Here’s another of our in-depth articles from our London-based correspondent Zakia Uddin. This time, she looks at the increasingly prevalent modern phenomenon of the comeback artist …
Justin Timberlake announced his comeback this year – yes, JT. Put it this way, the 32-year-old’s first release was back when Dubya had been in power for less than a year and the first dot com bubble had just exploded (‘Like I Love You’, below).
The comeback has always occupied a special place in the world of music. Unlike political comebacks, musical ones rarely the same renewed vigor. You don’t humour a politician (or at least we don’t think we do) but the force of nostalgia is enough to get people excited about a singer or band’s return. We’re never quite sure whether to take it seriously – arguably, we’re even more cynical about musicians’ abilities than we are about those of politicians. Will they be as passionate as they used to be? What if they aren’t as good as we remember? What does that say about us? Worst of all, they remind of us how old we’re getting.
There was a more (or less) cynical time – depending on your point of view – when making a comeback was like doing an encore. Or comebacks were only for the kind of musicians who did encores, who couldn’t get enough, and were willing to spin out the old hits for an unimaginative audience. So what’s changed? It’s a real truism that touring is the only way to generate money – correspondingly many bands have sucked it up and gone touring together, including legendary fall-outs like the Stone Roses (below).
Generally, rock music comebacks have always seemed more dignified. It involves a different kind of struggle, as though they just didn’t want to come back until they were truly inspired. Click on ‘more’ to continue!
There are major shifts waiting to happen this year in how we consume music. 2013 is likely to see the expansion of trends from last year – the shift towards streaming, the rise of social television, and increasing use of video content online.
But the impact of all of these factors means the shape of the digital music landscape will dramatically change before the year is out. Will personal music collections be entirely displaced by portable libraries? Will crowd-funding become a standard procedure for tours? We consider these possibilities and more in a roundup of this year’s expected trends.
Ownership versus accessibility
This year sees big developments in the streaming subscription market with the arrival of Google, Microsoft and Apple’s new loan services. They are all keen to take on the growing might of Spotify, which has so far managed to take the largest share of the market via its partnership with Facebook. Owning music could become secondary to portability and accessibility across multiple devices. Arguably, ownership might even be seen as a burden given syncing and copyright issues.
What does this mean for musicians, given the negligible rates given by streaming services? Last year, Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 highlighted how 680,462 plays of his record ‘Tugboat’ (above) garnered only a soul-destroying $9.99. It’s unlikely the margins will grow – though some might argue a bigger market with more competitors will create more revenue for everyone. However, it could also make it harder for musicians to claim fees as companies compete to keep subscription charges low. Pandora is currently contesting the fee paid out to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for digital radio plays of artists. It is likely only the biggest artists will benefit from keeping their music away from streaming services – as shown by the high sales enjoyed by Adele and Coldplay.
It’ll be interesting to see how many major musicians make their music available and the correlation between sales and their music’s availability on the streaming services. Either way, the year will mark the decisive break with the ownership culture as the biggest technology creators become effectively lending libraries of content.
The first ever fully-sponsored album?
Here on BAMM we’ve previously discussed the increasingly close relationship between brands and bands. Even the most credible of musicians have lent themselves to one-off projects by companies. One of the weirdest collaborations this year has been ‘Gatwick: The Departure Lounge Sessions’, which featured a 30-minute track by Benga which corresponded to the 30-minute journey between Gatwick and London Victoria.
Could we see an extension of that trend so that musicians end up writing whole entire albums themed or inspired by brands? What’s certain is that it’s not just the obvious suspects who would be up for doing product placement. At the moment, it may be musicians who are getting the best end of the deal. Working with brands guarantees a payout at a time when sales are so low. Brands are also stepping in to nurture and develop musicians from the outset, creating long-term relationships in order to tap into younger audiences. Conversely, consumers may take to personalising brands in ways that make image control near-obsolete. Given the power of social media and Facebook, even the coolest brands may have to roll with the punches.
The return of MySpace
MySpace’s acknowledged strengths were always its music sharing and DIY aspects. For many bands, trying to cut out the noise of Facebook activity to get a few ‘likes’ is too difficult. New MySpace has had mixed reviews but its music functionality is better than ever. The new site (as trailed below) is clearly aimed at a younger ‘creative’ demographic – which is ideal for bands who want to take a hands-on approach to their promotion.
Focusing on sound
The rise of the visual is unquestionable – we have ever bigger screens on all our devices to accommodate more video content and visual information. But sound-only platforms have a role to play. Soundcloud has enjoyed its biggest year yet with more exclusives and streaming from performers like Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent. One of the major appeals for musicians is the convenience of uploading a track, without the faff of a big launch or shoot. Given low marketing budgets, more musicians could start using sound-only platforms to reach out directly to fans and reward them with special cuts and additional work.
