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Archive for October, 2011

The BAMM Argument: ‘Audio, Video, Disco’ by Justice

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In which two BAMMers lock horns ‘for’ and ‘against’ a hot topic. This time around: Jasper praises the new album by Justice, while Chris isn’t so keen:

For (Jasper, BAMM Amsterdam):

So, Justice made a bold move. They knew they had to. Producers Gaspard Augé en Xavier de Rosnay obviously learned from the pitiful downfall of fellow electro-rock crossover acts Digitalism and MSTRKRFT. All three surfaced around the same time with the same aesthetic, but were chastised for rehashing the same old tricks (insert Digitalisms latest LP I Love You Dude) or simply threw in the towel and went back to their garage (as in: revamping Death From Above 1979). Meanwhile, acts like Skrillex, Magnetic Man and Deadmau5 ascended, scaling up (or dumbing down – your choice) dubstep and techhouse to stadium-worthy proportions.

In a classic showcase of ‘no guts no glory’, the Parisian duo dig knee-deep into 70’s hardrock while adopting a more subtle, songlike approach for their second album. No, Audio, Video, Disco is no †, and thankfully so. That album already realised the entire potential of their newfound rock-electro crossover. There’s not contesting that on first listen, there are no epic dancefloor anthems here, or chart-topping hits along the lines of D.A.N.C.E. for that matter. But is that really the only meausure by which to judge Justice’s right to exist? Like MGMT, one could say Justice needs to step out of the hype in order to survive. MGMT’s sophomore album Congratulations was initially received with a lot of scepticism, but 18 months later people have become much more receptive towards it. It just took some getting used to.

Moreover, even without the conceptual banter this record still contains a handful of very recognisable disco-rock tracks (Civilization, Canon, Helix) and a novelty hitsong -the title track- to boot. It’s not brilliant all around, but plenty from an act in transit from the pinnacle of hype to the bedrock of the French house scene.

Against (Chris, BAMM London):

There’s nothing wrong with taking a ‘lighter touch’ to your sound – which is exactly how French electro-pop duo Justice have positioned their sophomore album ‘Audio, Video, Disco’, labeling it ‘daytime music’ as opposed to the nocturnal vibe of the last one. It’s just that – if you’re going to make things a little more sunshiney – you’ve still got to keep a bit of attitude in there. A bit of what made you special in the first place.

Does ‘Audio, Video, Disco’ have this? As much as I want to love this album, I’ve got to say that it doesn’t. At best, it’s a catchy but patchy prog-rock pastiche that passes the time amiably enough. Hit up the worst moments (and there are quite a few) and it sounds like a collection of MGMT studio outtakes. The whole record is deeply in thrall to the keyboard-wielding electro-epic forefathers of the late 70s – but it doesn’t do anything else with the sound (unlike, say, M83, whose aesthetic may be grounded in the 80s but whose sound also explores new territory).

Remember when you’re a kid, and your parents told you that they ‘weren’t angry, they were just disappointed’? That’s the overriding sensation I get from this album. After the promising, punchy, discordant and almost operatic vibe of their first album, it seems that Justice have taken a step backwards. And it’s a shame.

Check Out Episode Five of BAMM Global Scene: London

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Time once again for a new episode of BAMM’s Global Scene – and we’re continuing our look at the musical landscape of London, one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities on the planet. There’s a peculiar trait inherent to many cities which have a rich musical heritage: that different areas and boroughs can often take on a character all of their own, the music being produced in one part of town vastly different to that being produced a few miles down the road. How does this factor into the London scene? We take an in-depth look.

WebWatch: Podcomplex

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Podcomplex is a free online music distribution and information resource for musicians, regularly updated with music technology news, observations on the music industry, promotion strategies for independent artists and tips for getting the most out of your studio. BAMM sat down for a chat with creator Dan Foley.

What inspired you to start your blog?

A number of factors came together really; I had been making music for quite a few years, and it seemed to me that the Internet offered the best way of getting in touch with people who might share my interests. Back in 2006, I wanted to learn more about blogging, so I started a blog about something I was interested in – music technology. This also provided a chance for me to keep my hand in with writing on a regular basis. It’s particularly important for a blog to be updated regularly – after all, that’s what makes it a blog – and I found that forcing myself to write posts according to a schedule actually increased my engagement with what was going on in the wider community.

Initially, I wrote a new post every weekday, but lately I’ve dropped off to writing one every fortnight or so. I began to develop Podcomplex as a technical learning exercise also; first by hand-coding HTML pages, then by using WordPress to run the blog (requiring forays into SQL, PHP and Javascript), and later by incorporating a Joomla section for the OMS database. So as well as providing information for like-minded musicians (and keeping myself up do date with music technology) developing the blog also increased my knowledge of technical skills required to have an effective web presence.

