Archive for March, 2012

Remembering Earl Scruggs

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What’s the definition of a lasting musical impact? Sure, number one albums and sold-out world tours are all very well and good, but let’s be honest here … no-one is going to be praising One Direction for their game-changing approach to genre and structure anytime soon (and if you do hear someone doing that, it’s probably best to refer them to a psychiatric ward).

Nope – a true mark of legendary status is when a genre or sound is named after you. Think about it: if you’re the go-to reference to describe a particular method of music-making, then your legacy is set in stone. Forget download sales – you’re in the dictionary, son!

Which brings us to the ‘Scruggs picking style’ – a method of three-fingered banjo playing that was invented and pioneered by bluegrass idol Earl Scruggs. Scruggs sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 88, and to say that American music has lost a father figure would be an understatement. If you’ve listened to virtually anything within the country genre over the past five decades, you’ve heard the influence of Scruggs coming through. It’s all too easy to remember him mainly as the guy behind the Beverley Hillbillies theme … but to do so would be dismissing one of the all-time greats.

Fellow banjo player Steve Martin had this to say:

“When the singer came to the end of a phrase, he filled the theatre with sparkling runs of notes that became a signature for all bluegrass music since,” he said.

“A grand part of American music owes a debt to Earl Scruggs. Few players have changed the way we hear an instrument the way Earl has, putting him in a category with Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Chet Atkins, and Jimi Hendrix.”

Sorry, Slash – music hasn’t ‘lost its magic’

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There’s something about getting old. A sad state of affairs that is difficult to avoid.

It’s all related to what scientists call the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome – that instinctive ability to decide whether to run away from something you find threatening, or to roll up your sleeves and fight back. See, the older we get, the more a world which was once manageable and easy becomes overpowering and baffling – which results in an intellectual version of ‘fight or flight’. Now, because you can’t exactly run away from the world, you have to take the ‘fight’ option and put on an aggressive demeanor. This is why lots of elderly people are constantly argumentative and confrontational. It’s true – look it up.

Which brings us to Slash.

The legendary axeman from Guns N Roses has been claiming that ‘modern’ music has ‘lost its magic.’ The culprit? Why, it’s nothing other than this ‘downloading’ ‘digital’ fad that the kids seem so keen on. Here’s what he has to say:

“There was a certain excitement that came with the release of a new record, and a lot of it was just the package itself, and it was something that you milled over while you were listening to the record.”

“It was sad to see them sort of get phased out but, you know, with CDs at least you still had the booklets, but now, when you look at the digital situation, you’re like ‘There’s nothing in it’, you know.”

“It’s not even tangible any more. It’s convenient, but you lose the magic of it.”

We can’t help but think that Slash is talking a load of rubbish here. Surely the majority of the magic inherent in music comes from listening to it, rather than any extraneous factors. Sure, a great piece of album artwork was a nice bonus back in the era of vinyl/CD dominance, but it hardly accounted for the entire musical experience. Plus – take a look at some of the apps being released by both new and established artists to promote their latest albums. They’re lavishly designed, multimedia extravaganzas which are brimming with aesthetic quality. If anything, the digital age has ushered in a more comprehensive extension of the album cover ideal.

The thing is: of course Slash is going to bemoan the loss of the good old days. The days in which millions of people queued up to hand over 15 dollars for a physical copy of ‘Use Your Illusion.’ The days in which downloading anything at all was the preserve of a few geeky MIT students. In short: the days of the old-school music industry, which helped to make him a very, very, very wealthy man indeed.

The rest of us? We didn’t rule the roost in the 80s and 90s. We’re not even looking to ‘rule the roost’ now – the new digital economy has far less time for Goliath music-providers like the big four record labels. Slash came of age in the former era, and is now shaking his fist in anger at the whippersnappers coming of age in the present.

He just doesn’t understand. Maybe – he’s a little bit scared. And because he can’t take flight, he’s choosing to fight. Just a theory …

The Return Of The ‘Hit Factory’ …

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Nostalgia can be a curious beast. While some things are certainly worthy of the rose-tinted-specs treatment – your first love, your wedding day, the time you totally beat those noobs with the rocket launcher on ‘Battlefield 3′ and then ranted excitedly to your girlfriend, who just shook her head in regretful disdain – sometimes the past should stay buried in the past. It may have seemed like a good idea to buy that Spin Doctors album back in 1993, but look at the scenario objectively. Was it? Well? Was it? Where are your ‘Two Princes’ now, huh? Huh?

Ahem. We’re only broaching the subject because today saw an interesting announcement: that 1980s UK hitmakers Stock, Aitken and Waterman are getting ‘the gang’ back together for a special reunion gig which will see their roster of stars hitting the stage once more. Who does this roster of stars include? Well … Jason Donovan, Bananarama, Sinitta, Dead Or Alive, Steps and Rick Astley. Not exactly The Who reforming for Live Aid, is it?

Oh, look – we know it’s very easy to be snobby. We’re in no way decrying lightweight pop music as an art form. Not everything the ‘Hit Factory’ (the label applied to themselves by producers Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman) did was terrible. Everyone has gleefully danced to ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’ at some point in their lives. The career of Kylie Minogue has seen some genuinely decent moments, such as ‘Confide In Me’.

