Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Friendly Fire, Herbal, Shoreditch

Down to Mullet-town on Thursday 24 July for a hip-hop/electro night in aid of the MINES ADVISORY GROUP (MAG). The Manchester-based landmine clearing group is rather more of a front-line/sustainable project than any Lady Di-fronted half-arsed initiative and has been doing good work in places like Cambodia, Angola and southern Lebanon. I found this out on the info-pack as we paid our money and a bit more when the doorstaff wisely exploited our half-cut cluelessness. Never mind, it's all for… etc, cliché.

You don't often expect such fund/awareness-raising gigs to be entertaining – people usually just turn up smug and satisfied at their activation of their consciences, before resuming their closed off group chat about 'Chelski' or their media firm's latest mess. Lucky then that this was lively. That can be attributed to THE HEADSHELL organisers, who roped in djs such as Mr Thing, Mat Carter and the Dexorcist. I also saw my mate, who was bemoaning Bang's magazine very-early drift into Q territory. An original idea that had about three issues to find its market.

No such concessions to commerce here though. Past midnight the hip-hop floor upstairs was packed and partying, while downstairs the less-rammed electro room was robot-rocking too. A Canadian girl next to us bemoaned the lack of hedonism, but I said that this atmosphere is pretty good for a Thursday night as people have one eye on work the next day. The set and setting obviously did the trick for me; didn’t seem to mind a very long wait at the wrong bus stop.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Two-north-London-gigs-in-one madness-midweeker

Only some of the above as I managed to catch a brace of up-and-coming live rock & pop acts on Wednesday. July 9. First, SIMPLE KID, a talented American whose ‘Truck on’ you may have heard of on TV ALREADY, even though he’s still at industry buzz stage. This is definitely an industry night out, and as such there was a twist to the proceedings. It was held at the Magic Circle in NW1’s grotty Stephenson Road, so pictures of swingin’ Paul Daniels and, more frequently, David Devant were rife. Industry is behind this man so the throng had to be accommodated in two sets. Thus it was in anticipation of set no#2 before we climbed the magical spiral staircase. And a good 30-minute act it was in the auditorium. He and his fellow guitarist, drummer and keyboard/fx man have a knack for catchy tunes that have recognisable roots: robotik pop/velvets in ‘Average Man’, glam in ‘I am Rock’, west coast in ‘The Commuter’ – all delivered through an energetic hillbilly-slacker-clued up crossover persona. In that may be a problem, because as although it’s fine to mimick genres/sound his mickey-taking of subject and general sly look at everything may let him down, as people look for earnest quality in this new rock age. Yet this knack of knocking out knowing but catchy tunes may see him do well.

Turn right, left and then a long walk up to the Barfly, for skinny, shouty dance-rockers CHIKINKI. Saw this lot at said same venue a while back, which either makes me a cool insider, hanger-on or parasitic twat d’industrie. I feel it’s the latter. Signed to Island, this Bristol group are about to blitz the usual market. Not too worried by the past and not too in awe of the new, god-I’m-going-to-sound-like-a-football-manager BUT this lot have promise too. More measured and more tight on repeat performance, they still deliver an impressive squiggly and chaotic sound full of dance-influenced bass rumbles, sonic Pollockings and pop hooks. As such, it could work on the new range of clubs coming through in UK cities realising you can mix it up a bit but maintain the rave/house atmosphere. Singer needs to develop act on a bit from Hives singer impersonations, though I didn’t tell him that when he came off the stage and postured past me and others. Look out for them, I’ve learned to after that incident.
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Sunday, July 13, 2003