More ethical models
The fightback has begun already. BAMM leads on the way on this trend, giving artists a fair rate for their tracks. Some sites such as Bandcamp are giving bands the chance to sell their music and merchandise directly to fans, taking a much smaller cut of the proceeds than sites such as iTunes.
Digital radio and personalised radio
BAMM was in on this early with its Open Thread radio. The internet has breathed new life into the radio medium. The trend will explode in 2013 with the development of multiple streams, podcasts, and local digital radio stations redefining the relationship between the global and the local. Radio is also relatively low-tech, opening it up to more DIY producers and labels. Personalised radio will continue to grow, but there should be platforms designed entirely for sharing carefully compiled and curated tracks with friends.
While platforms like Pandora and Last FM are dominated by more hardcore fans of music, sites such as Turntable FM (above) which combine gaming and social networking could bring together new audiences. In short, personalised radio platforms could appeal to the entire music-buying community, by offering the chance to discover and customise in easy ways.
More sophisticated music discovery and curation
Music discovery apps, including BAMMs, will become ever more complex and vital to get through the sheer volume of material online. The FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome is the web’s newest disease, and the best way to tackle it is to call in the curators. Music discovery apps will not only select the best material, they will also order it for you, so that you don’t have to wade through numerous disorganised links.
Apps will have to be able to configure music in different ways – for example, adopting mood-based curation as well as genre and decade. They could also take the place of traditional tastemakers such as magazine websites. Expect a lot of morphing between the two formats.
The rise and rise of video
Despite Youtube’s success, few media outlets have really gone for exclusive video. This could change massively in 2013 with predictions from Cisco that video will grow to drive 80 per cent of traffic across the internet. Music will play a major part of this, given that most songs neatly fit the three to four minute limit for a standard online video. Services like XBox Music (below) have also made playing music, watching video and gaming on one device manageable for even the biggest technophobe.
No barriers cosmopolitan music trends
Gangnam Style (below) has become the most popular Youtube video ever uploaded (please let’s not talk about Ai Wei Wei and the Anish Kapoor versions). While Psy has been dismissed as unrepresentative of Korean music or a novelty act, the music has actually seen a wave of interest in non-Western pop.
More specialised crowdfunding
There are already dedicated music crowdfunding platforms, but none which specialise in concert funding yet. Touring is still a tried and trusted way to build up a fanbase. The ideal platform could enable networks of fans to chip in together to bring musicians over, making more bands perform off the traditional tour route.
Outlier trends: The hologram trend
The biggest comeback of 2012 was also the least expected. Tupac appeared at last year’s Coachella, giving rap a genuinely hair-raising edge. The most astonishing thing was that the company Digital Domain Media Group animated the entire performance, rather than pulling it from an archive. Could this be the beginnings of a niche industry, devoted to reanimating and choreographing holograms for old fans and newcomers? You can’t buy charisma but you sure as hell can try to project it.
Tupac (above) was an obvious candidate for revival – in fact, the hologram (when first spoken about) appeared to be a smart joke about the fact that the late rapper sold more after his death than he did before it. The music industry is pretty unconscionable when it comes to making money off the back of its deceased stars, so who knows how far the trend will go?
The deluxe album
The trend for artisan goods shows no sign of abating. Like the similar trend for slow food and slow living, the deluxe album signals leisure time. The box set used to be something to buy the fangirl or fanboy in your life for Christmas. Now almost every physical release aims to be special, limited and good enough to put on your minimalist bookshelves. The physical album has almost become a statement. Beck released his album ‘Song Reader’ as sheet-music only (above) , reminding us that the format is only a vessel for the real work.
Lots of things change with the dawn of a new year … but some things always remain constant. The BAMM.tv crew, for instance, will still be the same bunch of highly-knowledgeable music masterminds they always were, and we’ll still be sharing a new playlist from one of the team each and every Friday. This week, we ask the multi-talented Ian McPherson to share his current musical choices …
1. “Here I Come” (1996) – Love & Hate: The Best of Dennis Brown
A top male reggae vocalist, Brown is the true king of roots rock reggae and ‘lovers rock’, a sound that was born in the UK, and also one that has been lost in the past. He has smooth vocals that complement the baseline. I love his songs because of the spiritual overtones in his works.
2. “Let’s Stay Together” (1972) Al Green
The harmonies are uplifting and the pure expression in his voice is one of pain, but the words have a comforting vibe that makes a person feel like they are not the only one who suffers. Pure soul in a bottle.
