Jul 31, 2022

One small BlueDot with Bjork, Anna Meredith, Jane Weaver and tonnes more

I went to BlueDot Festival and had a brilliant time, thanks for asking. The camping was a little tough because I am now as old as a mountain, but with the help of a hastily-bought camping chair and a steady supply of Tango, I got through it just fine. Festivals are back! Woo!

BlueDot is a science and music festival based at Jodrell Bank, which is a clever science centre with a telescope that looks like a satellite dish. You know the scaffolding that Tom Baker Doctor Who fell to his death from? It’s based on that telescope. It’s a small, chilled festival full of nice people. You should go.

I’m going to reel through everything I saw and did, so brace yourself. This is a quick and dirty blog post, so it’s all first draft. No photos – you can find them on Twitter by searching for fatroland and the blue dot emoji. Right. Let’s do some words. Let’s go!

Sunday’s main headliner was the Halle Orchestra featuring Bjork. So good, I cried twice. She was as otherworldly as ever – you can google the costume she was wearing. But she was also earthy and emotional, and she did old tracks like ‘Come To Me’ which made me a very happy boy indeed. The orchestra was phenomenal, and reminded me that there are certain melodic arrangements that sound very Bjork indeed. It’s not all about the voice, as it happens.

I ought to take this chance to tell you that I have also sung with the Halle Orchestra. I was a founding member of Manchester Boys Choir, and we sung in proper concerts and everything. We even did Songs of Praise. I’m not saying that makes me as good as Bjork and/or Jesus. I’m not saying that. That is for you to decide. Ahem.

Mandy, Indiana knocked the tent pegs out of the place with their claustrophobic drums and apocalyptic Frenchness. The lead singer took a bad tumble on stage and ended the gig laughing like a maniac. Breathtaking start to finish.

This seems like stating the obvious, but Yard Act were cheeky, hilarious and very Yorkshire. I loved the bit where he railed against middle-class kids and their confectionary, then tried to list as many middle-class kid sweets as he could. Frubes. He mentioned Frubes. Also worth including in this very-Yorkshire section is the Eccentronic Research Council, whose brilliant festival-closing set involved some amazing gruffness and Maxine Peake reading out people’s dreams. Adrian really does have a very impressive hat.

It was so great to see Kelly Lee Owens, who trod a perfect line between Canderel-sweet vocal harmonies and grubby warehouse techno devastation. She clashed with Groove Armada, but this was an easy choice. Kelly Lee flipping Owens.

Anna Meredith took to main stage and converted everyone to her tuba techno and her bold, brassy, brainy beats. And her digital Tom Cruise. So much fun. Last gig of the year as she turns her focus to album production.

I got to see Koreless, my album of the year for last year. Intricate, powerful, all the good things – but cut short because I had to pop off to Squarepusher. Mr Pusher was in a furious mood, barraging us with audio fractals for a solid hour before allowing even a slight notion of melody to show its face. ‘Detroit People Pusher’ was a fractured highlight. Cracking stuff.

Jane Weaver revived the spirit of melodic 1990s indie and put in a remarkable and mesmerising set. Head and shoulders above most of her peers. I’ve seen LoneLady several times since I did my interview with her for Electronic Sound magazine, and it was good to see her on a proper big stage. Front rail, boogied a lot, sorted.

Hannah Peel and her Paraorchestra was a fine appetiser on a quiet Thursday. Norrisette brought some quirky and masked Stockport realness to the festival. Dirty Freud reminded us of 1990s trip hop. Caro C did a delightfully engaging performance of her Electric Mountain album, complete with found sounds. All rather smashing.

What else? Henge once again beamed in from space to deliver their mix of Spinal Tap and Galaxy Quest fun. Always good value. Sad Night Dynamite were fun too but probably more aimed at kids. I saw some Sea Fever, the projected by Johnny Marr’s bass player Iwan Gronow. Sounds From The Other City did a colossal DJ takeover – another great festival you should check out. Tim Burgess knocked out some Charlatans numbers on main stage, which was endearing, like watching your poodle dance on its back legs. There was Mogwai too. But I didn't watch them. Soz.