One night in Berlin

Over the centuries, Berlin has been an inspiration for many: Christopher Isherwood kicked ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ off with the Cullian prescience of “I am a camera”. Nowadays it has one of the most vibrant dance (‘electronic’ if you want to use the German stereotype) music scenes in Europe. Like many places – most French cities, Munich, Ghent, Antwerp, The Hague, even Rotterdam, small labels and clubs get on with the business of pushing future music without any of the hype of the London goldfish bowl. Arriving and staying in East Berlin, my company for this musical odyssey was two lively Djs, Matt Styles and Lil Mark. The latter has recorded on Classic and Music for Freaks. They were to play at the well-respected house night VMF. But not before a barbecue at Waterfront, a pleasant outdoor courtyard bar. A delightful tuna steak was washed down with absinthe and Red Bull – an awful combination but a free one. Off to the club, the venue itself being a former bar used by top Communist party officials. Styles kicked things off, followed by Lil Mark – the two playing quite different strains of electronic dance music but both complementing one another. Lil Mark’s Chicago jacking style got me up on the dancefloor and brought a big smile to my face. Matt was to continue in a more electronic vein, while the finale saw the two of them sharing the honours.

Despite it being the weekend before the Love Parade trance monkey circus, many Berliners were not deterred from enjoying themselves. And by the end of the evening there was gratitude all-round for both Matt and Mark, who both gave 100 per cent Brian. The traditional warm German welcome? Definitely, so why don’t we and the Italian officials ditch those decades-old stereotypes? Berlin: a city still rough at the edges but high on energy and well worth a visit, so book a cheap flight and go.
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Monday, July 07, 2003

‘Awaken Gentle Mass Touching’
Whore Cull loved Glastonbury 2003

So they’ve improved the security so you can’t jib in for nothing. Actually quite sensible really – while it may have been part of the fun in the past to sneak in, this clearly also appealed to those who liked the idea of a huge big pen of punters in tents to go and rob. (This and other measures are important because, as our west country correspondent tells us, although Pilton’s residents get free tickets, money for a fete of their own and computers for the local schools, they also have to have security on their front gates to prevent idiots from kicking off every year.) Besides, I get more than enough “edge” walking through London at night and don’t need it when I’m studiously trying to experiment with the range of drugs on hand in this rural chemistry lab.

This year the atmosphere was one of the best things – there’s everything to be said for having umpteen different enormous but benign crowds to lose yourself in, only some of which were availing themselves of spine-melting repetitive beats. Talking of which, big, er, shoutz to KRAFTY KUTS on Friday afternoon – while it may have been the spot of rain that drove the huge crowd into the Dance Tent at that moment, Krafty, late of Brighton’s wonderful Bust the Box, succeeded in getting them jumping. At the other end of the festival SQUAREPUSHER plied his usual live act of seldom-danceable howling metallic chaos, leavened by FX-laden cries of “MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE” and a rather quaint solo bass cover of Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon, until the crush was too much (or was it the curfew?) and he had to stop.

OK there’s undoubtedly plenty that’s lame about Glasto – the diesel fumes from the endless burger vans, the miasma of shit that hangs over vast areas when the bogs are being drained (though using said bogs was seldom as revolting as legend would have it), the succession of dreary guitar bands, the bars sporadically running out of beer and charging £3 for a pint of orange juice, the incredulity-inducing mark-ups at the grocery stores and so on. And even if the main thing going for the majority of acts was unadorned nostalgia, even the Cull appreciates the occasional chance to revisit those anthems of youth – take your pick: the SCREAM, SUPER FURRIES, BUNNYMEN, DE LA SOUL, THE WATERBOYS (offering the same career-spanning set twice over the weekend), REM, RADIOHEAD, etc). Great sets too from SPARTA (Texan ex-At The Drive In screamy alt.rock) and California’s disarmingly genuine GRANDADDY. Only the FLAMING LIPS sorely disappointed, especially after a blow-away set in the New Tent in 2000. Dom Joly animal costumes have long since ceased to be in any way entertaining, still less so on a stage at the other end of a huge field – and getting tens of thousands of people to sing Happy Birthday to a roady’s daughter was twee as fuck. JULIAN COPE no doubt would have let us down as well unfortunately, had we stayed any longer than was necessary to discover that even Don-Eye Skinner had stayed at home this time and it was yet another tedious solo outing rather than the hoped-for band appearance – great in small clubs Julian but a shocking waste of an enormous tent.

