Feb 28, 2021

There is one John Cage joke and it is this:

John Cage

There is one John Cage joke.

The avant-garde US composer had a long and fascinating career, but he's best known for his 1952 composition 4′33″.

The whole thing with 4′33″ is that's it's silent. Four and a half minutes of nothing. That's the schtick he's known for, whether he liked it or not. Kenny G's got his saxophone, Cher's got her autotune, Eric Morecambe's got his glasses, and Cage had this weirdly silent record.

Of course, it's not silent. The record is actually a bunch of musicians sitting down in a room for a bit, not making any deliberate noise. What you're hearing is the sound of a room in which nothing much happens. 

But it's easier – and funnier – to think of 4′33″ as a silent record. Because then you get jokes like this in Viz:

John Cage joke in Viz

Let's zoom in:

John Cage joke in Viz

Hat tip to whoever I saw post about this online: the origin is lost in the depths of an infinitely scrolling timeline.

There are plenty of other similar cartoon jokes on the internet about this quietest of records. A pianist messing up the song by accidentally playing a single note. John Cage carol singers standing shtum in the snow. And this XKCD cartoon.

I'm not immune either. My show Seven Inch (March 17th tickets available here) has a silent John Cage joke. Of course it does. I leave no hack comedy stone unturned.

There's a bit in the show where I talk about lyrics. This gives me a repetition joke as I recite the ad infinitum inanity of the Black Eyed Peas' I Gotta Feeling (although I'm swapping this out for a different song at the March 17th show).

It also gives me a chance to recite the lyrics for John Cage's 4′33″. The joke is, of course, there are no lyrics: there's a whole load of nothing. Ha ha ha ha. So funny. Look at him standing in silence, confused. Sigh. It comes across as a special joke for music nerds, even though 4′33″ is stratospherically famous for a piece of experimental classical music.

This is the point in the blog post where I hilariously include a quote from John Cage about his famous work, but actually it's just a few blank lines. Ha ha bonk: you just laughed your head off.

Maybe I should do something in the show about the loudest song ever. Ten minutes of me yelling into a microphone, and then I explain that it was a tribute to AC/DC or The Who or one of those screamo metal bands that sounds like a malfunctioning washing machine.

Please don't leave a reply in the comments. It's what John Cage would have wanted.

Further Fats: Reviving my shrivelling grandma and getting out of my depth with Mahler (2007)

Feb 24, 2021

Warning! Dinosaurs are taking over the UK album chart!

A dinosaur and an album chart

You know that movie where Richard Attenborough breeds a load of dinosaurs and then they stomp all over a theme park while Jeff Goldblum from The Fly doesn't turn into a fly and Richard's all like 'screw this, I'm off to play Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street instead'?

Well, that exactly what's happening to the album charts.

The dinosaurs are taking over. Instead of the album charts being full of cool young bands like The Kneepads, Post Office Flip Flop Explosion or Digital Colostomy, it's packed with bands that have been around the block so many times, they've worn a groove in the pavement.

By the way, those cool young bands don't exist. I made them up.

Mint Royale pointed out that this week's album chart is full of incredibly old LPs because music fans are streaming the same favourites over and over again. "An Oasis compilation is getting enough steady streaming to probably just sit in the top 30 for ever," he says.

He's not wrong. The current number one album is brand new: Tyron by that cheeky scamp Slowthai has been around for precisely one week. But that's not typical. 60% of this week's top 100 has spent more than a year in the charts, which is a big rise on five years ago when it was just 35%.

Let's take a look at the longest-toothed dinosaurs in the current album chart. Here are the LPs sitting in the charts right now that have clocked up the most chart weeks since their release.

ABBA: Gold – Greatest Hits (981 weeks)
Bob Marley & the Wailers: Legend (965 weeks)
Queen: Greatest Hits (933 weeks)
Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (876 weeks)
Michael Jackson: Number Ones (483)
Oasis: What's The Story Morning Glory (476)
Eminem: Curtain Call – The Hits (449)
Amy Winehouse: Back To Black (411)
Oasis: Definitely Maybe (392)
Foo Fighters: Greatest Hits (392)

Just outside that tyrannosaur top ten? Time Flies 1994-2009, that aforementioned Oasis compilation which has spent 389 weeks in the album chart, 216 of those weeks consecutive.

This is theoretically fine. People are caning their favourite music, maybe having living room discos on Saturday nights while their pet dog looks on in confusion, and there's nothing wrong with that. You spin that old ABBA record, daddio.

However, these craggy dinosaurs will sell bucketloads of albums come rain, wind or scattered sunny spells. And they're clogging up the charts, reducing the number of chart opportunities for newer acts further down the pecking order: active bands who are writing and releasing fresh tunes in a Herculean effort to gain chart recognition.