Among the non-music things I saw were Matthew Cobb talking about brains and entertaining us with AI-generated Love Hearts slogans, comedian Bec Hill and maths funny man Matt Parker doing a live podcast and Brainiac Live doing science experiments probably – I missed almost all of it because I was chatting and facing the wrong way. I caught A Certain Ratio talking about the olden days with affection and humility. Anna Meredith ran an album listening session which was engaging and funny. The spoken word artist ROY did a hugely enjoyable and expletive-ridden reading and Q&A.

Oh and astronaut Tim Peake talked about being astronaut Tim Peake. This was amazing because he’s a chuffing astronaut and I am most definitely not a chuffing astronaut. Or perhaps I am an astronaut. Perhaps I am. That is for you to decide.

A few personal things. Shout out to my camping buddies Deb and Tom and Michelle, and to the many friends I hung out with. BlueDot is a bit like everyone in Manchester dumped into a field. Hat doff to Ben, to Adrian, to Helen, to Electronic Sound, to my Blackwell’s buddies, and to Dave and Hannah whose BlueDot experience was robbed by Covid.

Would I go again? Of course. I’m addicted to this festival. It perhaps needs more stalls and traders, and more places to buy a bacon butty, and less sponsorship from Dyson which was a bit odd. But the food was immense (masala dosa!), the stewarding was great, and I got to be in a room with a flipping astronaut. Well. Not quite in a room. Outside the tent. Sat against a fence. Just enjoying the BlueDot space vibes. Brill. 

Jul 26, 2022

Happy ten whole candles to Electronic Sound magazine

Today marks ten years since my first Electronic Sound column appeared in print, and indeed ten years since the very first edition of the magazine.

I still remember discovering it on the shelves of WH Smith. "Oh look, it's on the shelves," I blurted while pointing as hard as I can at their music magazine section. "Look, everyone, there it is." I pointed with two outstretched arms but the commuter drones queuing for their daily paper and expensive chocolate weren't looking at me. "I'm in that! That magazine there! Hello? Hello?" Turns out strangers don't like it when you shake them by their lapels.

Writing my column for Electronic Sound is the longest job I've ever had. The magazine started as just 'Electronic', no doubt named after Bernard Sumner's best band. It has been iPad-only, a digital edition with interactive buttons, but most of all it has been a gorgeously produced print magazine. My column has featured in every edition. It's amazing what an steam-powered automatic sentence generator can do. I've been illustrating it since early 2020, a move which single-handedly brought on an international pandemic.

The column is still going strong, as are my "illustrations" (which are actually high-resolution 4D photographs, they just look like cartoons due to the limitations of the human eye). The mag has exciting plans for the future, and I'm happy to say I'm now part of Electronic Sound Premium. This means that, by pressing a few groats into their palm, you can read loads of my columns. They've given them titles titles like 'Unnecessarily Repetitive', 'Why Am I Not A Famous Novelist?' and  'I Am So Very Good At Kicksporting Football Soccer'.

Writing for Electronic Sound continues to be great fun. The columns come easy (although they're often second columns having written a burner column just to get to the "good" stuff). The illustrations are harder, especially as I never write the columns with an illustration in mind. I like to test myself. I occasionally sneak in references to the magazine in my cartoons, sometimes in number plates and sometimes as morse code in a Daft Punk visor (see picture). I also write features and reviews, and scrawl "FRAT ROLEND IS TH BESST" on every page in invisible ink.

Big up to Push and the gang for continuing to publish and, worryingly, encourage me. I'll finish this with a beautiful poem. It's composed from bits of first lines from some of columns. Imagine you're reading Shakespeare or Carol Ann Duffy or a crossword. In the meantime, you can subscribe to Electronic Sound's digital and print editions here.

