Sunday, February 15, 2015
Monday, December 22, 2014
At risk of turning this into an old raver's obituary column (see Frankie Knuckles), I belatedly wanted to mark their passing with a quick comment on their invaluable and distinctive contributions. Spaceape's doom-laden rhymes lit up Kode 9's productions from the first beatless Sign of the Dub (a serendipitous spot in HMV if ever there was one), and bought coherence to the nascent dubstep scene with their Memories of the Future album. Spaceape went on to work with the likes of Burial, Martyn and The Bug.
Mark Bell had a leading role in techno, either with Gez Varley or as a lone producer and remixer for the likes of Bjork and !!!, ever since the timeless combination of LFO's sub-bass, bleeps, 909s and synths first hit the airwaves. Yet that #LFOXmas Number 1 plan was a somewhat incongruous scheme to mark the underground don's passing though!
Thursday, September 04, 2014
Match of the Had Its Day?
We all have our rituals round it whether based on sober analysis (better analysis than the ex-pros), interacting with others on social media about worthy phenomena or boozed up ranting at the teams we hate or the mistakes one of ours made. There is still way too much analysis and not enough highlights, but the programme deserved its half-century appraisal. And Lineker, when avoiding the cheap gags, seems a pretty competent anchor to take the programme forward.
What jarred with me was one of the key features of the show – Aguero and that goal on 93m20s, 13 May 2012 – because in reality it shows the waning cultural influence a programme like Match of the Day has over a major football event. So they showed Kun talking his way through it, and Guy Mowbray’s reflection on his commentary that day. But that is not how we generally remember it – we remember the Sky Sports commentary by Martin Tyler. Such a biased commentator, the strangulated Aguerrrooooo is part anguish because one of his favoured top teams were deprived the title, but it is the key aural component of that moment.
That’s not just because Sky had live coverage of the game, it’s because his voiceover is generally what’s on the clips peppered round YouTube. This may be a reflection of Tyler coming up with the memorable phrases - #drinkitin and #youwillneverseeanythinglikethiseveragain - but is more likely to do with the sway Sky Sports has over the nation; people think of them first. Even an acknowledged cretin like Paul Merson delivered something to stick in the memory with his ‘lovebites and everything’ line. Indeed, SlySpores not only has the live games market locked down, but there are many football watchers who get their highlights kick from Sky’s own highlights package, which is not only broadcast earlier but gives viewers the chance to select their own running order (and from what I can gather does more thorough highlights). To these people, MOTD is an afterthought and Sky’s football branding easily outweighs BBC’s.
After the last-gasp strike, we remember the ephemera around the event, so the role of the game itself – the key cultural affect of a programme like Match of the Day - is watered down by tribute videos. Many of these come not just from the club or major media providers, but by the fans themselves. I can remember the 80-year-old Blue savouring the moment outside the ground, the kids going mad in their house and running into the street, the reactions in pubs from East Manchester to Baltimore and of course the correlate of those United fans and players at Sunderland receiving the news, the Toure song (which in itself became a meme for students to post of their revels up and down the land).
Lastly, for those of us who were there, ‘Typical City’ having reduced us to nervous, gibbering wrecks as per the stereotype, what we remember much less is the incident itself as we saw it in the stadium, sans filters. The sheer derangement that followed would have immediately had some displacing influence, but watching and re-watching all those highlights and tributes all week after induced an uncanny reverie, a nostalgia for being there even though it now felt I really wasn’t and was just another laptop football punter. What I’d give to restore my view from Block 131 of that moment. Desirable, but impossible.
All this makes the influence of a televised highlights programme quite a bit reduced in conveying the effect of those on-pitch incidents we talk about, that sustain us in our love of the game. And Match of the Day could go quite a bit further than the standard iPlayer rerun in peddling its brand – clips to mobiles like the papers are doing, for example.
Nowadays with the content ubiquitous over several platforms despite efforts to crack down, we should not confuse the importance of a medium like Match of the Day as the frame for the event, but know that a frame of some form will play a role.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Anyway, it’s immediately clear there is not much doing for entertainment here, no pub in immediate area except down at Shortlands, nothing in Downham. Decent pubs do apparently exist near Bromley north but who would I entice to come down from the metropolis to and check those out? I’ll have to check out Bromley’s Labour club before it gets knocked down too.