3. “Move on up” (1963) – Curtis Mayfield
Blaxploitation films formed my introduction to Curtis Mayfield. He was a great story teller, painting vivid images with the sound of early New York City, like a roving reporter on the streets. A believable, heartfelt voice with great musical arrangements and melodies, that sadly seem to have been lost to the past.
4. “Microphone Fiend” (Follow the Leader, 1988) – Eric B. & Rakim
I always loved early Hip Hop. There not anyone out there right now in Hip Hop or Rap that has taken nor even touched the crown of Rakim, a Hip hop master of word play with more layers than an onion skin. He’s an artist with a smooth flow … with a message in his story telling … a wordplay wizard with very deep metaphors and cyphers.
5.”Dreams” (1977, ‘Rumours’) Fleetwood Mac
I grew up with Fleetwood Mac and I still have them on my MP3 player today. “You Can Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams” are both epic tunes. A great band bursting with passion, with a sound that takes me back to my youth.
You know, we’re something of an opinionated bunch here at BAMM.tv. We know our music, and that means we often have a lot to say on the subject – lots of which can appear on this very site. As part of our 12 Days Of BAMM season (a different selection of highlights from the year gone by, every day leading up to Christmas) we’ve assembled a few of the choicest cuts below. Feel free to join the debates in any of the comments sections.
Our 12 day countdown to Christmas continues apace, and today we’re focusing on one of the most exciting musical cities in the world. Global Scene London was a series initially released on a week-by-week basis last year, but – if you happened to miss this awesome expose of up-and-coming music scenes in England’s capital city – you can check out every episode below. Kick back, enjoy, and inject a bit of London liveliness into your Saturday.
Come back tomorrow for another installment from the 12 Days Of BAMM …
Here’s the latest in our occasional series of in-depth articles about the music industry from BAMM correspondent Zakia Uddin. This time around, we look at the present (and future) state of live video performances …
LIVE TO VIDEO
1, 2, 3 … action!
The filmed live music performance has a history stretching back almost as long as film itself. Blues legend Bessie Smith was filmed singing ‘St Louis Blues’ in 1929 (above), essentially creating the first ever music video. Similarly, the history of live music on television is almost as long as that of television’s mass consumption. The ability to play well live on television remains the marker of a genuine musician. Every reality show worth its salt builds up to a live showdown between its contestants. So what do audiences look for in a live performance? And are the people behind the camera the ones who really decide whether a performance will go down in history or not?
Just hangin’ out in the studio
Live music has always been about ‘authenticity’. When you see an artist play, you think you know whether they’re really feeling the music or not. Do they mean what they’re saying or is it obvious they drew the short straw with the songwriter? A live performance has always been counterposed to the glitter and glamour of an expensive video, where you can’t see the sweat coming from the singer’s pores.
Even the ‘in the studio’ music video beloved of pop music stars emulates the ‘realness’ of the live performance. For example, J-Lo becomes Jenny from the block when she’s in her jammies, getting her pitch right with a pair of headphones. Singing live has been all about been demonstrating how much the artist or singer is above the trappings of celebrity fame. When it comes down to it, all they need is a guitar and a mike (and some expensive recording equipment, and a diplomatic producer-type to nod at them appreciatively behind some glass).
Performance is filtering over to other fields, such as dance music. The huge light shows and spectacle of the 1980s sparked off an opposing trend which saw DJs opt for the anonymity afforded by the darkness of a club. But the arrival of the ‘big beat’ DJ playing to crowds on beaches (such as Fatboy Slim on Brighton Beach, above) changed the DJ culture from something faceless to near-inescapable in the mainstream charts. More recent developments such as live-streamed show The Boiler Room have tried to reverse that emphasis on appearance by having the DJ play with their back to the audience – but it still taps into an old trend from live recorded music from television. Audiences love watching audiences no matter how disinterested and cool they act.
Recorded live performances have been most closely associated with guitar music, though. One of the fears expressed by musicians in the early 1980s was that MTV would stop people going to gigs. If you can hear the singles from the comfort of your living room, why would you pay to go to a venue without even the guarantee that the performer will play the hits? Would it be possible for the guitar playing singer to be as exciting as the pop star? However, MTV’s Unplugged series became an integral part of the tradition that made ‘going acoustic’ an index of a musician or band’s real capabilities.
One of the most notable Unplugged sessions was by Nirvana in 1993 (above). The watershed performance marked a moment in which both the audience come to maturity. Cobain wore his influences on his sleeve, using the opportunity to showcase unexpected personal influences, as well as the craftsmanship behind the band’s own songs. Nirvana emerged as a more rounded band, whose music was informed by old greats like Leadbelly as much as it was by its contemporaries Meat Puppets and more recent predecessors The Vaselines. The record of the session has become a critical part of the band’s discography and evaluation as a ‘serious band’ long after other bands associated with grunge disappeared.
