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]

Best electronic albums of 2014: five

 Objekt  Flatland (PAN)

This appears to be a band name designed by committee. Still, the dark breaks and snarling techno of Objekt’s Flatland demonstrate a production control and singularity of vision I’ve not heard since Flying Lotus’ early work.

The menacing lope of Dogma, the busy electro of Ratchet, the retro techno disco of album highlight Strays: this is more than just atmospherics and delay. It’s control. It’s precision.

It’s Aphexian entertainment from the underbelly of electronic music that's certainly not for everyone, but with more musicality than you’d expect considering its bleakness, Flatland is everything a techno album should be in 2014.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

A very significant omission from this year's top ten is Flying Lotus because, despite the dizzying delight of You're Dead! (Warp), he's ploughing a jazz furrow I'm not inclined to walk down. No space here either for Perc's nice and nasty The Power And The Glory (Perc Trax). Mr Scruff had his first studio album for five years with Friendly Bacteria (Ninja Tune), but he was one of several Ninja Tune artists that didn't make the cut, all of whom produced output that didn't match their last offering: Machinedrum's Vapor City Archives (Ninja Tune), FaltyDL's In The Wild (Ninja Tune) and Martyn's The Air Between Words (Ninja Tune). Wow. That's some big names ticked off. Oh and cheese, cheese, spray-on cheese put me off two great artists: Todd Terje's It's Album Time (Olsen Records) and Shit Robot's otherwise fun We Got A Love (DFA).

[Click here for the full top ten]

Dec 29, 2014

Best electronic albums of 2014: six

 Plaid  Reachy Prints (Warp)

So far, this top ten has been dour. Not without soul, but certainly moody. Thank goodness for Plaid.

Their tenth album in 25 years has a light touch, perhaps their lightest and most listenable, and it arrives in the wake of orchestral collaborations that have perhaps encouraged a few theatrics. So we have jingling bells, swooping dynamics, and an Orbitalesque earworm in Matin Lunaire.

Reachy Prints grew on me slowly. It’s better when it’s toned down, where the pleasure is found in the subtleties and not the hooks. But I’ve found myself returning to it repeatedly. Such is their genius.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

There are a number of collaborative projects that didn't make my top ten this year. The Bug's comeback album Angels & Devils (Ninja Tune) received rave reviews, but I wasn't quite convinced by the vocalists on offer. Even less successful were the vocals on SBTRKT's disappointing Wonder Where We Land (Young Turks). Shame. Royksopp's probable swansong The Inevitable End (Dog Triumph/Wall Of Sound) was a little too coffee-table, although I love their partnership with Robyn. Two of my heroes, Eno / Hyde, gave us Someday World and High Life (Warp) which left me cold. Also-ran nods go to the heroin r’n’b of Matthewdavid's In My World (Brainfeeder), the Walls / Daphne Oram library reworking Sound Houses (Ecstatic), and Com Truise's so-so Wave 1 (Ghostly International) which was probably more an EP than an album.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: seven

 Kassem Mosse   Workshop 19 (Workshop)

Tinkle tinkle tinkle. Donk. Pootle pootle. Spap.

That’s the sound of Gunnar Wendell’s debut album as Kassem Mosse. Stripped down percussion with trap influences meets techno-infused house with a result that is surprisingly catchy, all underpinned with a club urgency. He works with a limited analogue sound range but still manages massive keyboard riffs, stomping builders*, throbbing acid and tinkling ambience.

The record gets darker the further in you get, so perhaps the tension dissipates, but the result is way more than the sum of its deep house parts. Finally, he has an album to suit his enviable live reputation.

* Not actual builders stomping their feet, obviously. I was going to clarify this within the paragraph, but I'm trying to keep these reviews to exactly 100 words. These words don't count as part of that. Ignore all these words. Ignore them. Move on.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

Here are some more albums that didn't make the top ten. Fhloston Paradigm's The Phoenix (Hyperdub) was cinematic yet erratic, while in contrast, Cooly G's vocal-heavy Wait 'Til Night (Hyperdub) was too straight laced for me. Steffi's Detroit-drizzled second album Power Of Anonymity (Ostgut Ton) was certainly in the running this year. A few house albums: Session Victim's See You When You Get There (Delusions of Grandeur) had way too many bongos; Mr. Oizo's The Church (Brainfeeder) is as head noddy as you remember his yellow puppet being; Mark E's Product Of Industry (Spectral Sound) pretty much sounded like Mark E. The bloke from Shed gave us fantastic bass-heavy simplicity with Head High's Megatrap (Power House), and I had real fun with the horro techno on Gesloten Cirkel's Submit X (Murder Capital). Finally for this segment, I have a real soft spot for Jungle. Their eponymous debut (XL Recordings) was all sorts of pleasant but a bit too thin for a long player.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: eight

 Call Super – Suzi Ecto (Houndstooth)

This is probably the only record in the top ten on which the artist’s dad has tooted a clarinet.

Suzi Ecto is Call Super’s debut album, and it’s full of drifting, organic pop-length explorations with real world sounds and real instruments. There is experimentation, for example the chirrups fighting with biting synths on Rosso Dew or the stuttering chimes on Fold Again At Last.

