Tuesday, 27 April 2010

"The thing with Dylan is that you never know if he's fucking with you. His Christmas album is a case in point. I think there's a genuine argument that his whole born-again Christian thing in the '80s was just a big fucking joke."

-Frank Turner (an unpublished part of the interview from my notebook)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Charlie Barnes - Voice of the Geekks

So looks like I'm getting my 'The End of Music?' article in Student Direct next week. Sweet. In the meantime, here's an interview with the excellent Charlie Barnes. Reminder: Bar 1:22, Huddersfield, Monday 31st May. You can check out the details here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=187702946&ref=ts#!/event.php?eid=407772552673&ref=mf . 

In the meantime, I'll let the man speak for himself.

Charlie Barnes - Voice of the Geekks

1.    I first saw you supporting Amplifier- how did you end up there and was that your 'big break' in any way?

I pestered them on myspace for a while, and the rest is history!  I wouldn’t call it a big break, but I’m not really bothered about any of that stuff.  I got to tour with my heroes, play on their songs, and earn the respect of some of my other biggest heroes along the way.  Fuck ‘big breaks’, I’m happy.  (Though a bit of cash to pay the rent wouldn’t go amiss…)

2.    Have you ever been in any 'full' bands as opposed to playing solo?

Oh aye, loads.  I did have a sort of band briefly to play my stuff before I worked out all of the looping.  But two years down the line of wandering the north-west with only myself to keep me company has rendered me desperate for interaction.  Thus, ‘Charlie Barnes & The Geekks’ has happened.

3.    What are your biggest influences, musical or otherwise?

Oceansize, Radiohead and Pink Floyd all pretty much changed my life.  At the moment I’m listening to loads of Jeff Buckley, avant-garde jazz and David Sylvian’s latest album ‘Manafon’.  I get a lot of inspiration from books too.  They’re my little escape.  George Monbiot’s stuff has always had a big influence on my writing, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves’ has been a huge influence on my newer stuff.  Memory and reality and that sort of thing.  Fucking insane book.

4.    What is your take on downloading? Does it help or hinder a young band/artist?

Dunno.  Musicians definitely don’t get anywhere near enough money for doing their job.  Except the ones who play whatever the big company wants.  My problem with downloading is the way that people (mostly younger) nowadays have instant gratification for EVERYTHING.  Films, music, TV on demand; there’s no waiting around for anything.  I even get angry when my internet takes more than two seconds to load a page up.  But because of this instant gratification thing, no-one can really be arsed to come to gigs.  They don’t have to pay for recorded music anymore, so why should they have to pay for seeing the band live?  And then you just get the handful of GOOD people who come to your gig, buy your CD, and have every knowledge that they’re literally paying for your food.

5.    How do you create your live sound?

200 odd metres of cable, a laptop, a looper, a vocoder, a delay pedal, and my big loud voice.  I never write with the live performance in mind; I’ll only do looping if it suits the tune I’m playing.  I can’t stand watching these noodly buggers layering boring guitar riff upon boring guitar riff.  Get some tunes!

6.    What are you upto at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?

I’m just finishing off my new album ‘Geekk’, and then I’ll be releasing that at a big album launch party in Huddersfield on May 30th with the band.  After that I’ll be living in Leeds and trying not to starve, and hopefully playing some more gigs with the band.  A tour or two wouldn’t go amiss either….they’re fun.  I’ve already got a lot of the next record sketched out, so I’ll pretty much get working on that straight away.  It’ll be a few years ‘til I’m happy with it though.

7.    What tracks will feature on 'Geekk'?

A City Built, Architects, This Boy Blind, Bedroom, Degas Dancer, Bluebell, Oradour, Geekk, Snakes, Ladders & Aeroplanes, Final Call.  10 tunes, 40 odd minutes; that’s how they’re supposed to be, right?  Some of these songs are about 5 years old!  It’s been nice re-recording the ‘No Offenkk’ stuff with real strings and drums etc.  It sounds a whole lot better!