Visuals for rock, pop and dance have all been shaped by how live music has been recorded so far. It’s also worth looking at the role of live music in culture, and why bands have seen some performances enter into the annals of rock history. The most famous live performances often mark high points – or pivotal points – in a band or a musician’s career. Oasis’ Knebworth show was recorded because the band were at their career peak in 1996, with an estimated one in 20 people in the UK trying to buy tickets for the two consecutive shows at the legendary venue. Bob Dylan famously ‘went electric’ at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 (below). In one legendary show, included in Don’t Look Now, the audience starts calling him a ‘Judas’ for betraying his folk roots.
Live music videos have also captured venues at their peak – showing how much synergy there is between a venue and the artists who play in it. Some venues really sum up and define an era – whether it’s CBGBs or London’s Albert Hall in the 1960s, equally famous then for tripped out psychedelic sleep-ins as it is now for the Proms. The stadium shot was requisite for live filming in the 1980s, wiping out some of the intimacy of the connection between performer and audience. Not surprisingly, there are few standout live music films made of stadium gigs.
The live recorded performance has often been seen as a complement to a band’s official recording career, despite hardcore fans’ obsessions with bootlegs. However, some live songs have outlived their recorded counterparts – for example, Cheap Trick’s minimalistic ‘I want you to want me’ off their famous Live at the Budokan album, and Pulp’s Glastonbury version of ‘This is Hardcore’, which perfectly distilled the essence of the post-party song (both below). An atmospheric venue and a receptive audience can elevate the live version of a song well above the recorded cut on the album.
Of course, live streaming has made recording any event anywhere under the most casual conditions easy. Death Cab for Cutie recorded the video for their first single ‘You are a tourist’ (below) off their seventh album in a single take, which was live streamed simultaneously to audiences. Band member Chris Walla said: “Most of the time when you have an idea, somebody’s already done it, and it really didn’t seem like that was the case for this. So we needed to move on it if we wanted to do it.” Will we see more experiments like this in the future? And will the predictions of anxiety-ridden musicians in the 1980s start to come true, in the way they least expected? Rather than losing interest in going to gigs, we’re just watching them in our living room.
In our experientially-minded culture, bands are more likely to do reunion gigs than new albums after years apart. Some of the biggest cultural highlights in recent years have been heavily publicised reunion gigs for bands including the Stone Roses, Blur and Pulp. Instead of waiting for the definitive document, we can just record them on our phones as we watch. The Beastie Boys, always ahead of the game, did one of the most definitive live music recordings by getting their fans to film themselves on the day of the band’s legendary Madison Gardens gig (below).
Arguably, MTV-ready popstars might be doing more than anyone else to make sure the live music experience remains sacrosanct. In a media dominated by the reality music contest, being able to sing live is still the final measure of talent. The format translates well because we can all appreciate a contestant’s singing abilities, regardless of their marketability – hence the breakout success of ordinary individuals such as Susan Boyle or Paul Potts.
HOW ABOUT SOME LIVE CLASSICS FROM THE BAMM ARCHIVES?
HOTTUB – ‘1, 2, 3, Go!’
Where to look? This band shocked audiences at SXSW with their sweaty onstage antics and willingness to hump stage floors. Here they are performing their synthy ‘1-2-3-Go’ against some suitably eye-watering graphics.
Afro Q Ben – ‘Futuristic Electro’
This sunny outdoor performance perfectly conveys the festival vibe combined with genuine musicianship. Futuristic Electro’s influences span far and wide. Despite being fun, it never feels flimsy. It also reminds me of an age-old tradition that’s got wiped out in the era of spiralling touring costs for bands: the dancer guy. It’s always a guy, and you’re not sure what else he does when he’s not on stage, but it just wouldn’t be the same without him.
Religious Girls – ‘OG’
It might not surprise you to learn that Religious Girls have a background of noise music. Their music has suitably ethereal vocals counterpointed to more electronic sounds and off-kilter drumming. This performance at the Phono del Sol festival in San Francisco captures the intensity and intricacy of their music.
Great Lake Swimmers – ‘Still’
GLS have already ratcheted up much praise from the likes of Bill Callahan and this BAMM performance shows them at their best, performing at SXSW to an adoring crowd. If Hot Tub are like a tequila slammer, then Great Lake Swimmers are the orange juice for the hangover.
A stripped down version of a deeply felt emotive song, deconstructed and performed in San Francisco’s Engine Works. The band experimented with the parts of the song to make it work within the grand yet warm venue – a great example of how much our experience of music is informed by place.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE BEST LIVE FILMS EVER MADE …?
