May 7, 2021

Noel Gallagher: mask-avoiding shopper and... Record Store Day Ambassador?!

Record Store Day and Noel Gallagher

Record Store Day is amazing. In an era when record shops should be crumbling to dust, Record Store Day has helped record shops not only retain customers, but turn them into destinations worth cueing for. Like Boxing Day sales, butchers at Christmas, or donkey rides.

So whatever I'm about to say, you need to bear that in mind. Record Store Day is a wonderful thing. Yes, vinyl is so expensive, it would be cheaper to make them out of diamond-encrusted mortgages, but it is still a fantastic project and long may it thrive.

Earlier this week, Record Store Day UK announced Noel Gallagher as their official ambassador. The announcement was accompanied by a video of Noel praising Sifters Records, where I bought my first ever seven-inch singles. And yes, as it says in Shakermaker, I would have been just 16 when Mr Sifter sold me those songs. 

So yeah, I get it. Noel. Record shops. Makes sense.

However, Noel has been a naughty boy during the pandemic. Last year, he took against face coverings, wibbling something about liberties and not being able to catch the virus, and eventually getting challenged in a supermarket for not wearing a mask. "It’s not a law," he said about the, er, law. Why is this such a mantra for so many older men?

I had a moan on Twitter (hey, I'm an older man too) saying that mask avoiding puts all retailers and shoppers at risk, which it does, and this decision to appoint a 'mask denier' should be reversed immediately.

I also wrote an email. For the sake of transparency, and to show off the fact that I know how emails work, here's the text. I got a quick response from Record Store Day, or rather the Entertainment Retailers Association, the organisation that drives RSD. Their reply follows my email below.

Hello Record Store Day pals,

I’m writing to ask you to reconsider appointing Noel Gallagher as ambassador for Record Store Day.

Following a difficult year for high street shops, Record Store Day will play a more important role than ever in restoring activity to indie record stores. Appointing inspiring and characterful ambassadors is a great way to promote publicity for the project.

However, Noel Gallagher is an insensitive choice at best, and an irresponsible choice at worst. He received widespread publicity for his refusal to wear a face covering as a mitigation against Covid-19. “They’re pointless,” he said, railing against the removal of liberties and referring to mask-wearing podcaster Matt Morgan as a “cowardly germophobe”. This is despite clear scientific evidence that, alongside other measures, mask wearing helps to protect ourselves and others from the virus.

Opening up a high street shop presents an instant Covid-19 danger to customer-facing staff. Mask avoiding puts all retailers and shoppers at risk, and choosing Gallagher as the ambassador for RSD legitimises dangerously complacent views and puts at risk those people that will be working and shopping to make Record Store Day a success.

Ethical considerations are part of the DNA of Record Store Day, whether it’s supporting high street shops, promoting War Child or raising donations for the AAPI Community Fund. This appointment undermines the image and ethos of your organisation.

At least you didn’t appoint Ian Brown.

Please, for the sake of RSD fans, customers and retailers, reverse your decision to make Noel Gallagher as Record Store Day ambassador.

That's alright, isn't it? Covered my points, didn't waffle too much, didn't say 'bum' or 'willy'.

Here is the reply from the Record Store Day people.

Hi Roland,

Thanks for contacting us about this.

I appreciate your concerns and have contacted Noel Gallagher’s team about this issue.

As background, the record stores chose Noel Gallagher as their ambassador as he has a long and celebrated history of supporting them and their businesses. He has taken part in RSD many times with special and thoughtful releases that so many of their customers love. What is important for RSD is that he shares their love of vinyl and independent shops, and for that reason RSD do not believe it is appropriate to reconsider his involvement as our ambassador.

However, we have been reassured that Noel won’t be making any other comments about it whilst he is an RSD ambassador. 

We know just how hard every single RSD shop has worked to keep their customers safe throughout last year’s 3 Drop events and Black Friday and are confident this will not impact on any of the official social distancing rules in place.  All our shops enforce mask wearing for all their customers.

Thanks again for your email and for supporting your local record stores.

