, albeit on a smaller scale. I was initially shocked - but all of them were crap old academic stock no-one would have been interested in.

Let's assume the reported 240,000 figure is correct. 50 Shades Of Grey weighs 396 grammes. 240,000 50 Shades would weigh 95 tonnes. (That's the equivalent weight of a free Renault Clio given to every member of Take That every day for a month. And I mean a March or July month, not a February or June month.) That's a lot of weight. And space. And 24-hour storage, which costs.

We *could* pour taxpayer money into storing four copies of the third edition of, I dunno, Understanding Glass Making, with all of its out-of-date techniques. I'm presuming their techniques have changed. Bad example. Anyhoo...

Or we could close the beautiful new Archives-plus room at the library so they have space for them all.

Or we could dispose of the old stuff. We could leave it to their hugely experienced expert librarians to save what is worth saving (and there will have been lots of great stuff I'm sure they have kept) and then to choose all the gubbins we never saw or wanted to see anyway.

What's the other option? Produce a 240,000-book list and submit it to a public vote?

And here's the rub. The book industry pulps books all the time. Booksellers fill "red" boxes for that very purpose. I recently filled one of those boxes with a book written by a Manchester lecturer whose department used those very recycling bins I mentioned earlier. That's karma for you. It wasn't a bad book. It was just, well, our industry pulps books. Storage is not infinite but our capacity to produce new books is. It's an uneasy truth for book lovers.

I love books but I am also a book killer. Pulping makes us gasp with horror, but pulping helps new books survive.

I should point out that the full truth of the Central Library story is not clear at the time of writing, and this is indeed a possibly ill-informed rant. They may well have dropped the ball. They may just need better PR. But the public debate needs to hear this: the industry value of books may define 'value' in a way you haven't considered before.

Feel free to throw books at me the in the comments.

Jan 19, 2015

More new electronic music for January 2015: Cain, AI, Black Sites


Let's fondle my record bag until it calls the music police.
 
From the snow-capped mountains of the highlands comes an India-flavoured EP from Cain (pictured). It has that same epic playfulness of Loop Guru (indeed the title track of the Savan EP could easily have been plucked from mid-90s Nation Records). More of that playfulness on the upcoming debut album, please.


Speaking of stuff that takes me back to the past, AI drop a debut Forgotten Truths EP for Metalheadz. You remember Metalheadz? Co-founded by the bloke with the shiny teeth that went on to waggle sticks at orchestras? Anyhoo, this is very much in the vein of classic 'headz and it's no worse off for it.


There's droning acid galore on Black Sites' Unit 2669: the track is over ten minutes long and I'd put money on its distorted nastiness destroying your head in a third of that time. One half of Black Sites, Helena Hauff, runs a club called Birds And Other Instruments. With that in mind, Unit 2669 is a twitching, stub-footed town pigeon with a loaded machine gun. Lovely.

Catch my previous new electronic music round-up here. Oh and psst, remember me banging on about Kiasmos? Grab a free Erased Tapes compilation here.

Jan 18, 2015

Reaching peak Peak District


I've been a bit too busy to blog this week, so please make do with this tryptich I snapped when I rambled through the frozen wastes of the Peak District.

An icing-cake blizzard was astonishing in its brevity and beauty, especially when the skies cleared and the sun turned everything proper lovely.

Of course, if I told you the middle picture was taken from the wood-fired comfort of a friendly pub, you might doubt my commitment to braving the bracing winter air of the peak district. I let my chips get a bit cold: is that enough for you? Pah.

Jan 12, 2015

Prodigy: new album and single and, probably, membership to the National Trust


The Day Is My Enemy is the name of the first studio album for six years from beatpunk fire-botherers Prodigy.

Liam Prodge has already described the new album as “pure violent energy”, and with track titles like Wall Of Death, The Death Ray and, er, Ibiza, he’s not wrong.

But you have to wonder how much fight is left in the old boys. Their artwork is a cute little fox. Look at its little ears. Alright, it’s probably going to bite your face off, but you'll hardly find a fox in a pill-spittled chill-out room in the corner of a heaving club.

