Saturday, April 25, 2015

China's funeral strippers crackdown

The BBC has reported on a Chinese clampdown on an increasingly prevalent practice at funerals. In China it is considered a mark of respect to the deceased to have large crowds attending their funeral. Funeral organisers often provide entertainment to encourage attendance. In certain rural areas funerals have gone so far as to lure in extra mourners by laying on strippers.

The authorities are taking a dim view of this new custom. Funeral organisers and exotic dancers in Hebei and Jiangsu provinces have been arrested and punished. However it is unclear whether this clampdown will be any more successful than previous attempts to eradicate this pernicious practice.


Pole dancing Panda (photobucket)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

K is for… KLF

In the pages of Frank's APA we are running through the letters of the alphabet.

The lyrics'll flow, yo, hear the words I speak. Rap is cheap so I teach and I preach.

The KLF were two fellows, one called Bill Drummond, the other Jimmy Cauty. Mr Drummond was the one who did interviews, wrote books and was mouthy and opinionated, which always led me to suspect that it was Mr Cauty who did more of the actual making of music. They started life as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, taking their name from an organisation featured in the pages of the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

Drummond and Cauty released records as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (and had their arses sued off for using unapproved Abba samples). As the Timelords they got to number one with 'Doctorin' the TARDIS', one of the world's great novelty singles. After this they published a book called The Manual, in which they explained how to have a number one hit. Then in 1990 and 1991 they had a run of monster hit singles, beginning with 'What Time Is Love?', an epic piece of pop-rave action.

I have read it suggested that the KLF wanted to pursue a more purist dance music direction, but to get their tracks played on the radio they had to add in vocals, especially the obligatory early 1990s lamer raps that show up on so many records of that era. I think their rappers were gentlemen named Bello B and Ricardo Da Force; I would love to know how they were recruited and what they went on to do afterwards. There might be an element of dance rockism to the idea that their tracks suffered by being popped up. The original versions have their own mesmerising qualities but it was the hit versions that have the ultimate power.

Aside from the fact that these singles were monster floor filling tunes, what was fun about the KLF was the way they created this ludicrous mythology around themselves. They weren't just some spods making faceless dance music, they were the Kopyright Liberation Front! And they were also the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, who had travelled from a lost continent or something to make pop-dance records. Their Top of the Pops appearances were Events, with capes and masks and armies of ransomers on stage, etc.

Along the way the KLF also released Chill Out, possibly inventing ambient house in the process. This odd record supposedly soundracks a night journey across some bit of the United States, with sounds wafting in from the ether like snatches of songs heard on radio stations as they come in and out of range. It is a very relaxing record, unlike the KLF's hit singles.

Eventually Cauty and Drummond grew tired of their success and decided to end it. There was a bizarre episode where they fired a machine gun loaded with blanks at the audience of the Brit Awards before dumping a dead sheep outside the venue. They followed this by withdrawing all their money from the KLF bank account (some one million pounds) and burned it, before deleting their entire back catalogue. I have heard it suggested that the money burning thing was not quite what it seems; nevertheless, in subsequent writings Drummond has alluded convincingly to the grief he received from his children once they grew up enough to register that their dad had burned that much money.

Sometimes I think the art happening stuff obscures the KLF's music a bit too much. Their singles were great floor filling tunes and listening to them again now has me wishing there was dance floor nearby where I could get down to them. At one point they were calling their music Stadium House, suggesting a certain bombastic quality alongside the programmed beats. The whole thing with chanted slogans and fist punched in the air goes with that, giving the whole enterprise a charge that much of the electronic music of their contemporaries lacks.

What to look for?

'Doctorin' the TARDIS' (released by The Timelords) - all the mixes of this are great, particularly the ones with Gary Glitter on vocals

'What Time Is Love' - the most epic of their epic singles. Try and find every single version of it and play them one after another.

'3AM Eternal' - also awesome. Again, you want every version of this ever recorded.

'Last Train to Trancentral' - third of the great trilogy.

