Sep 21, 2020

Not the best music recommender in the world


My spiritual blogging brother Benjamin Judge has been asking for music recommendations. 

A simple request, you might think. But Ben is a clever bunny. He has been turning the spotlight of criticism onto his recommenders as well as the music they have been recommending.

It's a cruel twist. That's like going to the opera, settling into your seat with your glossy programme and those little binoculars stolen off an Action Man, then the befrocked cast turning to the audience and gruffly demanding "Entertain us, scum!"

It's exactly like that.

The Best Music Recommender in the World is a competition in which Ben spends his weekends listening to music nominated by his readers, then ranks everyone's choices. There's a leaderboard and everything. He's been working through the alphabet and this coming weekend will be about acts beginning with Y.

This is natural territory for me: I consider myself a pretty decent music recommender. It's why this blog exists. I write album reviews for Electronic Sound and have been guffing on about bands since my first ever job, music columnist for the South Manchester Reporter, in 1991.

I have recommended to Ben the likes of µ-Ziq, EOD, Rival Consoles and, perhaps less successfully, Transglobal Underground. Overall, I was pretty confident I would win this thing.

It all went wrong when I tried to game Ben's system, switching one of my recommendations on the basis of a Twitter conversation. I lost points for cheating. In fact, I was penalised a number of times. I was so desperate to win the affection of Ben's ears, I cut off my nose to spite my face. I became addicted to cheating. I became the Lance Armstrong of music recommending. 

My ego got the better of me, and it cost me bad. [Takes long drag on cigarette as camera pans in.] I suppose I flew too close to the sun, just like Icarus. Also I failed to covert Ben to the joys of Underworld, just like Icarus. 

I have no chance of winning the competition now. That said, I'm still in the top 20, and 261 points ahead of Rufus Hound (no, really). I'm going to keep recommending as we pass through the final letters of the alphabet. Also I'm totally going to check his tweets to see if he's into any bands beginning with Z.

Give him a recommendation. Just don't get too cocky.

Further Fats: Meet the Manchester bloggers: the gathering, July 2010

Sep 15, 2020

Looking for a top ten hit: Paul Woolford does good

Paul Woolford Fat Roland blog

This blog seems content to trundle along in obscurity, like a beetle scuttling underneath rocks, or a Beatle scuttling underneath rocks. We see you, Ringo, there's no use hiding.

I rarely expect anyone mentioned on this blog to break through to the mainstream. In fact, it's hardly ever happened. There was Skream in 2010. And that same year, I mentioned Diplo "breaking dubstep" a year before he hit the charts with Tiësto, and five years before his all-conquering Jack Ü project. But other than that, I'm usually talking about acts long after they've hit the big time.

Which is why this week's UK singles chart is a delight. Paul Woolford has notched up a top ten hit with a track called Looking For Me. An actual top ten hit! He's better known as Special Request, and has featured several times on this blog before now.

I gave Special Request the accolade of second best album of 2013 (behind Jon Hopkins), which I described as "a breaks album that is interesting, innovative and exciting" while bigging up his farting basslines. 

I also mentioned his collection of "dancefloor-mashing" EPs in 2015, a 2017 album that was a "Burial-inspired chill-out room", and a 2017 EP that was "beautiful, devastating, ear-bending and all kinds of wonderful".

Last year's Vortex was a "speed-fuelled hymn to BPM" and featured in my favourite albums of 2019. More recently I nominated Spectral Frequency as a highlight for Picky B*stards:

"Mr Request shoves you face-first into a raging waterfall of plunging junglist drums and low-flowing bass. It’s a heavy hit, and we spend the next five minutes concussed as the track becomes a flashback to every sweaty rave and every drug-soaked festival tent in history."

"Mr Request." Heh.

And now he's a top ten superstar. This means he gets loads of limos and flowers and his very own private island, just like Elton John or Madonna or Jedward. People will be told not to make direct eye contact with him, and he is legally allowed to throw a hotel window through a television.

Looking For Me is a big summery slab of 90s house music, and was produced by Woolford in collaboration with someone called Diplo (never heard of him). Have a listen here.

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

Further Fats: Do we really want Vengaboys in our room (boom boom boom boom)? (2016)

Sep 13, 2020

Flatulent balls: lockdown thoughts and a cartoon of a bull

Electronic Sound illustration for issue 69 by Fat Roland 

Issue 69 of Electronic Sound is out now. Alongside a smattering of finely honed reviews, you'll find my latest full-page column. This one is inspired by my lack of exercise throughout lockdown.

I wanted this latest piece to feel quite physical, quite fleshy. So I start with a beautiful image of a cassette tape wedged into a roll of fat and take it from there. I also use the following words: balls, flatulent, gonads, groin, horns, nipples and orifices. Lovely.

There's also my illustration, a section of which you can see in colour above. I've included a couple of first draft sketches which show I find it much easier to draw a big old bull than stupid annoying dumbbells.

I don't mention the Covid crisis in my column, although that's where the writing process started. It's nearly six months since the UK tumbled into a viral dystopia. It's been heartbreaking for those who have lost loved ones or their income.

Here are some personal thoughts about the whole coronavirus thing. I entered the pandemic as a (a) venue guy who did (b) journalism and (c) performing: the three e's of eventing, editing and egomania. Those elements of my work life have been affected in different ways.