Do you feel there’s a growing online community of musical artists/producers who are eschewing the traditional music industry? And do you think digital technology has allowed the music industry to become more ‘democratised’?

Definitely. I always knew it would be difficult to get a record deal for my music – and that terms of record deals are not exactly very artist-friendly anyway – so it seemed a far better option to set up my own label and self-release (Podcomplex Records was probably the main driver behind setting up my site in the first place). I later discovered this was a similar idea to what inspired Derek Sivers to set up CD Baby, but Derek took CD Baby to a level that essentially redefined independent music distribution in the digital age.

I hope that CD Baby continues to provide great services to independent musicians now that Derek has left the company (and I’m sure it will), but there are few individuals who have had such a profound impact on the democratisation of the music industry. As well as availing of services like that (which have the advantage of getting independents into the iTunes store), anybody can now set up their own website and make their music available to download to the entire world; or add their tunes to any of a plethora of music aggregation sites.

How do you think the ‘old school’ music industry is dealing with emerging technology?

The major disadvantage the major labels had is that they actually became too big, and too corporate. While this used to be their strength, large corporations tend to react very slowly to change, whatever industry they might be in. Computers and the Internet have revolutionised many industries, but their impact on how we perceive, create and consume music has been particularly profound, and occurred over a timeframe that required speedy decision making in order to stay ahead of the curve. This simply wasn’t possible for the legacy music industry behemoths, and so they tried to stifle change as much as possible, while trying to figure out how to deal with the new environment which had sprung up around them practically overnight.

It’s understandable that they would want to protect a cash cow that had been so lucrative for several decades, but actions such as suing people for illegally downloading mp3s via P2P are certainly not making them any friends, and is actually doing nothing to address the underlying sea-change in music consumption (which is the real issue). Apple seem to have a viable strategy in place, with their hardware devices tied into a walled-garden type of marketplace in the form of the iTunes store, which makes it remarkably convenient for users to purchase all forms of media. While I personally have plenty of reservations about this model, from a corporate point of view it is very clever, and shows there is still great potential for selling music to consumers – though at a more granular level than the ‘golden age’ of AOR.

Do you think cross-platform/multimedia production increasingly important within music-making? And digital marketing too? What are some great strategies for bands to gain exposure online? Is this a field in which the ‘rules’ are constantly shifting?

The more channels you can use to promote your music, the greater your chances of making a breakthrough. YouTube has become an essential music tool, and although you can cobble together a music ‘video’ quickly by using a couple of still images (which is the minimum presence a band should have on YouTube), a good video can make all the difference – as the viral success of OK Go’s treadmill video demonstrated, for example. Ultimately, anything you can do to create an impact and present a professional image of yourself is going to be beneficial – so expertise in image processing, video editing and graphic design should certainly be leveraged. If you don’t have these skills yourself, you can learn them (if you have the time) or get your friends to help out – but don’t be afraid to use Web based outsourcing sites such as 99designs or elance, if required.

Nowadays, a more holistic approach needs to be taken – you can’t just sell a record, you need to combine your efforts down as many routes as possible, merging the music itself with the live performance experience, with t-shirts and merchandise, with USB key versions of your album, mp3 downloads included with your vinyl, extra artwork, behind the scenes videos, everything becomes part of the bundle that makes your fans want to give you their support.

As for digital marketing, returning to the topic of blogging, it’s important to look at how SEO (search engine optimisation) could be used from a music promotion standpoint. On the Internet, the old adage that ‘content is king’ is still relevant – if you start by creating high quality content, you’re on the right track. However, the Internet runs on traffic – and to get that traffic, you need to be ranking well on search engines.

I actually made a microsite on this subject a while ago (linkdisco.com) which provides a free ebook introducing the concept of SEO for music. The dynamic is changing somewhat now, with the growing power of social network referrals, but it’s still important to build a network of inbound links (ideally from relevant and trusted sites), and to have an awareness of keyword targeting. Facebook and Twitter obviously have great potential for music promotion, but creating a presence on as many networks as possible (especially if they are music focused) is essential. The decline of MySpace is testament to how quickly the balance of power can shift online, so keeping ahead of an online media strategy can be a full time job in itself.

Who are you listening to right now?

