Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review: British Music Experience, O2

It’s only right that in a modern ‘British Music Experience’ you have to walk past scores of chain restaurants to get to the venue. That’s the case for said show at the 02 in North Greenwich, just another place to bet on our alienation via overconsumption. Maybe that’s why the BME takes part in the ‘Bubble’ area of the revamped tent. And has anybody been to the Matter club there yet?

Immediately noting the suspiciously mod-ish livery, the exhibition is divided roughly into the ‘Core’ of individual attractions and the ‘Edge Zone’, which takes you through the decades from the earliest postwar transatlantic exchanges, as well as the Gibson-sponsored Interactive Studio (which presumably has been updated since we went with acknowledgements of Les Paul’s passing). Most of the edge zones with their interactive audio-visual spaces I found superfluous, stuff most of us dripping in pop culture history are largely familiar with, memorabilia seen elsewhere (but always good to see some of the glam and punk gear), facts to scroll over that are forgotten as soon as they're read, such is their soundbite nature.

There was better stuff. ‘Manda boogied on down in Dance the Decades and watched the holographic playback, we paused for a moment to look at the glass cabinet of vintage tape and record players, TVs and music centres, while I lost time in the Hey DJ virtual flick through the crates – yet found many of the classics to be American and there was an irritating habit of stopping just as they got going if the sensor noticed the slightest movement. In the interactive studio, I got the bass guitar line to The Bravery’s Honest Mistake down before getting bored by the slowness of the instruction, and twanged a lead guitar and smashed a drum pad or two for a while, preferring not to have the tutorials. There are also circular areas in the zone with four or five talking heads reviewing a particular scene, I listened a while to D Double E, Kano and the like go on about grime’s germination.

The experience’s finale ushers you into a ‘live space’ for a very noisy but ultimately futile attempt to distill the decades' worth of British music’s live icons through clumsy audio-visual elisions. Shall I raise my lighter and wave my arms and risk the virtual Liam’s opprobrium? No, I’ll shrug my shoulders and wait for the doors to open. For me, the best bit comes after the merchandise shop. No, not in Giraffe, or the Argentine and south-east Asian food joints, or the roller-skating rink, but after the bus ride home when you get to log in to their site (another chance to have more encrypted details on the web!) in order to get your three free downloads via iTunes. That’s £2.50-worth redemption on what I think was a £15 ticket – still dead dear overall. I got my three tracks straight away and none of them are ever likely to be incorporated into the ‘BME’.

All in all, we could have spent more time here if we had it to spare. The ‘experience’ will have some worth for curious youngsters who don’t have the UK-M experience down pat like many of us blase olders. Though maybe not, the last 8-year-old I met had Subfocus on his Walkman so it may be a generational irrelevance for many. Yoots should also be aware that this is very much the approved, Londoncentric, major-label version of British youth culture down the decades.
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

That sound: it's the 'DUCK FART'!

"There’s a particular kind of bass sound which really fucks me off... And it’s not specific to dubstep, I hear it across different dance music genres, and it’s a kind of lowest common denominator way of getting people to move. And I can kind of understand the tendency to go there, it’s a complex of frequencies which works on even the shittest soundsystems... And it’s aesthetic decisions, and what it feels it needs to do to translate into as many environments as possible, especially when it’s growing...

Back in the May edition of Wire, Kode9 got as close as any to describing the low-to-mid-range rave-nasty synth sound, in the unedited transcript of his interview with Walmsley. Certainly it has bedevilled hard dance/trance and jungle in particular as a placeholder signifying darkness for the dj/producer but increasingly schlocky function for some tired (older) listeners. Second-generation dubstep producers, now with a dancefloor of students to satisfy, picked up on it, despite the cavernous bass already being a key element, and now the 'step can join those older sounds in having truly generic identity.