Chill Out - spark the hooter and listen to this sonic journey across an imaginary US landscape

'It's Grim Up North' (released by the JAMMs) - a name-check of places in the north (of England), with the only other lyrics being the assertion that it is grim up north. Back in the day this record was cited as evidence by my then flatmate for the proposition that Chester is in the North of England. It is there at the 5.01 mark.

'America: What Time is Love' - more a reworking than a remix of 'What Time Is Love', with ludicrous intro about the JAMMs ancient journey across the ocean to discover America. Features guitars.

'Fuck the Millennium' (released by 2K in 1997) - kind of a greatest hits of the KLF in one song, with added swearing about the coming millennium; notable for guest appearances by the striking Liverpool dockers (on swearing) and the William Fairey Brass Band assisting with brass band versions of their great tunes

There is also 'Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMMs)', which is famous for the fact that it features Tammy Wynette on guest vocals, but I do not like it so much.

KLF image source (Fresh on the Net)

Pyramid blaster image source (Wikipedia)

(features some of the appearance of Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty on the Late Late Show discussing their burning of a million pounds)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

J is for… Joy Division

In the pages of Frank's APA we are running through the letters of the alphabet.I would not actually describe myself as the world's biggest fan of Joy Division, but they are a band I like. Their place in music history can easily be summarised. They start off as a Manchester punk/post-punk band. They develop in somewhat doomy directions, perhaps driven by the miserabilism of their lead singer, Ian Curtis. They are apparently on the brink of major success but then Curtis tops himself. And that is the end of that, except that the surviving members regroup, recruit the drummer's girlfriend on keyboards and continue under the new name of New Order.

Joy Division's career was short and they did not record that much, though I suppose two albums and a rake of singles in such a short time makes them remarkably productive. They have probably become more famous since the band's dissolution, with a cinematic documentary followed by a feature film telling the band's story; the Joy Division and Ian Curtis story was also an important part of that film 24 Hour Party People. They have been the subject of many articles by music journalists and several books.

So what do I have to add to this party? Probably not much. The big thing I have to say about Joy Division is that too much of the commentary on Joy Division focusses on Ian Curtis. I am not saying he is overrated as a frontman (though of course I never saw them live), as on record he is clearly a lead singer of power, possessed of a singular vision. What I am saying is that the emphasis on Curtis obscures the input of the band's other members and turns the whole enterprise inappropriately into Ian Curtis and his backing band. The fact that the surviving musicians were able to bounce back so effortlessly from the death of Curtis suggests to me that they were more than just his peons.

In listening to the music of Joy Division, it is apparent in so many of the tunes that the vocals are just part of the mix. The musicians' efforts create a claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere as much as the singer's deep vocals and sinister lyrics. You only have to listen to the first two minutes or so of 'Dead Souls' to perceive the atmospheric qualities of the instrumental music on its own.

The other perhaps controversial thing I would say about Joy Division is that people sometimes over-emphasise the oppressive doominess of their music and miss the perky pop elements. 'Love Will Tear Us Apart Again' was released as a single after the death of Ian Curtis and will always be associated with his untimely passing. Yet despite the lyrics and their sad evocation of a dying relationship, the music is astonishingly joyous. From the triumphant intro to the surging rhythms that run through the tune, this is a song that calls feet irresistibly to the dance floor. I can imagine that in foreign countries where they do not know English local bands could cover this and sing it with cheery smiles on their faces. In days of yore I used to think it would be an ideal song for Steps to sing.

Joy Division's career was cut short but three of the band's members went on to form New Order, whose more dance floor friendly electronic music enjoyed considerable success. What is always a bit of a mystery is whether Joy Division would have progressed in similar directions to New Order in the event of Curtis remaining alive. It is a difficult question. In some ways early New Order and late Joy Division are not so very different to each other. Joy Division were becoming a bit more electronic and as noted above were not complete strangers to the lure of the dance floor. Early New Order meanwhile maintains a lot of the oppressiveness of Joy Division, as well as a lyrical miserabilism that they never definitively lost (though for tracks like 'World in Motion' it took a definite back seat). But there are other factors in play which may receive further discussion when I reach the letter N.

image source (Stereogum)

Friday, April 10, 2015