But amid the hisses and the crunches, amid the wooziness, there is more to grab onto than is first apparent. This album left me feeling we’re in a new classic era of ambient techno. Actually super.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

A couple of Call Super labelmates didn't make the cut, specifically the heavy production of the songs on Throwing Snow's Mosaic (Houndstooth) and the low-rolling bass notes of Second Storey's Double Divide (Houndstooth). Vessel chopped up bicycles to make Punish, Honey (Tri Angle), but the results weren't as techno as I'd hoped. There was much to like with the precise electronics of Thug Entrancer's Death After Life (Software Recording Co.). Brilliant grimester Wen missed out on the top ten by a millimetre with his excellent Signals (Keysound) - he's probably 11th on the list. Luke Vibert was back with Ridmik (Hypercolour), showing you 303 ways to manipulate a 303. I always expected Plastikman's live album EX (Mute) to be in the top ten, but this expansive and epic LP ended up at about the 15 to 20 mark. And bless him, but Tycho's Awake (Ghostly International), his follow-up to 2011's memorable Dive, was too caught between being accessible post-rock and something you could sing Coldplay to.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Dec 28, 2014

Best electronic albums of 2014: nine

– Slam – Reverse Proceed (Soma)

You know when Limmy says “where’s the Slam Tent?” and we all laugh? Here are the curators of the actual tent he’s talking about. Nearly 20 years after their pulsating single Positive Education rocked dancefloors, the Glasgow duo’s fifth album is a luxurious slab of classic ambience leading into tweaking acid thumpers that kick their hardware sequencers in the shins and then some.

While fellow godfathers of dance may have gone disco or prog (yawn), Slam keep the bass drum at the fore. A complete journey with a single focus on driving, tuneful, hypnotic techno.

Here, Limmy. It’s right here.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

Dorian Concept produced a likeable, dynamic electronic pop album with Joined Ends (Ninja Tune). Taylor Mcferrin's Early Riser (Brainfeeder) had a little too much smooth soul for my taste, while Skrillex's Recess (Big Beat) didn't even get a play because it had too much Skrillex for my taste. The simple bleeps of DMX Krew's Reith Trax (Rush Hour) didn't make the top ten despite being recorded on a farm. No space for the textured, messy ESTOILE NAIANT (Warp) by Patten either. Finally for this segment, the following albums were a little too pastoral: Barnt's tappy EBM album Magazine 13 (Magazine), Loscil's coastal found sounds on Sea Island (Kranky) and Teebs' organic and glistening E s t a r a (Brainfeeder).

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: ten

10 – Untold – Black Light Spiral (Hemlock Recordings) 

Sonic destroyer Untold prowls the basement of the music scene. Sometimes he pops up to work with the likes of LV, Roska and R&S Records, but he mostly prowls the sewers picking up scraps of dubstep and fashioning them into spiky, confident bass music such as his 2009 work for Hotflush Recordings.

His long-awaited debut album was, therefore, a curveball. Who knew that underneath the sewers were darker, more dangerous paths? On Black Light Spiral, we hear distorted electrocution (Strange Dreams), steamrollered reggae (Sing A Love Song) and Babadookian house horror (Doubles).

All confidence gone: just introversion and overwhelming malevolence.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Some also-rans

There are so many albums that didn't make the top ten. I'll attempt to list most of them.

Untold's other album Echo in the Valley (self-released) was a bit too experimental to be in the top ten. It was released on a USB stick y'know. I enjoyed the spectacularly-named Hieroglyphic Being And The Configurative Or Modular Me Trio's The Seer Of Cosmic Visions (Planet Mu), and part of me was in awe his second moniker I.B.M and the dense Eat My F*ck (Mathematics). More no-fi than lo-fi. Russell Haswell's noisy 37 Minute Work Out was inspired, it seems, by Paul Morley (Diagonal). Vladislav Delay returned to ambient on Visa (Ripatti Label), as did Function & Vatican Shadow on Games Have Rules (Hospital Records), although in a more industrial way. There was more claustrophobic murk on Ital's Endgame (Planet Mu), while labelmate Ekoplekz's Unfidelity (Planet Mu) may have had my favourite track title of the year ("Robert Rental") but its metallic noise didn't entirely click with me. Finally, I disqualified A Winged Victory For The Sullen 's Atomos (Erased Tapes) for being too classical, which is ridiculous because one of the top ten albums to come is definitely more than a little bit classical. Silly Fats.

[Click here for the full top ten]

Best electronic albums of 2014: introduction

I have decided. My top ten list of the best electronic albums of 2014 is complete. I think. Yes. Yes it is.

I have missed some big names out. I have surprised myself at the ones I have kept in. It is perhaps the most miserable top ten so far (it's my sixth year of doing this), but if you like desolation, despair and the futility of life, then you're in for a thigh-slapping, grin-twinkling treat.

My stinking, bloodied top ten will drip onto your computer rather than splurge out all at once: there will be ten posts after this, from now until New Year's Eve. All you need to do to keep track of all the posts is click on this group label here.

Edit: the top ten is now complete:

10 - Untold
9 - Slam
8 - Call Super
7 - Kassem Mosse
6 - Plaid
5 - Objekt
4 - Lone 
3 - Kiasmos
2 - Clark
1 - Aphex Twin
Click for the whole top ten.