The venue bit of my life (running the gorgeous event space at Manchester's Burgess Foundation) has changed considerably, but I've been able to pivot my job into other things, namely coming up with clever online things that make people interested in Anthony Burgess. On this score, I am lucky to have a supportive employer, and I've found this work to be a boon amid the bedlam.

The journalism bit of my life has remained unaffected. At the start of the year, I started illustrating my own monthly column for Electronic Sound, and if anything the lockdown bought me more time to work on the words and pictures. Long may it continue – you can subscribe here.

The performing? Here's the interesting one. In fact, this is what I really want to talk about. Brace yourself.

Over the past six months, the world of spoken word and comedy has moved to video. Twitch streams, Zoom gigs, Facebook premieres and the like. Rumour has it the internet is now made up of 692% TikToks.

I did one video for The Old Courts, which was a huge amount of fun, but it made me realise that the whole point of my own performance is to react to the audience in the room. I need those surprise moments, those face twitches, that slow glorious 'failure' on stage. 

Online performing is kind of fine, but it doesn't thrill me. It doesn't scratch my egomaniacal itch. Thank goodness for that Garden Fringe real-life gig which still gives me a buzz every time I think about it. 

I have similar reservations as a consumer. I've enjoyed being part of the audience at the online XS Malarkey, chatting to techno heads in Orbital premieres, and a few fun things friends have done. However, the Burgess and journalism elements of my work life mean a lot of screen time: adding even more screen time into my day hasn't proved healthy. 

Added to that, sitting on my own in a distanced community just emphasises how far away my real actual friends are. There's a tinge of the blues to it all.

All of which is to say: I have felt increasingly left behind by Covid-era entertainment. As audiences start to return to actual venues, comedy performers will start earning again, and an industry will slowly rise again. I hope that day comes soon. But this presents me with a dilemma.

My own performing life, which was starting to move from spoken word into comedy, will be much slower to recover. Thing is, although I miss it, I don't *need* the money, and I'm not going to start hustling for paid gigs when a tonne of entertainers need to rebuild their income from scratch. I will gig again, of course, but my previous performance rate – a gig every couple of weeks and my 'residency' at a monthly spoken word night – is pretty much over.

This all sounds depressing, doesn't it. However, I am an optimist: there is a silver trouser lining to this cloud of pants. I need to see this performing pickle as a challenge to up my game. 

Firstly, I need to become a facilitator (not that I wasn't already) by putting on alternative weirdo comedy gigs myself once audience distancing is less of a restriction. Create my own stuff, like that tall bloke out of Pointless. This will give me valuable stage time for my own material while giving a bit of cash to silly, funny performers. 

Secondly, I'm going to come up with an online series that leans heavily on my cartoons. I don't know what that is yet, but it needs to happen and no, it won't be a traditional performance for reasons I've waffled about already. I'm thinking possibly an animated guide to electronic music (caveat: not properly animated).

All of these thought processes swirled around my head and ended up solidifying into a column about rolls of fat and groins and gonads. Funny how the mind works.

I haven't mentioned blogging, by the way. I'm very sad to announce that this will continue unabated, and I will carry on pummelling your face with word-zingers for a long time to come. Sorry, face.

Further Fats: Fats at the Lowry – a Curious trip to the North East (2017)

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

Sep 10, 2020

No mood for sniffing: five September 2020 electronic music album recommendations

Rui Ho

Here are five different flavours of album due for release in September. Think of this as an ice-cream cone stacked with five scoops. Better gobble it down quickly before your hand becomes a drippy mess.

There's a line on Marie Davidson's album Working Class Woman which goes “I want to smell you, even from far away”. On her new single Renegade Breakdown, she's in no mood for sniffing: "I feel disgraceful whenever you're around." Her new band, called Marie Davidson & L'Œil Nu, is quite the change in direction, with DIY pop influenced by Fleetwood Mac and Kraftwerk. Have a nosy at the album, also called Renegade Breakdown, here.

Berlin-based RUI HO (pictured) mixes Western dance music with Chinese melodies, and has built a reputation as a DJ and purveyor of futuristic sound collages. Her debut album Lov3 & L1ght takes a typically leftfield move into glittery EDM-tinged autotuned pop. Not for everyone, but the production is really on fleek, as the cool kids say.

Tricky seems to be back on form for the first time since, well, Victorian times or something. Fall To Pieces is his 14th studio album: that's as many albums as the Prodigy and Oasis combined. He's got a great new(ish) vocalist called Marta and it's got some pretty mournful vibes.

Field Lines Cartographer took inspiration from an elusive island for The Spectral Isle – it's full of UFOs or ghosts or Westlife fans (I might be wrong about that last one). If you want big fat soundscapes to make your ears tingle, then this is the album for you. The vinyl is 'seafoam' which means you can play it with a fish.

And finally, a quirky 1990s album is getting a fresh rerelease. Help was a hastily-assembled War Child charity compilation and featured tracks from Blur, Orbital, Portishead and Massive Attack. It had early OK Computer material, the first post-Richie Manics appearance, and a bizarre return by the long-deleted KLF under the pseudonym The One World Orchestra featuring The Massed Pipes and Drums of the Children's Free Revolutionary Volunteer Guards. The album's available to stream again in all its quirky glory.

Further Fats: My greatest idea once more crumbles to dust like a great big crumbly bit of dust (2010)