Feb 29, 2020

Best electronic music albums of 1995: Sabres of Paradise versus Higher Intelligence Agency

This is round one of the battle to find the best electronic music album of 1995, as voted for by me and me alone. See all the riders and runners here.

A random number generator has picked the first two contestants. They are:
Sabresonic 2 by Sabres of Paradise
Freefloater by Higher Intelligence Agency
Winner gets through to the quarter-finals. Let's go to war!

Criteria one: which album would make a better biscuit?

Great question, Fats. This is a pretty easy one. There's much to admire in the icy filters of the Higher Intelligence Agency's second album, following their brilliant debut Colourform and an impressive showing in the Artificial Intelligence series. But it's not very biscuity. If it was a foodstuff, it would be sour sweets or sprinkles, or that dry ice crap posh restaurants cover tables with. Andrew Weatherall's Sabresonic 2 is so tribal and earthy, you'd almost certainly throw it into a biscuit mix.
Winner: Sabresonic 2

Criteria two: which album has more bangin' choons?

Ah. We have a problem here. Higher Intelligence Agency were never really about the massive tunes: it was more a soundtrack to which you could wheelbarrow a load of drugs down your gullet. And although Sabres arguably have more tunes, this second album is really just a remix of debut album Sabresonic. So the tunes are mostly not original: in fact, it's barely an album at all and shouldn't be on this list. Sssshhh. Don't tell anyone. By definition, the other album has more tunes.
Winner: Freefloater 

Criteria three: which album's track titles better remind me of cute animals?

Let's look at Sabres first. "Smokebelch" sounds like a disgusting hippo that you regret inviting around for tea, while "Inter-Lergen-Ten-ko" could be the name of an alien animal from a distant moon. Now let's look at HIA. Oh my. It has "Fleagle" and "Skank" and "Tortoise" and "Ting" and "Pinkgreen" and "Taz". If that's not a hilarious Netflix special starring subversive woodland creatures, then I'll eat my squirrel-skin hat.
Winner: Freefloater 

Criteria four: which of the two would Jesus listen to?

In giving a motivational speech to his newly-appointed apostles, Jesus said: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." An easy win for the Sabres there.
Winner: Sabresonic 2

Criteria five: which is the better album to sing songs about eggs to?

On Sabres' Return Of Carter, I could only do "eeeeeggs, eeeeeggs, eeeeeeeggs", while on Edge 6 I could sing "I like eggs, the special eggs" in a really catchy way. I couldn't do much with Smokebelch II. All I could with HIA's Elapse was repeatedly sing "benedict, benedict", and as for the rest of the album, it was so squiggly, it just put me off eggs. I wonder if the ambient dub scene just wasn't that into eggs.
Winner: Sabresonic 2

Criteria six: which album has the better cover design?

A hard win for Sabres Of Paradise. The guy's got a sword through his head! Ha ha ha ha! What a stupid idiot, getting a sword through his head! He was probably just sitting there making a belly-fluff model of the K-Pop band BTS and then suddenly – whoomph! There's a sword through his head! Ha ha ha ha ha! That said, it's virtually the same album cover as previous album Sabresonic, which means he's only pretending to have a sword through his head. Disqualified. HIA wins.
Winner: Freefloater 

Criteria seven: miscellaneous and worryingly random

Some final criteria chosen with the help of Wikipedia's random article button. A better album for flipping pancakes to: HIA because it sounds so airy. A better album for waking up Ann Widdecombe in the middle of the night to: definitely Sabres. The album that sounds most like echoes from an abandoned Albanian TV station: HIA because it sounds like satellites. An album for spies: Higher Intelligence Agency, of course: the clues in the name. A better album for drowning out 'iMammy (Batteries Not Included)', which is the hilarious title of season two episode three of the award-winning sitcom Mrs Browns Boys: Sabres of Paradise all the way.
Winner: Freefloater 

Overall winner and going through to the quarter-finals: Freefloater by Higher Intelligence Agency. Perhaps a surprise and also a shame considering the recent news about Sabres' Andy Weatherall, but perhaps if it had been the original Sabresonic album, it would have been a different result. HIA go through. 

