Apr 4, 2021

From catatonic breakdance to a need for speed: new electronic music for April 2021

Eomac

Are your ears stupid idiots? Do you want to punish your ears? How about punishing your stupid idiot ears with some brand new electronic music?

Here's a smattering of bleepy albums due for release in April 2021.

Murcof's rejoins the Leaf Label for The Alias Sessions, an album written for a dance company in Geneva. I'm not much of a dancer, myself: my moves are limited to confused salsa, catatonic breakdance and eyebrow tango. Murcof's music often resides in little ripples of waveforms, but there are great big tidal washes of noise on this new album. One of my favourite Murcofs for a while.

Jimi Tenor's putting out Deep Sound Learning (1993 - 2000). This scoops up a load of unheard stuff from, you guessed it, 1993 to 2000. Apparently Jimi bombarded Warp Records with endless DAT tapes, presumably using some kind of cassette cannon, and much of it remained in storage until now. I really want a cassette cannon. A tape trebuchet. A reel-to-reel rocket launcher.

The album I'm most looking forward to in April is Eomac's Cracks. This is darkly desolate Dublin bass music that blends the atmosphere of Rival Consoles with the melodic motifs of Aphex Twin. Eomac (pictured above) is 'Cameo' backwards, but I don't know if that means he does backwards walk-on parts in movies, or whether every track is the 1986 party track Word Up! played backwards.

What else? Look out for Facta's Blush, a debut album of folky electronics released on the label Facta jointly owns with the equally pastoral K-Lone. K-Lone's Cape Cira made my best-of-2020 list and Blush certainly feels like a sister album to some extent.

By the way, I'd like to point out that I'm typing all this without the use of one of my index fingers. When cutting bread, I decided to use my hand as a chopping board. This wasn't a good idea, and I cut my finger. It's not a big cut, but it's in a really annoying place, so my middle finger is putting extra work in while my index finger has a long hard think about what it's done. I'm amazeb any og these words sre coming out okau.

And finally, look out for: Caterina Barbieri's Fantas Variations, an album of remixes of a single track from her excellent Ecstatic Computation album; Dawn Richard's Second Line which promises chart-friendly sassy bangers and a whole lot of fun; and Herrmann Kristoffersen's thoroughly listenable Gone Gold, an IDM-influenced imaginary soundtrack for the Need For Speed racing game. Vroom flipping vroom.

Take THAT, stupid idiot ears.





Mar 31, 2021

Justin Bieber's Justice injustice

Justice and Justice

Here's the Justin / Justice story. The cover art for Justin Bieber's new album Justice appears to have ripped off the logo of the French house band Justice. A big cross for a T is the clue: this was very much Justice's thing, particularly on their cross-emblazoned debut album.

In itself, this isn't that incriminatory. In a past life I worked for a Christian bookshop and people plastered crosses on everything. They turned Ts into crosses, Xs into crosses, laugh-cry emojis into crosses. Maybe not that last one. It's a pretty route-one design technique, like turning Ss into snakes or turning As into anarchy symbols.

However, there's a paper trail (and no, we don't mean this joke doodle from Justice's record company). We all know from cop shows that paper trails are bad. Apparently one of Bieber's people wrote to Justice's people, according to an email seen by Rolling Stone (the magazine, not the wrinkled rockers). No-one got back to the Bieber peeps, so they pressed ahead anyway, but now Justice's people are cross (geddit?!) and have issued a cease-and-desist letter. The war is on.

Bieber also used audio of Martin Luther King on the album, for which he received permission. This is, of course, problematic in a different way. It's good that a famous white man is introducing black history to his fans, many of whom may never have been exposed to this stuff before. But it's also dodgy that a famous white man is appropriating stuff like this to sell records, especially when there are current black voices being silenced. This is, of course, from the same bloke who said Anne Frank would have been a belieber. It's all a bit icky.

It also seems that the justice theme is pretty perfunctory. There's the Justin / Justice wordplay. Yep, I get that. Then there's the MLK samples, including the line "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." But according to Buzzfeed, that's it. Hold On is about holding hands with his girl. Holy is about having a nice hug with his girl. Lonely is about the isolation of fame, probably while playing pat-a-cake with his girl. This is not an album about justice: it's just a selection of his usual watery pop guff.

Let's think about that for a moment. Someone came up with the Justice title because it sounds a bit like Justin. They made an apparently half-arsed attempt to get permission to use Justice's cross logo, then used it anyway. And then they dumped some MLK speeches about justice into an album that is otherwise nothing to do with justice. 