If John Lydon went all buttery and the bloke from Scooter did a Kerry Katona, then it’s not too much of a stretch to expect half this new album to be a nature documentary. Smack My Badger Up. Less night owls, more… actual owls.

The Day Is My Enemy is an anagram of Tiny-Eyed Mayhems and Eh, Yes My Dynamite. What do you think it means? Let the National Trust know. They’re waiting for your call.

Anyhoo, here's the first single. It's called Nasty and it's probably directed by David Attenborough.



Further Fats: A History Of The Prodigy For People That Can't Be Bothered Reading The Wikipedia Article (2009)

Jan 9, 2015

Seven pictures on my hard drive that I hope never get discovered

Seriously.

There should be a way of hiding this stuff, right?


Because I'm not sure what all this says about my mind.

At least that one's factually accurate.

Oh come ON. There's probably a medical term for my kind of brain.

Although I call my brain "Keith". Not Keith. "Keith" in speech marks.

THANKS, "Keith".

Jan 7, 2015

New electronic music for January 2015: Ghost Culture, Floating Points and Hodge


I started something like this last year and it lasted merely days. Let's see, huh? Here are some fresh(ish) bleeps to pour into your ear-vats.


Their record label signed them because they sounded like a cross between The Strokes and Delia Derbyshire. I can also hear Factory Floor and that kind of pulsing LCD indie disco thing. Ghost Culture's slightly 80s vocals may prove divisive, but I like it spiralling into something quite different - their debut album may well be worth a look in.


Floating Points' Nuits Sonores was recorded on a plane. It has a Positive Education-energy about it (surely a sample?), perhaps Four Tet too, and its probably the most epic track you'll ever hear from a professional neuroscientist.


Every frequency is pushed until your ears become all crunchsome and gooey on Hodge's electrohouse banger You Better Lie Down, released in December on this EP here. The best thing to come out of Bristol since, um, (googles) Ribena and/or Tarmac.

Jan 6, 2015

Some abandoned musics: Body Down by Hounds Of Hulme


Hounds Of Hulme is a name I sometimes answer to. That, and Fido.

In 2012, I released 20 tracks on Bandcamp, and since then, the music has formed the backdrop to various internetty things like Fractions and a cover version of the Peppa Pig theme tune.

My hard drive is bursting with abandoned Hounds projects. One of those projects is Body Down, a Johnny Cash-mangling track, that is now available to stream or download for free.

Incidentally, any money raised from downloads will go to SOS Children's Villages, who have previously been supported by a Cash memorial fund. They create homes for vulnerable kids and seem to have their head screwed on about things like transgender rights. Which is kind of good and stuff.

Jan 2, 2015

Magic trousers: some words what I wrote for Electronic Sound


Writing for Electronic Sound is easy. I sharpie a load of words onto paper scraps, eat them, vomit them into a kind of stenching Scrabble spillage, then let the magazine editors scrape up the results once dried.

Here are some of the phrases I've used in columns or reviews for Electronic Sound, without their original context. While other writers bang on about Kraftwerk or Simian Mobile Disco or New Order or Juan Atkins (all in issue eight) and use sensible words like "table" or "cardigan", I'm doing... whatever this is.

There are ten phrases here. Perhaps you could eat them, vomit them, blue-tac them onto your wall, write "my new year's resolutions" above them, then pretend you're not having a breakdown?

"1% dado rail"

"an apparent drowning"

"magic trousers"

"an audio Microsoft Paint"

"weeping into a quiche"

"Robson and Jerome? Or just Jerome?"

"school milk"

"skag-chugging junkonaut"

"Tiny feline sex gimp"

"Wayne Rooney"

Futher Fats: Electronic Sound magazine: the future is buttocks(2013)

Jan 1, 2015

My top ten album countdown: a postscript


I tend to know most of my annual top ten before publishing it on my blog. Or at least, an idea of what might be in the running.