No doubt written through gritted teeth, but a very cordial response. That's enough for me. They've made their point, and I'm not going to labour mine: it's not as if they're toasting puppies over a burning orphanage. OR ARE THEY? No. No, they're not.

I have some take-aways from this.

1. The record stores chose Noel as their ambassador. This pretty much deflates my argument with one sharp prick. My worry was the message it sends about mask-wearing in record shops, but if the shops ain't bothered, then why am I moaning.

2. Noel has been told to shut up about not wearing face coverings. This is brilliant news, and should ensure he sends the right signals as RSD ambassador. And if he suddenly goes all David Icke, they can fire him from the role, preferably out of a cannon.

3. Noel's love for record shops is far more important to RSD than his skriking about masks. This is another indication, echoed in my last post about plague ravers, that there are many people in the music industry far less vexed by viral risks than me.

That last point rankles the most. As we move into Covid 2.0, learning to live alongside this new element of our lives, mask-avoiders and plague rave DJs will thrive without consequence of their previous statements or actions. That somehow seems wrong.

Record Store Day is amazing. Remember that bit? It's still true. And when next I go to an indie record shop, I'll trust their Covid precautions, if indeed they're still required by then. However if Noel Gallagher walks in, I'm pouncing on him and sellotaping album sleeves on his face. It's for your own good, Noel.

Further Fats: Glastonbury's got 99 bands, and Jay Z should be one of them (2008)

Further Fats: The Battle of Britpop – the dullest beef in the history of beefs (2020)

May 3, 2021

The First Dance: scientific clubbing versus plague raving

A clubber and a crowd in Liverpool

The sight of thousands of revellers crammed into a Liverpool club the other night was initially quite disconcerting.

Where were their masks? Why weren't they distancing? Where were all the awkward elbow bumps?

Circus's The First Dance was actually one of two nightclub experiments at the weekend to see if large-scale music events could work with the right safety measures in place. The clubbers went through a scientific testing and monitoring, turning them into guinea pigs with glow sticks. Which obviously is the cutest thing in the world.

These are the first official club events in the UK since the virus hit, and it was a delight to see. Big up to Liverpool for pioneering our way out of lockdown: until now, the city was only famous for Richard and Judy, The Zutons, and Ken Dodd.

The line-up included the Blessed Madonna, Fatboy Slim and Sven Väth. The last name impressed me: he's one of my all-time bestest faves: here's me raving about him in 2010. Sven Väth helping end the apocalypse. Brilliant! I knew I could count on Sven...

Except...

I mentioned Väth on Twitter, and I was immediately put right by Posthuman, who in non-virus times runs a night called I Love Acid and is an all-round good egg. Turns out Sven is a plague rave DJ. Posthuman was hugely positive about the event, but likened Väth's booking to a "having an arsonist on the fire safety board".

What's a plague rave? These are big club events held in places in the grip of Covid-19, with headline acts flown in while the virus spikes with deadly effect. In fact, the events are probably possible precisely because the host country has lax virus regulations. Clubbers arrive in their thousands and the virus claims its victims, putting pressure on already inadequate levels of testing and health care.

Sven Väth has been touring India, a nation suffering a brutal Covid surge. Väth has always had an attachment to the iconic clubbing destination of Goa, so it was no surprise that particular Western Indian state was on his gig schedule. His appearance behind the decks at a particular Goa event in early March was described by one giddy electronic music website as going "viral among fans of electronic music." No irony whatsoever. I won't link to it here.

Let's draw out a timeline. In the month after that March Goa gig, Covid cases across India rose by a multiple of six. Now let's extend that timeline. On the day of writing this piece, around two months after that Goa gig, the number of cases across India was 26 times larger. And in Goa specifically, cases were 64 times higher than they were in early March, albeit rising from a comparatively lower base. 

Excuse the number crunching, but this helps us understand that any big-name DJ show taking place in India in early March could easily have had the consequence of being a super-spreader event.

This isn't just about Sven Väth, of course. Business Teshno has been raising awareness of such Covid-calamitous behaviour for months, calling out the likes of DJs Dixon, Luciano, Solomun and Nina Kraviz.