Nevertheless I was heartened to see that the Downham Tavern reopened in time for the World Cup. Originally built as the ‘world’s largest pub’ for the Downham estate that rehoused southeast and east Londoners in over 6,000 dwellings from 1930. The area returned a Communist councilor in the 1940s but egregiously, as the Municipal Dreams blog says, the snobs of west Kent put an Israeli apartheid-style separation fence to stop the Downham folk having a direct route into Bromley.
A search revealed the tavern used to put on the Fascination monthly all-dayers during the peak period of 88-89, a companion to the Fascination night at Bonnies bar on Bromley Hill (still there). These mixes reveal the standard Balearic refashioning of 80s rock and pop hits with the newer house and techno but, taken together with the spirit of the time and the excitable tributes on this thread, then you can imagine that these dos would have made quite a mark on heads from Bromley to Catford and beyond in the late 80s. After rave’s absorption into the mainstream, it’s doubtful the area played host to such subcultural interventions since.
I’ve got to know a bit of the northern end of the Downham estate in recent years, killing time before daughter’s recorder lessons at the park in Mondragon road, near the Ahmadiyyah mosque, and now connect back to our new place via Whitefoot Road or cycle back down Downham Lane after a late shift from Grove Park. Indeed I have postulated how in one sense this highly ethnically diverse but solidly working class area is the ‘real’ southeast London rather than your pop-up, regentrified metropolitan enclaves in zones 1 and 2.
As I surfed for further details on the tavern/Bonnie’s, I got diverted on to the case of the Bon Bonné and discovered a veritable subculture of 80s/90s nightclubbing. An old mansion in Herne Hill, the Bon Bonné was a regular haunt for a certain type of south London white boy (neither inner London or too suburban, not too cool-obsessed) as these pages on a Crystal Palace FC forum show (trigger warning, some racist comments). Seen as just beyond the 'no-go area' of Brixton, in the 80s it was likely to have at some stage operated a no-blacks door policy or was at least made unwelcoming for local people of colour. At this stage, it was 80s pre-rave clubbing as Yer Da remembers it – punters dressed up to the nines to get in, wedding rings left at the door, Steve Walsh–type Camber Sands-style soul and funk with some pop fillings, the latest continental lagers yet served in tankards, a pulling joint basically. This post on that Palace thread paints a proper late 80s picture:
“Back from Selhurst or reasonably local away venue, shit and a shave and then drinks in Clapham to start. A short drive to Brockwell Park and then I remember queuing up for more than an hour in the desperate hope that a 'not that bothered' stance would persuade the doorman to let us in … if you got in, it was almost as good as Palace scoring. A walk past the very smart cloak room and get settled in the lounge area feeling all very VIP and then after a few, out into the arena … Then some banter with a bunch of Charlton w*nkers, a bit of a dance to Joy & Pain by Maze and then the slowies at the end with an impressive 70% chance of success. Absolutely fan fcuking tastic, I miss those days very much.”
It would seem to share cultural space with places such as Cinatra’s in Broad Green (West Croydon) and the Cat’s Whiskers in Streatham, the names in themselves taking us back to an era of cheesily named clubbing venues rather than the laughably pretentious ‘Liquid Lounges’ that followed. After rave the promoters seemed to have mutated Bon Bonné into the stereotypical funky house shindig but it was still a popular venue before it finally closed in 2005, after a run of 31 years. You can surely guess that it is now flats.
If the threads are right, they take us back to the Bromley/southeast London hinterland, as the guy who owned that place is said to have run or is still running one of the bars by Beckenham Junction. There’s a Facebook page for Bon Bonné reunion nights in sticks such as Chislehurst, and the DJs are also to be found doing expected activities like ‘old-school’ radio shows, an over 25s night called Sugar in another of those Beckenham bars by the station, etc. The brand lives on. All in all a group who made their mark in town before following the familiar path of leaving the inner zones to the youth and retreating further out.
All the stories are in a way portals to the suburban life I’ll be (sorry, my kids will be) living now, and all of them (apart from, actually maybe including, the hints at petit gangsterism and racist policy) may look not so different from the nightclub culture many of you will recognise from the provinces.
Monday, June 02, 2014
Brasils of the mind
Update: Here were my preview pieces on Cameroon, Spain and contribution to pre-tournament expectations, but do have a browse across the site. Some great pieces on the tournament's epochal moments, and good to hear it will break out of its world cup chains and become a regular football blog too.
