Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Not awesome, better off staying on tape
‘You may never hear anything like this elsewhere’
It may have wowed ATFA’s fast growing community (among them respected global south tastemakers such as DJ Rupture), but making it work as a reissue proved trickier, to the extent that it barely matched the description of an awesome tape from Africa (this is somewhat churlish a point but read on for the reasoning). Ata got the tapes made up in Kumasi in 1994, but the whole project was recorded in Toronto. The liner notes suggest this never flew off the market stalls of Accra and Kumasi (as the blog acknowledged at the time); its muted reaction in Ghana matching the reception back in Canada. Ata Kak, who had been in a few bands around Toronto and Germany, but who had been working to get his own project out there, may have been somewhat chastened by the experience and, back in Ghana, only now writes songs for his own pleasure.
Twenty years later, when considering what to do with their ‘frenetic leftfield rap madness’, ATFA finally made contract with Ata Kak, but with the dat master tape far too degraded they recorded digital files from a normal tape that had possibly been pirated and sped up. They made the decision to go with the sped up version for the official rerelease. There is no hint that Ata Kak himself preferred the pitched up version. For my money, it makes more sense at the intended speed – the vocal delivery markedly less rushed and the whole ensemble sounding more crafted (in fairness vinyl buyers were given codes for digital files of the tracks at both speeds). To truly help it realise its potential and promote the artist as Shimkovitz intended, one solution would have been to pay Ata Kak to re-record everything on a decent set-up; the lack of a digitisable master ruling out simply putting a completely new vocal on it. It’s a shame, as what was clearly a thing of rare beauty for ATFA has not quite had the loving curation it needed, or, when the particular circumstances of this product became apparent, a more measured, less hyped reissue.
Make no mistake, Obaa Sima has a charm and Ata Kak himself a good groove and unique sonic vision going on, especially in the vocal style full of Twi and English bars making as much or as little sense as you want it to make. This is an AfPop find, an unpolished gem. But the vocal’s frequently muffled delivery and the sound’s overall underproduction will continue to deprive it of the wider audience the project could have merited if it had been revived in some way (certainly when I roadtested it with my music-teacher partner the reaction was not too positive). Without this it could remain restricted to smaller-scale appreciation from the fanboy coterie. But even these should save a few quid and steer clear of the vinyl lp or 12s (not to mention the t-shirts costing $41), and reach for the CD or MP3 only.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Stay up [reading] forever
But it was the arrival of Muzik from IPC in late 1995 that kickstarted the sector, raising the game of the old hands and attracting publishing money and young writers to take it out of the coterie. Muzik offered wide coverage of the main genres (including jungle) without being patronising or exclusive, gave star treatment to those the various scenes already considered icons (Dave Clarke, Fabio, Roger Sanchez) and made dance feel as though it finally had the same treatment as rock and indie. Mixmag responded with ever chunkier issues (here melding the political about club drugs and anti-government protests with pisstake features on modern dancing) and former inky zines such as Jockey Slut upped their game. 'The Slut' became my favourite with its slightly more irreverent and enlightened (ie, not just dance) take on the culture, and we were forever in their debt when it reviewed our rabid and dissonant fanzine Whore Cull. By the end of the decade, all were wrestling with declining ad revenues and how to better project themselves in the rolling news environment of the web, given the rapid turnaround of tastes and trends in this live fast culture.
Quick mention here for the Shoreditch Twat, wherein the soi-disant twats taking over London's east-central areas traded injokes, made light of any derision howled at them and generally paved the way for the hipster craze we so struggle to understand now (t-shirt on this cover says 'Hoxton is dead, long live Hoxton').
To the net! Where we can actually hear DJs' mixes without the bother of pressing up a CD, where social media functions allow us to rate an event (and get the tickets for forthcoming nights) and where yet more hungry writers eager to cover the scene earn even less for their crust. The big two survivors, DJ and Mixmag, have done a decent job carving out a sizeable web community while still producing a hard copy mag. Me, I don't use them - tickets etc at Resident Advisor, music off Boomkat, podcasts off Fact, with The Wire as my only - occasional - old-media music fix. That reminds me to find those smelly A5 Fact mags - don't worry, I will resist digging for the copies of Vice and Sleaze Nation.
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.