I like Brian Eno’s new album Small Craft on a Milk Sea (with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams), and Four Tet’s There is Love in You is immense. Incidentally, Kieran Hebden also crafted a brilliant remix of the Jon Hopkins’ track, Vessel. Other ear winners of late are Caribou, Bonobo, Amon Tobin, The Black Keys and Tom Waits. The last gig I was at was Other Lives, which was superb.

Along similar lines, are there any particular tech/media entities who you feel are doing great work at the moment?

I first heard of Ian Rogers when he was in charge of music at Yahoo!, so I was quite interested to see how he got on with Topspin. I think Topspin is one of the pioneers in terms of finding a viable balance between the legacy model of music (where artists can actually make a living from music) and the realities of music in the digital age (where music itself has been commoditised by its infinite distribution potential). Topspin provides plenty of useful information for artists, and services that enable more effective direct-to-fan engagement. There’s still a great deal of uncertainty and flux in this market, but I think there are some very tuned-in people working for Topspin, so it’s one to keep an eye on.

Read more from Dan over at Podcomplex.

Ten Years Of The iPod

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There’s been a lot of Apple retrospectives media-wide over the last couple of weeks, following the sad and untimely death of renowned innovator Steve Jobs – but yesterday marked another particular date in the Apple/digital tech calendar which will be remembered for altogether more pleasant reasons. October 23rd marked the tenth anniversary of the iPod.

It’s the mark of a truly great product that – in the years that follow – it becomes impossible to remember what life was like without it. Those old enough to recall the Walkman are astonished that they could ever consume their music via such a low-tech abomination, while the modern youth find such old campfires impossible to believe (check out this hilarious BBC article in which a 13-year-old is given the task of operating an original-model Walkman). Although who’s betting that a bunch of Greenwich Village hipsters will soon relaunch the portable cassette player as a fashionable ‘retro’ accessory?

Here’s a video of the much-missed Steve presenting the iPod for the first time at a low key launch, back before anyone had any idea that 320 million unit sales were scheduled for the upcoming decade:

(One quick observation – is that Comic Sans being used by Apple in a presentation? Can you imagine them doing that now?)

The most interesting thing about this anniversary is looking back at the initial fan response. Take a look at this messageboard thread from the day the iPod was launched. There’s a few choice nuggets to be found, such as:

It wont sell, and be killed off in a short time…and it’s not really functional.

I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently! Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!

Hey – here’s an idea Apple – rather than enter the world of gimmicks and toys, why don’t you spend a little more time sorting out your pathetically expensive and crap server line up?

Erm … thanks for your input, chaps. In the meantime, what do you lot think of the iPod anniversary? Did the little white box change your life for the better?

Check Out Episode Four of BAMM’s Global Scene: London

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Our Global Scene series continues its in-depth look at London’s music scene with an episode focusing on the culture of the city itself – how exactly does the ‘character’ of a city filter through into the wide variety of sounds it produces? We chat to an amazing selection of artists and producers from across the genre spectrum, gathering their thoughts on this city-specific phenomenon. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming episodes!

BAMM Exclusive: ‘Golden Gates’ by Erothyme

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Photosynthesis 4.0 was something of an odd prospect – transforming Washington’s Noah Bay into an ultra-exciting hub of electronic music. As unique settings go, festivals don’t get much more bizarrely placed than the Makah Indian Reseveration, but somehow everything just seemed to gel. Photosynthesis is one of those events that can so often slip under the radar of the mainstream media, so we’re happy to tell you that BAMM managed to capture this awesome performance of ‘Golden Gates’ from Erothyme (the creative brainchild of one Bobby West). Take a peek …

Web 2.0 Summit 2011 – Highlights

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What exactly is ‘Web 2.0′ anymore? Hasn’t that term jumped the shark? In an era of continually-evolving digital media (which we’re proud to be a part of here at BAMM), maybe it’s time for a new label to infiltrate the cultural consensus. Or has Web 2.0 transcended any original meaning it once had, and just become a catch-all term?

Whatever the specifics, we’ve been keeping a close eye on this year’s Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. Here are a few of our favorite moments so far:

Christopher Poole

The man behind cultural powerhouse (and self-described ‘asshole of the internet’) 4chan. Here are his thoughts on identity and anonymity.

Point Of Control: The Cloud

Literally everything is becoming cloud-based now, with varying degrees of success (just ask anyone who recently fired up iCloud and lost all their iPhone contacts – grrrr). A panel of bigwigs discuss the ramifications of this.

Consumer Platforms

Lots of lots of stuff to buy – but how exactly? Google, Microsoft and American Express take a look.

Mark Zuckerberg

An hour-long conversation with the man who would be (and possibly already is) king.

Okay