"... It’s not even a sonic thing for me, it’s just a pressure, a vibrational physicality, it’s whether the music has a physical presence. Not in auditory sense, whether you’re in a room with an entity, sense. But. the sound that turns me off often seems to have a rocky quality to it, I always associated it in the late 90s with the Virus synth. I was reading a lot of producers talking about this Virus synth, and then listening to the music and hearing, OK, that’s the sound of that synth that people were jumping on. But it’s not just that synth, across genres, some styles of House Music, it’s got a jump-up edge to it. I’ve got various ways of describing it. Duck fart is one, angry pig [SNORTS].. it’s a kind of grunting pig sound... It certainly sounds better in a club situation than it does listening at home. Because clearly the reason people do it is to almost rough up the top end of the bass, so the bass that you hear in an amplified situation isn’t just this rounded sub-bass, but also has this slightly aggressive edge to it. And it does sound much better, and less annoying, on a club situation. Almost like broken glass, or someone’s taken sand paper to this rounded thing, and just made it a bit more sharp, more abrasive...

"It’s definitely got something to do with pumping up the testosterone. And almost universally, people love it..."

So now we nearly have an apt description for the noise, who do we blame? Ed Rush and No U-Turn (please start with 'the Raven' for jump up growling). Or leave it in the hands of Bad Company?
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hull: half-amphibian

(runletter's flickr page)

Smashing bit of ‘psygeo’ on Hull from poet and short story teller Sean O’Brien in the Guardian’s Review this Saturday.

‘The Hull of his childhood he remembers as a waterlogged city, vaporous with the wetness that would later seep out of his poetry: “Since childhood, water has been an excitement … The city was built on a swamp: if you dug a hole in your back yard, the water would rise up to look back at you. We fished for sinister-looking minnows in the old storm drains, which grew great mats of algae, thick as hearth rugs, on top of black, jelly-like water. The cellars of the pubs down by the river were said to flood, which presumably had some sort of effect on the beer. And everybody smoked, so everybody had bronchitis, so people were sitting barking in damp doctors' surgeries
. . . There was a half-amphibian feel to the place. Water was inescapable.”’
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Public service typo

This road sign misplaces its possessive to conjure up discomfiting images of a feline phalanx collectively looking with just one eye. No need either for the upper-case C just because it’s on a new line, but that’s a common council tick of self-importance. No wonder Babergh District Council in south Suffolk did not brand this arbitrary advisory with their corporate livery.

Is the correct plural for the reflective road safety device cats’ eyes or cat’s eyes? That’s not clear on a rudimentary search and my eyes start hurting when I look at the sign for too long. I guess it should be the latter but would welcome explanations as to the whyness.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Another mix CD was completed the other week. Yes, I thought in the world where whole sites are dedicated to top-dollar streams from the latest hot DJs that I’d do one myself, blog about it then not put it online. About 28 vinyl and digital tracks compressed into 79 minutes and 45 seconds (the iTune cut-off point for burning) and mixed in a sound editing programme, not at all with dex and cd/digital and a live mixer. A project that took about a month on and (very much) off. It represents a little of where my head is now in modern music (there are producers and acts du jour to drop) and rather more maps the riffs –old, new and inbetween - that have been running around my head for the last few months, little batches of tunes that I thought might work well together. After the intensity of all that listening, doubtless a few of these will wither away to my subconscious, aka the iTunes general library.

What’s interesting and has mileage in terms of the pro-am debate that frequently pops up is the imperative to get it done as properly as possible even if it is for a tiny coterie – not having state-of-the-art gear is not seen as a barrier as many of us have the means to make a decent go at these labours of love. Not talking here so much about the comic conceits or unexpected juxtapositions but the general technical approach. This starts at preparation – I probably started off with 40-50 or so tracks and a bewildering number of potential combinations before having to chisel that down to a working number with a working narrative. It then continues through mixing; if I am doing it all in a programme then there are no excuses for a duff mix and I went back on segues several times to get them ‘right’ (there are even instances of ‘beat’ mixing; something I always cocked up on dex); evaluation when near completion (a few previously precious ‘must-use’ tunes were casualties as they didn’t fit in the grander scheme); and the final realisation of concept, including physical and digital cover artwork and tracklisting. I now need to use some better EQing software, rather than guessing what levels are acceptable.

Ultimately though, I can only dream that friends’ reaction is both positive but full of scrutiny (bewilderment can be expected from those not familiar with my online entity) and you realise that you’re mostly, only trying to prove something to yourself. We are our best judge. Being amateurish in effect, sometimes wilfully so, has been an issue around all the ‘product’ I have been involved with (from personal vanity projects via fanzines to comedy and on, this blog too), but learning and applying better standards should happen the more stuff you do. That’s right, even if it is a little old mix CD. What’s interesting too is how this arc of perfectionism may well outstretch any creative impulse I have and be left unfulfilled, an oasis in a soon-come forty-something creative sahara?

