Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Music coverage a bigger problem than mere lack of criticism

We recognise the lack of quality music criticism since the traditional press decided Everything is Great and the online community largely failed to take up a more objective role (this was never a mission statement of the blogs, but one would have expected more from the likes of Pitchfork, Fact, Quietus and so on, and not just cheap shots at the easy targets too). This has not developed solely because we have all become always tuned-in desperate hipsters, it reflects the much bigger issues of the decommoditisation and mass availability of music. If everything is free or at least cheap to buy and easy to get hold of, it looks like we have to suffer the correlative impact of a non-critical commentariat. Like, if no-one's making money out of this, let's at least give them a fair crack of the whip at getting their music heard and liked (and most online mags have direct links to where you can buy the stuff they review, further streamlining the process for the consumer).

There are great critics around online of course, but where once a writer could encapsulate his or her worldview from a deft feature on a band in the inkies, now our best talent is not content merely to restrict their aegis to music and therefore explicitly covers other fields as a priority. That's a good development for culture as a whole, but unfortunately it leaves the likes of Morley with too much lingering influence in music.

But the issue is not just about the need for more impartial reviewing - it concerns the quality of writing itself. We're often guilty in relying on the cliche or easy associative term as a lack of imagination to describe this immaterial object takes hold. Expect to see any number of these terms used in any bogstandard 'review' these days. Playing bingo, as another non-critical portal that came up with it suggests, is optional.
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Sunday, March 21, 2010

A tale of two DLs

This week's favourite track came to me in the usual contradictory circumstances. The Family Sonic were off to see Suffolk relatives, and I had won the music battle in the people carrier, mainly because Alexander Nut was playing some lovely downtempo techno and house on his Saturday lunchtime Rinse show. Yeah, yeah, silly Dad trying to hang on to the nodes, modes and mores of days. Hadnt Mum banned music with all the other nasty physical stuff that goes with being exulted by it? Not yet, littluns. Knowing the kids could erupt at any minute out of sheer frustration at their enforced and prolonged seating, this was helping to chill them out as we faced an hour and a half jammed in the south circular in bright sunshine that we couldnt enjoy, just from catford to Lee in that time.

Anyway, one tune I liked whose name i managed to catch was All in the Place by Falty DL. An American who’s come through post-dubstep circles in the usual non-critical manner of mass online praise, he’s done a more techno ep for Dutch gnostics Rush Hour, and their Direct Current online imprint. All bubbling incidentals, variable rhythm (on initial hearings, until the groove is locked in my head), lovely synthetic bass and spaceistheplace toplines. Then it has one of those minor key middle sections that is pure late 80s techno but which keeps unravelling as other elements return to the mix. The kind of tune I lose myself in por certo, and it’s good that those type of tunes are still being made so that the listening pleasure of the genre is not just Derrick May/Voodoo nostalgic flashback. Backroom slowbuild material, or for back home on the comedown (which doesn’t seem an entirely appropriate term now).

With guys like Nut playing such Detroit classicisms to ostensibly a club-oriented audience, I guess this is all part of that whatever culture where electronic dance music producers are perhaps suffering from a glut of influences so that the output struggles for novelty. But one positive element of this continued resurgence and diversification is that mediated distinctions between bedroom and dancefloor electronic music are becoming irrelevant, in such ways that would have been unthinkable in the 90s on both sides of the (often overplayed) ‘divide’ – for me ‘bedroom’ in the Ai haze of the student years, then ‘dancefloor’ at housier movements in the millennial years. With the tempos often down but infinitely requantised, basically anything interesting gets coverage in both contexts these days and music from a host of milieus is contributing to the mix. Basically, unless you're a young pill monkey living for the cliched weekend you're not going to hanker after a specific generic throb - d&b, trance, bouncy house in the provinces - and clubbers are maybe there more for the music (and the social networking) than at other times.

All in the Place will definitely appear in the next mix, which I’m now racing to complete by a self imposed deadline of easter when my actual mate ‘DL’ is back from Oz. Not that DL will like it, who i joke ceased incitement by electro music since 1986 (save a little revival for the g-funk). But there’ll be other takers as we meet up and discuss what self-absorbed twats we all were at various points in our life. Laugh when it’s not directed at you then try to laugh with them when it is. The rest of yers reach for the offline business, etc.
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ryder checks in at CivvyCorp

Amelia Troubridge's image of Shaun Ryder tying the knot made Britons of a particular vintage smirk. 'Look, Shaun looks just as boring as us now', we droled on a break from our content management systems, enjoying the Happy Mondays' singer resemblance to a lifetime office worker who has divined the middle management game aint worth the trouble but knows enough about the tech stuff to earn his keep.