Meanwhile, check out the previous years' lists. Several of these people had new albums in 2014. Will there be a first double number-one artist?

- Jon Hopkins winning 2013;

- Andy Stott winning 2012, alongside Lone;

- Rustie winning 2011;

- Mount Kimbie winning 2010, although in retrospect I should have chosen Luke Abbott;

- Clark winning 2009.

Dec 23, 2014

Six drummers drumming

I'm working on my end-of-year best album list. It may need to be cut down this year as it was in 2013, but I'll still try and do it. My top ten albums of the year is currently a list of 70 (with a realistic shortlist of 28).

Meanwhile, it's Christmas. A time for old folks to sit around and knit Christmas jumpers or to crochet pictures of Santa Claus.

So who's this guy? What is Richard O'Brien doing with the decorations?

And why is there a hipster messing with the tree?

Enjoy this music video. It's Swedish without subtitles but if you don't speak the language, it doesn't matter. Happy Christmas, and thanks for reading the blog - what little there was of it - in 2014.

Nov 30, 2014

Blogging highlights 2004-2014

I've been blogging for ten years.

You remember ten years ago, right? Faded celebrities sat around in jungles, UKIP made significant electoral gains and some loons re-released the Band Aid song. Seems so alien now.

This blog reached its zenith in 2009 and 2010. Before and since, it has just been a fat man shouting down an internet tube at his own knees.

Here are my eight blogging highlights since the first post dripped out onto the web on 13th November 2004.

1. Getting the word electrostepgrungebass accepted into Blogger's spelling dictionary. Turns out if you post them enough nail clippings, they relent.

2. Actually moving into a grandma's basement so I felt included in all the tabloid comment pieces about blogging. She never found out.

3. The time when I was outed as Burial. Or that graffiti guy. I forget which.

4. Changing the name of my blog to (a) Fat Roland's Internet Sickhole, (b) Fat Roland's Cranial Discharge, (c) Vice Magazine. All at once.

5. Seeing my blog open on a laptop screen in the background of the Queen's official portrait. Still, it put paid to my theory that I can't be seen in paintings, like vampires.

6. Being the millionth visitor to the world wide web. I won a timeshare. Or a large bank deposit. Or willy pills. I don't know: I didn't click.

7. Inventing the "minternet". This is like the internet, only mintier. See also: cheesels (edible easels), hot dogdogs (actual dogs made from sausages), beef (this is just beef that I pretended to invent).

8. Accidentally downloading all the music. Well, almost all. Strangely, it left off all the U2 albums.

9. There isn't a 9. I said "eight blogging highlights". Scroll up. It's right there.

10. Seriously now.


Thanks for reading. I've had a decade offloading my mind-crap into your face. I think I will carry on because, why not. Blogging is dead and this is not Buzzclick-Viralworthy, but if you stick around, I'll keep tapping away. Here's to Band Aid 2024. *weeps*

Nov 23, 2014

Live latest: Royal Exchange, Mother's Ruin, the Spoken Word Showcase

Fat Roland performs. Photo: Pam Van-Damned Visuals.

Here is an update on my performance shenanigans.

On Hallowe’en night, I co-compered fiction readings at the Royal Exchange with my Bad Language hat on. It's not a real hat. Let's not get hung up on the hat. All the readers were great, but it was extra brills to have a Booker shortlistee read for Bad Language for the first time.

The place was drizzled in orange and green lighting, giving a suitably pumpkinesque sheen for the 160 or so that attended. It felt quite austere, as though we were inside an old novel or something.

I compered again at the King’s Arms in Salford for a Mother’s Ruin cabaret night. This was a chance to stretch my stand-up muscles, throwing in short routines, one-liners and, as usual, a truck-load of props. The night is described with aplomb here.

Incidentally, my previous appearance for Mother's Ruin got a lovely review on Manchester's Finest:
"It was then time for Fat Roland, a comedian who again reduced the audience to hysteria from the start and all done without uttering a single word. Silently he took the audience on a tour about Manchester from doodles he’d drawn himself."
Some of those drawings got a second outing at the Spoken Word Showcase in Salford. In some ways, this was the most interesting experience. I teased the audience with an idiot persona, with readings and doodles that were deliberately childlike. Once the audience was hooked – and who doesn’t love a low-status idiot – I allowed what I presented to become more skilful, ending on a dark and distinctly adult note that was entirely without punchline. Proper enjoyable.

I have three events this week, so you should choose one at which you can show off your best hat. On Tuesday, I will read a fiction piece at a Bad Language / Blackwell’s collaboration with Tony O'Neill and Bluemoose Books. On Wednesday, it’s Bad Language at the Castle with Ralph Dartford from A Firm Of Poets. And on Thursday, it’s back to Blackwell’s where I will compere an evening of intelligent talks based around the Very Short Introductions books, run in conjunction with Oxford University Press.

Photo: Pam Van-Damned

Nov 18, 2014

See this? This is you, this is

YouGov have this brilliant profiler in which you can enter a brand or an activity and it trawls their database to tell you who would be interested in that - on "average".

I entered 'electronic music'. It found 98 people into electronic music, which if you think about it is a lot of people. It constructed that data into one composite person.

In other words, this is you. This is what you look like.

