Friday, 19 February 2010

Change your bank!!

My father, being a man of greater conscience than most, including me, has set up a rather important little campaign to try to get banks to change their ways. He outlines it all in this article. I have yet to properly follow his lead, for selfish and lazy reasons, but do think I need to get my act together. As should all of us:

Here's to improving our world!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

January on my iPod!!

So, after a quick anti-Cameron rant (he's come up with another piece of gibberish covered by Angry Mob here:, apparently not realising that the existing laws cover dealing with burglars that enter your home, or that he appears to be advocating the killing of burglars regardless of their offense - I doubt he is really, hence why he's talking out of his arse), back to real business and music and movies! And a couple of books to boot!

Genre of the month for me has undoubtedly been DUBSTEP. I had only a very vague idea of what dubstep was until I by chance started reading about it in The Wire's very excellent Primers book, a compilation of some of their most exhaustive retrospectives that covers everything from the avant-rock of Zappa, Beefheart and No Wave, to the adventurous jazz of Sun Ra and Ornette, to modern composition and noise. Essential reading, and among others, one that introduced me to dubstep, this singularly bass-heavy form of electronic underground music.

The current hero of dubstep (apart from Skream!, whom I know less) is Burial, whose 2007 masterpiece Untrue (Hyperdub) has probably been the most listened-to album of mine this month. It's irresistible, perfect, even, with jerky syncopated beats that snake around your ears, whilst throbbing bass lines, infectious synth lines and mournful sampled vocals project an image of dense, nocturnal, urban London into your mind. It's the sound of an early-hours train journey, or a suburban bus ride at night, as the capital's youth drifts from club to party to their homes, lonely souls locked in society's collective comedown. That Burial himself is as mysterious as his music is melancholic only adds to its charm. His self-titled debut, from 2006 (also on Hyperdub), is also fantastic, but harsher and less contemplative, its sub-sonic bass lines throwing a closer link back to drum'n'bass and garage. Untrue, meanwhile, is in a world unto itself.

Also worth grabbing is My Demons by Distance (Planet Mu Records, 2007). Distance, like Burial, is a relatively anonymous DJ, but where Burial's tunes are warm and hook-laden, Distance's are harsh and aggressive, much more synthetic and angular. The bass is still omnipresent, and deep, like a beating heart locked in some Dr Who-ish cyborg's metallic body, but the rhythm tracks crash and pound, and the synth lines are cold and dark, much closer to other forms of electronic music like trance and techno. But tunes like "Weigh Down", with its fabulously distorted vocodered vocal and the angst-ridden title track are pure examples of dubstep at its best.

In a completely different vein is 2009's Waiting for You... by King Midas Sound (Hyperdub), one of a number of projects by versatile DJ and musician Kevin Martin, also of The Bug and Curse of the Golden Vampire (with Justin K Broadrick no less!). For KMS, Martin has allied himself with a poet, Roger Robinson, and Japanese vocalist Hitomi to deliver some slow-burning, romantic and forlorn dubstep that was one of The Wire's top ten albums of last year. It's actually not as consistent or strong as the other two classics named above, but there is no resisting its sad, dreamy vibe and lyrical intensity. Most tracks feature lead vocals and lyrics by Robinson, whose smooth tenor is both seductive and aggressive where needed, but the true classics are when Hitomi kicks in with her dreamlike moan, especially on poisonous "Goodbye Girl". It's a grower, but well worth tracking down.

I also spent a lot of time listening to jazz last month. Pharoah Sanders'  Karma (Impulse!, 1969) is a monumental classic of free-jazz, one of the more underrated albums of the genre. The album is mostly taken up by the 30-minute-long epic "The Creator Has A Master Plan" and whilst I can't say I share the soppy religious sentiment, there is no denying it chimed with the spiritual hippy vibe of the Woodstock Generation, making this, like A Love Supreme and Ascension by Coltrane, or Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, a jazz answer to what bands like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead were doing. As such, it is modern, intelligent and groovy, with some fantastic free-spirited soloing and irresistible funky undertones. Above all, it is imbued with the kind of deep, heartfelt emotion that too few jazz artists try to approach. An under-appreciated gem from Impulse!