That's like setting up a lemonade stall dressed as a lemon, with a whole range of home-made lemonades laid out neatly on a a table-cloth displaying a lovely tapestry of carefully illustrated lemons, with little handmade paper lanterns in the shape of lemons, then stealing someone's overweight poodle and calling the stall Look At This Massive Poodle. 

Just stick to the lemons, Justin. The unnecessarily purloined stuff is just complicating things. It's a distraction and it's getting you into trouble.

I guess what I'm trying to say is if this ends up with a load of overblown proggy Justice remixes of Justin Bieber songs, I'm moving to Mars and never coming back. Now excuse me while I edit this blog post to ensure every small-case m looks like a pair of testicles.

Mar 30, 2021

A mad March catch-up with Fat Roland, i.e. me

Hey Fat Roland, what have you been up to?

Thanks for asking, opening sentence. I've had a busy March, hence the lack of blogging. Here's a quick summary.

I broadcast a show for Turn On Fest. This was Seven Inch, the one-hour solo work originally commissioned by The Lowry and adapted for the Edinburgh Fringe. It was great fun to film, and hugely gratifying to dig out my 200+ props to discover they hadn't all been eaten by piranhas.

If you bought a ticket, thank you from the bottom of my bloomers. I'm not sure where the show will go next, but I will probably do a live audience version once things are a bit less socially distanced.

I've been working on a couple of other projects too, including a video thing which will plop onto your internet fairly soon. Hush hush. (Please imagine me winking at your screen, but in a teasing way rather than in a creepy way.)

I got vaccinated. This isn't really news because it's so dang common. As I pointed out on Twitter, the annoying thing about the vaccine is now everyone seems to be getting it. It's gone mainstream, like Feeder, Daft Punk or hummus. We need an alternative, cool rad vaccine: one that turns you purple and your head falls off or something.

I launched the F1 Losers League. The what now? The F1 Losers League. This is an upside-down fantasy league dedicated for Formula One fails, a project which fizzled off in 2014 but revived for 2021. It's too late to enter, but have a look at the website here if you fancy it (I spent a lot of time on it so I hope you like it).

Alongside my venue getting busier, thank Lordi, that's pretty much it. But that's quite a lot, right? All this plus long walks in the park.

What? You want more? Right then.

I climbed Everest. There. How'd you like that? Did it in one big step. I won the lottery fifteen times. I went to Mars for a bit, dropped some litter, came back. Didn't even apologise. I invented the snorkel. I joined then quit Good Morning Britain. I became an NFT. I did all that while getting wedged in the Suez canal while people tried to tug me off,

See? Told you I was busy.

Here's to a fun April with hopefully more blogging. Then again, if I wrote a blog post for every time I apologised for not blogging enough, I'd be blogging too much. What? Did that make sense?

You can stop writing now.

Thanks, penultimate sentence.

Mar 21, 2021

Tiësto is doing very well, thanks for asking

Tiesto

Admit it: the last time you paid attention to the pop charts, you were doing wheelies on your penny farthing during your job as a chimberly sweep.

Let's talk about the current singles chart. In fact, let's talk about one particular artist in this week's chart: Tiësto. 

For me, Tiësto's name is associated with one era of music: millennial trance pop. I'm talking clean-shirted four-to-the-floor melodic house music with big fat chords, cheery basslines and chunky snare fills, all ever so Euro. Think Ferry Corsten, ATB, Armin van Buuren, or William Orbit doing Barber's Adagio For Strings.

His 1999 track Theme From Norefjell is a perfect example. A big synth line, a no-nonsense driving beat, sweeping strings, and no vocals. In all honesty, it could have been produced by anyone. 

That's the point of all that post-Chicane / post-Insomnia stuff: just a "pop-trance, pop-trance, pop-trance" rhythm at a merry 140BPM. Good and solid, like a Volvo.

In these modern times, I'd assumed Tiësto was an irrelevance, like VHS rentals, milkmen or smallpox. Dance music is way beyond that basic trance pop stuff, right? These are the days of trap, of mumble rap, of moombahton. 

Nope. Turns out, the dancing Dutchman is still going strong. 

Not only has he been busy remixing John Legend and Avicii, and teaming up with big hitters like Martin Garrix and Post Malone, he is currently enjoying what might be the biggest hit single of his career. The Business peaked this month at number three in the UK singles chart, and is currently only a few places behind that awful sea shanty thing that's ruined TikTok. Tiësto is *big* right now.