Still, as part of the process, I earwig around 80 albums. Some albums I listen to a lot, including the ones that don't make it. Many of them are part listens: I just know if something is going to count for the final ten or not because, well, the end-of-year chart is a culmination of absorbing 12 months of music scene.

The final listening process is more about plugging gaps, and wrestling over whether something is going to be number twelve or ten or eight. Kassem Mosse benefited from that process this year, while Flying Lotus lost out.

Sometimes that avalanche of 80 albums can bring an unexpected discovery. Kiasmos (pictured) was one of them. I'd never heard of them, and I was won over within half a minute of the first play. They ended up at number three in the chart after I caned the replay button.

And it seems friends in webland are now converts. Which makes the top ten all the more worthwhile. Hurrah.

Here's some Kiasmos.

Dec 31, 2014

Best electronic albums of 2014: one

 Syro  Aphex Twin (Warp)

The bulldozer of journalistic detritus that accompanied Aphex Twin's comeback album made listening to it something akin to pressing a portable radio to your ear while inside a car crusher. Great beats, you’d think, while bent gearsticks and battered pistons snapped your bones. I like the sounds, you’d mumble from inside your compressed cube of waste metal.

Comment pieces, inked hyperbole; so much noise online. It left me unable to think, unable to register its true significance. Of course I’ll make this the number one. It’s what should happen, right?

So I allowed space. I listened to a bit of Richard Clayderman instead. I listened to a smidgeon of Paolo Nutini. A snatch of One Direction.

Actually, this is all lies, but I did put the album aside so I could return to it fresh. And what an album. It’s beguiling, teasing, melodic and beautiful. It's the Aphex grin writ large, but without the nastiness: the cheeky shuffles in Minipops; the twisted g-funk of Circlont6a, the loose, knowing percussion of Produk 29, the optimistic ambience of Papat4. (Forgive the heavily-subbed track titles.)

His waspish processing may sound unsettled, and it’s certainly ordered into 32-bar sequences rather than traditional song structure, but the strength of Syro is in James’ pursuit of melody and then following that melody to captivating conclusions. S950tx16wasr10 is busy, but its notes are that of the first Selected Ambient Works. Circlont14 is all about the descending harmonies. Xmas_Evet10 made me so melancholic, I've burnt my Christmas decs along with my (non-existent!) Nutini CDs.

This isn't the product of a decade's silence: he's been sneaking these tracks into live sets for ages. In the simplest terms, Syro is very, very, [insert hyperbolic verbage and fire up the bulldozer] good.

Great beats. I like the sounds. Welcome back, Rich.

[Click here for the full top ten]



Thanks for reading. Revisit the top ten best electronic albums of 2014 by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2014: two

 Clark  Clark (Warp)

You might need a lighthouse for this one, because the clouds are rolling in.

This is Clark’s uncompromising seventh album where the creaking wrath of opener Ship Is Flooding spreads throughout the album, threatening the brisk Unfurla, washing over the beatless Beacon, and engulfing everything on There’s A Distance In You. We are never allowed too far from that source, despite many entertaining distractions: dismembered choirboys on Snowbird, the Lone-style chops of Silvered Iris, the shimmering yet angry epic Winter Linn.

Sonically, it works best as a sister album to Turning Dragon or Totems Flare, but somewhere here, submerged in analogue murk, is his strongest intent yet. Stick your head above the gloom and allow yourself this moment of clarity: Clark is probably Warp’s most significant artist, matching Squarepusher in album output.

But while his Squareness spit-polishes his jazzy LEDS, Chris Clark plunges ever deeper depths and remains blisteringly entertaining.

[Click here for the full top ten]



A special mention

Before I tie up the loose ends of those that didn't quite make it into this year's top ten, there's something I want to point out. In 2014, we lost two incredible talents: Gravenhurst's Nick Talbot and LFO's Mark Bell. I hope, over the years, this blog has celebrated innovation and passion in music. When that passion is cut short, a bit of all of us withers.