Thelma Schoonmaker won an Academy Award in 1970 for her remarkable editing of the film which in itself changed how live performance was documented. Schoonmaker adopted a combination of stills, and dissolves to capture the energy of performers as diverse as Richie Havens and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Woodstock wasn’t intended to be free but has come to symbolise the 1960s. Most cultural commentators have put this down to the film’s brilliance. There are a few performances here which perfectly sum up why we see the era as we do: Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
Oasis at Knebworth 1996
The band’s performance at this legendary site coincided with their lager-swilling, tabloid-terrorising peak. Certainly, the Gallagher brothers’ collective egos were big enough to elbow out the audience. At one point, Liam tells the reverential audience: “We’re not arrogant, we just believe we’re the best band in the world.” Class, as they would have it.
Monterey Pop (1967)
Made two years before Woodstock, but somewhat less acknowledged is this video documentary of the festival where Jimi Hendrix famously burnt his guitar and flung its flaming carcass into the crowd. D.A.Pennebaker’s film excited some of its viewers so much that it directly inspired the more famous Woodstock festival – as well as dozens of others across the country. The documentary shows how live footage can be as exciting and motivating as the real thing. Above is the trailer to the miniature masterpiece of musical history. Let’s all say: “It’s groovy, man.”
1991: The Year That Punk Broke
This fun documentary cobbled out of Super 8 footage captures some stand-out definitive performances from the soon-to-be-massive Nirvana and their contemporaries Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. What’s most astonishing is that these bands were already playing to huge crowds at Britain’s Reading festival, despite seeing themselves as punk rock. Like the best music documentaries, it captures a change in the history of music itself.
This documents some of hardcore band Fugazi’s best-known moments on stage, bringing together style and content to convey the band’s unique take on society. The sonic assault is paired with a visual assault and performances that make you wish you’d been there (maybe standing at the back, not so close to the front).
ATP Tomorrow’s Parties
This festival on a chalet site has had some ups and downs in the past ten years but its delivered more than a handful of legendary performances. One of these is by Lightning Bolt, the two man band prone to setting up in chalets or outside the venue or whereever you least expect them to. The trailer shoves our face into their sweaty pits – breathe it in.
Gimme Shelter (1970)
This is the nightmarish counterpart of the dreamy Woodstock vibe. The filmmakers followed the band on their 1969 tour of the US, which ended with the infamous free concert at Altamont. Footage of the ensuing bloodbath was incorporated into the film, which has come to represent the zenith of the hippy era.
Stop Making Sense (1984)
This Talking Heads documentary was shot by Hollywood director Jonathan Demme just when MTV had arrived on our screens. It showed how live footage doesn’t have to be cliched – the camera stays firmly focused on Byrne’s face throughout rather than straggling to the money shots of the audiences. Rather than presenting a loosened up version of the band, we see them at their most stylised and creative – with Demme using chiaroscuro and dramatic close-ups fofor that definitive art school feel.
On a still summer’s day you would have no idea that the world’s biggest circus is landing in this part of town. But the past five years has all led up to this point, and whether you have tickets to the main event or not, there is a strong sense of anticipation. Since the announcement of the 2012 Olympics, millions have been plunged into places like Dalston, and amidst dilapidated buildings such as the Chinese on the corner, next to the station, there are shiny new ones with empty windows and draped pictures of model nuclear families. While the developers want to attract new blood, the cultural drive of the area hasn’t changed. E8 has the biggest concentration of music venues in East London,and every night of the week sees check-shirted Converse-wearing queues and crowds blocking up the area’s narrow pavements. Music lovers who want to escape the official pomp and hardline commercialism of the Olympics could find this place a refuge. On the other hand, London is the self-declared home of live music and there is no better time for the music industry to showcase this. So has it been able to benefit from Olympics funding? The world’s biggest temporary tourist attraction provides a great test case of how musicians and bands interact with promoters, brands and old-school arts funders.
Despite the tangible gains in terms of development, there is a distinct air of a wedding that no-one wants to go to. You might have a good time in spite of yourself, but there’s a pervading sense of doom. Funding cuts have hit culture the hardest, but the Olympics offered the chance of a possible recoup, with money being allocated to unique, large-scale projects.
On the Olympics website, the official angle is: “The Olympic and Paralympic brands are incredibly powerful. They evoke the emotion, excitement and values of the Games. The London 2012 brand is fundamental to the Games. It is how we identify the Games, how we communicate our ambition, and how we drive excitement and enthusiasm for the Games.” Most of the run-up to the Olympics have been marred with stories about planned lockdowns and deployment of police to prevent the unauthorised use of the Olympics logo, or related mentions. Companies are not allowed to use any combination of ‘London’, ‘Olympic’ or ‘Games’ in conjunction or separately, meaning that numerous companies including Easy Jet and Mercedes have been forced to pull new advertising campaigns.