Friday, May 16, 2014
Building a bigger citadel
Sky et al kept insisting it was their ‘best title race ever’ as if only such hype would keep us watching as Liverpool surged and Chelsea’s edge blunted. They craved a final, preferably pro-Liverpool, twist but on Sunday Manchester City won their fourth league title, the players avoiding any crucial slips and the fans having refused to indulge in any moronically premature ‘we’re gonna win the league’ chants. By late Monday the articles on their title had largely dropped off the top of the papers’ football websites. Coverage, such as it was, had been relatively scant, the bias embittered and the praise for the players’ achievements while their rivals bottled it too faint. Blues were too deep in their reverie to care.
When Abu Dhabi royalty bought out Manchester City in 2008, they did so within the clear context of the overt commercialisation of the English game that had begun when BSkyB’s coverage opened the financial floodgates in 1992. Values around the game soared in line with media coverage, clubs took in vastly inflated sums from TV and other revenues, rising ticket prices and all-seater stadia changed crowd demographics, investors poured in money to their clubs, others pretended they had money to pour in but in some cases nearly drove those clubs to ruin. In 2003, Roman Abramovich poured hundreds of million of pounds into Chelsea from the businesses he had elbowed his way into buying during Russian’s post-Soviet era of outlaw capitalism (fit and proper? Da). When Sheikh Mansour did it five years later, being wooed by ‘Frank’ Shinawatra, the divisive former ruler of Thailand who like others before him promised big investment but mostly loaned the club cash at punitive repayment rates, this was the point of no return. Enough was enough – Chelsea had snuck into the big four and Mourinho was pure spectacle so they were immovable, but City – short for Cityitis, constant winners of the cup for cock-ups – no way José. Big clubs cried wolf to UEFA and financial fair play was born; many smaller top-flight clubs, squeezed by the self-perpetuating racket that was the Champions League cartel, had seen such serious and sustainable investment (no money being taken out by bondholders, development of the academy) as welcome.
Overnight Manchester City became the exceptionalist poster boy for all the game’s ills, even though much of the more otiose stuff had clearly already happened before ‘the Arabs’ had made their investment. Where were the fans in all this? After the takeover, more activist Blues could have fucked off in despair at the obscene sums involved, some could have also taken flight when they realised the emirate’s riches are boosted by immigrant workers who have few human rights and are grossly underpaid. Such soft power and the laundering of reputation remain areas of concern that need addressing. But they didn’t go. Blues fans’ loyalty to the club over-rode every concern. We Were Here When We Were Shit (and it was this loyalty that helped to make the club an attractive ‘investment proposition’), so it was unlikely we’d go when the prospect of success reared its head. To go then would be to imply ‘you’re not City enough’ so despite everything we stayed. (And as with fans of all clubs who feel disillusion with the way the game’s gone, sometimes it felt this blind faith went beyond loyalty and was more to do with failing to shake off the habits of generations – meeting mates, going to the match, having a pint, talking players. Still addicted despite everything.)
City had long been a cult for diehards, the butt of obsessive humour from Reds and the faint, unwanted sympathy of others. Extreme loyalty in hard times (Liverpool fans, I don’t mean still turning up after finishing seventh, a European Cup fresh in the memory) met disavowal (Not Really Here) met terrace humour met gallows humour met an us-against-the-world spirit (give or take the odd bust-up over the likes of Richard Edgehill), its own skewed but resolute belief system, its own form of resistance as the premiership era lifted rivals as we foundered. And Sunday’s celebrations showed Blues doing it on their terms – on the pitch again (Ferguson would ‘never have allowed it’ at OT!), hammering out the Zabaleta songs, offering paeans to ‘charming man’ Pellegrini and, yes, cherishing the ‘all bought and paid for’ success. Here Nasri, widely loathed in the game, is family; Demichelis is lionised despite the earlier errors (see Happy Mondays and Celine Dion clips), Joleon Lescott will always be ‘top of the league’. Our icons, Kompany, Toure, Silva, Aguero – are proper players, not cheats, racists, wage whores, etc.