This is starting to sound like one of those hagiography Wikipedia articles, but honestly, this really interests me. It seems weird to have Tiësto in the charts in 2021, because it doesn't follow a standard dance music artist career trajectory. Standard in my mind, anyway.

Take Underworld or Erasure or Orbital as an example. They don't have hits anymore because they now occupy the Old Act Precinct of the dance music world. They'll make money from making soundtracks, or BBC commissions, or selling tour tickets to original fans whose wrinkled bodies could do with a good old dancefloor shuffle every couple of years.

People like them aren't meant to be mixing with the cool chart kids after all these years. That's like going on your first date with the boy from school and dragging your Uncle Kevin along. Jeez, face the other way, Kevin, you creep.

However, unlike my underwear, Tiësto has changed with the times. He doesn't sound like he used to. Instead of being indistinguishable from every other millennial trance track, he now sounds like every other Calvin Harris track. Again, solid, like a Toyota. The Business fits in brilliantly with recent dance music trends, and it's no wonder it's a hit.

And watch out, because all that old trancey pop gubbins could be coming back too. Climbing to number 11 this week is ATB / Topic / A7S with Your Love (9PM). Yes, it's *that* ATB. Yes, it's *that* 9PM track.

So maybe there's not much point in paying attention to the pop charts, because it all comes full circle anyway, like that big old penny farthing wheel. Encore une fois and all that. Either that, or next time you look twenty years later, the hit parade is still full of the same clean-shirted millennial trancers.

You could say that Tiësto (there's a really good joke coming up, so get ready for it) has stood the tiëst of time. Ha ha ha ha. No? You just wait: that joke will be cool in a couple of decades' time.

Further Fats: How to keep cool in a heatwave if you like dance music (2015)

Further Fats: Soaking up the rays with Way Out West (2017)

Mar 3, 2021

303 blog posts (actually, just six, but who's the heck's counting) about the 303

It's 303 day, which celebrates a very special Roland. Me. It celebrates me.

Apparently some crazy people think 303 day celebrates the Roland TB-303, a silver box originally designed to create a 'transistor bass' sound but instead adopted by rave kids to create acid tweakin' mayhem.

Let's humour these crazy people. Let's combine the two: me and the acid machine. 

Here are some of my blog writings on the 303 and/or acid house. Think of this as a flashback episode, churned out due to budgetary restraints...

Some 303 writings

"The whole idea of Acid August is that you spent the whole month listening to acid house music and nothing else. Are you telling me you've not done this? Have you that much disrespect for Acid August?!" [What do you MEAN you haven't heard of Acid August?, published August 2020]

"For a couple of days last week, I took over @303OClock, a Twitter account dedicated to posting acid tracks twice a day at 3:03 O'Clock. I thought I would record my takeover here, because Twitter is ephemeral like mist or memory or biscuits, while a blog post is forever, like Jesus or shame." [I recommend three, oh, three great acid tracks, published May 2020]

"This is like One Direction relaunching as a thrash metal band. Or like The Beatles returning as a drum 'n' bass act. Or like Jive Bunny revealing that all the music was made by actual bunnies." [Calvin Harris launching an acid house project is the biggest music news of all time, published February 2020]

"I'm no stranger to a filter-tweaking acid house night, so I'm delighted to see that the latest Electronic Sound is dedicated to acid house records." ["Acid house - it's not real music, is it" said the idiot, published November 2019]

"Luke Vibert calls the album, out in May on London's Hypercolour Records, an 'ode to the era of M25 convoys, mobile phone hotlines and raving amongst dogs on strings in British aerodrome fields.' That, my disco-brained friend, sounds like a challenge." [Luke Vibert just made me do a poetry, published March 2017]

"Acid, though, is the music I'll always go back to whatever my mood. Because of its technological restraints (imagine having a genre of music that can only be made on the banjo), acid barely changes. One Josh Wink record aside, it has never commercialised, nor has it ever faded to nothing." [I love acid and the acid loves me, published October 2015]

Feb 28, 2021

There is one John Cage joke and it is this:

John Cage

There is one John Cage joke.

The avant-garde US composer had a long and fascinating career, but he's best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″.

The whole thing with 4′33″ is that's it's silent. Four and a half minutes of nothing. That's the schtick he's known for, whether he liked it or not. Kenny G's got his saxophone, Cher's got her autotune, Eric Morecambe's got his glasses, and Cage had this weirdly silent record.

Of course, it's not silent. The record is actually a bunch of musicians sitting down in a room for a bit, not making any deliberate noise. What you're hearing is the sound of a room in which nothing much happens. 

