Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Buggles - One of the most important british bands ever?

I have this theory. The Buggles are one of the most important bands that Great Britain has ever produced. Bear with me on this one, after all this is the great country that produced The Smiths, Black Sabbath, The Beatles, The Cure, The Sex Pistols, PJ Harvey, The Slits, and an endlessly long list of groups to follow on from that. Despite the one hit The Buggles are very much an anomaly. The reasons behind the name of the band and title of their first album alone are bizzare. The name coming from a strange vision of a mad scientist creating fake alternate versions of famous bands (The Buggles -The Beatles) and the album 'The age of plastic' a reference to the band being a 'plastic group'. The Buggles may have actually foreseen the modern era where interchangeable DJ's and talent show starts rule the airwaves. I'm not saying that The Buggles are not one of the most important British bands because of the incredible success Trevor Horn gained as a hit song producer since then or the fact that the duo's time in YES helped the prog giants survive during one of the odder periods of their history.
What made the Buggles special is the joyful silliness of many of their songs. The song titles on their début album alone are as gleefully deranged as the music with in. 'Johnny on the monorail', 'Kid Dynamo', 'I love you (miss robot)' and 'clean clean' are more than just pointless exercises in silliness but also subtly clever pop songs that take in elements of 'techno-pop', new wave, post punk and even progressive rock. 'Video killed the radio star' and one of the follow up singles 'Elstree' both share a nostalgia for a Britain that they may have barely remembered.
I'm saying that The Buggles are important and influential because there is an odd trend in the UK for bands who are as clever as they are silly. A trend which has peaked over the past decade with British bands such as Django Django, (early) Calvin Harris, Hot Chip, Metronomy, Glass Animals, Public Service Broadcasting, Teleman, Everything Everything, Alt-J, Dutch Uncles, Wild Beasts, LA Priest, Superfood, The 1975
and many more.
I see a similar mix of silliness, cleverness, genre mixing and Englishness in many of the bands I mentioned above. PSB's dancing spacemen, Glass Animals' pineapple fetish, Django Django's Hawaiian shirts, Metronomy's fake girl vocals, and pretty much everything about Hot Chip are reminiscent of what The Buggles started on their 1980 début. The bands I love most are those can be clever without being pretentious, fun yet self aware. I believe that more so than Talking Heads, or Sparks, this is something The Buggles have helped influence. The Buggles were so ahead of their time that they helped kill the radio star themselves. 'Video Killed The Radio Star' was famously the first music video to be played on MTV, scoring their only hit in the USA years after it was first released in the UK. It seems fitting that this slightly obscure band from the early 80's sound in far better company amongst today's indie bands than the new wave bands that succeeded them.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Interview with Figure.09

For the past few year or so I've been covering Crime and Punishment 2011 on this blog. The birmingham group make an eclectic mix of grime, electronica and heavy metal. one of the groups founder members Dan is going solo and releasing his solo début 'Casket' on September 1st. Much like his solo career this interview is a bit more serious than the often hilarious ramblings that made up my interviews with Crime and punishment 2011. 

Dan: I feel like I’ve proper calmed down, compared to when I first started Crime & Punishment 2011. I feel like I’ve progressed both musically and as a human. Which is nice. I feel like I’m definitely a lot calmer and not someone who’s making ridiculous statements anymore. Its nice to be a be a bit more chill and just be myself.
Me so is that what the album’s about? Being more chill being more yourself?
Dan: Not necessarily. A running theme of the album is believing in yourself and not really caring what other people think of you. I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people to be honest.  I think some people are going to listen to some of the songs and think is the same person who was spitting on FUBAR or rucksack or whatever. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by the song Joe’s on Joe’s showed a side of him that I don’t think a lot of people knew he had.
Me: so it’s not just Joe screaming?
Dan: no, he’s doing more spoken word stuff. When I showed my other half the song we did she cried so that was sick. This is definitely my most honest work.
Me: I could tell when I saw you perform some of these songs At The Sunflower Lounge that these were more personal songs and that one of them was very specifically about your other half.
Dan: Well one of them was, each song is about a very specific subject. Like one song is just about love in general. Obviously I’ve got some songs that are just about me being a sick MC and then there are some songs that are just, like, dealing with darkness and stuff.
Me: Is it the same themes that you’d get with Crime and Punishment 2011?
Dan: To be honest no, not really. There are a couple of songs on there that could have been crime and punishment songs if Joe had been on them.  But that’s just because it’s the kind of music that I like to listen to. I’m trying to make each song on this as different as possible. Obviously, Salem Witch Trials came out 3 or 4 days ago and the response to that has been a lot better than I expected. But to be honest it hasn’t really set the tone for the whole album. I’ve tried to make it as much like a proper album as possible, like I’ve put a couple of skits in there. There’s three main themes on the album. Frustration at the world, not feeling like you can be yourself and appreciating what you’ve got around you. When I heard about Chester Bennington it made me feel that I needed to Put these songs on the album. Like one songs called Treehouse, that is a song I wrote but then didn’t want to record because I thought I might offend, well not offend but it does concern many opinions that people close to me have had about my musical endeavours and its kind of me just saying like ‘fuck you’ I’m not going to be offended by what people think of me. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cunt in some band, who I don’t like or if you’re my best friend. I think a lot of it’s going to really surprise people.  I’m trying to do this as properly as possible. Crime and Punishment is in no way dead, I think it’s good that were having this downtime because when we come back I think we will be stronger. If someone comes away from the album feeling an emotion then I feel I will have done my job.

After this we talked at length about Dan's new change to vegetarianism and about the music that inspires him. He admits to taking 'quite a bit of inspiration' from XXXTENTACION, and while he's not really into 'the soundcloud rap thing' he thinks it's good that 'people are being more open with themselves'. He cites other UK artists such as Manga St Hilare and Dave as being influences and while he isn't tying himself down to grime the next single off 'Casket' most likely be 'Dragon' which is the grimiest song on the record. The production has been mostly handled by Crime & Punishment 2011's Jason 'Pink Violence' Tyler and while the album will initially be released on Bandcamp he is later aiming to push it further and have it on major streaming platforms soon.

Black Mekon - One In the Hate. Album review

Well this is a surprise. After the success of their brilliantly retro, and yet somehow very forward thinking '45 consortium' subscription service, each month you get a split 7" with Black Mekon and another band, recent ones have included Table Scraps and Bob Log the Third. They've bucked their own trend and released another whole album. Sometimes you know an album is going to be great just by looking at the track-list. 'One in the hate' features such gems as 'Janey was a klepto', 'Frank died hanging from an electric fence', 'hold on to your hate', and 'I just really wanna be your man'. Whatever fantastic stories 'Janey and Frank have might be a bit hard to make out as Black Mekon's vocals are distorted and scuzzy as everything else on the rest of this 26 minute long album. Black Mekon tap into the same mentality that made rock' n roll exciting in the first place. Nothing here extends beyond 2 and a half minutes and everything demands to be played as loud as humanly possible. That it sounds as if it was recorded on an old Nokia only makes it better. Every track is clearly performed live and put straight on the record. You can hear the buzz of the guitar strings, the smashes and clashes of the drums and the rumble of the bass. 'Roman Wonder' is the blues as it was meant to be played. The slide guitar sounds as if it's barely been tuned, and the other riffs just repeat over and over. Black Mekon take a pause for a few seconds breath on 'Salt Liquor' which only adds to the feeling that this album was finished in one take. 'Hold on to your hate' is so stripped back that it doesn't even have the drums and bass backing it. 'Rats out' is so stripped back it barely has vocals on it. 'Fresh Hell' features the inevitable harmonica, and the sound of the bands instruments falling apart under the stress of being thrashed over the past 20 minutes. If you like the blues pure and authentic then you'll probably hate this album. If you like rock n roll noisy, loud and off the chain then you'll love this to death.


Eat Me, Institutes + Fun Sponge. Live at Subside review (23/8/17)

Another free show at Subside on a Wednesday night began with an acoustic singer songwriter named James Leese, singing his heart out to the handful of present punters. I didn't catch much of his set but I was impressed by the passion of his performance. Next up was Fun Sponge (6/10). A delightfully ramshackle duo who describe themselves as 'rock music for kids who cry after sex'. Their music is mostly short sharp blasts of punk-ish rock 'n roll. With song titles such as 'Fuck you' and 'Cuckold' they clearly don't take themselves seriously, but they make a fuck load of noise and seem to have a lot of fun doing it. Which is what this whole rock 'n roll thing is about isn't it?
Despite the crap name Institutes (6.8) are one of the most interesting bands I've seen from Birmingham in a while. They remind me of some other Birmingham bands such as Peace or Editors, yet I still feel that they've crafted a sound of their own. Using an armada of effects pedals Institutes created a huge wall of sound and ended the show with screeching feedback. They've got a similar feel to some of Foals more recent material. They've got that same, murky, sweaty feel to some of their songs, which is only added to by the chiming tropical sounding guitars. It's rare that a new band will appear so fully formed.
Eat Me (8/10) are now probably one of my favourite bands. Which is why I was a bit disappointed to see that few people had come out to see them. This was a shame as Eat Me were on top form. They seemed pretty unfased at the lack of a crowd, and decided to have a good time anyway. At one point their singer said "thanks so much, you guys are all standing up, thats so cool!". He also had a description for almost every song and what it was about. For example, the song mumble is 'about when people can't understand what your saying'. Some other songs were described as being 'dedicated to all those who prefer less clothes', and 'for anyone who's too immature for the person they're in love with'. Despite the sarcasm and mock posh accents Eat Me are a genuinely great band. They have a complete disregard for convention, playing the relatively simple genre of slacker rock with carefree abandon. Their songs regularly change direction, pace and time signature's within their three minutes. It takes a special level of skill to sound as off the wall as Eat Me do. The more gigs like this they play the more attention they'll hopefully get. 


Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Flapper & why it needs to be saved.

The venue formerly known as the Flapper and Firkin has been my favourite of all Birmingham's dwindling number of music venues for a few years now.  It's on the canal-side opposite the Barclaycard arena. I remember getting lost twice trying to find the place. The fact that there are no directions to it, and that it's hidden behind a block of flats only makes it cooler somehow. A secret retreat for those in the know. Inside the Flapper is one of the few pubs left that has a rock n roll spirit. The walls are proudly decorated with framed posters from shows gone by and black velvet skull wallpaper. It's got a smoking balcony, a pool table, two pinball machines, and the soundtrack is rock 'n roll played loud. The flapper boasts a nice array of beers on trap and in bottles as well as a delightfully eccentric motley crue of bartenders to serve them. There is no carvery but pizza can be ordered straight to your table. Outside you'll find a canal-side area which is the perfect place to sit by and watch the world go by during the summertime.
The real highlight is downstairs, where opposite the toilets is an empty black room that was probably once a cellar. This is a room that has hosted countless bands. Last week I was in this room as a sold out Milk Teeth turned the place into a sauna. The small room had sweat dripping from the walls, and a crowd that surfed, moshed and sang along to every song. the same happened at many other shows I have seen here. Some shows have been much less packed or rowdy. But if you ask any band where they began. They will say that they played in a small grass roots venue. After all where would On a Friday, Starfish, or Feedback have played before they became Radiohead, Coldplay and U2? In the case of the Flapper, it was Editors who became a huge deal off the back of those early Flapper shows. The corporate owned venues littered throughout the UK don't give bands the chance to play so early on in their careers or give fans a chance to interact with them.  An oft-stated statistic has shown that The UK has lost 40% of it's live venues over the past decade. In Birmingham we have lost The Adam and Eve and The Rainbow recently and the scene has suffered for it. The Flapper is special because it excels as both a pub and a live venue. It has an atmosphere that can't be matched by the various academies that litter our country. Personally I will be gutted if we lose The Flapper too. As anyone can tell you pubs are not always just retail spaces that are licensed to serve alcohol. Much like the Hare and hounds The Flapper is special because it is both a great pub and a fantastic live venue. It's where I have made friends and later cemented those friendships. Its where I've seen live shows that helped define my early adulthood. a part of me in in The Flapper and if it's knocked down to make flats then a part of me dies with it. Gentrification of this sort only benefits those who make the money off it. Gleaming tall towers make a city a pretty place to visit, but not a nice place to live. Culture is important and should be protected regardless of what form it comes in. Please sign and share the link below and spread the message to everyone.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Milk Teeth, Employed to Serve, Wallflower. Live at The Flapper (27/7/17) Review

London's Wallflower (6.4/10) are similar to a lot of bands I've seen lately who play an earnest type of rock music that doesn't seem to have a name yet. Grungey yet melodic, introspective but not entirely emo. I think I'll call them 'post-emo'. Much like an actual wallflower, their music is pretty yet doesn't draw much attention to itself. They make an impressive wall of sound together and they do a good job of being melodic yet heavy at the same time.
Having never heard of Employed to Serve (7.6) before this show I was expecting another pop punk or emo band so I was pleasantly surprised to hear a barrage of ear destroying death metal. Suddenly the crowd's divide between hairy tattooed metal-heads and sullen teenage girls made perfect sense. ETS' guitarist said that he wanted to 'see some movement!' otherwise we might as well have all stayed home. The crowd in the Flapper happily obliged and started a circle pit, crowd-surfed and split in to a wall of death. ETS have all the trademarks of a great death metal* band. The guitar solos, thundering drums, gloriously doomy detuned riffs and screamed vocals. It was a surprise discovering that their singer is female half way through the show. With all the chaos going on I didn't really get a good look at the band. Their singer said that she was happy to have been included as the support on this tour and that more shows should have this much variety. I can't help but agree.
Last time I saw Milk Teeth (8) they were headlining The Sunflower Lounge. Becky wasn't present and Josh Bannister** had to make do as the singer. After (now defunct brummie hopefuls) Curb left the stage only a handful of punters were left. Milk Teeth coped well, but without Becky they were a pretty standard screamo band. This is why I was surprised to see Milk Teeth go from strength to to strength since then, becoming one of the UK's best and hottest new rock bands in the coming months. Milk Teeth at the Flapper was a different story, with a sold out crowd and the walls already dripping with sweat. Milk Teeth took to the stage with the lights off and after a short intro of samples, including the star wars theme and Smash Mouth. Milk Teeth launched right into their last single 'owning your okayness', which inspired a sing-along and crowd surge. Things kicked off even more with 'Brickwork' starting mosh-pits and the shouted refrain "all the words that you said left a hole in the back of my head". Things calmed down for the quieter 'Swear Jar' which once again the crowd knew all of the words too. 'Melon' led to a quick cover of the Foo Fighters classic 'Everlong' which fit intro the set perfectly. At some point in the show Milk teeth claimed at some point that this was the favourite show they'd ever played with faulty gear. Things sounded fine from where I was standing.
Becky introduced Milk Teeth's most recent single by explaining why Milk Teeth's new EP is called 'Be nice' (which was written in neon lights on the bands amps). She talked about how no one really knew what was going on in Chester Bennington's mind in his last weeks, but it would have helped if were were all just a bit nicer to each other. It's easy to see why Milk Teeth are becoming one of the UK's most loved bands. The new songs are some of the best they've written yet. the closing track from the new EP 'Hibernate' closed the show. Part slow acoustic number, part heavy rock song. It made for a great climax to a fun and very sweaty show.

Sadly the venue in which this and many more brilliant shows have happened is facing closure. If we don't succeed in keeping it open. It will become another hotel/block of flats. If you don't want to lose this treasured venue. Please sign, share and donate here.

*I'm sorry if I've got this wrong but I really don't care that much about heavy metal sub-genres 
**Who has since left the band

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mercury Prize 2017: Opinion

In case you didn't already know, The Mercury Prize is kind of a big deal. As it's own website states "It is the music equivalent to the Booker Prize for literature and the Turner Prize for art". For over  20 years it has been awarded to albums from the UK that have best captured the Zeitgeist. I look to the Mercury Prize to discover new music. Yet only one artist this year is unfamiliar to me. I'm just going to come out and admit it, this years list sucks. It's predictable, dull and just disappointing. I'm torn between anger and remembering that awards ceremonies really aren't worth getting angry about (even if you are nominated). Its worth remembering that in order to be eligible for the list artists have to submit roughly £200 and have their music available both physically, and on major download sites. Even so it feels that a lot has been missed out.

The Jazz Wild Card
This years token Jazz album (I'm assuming) comes from a group called Dinosaur. As I know little about jazz I cannot comment much. However it feels a bit disheartening that after Jazz's current explosion into being cool again in the US. In the UK it's still a niche genre, albeit one of the most vibrant and eclectic ones there is. I look forward to discovering what this band have to offer.

The Usual Suspects 
At this point The XX, and Alt- J have both won the prize and are being nominated for the 3rd time. The problem is that while both bands début albums were worthy prize winners, neither bands 3rd albums break new ground. 'Relaxer' is an awkward listen that has none of the coherency of their previous work. 'I see you' is equally as good as either of The XX's previous releases, but by now I've heard it all before. Kate Tempest's 'Let them eat chaos' is her boldest, darkest, and most overtly political yet. It's one of my favourites for this years prize. Yet considering that her début 'Everybody Down' was also nominated and that she was one of the judges last year. I'm not surprised to see her nominated this year.

The Urban Selection
I might be one of the few who is willing to say this, but I felt that Stormzy's début album 'Gang signs and prayer' was a massive disappointment. The album felt very uneven, a mix of hard-hitting grime anthems, mixed in with softer love songs. The problem was in that showing his maturity, Stormzy lost his edge. GS&P was a showcase of Stormzy's harder and softer sides, showing that he is the new star of grime, yet at the same time outgrowing it. I have to admit i've not heard either of the albums by J Hus or Loyle Carner. Yet the one album that feels absent is Wiley's late career masterpiece 'Godfather'. After Skepta's win last year it seems odd that the prize has snubbed grime for more mainstream hip hop sounds.

2017 is the year that in the US, Hip-Hop overtook rock as the most popular music genre. Indie rock has been the bed-rock of 'guitar music' for some time now and if Blossoms and the Big Moon are the best that the UK can offer right now then the genre is surely in dire straights. The former being a soulless revival of 90's brit-pop with 70's prog keyboards. The latter being a fun yet immediately forgettable indie rock racket. If the Big Moon deserve a nomination it's for album they've made with Marika Hackman. My hatred for Ed Sheeran has given way to more of an indifference in recent years. My girlfriend likes Ed Sheeran, so rather than ranting about him (again). I shall state that there is an award for Ed Sheeran. Its called the Brit's.

The Hopefulls
Now that that's all over with there are only three albums at the time of writing which I want to see win the Mercury Prize in 2017. The first is by Glass Animals. While I don't rate them as highly as bands such as Django Django. Glass Animals have done a good job of continuing the trend of British  bands who are both clever and fun. They're a bit too 'topshop indie' for my taste, but I respect their eclectic nature. I'd happily see Kate Tempest walk away with an award for 'Let Them Eat Chaos. Yet my favourite album by far that's been nominated this year is the début from Sampha.
In a decade that is packed full of R&B, Alternative R&B, Neo-soul and whatever else. Sampha has managed to stand out from the crowd with an album that is deeply personal and emotional yet boldly experimental. Sampha stands out as being the UK's own Frank Ocean.

The albums in my order of preference 

Sampha - 'Process'
Kate Tempest - 'Let Them Eat Chaos'
Glass Animals - 'How to Be a Human Being'
J Hus - 'Common Sense'
Loyle Carner - 'Yesterday’s Gone'
The xx - 'I See You'
alt-j - 'Relaxer'
Dinosaur - 'Together, As One'
Stormzy - 'Gang Signs & Prayer'
The Big Moon - 'Love in the 4th Dimension'
Blossoms - 'Blossoms'
Ed Sheeran - '÷'

The albums I'd like to have seen nominated

Wiley - Godfather
Mr Jukes - God First
Roger Waters - Is this the life we really want?
Mura Masa - S/T

Bugzy Malone - King of the North
Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley
Harry Styles - S/T (yes, really)
Wesley Gonzalez - Excellent Musician
Idles - Brutalism 
Ride - Weather Diaries 
Slowdive- S/T
Creeper - Eternity, in your arms
Formation - Look at the powerful people (this is the best album of the year in my opinion, why has no one else heard it?)
Pumarosa - The Witch
Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales - Room 29