'The source of amusement for those who remember the halcyon days of the late 80s is not the suit, tie or the blue-tinted glasses – it's the incongruity of Ryder as a figure of respectability', reckoned your Guardian. We can calm down with the smirking though, because he is booted up for a wedding. Not even Shaun would pick out the gangster leather jacket, big gold chains and the best Mike Ashley's Sartorial Abortion Stores had to offer for the nuptials with Joanne.

Nevertheless, we've all been there Shaun. In fact, most of us have been rocking that look for the last 20 years, on a less-than-ecstatic Monday to Friday basis, earning money to temporarily emulate your hedo credo while you were off swanning with the bezman and making cultural interventions of increased diversity but staggeringly poor quality (remember, the lad has been responsible for two and a third brilliant albums, and virtually invented drukqz). That said, i could only share my smirks with male white men of a similar age in my meatworld; the woman from America meanwhile had no idea what a 'Shaun Ryder' is.

They may have kickstarted the meme, but cant be held responsible for the narrowing of culture into dumbed down, high street alconarcosis by rote (that was Underworld, right?). Shaun didnt invent the tiresome beefed up Reality Game schtick either. Now 47, he used to rock some pretty beguiling images in his heyday. Now the urge to have it is no doubt still there, but is increasingly stunted and fidgety.

While we're at it here's an embed of the second of those two Heavenly-sourced 80s docs where Mondays are the focus of a Granada analysis of the costs of making an album (in this case Bummed - apparently it's complicated 'because people don't just buy music on vinyl anymore' in 88). There's a great footage of Do It Better at a Dingwalls album launch at the end, and Kevin Cummins opining that this was the most important popular musick since Punk. Well better than the Roses or Oasis certainly if not quite felling the Fall or creating a new order. But we can still prosecute for their generating Northside.

And i still like watching crack-keen Ryder and Bez make Terry Christian squirm after they did Judge Fudge on The Word. But i couldnt find that on YouTube (maybe Shaun can help with my SEO) so voici an Anglia TV series on Madchester. Includes NME types Maconie and James Brown doing a tongue-in-cheek design tour of Dry Bar. And Northside! Actually I love Shall We Take a Trip but they've got Rising Star here.

And here they stoned as arse in a not-exactly thorough interview from what looks like the late 80s again, in a tour de force of the tweaked manc template.
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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Worth saving 6? Maybe

So the BBC has earmarked digital station 6 Music along with The Asian network for closure, in a wider move that seems to be a pre-emptive trimming of its capacity ahead of a possible Tory government and subsequent crackdown. It's the opposition with various Murdoch media that are usually in the frontline of the BBC's attackers ('Big, Bloated and Cunning' was a particularly peevish editorial last week). Save6Music is trending big on the Tweetpipe, I hear.

But no sooner had the axe been prepared for wielding that 6 Music discovered how loved it is, really. Around 100,000 have joined the Facebook campaign in a matter of days (it's only a couple of clicks). Even Ed Vaizey, shadow culture secretary, is backing it to survive (having never heard it before last Friday), ignoring unofficial policy on the corporation.

Conforming as I do to its 30-50 white (male) bourg demographic, I've of course been a regular, mostly daytime listener of 6 ever since we got our digital radio several years back. It fits around my work schedule nicely, whereas daytime on 1Xtra is not for the olders (Rinse I reserve for driving my, er, crew - ie, the children - round southeasy). It's a post-Peel wonderland where only his liking for NME bands is remembered. Most of the DJs are good in their own way, I like Shaun Keaveney in the morning, Lauren Laverne has good downloads, Marc Riley's show is worthy uber-indie and i even liked that dick Lamb's weekly shows because he played decent hip-hop and disco. Maconie's experimental Sunday show is rightly lauded. But there is no doubt that there is FAR TOO MUCH guitar music on the site. it is a dump for landfill indie, though XFM is the willing major client on that score. If it doesn't play indie-rock, it plays the long-accepted alternatives, soul (Craig Charles has a flagship show), reggae/dub (Don Letts gets to tell his story AGAIN tonight), ska, rock and roll. They do crappy events like teaming Gary Numan with Little Boots because they both play synth music. It lacks the up-to-the-minute intense coverage of radio 1's better night-time shows.

A user, yes, then if not a committed fan, and if it did get the chop I could live without it due to the myriad other options available, or, you know, just do without that side of music. I could live without the shiny happy major label industry album/gig/festival infrastructure losing another of its life support mechanisms too. But if the groundswell of support does save 6 then i suggest it could use a bit of redefinition, a bit more danceable daring at night-time, more programmes that support actually alternative music, docs that address areas we 30-50s havent heard about a million times already and some substantial news slots (not just about music) would do for starters.
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