Archive for April, 2012

Listen to the new Damon Albarn album – streaming now

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Damon Albarn has certainly had an interesting career. There have been highs (late nineties Blur stuff, ‘Demon Days’-era Gorillaz) and lows (that point in the mid nineties when he adopted a cockney accent and took to dancing around like a chimney sweep, despite being a privately-educated art student). With the recent announcement that the upcoming Olympics ceremony would be Blur’s last gig – plus the revelation that there would likely be no new Gorillaz material, ever – many have been wondering what Albarn will get up to next.

The answer is anything but predictable: he has unleashed ‘Dr. Dee’, a ’16th-century folk opera’ focusing on the life of John Dee, mathematician, polymath and advisor to Elizabeth I. Needless to say this is almost certain to divide critical opinion – some are going to label it a bold new artistic direction, others are going to pull the Emperor’s New Clothes card. Luckily, you’ve got the chance to formulate your own opinion, because The Guardian are providing a free stream of the whole thing.

Take a listen and tell us what you think – good, bad, or crushingly indifferent?

Record Store Day 2012: The Netherlands

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Of course, we all know Record Store Day celebrates a phenomenon we at believe is becoming obsolete – the physical record. After all, without a physical product to sell, there’s no use for a physical marketplace. Thus, Record Stores are a dying place. But there’s an ambiguity here which is the source of much debate, and The Netherlands are no exception. At the heart of the matter are two separate arguments; 1. the viability of the vinyl record; and 2. the Record Store as a place of worship, a place where we can physically experience music discovery.


The foundation of the first argument has shifted in the last ten years. Vinyl became the music medium of choice in the flourishing 1990s club scene, resulting in a veritable boom in new – mostly electronic genre – vinyl releases. To this day a steady flow of electronic music is being released on vinyl, but its significance is dwindling; the superior sound quality of vinyl doesn’t seem to match up to the flexibility and ease with which one can manipulate digital music formats. Software platforms such as Traktor and Ableton have reshaped DJ’ing from a rather mechanical event (beatmatching taking up most of your time) into artistic collage-making where the sky is the limit. Prodigious DJ/producer Madeon is a fine example of this, mashing-up 39 of his favorite tracks using just an Ableton controller and mixer.

While the electronic music sphere continues to attribute a high symbolic value to vinyl, its usage is limited and does not respond well to present-day developments in the DJ profession. Still, it didn’t stop Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden from contributing an all-vinyl mix to the legendary Fabriclive series. He even pressed a number of his own tracks he produced specifically for this mix onto vinyl, for the sole reason it provided his mix with ‘the right feel’. The significance of the ‘black gold’ in dance music history is undeniable, but it’s quickly becoming a museum piece.

There is, however, a wide range of consumers whose reverence of vinyl records has soared in the past decades. A lot of indie, rock and folk enthusiasts have taken to vinyl for its sound quality, artwork and the more focused listening experience. As Mark Klinkhamer of Music On Vinyl, a specialist label associated with the pressing plant in Haarlem, comments on their clientele in an interview with DJ Broadcast: “While it used to be people in their 30s and 40s that wanted a limited edition of Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, you see a lot of young people that want to buy LP’s. Queens Of  The Stone Age and Wolfmother, for example, are two bands that are doing well.”

This trend has prompted independent record stores and associated pop institutes in Haarlem to join forces in an initiative they’ve dubbed “Haarlem Vinyl City”, which will be launched on Record Store Day. They’re planning, among other things, several themed series of exclusive 7″ releases. Two of these stores have opened in the last 6 months: The Irrational Library collects art, handmade clothing, 2nd hand stuff and books next to records. Suburban Records is a store associated with the independent label of the same name. It focuses on vinyl releases from (underground) rock ‘n roll bands. The label’s roster includes one of the hottest garage-rock tickets in the Netherlands: Shaking Godspeed. Other artists of similar swagger include The Fudge and Face Tomorrow (both of which you’ll see more of here at…!).


So, onto the second argument: Record Stores are viable as a place of worship, a temple if you will, where we can physically experience music discovery. In this respect, a Record Store is a retail store like any other. Retail has had to give up some of its turnover to web-based shops. But we can’t deny the fact that retail still has a strong presence everywhere.

The raison d’être for physical retail stores is threefold: 1. to sample the product, 2. to interact with specialists, 3. to experience the store. The first one does not really compute with music; we don’t need to go to a store to find out whether we like the music or not, unlike, say clothing, delicacies or furniture. We actually don’t need to buy music at all, if we don’t want to, so that’s one reason out of the window.

The second reason varies wildly depending on the staff of the store and the involvement of the customer. While some people are more than willing to take cues from the “if you like one thing, try these alternatives” algorithm on Amazon, Spotify or the Itunes store, record store afficionados maintain a vibrant relationship to their favorite record store sales(wo)man. A good (i.e. trustworthy) retail salesman is a rare breed in any category, but all the more rewarding once you found them.  What’s more, record store staff are usually pretty active scenesters, providing more than just a 9-to-5 service in a store. You’ll see them spreading their wisdom online, volunteering at concerts and festivals and fostering a sense of community. After all, where else to find the biggest music lovers than in your local record store? Like a good artisan, its always good having some expert salesmen and women around, even if their numbers are getting smaller.

