Jun 30, 2020

The best thing I heard in June was… (drum roll, please)

phoebe bridgers

I heard many amazing things in June. Here is a list.
  1. A magpie warbling like a crazy little thing inside a bush

  2. Game Of Thrones – the soundtrack bit, not the head-chopping-off bits

  3. A chap singing the Danger Mouse theme tune in the style of Pulp

  4. The sound of my bedroom fan white-noising my overheated self to sleep

  5. The 808 State listen-along for #TimsTwitterListeningParty

  6. Actually, yes, the head-chopping-off bits in Game Of Thrones

  7. A chap chopping the head off Danger Mouse in the style of Pulp

  8. Magpies hitting my fan to the rhythm of 808 state.... inside a bush
All these sounds are undoubtedly exquisite audio sculptures that make your ears feel like a carpet of velvet unicorns. Why not recreate the above sounds using cardboard tubes, a staple gun and some glitter?

Despite all that noise nonsense, there is one sound that topped them all. There is one sound that was undoubtedly the best thing I heard in June...

In fact, a whole bunch of us picked our favourite music of the month on the Picky Bastards website. One writer picked the new Phoebe Bridgers (pictured) album that everyone's banging on about. Someone else picked Lady Gaga's Chromatica. My pick? I chose Special Request's lightning-sharp Spectral Frequency, a track released a short while ago but rereleased this month on vinyl. It put a rocket up June's bum like nothing else.

Read all about the track's resonating drums and sweaty rave flashbacks on the PBs website (my choice is at the end because I always submit last). Have a read there, and have a listen below.

Jun 28, 2020

It's just the sun rising (and being a bit too hot)

Beloved the Sun Rising

The recent heat has done something funny to me. It felt like a hot spoon scooping out my brain. It left me feeling like a cartoon character that's just been exploded by TNT, leaving only a pair of smoking boots.

The other day in Manchester, my home city, it was 900 degrees. Or something like that: I was too cooked to focus on the numbers. I went for a walk and the sun was so unbearable, I had to dive into the shade. Everyone looks suspicious diving suddenly behind a hedge. I got looks.

It was hotter than a quartermaster's whelk. It was hotter than a jelly salesman's foghorn. It was hotter than a rampant barrister's whittling knife. It was hotter than a dog-whisperer's door handle cabinet. It was hotter than a confectioner's wardrobe on a Hungarian spaceship. It was hotter than a cheese bridge for dogs over a trench full of grandfather clocks. It was hotter than the year 1437 mauled in a bear trap by Robot Phillip Schofield.

Those hotter-than comparisons were swiped from my previous tweets, by the way. I'd like to thank past-tweeting me for being an imaginative and nonsensical idiot.

I think the sun is great, and even though horoscopes are hogwash, I do feel a connection with my star sign Leo. It's a fire sign that's ruled by the sun, which sounds really summery even though I have no idea what that means.

I'm also quite fond of sun songs. For example, Orbital's The Girl With The Sun In Her Head, Caribou's Sun or The Beloved's The Sun Rising. They're so much better than, say, Engelbert Humperdinck's Winter World Of Love, the Glee Cast's version of Ice Ice Baby, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Snow (Hey Oh). Is that last one real? Yeesh.

The problem is that I'm not very good with heat. I'd like all the benefits of summer weather but without the high temperatures. It would be nice if the sun was cold and fire felt like ice pops. All the colour and brightness without the sweat. That's not too much to ask, is it?

I'm grateful rave culture based itself around Ibiza and not Nunavut, but there's a balance to be struck. Next time we have a heatwave, please let's have a cold one. Thanks.

Jun 22, 2020

Endless Ed Sheeran is the most played artist of 2019

Ed Sheeran

It's official. Ed Sheeran is the most played music artist of 2019.

He beat Calvin Harris to top PPL's Most Played Artist Chart for the fourth time in five years. Coldplay broke that run as 2016's most-heard, although everyone now agrees we were all having a bad day and we listened to them by mistake.

