Friday, August 31, 2012

The March of Progress III: Are You A Parasite?

Greedy PandaThis guy called David Lowery wrote a piece ("Letter to Emily White", on the Wordpress blog Trichordist) about music downloading (by which I mean downloading music and not paying for it) and file sharing and stuff like that. It was a response to a piece on an NPR blog by an intern called Emily White who said that they never bought CDs and never paid for downloads but loved music and listened to it all the time. The piece was then widely read and triggered a lot of discussion about the ethics of downloading and all that. Lowery constructs a strong argument that free downloaders and file-sharers are leeching off the creative efforts of others and are contributing to the impoverishment of artists.

It is a good piece, though like most things it has its flaws. He mentions two artists who topped themselves, blaming financial concerns, but I thought this was an over-egging of the argument. The musicians he mentions had mental health issues and would hardly have been the first musicians to meet untimely ends. And if financial problems really were such a problem for them then even without downloading they were in the wrong career, as niche music has never guaranteed a secure income for its makers. He also seems implicitly to tag the file sharing and downloading as some unique vice of the current generation of young folk. I do not agree with this. People have always liked free stuff, and the current young folk are just lucky in that there is plenty of it available to them. I think my generation would have availed itself of free music if it had been available, and plenty of my age cohort have switched to free music once downloading became an option (where they have retained an interest in music).

But the overall point is clear and it is one with which I am broadly in agreement. People who download and file share may say they like music, but their behaviour is parasitic on those creating what they purport to love. I cannot tell people how to live their lives, but downloaders should examine the moral consequences of their actions.

You can read David Lowery's letter here. And here is the original post by Emily White, with a link off to a piece on the controversy triggered by the article, which mentions that David Lowery was a the songwriter in Camper Van Beethoven. I suppose everyone else knew this already.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The March of Progress II: "The Word"

A magazine I read occasionally has folded: Mark Ellen edited music periodical The Word. I did not buy it too often, but I had a certain admiration for it. What was particularly impressive about it was its managing to break out of the Reviews and Interviews straitjacket that dominates such publications. As illustrations, consider the great on the squatting scene and its contribution to Britain's musical world in the last issue. Or a previous issue's insightful piece on the world of the session musician (a world that, like most interesting things, is now vanishing as the rise of cheapskate downloaders and their non-payment for music combined with the emergence of dirt-cheap synthesisers means that there is no longer the need nor the money for top-notch session musicians). There was also a bizarre article in an earlier issue on the feud that has split the world of air guitar competitions in two. And another one talked about the rise and possible future fall of merchandise as a money-spinner for musicians who can no longer earn a crust selling records.

I also liked the pieces they did on pop culture counterfactuals, where they imagined how things might have turned out if something had gone the other way, as it easily might have done. One of these was imagining the results of the mechanical shark in Jaws working properly. Because it did not work, Spielberg had to avoid showing the shark and so had to make the film a triumph of tension as people were stalked and killed by a hidden monster. But if the mechanical shark could be shown throughout the film then it would have been. The picture becomes just another run-of-the-mill monster flick and not an epoch-defining blockbuster. Possibly stretching it a bit, they see this as leading to the non-emergence of the summer blockbuster as a genre, with the likes of Star Wars being moderately successful but spawning no sequels. I think this then means that 70s cinema goes on forever, which counts as a result.

Another of their counterfactuals was to imagine the consequences of the record companies failing to agree a CD standard, resulting in the format failing to establish itself. Things then plod along, with the main result being that "Home Taping Is Killing Music" labels continue to appear on records.

There were lots of other good things. So farewell Word, you will be missed. At least by me.

image source

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Monday, August 27, 2012

The March of Progress I: All Tomorrow's Parties

0009psrudechaletCould we soon be bidding farewell to the All Tomorrow's Parties festival? Late last year we had the unedifying spectacle of the Jeff Mangum curated ATP being postponed at almost the last minute with no explanation being offered. That event went ahead in March (and was greatly enjoyed by me, as previously noted) but was not that packed out. Then there was the sudden moving of next December's ATP (to be curated by The National) from Minehead to the much smaller Pontins in Camber Sands. And then there was the news that the ATP organisation was being wound up for non-payment of tax and stuff but then was rising from the ashes as some new organisation mysteriously controlled by the same people. And an American ATP festival was moved at short notice from New Jersey to New York.