The third reason, to me, is the gamechanger. The best stores, the ones you keep coming back to, are those that offer the best consumer experience. This can be attributed to atmosphere, impressive architecture, interactive elements, entourage… you name it. It all depends on the preferences and priorities of the individual. I believe that the contemporary consumer doesn’t go shopping for records because it’s a necessity; he does so because he wants to. One could argue it’s an absurdly romantic, High Fidelity-esque notion, and they might be right. But those very people might find the grandeur of the Apple stores not that abhorrent, or H&M’s Dam Square flagship store less of a labyrinth, or IKEA a nice day out.

Along these lines, debating the merits of the Record Store are the same as, say, debating Frank Zappa’s genius or the everlasting Beatles vs. Stones argument. There is no right or wrong here, and a consensus in the public debate will not keep the Record Store alive. In other words: Haters gonna hate. In the end any store that accommodates enough costumers gets to survive.

Of course, musicians will want to give the record stores a leg up on a day like this. Doing in-store performances is quite common practice, and is done pro bono 99% of the time. With only a limited number of clubs to play, they’re likely to get on the road (as far as one can call it being ‘on the road’ in such a small country) just to do an in-store performance. So, doing an in-store performance or two around the block to celebrate Record Store Day isn’t enough for some artists.

Singer-songwriter Case Mayfield (known for heartfelt songs, abrasive interviews and oddball twitter posts) has decided to test himself as a veritable Iron Man of in-store gigs, challenging the Guinness Record of 9 in-stores in one day set by his fellow singer-songwriter Eefje de Visser last year. He’s planning on doing 11 (!) in-stores in one day. Another fine example is Wooden Saints, who will be performing both live and streamed from 10 locations simultaneously. It works like this: Each band member goes to one record store and feeds his/her parts back to a central hub, where  all the tracks coming from the various locations are mixed and sent back in realtime to each location and to the online stream on their site.

Record Store Day 2012: London

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‘Dust off your vinyl’ implores one particular headline, and – to this writer, at least – ‘dusting off’ seems a particularly apt turn of phrase. Aside from professional DJs and enthusiastic collectors, vinyl – hell, the physical music format in general – is a dead prospect; at best a novelty release designed to be deliberately retroactive, at worst a mish-mash of old 45s thrown into a box and flogged at a yard sale.

So: Record Store Day. What exactly is this all about? Enough musicians are taking part in the promotional scheme for it to warrant mainstream media coverage. The NME provides a succinct rundown:

Over 300 artists have offered up new vinyl releases for today’s celebrations, with new material, cover versions, rare tracks and studio outtakes all set to be released.

Arctic Monkeys’ new single ‘R U Mine?’ is available on special purple vinyl, while Two Door Cinema Club’s ‘Acoustic EP’ boasts acoustic versions of their tracks ‘Something Good Can Work’ and ‘Undercover Martyn’.

Kasabian have released their covers of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’ and Gwen Stefani’s ‘Sweet Escape’ on 7” vinyl and The Clash have a newly digitally remastered version of ‘London Calling’ on vinyl, while Arcade Fire are offering remixes of their track ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) and Noel Gallagher has dropped a new EP titled ‘Songs From The Great White North’.

All very nice, but – again – what exactly is Record Store Day? Are people treating this as a bit of nostalgic fun for a dying form of consumer interaction (it’s all too easy to imagine a ‘video rental day’ taking off in the future, during which we all venture down to the few remaining Blockbusters and relive the glory of taking an empty box to the counter)? Or does the industry genuinely hope that this will encourage people to rekindle their love for physical music formats?

If it’s the latter, then a lot of people are going to be very disappointed.

Vinyl still has a place in the specialist market, but to view Record Store Day as anything other than a nice day out is madness. Infact, the whole thing just highlights how digital music has become the norm, and that anything outside that paradigm merits a special occasion. Put it this way: people will occasionally take up the novelty of having a street artist sketch their portrait. It’s kind of fun. Most of the time, though – if they want an image of themselves frozen in time – they’ll just take a quick snap on their iPhone. Sure, digital music hasn’t yet established the concept of ‘owning an artifact’ that physical formats hold … but it soon will.

Record Stores hold a great deal of sentimental baggage for a certain generation, but – to deploy blunt reality – that generation isn’t going to be around forever. Try asking a 16-year-old if they know what a video cassette is, never mind a vinyl LP. And this points to the reason that Record Store Day might actually be more of a hindrance than a help: rather than looking at how the Record Store can evolve in a changing market, we’re being told to celebrate the concept as though nothing is wrong with it. To use a well-trodden musical analogy, this is the epitome of fiddling while Rome burns.