the Brazil World Cup. Howard Hockin on the title and the parade
Simon Curtis' updated Lest We Forget
Vice on City fans on the title-winning piss Me on City elsewhere on this site and on Without a Dream In Our Hearts (here and here)
Friday, April 04, 2014
The creator of the groove of all grooves
Frankie Knuckles moved to Chicago after a few years in the late 70s New York disco scene (helping Nicky Siano out at the Gallery, doing Larry’s shifts at the Continental Baths) and it was in the Windy City where he first experimented with reel-to-reel dubs then studio remixes of his disco favourites and helmed two clubs central to the birth of house, the Warehouse and the Power Plant. Rave had barely started as a populist movement in Europe when Frankie’s foremost achievements were complete: seminal productions such as Baby Wants to Ride and the teasing out of the best elements of Jamie Principle’s Your Love (which of course kickstarted the never ending Candi Station reissue circus); the advent of ‘DJ culture’ and a format for nightclub music that would set the tone for the next 30 years and beyond.
Choice: A Collection of Classics a compilation I regularly mine for disco and 80s dance inspiration. As I cycled home from work down Southwark Bridge Road last Friday, I saw the biggest queue I’d seen in a while outside Ministry. Many of these late teens and 20 somethings would have been there just for Frankie Knuckles, in what turned out to be his last ever gig.
Knuckles seemed happy to keep playing out, to spread the gospel, to stay on top of the scene. He didn’t seem bitter about not getting his due from Trax (and if you want to make his passing with a purchase buy here as he backed the site) at the time or from the endless dodgy reissues of his main moments.
And this is [still] fresh
House is still going stronger than ever, thanks to hordes of young producers not born in the mid 80s seeking to emulate the stripped back yet emotive style Frankie pioneered. Whether he and the other early innovators, developing an emancipatory and revelatory style of music for groups prejudiced by mainstream US culture, knew they were setting in train something that would still be here 30 years on is debatable. But that the wider lifestyle revolution it engendered clings on is partly due to the power of productions and DJ performances such as those by Knuckles. When house music and rave culture does fade away, and it eventually will, his contribution to musical history should be as well regarded then as it is now. Pioneer of the dance.
Monday, March 17, 2014
By no means comprehensive, as Spotify didnt have many of the things I was looking (Instra:mental, D'Eon, Cut Hands), but a good overview of my listening tastes after dubstep had surged and gone off to either become house or brostep.
My first euro awayday
A fatal dose of dozyness in Southend departures meant we missed the flight and had to transfer to Gatwick to get a later one – an incident on which we won’t dwell. So after the later arrival into town, late tapas outside our hotel and even later drinks at the Bahia bar which loved the US-UK rock music, here’s where I woke up to after a late arrival into town – the square off the front of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi; none too shabby. From there Marc, his dad Ian and mate Mike and I had a lovely wander down the side streets east of the Ramblas, checking out a hat shop (sombrereria) for the more stylish members of our party, up past the Carrer de Ferran and the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and the beautiful patterned facades of the building opposite, pause at the memorial in the Fossar de les Moreres to those who died defending the city in the 1714 siege (a formative moment in Catalan history) and more sub-Habsburg history above the excavations of the Mercat del Born.
Ticket-wise, we were sorted for one but were reliant on another coming from those virtual touts Viagogo, an outlet I would never advocate using for domestic games but in an elite European situation it was needsmust. It got delivered to the hotel (in itself annoying as booked weeks ago so why not deliver it then?) but the fear was it might be a fake. Marc wanted to get it checked out with their local agent but as the day developed it became clear that we should take the risk rather than running round town on logistical missions. By six-ish if you wanted to pay a local to help you the only ones left in the official outlets were €175 and €250 – the price of the champions league spectacle – and there's no fixture going I'd pay that for. Besides by then I had vertigo issues weighing on my mind.
After beers near the ground in a bar we learned was stormed just after we left by their Boixos Nois, it was time to head up to level 5, very gingerly up the concrete stairways. But I got up there and it was actually fine, both in the concourses where it was easy to find a spot not to look down and in the seats, no steep sightlines and benefiting from the pitch being sunk down from ground level. What was a source of derision for some – that Barca plays in a functional yet fading concrete arena - turned out to be a source of comfort for me. Only irritant then would be tourist Barca fans filming the experience, and in some cases filming their partner’s filming of the experience.