Picture the scene
We’re all going on
a summer holiday
Tossing
Electronic music
is far too sexy
This is Geoff
Old Blighty
the drug of the nation
Cymbals
Filters
More tossing
Thought you’d never ask
Gird your Union Jack cummerbund
Cancel culture has gone too far
On the first Friday of every month
Stick your finger
in a page
of this magazine
Great Uncle Albion
With words so good like what this sentence
You think you’re clever don’t you
signing up to
my new social media network
Did I ever tell you
about washing powder?
Land O’ Bowler Hats
you’ll no doubt remember
I am ill
Oh
Flaps

Jul 20, 2022

Raving about Orbital and being Picky about Post Malone

Depeche Mode

The current episode of the Picky B*stards podcast features me raving about Orbital and losing my mind over Post Malone.

Before we continue, I realise that starring out the podcast name is extremely snowflakey of me. However, Blogger has a limited enough reach these days without profanity filters further restricting its readability. They're still a thing, right? Internet filters? Fudge knows. 

Guests on the P*cky Bs podcast nominate:

a new album for review, 
a classic album that none of us have heard, 
and a personal favourite artist. 

It's a bit like Desert Island Discs without the benefit of a free holiday and the chance to boast that you've been on Radio 4 at parties.

Let's go through those choices.

For the new release, I plumped for Moderat's unexpected fourth album More D4ta. I'd not had a chance to listen to it, so what better to introduce myself to the album while surrounded by three grumpy podcasters primed to tear my music taste apart.

For the classic, I chose Depeche Mode's debut Speak & Spell, an album which contrasts with their later work for reasons I explain in the episode. This choice was a risk, because the Pick* Bs are young and cool while I am old and decrepit. I feared I would present myself as a crusty old pensioner brandishing a dusty gramophone and wax-bunged ear trumpet. As it happens, (a) Speak & Spell is way before my time so shut up, and (b) my fellow podcasters' response was surprisingly positive.

My favourite band p*ck was Orbital. I don't need to explain this. If you're reading my blog and haven't picked up on the fact I'm obsessed with Orbital, you are as dense as a black hole or an actual hole.

We also reviewed Ethel Cain, who I was a bit harsh about but find more of a connection with later in the episode, Poliça, who I quite liked despite my pronunciation of their name, and Post Malone, who... you'll just have to listen to the episode.

This was immense fun, and it's always a treat to hang out with fellow music nuts. I won't spoil things by writing much more. Dive straight into episode 55 of **ck* ***t**ds: here are all the listening links. Alternatively, launch your podcast app and shout my name until your phone melts.

Jul 12, 2022

Are number one singles getting shorter? (TL;DR: #1s shorter Y/N?)

Harry Styles in the As It Was video

Are number one singles getting shorter?

Harry Styles amiable earworm As It Was (pictured) spent ten weeks at number one recently. That's more than double the chart-topped weeks achieved by all of One Direction's singles combined. He's a one-man One Direction twice over.

One of the most notable things about the track is its brevity. It's short, like my trousers, my temper or this senten--. It doffs its polite hat for a bit then, at two minutes 44 seconds, bows out quicker than you can say Larry Stylinson.

When I think of singles that camp out at number one for ages, I think of really long songs. Epics like Bohemian Rhapsody and that archery song by Bryan Adams. And quite right. If a track is going to wedge itself in the top spot for what seems like an eternity, it had better have some heft. BoRap was just shy of six minutes. Ten-weeker I Will Always Love You was almost five minutes long. Almost five excruciating, ear-destroying minutes.

Styles isn't the only shortie to shoot his shot at number one. TikTok star Gayle's abcdefu comes in at two minutes 54 seconds, two minutes 53 of which are very rude words indeed. The current number one is LF System's Afraid To Feel. This is essentially a caffeinated sample of 1970s funk band Silk, and it comes in at just two minutes 54 seconds. The 3 minutes 30 seconds of Dave's Sinatra-themed chart topper Starlight seemed like Homer's Odyssey in comparison.