By all means – treat this as a bit of fun, and get a kick out of unwrapping those rare new records. But don’t pretend this is going to change anything regarding the state of music consumption. The needle is scratching a new groove, and no-one can stop it now.

BAMM Rundown: Songs You Never Knew You Knew

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It happens to even the most musically literate of us: you know a song from somewhere (in the case of a tune that’s doing the rounds on the advertising circuit, everywhere) but you don’t know what it’s called. Scientists have a name for this – they call it ‘what the hell is that song? Seriously, it’s driving me mad. Just someone, please, throw me a f**king bone here.’

Anyway, because we’re big acolytes of the whole ‘public service’ thing, we’ve decided to enlighten you this Friday with a quick rundown of those songs you know but don’t really know. If you know what we mean. Y’know.

‘Clubbed To Death’ – Rob Dougan

You say: ‘oh, you know the one. It’s in The Matrix. And it’s always featured on inspirational stuff, like sporting montages or energy drink commercials. And it goes ‘bff-ttt-bff-ttt-bff-ttt-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa’.’

You mean: Clubbed To Death by Rob Dougan. It dates from 1995, which means that if it was a person, it would soon be thinking about going to college. Not to make you feel old or anything.

‘Intro’ – The xx

You say: ‘It’s kind of moody, and kind of low-key, and it’s always – always – wheeled out for fashion shows and commercials which are trying too hard to rebrand stuff as cool.’

You mean: the wistful and vocal-free strains of ‘Intro’ by The xx, the lead-in song from their 2009 debut album.

‘Tom’s Diner’ – Suzanne Vega

You say: ‘Da-da-daaa-da-da-da-daaa-daaa-da-da-daaa-da-da-da-daaa-daaa …’

You mean: ‘Tom’s Diner,’ by the terminally underrated Suzanne Vega – or ‘the one that’s not Luka‘.

‘Picking Up The Pieces’ – Average White Band

You say: ‘It’s the song they use whenever a cool character is walking in slo-mo. Possibly into a casino.’

You mean: this little ditty from the Average White Band. And yes, life would be ten times cooler if this could function as a permanent soundtrack to your every move.

‘Sing Sing Sing’ – Benny Goodman

You say: ‘it’s always playing at that swing club? You know, the one we put on our best suits and go to, then creep out the girls with our weird attempts at dancing? Good times, man, good times.’

You mean: the ironically-titled ‘Sing Sing Sing’ from big band maestro Benny Goodman.

‘Oh Yeah’ – Yello

You say: ‘it’s the one that goes OOOOOOHHHHHH YEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!’

You mean: this eighties classic from Yello, which goes under the name of – you guessed it – ‘Oh Yeah.’

The Tupac hologram: awesome or appalling?

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It’s easy to forget - living as we do in a world where thousands of songs can be carted around on a device the size of a credit card – just how remarkable modern technology is. Advances that would have made heads explode a mere ten to fifteen years ago are now treated as an entirely incidental part of life.

Now … let’s not pretend this is some sort of revolutionary observation. Technology has always progressed this way. But in recent years there’s been an undeniable slant towards entertainment: the production, distribution and consumption of pop culture. Gone are the days when we viewed pesticides or air travel as astonishing – now it’s all about movies, music and multimedia meddling.

Occasionally, however, something comes along which blasts this complacency out of the water. Yesterday, at the much-vaunted Coachella festival, rapper Snoop Dogg performed alongside a holographic recreation of Tupac, a fellow hip-hop artist who was shot dead in Las Vegas in 1996. Take a look:

Incredible, isn’t it? Amazing. Mind-boggling. A true affirmation of the power of a plugged-in planet.

But … is it right?

It’s a rare tech development – especially in an area so politically ‘unimportant’ as music – which brings with it the burden of ethical dilemma. But this … take another look. You’d have to be the hardest of hearts to admit that the whole spectacle is … well … kind of creepy. A dead man on stage, reeling out his hits to the cheering masses.

Needless to say, this is purely an aesthetic observation. Some people may find the masked antics of Slipknot or the deathly drone-rock of Sun O ‘creepy’ – it doesn’t mean that it’s bad. The question we have to ask here is: is this what Tupac would have wanted? Is there any way we can ever know that? And if not, shouldn’t the idea of ‘bringing him back’ be vetoed on principle?

It’s also worth noting that this is purely a performance. It would be easy to argue that of course Tupac would have approved of this – he was a showman, after all, and a showman’s role is to entertain. But what if this technology spread beyond the confines of the stage? How would Tupac fans feel if he was ‘revived’ to sell sneakers or fizzy drinks? The same goes for Elvis, or Michael Jackson, or Whitney Houston, or whoever you like – where does the limit lie with someone’s ‘image’?

Now. Let’s fast-forward a few decades. What would be the ethical ramifications if this technology – resurrecting the dead to make ‘em dance – was applied to something like, say, human cloning or artificial life? Such a statement may inspire a sneering laugh – impossible, surely – but just remember what the man in the street would have said about the iPod thirty years ago.

What do you guys think? Is the Tupac hologram terrific or tasteless?