Is it always some form of nostalgia that makes you want to hear a record you like played live? Where do memory and impression collide? In any case, it was Yes, yes YES!, who really impressed me. Introduced to their music before I learned that it was unacceptable to be ostentatiously good at your instrument, to be a bit imaginative with the rock song form and to be a stinking rich hippy (remind me why this is worse than being a stinking rich gangsta or anything else?), their huge intricate opuses with lyrics as vague and lovely as Whitehouse’s are revolting, really did it for me. Admittedly they wasted 10 minutes early on, playing recent track Magnification (yes, they’re still recording) that came across as even more extreme self-parody than the rest of the set (which mostly came from the cracking early ’70s albums Fragile & Close to the Edge). But they more than atoned for this with a stunning version of Awaken (from Going for the One), which if it had lyrics about horses and naughty schoolboys (instead of “high vibrations” and “gentle mass touching”) wouldn’t have been out of place in a Cardiacs set [Jesus, the streetcredometer has just imploded – Ed].

As ever, best of all about the festival (besides the drugs) was the vast range of diverting things going on, especially after the main stages had shut down for the night. I’d never have guessed how lovely it would be to happen unexpectedly upon an impromptu fiddle and ukulele set in a Greenfields café, or screenings of weird Jam-style films in the solar powered cinema, or five hours of Gypsy wedding music in Lost Vagueness’ “secret” ballroom. Sure, it’s a great big hippy theme park, but for every boring old band you go to hear because you think you like them, you’ll be blown away the next minute by some vibrant ensemble playing folky stuff you’d have expected to hate. And the Fair Trade coffee and organic brownies are magnificent.
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Sunday, July 06, 2003

Digest of pre-blTradaz.mp3">og entries...

Sonic arts performance held at the 291 Gallery, Bethnal Green, in conjunction with Middlesex University MA Sonic Arts
27 June 2003

The thinkers and drinkers were out in medium force last Tuesday for this variable-quality event. ‘£3 for valid experience,’ it said. Unfortunately, my experience had begun pathetically earlier, with my presuming that the venue was somewhere between Stoke Newington and Shoreditch but no amount of pacing back up and down and convincing myself that I had finally found it would work. Back down the Kingsland Road, right and up the Hackney Road and I was there; a converted church with nice bar to the side and huge main hall, good for the acoustics.

I walked into enticing beatless technoid loops coming out the Boses via a Mac laptop. Further waves came via Sonic Variable and Zero Ping (not their real names), a double act again using laptop technology and also guitars/amps as their sound sources. Though similar in style, this took things a bit further, introducing the odd rebuilt riddim under the feedback and loops. After a break, the giant screen was utilised for the screening of Glitch and Freakuency’s Exclorescence abstract short. As it suggests, this was an aesthetically pleasing programme of colours changing shape and form, morphing into nothing then growing again like spores, until finally the sonic loopage ended, the shapes began to wither away and the screen ran red.

Vocal improviser Viv Corringham has been described a ‘tour de force’ in The Wire but she did nothing for me. Twenty minutes or so of moving from holler and shriek to shrill on to mutoid mumble and back again. Sounded like my more bored moments in domestic isolation. Then a quartet of musicians joined her on instruments old, new and made-up. This was the most rounded performance – live image manipulation added to the stew – but the whole effect was fairly uninspiring, bad freeform schizo-jazz.

Typo or pun, the flyer’s ‘Masonic Arts’ legend revealed more about the nature of this type of night, ie, a coterie for people of progressive mind. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, and certainly better than DJ Huge Tunes at yr local disco-house emporium or clinical cultural apathy. Yet Grand Pubah Waveswarm had to shepherd away a pissed-up interloper, who had wandered on to the stage. He had a whiff of unreconstructed lad about him, but the twat looked more in thrall to the sounds – the point of such an event surely? – than someone about to start anything untoward.

Sonar Festival
12-14 June 2003

Red. Blue. Green. Red. Blue. Green. What’s this? It’s a software demonstration for a VJ Mixer. Wow! Hang on. It’s a video projector and it’s fucked. OK, it took me a while to work this out but I left after 10 minutes. Walking out of this demo, one of many multimedia happenings that weekend, I saw a festival sign with the words “SONAR? MERDE!” scrawled underneath. Given that the VJ demo wasn’t working and that I’d wasted 15 minutes in a packed room that was difficult to fight my way out of, one can be forgiven for occasionally sympathising with that sentiment.