None of this really augurs well and I would not be too surprised if the whole enterprise disappears this year or next. And this would be a shame. I know people like to scoff at All Tomorrow's Parties, but I have had a lot of fun at their festivals. The recent ones have been particularly enjoyable, so it is not like the events themselves were sliding into shite (creatively). So I hope they pull through their current difficulties and continue their heroic efforts.

The Magic of ATP

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Man Takes Off Clothes

The world has been astonished to learn that a man has taken off his clothes. The disrobing occurred in a hotel room, when the man was in the company of some young women. It is understood that at least one of the women also removed her clothes. A game of "strip billiards" may have led to the naturist outbreak.

It is too early to discover what ramifications this shocking incident of private nudity will have for the man's career and position in society.

For more on this important story see any newspaper or online news source.

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"Rockism swept through Munster and south Leinster between 1821 and 1824"

Rockism is generally thought of as a modern phenomenon, particularly beloved of those who decry the shallowness of pop music and feel that real music is on real instruments by musicians who have paid their dues and worked on their chops. But the Irish Times reports that Rockism seems to have originated in 19th century Ireland. Under the leadership of the semi-mythical Captain Rock, the Catholic Rockists of rural Ireland engaged in a campaign of terrifying violence against their richer Protestant fellows, who were accused of liking disco and other inauthentic forms of music. The Rockists also believed that the End Times were about to arrive and with them God would deal out terrifying punishment to the heretical adherents of the Protestant faith.

The authorities were only able to suppress the Rockists by the most violent means - suspending civil liberties and carrying out mass executions. But the cancer of Rockism was never fully eradicated, reappearing in the later 20th century. By then it had lost its millennial Catholic overtones and could appeal to people of all religions who love music made with real craft and hate manufactured pop.

The attached image is a threatening letter sent by Captain Rock in 1842 to the then Chief Surveyor of Ireland.

More on 19th century Rockism in Ireland

More on modern Rockism

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Popical Island All-Dayer

Popical Island is a local record label. Somewhat unusually for Dublin, they specialise in indie-pop music, something there had never really been much demand for here. As well as releasing records and stuff they also do occasional all-day musical events, like this one (which was on in the unappealing upstairs venue in Whelans). And I went to it, with my beloved and visiting Englishman Matt B (his name abbreviated to give the false impression that Matt Berry is our friend), as much because it was free and because we could not think of anything better to do than out of any real enthusiasm. And we actually drifted along quite late in the day too, as we did not know any of the bands playing and so had nothing particularly pressing to bring us along earlier. One annoying result from this was that we just missed Tieranniesaur, Popical's star band and an outfit who have a strong live reputation. They had not been publicised as playing and if I had known they were on the bill I would have raced down to see them.

The first actual band we saw were called Groom. Their main guy is apparently one of the main movers behind the whole Popical business. They turned out to be not unpleasant. They were appealingly melodic and had nice songs that referenced now long forgotten British comics from when I was small, so they are obviously one of the best things ever. They also had a song called 'Don't Listen To The Voices', words of wisdom we should all heed.

Next up was… eh, not sure, actually. I thought I had noted these important details, obviously not. This band were somewhat punky. I quite liked them but my beloved thought they were total rubbish. They did have somewhat poncey haircuts, something increasingly hairless me has increasingly little tolerance for.

And then there was Grand Pocket Orchestra. They may have had something going for them musically, maybe, but their really big problem for me was their lead singer, who liked himself a lot more than I did. Mine might however be a minority view, as there seemed to be quite a few people in the audience, especially young ladies, whose fondness for the singer was only slightly less than his own self-regard. But it was still enough to put me off the band completely. Apparently there is actual footage of them playing at this event. I would like to think that the camera pans through the mostly adoring crowd and then briefly alights on me looking old and unimpressed at the back.