The impact of the branding exercise has been felt by those not traditionally associated with balaclavas and placards. The Musicians Union (MU) has been one of the most vocal about how the protective policy is affecting their work. More professional musicians have found themselves being approached for free work, according to the organisation. The rules of organising an event next to the Olympics is that it cannot be affiliated with anyone but official sponsors of the sporting event. With most professional music events being funded to the hilt (in the absence of government funding), it’s nearly impossible for professional music organisers to affiliate their events to the Olympics because of branding clashes. Horace Trubridge,of the MU, says that the Olympics have not given any tangible returns to musicians – and is unlikely to leave a legacy.
The main beneficiaries so far have been local acts who are able to adopt the ‘Inspired By’ slogan. The protectiveness over the use of this has frustrated professional musicians, who have lost out on potential income from not being able to stage events with the Olympics brand, the union claims.
Another issue has been the decision to stage the opening and closing ceremonies with pre-recorded music. The MU believe that this element has not been left to chance, because the organisers have instead focused their energies on the other elements of the spectacle. Trubridge described the decision as “pure laziness”. He said the biggest gains had gone to professional musicians who ironically are recording music to use for the live ceremonies – because of the policy against live music.
The Olympics may even have hastened the death of the festival scene. Trubridge said: “The festival scene is suffering a double hit and taken a lot of interest away from the festival scene – Hopdown and Sonisphere – a lot of the smaller festivals have been pulled this year. It’s really hard to see a balancing side, when you don’t see any return.”
The very event itself is unlikely to bolster the actual music it does showcase, given that it’s not live. For the Musicians Union, that sums up the failures of the cultural policy of 2012’s Olympics. Trubridge said: “Live music should have been the most important aspect of opening and closing. That’s what this country is famous for, but it’s been ignored to accommodate what’s considered most important. People in the UK don’t like recorded music in any event – we like reality shows because they feature live bands. We’re going to see a spectacular show without live music so we’re struggling to see any benefit.” Most recently, it was claimed that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has an official policy of not paying musicians as they benefit from “exposure” by playing at the events (even though they’re not playing live).
It appears there’s a dark cloud over the events already, given the difficulties in coming to mutually satisfying agreements with many of its non-sporting performers. For many musicians, it could be difficult to forget the way they’ve been treated at a time when there should have been more than enough work to go around.
Returning to East London
And what does it mean for musicians in the epicentre of the city’s musical scene? It’s business as usual for most. Dalston’s music scene is busy, with the attention given to its venues balanced by a steady and loyal flow of regulars. Cafe Oto has been one of the most feted venues, with its strikingly leftfield roster which has seen it host artists from all over the world. Newspapers and magazines such The Guardian and Italian Vogue have described it as among the most culturally relevant music venues in the country. Despite the international praise,the cafe situates some of its ethos in the immediate community, and has fostered links with local projects such as radio station NTS. Its new clientele haven’t changed its goal or its vision of itself. John from Cafe Oto said, tongue-in-cheek: “We do get people who look cool coming in. But we don’t turn them away. They get bored easily and usually leave anyway.”
NTS interestingly features archival pictures of Dalston as the backdrop on the site, showing a side to the place that many of its listeners might not know. It features shows from local tastemakers and established DJs, covering a huge range of genres, possibly creating as much musical diversity as most of Dalston’s venues put together. More new venues are opening up replacing the makeshift ones which disappear, while Turkish bar owners are opening up venues in their basement to host more low-key nights.
For some, the changes in Hackney and Newham have only impacted in the most superficial way. The entrepreneurial spirit which made grime take off in the first place isn’t that far removed from that spirit which is behind the burgeoning digital industry of the so-called Silicon Roundabout. Elijah Butterz, owner of the grime label Butterz and Rinse FM DJ, told us how the perception of this East End-born music has changed radically since some of its musicians have become national award nominated. “We used to be seen as criminals, not entrepreneurs,” he said. But the landscape has changed, especially given the need to branch out into different mediums – and the cheapness and ease of exploring those with the rise of mobile technologies.
But the Olympics, he adds, is something that’s just there in the background when he’s near his home, rather than something that’s impacted on his life. He added: “I have two friends who lost their jobs this week. I don’t think it’s a priority for them. I don’t think I know anyone who has gained anything out of it.”