I added the colouring because, y'know, you look a bit dull.

What else do the stats say about average-you?

You're a geeky boxing fan who owns fish.

You're a bloke (and you are a he) who shops at Dorothy Perkins, likes Tulisa from N-Dubz and when not shopping at Superdrug, reads Glamour magazine.

Creative writing is your fifth favourite hobby, but you prefer hillclimbing.

Your top ten programmes include Escape To The Country and Operation Hospital Food With James Martin.



Nov 16, 2014

Attaching a camera to a cat: in pictures

I attached a camera to a cat. Here are the pictures it took.

This is the return of Fractions, the video series that had its first run last winter. CatCam is an edit of a piece I did at Mother's Bloomers last week. Sorry for the popping: I probably need to get a decent recording device.

Click here for the rest of my video vomit. Meanwhile, happy viewing...

Nov 15, 2014

The Aphex Twins have released 30 new tracks

The Aphex Twins* have released 30 new tracks. Because there are so many people in the Aphex Twins, they are able to do this.

The Twins unleashed their new material during a lengthy two-part interview with Dave Noyze. I've not had chance to hear it yet - I'm still enjoying Syro - but I'm expecting electronic patches wigging out then tumbling over rough edges into half-formed gutters. Or something.

These are the numerous members of the Aphex Twins:

- Romeo Twin
- Asher D James
- Selected Lisa Maffia Works
- OxSyro and Digeri-Neutrino
- Kim KarDrukqsian
- Insert more puns here
- Fill this bit in later

In unrelated news, this blogger is sad to hear that So Solid Crew was just one person all along.

Sole member Paul Daniels revealed the news in an emotional interview with himself. He said he only ever intended Every 21 Seconds Counts, a surprise number one in 3,000 countries, to be the theme tune of his next game show.

* with apologies to Stewart Lee for stealing his 'the UKIPs' joke.

Nov 12, 2014

Fat Roland goes to Crosby beach

I got stuck in the sand at Crosby beach and nearly ruined my trainers. I swear the Gormley statues were laughing.

Before I sank beneath the fish-pissed sand, I took these photographs.

You can see all 33 meaningful picture captions on a special Crosby beach tumblr I made with my internet machine.

Ah, that Orbital one seems so dated now...

Click for loads more.

Nov 10, 2014

Christmas chart battles and the chamber of echoes

We all remember where we were when a Facebook campaign shot Killing In The Name to the festive top spot. It was Britain's JFK moment.

A whole nation gasped as Joe McElderry was denied chart's biggest accolade. Ticker-tape news channels covered it for weeks. The single was named The Climb. The irony of that title failing to reach the summit led to hundreds of floral tributes to be elastic-banded onto Simon Cowell's legs.

McElderry went the way of Steve Brookstein. He was last seen doing panto. His career became as successful as JFK's is now.

Enter this year's most interesting seasonal Facebook campaign:  LFO for Christmas Number One. 

LFO are sadly no more, after the death of sole musician and long-time Bjork collaborator Mark Bell (pictured above). He'll be sorely missed. LFO's Northern bleeps gave a voice to dour techno-heads and their eponymous debut on Warp Records should be regarded as one of the most influential electronic tracks of all time.

A similar campaign for Altern-8's Activ 8 (Come With Me) faltered in 2013, charting the single 30 places lower than its original peak in 1991. The LFO campaign has a memorial element, and despite the Facebook page yet reaching the tens of thousands of followers it needs, there are plenty of shares and likes.

Ah yes, the Facebook page. The other day, it posted a photo of Countdown lettersmith Rachel Riley displaying the letters L, F and O. All very amusing, Photoshop or no Photoshop.

Among the quips about consonants and vowels, there were comments about Rachel, both in the group comments and in the shares of the original post by ex-LFO member Gez Varley. About her. About her appearance. Boobs and oscillations and the like. You've seen the internet. You know what comments are like.

It made me feel sad. It reminded me that techno is male-dominated. It reminded me of the way debates are controlled and manipulated by men. It reminded me of pay gaps, of glass ceilings, of willies ruling all.

That's a lot to read into a small selection of comments that were nothing to do with the campaign.
But I like techno being a community. I liked going to a listening party for the new Aphex Twin album, or raving about favourite Orbital gigs, or gently prodding Venetian Snares fans about Westlife.

But when technoheads are being misogynist, where are their friends? Why aren't they being challenged? Are we as blind to our willy-powered echo chamber as the blunt-fingered keyboard warriors of #GamerGate?

I hope Mark Bell makes it to number one this Chrimbo. Meanwhile, I suspect McElderry's been more successful than this blog post has given him credit for. It doesn't matter. I'm still gaffer taping daffodils to Simon Cowell's hairy man tubes.

Oct 26, 2014

Fnarp blang-grabble toop: what I learnt from drawing

Some time ago I went to a life drawing class. We sat in rows with our chosen tools, in my case an A3 sketchpad I had bought that day and the pencil I used to illustrate a 2012 short story collection. A succession of models in fancy dress glared at us: we drew Storm from X-Men, an evil-looking Darth Maul and someone from Blade Runner.

I didn't like it. It left me frustrated. I wanted to snap my pencil. I didn't snap my pencil. If you snap pencils, it releases lead into the atmosphere and a dolphin dies. I read that somewhere.