Sheeran scored three UK number one singles last year, respectively with Justin Bieber, Khalid and Stormzy. The most-played tracks of the year are full of collaborations too: Calvin Harris with Rag ‘n’ Bone Man; Mark Ronson with Miley Cyrus; Sam Smith with Normani. It's like no-one can do anything on their own anymore. They're all trying to emulate successful double acts like Ant & Dec and those two girls out of The Shining.

It's interesting to see who Sheeran beat in the Most Played Artist Chart. In third place is Sam Smith playing the spoons while tightrope walking over a crocodile pit. In seventh palace is the sound of Rita Ora having a benny and throwing a television through a hotel window. And in tenth place is the whole of Maroon 5 screaming into a funnel.

I once claimed that Ed Sheeran was here to destroy us all, that every song had become Ed Sheeran. In my defence, it was the week he broke the charts by scoring 16 top 20 hits at once. But even a stopped idiot tells the right time twice a day. Maybe I was pointing towards a future so Sheeraned, we forget how to listen to anything else. We are living in that future.

Extensive surveys tell me that the average Fat Roland reader reads this blog by mumbling the words out loud. This blog is actually all cut-and-pasted from Ed Sheeran lyrics: has been since 2004, seven years before Sheeran had his first hit single. Sorry to break it to you, my muttering friend, but by reading this very page, you're already making the Suffolk superstar the most played artist of 2020.

In two of his singles, Shape Of You (not bad) and Galway Girl (terrible), he makes a reference to putting Van Morrison on a jukebox. People aren't paying attention. They're putting Ed on their jukeboxes, not Van. They're putting Ed on their record players. They're putting Ed on their Spotify. They're putting Ed in those annoying birthday cards that make a tinny noise when you open them. 

Ed everywhere. Ed will never end. He is Ed Sheer-on-and-on.


Jun 18, 2020

Spotify's mystical rivers of bad recommendations

An alien pointing at Spotify

If you ordered a handbag full of wasps from my Wasp Handbag shop, and instead I sent you a bucket of hamsters, you'd rightly be annoyed.

"I demand a refund," you would shout through my shop's letterbox. "I'm not in," I would convincingly shout back while hiding in the stock cupboard. "Ouch, ow, stop stinging me," I would add because of what was in the stock cupboard.

The streaming service Spotify is fairly good at giving me what I want. Its curated playlists seem to recognise my musical moodswings from gloomy techno to big gay pop anthems. It's easy enough to avoid its more ridiculous categories such as "At Home", which is as nonsensical as defining your listening experience as "Standing On The Floor" and "Leaning On A Hedge".

However, it has recently been trying to flog me hamster buckets instead of my favourite wasp-based clothing accessories. Not literally: it's a metaphor. Keep up.

Here's an example. The Grid is a brilliant dance project by Richard Norris and Soft Cell's Dave Ball, but instead of popping classics such as Floatation and Crystal Clear into my recommendations, it's been trying to push some unrelated rock band of the same name.

I get all excited when I see a Grid track I don't recognise, and when I click on it, all I get is some unrelated guitar dirge that makes me want to drag my ears through broken glass. And because I've played it, Spotify recommends them some more, locking me into an impostor loop that can only end if I throw my computer into a fire.

This happened again the other day, this time with Orbital. According to Spotify, the latest release from Orbital is a track called Mystical River. This is not an Orbital track: it is a fake; it is Trojan horse; it is a cuckoo's egg in the nest of my musical egginess. It's Spotify getting it wrong again.

As you can see from the picture at the top of this blog post, Richard Hughes the alien is furious about the incorrect listing. Who is Richard Hughes the alien? I drew him because just posting a Spotify screenshot would have been as dull as heck. He now exists. Everyone say hello to Richard Hughes the alien.

