Jan 31, 2020

My eyes, my eyes – Squarepusher goes to Tokyo for Terminal Slam

Squarepusher's popped out a new video for his banging track Terminal Slam, taken from his new album Be Up A Hello. It centres around the famous Shibuya road crossing in Tokyo. You know the one. It's made from steamrollered zebras.

In the video, fancy glasses make display adverts go all glitchy and strange. A bit like that Roddy Piper film with the sunglasses and the aliens, except without any sunglasses and without any aliens.

The track is an absolute belter, and the whole visual experience feels widescreen and ultra-technological. Neon signs everywhere, sunburst bright. And best of all, Squarepusher's face, name and logo keep appearing.

I tried recreating the video in my sleepy suburb. I didn't have sunglasses, so I just gaffer-taped my eyes and ran out into the street. It's very hard to write your name and logo on everything when you can't see a thing. Long story short, the 'Twenty's Plenty' sign opposite my gaff now has "FAD ROLANT" scrawled across it.

Here's the video. Read more about Squarepusher's new album by reading this blog post that tells you to read Electronic Sound magazine.

Jan 29, 2020

Story: A meeting regarding new material by the electronic music producer Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin slides the dead jackdaw across the table.

"New album," he mutters, pointing at the bird. "New album." He nods a 'whassup' to the suit sitting opposite.

"I don't think..." starts the suit, who hasn't even looked at the bird.

"I've been very productive," says Aphex Twin, fetching a jar of mango sauce from his pocket. He plonks it next to the jackdaw. "New EP," he says, pointing at the sauce. "New EP!"

The suit looks at the bird. Looks at the jar, which is half empty.

The other suit, the lawyer, shifts in her seat. Clears her throat as she reaches for her papers. "Mr Twin," she says. "The record company contract is clear..."

Aphex Twin skitters more objects across the table. An emptied baked bean tin. A bauble. A photograph of a tree. The suits try to interject. The lawyer waves papers at him – any papers.

But it is too late. Aphex is dancing.

Aphex Twin dances on the table, shuffling in awkward circles around the objects, denting the table lacquer with the point of his umbrella.

"I am so productive," he says to no-one as the first suit pokes the jackdaw with a pen.

Further Fats: Story – Elizabeth Gaskell sits at a table (2017)

Further Fats: A little cat story (it's the story that's little, not the cat) (2018)

Jan 27, 2020

Tell me why I do like Mondays

Does anyone else feel bright and shiny on Monday mornings?

I’m so cheery on Monday morning, it’s annoying. I like the fresh sheets of a newly-made week. It’s like a tiny New Year’s Day, and you can fill your pocket with baby resolutions. Amazing!

There are legions of coffee drinkers who can't function until their second morning cuppa. I see them everywhere, gormlessly slurping, eyes drooping like Dali's clocks. They need that sweet fix of squid ink and creosote, or whatever it is they put in that Starbuck’s gloop.

I don't drink coffee, so I look down on them with disgust, what with me being perfect with no bad habits at all. My natural caffeine kick is simply the new day itself. "Lovely morning!" I yell as I skip merrily past bed-haired commuters weeping into their Metro newspapers.

I've never held a 'standard' office job where I input data by smashing a keyboard with my face until the clock strikes five. So I’ve never internalised that Monday-to-Friday routine. Yes, my past jobs of journalism and bookselling involved offices, but it's not the same. Dolly Parton wouldn’t recognise any “takin' and no givin'” in my 9–5, no ma’am.

The buzzy feeling I get at the start of the week is the same sparkly energy I get from discovering new music. The thrill of something not experienced before, the thrum of possibilities. The reason why this blog exists. I am the exact opposite of YouTube comment drones who complain about there being no good music since 1982.

All this might make me sound easily pleased, like a Mrs Brown's Boys fan or a dog. I am. I totally am. Is this annoying to a lot of people? Yes it is. It totally is.

On the flip side, by Friday all of my tiny resolutions lie smashed on the floor as the weight of the week brings me to my knees, my freshly-made week sheets all stained with drizzles of disappointment.

But hey. Let’s save that for another blog post, yeah? Monday! Woo!

Further Fats: My Harder Better Blog Writing Tour Faster Process Monday Fats (2014)

Further Fats: Listen: Photay's Monday (warning: potential earworm) (2016)

Jan 25, 2020

In praise of 808 State's Gorgeous (which is gorgeous)

Here is a theory.