The models were great, the night was friendly and fun, the costumes and make-up were brilliant, and the company I kept was great. I drew lots and, for a while, I enjoyed the challenge of squinting at the shapes before me and trying to spew that onto paper.

Yet I learnt a few things:


I'd rather live inside my head. Things outside my eyes are boring. I need to mix things up into a beautiful field of horses or an elephant hick or a cheese goat Neil Buchanan mash-up or something so disgusting and weird it's probably NSFW.


I won't sit still. I won't draw in a structured environment. I won't follow your recommendations to the letter. Don't give me an exam: I'd break it. I don't only think outside the box: I've opened a dictionary, crossed out "box" and written "fnarp" instead.


Well. I wear clothes: I'm not a naturist. But I wanted actual life drawing not fancy dress. Models with skin and that. Nuddies. The sags and contours of skin are more interesting than leather jackets and capes. If you're not reading this naked right now, I'll be furious. Actually, I can see your reflection from my computer screen. My eyes. MY EYES.


Despite this blog post using conventions of grammar on a template of a major blog publishing platform using equipment owned by multi-national corporations, I, like, totes don't do boundaries yeah?! Smash the system, yeah?! Fnarp blang-grabble toop p'dinb-dinb wam. That's not even a sentence. I'm out of control.


My dislike of following a crowd. My disrespect of popular conventions. My urge to always find the new. I feel restless.

Maybe this is why I got into electronic music. I'll spend the afternoon trawling Bleep, loafing around Resident Advisor or spinning through Soundcloud for something new: Objekt or The Bug or Butch.

Meanwhile everyone else is into fancy dress and normcore and real things and Ed Sheeran and Sunday lunch and saying how-do-you-do and wearing ties and television and breathing and jeezeverythingissoBORING.

Anyway. I kept my drawings. They were okay.

Oct 19, 2014

Sometimes people get lost

Sometimes people get lost. Christopher Columbus set off to find India and ended up playing for the West Indies cricket team or something. Sometimes I load up kitten fights on YouTube and end up watching body building videos. Like I say, sometimes people get lost.

Therefore, I produced these graphics for anyone who feels lost. You kind of have to be on Twitter to make them true because they say things like "you are on Twitter".

I hope someone will find them useful.

Oct 16, 2014

The Black Dog / Balil's 3/4 Heart

"If you remember the 60s, you weren't there."
"Music was just better in the 80s."
"I so got bogus on alcopops at the Britpop disco last night."

Yeah, I hear your conversations, you wrinkled dinosaurs living in the past. It's pathetic. I listen to new music all the time, while you close your ears off because your ear wax is made of nostalgia and one day you will drown in it.

Haaaaving said that...

I love this old track from The Black Dog, performing here as Balil (below).

Their Bytes album expanded my world. In this one track, you can hear trip hop, Orbital's Snivilisation and LTJ Bukem's atmospherics. Except this was some time before any of that came out, assuming we're dating trip hop to a couple of years later in the 90s.

This is truly forward thinking futuristic futurism right here, and definitely not me wallowing in techno nostalgia.

(Incidentally, The Black Dog's Sound of Sheffield volume 3 is out this week, including the bass-heavy Fraction Slide.)

Oct 15, 2014

Stephen Fry's moustache

Stephen Fry's moustache. That's it, really. Just those three words.

It was probably an episode of QI in which someone joked about an internet site dedicated to Fry's facial hair. Maybe. Anyhoo, the idea stuck in my head. 

Because the internet needs this kind of thing.

Oct 14, 2014

Anxious Fats and the castle of happiness

Five billion years ago, I went on a school trip to France. I was very interested in going on a school trip to France. I'd learnt the word boulangerie and everything.

The trip was a nightmare. Some of my school "mates" were nobbists of the highest degree, and I spent the whole vacation feeling confused and overwhelmed. I still remember a supermarket cashier barking shapes at me while I nodded in a way I thought looked intelligent.

I still do the same nodding now.

Ever since, I've had an anxiety about not enjoying the moment. Such as dancing my mullet off in a club yet worrying about how many shirt buttons I should have unfastened, opting between one and two and three back to one like some kind of crap fabric traffic light.

It's happened again recently, only in a more general sense. I've been caught in a cycle of logistics and planning and stress. Even when chillaxing with my bluds (I think these are French words), my mind has been a dripping pipe of mental notes and worries.

Last weekend, that changed.

I attended a writing workshop run by Prole Books at the turret-tastic Bodelwydden Castle. I only went because I followed Prole on Twitter and, hey, it was in a castle.

I’m not really a workshop kind of guy, but the process loosened some pretty rusty bolts. I realise that clashes with my pipe metaphor, but shut up. Writer Sue Pace led the workshop without dictating, and allowed freedom to simply enjoy the process of writing.

The weekend forced me to stop, to take a step back. I threw some priorities up in the air and let them land in a different order. I've written a lot. I’ve even been facing some tiny demons this week that I have been avoiding for a long time.

I feel pretty.... boulangerie.