After all, the festival, now in its 10th year, is just TOO big (although I admit I jumped on the bandwagon 10 years too late). It is a constant fight for either the bogs or the bar (which has to be visited twice due to the admittedly pragmatic ticket system) and even a good place to see the stage or sit down. And that’s just Sonar by Day. Sonar by Night, at the huge Fira Barcelona events arena, was just horrendous. Not surprising given the 22,000 or so people that were there. Huge bus queues. Huge taxi queues. Huge queues outside. Huge queues inside. However, if you can tolerate this (and by the third day you get used to it or find ways to bypass it at least) you will have an amazing time.

There is no UK festival like it. Around £65 for well over 200 live acts and DJs. It is a rare treat indeed to be able to wander from acts like SAFETY SCISSORS to AKUFEN to THE PUPPETMASTAZ to JAGA JAZZIST all in the space of a few hours. Needless to say, the city itself is one of the most beautiful in the world and, if you manage to avoid the many tourist traps scattered along Las Ramblas, it can be relatively cheap (although I spazzed a small fortune). Besides the numerous beach parties, there are some great club nights to be found and rival festivals pop up everywhere. The Wrong Festival hosted a swarm of electronic pranksters such as DJ/RUPTURE, HRVATSKI and DONNA SUMMER. I sadly missed the Versus Festival’s KOMPAKT night as I was probably queuing somewhere.

Sonar by Day is held in and around the impressive CCCB and is divided into a number of indoor and outdoor arenas. The very first act I saw there was LITHOPS at the Sonar Complex. The crowd were treated to a thick dollop of nonsensical 4/4 that was nothing like the sublime toytronica of ‘Uni Umit’ that I had expected. Like a big clown’s pie in the face, it had the seated crowd on their feet in seconds. Jan St. Werner (half of the magnificent MOUSE ON MARS) infused the proceedings with enough real-time knob fiddling to justify the fact this laptop show was LIVE (all too often the PRESS PLAY & DANCE AWKWARDLY approach is the order of the day). I then caught a mediocre PREFUSE 73 set outdoors in Sonar Village (the sound system there was truly incredible) followed by an unexpectedly soulful DJ set from CRISTIAN VOGEL at the Sonar Dome. I then managed to catch global glitch figurehead POLE (although from his appearance I could have been at a televised darts match). An uninspiring start made me run off after 10 minutes. A day or two later I caught another laptop non-spectacle from AKUFEN although this time the tunes more than made up for it. He has a truly progressive sound that thankfully remains tethered to the rudiments of great dance music. His laptop eventually crashed so I made a B-line for THE PUPPETMASTAZ. Imagine The Muppet Show if Jim Henson had been a crack-smoking superpimp with a penchant for the Wu Tang Clan. This was Wind in the Willows gone gangsta and it was very, very funny.

I was pleased to catch the T.RAUMSCHMIERE set on the first night. His sound is very much his own: a farting 4/4 electro punk sludge. Standing and crawling all over his equipment, his performance was pure rock’n’roll. But even so he failed to trash the sound system! Shame on him! A highlight for everyone else that night was BJORK. I could just about make out a black flouncing blob jumping around and shouting. Probably very special but I just couldn’t be arsed. I missed APHEX TWIN although I had seen him once before. He apparently ended a characteristic jungle/gabba set with 30 minutes of Backstreet Boyz classics. On the second night I managed to catch JEFF MILLS. Bumph-bumph-bumph. Fuck I’m going to die. Go and have a lie down. OK. I’d recovered somewhat for SIDERAL. Who he? A big Spanish DJ apparently. Best music of the night. Why? Must be the drugs and the fact I’d effectively morphed into the bass bins.