This isn't Spotify's only failing, of course. There are other user annoyances, such as the lack of ability to browse by label, even though a browse of, say, DFA or Warp would be really useful. And Spotify earn musicians so little money, they appear to want every musician to wear rags, work up chimneys and snort gruel.

Computers are very clever, but they are also eye-wateringly dumb. I recently subscribed to Now TV, and now my internet is packed with adverts telling me to subscribe to Now TV. That's like going into a newsagent, popping a Twix on the payment counter, and the newsagent screaming at you "buy a Twix, buy a Twix". I'm buying one, for crap's sake, lay off me. Also could I get a packet of Rizla? Thanks.

This is a reminder that algorithms can only ever be algorithms. We need to rediscover personal recommendations: proper ones from humans. As shops reopen across the UK, there are insanely experienced booksellers and record shop assistants and handbag wasp experts just waiting to give you the benefit of their years of experience. Use them. Spotify has its plus sides, but it can't tell great music from a bucket of fluff.


Jun 16, 2020

Infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters: Electronic Sound issue 66 is out now

Electronic Sound issue 66 Fat Roland illustration

On the cover of the new Electronic Sound you'll find synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani, who is such an electronic music legend, when she once moved to New York, the only furniture she took was her Buchla modular kit.

Also inside this edition is my usual column. This month, my sluice of wet word waste recalls the time I had a jam session with some Christian friends. This really actually happened, although the details will be different* because I have the memory of a slightly neglected plank. Here are a few sentences:
"I Marshall Jeffersoned that synthesiser to pieces. As long as we weren’t in the key of C, my choppy rave chords soared above Anita’s meandering oboe and hairy William’s sixteen tambourines (he was surprisingly dextrous). Infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters: we were bound to be headlining the Hacienda within the week."
Once again, I illustrated my column, an excerpt of which you can see above. I've gone for a yellow and brown vibe this month. Last month it was purples and pinks. This all just doesn't happen by accident, you know. Apart from...
I also reviewed Shaw & Grossfeldt ("a mountainside of smoky chords"), Helena Hauff ("unrelenting"), Sonic Boom ("a disturbing flicker"), Koenig ("tin-can tomfoolery"), J Majik ("a warm hug") and Blibberty Jazzpump F'nang F'nang Splat ("this is Robson & Jerome, no I mean literally, this is Robson & Jerome"). I made that last one up, sorry.

If I tell you any more about issue 66 of Electronic Sound, I'm legally bound to charge you 50 pence, so get yourself a subscription, or pick up a copy in one of those new-fangled shops they're opening up these days.

* the true core of the story in my column: the church youth group. the Christian holiday, the jam session, me playing choppy chords, the talented pianist freezing up.


Jun 14, 2020

The quarantine raves: Top one, nice one, get Covid?

Ravers (MEN)

A bunch of people in Greater Manchester went raving last night

This would not normally be news because, as we all know, 100% of people in Manchester are raving 100% of the time.

However, these raves happened in the middle of the pandemic, and it's kinda not okay. A tonne of party-goers descended on two sites in Trafford and Oldham for 'quarantine raves'. Several videos on Snapchat caught lots of revellers half-heartedly swaying to fairly commercial dance music. 

In the aftermath, Warehouse Project founder Sacha Lord slammed them as "morons" and "selfish idiots", while local volunteers collected over 200 bin bags of rubbish from the mess they had left behind. He's right. Top one, nice one, get Covid? If you went to one of the raves last night, you're a wrong 'un.

I understand the need to be at events like this. Hold on. Let me clarify. I wouldn't be caught dead at crappy park raves where WKD-glugging drones cheer as the DJ drops Get Lucky. But I do get the need to go to places with speaker stacks banging out tunes; to feel the heat of the bodies, the music and the lukewarm sweat dripping off the ceiling. I miss clubbing.

But surely us ravers can keep our glow-sticks in our pants for a bit longer? The more these Superdry-wearing sub-Parklife plonkers go to illegal raves like this, inevitably spreading the virus because that's how viruses work, the longer the rest of us wait until we don our party pants. And the longer the club industry will take to recover.