It’s then that you kind of get the point of all the Mes Que Un Club ultramarketing – to keep a buzz going around 'Barca'. At this point, is there much genuine excitement for the average fan who expects at the minimum to be top two or three in La Liga and a proper go at the Champs League year after year? At Barcelona, that intersects with carrying the hopes of a whole region and the odd ‘independencia’ chant roused a few in the home ends near me; howling at the ref to get an ex-Espanyol player sent off is only loosely connected, I’m sure! In defeat, chanting that the whole CL set-up was 'fucking bent' was cold comfort as we knew they got bad decisions too, and tikitakists buying fouls is something we must learn to cope with.
Back into town and the discovery of another good crowd of Blues in the Basque pintxo bar near our hotel, leading to another few late beers in that Bahia and out on the Ramblas fending off pimped black girls’ offers for sexmassages. Most Blues were happy enough to take away the experience of it all and a sense that next time we’d be better. But going down too far that route lies in being grateful for just being there when this City wants a permanent seat at the top table (perhaps ushering in that institutionalised complacency), and we should have made much more of a good setup, bouts of good possession and good chances to make it a tighter contest. As we pass Fernando Botero's comedy trojan horse sculpture on our way into departures, we think 'Next time'.
Oh and here's my Dad there 45 years ago. None of that fancy tapas, late-night boozing and extortionate tickets for him, you fancy.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Then mid-noughties Pendulum started bringing it out of the ghetto, though obviously the taste was too rockist for some (the snares began to sound like rock drums; the tear-outs there but toned down). But it was a key moment, as was Tinnie Tempah going all junglish in the outro of his anthemic Pass Out.
We have had ‘junglist’ sounds in modern pop-dance for four or five years now – that surging breakdown then the release of the amen riff now is as much for thing for Top Man boy and Top Shop girl on the exhiliri-piss in Magaluf as much as the steppers in grimey ex-industrial spaces of the main British cities. Some of this clearly soars – only generic sonic scrooges would deny the rush of DJ Fresh ft Rita Ora’s Hot Right Now or Fresh ft Ms Dynamite’s Gold Dust (Fresh a former member of cartoon dark junglists Bad Company).
Since Rudimental ft John Newman’s Feel the Love (the guest vocalist has become key to new pop), its use even extends into the stock-in-trade of much current pop: melodramatic but vague emotional unloadings such as Jacob Banks' Alive (produced by ravepop torchbearers Chase & Status) – the amen tear-out making not complete sense as the singer avails us of his ‘journey’ – tie in with the vogue for depressive hedonism, though typically it’s not always clear which emotions are to the fore and why. John Newman’s solo and guest output is full of little breakbeat stylings underpinning the high energy emoting. Even Emeli Sandé is involved.
Other uses, such as Wilkinson’s Afterglow, tack the beat onto less demanding tales (you’ve been to some sort of rave, had a good communal experience, now it’s afterparty time) but still need to say ‘we have been here, we have done something’ that is generated by a generation not being sure why it has to hedonise de trop without any purpose (I’ll tell you, marketing). All in all, we have come a long way from a situation where playing such purist (for that is what it was) ‘rhythm science’ in the house made no sense to your parents (and therefore worried them) to one where mum can now happily tap her feet along to a poppy number whose beats are similar to the ones we knew in all those seminal tunes (Dad’s still not sure tbf though everyone loves that Newman). Few of the producers themselves makes just this strain of poppy drum and bass.
Nowadays many in the scene seem not to worry too much about the commercialisation and regard it as churlish not to embrace it – it’s here; amen breaks and riffs are just another tool in the festival DJ’s fuck-off sonic armoury. Like any genre that has been appropriated by producers with eyes on big unit sales, what is striking is how easily it all fits into the pop mix with the other trance / hip-hop / house influences. Apparently, post-EDM America is now getting it too (*shudders*).
Drum and bass had kept going so far forward it was lost. It had to change, and eventually it did. I’m not sure whether this had been enough to regenerate the purist ‘underground’ (like this matters, nearly 20 years on) scene – but it’s notable that many of the acts that are talked about as drum and bass are not making that music at all (indeed the key seems to be just merely for it to have been a formative influence) but are making a techno or footwork influenced sound – the former Instra:mental, DBridge (fellow Bad Company alumnus), Machinedrum, Om Unit. Others, such as Demdike Stare on their Test Pressings, or Lee Gamble, use it as base for far more interesting sonic drift; still more are happy to churn out retro – but still decent – gear in the style of the HATE project of Andy Stott, Miles Whittaker and Gary Howell (seminal retro!).
That still more make pop music with it shouldn’t be a matter for recrimination like it used to be.