The Ummah – Put it Down
Lyn Collins - Think About Break (Djekyll edit)
L-VIS 1990- United Groove
Brotherz in Law - U.N.D.E.R.G.R.O.U.N.D
Nosaj Thing Coat of Arms
Cooly G – Love Dub
Ben Klock - Goldrush
Lusine - Two Dots
Efdemin - Acid Bells (Martyns Bittersweet Mix)
Foals - Olympic Airways
Doves - Compulsion
Sounds Of JHS 126 Brooklyn - Chill Pill (Underwater Mix)
The Funky Lowlives - Time Traveller Man (Freeform Five Breathapella)
Welcoming Nadja
Nadja - Only Shallow
The Open Mind - Magic Potion
Crocodiles – Summer of Hate
Space suite:
Emperor Machine – Introduction to Space (Vol 1)
Belinda Moore - Moon Child
Silver Apples – I Don’t Care What People Say
Jungle Fly
Semitic Djekyll - Passez les Jeux!
Grauzone – Film 2
Alexander Robotnick - The Dark Side Of The Spoon (Original Mix)
Green Velvet - Cuz of U
Tanki Tanki! – Tanki Tanki!
Floating Points - K&G Beat

available via email muzzafrabad at gmail dot com

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Elephantine tower

It started out as the planned Eco Tower on the site of the neglected Castle House complex. Now it’s a 40-storey-plus ‘scraper already topped out and is beginning to dominate not only the local landscape but also from where I work further up in Southwark and beyond. It has been renamed the appropriately minimal-modern blandism of ‘Strata’ Tower, or, if you like, the electric razor. Whether we like it or not, this will be a landmark building; hope the planned wind turbines that will power up the mostly residential block are on course for completion too. Elephant regen then? Absa-surely.
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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Got any hardcore?

As 1991 was a key era of discovery for me, I loved reading Warlock’s 20 best ‘Euro' on FACT. Brings back memories of the first large-scale nights I went to (Park Prewett Mental Hospital in Basingstoke!), knowing that the music was quickly turning direction away from what we thought we were getting into, into something bigger, brasher, bolder and wired for prime-time rave effect. Still we looked at each other and grinned as the big riff of ‘Vamp’ came in. This stuff from the mainland lowlands was nutty alright. T99’s Anasthasia (Three Blind Mice before we knew its name), was an early barometer of taste, for many once it became too big it was considered too cheesy. That was the cue for some to drift as quickly as they had joined into slinky house/US garage, hip-hop and acid jazz; generally this emergent sound cemented the divide between the ravers and the non-ravers (the rockers, the drinkers – play it to some of them and they genuinely thought it was terrible).

But I have to echo the comments that the ‘euro’ tag for this bunch of tunes doesn’t sound quite right, though certain cliques would have different names for it and all the evening Kiss DJs that were playing it (Colins Favor and Dale, Steve Jackson, etc; too far out for the pirates) were keen not to call it ‘hardcore’.

Yet me and my fellow home counties 17-year-olds only knew this as hardcore, hardcore like S.U.A.D, hardcore like the Prodge, all part of that potent,but still reasonably diverse brew. Indeed, as the Rag and Bone man remarked this stuff was a major influence on the later hardcore/jungle of 92/93. ‘Rave’ harked too closely to the original days and the scene wanted its own identity. ‘Techno’ was too cap-doffing to the Belleville Three at a time when Atkins and May were very quiet (much of it in horror at developments in the UK) and only Saunderson was beginning to shun purism and explore more brutalist timbres himself (soon though the breakbeat-schlock elements within the sound would diminish and it would more appropriately begin to be claimed as techno, as I suggested in the piece about the music weekly covers). Wasn’t ‘euro’ some of the sophisticated non-US stuff they would sell in Flying and elsewhere?

Perfect fodder this may be as an ongoing facet of ‘nuum talk – what does and what doesn’t constitute hardcore is especially hard to define in the early days – but these euro-centric productions were clinically engineered for an ever increasing cognoscenti who literally did not care what non-believers thought of it so hardcore seemed an appropriate term as any. An inspiring selection, whatever you call it.

More on label R&S around an aborted comp last year
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