Using the same criteria (apart from the miscellaneous choices), witness another first round contest in the next day or two. See all the riders and runners here.

Feb 28, 2020

Best electronic music albums of 1995: an introduction

No-one remembers 1995. It's too long ago. Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity. Robson & Jerome took over the charts, and Oasis had a beef with Blur. I bet none of them remember any of it.

To revive everyone's interest in this most average of years, I'm going to launch a contest. I have chosen 16 electronic music albums from 1995, and they will face off against each other in a knockout competition so tense, your knuckles will fall off. Literally fall off.

The competing albums are all works I owned back in 1995. Some are big hitters, such as Leftfield and Goldie, while others are less well known. Because it's my own record collection, there will be some notable omissions. Despite what everyone says all the time, I'm not perfect: just DEAL with it, jeez.

The 16 albums will be randomly matched on a one-on-one knockout basis with the weaker album being eliminated. 16 in the first round, then eight in the quarter-final, four in the semi-final, and eventually a grand final to choose a winner: the bestest best electronic music album of 1995.

Who gets to vote? I have gone to great lengths to choose a panel of judges based on expertise, intelligence, looks and nice eyebrows. The panel of judges is me. Myself. Fat Roland. No-one else. I get to vote, and you just have to sit there, all sulking with your bottom lip curled. The judging criteria may be, er, a little unusual.

I hope you enjoy this series, and may the best electronic album of 1995 win. Here are the contenders, all of which should be 1995 albums because Google told me they were 1995 albums.
...I Care Because You Do by Aphex Twin
Everything Is Wrong by Moby
Exit Planet Dust by The Chemical Brothers
Freefloater by Higher Intelligence Agency
Ima by BT
Maxinquaye by Tricky
Landcruising by Carl Craig
Leftism by Leftfield
Post by Bjork
Remotion by Global Communication
Sabresonic 2 by Sabres of Paradise
Smokers Delight by Nightmares on Wax
Spanners by Black Dog
This Film's Crap Let's Slash the Seats by David Holmes
Timeless by Goldie
Tri Repetae by Autechre
(Patriarchy apology: it's a very male list because 1995 me was rubbish.) There we go. Contenders at the ready. Battle will commence in the next day or so.

Feb 22, 2020

A tribute to Andrew Weatherall: imagine a cake, a simple cake

I've spent this week feeling like poo. Some kind of lurgy that has robbed me of all my energy. No brain space for blog posts or for creative projects or for functioning as a human being.

In the midst of this week's funk, I heard some terrible news. Andrew Weatherall died. I hoped that my fever had got so bad, I was hallucinating worst case scenarios. Alas, no. We lost a giant of electronic music.

There may be some readers of this website who are unaware of the pull of gravity Weatherall had over modern electronic music. I'm still not quite out of the fog of illness, so here are some unedited and slightly clumsy thoughts on how important I thought Andy was.

Imagine a cake. A simple cake. Something with a sponge and a pleasant jam filling. Now imagine shoving all the pills into that cake. Paracetamol, ecstasy, uppers, downers, bum pills, dog pills, M&Ms and Skittles. Imagine the pills being inserted by one of those tennis ball machines with a spring-firing mechanism. That's what Weatherall did to music.

He did this to Primal Scream. He did this to Saint Etienne ("cool and deadly!"). He did this to New Order and Leftfield and mother-chuffing Starsailor. He was a constant remixing presence in the early releases of the Chemical Brothers, James and the Happy Mondays. Pow! Pills! Pow! More pills!

Except it was never about narcotics for me: my highest and happiest days clubbing were devoid of any alcohol or drugs. It was about the trippy rhythms and driving bass that added a fizz to anything he touched.

That fizz is probably best summed up in his wonky party production of Primal Scream's Don't Fight It Feel It – a track that bursts with B52s-style jazz-hands energy while still getting away with farty shredded guitar, clowny sirens, genuine soul and the chunkiest Italo-piano lead of 1991. Just listen to it build and build...

Without Andrew Weatherall, there would be no Fat Roland. He was a staple of Manchester club night Herbal Tea Party back in the 1990s: in fact he was probably their most-booked act. That night was my gateway into electronic music.