Obviously, there are still longer chart-topping singles in the 2020s. Adele knows how to string out a narrative, and those LadBaby lads certainly know how to string out their sausages. It just seems these days, we're more likely to get a Stormzy or 24KGolden dropping something brief. Not dropping their briefs. That's an entirely different thing.

Let's take a quick sample of the charts ten years ago as a comparison. All the number ones are long. Maroon 5, Florence & The Machine, Gotye: their four or five minute structures feel substantial. Strong. Beefy. They were proper units.

Is this the result of the truncated window of Instagram or TikTok? Pruned because of the platform? you can be more throwaway if you're not traipsing into town to buy the vinyl from HMV. Soundcloud dump? Make 'em short, it doesn't matter.

I haven't done much analysis, and I certainly haven't done what I should have done: entered every number one's track length into a spreadsheet and pressed a lot of complicated buttons. In fact, this entire blog post took one minutes 22 seconds to write, which is half a Harry Styles, or about 0.00001% of that archery song.

Jun 30, 2022

Crabby birthday: The Prodigy's Fat Of The Land turns 25

The crab from the cover of Fat Of The Land

The Prodigy's Fat Of The Land was released 25 years ago today. It was the fastest selling UK album of all time, and propelled the Prodge to the top of the charts with Firestarter and Breathe.

The album cover featured a zoomed-in shot of gecarcinus lateralis, otherwise know as a Bermuda land crab. It's a species of crab that is quite happy to hang out on beaches without rock pools, as long as the sand is moist enough for its gills to operate. They tend to be vegetarian, but will chomp on animal matter if needs be. Crab facts!

I'd make a cake to celebrate this anniversary, but the Prodigy never struck me as a cake kind of band. They seemed to hang out in grotty basements while writhing in threatening ways. Feels like an unhealthy place for a cake.

Fat Of The Land was incendiary. The single Smack My Bitch Up attracted claims of misogyny. Yeah, the word bitch is ugly, but I betcha if the protagonist in the video hadn't been a woman, no-one would have batted an eyelid at the video's hellraising. They should have got me to star in it. I would have stayed in listening to Future Sound of London and playing Boggle.

The album also gave us Keith Flint, God rest his sausages. The pointy-haired bovver boy became the face of rebellion in the 1990s. Keith Flint was quite happy to hang out on beaches without rock pools, and would chomp on animal matter if needs be. Apparently, Keith used to go on motorcycle rides with the saxophonist of Madness. That's an actual fact and not some nonsense about crabs. Who knew.

Music for the Jilted Generation was a more artistically interesting album as it turned a band bordering on novelty rave into a serious act. But Fat Of The Land might the most important. Along with the Shamen, it thrust proper dance music into the uber-mainstream while, perhaps unlike the Shamen,  losing little of its musical power.

It didn't impress everyone. To finish off this short waffle, here are some reviewers who didn't get along with the fat, the land and everything between.

Leftin, Amazon
Sexist lyrics set to appalling neo-metal/house bilge. One star.

Anonymous review, Entertainment.ie
I didn't want to admit it. I refused to accept it. But somewhere in my brain, the honesty section probably, something was telling me that it was a piece of sh*t.

boogie woogie king, Amazon
ID RATHER HAVE CRABS THAN LISTEN TO THIS!!

ozzystylez, Rate Your Music
I listened to this in my car the other day. The bass kicks hard and my car has reasonably good speakers. But I found myself turning it down as I drove through areas with a lot of people on the road in case they laughed at me for listening to such a cheesy, dated and worn out record.

Carlos Mancilla, Amazon
The album arrived a little bent at the top corner leaving a wrinkle in the cardboard.

Peter Barczak, Amazon
Only bought cos it was a penny. Not played it yet. Three stars.

All of these reviewers need rock pools for survival, and so are limited in the range of beaches available to them. Happy birthday, Fat Of The Land.