The MATTHEW HERBERT BIG BAND, a satellite event staged at the classy L’Auditori de Barcelona, was an undisputed highlight of the festival. The fact I was sweating like a rapist from what seemed like 20km away with a bitch of a hang over was akin to watching him from inside a microwave while wearing an apesuit. Stepping into the spotlight in the vast darkened auditorium, he unpacked a suitcase, pulling from it a trumpet. Giving it a quick polish, he put it awkwardly to his lips and spat a feeble note from it. Then, lifting it suddenly to the microphone, dangling it away from him as if it were a soiled nappy, he hit it with a stick. Cling! The sound repeated and he threw the trumpet to the ground. A huge cheer erupted and the looping noise builded into a cartoon house rhythm. Then the band appeared. What followed was one of the most progressive big band gigs ever staged. Throughout, Herbert liberally processed the band in real-time through an assortment of strange effects. Watching the vast horn section tearing up copies of the Spanish right-wing rag ABC in time with the music and showering themselves in the resulting confetti was hilarious. The audience themselves joined in the fun when asked to use their cameras' flash in time with the music. A standing ovation and encore followed. And what a finale! A big band version of “The Audience” with the night’s guest vocalists – ARTO LINDSAY, DANI SICILIANO and JAMIE LIDELL – prancing about like drugged-up lab rats (albeit very well-dressed lab rats). The wolf-whistling alone for Dani’s earlier performance was more likely to give me tinnitus than anything else that weekend. But still the audience wouldn’t go home. This was truly spectacular stuff. Herbert himself was surprisingly self-effacing but it is clear from both this concert and his growing oeuvre that he is driven by a pure conviction to open people’s eyes to the possibilities of music and its role in politics. He is now a key player on the world’s musical stage who, unlike Christ-posturing car-selling yoghurt-eating fuck holes like Moby, really has something to say (and to an audience that’s willing to listen). I just hoped ABC had sent some polo-necked cunt to do a review.

Sonar is a unique and unifying event for the global electronic community. It may indeed become a victim of its own success, but nevertheless it is a privilege to be a part of and is very much about what you make of it. It does have everything. Sun. Sea. Sand. Great music. Girls and boys. Everywhere. Sonar? Merde!? Absolute rot!


Quantic Soul Orchestra
Camden Jazz Cafe
14 June 2003

Chief Quantic man Will Holland is one of the leading lights on Tru Thoughts, turning in over the last few years two good albums and numerous remixes and singles for the Brighton beats label. But Holland was keen to expand his range and repertoire beyond the bedroom computer funk of 'Apricot Morning' and 'The 5th Exotic'. The answer lied as it does for so many in getting real, feeling the funk and in his own words "putting something back". Well you've got to haven't you (no). Quantic morphed into the Quantic Soul Orchestra (QSO) and the 'Stampede' LP (cover: wild animals in a '60s/70s style faux-naïve graphics package) was all tight-as-fuck new funk and covers of - here's the twist - modern dance tunes such as 4 Hero's 'Hold it Down' and the MAW mixes of 'Babarabatiri'. It worked well, offering more substance and reason to return to a Tru Thoughts product than the usual club-beats fodder for the baggy of jean, liberal of mind and beatnik of outlook.

Time then to take it to the stage. Camden Jazz Café hosted their London showcase on Thursday 5 June and by the time The Cull had arrived, the dancefloor was bouncing to the massed band of QSO comrades. Led by Holland on guitar and in sharp suit and a vibes man building up a good rapport with the crowd, the band ploughed their funk furrow fast without missing a note. Nu R&B standard 'Heard It All Before' got the treatment. The atmosphere was celebratory. Talk of it all being a bit Acid Jazz was banned. But people did talk about that, invoking comparisons with their Galliano/Young Disciples of old. But what's wrong with that? Theirs was a post-Rare Groove, postmodern dig in the crates for the quality and vibe of old and so is this. Don't worry about it being retro, like the Breakestra project on Ninja/Stones Throw the Stampede LP is perfect for waking you up of a blurry morning, inviting inquisitive-but-coolly-disinterested inquiries around the dinner party table or, like tonight, just filling a dancefloor.