And I have fond memories of seeing him at The Orbit in Leeds, a venue I once blogged that "arguably spawned my Fat Roland career. I remember watching DJs Andrew Weatherall and Sven Väth with intense interest, hovering behind them like a stalker. As I left the club, I had a lucid moment when I decided, with a theatrical flourish, that yes the world needed my DJing skills. (It didn't, but I went into DJing anyway.)"

For some reason, the likes of the Guardian and NME have left that element of Weatherall's legacy out of their tribute pieces.

From Shroom to Boy’s Own Productions to Sabres Of Paradise to his insistance that DJs shouldn't play anything beyond 122bpm, Andrew Weatherall's impact on my corner of electronic music cannot be underestimated.

I really wish this was a fever dream.

Feb 16, 2020

New music: Caribou, Wajatta & Grimes

Sometimes people release albums. I can't stop them, no matter how hard I try. Seriously, I attempt to catch as many as I can before they reach the general public, oh, no, another album got through my homemade anti-album filter, dammit.

Anyhoo, here are some new and upcoming February releases that got through my sausage net. I really should stop making nets out of sausages.

Caribou – Suddenly (City Slang)

It's a good job Caribou is Canadian producer Dan Snaith and not an actual caribou. If you let a caribou into a studio full of recording equipment, it would crap everywhere and snap all the knobs with its hooves. We can only assume Snaith doesn't do this, although I've never been in a studio with him so your guess is as good as mine.

Caribou (not the animal) is back this month with another album of summery pop called Suddenly. Single You And I is really good: half melancholic grief song and half broken bass banger. Never Come Back has a similar shimmery vocal vibe to his classic Sun. It's all sounding very promising indeed.

Wajatta – Don't Let Get You Down (Brainfeeder)

Here comes the second album from loop-pedal peddler Reggie Watts and house master John Tejada. You'll know Reggie from his television appearances and pop-parodying beatboxing. Go on, have a delve on YouTube: you won't regret it.

"Wajatta" is, by the way, a combination of their names and the j is pronounced as an h. In the same way that if I teamed up with Justin Bieber, we would become Jat Rober. Or Fatin Biebland. And the e would be pronounced as a q. Words are fun.

Grimes – Miss Anthropocene (4AD) 

And that's what I think of the fifth album of bleepy tunes from the headline-grabbing popster Grimes.

What? There appears to be some text missing from the above paragraph? Ah, that's because I typed the letters at the speed of light, in tribute to Grimes calling herself c (the symbol for the speed of light). You have to read it at the speed of light otherwise you won't be able to read it. Sorry about that.

Further Fats: New music – Squarepusher, Dan Deacon & Phase Fatale (2020)

Feb 13, 2020

Talking about sad things with Squarepusher

In the new issue of Electronic Sound magazine, I chat to Squarepusher about keeping puppies, and how puppies are so cute, and ha ha ha look at their little floppy ears and—

Okay, I lied about the puppies. I'm trying to keep things light-hearted because actually my chat with Squarepusher in issue 62 of the magazine was as melancholic as flip. This is not angry Squarepusher. This is a vulnerable bloke who has recently faced loss in more ways than one. Our conversation was quite extraordinary, and it was a side of the Square one I really liked.

I would explain more, but you're going to have to get yourself a copy by visiting the Electronic Sound website, or popping into WH Smith, or summoning a magazine-creating wizard by setting twelve magpies on fire.

Six whole pages of me and Squarepusher. Exciting, right? No? Oh suit yerself.

Elsewhere in the magazine, I write a full page column all about insurance. Yes, really. For the first time ever, I accompany my words with a custom-scrawled illustration. There's a little bit of the illustration in the image above. Find all the words alongside my cartoon on the inside back page of the mag.

Oh and I've done some reviews too. All of which is massively overshadowed by this month's Electronic Sound cover story, not written by me, about the astonishing life and death of music producer Joe Meek. It's well worth a read. Oh my.

Feb 10, 2020

Calvin Harris launching an acid house project is the biggest music news of all time

Calvin Harris launching an acid house project called Love Regenerator is the biggest music news of all time.