If a band calls their album Gorgeous, then everyone thinks it's gorgeous. Witness the scrabble at the record shop counter as dribbling music fans demand to feast on something gorgeous. "Look at this gorgeous album!" you scream at the haggard shop assistant. "It's called Gorgeous!"

Here is how that plays out in practice.

808 State calls their album Gorgeous. People are kinda fine with it, but are still wedded to previous album ex:el. Meanwhile, album tracks Sexy Synthesiser and the UB40-sampling One In Ten sound odd in the long-receding wake of novelty chart rave. Select magazine calls Gorgeous "over-familiar" and gives it three stars.

I have to say, though: Gorgeous was MY album. It came out in 1993, a year in which I was absorbing all the techno like a big shape-throwing sponge. It was my musical 'coming of age' year. Synthesisers WERE sexy. Calling something gorgeous DID make it gorgeous. I even wore the album's t-shirt to ribbons.

There is so much to commend about this album. The sun-soaked steel drums of Plan 9. The deep forest samba of Contrique. The hippy indie vocals on Europa being the most 1990s thing ever. The Loop Guru-style stomp of Southern Cross. And Colony being an out-and-out banger.

Following up 1991's ex:el was tough. That album had Bjork and New Order's Bernard Sumner. While Ian MacCulloch's vocals on Gorgeous's Moses had a Sumner-esque waver to them, serving to remind you of the previous album, Moses was much more of an earworm than any vocal on ex:el.

On ex:el, In Yer Face and Cubik landed with such a thump in the charts, their reverberations were felt for years. Gorgeous was softer somehow, more mature, and there was nothing that would obviously trouble the top ten. This was nice because it felt like my secret underground album: an eccentric collection of post-Balearic bangers (new)built especially for my CD player.

Gorgeous is great, and I have an affection for this album that's probably tied into my 1993 musical awakening. But I reckon I'm right. It's underrated. It might not have sultry lift music or James Dean Bradfield, but it's full of phat sounds. With a ph. And when people talk about pH scales, they're talking about science. Gorgeous is scientifically great.

I demand we reassess this album's status in the pantheon of techno history. Go up to that record counter. Feast on something gorgeous. Dribble all over the "card machine broken" signs and flyers for student club nights. Make sure the shop assistant knows you're serious. "I want gorgeous," you chant. "I want gorgeous. I WANT GORGEOUS." Recite this blog post as security bundle you onto the pavement outside.

You want Gorgeous. Say it. SAY IT.

Further Fats: A good week for old LPs - and if you say 'what's an LP', I'll set fire to your mp3 player (2008)

Further Fats: Zombie'ites! Going underground with Transglobal and Banco De Gaia (2017)

Jan 22, 2020

Fat Roland's wonderful Warp Records word search

You look bored. Your face sags with weariness, like old underpants draped over a dachshund. Fat Roland to the rescue! Entertain yourself with my Warp Records word search.

See if you can find all 30 of the Warp Records artists, past and present, hidden in this grid. Just to make it harder, the words can go in any direction.

Some are Warp names familiar to any techno-head. Some may have had only one release and just get a brief mention on the Wikipedia page about Warp Records, from whence I lazily snaffled my information.

Warp Records word search: the difficult version (grid only)

I have two versions. At the end of this blog post is a grid without the 30 artist names included for reference. This is for advanced word searchers only, and should only be attempted by people with good eyes, an iron will and a pair of crampons.

The version below is low-resolution. If you want a larger version of this grid, click here to download (353kb PNG file).

Warp Records word search: the easier version (grid with accompanying words)

There is also an easier version: same grid, but with the 30 artist names printed beneath. This is for simple-minded word searchers who need spoon-feeding like little babies. I count myself in this category.

I won't print this easier version here, because it will annoy the advanced word searchers. To see the easier version of this grid with the 30 artist names included, click here to download a decent quality version (300kb PNG file) or click here download a lower resolution version (131kb JPEG file).

Or, and praise the Lord for all this amazing word search admin, check the comments on this blog post, where I've also listed the 30 names.

Your face looks interested now. You're drooling. There's a glint in your eye. My work here is done. Happy searching-for-words.

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.