Just a couple of blog posts ago I raved about the appearance of bleep techno in the hit parade and how it blew my tiny mind. I'm fascinated by new shiny things, like a magpie or a baby or a magpie looking at a baby. I don't want to delve into the latest album chart and see the same ancient faces with their expensive microphones and branded plectrums and anecdotes about how they met George Harrison once in a Tandy electronics shop. Serious yawn.

That's like searching on YouTube for bitcoin investment advice, or the Mars landing footage, or the latest Taskmaster challenge, and every time the only result that comes up is that bloke singing Chocolate Rain. Every time. Chocolate Rain. You try adding quote marks or searching in Welsh. No luck: just Chocolate Rain. You try the 'Contact Us' link to get help, and Mr Clippy pops up and starts singing Chocolate flipping Rain. You keep rocking those 2007 trends, daddio.

Mint Royale goes on to suggest that perhaps the album chart should be subject to ACR. This stands for Accelerated Chart Ratio: in the singles chart, this is used to weaken the chart position of songs if they've been around a while. It's a modern oddity that became necessary after Ed Sheeran almost monopolised the charts in 2017 in a move that even the Roman empire would have called "brazen".

I hope they sort it out soon. Otherwise the dinosaurs will continue to rampage unimpeded, and before we know it we've got a Lost World situation on our hands. And nobody wants Lost World.

More Fat Roland: No new electronica in the singles chart, repeat to fade (2009)

Even more Fat Roland: What's happening with the not-so-current current album chart? (2016)

Feb 22, 2021

Daft 'n' defunct: it's the end of Daft Punk

Daft Punk 1993 to 2021

Daft Punk broke.

I figured their batteries would never run out, or maybe they were eternally powered by Nile Rogers' electric guitar licks. Alas not. Daft Punk are no more. The duo has split up.

Their split announcement came in the form of a video in which one of them explodes in a desert and the other one's all like "hey, you just exploded in a desert so I'm gonna walk off now". Even though it's just a clip from their 2006 film Daft Punk's Electroma, it's a pretty devastating watch.

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter formed Daft Punk in 1993 after becoming disillusioned with guitar music. They got their name from a Melody Maker review that slammed their crappy rock band as "daft punky thrash".

The pair cemented their electronic music foundations when they hooked up with Stuart from Glasgow techno legends Slam, who signed them to his Soma Records and put out Da Funk. When Virgin Records came sniffing around, stratospheric success beckoned: platinum albums, oodles of Grammies, producing Kanye West, becoming actual French knights.

Maybe their greatest legacy is comedian Limmy's oft-repeated tweet "Check out Daft Punk's new single 'Get Lucky' if you get the chance. Sound of the summer." A gentle dig at their commerciality from a man who obviously knows the band's true origins: he has a pilled-up character whose catchphrase is "where's the Slam tent?", a reference to the aforementioned techno Glaswegians who discovered Daft Punk.

Daft Punk are responsible for one of my strangest clubbing experiences, as recounted in this blog post:

"When I saw Daft Punk DJ at Sankeys Soap back in the 1990s, a French stranger tried to roll my torso like plasticine while saying 'wide boy, wide boy'."

In all fairness to the glad-handed Gaul, he looked absolutely mortified. He bumbled off pretty promptly, no doubt in search of that elusive Slam tent.

Daft Punk's output was one of diminishing returns. At one end of their career, Homework was astonishing, an abrasive analogue assault with crowd-pleasing sass. At the other end of their career, Random Access Memories was pretty rank. In 2013 I criticised its "awful MOR pop" and the "horrible, horrible rest"

It gave them their only number one single and studio album, indeed one of the best-selling singles in UK chart history, but it dented their reputation forever. Which is saying something considering their commerciality had never been a problem previously, such as getting sponsored to only wear Gap clothing, or hawking Star Wars merch for Adidas, or having Coca Cola launch something called Daft Coke (!).

Despite this slow eroding of their underground cool, they delivered a career highlight in 2010 with their superb Tron Legacy soundtrack, an album I once cautiously predicted would be "at least ten per cent better than the Moomins film". No, I don't remember a Moomins film either. It's most probably my favourite film soundtrack, despite the movie itself being rather eggy.

Here's something else you might not remember: Thomas Bangalter gave us Music Sounds Better with You as Stardust, a top ten smash from 1998. Not only that, with his work on Bob Sinclair's workout-sampling Gym Tonic, later covered with great success by Spacedust (no relation), he's partially responsible for a zillion house music videos with lycra-clad dancers. Put those leg warmers away, Madonna.

Daft Punk lit a tricolour touchpaper under the backside of dance music, showing that you could produce club-credible tracks and still appeal to a mass audience. Although they didn't quite roll and scratch as they used to, I'm gutted about their demise. Salut, boys.