There are plenty of acts criticising plague ravers too. Carl Cox said in Mixmag

"It’s irresponsible to be out there at the moment... Having a party in a pandemic, it doesn't make any sense whatsoever. People are still suffering from this and we aren't out of yet. This isn't a Steven Spielberg movie called Panic, you know: we are in it."

And Bicep called such Covid-careless DJs "disgusting", saying:

"They don’t need to do this. Take a year off, write an album. So many people lower down in dance music are struggling and this paints the whole industry in a bad light."

I feel weird linking to Mixmag considering they've been raving about Väth's Liverpool appearance on social media, but anyhoo...

This brings us back to the Liverpool experiment. This project was a shining example of science-led creativity, and everyone involved deserves a jolly good pat on the back. The line-up had its problems, but the larger picture could mean a route out of the apocalypse, and the revival of a zillion careers across the entertainment industry. 

It's a shame about Sven. I'd been slow to pick up specifics on the whole plague rave thing, hence me initially praising Väth's involvement. I'd seen Business Teshno's social media activity, but it all seemed rather confusing. Mainstream outlets like Resident Advisor and Mixmag don't seem particularly vexed with the plague rave thing, and there appears to be a widespread suspicion that once the clubbing industry gets back on its knees, the offending DJs will continue to coin it in, with no consequences of their pandemic actions.

As for me? I'd love to go clubbing again – I Love Acid have committed to not booking plague rave DJs, and it will be one of the first nights I go to. That said, as someone who's higher risk, it'll be some time before I have the confidence to get all sweaty and giddy with strangers. We'll see.

More importantly, what about the awkward elbow bumps? Honestly, a little wave is a lot less cringy. Let's stop the elbow bumps. Please. For the sake of future clubbing coolness, let's stop the elbow bumps.

Further Fats: A ticket to ride: bumbling into MC Tunes and putting the green suit away (2007)

Further Fats: The quarantine raves – Top one, nice one, get Covid? (2020)

Apr 30, 2021

A rainbow of Aphex Twins

Just because. The orange is too red, I didn't really nail the cold colour spectrum, and the final 'violet' pic is a record cover because I couldn't find anything more interesting.

Still. Here's Aphex Twin express as the mainstream seven colours of the rainbow.








Apr 28, 2021

What was the best 1990 UK number one single?

Snap - The Power

1990 was a big music year for me. I was 16 going on 17, blossoming from a snot-nosed teenage misery into a slightly older snot-nosed teenage misery.

This mean I have OPINIONS about chart hits in 1990. That's OPINIONS in capital letters. In fact, I'm pretty sure I could grade all of 1990's UK number one singles without much thought at all.

Let's do it. A first-draft blog post, no editing, no research (apart from getting the list from Wikipedia). What were the best UK number one singles from 1990?

Let's go through every dang one of them. Firstly, we have Band Aid II's Do They Know It's Christmas? Bros and Sonia? Pretty terrible, although not as embarrassing as the third one in 2004. Then there was New Kids on the Block's Hangin' Tough, which sounded as tough as a floppy curtains fringe (which hadn't quite hit the mainstream just yet). A bad start to the year. 

Then we have a half-decent run of number one singles. Kylie Minogue turning into a career artist with Tears on My Pillow, a weeping Sinéad O'Connor being iconic on the Prince-penned Nothing Compares 2 U, and Norman Cook foreshadowing his 1990s dance music dominance on Beats International's Dub Be Good to Me. Let's put Sinead and Beats into the top tier, which I will discuss at the end of this blog post.

Remember, this is all first reactions. Looking through the list, typing these words, zero post-editing.

Ah, now here comes Snap!'s The Power, a strange, angular block-party jam with Turbo B looking like a president or something (pictured). I hated this track when it came out: so strange and discordant. I was wrong, of course. This genius track goes straight through to the top tier.

Madonna's Vogue was a huge hit, but it was no Like A Prayer. Adamski's Killer rocked my world in so many ways, and despite a pretty ropy album, this goes through to the top tier, as does England New Order's World in Motion which is the only acceptable football song alongside that crowd-chanty Pop Will Eat Itself track. 