Jun 28, 2022

Eight tracks that deserve a Running Up That Hill revival

Kate Bush

I have enjoyed watching Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill get a new lease of life thanks to Stranger Things. 37 years between number one singles gives hope to us all.

However, I can't help thinking a better song could have ridden this wave of revival. It's a cracking tune and all, but here is a list of eight tracks that definitely deserve a Kate-style comeback.

Ash: Sick Party

At the end of Ash's album 1977, there's a hidden track featuring the band vomiting in their studio. Felix's classic house track Don't You Want Me kept Ash's Girl From Mars out of the top ten, so maybe that's what they're thinking about when spilling their innards. I can think of no better song that sums up current society than the sound of musicians delivering pavement pizza.

Aphex Twin: Milkman

This mid-1990s track features a rare moment of intelligible vocals on an Aphex Twin track. The song is about how someone wants the milkman to pop round so they can breast-feed from the milkman's wife. It's a classic 1990s track in that it's disturbing, performatively weird, and lazily misogynistic. Let's get it to number one for 47 weeks.

Jake Paul: It's Everyday Bro

I haven't heard this song by Jake Paul. In fact, I have absolutely no interest in Jake Paul. I know he used the n-word, has called Covid a hoax, has faked a marriage, has used a riot for clicks, has been accused of sexual assault and has a brother who has used suicide for laughs. Somehow, he feels like the hero this rotten world deserves right now. Give him a Grammy.

Muse: Supermassive Black Hole

This song was everywhere when it came out. We were all humming it. But now? No-one can remember how it goes. Go on. Sing it. You can't, can you. The place where it should be lodged in our memory is now a void. Amazingly, the song has become its own title. Musical antimatter that, upon returning to number one, will suck in all the gravity from our hopes and dreams.

Sam And Mark: With A Little Help From My Friends

Clearly better than the Beatles' version, this Sgt. Pepper classic scored Sam and Mark a number one single in 2004. It denied Ronan Keating a fourth solo number one single. This means Sam and Mark are the greatest entertainment duo in history, and that includes Danger Mouse and Penfold. I wish they could be my friend. By the way, I am high on spice right now.

The Teletubbies: Cha Cha Slide

The fact these multicolour morons have never done a cover version of DJ Casper's exorable party song is entirely irrelevant. This imaginary song wot I just made up deserves a revival in 2022. Christmas number one! This year's big charity hit! The subject of a miming scandal! Let's make the Teletubbies notorious for a track that doesn't even exist.

Axomrph: kebb sn Onfule Xb

See? That's just letters. It's not even a thing. I just ran my tongue along my keyboard and it came out. Let's get it to number one. Put it out on marbled vinyl. Stick it in all the Spotify playlists. Have an oompah band perform it on Good Morning Britain. Here, let's write the disappointing follow-up single. *drops my trousers and slaps my wang across the punctuation keys*

Orbital: Halcyon

Seriously. It should be number one. Why did it never get to number one? It's clearly deserving of number one. I was joking all the other times. But this really should be number one. Please make it number one. Who do I speak to about getting this to number one? Hello? Can someone help me? I need to actually get this to number one? Hello? Anyone? Number one? Hello?

Further Fats: No-one wants songs about the moon these days (2017)

Further Fats: Here are Aphex Twin's biggest hit singles (2019)

May 31, 2022

This got me: the infuriating pizza pop

A line of dominos (the tiles, not the pizza)

There’s an advert that is getting on my wick. It’s twisting my melon. It’s doing my noggin in.

I don’t want to mention the brand because I don’t want to give them clicks. It’s a pizza company. They’re named after the table-top game in which you link together spotted tiles. You know the one. Stand the tiles vertically then watch them fall over one after another. Yes. That pizza company.

The advert appears when I watch YouTube on my mobile phone, or on any device that hasn’t got an ad-blocker. It’s maybe only ten seconds long, but it’s a lot. A LOT. I’d embed it for you, but I can’t find it on YouTube. Let me describe it.