8.    What's your opinion of the contemporary music scene? Any recommendations?

Some of it’s great, some of it’s shite.  I played with a band called Revere last night and they blew my socks off.  Sometimes playing bill after bill with dull indie bands you start to worry that there’s nothing interesting anymore, then a band like Revere reminds you that things are OK.  I hate the way that unsigned bands are all trying to…I dunno…’get noticed’ and do everything the ‘right way’.  Fuck it, have some fun.  I like the unexpected.  The best album of the last year was easily the Blue Roses album.  That’s a PROPER album.  No-one’s going to remember who this that or the other indie band is next year.  It’s a fad.  People like Blue Roses, Revere and Amplifier make the sort of music that you will listen to for the rest of your life; it actually has a bit of substance.  It isn’t the kind of rubbish that people dance around to in nightclubs when they’re off their face and can’t remember in the morning.

9.    Sell me Charlie Barnes in ten seconds.

Charlie Barnes does whatever he wants to do, and has a lot of fun doing it.  Charlie Barnes is not cool.

10.    Where can you see music going from here? (broad, I know)

I hope a lot more independent.  That whole Radiohead thing was obviously a bit of a turning point, and I hope it has a decent impact.  I like the idea of bands just doing it on their own.  You don’t need some big label or any of that shit.  If you can get 500 people to be excited about your new release, buy it, and come to your shows, what more do you really need?  It’ll just keep going in cycles, like it always has done.  Dance will probably be bigger in a year or two and the indie thing will die out, then metal and hard rock will get big again…blahblahblah.  I doubt big, orchestral moody pop music is going to be topping the charts anytime soon though….

11.    Live, or on the record?

Both.  I always think they should be completely different.  There’s no point in trying to fully re-create what you’ve done on an album onstage, because you can’t.  An album’s a fixed thing that you listen to on speakers or headphones and you have to imagine how they made it; a live performance is people playing stuff in front of you.  It’s a wholly different experience.  I love seeing bands play live who do things differently to the album/recorded versions.  Imogen Heap’s a prime example.  And MuteMath too.

12.    Favourite bit of kit?

My big, black Yamaha piano.  You can’t beat a real piano.

13.    Coolest brand/style of guitar?

Yamaha Pacifica 311ms.  It fits me like a glove.

14.    Finally, what do you love about music?

The unexpected. 

The above photo is (c) Simon Bray.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

HV 35

High Voltage 35 is out, and if you turn to page 9, you'll find a heavily edited version of the monster interview I did with Frank Turner a few weeks back. The full version (which would have taken up a whole page more) is going up on the HV site soon, and I'll post a link to that later. Oh and my review of Extra Wow by Nice Nice is nestled somewhere in the albums section. Sweet.

Have a read here:

Monday, 12 April 2010

New Noise- Charlie Barnes

My New Noise piece on the sublime Charlie Barnes is now up on HV, checkitout:


If you haven't already, also have a listen to Grappling Hooks by North Atlantic Oscillation, as I am fucking obsessed with it at the moment. Even though I didn't like the song at first, I've quickly discovered that 'Drawing Maps From Memory' is the musical equivalent of crystal methamphetamine. Who'd have thought?

Also on the Kscope record label are a band I've just found called The Pineapple Thief. I'd not heard of them before, but they've got a new album coming out in a month and it's shaping up to sound incredible.

Over and out.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The End of Music?

Ok, so this is an adaptation of a much shorter piece I posted on here a while back. Some feedback would be nice...

I remember reading Lester Bangs' review of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, where he theorizes that after that record, which Bangs erroneously assumes to be electronically made, rather than created from guitar feedback, music will be taken over by a technological, rather than an artistic impetus.