Also this week, I performed with Flashtag at Manchester Literature Festival in a kind of literary human centipede which was, according to reviews, comedic and hilarious. And as Bad Language I co-hosted a bunch of rising stars along with development agency The Writing Squad and author chappie Matt Haig. I had an immense time at the Festival and thanks to everyone for making it feel prop spesh and well good.

Sep 22, 2014

The Aphex Twins: a classic comeback album?

The Aphex Twins will release a new album today for the first time in 13 years.

Gone are the dance moves of the past. This is a more introspective, mature sound, designed to reflect the Aphex Twins' recent 65th birthday.

Last week, I went to a listening party where I hung around Piccadilly Records looking shifty while loudly declaring that the album "had a good beat".

Here are ten comeback albums that are significant. Of course, it includes The Aphex Twin's new album.

1. Guns 'n' Iron: Chinese Illusion II / Use Your Democracy
2. My Bloody Valentine: Gangnam Stylin'
3. Stone Roses: The Third Coming
4. Westlife: Sexploitation Soundtrack Classics
5. Bob Dylan: One Man And His Casio Pre-Sets
6. U2 - Never Mind The 90s, Here's Something To Use In Your Advert
7. Peter Andre: Music For Airheads
8. Guru Josh: 2010s, Time For My Pills
9. David Bowie: Songs For Ricky Gervais
10. The Aphex Twins: I'm Banging My Computer Keyboard Against This Granny Does It Look Like A Track Title Yet

Sep 4, 2014

Stream an actual new Aphex Twin track now

It's a jolly little ditty, and not entirely unlike my favouritest band Plaid. Add a few Totems Flare-style synth and vocal bits. It may underwhelm some looking for a Windowlicker, but I'm a happy sausage right now. And it beats the grainy live clips already on YouTube.

The new album can be pre-ordered from Bleep here.

Further Fats: The Gospel According To Aphex Twin (2010)

Aug 19, 2014

Aphex Twin's new album: the truth

Aphex Twin's new album will be a collection of ballads with Irish boyband megastars Westlife.

Mr Aphex announced his first studio album for 13 years by threatening London with a zeppelin and then a small ad in the back pages of Loot, otherwise known as the "dark web".

There was also a posting on his official Twitter account, which read: "nuAlbum with WstLfe, theyre the 1s with Ronan in, rite?!".

The reaction from the music industry to Aphex Twin's comeback was swift and overwhelming. [Note: insert a bunch of tweets here and pass them off as journalistic quote sourcing.] Also, Phats & Small were unavailable for comment. Skrillex did hold a press conference at which the only attendees were Chase & Status, Nile Rogers, a bloke from Disclosure and whoever's left out of Milli Vanilli.

The album will be available in gatefold vinyl which plays, greetings card style, Avril 14th when you open it up. The first 500 copies will come with a free "Squarepusher sucks" sticker.

Alongside a live tour with Kid 606 and Austin Mahone supporting, the album will be promoted with residency on The One Show.

A statement from Ronan Keating reads: "Seriously, it's because we're Irish, isn't it? They just dressed in black and sat on stools. We had dance routines and stuff. Westlife didn't even do curtains properly."

What will the new album be like? Will his window be caustic, lickable or polygon? Further thoughts will be in the next edition of Electronic Sound.

Bonus: a possible album preview has appeared on YouTube:

Aug 16, 2014

The Aphex Twin blimp is a Warp Records PR stunt, say Oval Space

(See a 2014 album update here.)

A blimp displaying Aphex Twin's logo has appeared above art centre Oval Space in London.

The airship shows the year 2014 with the zero containing his logo. Stencils are also appearing, including at New York's Radio City Music Hall, although it could be those have been there for a while.

One marketing man has already collared the bloke driving the blimp trick ("it's gonna be good"), while another tweeter reckons the blimp contains 2,014 unreleased Aphex albums. Or perhaps it's a load of, er, hot air.

I did a bit of digging around.

The publicity stunt follows a successful Caustic Window Kickstarter campaign that saw £67,000 raised to release a rare 1990s test pressing. The latest missive from the campaign - I'm one of the backers - just mentioned some housekeeping details about a DigiPack release and mentioned nothing of a Pink Floyd-style PR coup.

I rang Oval Space, who are hosting Aphex's label mate Rustie next month for the debut of Rustie's new album Attak. I asked them if the blimp was anything to do with them. They issued a quick denial and told me it was a marketing exercise by Warp Records.

Maybe he's just DJing at Oval's LDN Craft Beer Festival this weekend. Maybe this means all those unreleased albums are ready to go. Maybe - and most likely considering what Oval Space told me - it's to do with Warp's 25th anniversary celebrations.

Either way, I think we can conclude that Aphex Twin is launching an aerial assault on London and we should all run for our lives.

Aphex blimp photo: NME

Further Fats: Aphex Twin.

Aug 10, 2014

You see where I'm going with this, right?

Post suggestions in the comments. There must be a full Fat Roland's worth of complete record covers in this. Damn you, Portishead, for beginning with P.

Jul 31, 2014

10 Guardian pieces about whether the album is dead or not

I'm not sure what this means. Maybe think-pieces about the death of the album are dead. Maybe everything's dead.

Maybe I should record these articles as an album. And only sell it to dead people.