At this point we realised that each band we had seen had been less interesting than the one before it, and that there were still more to come, so we cut our losses and left. I did pick up a copy of the second Popical Island compilation. It is now available for free on the Internet, as are the first and third, so you can download it for yourself if you want (I will not link to it as I want delay for as long as possible the Grand Pocket Orchestra people finding this blog and then getting Popical on my arse, but it should be eas). I think this would be worth doing, if only to hear the wonderful track 'Here Be Monsters' by Tieranniesaur. It is stylistically very different from its peers, having a kind of groove and vague resemblance to tracks like Fleetwood Mac's 'Sisters of the Moon' that puts it on a different level to the other indiepop tunes on the compilation.

The other tracks are not unentertaining, though I must admit that I have not listened to them that closely yet. That said, there is at least another entertaining one - 'Popicalia', by the wonderfully named Retarded Cop. It has a perky beat and lyrics about the singer's ineffectual attempts to cop off with some young lady (sample lyric 'If I'd known you were a vegetarian / I wouldn't have served you pork"). As the song goes on he brings her to a Popical Island event, but unfortunately things still go horribly wrong ("If I'd known you were a fucking lunatic / I mightn't have asked you out"). On a first listen I suspect the Hired Hands track might also repay further listening.

I wonder if it was just coincidence that this all-dayer took place while the Indietracks festival was on in darkest Derbyshire? If I was one of the people who ran Indietracks, I would be looking at the Popical Islands roster for bands to play at next year's event. As with Indietracks, even if the music of the Popical Islanders is largely not for me, I am glad it exists.

Pandical Island

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Man Goes To Restaurant

The BBC news website reports that owners of the Veer Dhara restaurant in St. Albans were astonished when a group of ten people came to the restaurant after phoning ahead to make a reservation. Among the group was a well-known actor, to whom the restaurant had apparently been recommended. It is reported that he wished to enjoy a relaxing evening out with his family. The actor drank sparkling mineral water and ordered spicy food, saying that he particularly wanted to try chicken tikka masala and something with lobster.

More on this important story.

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even more

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sad Panda News

Bao Bao the Panda has died in Berlin Zoo. It is believed that he was the world's oldest male Panda when he died, being 32 years old. He was the last of his generation of Pandas who were given by China as goodwill presents to Western countries. He arrived in Berlin in 1980 and apart from a sojourn in London stayed there for the rest of his life.

The picture is from the website of Pambassador Jeroen Jacobs, who has written a memoir of his many visits to see Bao Bao. It includes some pictures of a very tired Bao Bao from only a few days before his death.

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The Fall - live in the Button Factory

I went to see the Fall to celebrate the end of a particularly busy and stressful period at work. Also, they had been great at the Jeff Mangum ATP earlier this year, so I thought "if they were great at a festival, then surely they will be even greater playing a full gig on their own?". In this I was to be somewhat disappointed.

Arriving I was struck by how many older men there were in the audience. As you know, the Fall have been around for a long time. They are famous for having a rather fluid line-up. On this occasion, however, it struck me that the band's membership has stabilised somewhat. The guitarist and keyboardist were with them the last couple of times I saw them. Internet researches suggest that other members of the band have also been around for several years too. And I think the singer has been with them for a while as well.

The band are also famous for being a bit erratic live. For a long time I had managed to avoid duff Fall gigs, but when I saw them a couple of years ago in the Tripod they seemed a bit below par (or maybe it was all the trend people in the audience harshing my buzz). But they were so on form at ATP that I was prepared to write that off as an aberration. This time I would not describe them as being musically off-form, but I was struck by how short a set they played. They were gone less than an hour after they started, and if you factor in the time they spent between the main set and the encore then they may only have been onstage for 50 minutes. This provided me with somewhat poor value for money, so I retaliated by not buying another t-shirt or many of the fine albums they had for sale.