This is like One Direction relaunching as a thrash metal band. Or like The Beatles returning as a drum 'n' bass act. Or like Jive Bunny revealing that all the music was made by actual bunnies.

Last month's Love Regenerator 1 EP hit a million streams in just three days. It was apologetically clubby, summoning the spirit of acid pioneers Phuture and so much more. We're talking fat pianos, liquid breaks, choppy vocal samples and filter-tweakin' squelchy goodness. All the best of the underground 1980s and 1990s.

Like a worm with an embarrassing zit, acid house has remained defiantly underground. We've had Voodoo RayJosh Wink and S'Express, but all of this was a long time ago. Justin Bieber was still in Calvin Klein nappies when Higher State of Consciousness was released.

So when the biggest DJ in the universe (probably) goes acid house, this is big news. It could mean the first mainstream exposure of acid house for 25 years. Imagine the BBC News at Six being presented by a Tamagotchi. THAT'S how much of a revival this is.

In the words of A Guy Called Gerald's 1989 top 20 hit Voodoo Ray:
"Ooh-oo-hoo ah-ha ha yeah
He-hey-ya hey-yah ah-ha ooh hey-yah ah-ha ooh"
Exactly, Gezza. That's exactly how I feel.

Calvin Harris has a second Love Regenerator EP arriving later this week. I'm not sure we can cope with this. It's like the earth being struck with two dinosaur-destroying meteors rather than one. The shockwave of this second EP will be so ground-shaking, no-one else will make any music for months.

Harris has been previewing bits on his Instagram and I can declare that, in the parlance of modern youth, it is banging. Proper banging and no mistake, missus. I'm sorry if my street talk is alarming to you, but I am well cool.

Unless Def Leppard return as a KLF tribute act, Calvin Harris going acid house remains the biggest music news of all time.

Further Fats: I love acid and the acid loves me (2015)

Further Fats: "Acid house - it's not real music, is it" said the idiot (2019)

Feb 8, 2020

Ten slices of shallow-fried Twitter whimsy

Twitter is a platform in which everyone can communicate with everyone else all of the time without any downsides whatsoever.

What follows are ten slices of shallow-fried whimsy lovingly copied-and-pasted from my Twitter account. Some if it reads as a useful self-help guide along the lines of The Power Of Now, How To Win Friends And Influence People or the Roland SH-101 Owner's Manual. Some of it reads like poetry along the lines of, er, poems and stuff.

I have given each tweet a header so you can perhaps make an index from it, like they do with proper books.

1. The food puns
Butter Living Through Chemistry. Meusli Has The Right To Children. Thymeless. Dubnobasswithmyheadman (where bass is a fish). Adventures Beyond The Ultrawurst. Endtrojuicing. Not sure where I'm going with this.

2. A question about 1996
Did the boy ever see his mom that weekend to tell her Satan Satan Satan Satan Satan Satan Satan Satan?

3. Thoughts post-Brexit
Don't worry, everyone, we don't need Europe. Just stay in your towns, don't go anywhere, don't meet new people and don't buy anything. We didn't have the EU around the time of the Great Plague and everything was just fine.

4. Morning reflection 1
A grey morning in Manchester. Cold raindrops fall on puddled streets like polar bears in spandex, if polar bears were tiny and made of water, also forget the spandex, that's just a distraction tbh

5. A motivation
How to have a positive day:
- smile more
- do one kind thing
- pay a compliment
- open up the portal of d'ath krondor
- eat healthy
- live in the moment
- the tentacles, the tentacles, they burn
- be a good listener
- the void shall become all, ye wastrels of earth

6. A concern
I'm slightly worried that Antifa is short for Anti Fat Roland.

7. A dream for the future
It's splitting hairs, but I'd like to hear New Order's Mr Disco covered by Electronic.

8. Morning reflection 2
It is morning. The sun comes alive in the eastern sky and says its happy greetings. Hello trees. Hello fields. Hello squirrels. Hello sun! they call and wave. In the western sky, the moon dies a horrible death. Everyone laughs.