It leads with rhythmic music: staccato percussion that sounds like a woodblock pinball machine. Cue a meaningless montage of pizza images. Once the rhythm has looped, it adds on more percussion, as if a drum kit is trying to hump another drum kit. More meaningless images. As it reaches its conclusion, it coalesces into an urgent tick-tick-tick climax.

And then it commits a cardinal sin.

The final sound is meant to be one last percussive hurrah, like the closing bwoom in the Countdown clock music. The sound is someone popping their mouth with a finger. Like you do when you’re imitating a balloon pop. Puffed cheek, pursed lips, finger in and *pop*. Except the finger-pop is not in time. It comes in slightly early, just before the 1-beat of the 4/4 rhythm. It’s meant to sound offbeat and syncopated, but it just sounds like a mistake. Jarring enough for me to vomit up my pizza.

I know commercials are meant to be in-your-face. And this kind of straight-jacket techno is not unusual in idents. There’s another advert that’s meant to feel trip-hoppy but it just sounds like someone’s copied-and-pasted from sample pack. An audio shrug. I get it. Remember the Babylon Zoo advert disappointment in which the glorious spacy techno turned out to be indie sludge? Electronic music succumbed to capitalism a long time ago.

But this ad is infuriating. It has me jabbing the ‘skip’ button in the same way I dive for the tuning button whenever the Archers theme tune comes on. Not that I listen to Radio 4 much anymore: I’m a podcast earwigger because I’m cool and trendy.

I’m also annoyed at their “We got this” slogan. While recognising the importance of not being prescriptive about grammar, especially when it comes to representing idioms from minority cultures, this is just dumb. That phrase is nothing to do with pizza or what they do as a company. It’s ad execs throwing a scrabble set into a toilet bowl and apple-bobbing for the fewest letters possible.

I’m also annoyed that I’ve ordered so much pizza, I’m being bombarded with pizza adverts left, right, centre and everywhere else. Serves me right for accepting cookies. Computer cookies, that is. The last thing I need after a pizza is even more dietary trash.

So there you go. My rant about an advert. This blog provides cutting edge content. Next up, I’m going to write a diatribe about people commenting on YouTube vid***POP***

See? It’s annoying, isn’t it. 

Apr 30, 2022

Chemical bother: Covid finally got me

I finally caught Covid-19. Despite daily baths in 5G and regular hot tubs with Bill Gates, the bug finally got me.

I had Covid for 18 days, followed by a week of fatigue. Pretty much wrote off the whole month. This has been the worst April since R Kelly knocked Block Rocking Bears off the top of the charts. 

How did I catch it? Good question, thanks for asking. I got Covid at a book launch. A book launch! This proves that books are evil and must be stopped before they destroy us all.

Those 18 days were so weird. The NHS website lists 12 distinct Covid symptoms. I had every single one, some lasting a couple of days, others lasting longer. An ever-evolving patchwork of ailments,layering over each other for extra annoyance.

Of course, I'm lucky. I'm fully jabbed and I made it through to the other side in one piece. But it's not an experience I'm keen to repeat. The brain fog, the isolation, the lost weeks. It's the most upsetting thing to happen since Boyzone knocked Setting Sun off the top of the charts.

All those extra antibodies have now made me immune to almost everything. That's how virology works. Science. As soon as I finish this blog post, I'm going to stick my head in a wasps' nest and shout "ha ha, you can't get me, you buzzy berks". 

I'm perhaps most sad to report that Covid hasn't given me any super powers. It's not like being bitten by a spider and turning into Catwoman or something. Levitating, flying, instant sexual allure - none of this seems to be working

What can we learn from my Covid experience? Good question, thanks for asking. Nothing. There is nothing to be leaned from any of this. Human gets ill. Human has rubbish time. Life is pointless. Fish fingers are good for testing whether your sense of taste has returned. Fish fingers are pointless.