What they did play, however, was great. When people talk about the Fall, they tend to focus on their singer, Mark E. Smith, the band's only constant member. That focus tends to overstate the importance of vocals and lyrics to the band, underplaying the importance of the music and the band's playing. And the music is great. The musicians are great at laying down a motorik groove and chugging away. I did maybe sense a certain disengagement from some audience members whenever Mark E. Smith was not present onstage, but for me the band's playing was more than sufficiently entertaining. The musicians also radiate a great "don't give a fuck" attitude, suggesting an acceptance that Fall membership is not a life-sentence. The possible exception to this is the keyboardist (and current Mrs Mark E. Smith), who actually seems quite excited about playing in the Fall. Maybe she was head of their fan club before she was recruited.

I know surprisingly few Fall songs and recognised almost nothing of what they played. One song, I realised, was 'Strychnine' - an old 60s punk cover or blues standard or something? They also encored with a song whose lyrics made me realise that it was the 'Theme from Sparta FC'. This seems to be one of their big tunes, does anyone know what album it comes from? ["What am I, your Google bitch?" - Reader's Voice] I think they might also have played 'Guest Informant' from The Frenz Experiment, with the keyboardist really going for it on the shouty vocals.

One other fun thing was that when Mark E. Smith gave a mic to some guy in the audience, after shouting "Mark E. Smith! The Fall! McGonagles 1981! I was there!", the guy then started providing surprisingly good improvised backing vocals on all the following tracks. You might have had to be there on this one.

Hip Priests and Pandas

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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Olympics: I was there

In an unlikely sequence of events, I found myself in London during the Olympic games. But I was not there for them, but rather for a number of cultural events. First up, I went to the Globe Theatre for a performance of Richard III, with Mark Rylance as the titular king. He played him as an evil version of Derek Jacobi in I, Claudius, the harmless differently abled person that everyone writes off until he is having you carted off to be executed. Richard is one of the great Shakespeare villains and it was impressive of Rylance to make him something other than a scenery-chewing monster.

Later that same day, I met some other people (who included my beloved) and went to see Selda playing in the Meltdown festival. The Turkish sensation was the reason we had come to London. If you are not Turkish then if you know Selda at all it will be from the reissue of her first album by Finders Keepers, or because people like me keep putting tracks by her onto CD-Rs. Her first album is an interesting record, in that it manages to effectively combine Selda's folkie-protest songs with an accompaniment that mixes Anatolian psych, early electronics and some traditional Turkish instruments. As previously noted, this kind of thing should not work but in that case it does.

The live concert repeats the same format, more or less. Selda sings, other musicians play keyboards, guitar, drums, and a saz, a Turkish instrument similar to the bouzouki or suchlike. Selda's voice still has it, she has not gone all softy rock or smooth jazz, her band are great, so it was all good.

What was funny, though, was how Turkish it all was. Particularly in London, when you are at some ethnic music show, there is always the question of whether the audience will primarily be Western hipsters or members of the particular ethnicity. At this one there were a lot of Turks present and if they were not the majority the event certainly felt like it was being primarily run for them. Selda yapped away onstage in Turkish between songs, cracking jokes that had her compatriots chortling and leaving us befuddled. And she played the songs so that they featured a lot of call and response stuff, which I and my fellow round-eyed devils found a bit confusing. They also waved Turkish flags from the stage, which some people may have found a bit disconcerting.

That all sounds like a moan, not at all, it was a big bag of fun for this cultural tourist.

We did quite like that the concert started and finished early, meaning that we were then able to go for pints to a divey spot called The Hole In The Wall with which our friend "Dave" had a certain familiarity. It is near Waterloo and serves troglodytes.

The next day my beloved and I saw Henry V in the Globe, in which King Henry V invades France and stuffs the French out of it. It seemed like a jolly business. At the end of the play they did what they always do in the Globe - the cast do a big dance number in lieu of the more normal kind of bowing actors are famous for. The actor who was playing the French princess Henry V marries seemed to step out of character and be really enjoying the dancing - and then I remembered, she is an actor, it is her job to project emotions that she may or may not be feeling.