But it's easier – and funnier – to think of 4′33″ as a silent record. Because then you get jokes like this in Viz:

John Cage joke in Viz

Let's zoom in:

John Cage joke in Viz

Hat tip to whoever I saw post about this online: the origin is lost in the depths of an infinitely scrolling timeline.

There are plenty of other similar cartoon jokes on the internet about this quietest of records. A pianist messing up the song by accidentally playing a single note. John Cage carol singers standing shtum in the snow. And this XKCD cartoon.

I'm not immune either. My show Seven Inch (March 17th tickets available here) has a silent John Cage joke. Of course it does. I leave no hack comedy stone unturned.

There's a bit in the show where I talk about lyrics. This gives me a repetition joke as I recite the ad infinitum inanity of the Black Eyed Peas' I Gotta Feeling (although I'm swapping this out for a different song at the March 17th show).

It also gives me a chance to recite the lyrics for John Cage's 4′33″. The joke is, of course, there are no lyrics: there's a whole load of nothing. Ha ha ha ha. So funny. Look at him standing in silence, confused. Sigh. It comes across as a special joke for music nerds, even though 4′33″ is stratospherically famous for a piece of experimental classical music.

This is the point in the blog post where I hilariously include a quote from John Cage about his famous work, but actually it's just a few blank lines. Ha ha bonk: you just laughed your head off.

Maybe I should do something in the show about the loudest song ever. Ten minutes of me yelling into a microphone, and then I explain that it was a tribute to AC/DC or The Who or one of those screamo metal bands that sounds like a malfunctioning washing machine.

Please don't leave a reply in the comments. It's what John Cage would have wanted.

Further Fats: Reviving my shrivelling grandma and getting out of my depth with Mahler (2007)

Feb 24, 2021

Warning! Dinosaurs are taking over the UK album chart!

A dinosaur and an album chart

You know that movie where Richard Attenborough breeds a load of dinosaurs and then they stomp all over a theme park while Jeff Goldblum from The Fly doesn't turn into a fly and Richard's all like 'screw this, I'm off to play Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street instead'?

Well, that exactly what's happening to the album charts.

The dinosaurs are taking over. Instead of the album charts being full of cool young bands like The Kneepads, Post Office Flip Flop Explosion or Digital Colostomy, it's packed with bands that have been around the block so many times, they've worn a groove in the pavement.

By the way, those cool young bands don't exist. I made them up.

Mint Royale pointed out that this week's album chart is full of incredibly old LPs because music fans are streaming the same favourites over and over again. "An Oasis compilation is getting enough steady streaming to probably just sit in the top 30 for ever," he says.

He's not wrong. The current number one album is brand new: Tyron by that cheeky scamp Slowthai has been around for precisely one week. But that's not typical. 60% of this week's top 100 has spent more than a year in the charts, which is a big rise on five years ago when it was just 35%.

Let's take a look at the longest-toothed dinosaurs in the current album chart. Here are the LPs sitting in the charts right now that have clocked up the most chart weeks since their release.

ABBA: Gold – Greatest Hits (981 weeks)
Bob Marley & the Wailers: Legend (965 weeks)
Queen: Greatest Hits (933 weeks)
Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (876 weeks)
Michael Jackson: Number Ones (483)
Oasis: What's The Story Morning Glory (476)
Eminem: Curtain Call – The Hits (449)
Amy Winehouse: Back To Black (411)
Oasis: Definitely Maybe (392)
Foo Fighters: Greatest Hits (392)

Just outside that tyrannosaur top ten? Time Flies 1994-2009, that aforementioned Oasis compilation which has spent 389 weeks in the album chart, 216 of those weeks consecutive.

This is theoretically fine. People are caning their favourite music, maybe having living room discos on Saturday nights while their pet dog looks on in confusion, and there's nothing wrong with that. You spin that old ABBA record, daddio.

However, these craggy dinosaurs will sell bucketloads of albums come rain, wind or scattered sunny spells. And they're clogging up the charts, reducing the number of chart opportunities for newer acts further down the pecking order: active bands who are writing and releasing fresh tunes in a Herculean effort to gain chart recognition.

Just a couple of blog posts ago I raved about the appearance of bleep techno in the hit parade and how it blew my tiny mind. I'm fascinated by new shiny things, like a magpie or a baby or a magpie looking at a baby. I don't want to delve into the latest album chart and see the same ancient faces with their expensive microphones and branded plectrums and anecdotes about how they met George Harrison once in a Tandy electronics shop. Serious yawn.