9. A simple wish
I wish Squarepusher was called Squidpusher and all of his promo shots were of him in back alleys selling squid.

10. The bird incident
Twitter, I forgot to tell you. A low-flying goose honked at me pretty aggressively the other day, so that's pretty much 2020 written off. How's YOUR week been?

Further Fats: Squarepusher's psychedelic number - could it send him (robert) miles off course? (2009)

Further Fats: Top ten ways to write a top ten music list (2012)

Feb 4, 2020

Fifteen questions for Fat Roland (contains raisins)

This blog post is about me. Which is why it's accompanied by a picture of me.

There's a 30-question Facebook quiz doing the rounds, so for the sake of content, here are my answers. I should point out that I deleted half of the questions: they were so inane, they made me want to go to a wedding reception with Westlife. Here, readers, are 15 questions about me.

1. Who are you named after? Not a who. A what. I'm named after a Roland JP-8000 synthesiser. I am not named after the chubby lad from Grange Hill, although there are worse people I could be named after. I could be called Dan Widdecombe.

2. Last time you cried? I cry at everything. Movie endings, children's choirs, wasps, anything. Jojo Rabbit had me in floods of tears. Seeing arbitrary insanity through a ten-year-old's eyes, in appropriately dis-tonal primary colours (comedy Hitler, rabbit blatherings, "clones"), made this a deeply moving and exhilarating film. Roberto Benigni meets Wes Anderson. Go see.

3. Do you like your handwriting? Actually, I do. It's a bit cartoony. As a child, I refused to learn joined-up cursive as it made no sense to my bookworm brain. Books didn't do cursive, so I shouldn't either. I'd have good handwriting for cartoon strip speech bubbles.

4. Would you do a bungee jump? Plop off. I'd hit the ground so hard, I'd come out in China.

5. What is your favourite kind of cereal? When I do eat cereal, which isn't often, I plump for something with raisins. Got to love a raisin. It's one of those foodstuffs people really baulk at, but they're idiots. Smother me in raisins.

6. What is the first thing you notice about someone? Tentacles.

7. Rugby or football? Neither. Both sports remind me of the horror of school changing rooms, the bullying tackles designed to injure me for fun, the cold mud and rain. Also, each side should be given a ball to make everything easier.

8. What are you listening to right now? Finally a question relevant to my website. I'm currently enjoying Mason Bee's debut album Play Flights. He's the bloke who makes nice guitar sounds and bleepy melodics in Plaid, so it's like someone's taken all the harmony from Plaid and tied a big beautiful bow on it.

9. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be? I've kept this question in here to show how bad the deleted questions were.

10. Favourite smell? Not this quiz, coz it stinks. It's all the cliche answers, I'm afraid. Cut grass, fresh bread, nice flowers, old books, kittens in blenders. Some people like the smell of babies or hair, which is weird. If you scratch this blog, it smells of warehouse raves.

11. Colour of your hair? Brown. Not a particularly interesting brown. A general hair brown. The colour of a horse that's just eaten two jars of Marmite. Like I say, not an interesting brown.

12. Scary movies or happy? I'll choose scary. Actually, I'm watching fewer scary films as I get older. Maybe the torrent of existential terror that is modern life has finally got under my skin. Boo! Was that scary? No? Okay, I'll choose happy.

13. Last movie you watched? That Armando Iannucci film about David Copperfield. More gentle than I expected; more Cock & Bull Story than Death Of Stalin. Dev Patel is perfect casting. Made me want to fly kites.

14. Favourite Holiday? Why is holiday capitalised? I don't really do holidays. If I wanted to lounge around doing nothing, I can do that at home. If I wanted to see interesting sights, I can use Google. If I wanted to sit by some water, I can find a puddle. Sigh. I'm happy, honest I am.

15. Best acid house tune? Great question. For years, my go-to acid tune was Fish & Chips by Hardfloor. It was on a Harthouse CD and I played it to smithereens. Amazing build-up. Sorry? What? Yes, you got me. This wasn't one of the original questions, I just wanted to big up Hardfloor. Is this over now? Can I go?

Photo: Alex Winton (taken at Mother's Ruin at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester)