Jan 20, 2020

This is a box: writing new comedy material and calling everybody Doris

What a busy week. As well as putting some Electronic Sound deadlines to bed, I hosted my own quiz show.

Kind of.

On Saturday, I took to the stage for Mother's Ruin, a queer cabaret night that regularly sells out at the Royal Exchange. At the weekend, at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre / Turn On Festival, I performed my first full fifteen minutes of new material since I began developing my Seven Inch show in 2017. And boy, it was hard work.

"You don't have to go to the effort of devising new material," said the organisers.

"No, I really have to," I said with a crazed look in my eyes.

Blow me down with a feather duster, it went well. Wonderfully fun. I can't recreate the chaos through the medium of blog text, so here is a vague description of my performance: an LGBTQ quiz derailed by pre-recorded malfunctioning audio beyond-terrible celebrity impressions, two startled contestants I insisted on calling Doris throughout, a mystery box labelled "this is a box", and a surreal use of a cartoon God.

It was a move away from my music themes of previous performances, but I still managed to get in references to Kylie Minogue, Sam Smith and, er, Skrillex. One of the comedic conceits was that I decided that each round should have its own theme tune, so I wrote a bunch especially for the performance. At the end of this blog post is a montage of the "theme tunes" plus my walk-off music, and brief but surprising mention of a modern queer icon.

If you read this in time, Mother's Ruin are back at Hope Mill Theatre this coming weekend — get tickets here.

I'm writing this bog post while listening to 808 State's 1993 album Gorgeous, which was very much my spirit animal when I was younger. I remember wearing the band's 'Gorgeous' t-shirt everywhere I went. Once a show-off, always a show-off...

Further Fats: Live latest – Royal Exchange, Mother's Ruin, the Spoken Word Showcase (2014)

Further Fats: Fats at the Lowry – a Curious trip to the North East (2017)

Jan 14, 2020

(Sine)wave hello to my full page Squarepusher review in Electronic Sound magazine

Issue 61 of Electronic Sound magazine, released last week, pokes a stick at independent record labels and sees if they squeak. Even more importantly, I'm pretty chuffed to have written this month's lead album review.

There's always one big chunking piece at the start of every month's review section: a full page blather about the big release of the month. In issue 61's big fat review, I give my thoughts on Squarepusher's new album Be Up A Hello.

If you take a peek above, you'll see I've taken a photograph of the review, so you don't have to buy the magazine. Oh. Dammit. Silly old Censorship Cedric got in the way. Gaaaah! Cedric!

One thing I will tell you about the review is that I mention Mr Blobby within the first few words. This is a serious album review. Honest.

I've also written about new album releases by Steve Roach, Phase Fatale and Pod Blotz. And if you finger your way to the back of the magazine, you'll find my monthly column. I've banged on about the brand spanking new year we affectionately call 2020. The first paragraph contains the word "groin", which is pretty much all you need to know.

I realise I throw lots of free words at you on this website, but it's definitely worth a subscription to Electronic Sound because my words there tend to be better. For example, I have never used – and will never use – the word "groin" on this blog. But I have definitely used the word "groin" in issue 61.

By the way, they never squeak: they're too robust.

Further Fats: Harder Better Faster Fats: how I want to make 2014 better than 2013 (2014) (contains the word "groin")

Jan 11, 2020

Cassette tapes are back, which is why I've got my sausage out

You remember cassette tapes, don't you? They were like mini reel-to-reel players. You could spool them with a pencil or a finger or a sausage.

You'd have thought cassettes would have been confined to the dustbin of history, like the black death, Vikings and knocker-uppers. Not so. We appear to be in the midst of a cassette resurgence. Sales are up a billion squillion percent or something.

Big stars are pushing the revival, with the likes of Kylie Minogue and Justin Bieber going down the cassette route. It's a good way to get someone to listen to an album in its track-listed order, escaping the ubiquitous shuffle button.

In fact, we're several years into a cassette sales boom. Kylie kicked things off in 2017 with her album Golden, which apparently included some annoying glitter. Just imagine it: the case pings open and your eyes get confettied to shreds. Way to add an unpleasant surprise, Kyles. Why don't you bake cakes with tigers in while you're at it. Cake tigers. Terrifying.

The increases in tape sales are massive, but that's starting from infinitesimal numbers. 2019's cassette sales are still only a tenth of one percent of sales 30 years ago. Even this blog has had more views than the UK's annual tape sales. Anything can show huge growth when starting from a low base. I could show a 100% increase in noses, which sounds humongous, but that's only one extra nose.
"Oh look, there's Fat Roland. Is that an extra nose he's sporting?"
"Meh. Last week he had an extra shoe. It's getting boring now."
See? Not impressive. Still, seeing cassettes surviving fills me with a warm nostalgia all down my pants. My early music listening was from home taping, and the first dance album I became truly obsessed with (The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld) I bought on cassette with my own money and hammered to death on my clunky old Walkman.

It's a surprisingly robust format. It was meant to be replaced by DAT, but that mostly stayed in the confines of professional studios. Big and small versions were made, with the small versions ending up in answermachines and dictaphones, but again the original format clung on. I've tried replacing my cassette-playing by having a band of giraffes herded into my living room to play cover versions of my favourite songs, but the cake tigers ripped them to shreds. Stupid Kylie.

"Cassette tapes" may be an anagram of "tastes cat's pee", but I'm happy I've got use of my pencils again. And my sausages. Welcome back, cassette tapes.

Further Fats: Mr and Mrs Spotify plug my oozing holes (2011)

Further Fats: Daphne Oram changes the future with a bit of tape (2015)

Jan 7, 2020

New music: Squarepusher, Dan Deacon & Phase Fatale

The rotted wasteland of January surrounds us, and not even our finest waterproof knickers can insulate us from the cold sludge of a British winter.

What you need is some new music to bring some soft candlelight to your endless darkness. Here are three January 2020 releases worth your attention.

Squarepusher – Be Up A Hello (Warp Records)

In recent years, Squarepusher has,in the parlance of modern slang, "gone off on one". His Shobaleader One project turned him into a kind of bezerker Cylon. He jammed with Japanese robots and produced an ambient soundtrack with Olivia Colman, which sounds like the kind of nonsense I'd make up, but it's true.

This was all brilliant, but now ole Squiggleplops is back to more familiar territory with a studio album that follows up 2015's Damogen Furies. He's moved away from the extreme digitalism of his recent work, and has instead opted to use a bunch of old gear. I wonder how old. Maybe we're talking lutes and harpsichords and the jangle of jester bells.

Actually, I've had Be Up A Hello on repeat for a few weeks now. I would give you my opinion, but my lips are contractually sealed. For now.

Dan Deacon – Mystic Familiar (Domino Records) 

Speaking of following up 2015 albums, it's nice to see the return of Dan Deacon, eccentric knob-twiddler and Sigur Ros collaborator. A long time ago, I boldly - and prematurely - declared that Dan Deacon had the best album of the year. In that blog post, I bang on about his similarity to Animal Collective, and that's a comparison that I suspect will hold up on Mystic Familiar.

With this album, he seems to be obsessed with "familiars" which are magical creatures that follow you around. That could include rats or cats or badgers or five-legged elephants or hedgehogs made of toenails or a panda reading a Thomas Pynchon novel.

If Dan Deacon was a season, he'd be summer, or maybe a late spring that feels like a summer. Which leads me on to...

Phase Fatale – Scanning Backwards (Ostgut Ton)

Never mind all that summer nonsense. Scanning Backwards is beyond the four seasons: this is post-nuclear fallout when the skies shimmer with unearthly light. This second album of pumping Berghain techno from Berlin's Phase Fatale will please those of you that want aerobic techno shuddering with mantle-deep bass rhythms.

He's promised "brain-penetrating instrumentation", which means when you tear the cellophane off the vinyl, a bassoon leaps onto your face and jabs your forehead with a whisk.

Here are bits of two of the above albums. Happy listening.

Further Fats: Ultra-funkulent new band from Squarepusher (2010)

Jan 3, 2020

2020's fine: it's just a bit so-so

On New Year's Day, I published the following tweet:
"I mean, 2020's FINE. It's just a bit so-so."
I'm happy to report that everyone on Twitter was delighted with how clever my joke was, with "SO-SO" being an alphanumerical approximation of "20-20" thereby creating a double meaning in the comparative phrase "it's a bit". It's even funnier when you have to explain it. The tweet amassed an incredible four, maybe five likes: I don't know, I stopped counting.

Welcome to 2020, a year which will be defined by everything going well and all of my jokes working brilliantly. It feels strange to be typing words in 2020: I've not felt this futuristic since I brandished a typewriter at what I thought was a space alien in a time travel hazmat suit (it turned out to be a bin bag that had been sicked on by a dog).

I have no great ambitions for 2020. I'll probably eat a Pot Noodle, mix green and red crayons to see if they go brown, drill a pavement hole and stand in it for ten minutes, you know, normal stuff that normal people do.

This blog has now stretched into three decades, which is crazy considering the internet used to consist of just five forums, two websites and a slowly-downloading gif of a dancing hamster. The splendiferous thing is there's still so much great new electronic music to write about.

My blogging plan is as follows:
> Post every three days, but don't get too stressed if I don't meet the schedule
> Post at least once a week about an interesting electronic music thing because I am way too easily side-tracked about things that are nothing to do with electronic music, such as this post
> Every six weeks use a fancy word like "mellifluous" or "opprobrium" or "splendiferous"
> Just generally keep writing quality content because it's all about the content, got to have that content, ooo I love me some content, sweeeeeet content
> Maybe do a few more video things

If you are new to this blog, maybe here via my Best Albums of 2019 list, then hello and welcome. Do have a poke around this website and find some interesting things to read. I'd like to say my other posts are a bit more sensible that this one, but would be a lie, like calling the Pope a dolphin in a bikini. Welcome, you.