He also concludes that the exposure of the music had actually taken it out of its postcode, to other parts of the country, so now it’s impossible to tell where the music is from – whereas previously it was all about locale. So East London’s looking outwards, suitably, at a time when millions of people across the world will be paying attention to it.
BT River of Music is a massive showcase of free music from both established and emerging talent. It takes place the weekend before the opening ceremony, so could be a good way of saving your account balance beforehand. The best thing about this is that it takes place across London so visitors don’t have to schlep across the capital for entertainment. Given the branding restrictions, there’s less likelihood of seeing professional musicians playing, but there is a chance to check out more idiosyncratic local groups and see how grassroots music develops.
Alternatively, it might be easier to stay at home and watch the musical events from your hotel or rented accommodation television. The BBC has – at time of severe cuts to other public services – spent millions on televising concerts celebrating the Olympics. Interestingly, one of the films commissioned is by Julien Temple, the director of The Great Rock and Rock Swindle which features ‘God Save the The Queen’-singing Sex Pistols. As well as staging the annual British proms, it will also be televising several concerts including Radio One’s Hackney Weekend 2012. Ironically, the television may be the only place where people get to see live music. The BBC has described it as the biggest ever free-ticketed live music festival it has ever hosted.
Residents of the Olympic boroughs saw one tangible return in the form of the the later concert. The curation here is probably the most contemporary and fun of all the events – Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna and Azealia Banks feature in the extensive list of credible acts. Those lucky enough to get free tickets are probably saving hundreds on seeing the acts perform on tour.
The most heavily branded of all the events taking place around the Olympics is Coca-Cola’s Olympic Torch Relay. Coca-Cola has organised a series of concerts marking the delivery of the Olympic torch to the borough, starting from Land’s End. The Olympics seems to cause musicians to abandon any credibility they once had. Katy B and Mark Ronson are teaming up for a Coca-Cola song created especially for Olympics titled ‘Anywhere in the World’.
Blur’s fixation with Britishness has paid off, as the band will be headlining the closing ceremony in Hyde Park – the site of their last major reunion in 2009. Let’s ignore the fact that it looks like Britain hasn’t had any era-defining bands in the past ten years, and that they are irrevocably associated with the more plentiful Labour government years. Despite their early battles with Oasis, they’re now a non-controversial crowd-pleaser (and credible with it).
Lead singer Damon Albarn is also reconvening his Africa Express through the Barbican and taking it on a tour around the UK, hitting up the other musical cities in the country such as Manchester and Leeds. It’s easy to forget about the nationwide impact of the Olympics funding on arts events – and how much more innovative or daring these can be, away from the cultural capital. The contemporary arts centre received a huge injection of funding to hold events because of its location within the City of London. It has already hosted a number of landmark shows including a staging of Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. The area itself is a great place to experience the juxtapositions of this part of London. Walking around, it’s like a who’s who of the news – visitors can walk from the former grounds of Occupy St Pauls up to the banks and then finally arrive at the famed Silicon Roundabout.
The Olympics is often used to highlight world events, and this year’s celebrations are not any different. One of the major musical celebrations will start off in the former danger zone of Londonderry. The Peace One Day concert in London is a culmination of events organised across the world, called Global Truce which countdown to what it describes as the biggest reduction of global violence across the world. Singers at the event will include Pixie Lott and Newton Faulkner.
The New Music 20×12 Weekend might appeal to anyone with more experimental taste in music. Organised by the PRS for Music Foundation, the event brings together new and rising talent performing specially commissioned pieces. It’s also cross-platform, incorporating dance and film.
GOLD, SILVER AND BRONZE HITS OF THE OLYMPICS
Olympics music occupies that strange place – unlikely to be in the most ardent sports-lovers record collection, it nevertheless remains culturally resonant for years. We know it when we hear it, but would otherwise be stumped to name our favourite. For your benefit, we’ve put together some of the anthems and songs inspired by the world’s greatest show of strength.
1. Koreana ‘Hand in Hand’/1988 Seoul Games
Possibly has had one of the longer lifespans of any Olympics song in its home country. The video is quite something, and sums up why Korean pop has such a cult following abroad. It’s impossible not to feel lifted by this ridiculously anthemic number – despite being horrified by the 1980s hairstyles. The spectacle in it has to be seen to be believed, which is the Olympics’ mandate. Hundreds of dancers in red costumes swirl around each other in perfect co-ordination.
2. Celine Dion ‘The Power of the Dream’/1996 Atlanta Games
Celine dedicated all the money for this saccharine power ballad to Canadian athletes. The global star has been known for her left-wing gestures and her fierce loyalty to the French-speaking Canadian cause. The song extols the power of the collective imagination.