Feb 14, 2021



I was thinking today about how much of an incendiary bomb LFO by LFO was.

The single was Warp Records' first big hit, peaking at number 12 in the UK charts in August 1990, wedged between Timmy Mallett and Craig McLachlan from Neighbours.

"We'd just been messing around with drum machines since we were, like, thirteen, tapping away at them like they were arcade games," said LFO's Mark Bell.

And that's what it sounds like. Computer-y. Geometric. Made of pixels. It was kind of house music, which had been around for a while, but lacked any sass. No diva was going to start wailing over this kind of club sound. 

This was a track from a Leeds band, released on a Sheffield label. Is this relevant? I think it is. I'm tired of lazy generalisations about "the north" but there's no way this would have sounded as good if it was made in London. It needed a Yorkshire dourness: a sense of the industrial. After the burst of yellow smiley colour that was the rave explosion, LFO seemed to be built from actual scaffolding. Structural and metallic; absolutely clanging. 

Also they said "LFO" in the track. They were called LFO, they named their single LFO, the lyrics were "LFO". What a statement of intent. Tricky Disco's Tricky Disco, which was a hit at the same time, pulled the same stunt, a chirpy and childish "tricky disco!" spicing up the bleeps. That's like Orbital chanting "Orbital!" right in the middle of Chime, which they'd need to rename Orbital.

LFO spent one week at the giddy heights of number 12 in the charts: it would go on to sell 130,000 records, solidifying Warp's future and beginning a whole new chapter in electronic music history. Mark Bell would go on to produce Björk, helping move her from a spiky popster into a baroque techno experimentalist on Homogenic.

What replaced LFO at number 12 the following week? Together's Hardcore Uproar, the legacy of which should probably be saved for another blog post.

As the Pharisees attacked Jesus, and so it was that pop music fought back against LFO. In the second half of the 1990s, a band called the Lyte Funky Ones appeared. They shortened their name to LFO, thereby confusing everyone forever. I hated them. These New England popsters were NKOTB wannabes who were about as techno as a Barbie doll head on a spike. 

Actually that's quite techno. I may need to think that analogy. 

Within a month of (the proper) LFO's commercial success, Timmy Mallett would top the charts, followed by the Steve Miller Band's The Joker which I think is one of the worst songs ever written. Vanilla Ice would try the eponymous lyric thing by saying "Ice, Ice baby" but it would sound all wrong.

Good old LFO. Have a listen here.

Further Fats: My Warp top ten: it's not all Warp and there aren't ten of them (2009)

Further Fats: Fat Roland's wonderful Warp Records word search (2020)

Feb 7, 2021

Electronic Sound issue 73: for the last time, please do NOT look at the ostrich

A cartoon ostrich as described in the text

I didn't want to have to do this, but for issue 73 of Electronic Sound magazine, I go on strike. And there's my illustration of a confused ostrich. With a piece of paper on its back for some reason. Ignore the ostrich. THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE OSTRICH.

In my column, I rail against the readers and demand that they write this month's article themselves. It's been a long time coming. Stupid readers with their stupid money that pays our stupid wage. Oh. Wait. Dammit.

I'm not really on strike, of course. It's a fiction maintained for comedic effect. In the same way I spent a week after new year dressed as Mr Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street using only crepe paper and taramasalata. I wasn't the real Mr Snuffleupagus. I was maintaining a fiction.

In the same edition, you will find my reviews of the latest albums by Haroon Mirza and Jack Jelfs (something botanical about the croaking synths"), Emeka Ogboh ("bursts with life") and veteran ambient producer Tim Story ("oodles of acoustic space").

There is also stuff in issue 73 not written by me, if you can believe such a thing. Elsewhere there's an interview with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, a short story by John Foxx of Ultravox fame, and a piece about Langham Research Centre and their tape manipulation exploits.

There's also a great section dedicated to limited edition record releases, including Aphex Twin's ultra-rare Analogue Bubblebath 5, a bizarrely truncated Boards Of Canada tune for Record Store Day 2013, and that one-off Wu-Tang Clan album that was bought by pill-pushing fraudster Martin Shkreli.

The design of the magazine is another triumph. Plain black text on a plain white background, like the mind control signs from They Live, only classier. Sunglasses on, folks. OBEY. CONSUME. BUY ISSUE 73 OF ELECTRONIC SOUND.

I must go. Blogger spell check is not recognising the word "Snuffleupagus" nor the word "taramasalata". I'm off to write a strongly-worded letter to Ms B Logger, who owns Blogger, about a lax attitude to Greek meze and feathered mammoths.

Electronic Sound issue 73 Fat Roland blog

Further Fats: