October 2009 Archives
I reluctantly went along to a John Peel Day event in Central London a few weeks back. Commemorating the death of the great radio broadcaster five years ago to the month. I say reluctantly, the past few events I'd been to just seemed to be an excuse to trundle out endless indie nonsense.
I was honoured to know John and spent many hours in his company courtesy of the Peel Sessions at BBC Maida Vale, something I attended with alarming frequency due to my locality. Add to that, the infrequent record shopping trips in Soho and endless banter over e-mail and phone and I'm honoured to say he became a friend.
Of course I'm not going to pretend to be even remotely cool and laid back about it. It was a total buzz to know him like this. Having immersed myself in his personality and the music as a teenager, learning to understand that I wasn't meant to like everything on the show, even though he did. Providing a musical lifeline when our family upped sticks and moved to the countryside. My measurement of how good the area is was based on the number of decent record shops operating (Shropshire had fuck all). Needless to say I didn't hang around for too long.
To go from being a listener to being a regular contact on the show once he embraced e-mail to ending up inside Studio MV4 was pretty thrilling. So his death, which fell on the day before my birthday, left me totally floored and even though time has helped, I still find it difficult to retain composure if I think about John too much (hence my reluctance to previously blog about it).
So the question I initially had was how to commemorate him, this has now changed to should we even bother?
His former employees, the BBC, have pretty much abandoned the idea of commemorating John and his work and despite my initial anger at this decision, clarity from a former colleague of his did seem to make sense. The BBC and in particular Radio 1 has changed dramatically since the passing of John. Partly due to the media landscape and partly due to the BBC itself.
Add to the fact that Radio 1 just simply doesn't speak to me anymore. Yes, I'm 36 years old, yes I hate most youth music and yes I spent a tortuous week listening to the bloody thing before I made that comment. The conclusion that I can come to is that the BBC aren't probably the best people to handle this task. Their idea of commemorating him would probably have amounted to them playing 'Teenage Kicks' on a loop.
So what of the youth? Scanning the past few years worth of events, the endless MurdochSpace pages and listening to a shower of crummy online samples, I've come to the observation that most of these nights were simply your bog-standard indie night thinly disguised as commemorative tribute. Amusingly almost all used the same phrase along the lines of 'music that we're sure John would approve of'.
Just to be absolutely clear (and for those unfortunate enough not to know) John's shows were not just about indie music. Statistically speaking, dance labels like Planet Mu were higher up the rankings in terms of number of weekly plays. John's love of black music (reggae, roots, dancehall), electronic, techno, metal (death, speed, black and doom) and more recently the feverish movements of Dubstep and Grime meant that his shows retained an air of diversity. Not only in terms of musical substance, but also in terms of geographical origin and race.
I think my main problem with indie music is that I just find it a tad too....white.
Ultimately, the more I hear other people's idea's of what they think John will like, the more I miss him and his shows. Next time, I'll ignore these attempts at alignment and I'll just replay the personal tribute that I have in my head.
John Peel, 30 August 1939 – 25 October 2004
The other medium which had stacked up since the days of Absorb's demise (the online electronic music magazine I ran for 10 years) is music-related DVD's. I have enough problems applying words to music, but words to music AND pictures? Anyway, here's a stab at a few that have been around for a while. Most of these are out-of-print and therefore difficult to get hold of. But some of the more esoteric online retailers might have them in stock.
David Toop: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (Sub Rosa) - DVD released January 2009
Directed by Guy-Marc Hinant and Dominique Lohlé
The premise is pretty simple, point a camera at musician / journalist / author David Toop in his living room at his North London house, let him play records and then talk about them. And it being David Toop, it's an intriguing selection, initially exploring field recordings from remote locations. From Felix Hess's amazing capture of frog chorus to Toop's own encounter of Shamanistic rituals. Moving onto free jazz and improv with AMM before arriving at Bo Diddley. One stand out moment is the surreal space age pop of Dean Elliot and his Big Band from 1963. He finally ends up making a link between outsider Rockabilly musician Hasil Adkins and Pan Sonic.
Toop's delivery is very plain and matter-of-factly which serves the documentary well as it allows the music to stand out. The moments when the screen turns black so we are left to focus on the music is a nice touch and even though you (and Toop) are left exhausted by the end of it, it's a pretty intimate and enlightening experience.
Crossing The Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (Soda) - DVD released September 2006
Directed by Fatih Akin
Acclaimed Turkish film-maker Fatih Akin ('Head On', 'The Edge of Heaven') introduces the music of Turkey and specifically the city of Istanbul through the eyes of a foreigner. In this case its Alexander Hacke, bass player of the influential German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten. Armed with a PowerBook and a multitude of microphones, Alex proves to be a thoroughly agreeable host. Enthused with seeking out the familiar and the strange from this most fertile musical ground.
From street-lit electronica courtesy of Orient Expressions, to the post-rock "civilised noise" of the Replikas (who opened for Sonic Youth when they played Turkey). There's also a startling look at Turkish hip-hop from the remarkable Ceza. My favourite sequence by far is when he meets street band Siya Siyabend. Having seen them play in the exact same location as featured on the documentary and hearing what they have to say about the city and the conviction of their art, I found them highly engaging and their music to be incredibly emotional.
He ends with some big-hitters, a stunning 'unplugged' performance from Bağlama king Orhan Gencebay to the undisputed queen of Turkish pop; Sezen Aksu. This is unquestionably the best audio-tourism documentary ever made.
Ø - Aste (Sahko) - LP originally released 1993, re-pressed May 2006
Ø - Metri (Sahko) - LP originally released 1993, re-pressed June 2005
Ø is Mika Vainio's (of Pan Sonic fame) solo project and these two records are startling for the fact that they are now over 16 years old! The thick weighty dollops of sub-bass that underpin just about every track on 'Aste' is the motif that gives it its character. Leaving Mika to flirt and tweak with a vast array of electrically-charged sounds on top. Namely crisp, razor-sharp percussion, elastic melodies and diffused effects. Most notable on subdued numbers like the astonishing 'Sukeltava'. The album ends on two weightless pieces that dissolve the 4/4 into the ether and jettison you into inner space.
On 'Metri', the ping-ping oscillation of the amusingly titled 'Twin Bleebs' is incredibly hypnotic and on the right systems, menacingly manevolent. The sinewave abyss of 'JL-CSG 1' instantly reminded me of the sort of tonal destruction that the likes of Hecker & Haswell are investigating. Seems that my memories of this when it first came out were obviously cloudy, as I don't recall the album being this dancefloor friendly. Tracks like 'Lasi' and 'Hion' sound like straight up acid techno and push this impenetrable looking but massively influental record into more accessible realms. If you don't have it then please don't bother reading my blog anymore.
Frank Bretscheider: Rhythm (Raster Noton) - LP originally released 2007
Now that I have this on vinyl (as opposed to illegally downloaded MP3) I feel that I can justify a review and proclaim this to be the best techno record ever. I've had the MP3 version since it came out and never realised that the entire album was broken up into seperate tracks. So the bit that I previously referred to as "Blips'n Bleeps Drum Break" or whatever is actually called 'We can remember it for you wholesale'. It's dressed up in the usual Raster-Noton clobber but is really here to dance, nuggets like the insanely sub-bass heavy 'Other Days Other Eyes' are pure electro-diode funk. As has been said elsewhere, you really need to play this loud, all the way up to 1011 (that's 11 in binary by the way).
Hello! Will start to pick up reviews this month after a lengthy hiatus, also new podcast and some live bits (yes, I actually managed to leave Muswell Hill occasionally....)
B12: Practopia (B12) - 12" originally released June 2007
B12: Slope (B12) - 12" originally released June 2007
Never was wholly convinced by B12, their commital to the Detroit via Essex school of techno was admirable, but I never found myself warming to their music. Their label showcased some great artists, notably Stasis and the ever-prolific Kirk DeGiorgio, but their own records sounded way too sterile and clinical for my tastes. It lacked the street-level grit that I got with stuff from across the pond.
'Practopia' is considered to be their 'lost' record, the one that was supposed to be released way back in '95 and like anything that apes the Motor City blueprint, it sounds like it could have come from any time. Beige-box rhythms that function rather than fill and a range of synthetic moods from futurist-optimism to sombre solitude.
'Slope' is their first new material in about a decade and actually see's the duo in 'fun, fun, fun!' mode. A bouncy, melodically-happy riff twangs and bends to its own accord against, the B-sides aren't very good. I'm actually a bit lost now, considering I started this review with the aim of knocking down B12 a peg or two. They've gone and ruined things by releasing not one but two decent records. Fuckers.
Various Artists - Polymorphik Piece I/III (PuZZling Rec) - 12" originally released October 2004
Took ages to work our what this blank, unmarked promo was for years. And now that I have, I wish I hadn't bothered. Adolescent throwaway breakcore bullshit from Belgium. Only the partially amusing 'Levis Paf & Edit Press Lay' by Etschaberry provided a smirk. The unfortunately titled 'Paki' by Rony & Suzy, however, didn't.
Ammo / Szkieve - Perturbacée / Terra Amata (Ad Noiseam) - 12" originally released April 2002
Attractive picturedisc with two lengthy slabs of dark ambience. Its got teeth but doesnt really bite. And instantly forgettable as soon as its off.