3. Gloria Estefan ‘Reach’/1996 Atlanta Games
The Latino singers contribution may have been inspired by her own experience of paralysis and her fight against it. The song was nominated for a Grammy. It’s a slow-burn song.
4. Tina Arena ‘The Flame’/2000 Sydney Games
Tina Arena was a huge star in her native Australia, and her presence with this song was a testimony to the country’s many home-grown but internationally undervalued stars. Interesting, the composer of The Flame went on to become the musical director of ‘Australian Idol’. It builds up to an epic second half following an average start.
5. Bjork ‘Oceania’/2004 Athens Olympics
Bjork was an unexpected choice – but if there’s an artist who is good at providing spectacle, then it’s the Icelandic singer. Her dress folded out into a 100,000 ft map of the world, which billowed like a giant cloud on the aerial view of the stadium. She was forced to sing to a backing track after the track without her voice was damaged, but refused to mime on stage. Despite that, the performance was one of the rare ones where there was a sense of intimacy, created by the fragile delicate voice. If only more cities had the same sense of adventure when it came to choosing performers.
6. ‘You and Me’ Liu Han/2008 Beijing Olympics
The Chinese anthem was sung by Huan and British opera star Sarah Brightman, both hugely established and popular in their native countries. It’s typically saccharine but that’s a minor point next to the city’s spectacular opening ceremony for the event.
7. ‘Barcelona’/1992 Barcelona Games
This was originally composed and sung by Freddie Mercury, who died shortly afterwards. The song also became somewhat of a national anthem which seems to be rare among these Olympic efforts. It was also played at UEFA games for several years after its release.
8. ‘Spinnin’’ Tinchy Stryder & Dionne Bromfield/2012 London Games
The 2012 Olympic anthem for London marks a departure from the traditional ballad aimed at older record-buyers. Stryder and soul singer Bromfield collaborate on this upbeat number, which still carries the traditional Olympic message of unity and goodwill.
9. Amigos Para Siempre/Sarah Brightman and Jose Carreras/1992 Barcelona
This song was performed at the Spanish premier’s funeral. Composed by the most British of composers Andrew Lloyd Webber, it was sung by operatic stars Sarah Brightman and Carreras. Like the other Barcelona anthem, it proved popular beyond the event.
10.Church Bell Music/ Martin Creed – 2012 London
This harks back to the art competitions that were held within the Olympics before the second world war. Conceptual artist Martin Creed (responsible for the on-off light switch which won the Turner Prize in 2001) proposes that bells everywhere in the country – from churches, to bikes, to that of town criers – are rung simultaneously on the first morning of the Olympics.
OTHER BAMM.TV STORIES YOU MIGHT LIKE:
Readers in the UK – and those who keep an eye on current events upon that rainy island – will know that the ‘Diamond Jubilee’ is underway: a long weekend in which everyone pretends to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 60th year on the throne when infact they’re just happy to get a few days off work, whatever the reason.
Still – whatever one may think of the Royal Family (yep, we’re adopting a regal tone now), it’s hard to deny that the constant fawning media coverage can be a bit of a drag. Any aliens watching TV right now (not sure why they would be, but just play along) would think that everyone is Britain is constantly bowing in deference to the Royal overlords. This isn’t the case, however – as evidenced by our alternative Jubilee soundtrack from acts who take an … erm … less than complimentary approach to the monarchy.
God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols
The original anti-Jubilee song. Ironically the Queen has aged better than all the remaining Sex Pistols combined.
The Queen Is Dead – The Smiths
Possibly their finest hour – the amazing opening track to the classic album of the same name.
Elizabeth My Dear – The Stone Roses
“Tear me apart and boil my bones / I’ll not rest ’til she’s lost her throne.” Not a fan, then, chaps?
Storm The Palace – Catatonia
The sort of rallying call that would have seen people beheaded not so long ago.
Insect Royalty – Primal Scream
Hold on – the monarchy are insects? But David Icke told us they were lizards. Which is it?
Whatever you think of hip-hop star Professor Green – love, hate, or crushing indifference – it would take the most churlish of viewers to deny the awesomeness of his latest video experiment (one which will undoubtedly become more and more ubiquitous – maybe even standard? – in the world of performance videos).
We’ve seen a lot of interesting developments in online music videos recently – Ok Go have long been knocking ‘em dead with their endlessly innovative viral hits, and Arcade Fire’s interactive Google Earth odyssey for ‘We Used To Wait’ was nothing short of stunning. These are merely promo vids though – what about engaging, interesting and dynamic developments in the field of live coverage?
You can take a look by clicking the ‘get me on that stage’ tab in the video below. What do you guys think? Impressive or what?
‘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.