I joke about the '27 club', but sometimes the gap between here and there is a thin place, and life is fragile. My own life is coloured with grief more than my stupid humour would perhaps suggest, so to family, friends and fans of Nick and Mark, I mourn with you.

Some also-rans

Right. Time to execute the final stragglers before we lead into the number one album of 2014. (See? Stupid humour.) Caustic Window used Kickstarter to give us an archive album that was an interesting artefact if not the best example of, erm, thingummy's work. I loved, loved, loved Lee Bannon's robust junglism on Alternate/Endings (Ninja Tune). There was much to admire in DJ Q's dancefloor-friendly Ineffable (Local Action). And finally, I was sorry not to include the following: Rustie's Green Language (Warp) which lost the spark of his previous work, Caribou's Our Love (City Slang) which had so much good stuff (Can't Do Without You), and Luke Abbott's Wysing Forest (Border Community), which lacked the immediacy of his previous work.

Stay tuned for the number one. Although you've probably worked it out by now.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Dec 30, 2014

Best electronic albums of 2014: three

 Kiasmos  Kiasmos (Erased Tapes)

Featuring a BAFTA winner – Olafur Arnald –makes me want to scrub my blog with a scouring pad. Even though Kiasmos was seven years in gestation, it all seems so mainstream. A house beat, some gentle piano, touches of intensity. Maybe it’s a fading echo of last year’s top album. So much logic working against this. And yet...

Feel the energy on Looped. The bite of Burnt. Let it hook behind your ribcage and flutter your organs. Can you feel it? It’s a close, personal album; snare drums are swapped for finger clicks.

Less is more. You'll play this to bits.

[Click here for the full top ten]



Some also-rans

Venetian Snares, bless his cotton elks, delivered an absolute tune with the title track of My Love Is A Bulldozer (Planet Mu). A bit more chilled was Gunnar Haslam's ambient and organic Mirrors and Copulation (L.I.E.S.). Prins Thomas evoked old cinema with disco on his Prins Thomas III (Full Pupp). Actress' Ghettoville (Werkdiscs / Ninja Tune) was too fuzzy-edged, while Actress collaborator Copeland went pleasingly Tricky-like on Because I'm Worth It (self-released). Cristian Vogel's Polyphonic Beings (Shitkatapult) was a little too academic and weird. I didn't include the chuffing excellent FKA Twigs and LP1 (Young Turks) because it was too singer-songwriter for this list. And - drumroll - the worst album of 2014 was Roni Size's Take Kontrol (Mansion Sounds). Half-cocked, mind-numbing dull 'n' bass: he's capable of so much better.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: four

 Lone  Reality Testing (R&S Records)

Lone’s best album to date only finds itself at number four because 2014 saw some serious competition for a place in this chart.

There’s a cartoonish quality to Reality Testing’s choppy space music, but there’s depth too: listen to him channel Rae & Christian on 2 is 8, or the spirit of urbanity evoked in Aurora Northern Quarter. There’s even poetry (from Shawn Powers) on Stuck. And drizzled over the distractive Detroit beats is the same kind of melancholia Brian Eno once gave earnest rock bands: a new tone for Lone.

As the voice boldly proclaims on Airglow Fires: “wut!”

[Click here for the full top ten]



Some also-rans

I enjoyed Application's System Fork (Dust Science Recordings), but how could I not? It's The Black Dog. Also not in the top ten is Manchester royalty Illum Sphere's lush Ghosts Of Then And Now (Ninja Tune). The minimal machines of Powell's Powell 11-14 (Diagonal) sent a buzz down my spine. A highlight of 2014 was Traxman's bold footwork stylings of Da Mind Of Traxman, Vol.2 (Planet Mu) ("hey you, blow your whistle!"), and I also found myself won over by instrumental grime, especially Slackk's Palm Tree Fire (Local Action) and Mr. Mitch's likeable Parallel Memories. And Kanye and Twigs-producing Arca made a good case for this whole charade being a top 20 with Xen (Mute).

[Click here for the full top ten]