And welcome, 2020. Let's make it fun.

Dec 31, 2019

Best electronic albums of 2019: one

1 – Plaid – Polymer (Warp Records)

I've plopped on about Plaid on this website many times in the past. They're no stranger to this end-of-year listing, appearing at number three in 2011, at number six in 2014 and at number two in 2016. In 2019, they finally take the title of Best Electronic Music Album of the Year. Congratulations, boys, you did it. You can finally retire. Pipe and slippers.

Polymer is modern Plaid's masterpiece. In recent years, they've tended towards the pastoral, but now they've descended into a valley of darkness. They've scuffed their shiny bits, sandpapered their synths, creosoted their balls and given melody a good old duffing up. It's spiky enough to deter casual listeners, but if you don't mind a few scrapes during repeated listens, it's their most rewarding album for many years.

As the synthetic hairiness of their album artwork suggests, this work is a true polymer: part organic and part android. Los squeaks and snarls as if snapping at the bars of cage and yet it's bedded by the blinking lights of robotic synth patter. The disembodied vowels of Ops spill from some unknown belly but when the track soars, its chimes skitter with clockwork regularity. The detailed patter of the beautiful Dancers is both flesh and machine in extremis.

Each track has its 'thing', as each tangled motif stretches its shoulders. Drowned Sea gets so het up, at the three-quarter mark it collapses into sparkles. All To Get To Her quickly locks into a classic looping Plaid pattern. The shuffly Nurula revives The Bee's nifty guitar-work from The Digging Remedy. And Dust is their version of a lullaby despite ubiquitous synth blaps constantly threatening to bite off your hand.

So many times during Polymer, I find myself holding my breath as the band raise Hitchockian levels of tension, and they know exactly when to press the release valve. Only on the percussive attack of Recall does there seem to be no hope, but even that track melts into ambience after two minutes, which makes sense in the context of the album's softer second half. It all fits.

Best of all, this is a Plaid album that feels angry, raising their complicated post-IDM noodlings to the heights of justified emotion, and in turn adding even more heart to the more traditional Plaid melodics. I don't need to tell you the reasons to feel furious in 2019, but I'm glad this album was here for some psychosynthetic succour.

Thanks for reading this mega list, and for reading my blog in 2019. Fifteen years and counting! Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: two

2 – Pelada – Movimiento Para Cambio (Pan)

Let's listen to the opening track together. There's the thump-thump of a bass drum. It's joined by a stuttering synth. Here come some finger snaps, but wait, something's happening. Are they speaking Spanish? Yes, I think it's Spanish. They're not stopping for breath. The beat drops. They start yelling. Oh my crap, the voice.

This is Pelada.

There is no album in 2019 that has side-swiped me more than Movimiento Para Cambio, which means "movement for change". Politics runs through Pelada's veins, as any lazy google-translating of their lyrics will attest to. Proper slacktivist, me.

It's also musically a rich experience. I love the snap of Habla Tu Verdad, the soft melt of Granadilla and the glorious stadium techno reverb of Aquí.  I flipping love everything. It's Canadian Chicago house in Spanish, via New York punk and 1990s dance music.

Put the production and politics together and you get this strange Robin S-tinction Rebellion pairing. And what a pair. The fierce vocals of Chris Vargas are alarming and may send some running for the hills, but their arresting energy constantly delights. Producer Tobias Rochman clearly bathes daily in dance music history: the album has the same try-it-and-see bedroom production vibe that made, for example, Bjork’s Debut so charming.

Now let's stop listening to the opening track together. Why are you even sat on my lap? Weirdo.

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.

Best electronic albums of 2019: three

3 – Loraine James – For You And I (Hyperdub)

For You And I is the sound of London bustle, of coming out of basement clubs, of tube stations shuttering their doors, of a queer life in a contemporary capital. Apparently. I don't live in London. In Manchester, we don't go on tubes, we just swagger with our maracas.

This freewheeling collage of broken bass music gets more compelling with every listen. The drum sounds are as loose as a bag of nuts: cheese-grated cymbals and strangled toms collide with precarious snares that rattle the walls of the album.

It's like being parachuted into a leftfield techno metropolis without a map, but that's not to say there aren't familiar touchpoints as we hear Loraine's story. Scraping My Feet has some serious Aphexian melancholy. There's something Autechresque about the scrunched rhythms of So Scared. And London Ting is pure grime bravado – "look at my skin!" – told through a tough techno lens.

All this on a debut album. Remarkable. As broad as London itself, it's one moment brutal, the next moment tender, all of it uneasy, all of it compelling. A boundary-breaking statement that's queer by nature and queer by noise. *shakes maracas*

Scroll the full best-of-2019 list here.