"The latest victim, and perhaps the most depressing when it comes to the slow but steady bludgeoning of creativity within the field, is the album."  (Harriet Walker, July 2014)


"While some musicians have been resistant to the decline of the album, others have begun to recognise and accept the changing tide." (Hannah Ellis-Petersen, July 2014)


"Is the album dead? Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Elton John hit by dramatic US sales slump." (Headline, Edward Helmore, November 2013)


"The internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left." (David Byrne, October 2013)


"Music has died now I've thrown away my CDs and only listen on my laptop." (Headline, Sophie Heawood, June 2013


"Music apps are the new albums. Or the new concert DVDs. Or..." (Guardian apps blog, November 2012.)


"It has been a decade since piracy and the arrival of iTunes – which destroyed the notion of an album in favour of single, downloadable tracks – but the music business has found nothing to repair lost CD sales." (Dan Sabbagh, October 2011)


"Record breaking: is the album format dead?" (Guardian music blog, August 2009)


"The death knell is sounding for the album, and the industry is quickening its demise by fighting innovation." (Natalie Hanman, July 2005)



"The working cycle of a band is still based around making albums and then touring them, and while artists are still grouping songs together for release, whatever the format... Whether you're listening on a smartphone or gramophone the "long player" is here to stay." (Guardian music blog, February 2013)

Further Fats: Every Guardian music 'crepuscular' reference since the start of 2010, probably (2013)

Jul 26, 2014

Five engrossing techno tracks

Here are five utterly engrossing techno tracks. Dive into them. Let them wash over you. Some of them have the texture of treacle or gloopy fairy tears, while others will feel like you're drowning in a pool of hot tar. But in a good way. Some of them just feel you're being humped by the YouTube Lossy Dog. Down boy.

Vatican Shadow's Cairo Is A Haunted City

Prurient's Through The Window

Morph's Morphine

Synkro & Indigo's Guidance

Pearson Sound's Untitled

Oh and an extra one for being so well behaved...
The Autechre remix of Surgeon's Whose Bad Hands Are These?

Further Fats: Oh to be torn up by wolves and fed, bit by bit, through an old lawnmower (2008)

Jul 12, 2014

Here is the latest pop chart, apparently

I've just checked the latest pop chart now that streaming counts towards its figures. I'm not sure I like it.

Here's the current top ten.

1 - The sound of you and your wheezing breath captured by your laptop's watching camera.

2 - A mysterious operative in a curtained room reading your Yahoo spam emails and chucking quietly. His name is Muriel.

3 - The flat tap-tap-tap of mouse clicks. When you look at the shadows, the clicks stop.

4 - Echoing through Westminster, the joyful slap of high-fives and glass clinks - then urgent shushing when someone approaches.

5 - The plastic rustle of the actual tarpaulin the government uses in its cover-ups.

6 - Julian Assange weeping his way through I Did It My Way then powering his way through six packs of Pringles.

7 - The wet, crusty bubbling of Eric Pickles' widening smile.

8 - The slow grind of history repeating itself and repeating itself and...

9 - The sound of the computer that auto-generates Calvin Harris hits. A mix between a jolly "ping" and the mournful wail of a dying planet.

10 - The brittle splintering of forced satire.

Further Fats: Oh, puppies, why do you live? (2006)

Jun 16, 2014

I'm splurging my wordballs at these following events

I did a poetry event the other night. I did it. I proper did it.

Evidently takes place in the bricked back room of Salford's Eagle Inn on a stage facing two balconies: the double-deckered audience gives the impression of intimacy in what is otherwise a cavernous chimney. A great venue with great beer.

Here are some other events I'm splurging my wordballs at:

> On June 18th, I host the launch of Anneliese Mackintosh's debut short story collection Any Other Mouth. Click here for the Facebook event. I'm reading the book at the moment. Its perfect mix of humour, depth and readability has left me giddy. It makes me want to be a better writer.

> On June 21st, I'm supporting Zach Roddis as he launches Selected Tweets in the Salford Zine Library. Zach Roddis is YOLO. Zach Roddis is not YOLO. He is neither buffalo nor augmented pony. This is going to be a weird one: here's the Facebook event. Click here if you want to give him money to produce more stuff.

> And on June 25th, it's the monthly literary feast that is Bad Language. Ooo. I've not done a Facebook event post for that yet. Sack this blogging lark, I'm off to Land O'Zuckerberg...

In other news, I'm generating story ideas. There are post-it notes on my living room wall. I have a thing in my head. An idea; a through-line. It feels quite fragile, like a web made by a frail spider with a bit of a detox wobble. But I have a thing: a series of connected stories that aren't very connected at all. Like Cloud Atlas. That kind of thing, only not as long and as frustrating.

I can't tell you what the thing is because that would cause a breeze in my mind and the web would crumble.

The thing feels quite precious in this state. I'll keep you updated.

Jun 11, 2014

Three things I've been listening to, and they all begin with P like pea, pineal gland and, er, Papa Roach

This is what I've been pouring into my ear tubes recently.


Slow-ass acid techno, performed live in New York, that's as sharp as a million pins piercing your brain. There's so much space in Pastikman's first album for a decade, a simple cymbal shudders plaster from the walls. The growling bassline of EXtrude will knock you off your feet. Every moment is played for a live experience, and although progress is, on the surface, glacial, the themes submerge and rise with a beautiful and hypnotic dynamism. And Richie Hawtin certainly offers us the best production I've heard in 2014. Run for the hills, Jon Hopkins!