It has also occurred to me that if Covid hangs around for a long time, we may never go raving again. We'll have to go to clubs in human-size hamster balls, zorbing our orbs against each other like a kinky lottery machine. It sounds weirdly appealing, but raising our hands in the air like we just don't care is going to be a logistical nightmare.

I can cope with people protesting in large numbers for #BlackLivesMatter, because that is about a threat that is every bit as immediate as this pesky virus. If you disagree with that sentence and you're white, you've just proved the need for #BlackLivesMatter. But a bunch of rave babies dancing to low-rent wedding reception dance music because they feel stronger than the virus? No thanks. 

It's like they listened to the chorus of Rozalla's Everybody's Free without paying attention to the verse: "We are a family that should stand together as one / Helping each other instead of just wasting time." Together is a metaphor: that means staying home, you clubbing Covidiots. Also, I bet that was the only track the DJs had: just Rozalla over and over again.

If you want to support Greater Manchester clubbing instead of frightening a bunch of hedgehogs in a field in the middle of the night, then support United We Stream.

Edit: Since posting this, the news story has advanced. In addition to the idiocy of a quarantine rave, there have been some pretty serious crimes at these events. It's pretty depressing reading.


Jun 12, 2020

Get ready for Fat Roland's top 20 magical dreams

The Reynolds Girls

Instead of raving all night, sometimes I like to go to bed. And when I go to bed, I like to fall asleep and dream.

Shakespeare said "to sleep, perchance to dream", and I think he was waffling about death, but whatever the ruffed berk was on about, he clearly found dreams fascinating. And so do I. Especially when the dream stays in my memory in the first moments of the day; a lingering afterglow of imagined nonsense.

If I find a dream particularly memorable, I tend to post about it on Twitter. So I did some homework. I trawled through my entire Twitter history to find all of my tweets about my dreams. 

So, a special treat for psychologists everywhere, and perhaps as a tribute to 808 State's excellent 1989 track Magical Dream, here is...

Fat Roland's top 20 magical dreams

A list of my dreams as posted on Twitter over the past 11 years, in no particular order. This is all genuine. Brace yourself. 

1. The record collection
Last night, I dreamt I was showing someone my record collection - but the only record I had was I'd Rather Jack by The Reynolds Girls (pictured above).

2. Fridge problems
Last night I dreamt Robert Plant sneaked into my fridge and did a poo in my Yopp.

3. On the bus
Dreamt I met Debbie McGee on the 142 bus. She was very nice despite being overburdened with shopping.

4. The classic album
Last night, I dreamt I had a listening party with all of my friends so we could reappraise the "game-changing Manic Street Preachers album with all the Red Hot Chili Peppers songs on".

5. The brush off
Last night, I dreamt that every time I used a broom, I chucked it away. I had a bin full of brooms.

6. Career choice
Last night, I dreamed I became a hairdresser by mistake.

7. At the club 
Last night I dreamt I was at a club night. Every so often, Grace Jones would patrol the room to check no-one was smoking. 

8. At the memorial
Last night's dream: I got asked by my local pub to say a few words at a George Formby memorial event. I said yeah fine, I know all about him, I'll not prepare, I'll just wing it. As I walk into the stage, I realise I know nothing about Formby: I was thinking of Bobby Ball.

9. Waking nightmare
Last night I had a nightmare in which I dreamt Mumford & Sons was a real thing and then I woke up and it was true.

10. The race
Dreamt I was racing spiders. (I won.)

11. Definitely my ego
Last night I dreamed I was giving motivational leadership speeches in a car wreckage yard whose electronics were powered by a Nook E-reader.

12. At the pub
Last night I dreamt I went to the pub for a meal. Covid made it way too stressful. Don't touch that, don't queue there, don't lick that, don't stick that in there. Also, @jpmdaly was having a pint with Lou Reed, which just made everything worse.