That's like searching on YouTube for bitcoin investment advice, or the Mars landing footage, or the latest Taskmaster challenge, and every time the only result that comes up is that bloke singing Chocolate Rain. Every time. Chocolate Rain. You try adding quote marks or searching in Welsh. No luck: just Chocolate Rain. You try the 'Contact Us' link to get help, and Mr Clippy pops up and starts singing Chocolate flipping Rain. You keep rocking those 2007 trends, daddio.

Mint Royale goes on to suggest that perhaps the album chart should be subject to ACR. This stands for Accelerated Chart Ratio: in the singles chart, this is used to weaken the chart position of songs if they've been around a while. It's a modern oddity that became necessary after Ed Sheeran almost monopolised the charts in 2017 in a move that even the Roman empire would have called "brazen".

I hope they sort it out soon. Otherwise the dinosaurs will continue to rampage unimpeded, and before we know it we've got a Lost World situation on our hands. And nobody wants Lost World.

More Fat Roland: No new electronica in the singles chart, repeat to fade (2009)

Even more Fat Roland: What's happening with the not-so-current current album chart? (2016)

Feb 22, 2021

Daft 'n' defunct: it's the end of Daft Punk

Daft Punk 1993 to 2021

Daft Punk broke.

I figured their batteries would never run out, or maybe they were eternally powered by Nile Rogers' electric guitar licks. Alas not. Daft Punk are no more. The duo has split up.

Their split announcement came in the form of a video in which one of them explodes in a desert and the other one's all like "hey, you just exploded in a desert so I'm gonna walk off now". Even though it's just a clip from their 2006 film Daft Punk's Electroma, it's a pretty devastating watch.

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter formed Daft Punk in 1993 after becoming disillusioned with guitar music. They got their name from a Melody Maker review that slammed their crappy rock band as "daft punky thrash".

The pair cemented their electronic music foundations when they hooked up with Stuart from Glasgow techno legends Slam, who signed them to his Soma Records and put out Da Funk. When Virgin Records came sniffing around, stratospheric success beckoned: platinum albums, oodles of Grammies, producing Kanye West, becoming actual French knights.

Maybe their greatest legacy is comedian Limmy's oft-repeated tweet "Check out Daft Punk's new single 'Get Lucky' if you get the chance. Sound of the summer." A gentle dig at their commerciality from a man who obviously knows the band's true origins: he has a pilled-up character whose catchphrase is "where's the Slam tent?", a reference to the aforementioned techno Glaswegians who discovered Daft Punk.

Daft Punk are responsible for one of my strangest clubbing experiences, as recounted in this blog post:

"When I saw Daft Punk DJ at Sankeys Soap back in the 1990s, a French stranger tried to roll my torso like plasticine while saying 'wide boy, wide boy'."

In all fairness to the glad-handed Gaul, he looked absolutely mortified. He bumbled off pretty promptly, no doubt in search of that elusive Slam tent.

Daft Punk's output was one of diminishing returns. At one end of their career, Homework was astonishing, an abrasive analogue assault with crowd-pleasing sass. At the other end of their career, Random Access Memories was pretty rank. In 2013 I criticised its "awful MOR pop" and the "horrible, horrible rest"

It gave them their only number one single and studio album, indeed one of the best-selling singles in UK chart history, but it dented their reputation forever. Which is saying something considering their commerciality had never been a problem previously, such as getting sponsored to only wear Gap clothing, or hawking Star Wars merch for Adidas, or having Coca Cola launch something called Daft Coke (!).

Despite this slow eroding of their underground cool, they delivered a career highlight in 2010 with their superb Tron Legacy soundtrack, an album I once cautiously predicted would be "at least ten per cent better than the Moomins film". No, I don't remember a Moomins film either. It's most probably my favourite film soundtrack, despite the movie itself being rather eggy.

Here's something else you might not remember: Thomas Bangalter gave us Music Sounds Better with You as Stardust, a top ten smash from 1998. Not only that, with his work on Bob Sinclair's workout-sampling Gym Tonic, later covered with great success by Spacedust (no relation), he's partially responsible for a zillion house music videos with lycra-clad dancers. Put those leg warmers away, Madonna.

Daft Punk lit a tricolour touchpaper under the backside of dance music, showing that you could produce club-credible tracks and still appeal to a mass audience. Although they didn't quite roll and scratch as they used to, I'm gutted about their demise. Salut, boys.