But it pales a tiny bit alongside Ascension (Impulse!, 1966), one of 'Trane's most controversial albums. Ascension followed on from the much-lauded A Love Supreme and Meditations and saw him fully embrace fire music in all its spitting, exploratory, free-form and noisy glory. For jazz purists of the fifties who'd love Kind of Blue, this must have been a nightmare and an insult, and the proof is that it still divides listeners today. But I love it. It may not have A Love Supreme's cohesion and vision, but it more than makes up for it in reckless abandon, sense of adventure and innovation. Coltrane is truly a master here, with some devastating sax work throughout, marvelously directing his crew of free-form geniuses, even as the threaten to fall apart through sheer experimentation. A landmark album, and a true masterpiece.

And no mention of fire music can be made without turning to Archie Shepp, a former disciple of Coltrane's who became something of the guardian of the flame (no pun intended) for the genre, as he even named an album Fire Music. I will admit to not being very familiar with everything he's done, but Live At The Panafrican Festival (BYG Records, 1971) is a must. I will admit, the sound is poor, but as a document of a truly fascinating musical adventure, it's essential. The festival was a celebration of African culture, and sees Shepp not only embracing his own African roots, but also the culture of North Africa where the festival took place, as he brought in a bunch of Algerian musicians to jam with him. The result is a splendid blend of African-tinted American free-jazz, all wailing saxes and hard groove, and joujouka-esque "ethnic" drone and percussive funk. Sure, we can wish the recording also properly captured the speeches made by the militants who spoke over this music (it must have been electric), but sometimes you just have to enjoy what you've got.

Sticking to the seventies, I've also been trawling through a number of old live recordings by two of my favourite "progressive" bands, namely King Crimson and Soft Machine. Frequent readers (if there are any) will know my love for Crimson. So my joy at getting hold of a copy of KCCC 20: Live at the Zoom Club, October 13 1972 (2002) knows no bounds. It's a bootleg recording of the first concert by the short-lived Jamie Muir line-up of Crimson, the one that gave us the excellent Larks Tongues In Aspic album in 73 before crazed percussionist Muir jumped ship. Muir was an experimentalist, having previously played with the likes of Evan Parker and Derek Bailey and, as KC geared up for this gig, unsure of what to play (the "Larks" songs had only just been written and barely fleshed out), he immediately suggested that the band just improvise. And fuck me, did they improvise! Prog is known as a genre for its meticulous restraint, but Crimson were no ordinary proggers, certainly not in this incarnation! Although the sound is pretty raw, there is no denying the power displayed here. The "Larks" tracks are given cursory airings, often seeming unfinished or stripped down, the band obviously not yet comfortable with them. "Exiles" still features some awesome soling by underrated violinist David Cross, whilst the rawness on "Easy Money", coupled with Muir's bonkers percussion (all crashing metal and wild gongs), make John Wetton's strained vocals more appealing. But the band truly takes wings on the three wild improvs, called "Zoom" (20+ minutes), "Zoom Zoom" (44 minutes!!!!) and "Z'Zoom". All are mighty and LOUD, but "Zoom Zoom" really takes the biscuit - a never-ending roar-a-thon, between screaming hard rock, caterwauling free-jazz and unrelenting noise. Robert Fripp, Britain's great unsung guitarist, is the big star here, mashing up his guitar with a reckless abandon he would hardly ever display again. It's mighty and unpredictable, a truly phenomenal track from a truly monumental live album.

Soft Machine were an altogether different beast - measure, subtle and sophisticated in a typically Canterbury Scene kind of way, as expertly demonstrated on Grides (Cuneiform Records, 2006), an archival release that shows them at the height of their Third- and Fourth-era powers. Soft Machine were natural improvisers (unlike, say, Yes or Genesis), capable of transporting each other into unknown directions, playing off each others virtuosity. But this was no self-satisfied ELP-ish wank, more a curious, intrigued improvisation lifted from jazz. Grides is a truly jazz live album, with a quiet, respectful audience and amazing sound. The great tracks are omnipresent, from Third's "Facelift", "Slightly All The Time" and "Out-Bloody-Rageous" to ones I knew less (not actually owning a full copy of Fourth) such as "Virtually" (a joyous surprise featuring saxophonist Elton Dean at his best) and "Teeth". The one regret is an absence of Robert Wyatt's singular vocals, but thus is still a much appreciated treat worth lapping up while you can.