From June onwards, it's a pretty rough run of number ones. Elton John's Sacrifice was the one where he started giving all his royalties to charity. Then came the novelty hits: Partners in Kryme's Turtle Power, which taught kids about the names of classical painters, and Bombalurina's Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini - Timmy Mallett later became a painter himself and has a website called Mallett's Pallet. No joke.

Is it one T or two Ts for Mallett? No time to check: this is all first-draft.

Those novelty hits were bad, but nowhere near as bad as The Steve Miller Band's The Joker, which is one of the worst singles of all time. I'm getting upset just thinking about it. Was this the one with the guitar wolf-whistle? I want this song to die.

This next bunch of number ones, taking us from September through to November, I kind of respect, but they're not for me. Maria McKee's Show Me Heaven is an undoubted tune, The Beautiful South's twee A Little Time has its own charm, and The Righteous Brothers rerelease of Unchained Melody was a chance to revisit one of history's greatest anthems. My mum loved that one. No top tier for any of these, though. 

That leaves us with Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby, only really good for karaoke, and Cliff Richard's Christmas number one Saviour's Day, which I don't think even God would listen to.

So that's the year. Most of the good stuff was in the first half of 1990. Now let's visit the top tier choices, and sort them into some kind of order. We had weepy Sinead and Norman's Beats International and angular Snap! and Adamski's Killer and New Order's football fun. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I can grade this lot without much thought.

The bestest UK number one singles from 1990, as decided on the spot by me.

5. Snap!: The Power 

4. England New Order: World In Motion

3. Beats International: Dub Be Good To Me

2. Sinead O'Connor: Nothing Compares 2 U 

1. Adamski's Killer 

There you have it. Killer was easily the winner: it gave me permission to become my own bedroom-based keyboard wizard. To live my life the way I wanted to be-ee-ee-eee, yeah! I hope I didn't make too many mistakes in this entirely unedited blog post. We should do this again: 1991, maybe. *hits publish*

Further Fats: The Designers Republic vs B12 Records: are the 1990s dead? (2007)

Further Fats: The doctor (Adamski) will see you now (2018)

Apr 22, 2021

Hitting the Sweet Spot and not going to the circus

Sweet Spot promo card

What is word? How is sentence? How grammar work does it?

I'm glad you've brought those questions to me, a literary genius. 

Alongside blogging for the past gazillion years, I also like to tell stories. I've not written much this past year due to general apocalypse concerns: it's amazing how much headspace is taken up by a constant low-level of panic. I'm keen to get back into it. The writing, that is, not the panic.

Arts organisation Spot On Lancashire has a series called Spot On Shorts, where professional writers, storytellers and actors make short films to impress you with their narrative, poetic and artistic wizardry. I was born in Lancashire – just: they renamed it Greater Manchester when I was seven months old – so I was delighted to get involved.

My contribution was released today and is called The Sweet Spot. I won't spoil the story for you, but I can tell you it was inspired by (a) eating too much during lockdown and (b) not going to the circus during lockdown. Not that I went to the circus much anyway. Hardly ever, in fact. Anyway, shut up and watch The Sweet Spot (watch it on my video page if you want to browse more of my gubbins).

That's a real helmet, by the way. Honest.

I want to do more story things this year, more narrative oddities with my stupid cartoons, and more performances in actual real rooms. If you're planning an event that you want improved / enlightened / confused / ruined with my mad entertainment skills, then get in touch. My email address is next to Lionel Richie at the bottom of my About page.

As Covid restrictions ease, venues will re-awaken like neon-lit kraken. I've missed the terrifi— er, I mean, entertained looks on audience's faces in the heat of performance. In fact, there won't be long to wait because, as long as regulations allow, I'll be appearing on the bill at Pride Trafford's Making Waves: Queer Edition on May 22nd alongside especially commissioned works from Cheddar Gorgeous and Jason Andrew Guest.

What is word? Eggs. How is sentence? Verb-handles. How grammar work does it? Absolutely jackson. I'm glad I could clear that up for you.

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.