We also visited the British Museum and, in the company of one Mad King Ken went for lunch in the famous Gaby's Deli. Their falafel sandwich proved to be as nice as promised.
Mark Rylance in Richard III image source

Henry V image source

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Brave Dog Rescues Puppies From Fire

Reports are coming in of how a brave dog responded when a car bomb caused fire to engulf a house in Santa Rosa de Temuco in Chile. Amanda the dog carried her little puppies out of the building one by one, returning back into the inferno each time to rescue another. She then lay beside her young to protect them and was very protective when vets came to check on their health.

The story does not have an entirely happy ending, as one of the puppies was so badly burned that it died.

You can read more about this here. That article carries no further information on the car bomb that started the blaze, suggesting that these are an everyday occurrence in that part of Chile.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Clever Dogs Help Stop Smuggling

Like many European countries, Italy is in the midst of an economic crisis. Many people fear that if the Eurozone collapses their savings will become worthless and so want to lodge them in Swiss-franc denominated accounts in Switzerland. People who have dodged Italian taxes are also keen to get their ill-gotten gains into the famously discreet financial institutions of Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

But Italy's tax police have new helpers in their battle against the money smugglers - four legged help. Thanks partly to the efforts of Labradors trained to sniff out banknotes, there has recently been a steep increase in seizures of smuggled money. Labradors are apparently better at this kind of work than Alsatians, because they are calmer and have more discerning noses that allow them to make out the subtler smell of money. The clever dogs are trained only to respond when someone is carrying more than 40 bank notes, because if they are all €500 notes that will put the traveller over the legal limit.


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Monday, August 13, 2012

Kanga Breakout!

In the second world war, when Allied prisoners of war were held in German camps, they would often form escape committees and cooperate on plans to escape, so that at least some of them might find their way to freedom. The prisoners would also seek the assistance of people outside the camp - criminals or people who simply sympathised with their plight - in their attempts to break out. So it seems also to be with animals held in the Hochwildschutzpark Hunsrück, a wildlife park to west of Frankfurt. Three kangaroos managed to escape from their enclosure, through tunnels dug for them by a fox and a wild boar. Camp guards quickly recaptured two, but the third is still on the run.

Reports that the rogue kangaroo may have commandeered a motorbike and be on his way to the Swiss border have not been confirmed by the German authorities.


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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Brave Dog Defends Home, Family

Ruger is a pitbull terrier who lives in Valparaiso, Illinois. Recently his owner, Jayne Casteel , answered the door of their home at 3.00 am to a suspicious character who then forced his way in through the door, knocking her and her toddler son to the ground. Alerted by her scream, Ruger sprang into action, biting the intruder's arm and dragging him outside. Ms Casteel 's fiancé and another man living with them then joined the affray, serving up some punches to the intruder and a waiting accomplice. Ruger bit the intruder in the leg, whereupon he and his partner in crime ran away into the night.

Ruger has received great praise for his swift response to the threat to his family. "I am so proud of him", commented Ms Casteel. Ruger is not normally a violent animal, typically acting as what Ms Casteel describes as a "big baby". However, Ruger had been trained to protect Ms Casteel's son, as the intruder found out to his cost.


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Thursday, August 02, 2012

Clever dog sniffs out tumour

Sharon Rawlinson was surprised when Penny, her Cavalier King Charles, kept sniffing and pawing at one of her breasts. But when the dog stepped on her chest, causing pain, Ms Rawlinson examined herself and found a lump. She then went to her doctor and on to hospital for tests, which revealed a cancerous tumour. She is now undergoing chemotherapy and is going into hospital for an operation to remove the tumour.
Ms Rawlinson is not out of the woods yet, but thanks to her clever dog she has a fighting chance.


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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Man Kills Enormous Fish, for Fun

A man called James Jones has brought to an end the life of a very large fish. Mr Jones is normally unsuccessful in his attempts to kill fish that have never done him any harm, but on the 30th of July in Oak Lakes Fishery he hooked a 63.5 kg catfish. With the aid of other fish-killers he was able to pull this wonder of nature out of the water. The fish then asphyxiated and died.


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