IDM's most listenable, most melodic moment of the year, and certainly Plaid's "easiest" album. Nafovanny's moody loping is nothing less than a five minute pop song with a stadium-techno refrain, albeit with that ethereal chiming to make things sounds like a steel drum band on Venus. Like their older tracks Eyen and Get What You Gave, most of this feels simple and familiar. Throughout, there's Kraftwerkian melodies, home-listening melancholia and, on Matin Lunaire, a close approximation of Wonky-era Orbital. The most Plaidian Plaid to date.


And here's an album I started listening to a lot then gave up on. patten's complex and messy electronica sounds like Boards of Canada with broken legs. It has all the sounds of classic IDM, but it seems somehow distracted and entirely of the head rather than the heart. There's so much bustling on Key Embedded, while their most intriguing moment Drift kills itself with its own percussion. Still, I love the abstraction and the Autechre bit of me has an utter tentpole at the sound of it all.

Further Fats: Bleep Years day two: Plaid's Get What You Gave (2012)

May 31, 2014

"But you made the quiches yourself": becoming a better stage performer


The stage lights burning the back of my eyes. The solitary microphone and the stares from the audience. And the sudden and lurching gap in my memory.

I remember my only attempt at stand-up comedy well: I died on my backside: a brutal failure. The years have not diminished my shock at the experience.

The next time I took to the stage was for Bright Club with a comedy lecture called Gospel According To Aphex Twin. It wasn't stand-up but I played it for laughs and I shook like a leaf. Four years later and, for the first time ever earlier this week, I had a "performer moment". A moment where I wasn't just on a stage reading funny stuff, but I used a learned technique to elicit a response from an audience. Like a Performer, capital P.


The moment happened as I compered Bad Language. A couple of open mic acts hadn't turned up, and at one point there was a risk that it could have derailed the night. I needed to make light of the situation on stage, so I used a stupid metaphor, explained slowly with the best deadpan I could manage. I likened the no-shows to me making five quiches for a dinner party, with only four guests turning up, leaving me to eat the final broccoli-filled quiche even though I hated broccoli.

And then came a friendly heckle. "But you made the quiches yourself."


"But you made the quiches yourself."

The heckler shot my metaphor down with brilliantly-timed wit. I couldn't fight the logic. Why would I make a quiche I hated the taste of?


Something clicked. For the first time, I could use a heckle to gain a bigger laugh. I feigned a dawning realisation at the audience member's insight, and while I acted this out, my mind wrote a punchline. The punchline went something like: "This is what my life has come to: me making quiches I hate for people that don't exist."

As I spoke the punchline, keeping my timing regular and my voice steady, my brain went into planning mode again. I decided that after the word "exist", I should turn from the microphone. A visual full stop to land the phrase with a decisive thunk. It worked. People laughed.

It was only a small moment, and by writing all this out, I am probably overplaying it. I'm also not trying to tell you how hilarious I am. The point is this: what struck me about that moment was I could multi-task my little brain gremlins to enable me to plan mid-performance. I'd not done that before. I felt like a stand-up.


The heckler apologised afterwards, but he didn't need to. I thanked him for making it funnier than it ever could have been.

I guess the moral is that performance skill can be learned, that's probably worth trusting the moment, that a strong-enough stage presence can withstand almost anything.

There are many stage performers better than me. But sometimes it's nice to look back and see how far you've come - because the energy I still get from that long-past stand-up failure still drives me to be a better performer today.

May 30, 2014

Glock/Ver10?* Bearded knob twiddler's cover Aphex Twin's Windowlicker

Chug this down your YouTube neck. Here's one-take cover artist Binkbeats with his version of Aphex Twin's Windowlicker. It's a brave attempt, and not many people would survive this with their brain intact.

Brought to the internetwebhole by the ever-reliable Boiler Room.

* a glockenspeil pun on Aphex's Cock/Ver10 even though I'm pretty sure it's a xylophone.

Further Fats: The devil has all the best IDM: Aphex Twin (2010)

May 26, 2014

Finding healthy pop wheat amid the pop forest fire of, um, doom


The plan: find something positive to say about the charts. Music that may be derivative but it's done in a nice way and doesn't carry the baggage of a mysogynistic or gun-addled video.

The result: quite difficult. I think Coldplay's new electronic direction is welcome, but I'm never going to post something by them because it's still like listening to a squeezed dishcloth. And the chart is full of older stuff, like Duke Dumont and Avicii in the mid-range and the likes of Busted and Shaggy near the bottom.

I found four. There's a decent Lana Del Ray remix knocking about somewhere, but I couldn't spot it on YouTube. So...


- Kiesza's Hideaway, a snappy 90s house track with some proper Strings of Life synth stabs bubbling under the surface;

- Route 94's My Love, a hypnotic house meditation with choppy pianos and a gorgeous arpeggio throughout, let down by a poor video;

- Klangkarussell's Sonnentanz, with its filtered synth motif, layered vocals and sax parps that are so crap they're probably good;

- Clean Bandit's Extraordinary, a band that used to me more interesting, but this fluff has some nicely executed production. Only just made the list.