Whatever the truth of that, it seems true to me at least that most of the bands I really think are still out there pushing the envelope are looking at a huge technological set-up, which is as costly as it is complicated. Thinking about TSM, or SVIIB, does a man have to have two amps and a bank of pedals to create something new? I certainly came to that conclusion largely on my own years ago, and it's telling that the non guitar artists that I've come to respect over the last couple of years have seriously complicated and expensive equipment- Fears and Charlie Barnes to mention two- and in guitar rock, let's not forget just how much kit bands like My Vitriol, Amplifier, Muse and Oceansize use.

I couldn't get this thought out of my head a couple of months back as I watched Imogen Heap. I'm not going to talk about the show (it was mind-blowing, by the way), but just say that to recreate her songs live required what looked like, at a guess, the following:

- A Moog synth
- A Keytar
- At least one Korg KAOSS Pad
- Several sampler pedals/units
- Two further Keyboards
- One computer (presumably a Mac)
- Miscellaneous percussion
- A Gong
- Bespoke microphones

...and that was just her kit. Her band added to that:

- Percussion
- A drum kit
- Two acoustic Guitars
- An acoustic Bass Guitar
- An electric Guitar
- At least three Keyboards
- Numerous pedals and samplers, trigger pads and midi controllers
- Two microphones
- A Cello

Where am I going with this? Well, for a long time I've thought that the start up costs of big amp and decent guitar have put a decidedly middle class bent on rock n' roll in this country. I remember that on the '70s Live In Pompeii concert film, in interview Pink Floyd joke (with probably a little truth) that Dave Gilmour was chosen to fill Syd Barrett's shoes purely because he could afford the equipment needed to do so (at a glance, from the video, a wall of amps, several echo chambers and four-or-so Hiwatt heads). Back to the point: Imogen Heap was one of the only acts I've seen in a long time that actually brought something distinct and new to the table, but if the price tag for doing so is thirty or forty grand, doesn't that price most musicians out?

Besides this discussion, there's an entirely bigger one for many; how long can a living wage be paid to smaller artists in today's musical climate, let alone the cash required to buy the gear listed above? Answer: possibly not very long. To quote Frank Turner when I spoke to him the other week- “we're rapidly approaching a time when recorded music will be free”- and that's from a man inside the industry. This unofficially is quickly becoming the orthodoxy and it's why in recent years there's been such a focus on the hit début album- two of my favourite bands, Vex Red and The Crimea produced technically brilliant, but underselling first albums and were promptly dropped by their label.

The really interesting thing about this example is that The Crimea soldiered on, releasing their sophomore, Secrets of the Witching Hour on the internet for free. Most people I know own or are aware of this album (it went Gold in terms of individual downloads- Feeder's last album, for example, sold a lot less than that last time I checked), and yet The Crimea are too small to even tour the UK anymore. Radiohead's feted In Rainbows was eventually released on CD supposedly because nobody paid for the download. Nowadays, people have somehow got the impression that music should be free and that any payment is simply a reward to the artist. I will say this: music is not free. A decent album frequently costs over a hundred thousand pounds to record, and especially if an artist is on an independent, this money is reinvested in others on the label. Example: for the dual reasons of high cost and high risk nobody was prepared to back North Atlantic Oscillation's recent début, Grappling Hooks, so the band financed it themselves and then cold called labels until Kscope took them on and distributed their record. Before you say something like 'whatever, niche band, not relevant', I direct your attention to Exhibit A: it was Zane Lowe's Record of the Week when it was released.

Take the implications of fan apathy and and record company un-adventurousness and soon the consequences become clear. Consider this: Loveless, by My Bloody Valentine, one of the most influential albums ever, cost (allegedly) over a quarter of a million pounds to record. If no fans had paid to buy this album, Creation Records would have been bankrupted before they could release Definitely Maybe. I fucking hate Oasis, but I know the more than 7.5 million people that bought that album would disagree.

The simple fact is, the venues and the labels and the record companies are in a syndicate together whereby they promote their joint interest (i.e. profits) at the expense of the artists. You're not fucking the labels by downloading music- you're creating an economic model where the small or young artist will get neglected first. I can get self-righteous, but attitudes aren't going to change- so an accommodation has to occur.