13. Phone levels
Last night I dreamed my phone battery was at 25% but when I woke up it was at 46% not 25%. 

14. In Edinburgh
Just awoken from a dream in which every Edinburgh pedestrian was dressed as an egg. Big oval costumes with leg holes, but no arm holes or eye holes. Chaos.

15. Someone else's record collection
Had a dream that I was DJing, but I forgot all my records. I had to use @fullofpenguins' vinyl instead but all he had was 30 copies of Female Of The Species by Space.

16. Possibly satire
All I dreamt about last night were zombie bankers molesting me with their elephant trunks.

17. On Christmas Eve
Was intending to be a good boy and go to midnight communion, but fell asleep and dreamt of breakcore instead.

18. A bit dark
Last night I dreamt horses were on fire. I asked an elderly couple if I could borrow their duvet cover to smother the flames. They refused.

19. The grime MC
Last night, I dreamt that Jme released a new single, but it was underneath a pavement and as a result a bunch of Dutch people lost an election inside an ice cream van.

20. All too real
Dreamt last night that my blog got deleted and that the entire world banking system collapsed causing poverty everywhere. My blog. My blog!


Jun 9, 2020

Listen to these June 2020 electronic music albums if you want to save your knees

luke vibert

Here are some albums out this month, June 2020, and let me warn you: if you don't give these a listen, I'm coming round there and painting sad faces on your knees, so next time you're out skateboarding in your Bart Simpson shorts, everyone will see you and feel depressed.

Let's start with a man who loves acid so much, his name would be an anagram of "I love acid" if he had different letters. Luke Vibert (pictured) has announced a trilogy, like Lord Of The Rings, The Matrix and the Police Academy films when there were only three of them.

The albums are intended to be a PTSD-style flashback to the golden years of electronic music. Last month, Luke Vibert Presents Amen Andrews took us into the old-school jungle, and next month's Rave Hop will be packed to the brim with breakbeat. June's offering is Modern Rave, which is centred around... *checks notes* ...rave. Obviously.


I mentioned jungle just then. This reminded me of a crazy Twitter moment a few months ago when I referred to an Orbital track as "lightly junglist". "That’s not jungle though," tweeted a random stranger. No, it's not jungle mate. It's "lightly junglist", in the same way a "lightly drizzled" cake doesn't mean the cake is drizzle.

This stranger insisted that instead of posting tracks that are lightly sprinkled with a jungle vibe, I should post actual jungle tracks, or as he put it, the "choonage to represent the scene and industry, otherwise it’s an insult in certain circles". He then called me a moron who was single-handedly bringing the music industry to its needs. Reader, I blocked him.

Let's have some drum 'n' bass, which is a bit like jungle but isn't jungle. I loved Goldie collaborator J Majik's last album Full Circle. It was his first album for 20 years and it was a cracker. Look out for his new album Always Be, which should serve as a great companion to Full Circle, like double-yolked eggs or Jedward brothers.


And then there's Trickfinger's She Smiles Because She Presses The Button, which is a new album of solo electronics from John Frusciante. John who? He's the bloke from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, statistically the band most listened to by white boys with dreadlocks. The 'Peppers are as dull as spending an afternoon watching cricket with a Tory, but Frusciante has IDM credentials, so it's worth a listen. Remember when he worked with Venetian Snares?

There's also Shaw & Grosfeldt's Klavier, which is Simian Mobile Disco's Jas Shaw faffing around with a sensor-fitted Disklavier piano. And there's a new album of bassy electronics from Budapest sound artist Gábor Lázár: Source is a follow-up to 2018’s excellent Unfold.

Finally, there's some proper industrial helt going on with Helena Hauff's Kern Vol.5, a various artists mix for Tresor’s Kern series, including some exclusively unreleased tracks. The whole thing is lightly junglist. I mean, it's not: that's an inaccurate description, but I just want to annoy the choonage moron randomer.