Part of a Rephlex Records Showcase night
7 June 2003

Plastic People is a tidy little basement club situated in Shoreditch/Hoxton/Mullet Town's Curtain Road. Its bar is relatively cheap and the promoters usually host play-safe broken beat or house music nights on one of the better small-club sound systems. On Wednesday 21 May that system was tested right to its limits as chief Bug man Kevin Martin brought his box of tricks to bear: cigarettes couldn't be inhaled or beer swigged properly as the sonic rumblings pulsated out of the system straight through brain and bodies. Martin, who has pushed the noise envelope (soz) before in acts like Techno Animal and Corn, seems to have found his range with the Bug project, which has done the latest Jamaican reggae offshoot 'digital dancehall' a serious discourtesy. So often the best way: don't pay too much respect to the sounds you're inspired by. To call any of the numbers on the Bug's Pressure album 'tunes' misses the fact that this is more about sonic abstraction rather than pretty synth melodies. Most tracks have the same dancehall beat but that's just the canvas for the Bug to spread his virus all over. Though with tracks like Politicians & Paedophiles and Beats, Bombs, Bass & Weapons there's an inherent conscience as well. Anyway, the PA sped through umpteen tracks and Warrior Queen and Ras Bogle delivered the vocals, the latter enthralling the beparka jacketed-crowd with his doom-toasting. People went home pleased with having got off their lazy midweek arses. So they should be, as for this crowd the sound is a fresh one and surely a more worthy alternative than 'mad breaks', 'twisted house' or whatever descriptive generic joke is current this week. Indeed, the DJ returned to his rota of meaningless repetitive beats straight after.

Who hell Howe?
Hammersmith Lyric Theatre
29 May 2003

The Cull popped down to Hammersmith's most awkward music venue, the Lyric theatre, to witness the appropriately idiosyncratic Howe Gelb delight the audience with oblique instrumental and technological interventions into his own sound yarns. The Giant Sand frontman is remarkably resourceful. If you've been exceptionally hungover all day and mourning the relegation to the Lidl League (from the Farts & Spunkers luxury league of fetishised wage packets) of your association football collective, sitting (in theatre seats) to watch a wilfully obscure serial-subverter arse about on stage might not leap out as the most logical evening option.

Yet all that is/was required is/was the light dusting down of cameras prior to proceedings and, Susan's your cousin, you're ushered into a musical and stage style familiar but intentionally distant from the tired play-finish-clap-play-finish-clap orthodoxy. Sounding a bit like Lou Reed (and knowing it) is quite useful and it may not be improvisation in the strictest sense but a beguiling chaos underscored everything and increased my (yes, mine, because I was there and you weren't. If you were there you didn't make yourself known) enjoyment.

Being a sensitive soul, I'd had to break the fingers of a Shrimp Biscuit fan in order to obtain the requisite 18-smacker(miniature Wayne)roonies to watch this freestyle frolic through the undergrowth of popular music culture and, as a result, the support act was obscured by my remorseful tears. Her name was Maria Frank (no relation) and she is Danish. In fact, all of the suitably gifted backing band were Danish as well, something which the svelte-like Gelb was keen to allude to when and wherever possible. Living in northern Europe I do not have quite the same novel regard for a clutch of Scandies but smirked at the veiled cultural superiority nonetheless. Don't worry - I shot one of my testicles off when I left the audio-whore-room by way of punishment for laughing at an American's joke.

Actually, Howe Gelb is very funny. Mention of the 'terrible events of youknowwhen' was limited to a characteristically indirect reference to absence (not necessarily fond) and his mock-rail (not a UK railway company with Shagger Norris as conductor, driver, director and platform prossie) against radio ("it's so insulting; they only play one record at a time") were definite highlights.

Early attempts by some of the audience to casually predict the gaps between songs failed miserably and then all of us could enjoy the rich sounds, not just the seasoned Gelb observers. The aesthetic of his battered acoustic guitar was apt in the extreme and 'the lad' mixed it up precariously but brilliantly.

He would clearly be beaten up in most pubs for being indulgent but it's 306 times more interesting than watching people adopt dickhead personas on stage because that's what they think is expected of them. The sonic meanderings of a pseudo-recluse are the perfect antidote to the faecal metal revisionism that is currently afflicting the scat-boarding, baseball cap-shitting knob-ends who look forward to being tomorrow's administrators.
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