Madonna has set the example by signing with LiveNation over a record label- now her records promote her tours; everybody knows that live music is the only still-profitable sector the industry has. Is this the way the industry has to adapt? A strategy where records promote tours, and the labels integrate into venue ownership, in the same way as a brewery owns pubs? It remains to be seen, but the labels are going to have to take two things into account- one, that breaking even on a record may now become the yardstick of success; two, that in order to do this, the artist must once again be put at the centre of the business model. People will pay to support an artist, but not a bureaucracy with a negative reputation. Unless the majors can divorce themselves from this image, they will die.

So no, we're not at the end of music, but has the technological revolution that once democratised music with the internet, downloading and cheap recording software now shown its true colours? Only time will tell.

Friday, 2 April 2010

A blast from the past...

Thought I'd put this up. First review I ever did in Manchester...

Bombay Bicycle Club with Flashguns and Dutch Uncles
Club Academy

Waiting for Dutch Uncles to take the stage, I was reassured by the number of pedals on the floor. My music teacher at school once told me ‘pedals do not musical development make’, but without knowing what to expect I was at least hoping for some wild sounds. These were duly delivered in an energetic performance. The highlights were single ‘Face In’, and a new unnamed tune that was the penultimate of their set. Tech problems curtailed the last song, but those present in the crowd cheered their efforts nonetheless.

Next up was Flashguns. Looking at this young band, I really wanted to like them. Their opener was confident and quirky in a kind of ‘indie band has-listened-to Sonic Youth’ kind of way, but it quickly became apparent that this was their only trick. Their strongest song was the irritatingly-named ‘I Don’t Not Love You’, which was let down by lazy attention to guitar tone and over-reliance on a delay pedal (see the advice of my music teacher above). Throwing himself around the stage and playing solos on the floor their singer-guitarist had the rock star attitude, but not the songs to match. Before their last number he told the crowd he was considering packing in the band and going to University. If I could give him one good piece of advice…

Finally, the band of the moment came on. It is a testament to their talent that two days ago, I couldn’t name a single one of their songs, but that tonight my buzz is adding to the sense of excitement in the packed room. Opening with new single ‘Magnet’, Bombay Bicycle Club had the crowd moshing by the end of the first chorus, and the sing-along quality of much of the new album was quickly established by the enthusiastic (and rather drunk) audience. Before the song was over, I’d already been hit by the spray from two thrown pints and had a crowd surfer pass overhead. Awesome. They followed this with ‘Lamplight’, their homage to My Bloody Valentine shoegazing, and the furthest they get from their Strokes indie rock roots. A couple of songs later came singles ‘Dust on the Ground’, and ‘Always Like This’, their strongest performance of the night. With each single came a fresh wave of crowd surfers, the sole bouncer by the stage rather comically assisting the struggling teens over the barrier. The crowd were laughing and the band was smiling, so it was refreshing that before they outstayed their welcome they announced their last song in ‘Cancel On Me’. After much frenzied chanting and clapping, the Club took the stage again for a brief encore- a fan- pleasing early EP song and then (surprisingly) album track ‘The Hill’.

Their attitude towards the music and live presence had me in mind of the Radiohead performance showcased in the old ‘Live at the Astoria’ video. Nobody back in 1993 could have predicted what those youngsters would go on to, and looking at them today, there is perhaps just an outside chance that a couple of risks taken could lead Bombay Bicycle Club up that path to greatness as well.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

I was in the bath earlier and had an idea. Not particularly original, granted, but an idea nonetheless.


- Music has been detached from the medium.

- Therefore music, being intangible is percieved as having no intrinsic value.

How then do we restore value to music?

Answer: via the medium.

The problem isn't that nobody respects the music- they do. They just associate the packaging with being a poor deal with the profits going to the wrong people. So, hand in hand with a reassertion of the artistic role in the business model, there needs to be a re-evaluation of the physical medium.

Make the packaging an extension of the art- an artistic creation in its own right and people will respect its value again.