Reissue of the month has to go to the very new re-release of Nurse With Wound's seminal debut album Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella (United Diaries, 1980; United Jnana, 2010), one of the most important -and difficult- albums of all time. It's long been an illegal download treasure of mine, due to its unavailability on CD, so this reissue, which I immediately dashed to the shops to purchase, is a blessing. If you don't know Chance Meeting, you may be in for a shock upon hearing it the first time. Nurse With Wound took the post-punk template beyond anything remotely musical, using ramshackle instruments to create insane free noise compositions that saturate the speakers and drench the mind and ears in pure sound. Only the opener "Two Mock Projections" offers any sort of concession to "accessible" music, via some free-form electric guitar soloing. The rest is awe-inspiring noise, the birth of noise as a genre unto itself, all screaming electronics, unintelligible chanted vocals and mashed up percussion. Leader Steve Stapleton, who had blagged his way into getting studio time and is also the only remaining member from this album, was a disciple of Faust and Amon Duul II in Germany, and their psychedelic and avant-garde influences can be heard here. But above all, Chance Meeting is the work of forward-thinking pioneers, and deserves its place as a maverick classic of modern British music.

So, quite a few golden oldies in there. Oh well, there'll be time for a full Skullflower retrospective (I've discovered even more of their superb work since last time!), Cadaver in Drag, To Blacken the Pages and Sunn O))) next month. 

To sign off, I wanted to recommend some movies and books, ostensibly, but not exclusively aimed at a gay audience. These may be gay-themed, but it would take a particularly narrow mind for a straight person not to appreciate them.

In movies, I particularly enjoyed semi-documentary Greek Pete by Andrew Haigh (2009, available on DVD from Peccadillo Pictures), an almost true story chronicling a year in the life of a real rent boy, Pete Pittaros, as he aims to become the number one hustler in the world. Realistic and dark, the film shines a white light into the warren-like world of London's rent boys: the drugs, self-effacement and seediness, whilst also highlighting the central figures' (all real rent boys) humanity and emotions. Not essential, but a bold and daring film focusing on a difficult subject.

Also something of a rough diamond and harrowing viewing was Shank by Simon Pearce (also 2009, and available from TLA), a gritty, somewhat amateurish it must be said, look at gay love and desire among skally teenagers in Bristol. Some of the acting is crap, but it is well-written and intense, with an intriguing view of the "hoodie" lifestyle. Worth grabbing if you can get it cheap. It's also rather sexy and violent, if those are your kind of things.

Markedly less gay-themed was The Road by John Hillicoat (2009), an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece novel. In a dying and near-deserted post-apocalyptic world, a man and his son travel through the snow, ash and rain to try and find salvation, living from hand to mouth and faced with unimaginable horror that threatens their very humanity. The film could never live up to the novel's brilliance, but Viggo Mortensen is sterling as the father and the photography and music are simply superb. A guaranteed tearjerker, with a powerful message to boot.

But, music aside, it was through the written word that I found the most to get excited about in January. First up was The Sluts by notorious underground gay writer-terrorist Dennis Cooper. It follows Cooper's familiar themes of child sexual abuse, male prostitution, drugs, sex and violence, with a recurring fantasy of killing young boys expressed by older men. It might have seemed a bit tired by now (these themes are recurrent in all his work, from the seminal Frisk to the fantastic Try, one of my all-time favourite books), but he shows considerable intelligence and an ability to reinvent himself by recounting the entire narrative through posts left on a fictional male hustlers rate and review website. Truth and fiction, fact and fantasy are blurred and left to our imagination as the lonely visitors to the site salivate via their keyboards over a hooker named "Brad". It's a fascinating, grim, upsetting and even funny roller coaster of a novel, and one of the most radical books of our time.

More subtle, more emotional, yet oddly more difficult is What We Do Is Secret by Thorn Kief Hillsbery, a book that explores the complex emotions, bizarre antics and wild dreams of a group of punk street kids in the LA of 1980. The kids have just lost their idol, punk icon Darby Crash of the Germs, who killed himself the same day that John Lennon was shot. For them, Crash's death was the bigger loss, and now, as they show a gullible older male couple around their haunts and streets, they have to come to terms with their loss, especially the protagonist, Rockets, a 13-year-old hustler and ex-lover of Darby Crash's. Hillsbery's writing is fantastic, witty and elliptical, full of crazed metaphors and stream-of-consciousness ramblings that perfectly capture drug-addled Rockets' mindset. It can be heavy-going, and a minimum of appreciation of LA punk and the various subcultures of the time may be necessary, but I have rarely enjoyed a book more than What We do Is Secret, and for that I say "Thank you Mr Hillsbery!".

Right, that's that from me. Happy New Year and Happy Valentine's and all that shite. See you soon for some long-delayed ramblings on Skullflower and Cabaret Voltaire!!