And then there’s this:

Yep, that’s right – Stock, Aitken and Waterman were indirectly responsible for the ‘Rick-rolling’ phenomenon, which means that we should at least give them some credit for all the internet lulz they gave us back in 2007. Still: would anyone really want to attend a revival gig featuring such acts?

Kylie aside, the pop-culture impact of The Hit Factory’s line-up has been negligible at best – so this reunion event lacks the kitsch factor of watching now-unfashionable pop acts who defined an era. Despite their bluster and bravado, Stock, Aitken and Waterman were seen as a joke even at the height of their fame. What would be the possible benefit of seeing their acts in 2012?

There’s nothing wrong with the nostalgia rush of chatting about awful 80s pop with your friends over a few beers. But actively reviving it? Paying money (that could go to new, exciting artists) to watch artists you know for a fact are, well, utter garbage? That’s irony hyperdrive; sneering post-modernism gone too far. Remember – The Hit Factory once described the people who bought their records as “ordinary people with Woolworth ears”. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving them cash ‘ironically’ or not – you’re still giving them cash.

So: what do you guys think? Can nostalgia sometimes be exploited for dubious reasons? Or is this all a bit of harmless fun?

BAMM Rundown: Top 5 Rock Star Feuds

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So Mike Skinner (otherwise known as one-man suburban hip-hop operation The Streets) has taken something of a verbal sideswipe at Blur frontman/ Gorillaz member Damon Albarn, claiming that he should grow old gracefully and stop making music. Not the most blistering of confrontations, sure, but such an argument couldn’t help but make us think about some of the more epic feuds in the scrap-happy world of rock and roll. Here’s a look at five of the ‘best’ …

5. Jarvis Cocker vs Michael Jackson

Possibly the last time anything even remotely exciting happened at annual blandfest The Brit Awards – in 1996, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker grew tired of Michael Jackson’s messianic posturing during a performance of ‘Earth Song’, and proceeded to mimic the time-honored tradition of ‘farting in his general direction.’ Arrest and subsequent media frenzy ensued.

4. Jay Z vs Noel Gallagher

Noel Gallagher is not impressed with the fact that hip-hop megastar Jay-Z has been booked for (traditionally guitar-led) UK festival Glastonbury. Gallagher states this on several high-profile occasions. Jay-Z responds by emerging onstage to a sneering version of Gallagher’s ballad ‘Wonderwall’, thereby stepping the rivalry up a notch.

3. Courtney Love vs Dave Grohl

Where to start? Walking issue-magnet Courtney Love has long voiced her disdain for the ex-bandmate of her late husband Kurt Cobain, claiming – among other things – that Grohl has no legal stake in any of Nirvana’s creative output. Grohl maintained his image as the ‘nicest guy in rock’ by staying silent in public, commenting only via songs like ‘Let It Die’ (above).

2. Dandy Warhols vs Anton Newcombe

A rivalry so lengthy and intense it fuelled ‘Dig’, an entire documentary feature. While the Dandy Warhols are not known for being shrinking violets, their number one competitor Anton Newcombe (whose group The Brian Jonestown Massacre were tipped as being as big as the Dandies) is a full-on whirlwind of animosity and drama-queen tantrum.

1. Megadeth vs Metallica

After being kicked out of Metallica, Dave Mustaine went on to form Megadeth – one of the biggest, most successful, iconic metal bands in the world. It’s very telling that – despite this achievement – his resentment towards his former bandmates simmered nicely for the best part of two decades …

Previously at SXSW – Part Three

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Well, it’s been a crazy week for the BAMM.TV crew at Austin’s very own SXSW Festival – we’ve rocked it on our cruising boat showcase and dived headfirst into the multifarious reams of exciting music and tech madness the whole place has to offer.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that we’ve ventured to SXSW – we’ve thrilled those Austin crowds with jam-packed gigs in previous years. And … we figured … what better time to take a look back at some of those classic performances from our overflowing archives? That’s what we’ve been doing right here on the BAMM blog this week, and as Friday hits – bringing with it the wonderfully welcome weekend – let’s have one last memory-blast. Here’s a final assortment of BAMM.TV’s SXSW Greatest Hits.

‘A Good Day At The Races’ – Hollerado

Few up-and-coming guitar acts carry the same way with a melody as Hollerado: think of the finer moments of bands like R.E.M and Talking Heads, and you’ll be along the right lines (nope, that isn’t hyperbole). Check out this awesome performance of ‘A Good Day At The Races’ for proof.

‘My Love’ – The Ferocious Few

Having made a name for themselves with their habit of guerrilla gigging – they’ve treated the unsuspecting public to many a street-corner gig across the USA – San Francisco’s Ferocious Few took on a more pre-planned (but just as exciting) vibe for their BAMM performance of ‘My Love.’

‘Virtuous Cassette’ – The Flashbulb

Otherwise known as Benn Jordan, The Flashbulb grabbed our SXSW crowd by their collective lapels and dragged them on an one-man electro-pop odyssey. Seriously impressive stuff.

‘Better Way’ – The Soft White Sixties

Effortlessly cool purveyors of old-school R&B-tinged rock, the Soft White Sixties are equally in thrall to guitar-rock heritage as they are skilled at crafting their own sound. Take a look at this performance of ‘Better Way’.