Monday, July 25, 2005

While there doesn't seem to be any reduction in the numbers commuting to work every day, the Tube at the weekend was noticeably less crowded than usual. I don't think I've ever seen that before. I confess to being surprised about the local reaction to the recent attacks - until last Thursday (the failed second wave of chemistry-set suicide bombings) it seemed people here were pretty sanguine, but now it seems a lot more panicky and disproportionate than normal, especially after the Stockwell shooting.

Now I'm not in any sense urging pointless defiance, or suggesting we all parade around the centre of ol' London Town only to show how hard and Blitz-spirit we all are ("I'm not brave / I'm not special..."), but with 3,000,000 of us using the underground daily, I just can't see that the chances of being blown up on it are substantially higher than those of being wiped out above ground - the road I live on is pockmarked regularly by pavement debris, collapsed bollards and bits of metal following the incessant speeding and / or drinking of motorists, and has its own, well known and entirely predictable annual death toll. (Or, more disturbingly, it can't be too fanciful to suggest that the bombers' next target is at least as likely to be an overground train, a bus queue, a busy shop or a pub as it is an increasingly policed subway).

I tell you what did scare me though. On the tube on Saturday evening, between Highbury & Islington and King's Cross, I was accosted by one of a couple of lairy lads, who insisted on showing me the movie on his mobile phone. "This", he said with pride, "is our mates beating up some Pakis the other night". Yes the pictures were horrific, and the shouting on the soundtrack echoed down the aisle. I was too frightened, frankly, to move away, especially given the understandable sudden desire of the rest of the carriage to bury their heads in their Sunday supplements and Harry Potters - although what worried me most was the boys' initial assumption that I might share their prejudices. And "We hate Pakis, we're British", was their parting sho(u)t to the rest of the train. This stuff has never gone away - (although no end of otherwise intelligent people I know have felt able to tell me that racism isn't a problem in Britain any more over the past few years) - it's just that, right now, we need to be at our most vigilant to combat it.

But, especially right now, I don't see why keeping our eyes and ears out should stop us living and enjoying the rest of our lives as usual - so hopefully next time I post it will only be to bore you with fond recollections of the Windmills and Picture Center show this Saturday night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Kanda Bongo Man "Liza" (my stereo, now): Ant "Homemade Discord" (Powertools, 12"): Rackitt and Guy McAffer "Untitled" (RAW, 12"): DDR and Chris Liberator "Aqua 320" (Maximum Minimum, 12"): E Z Riders "Black Box Theory" / "Temple of Nothing" (Cluster, 12"): D.A.V.E. The Drummer vs S P Groove "Untitled" (Hydraulix, 12"): The Lucksmiths "Warmer Corners" (Matinee Recordings): Roll Deep Crew "The Avenue" (Relentless): Forest Giants, live at the Dublin Castle, London on 30 June 2005: Napalm Death, live at Koko Camden, 17 July 2005

OK. Calmed down a bit now, partly out of embarrassment at the amount we are making out of the London attacks, given that one mentalist killed 98 in Baghdad with a petrol tanker bomb and nobody here even blinked.

So I'm finding myself listening to Kanda Bongo Man, enjoying being cheered up in doing so, and as a result wishing that the recipe for "Live 8" had been so different, not that I got bored enough to watch / listen to any of it. A part of me will always believe that Kanda Bongo Man & his contemporaries never drew their real inspiration from traditional Congolese and imported Cuban rhythms at all - the best soukous always strikes me as so relentlessly *JANGLY*, in that awkward indie-kids could happily dance to it without shedding either their *principles* or demeanour. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if some of KBM's best work - late 80s and early 90s - reflected lazy evenings in listening to the Chesterfields and (especially) Mighty Mighty: after all, he would have been played alongside them on Radio 1 by a certain DJ just before the witching hour... Anyway, Gedge-like guitar genius Diblo Dibala, has, quite 'liderally', played his way back into my Subbuteo XI.

As well as Kanda Bongo Man, another legacy of the good doctor Peel for me is the fact that he introduced me to London techno - dance music ten times as relevant and a hundred as listenable as the interminable slew of HedKandi compilations which, I suppose, are there to do for dance music what embracekeanecoldplaytraviselbowsnowpatrolathletestarsailor are doing for guitar music (i.e. kill it, in the most unexciting and interminable way possible). Unluckily for the HedKandi massive, or indeed the Pacha and Manumission crowd (virtually exclusively lawyers and accountants these days, as far as I can tell), there have been ten to a dozen, I would say, great techno singles already this year that show that where it's at is music, not posing, and Ant's" Homemade Discord", the most recent single on Powertools, is arguably the best 12" of 2005 yet, simply on the basis that it is the most random. Unlike the linear "Limehouse Green" or the symmetrical "Tempest" (where the madness is confined to the middle of the tune), "Discord" is harder to imagine as a seamless injection into a DJ set. Instead, strange, exciteable sounds flit around, squirming like tadpoles searching desperately for the bank, but being bombarded by a sensory assault of techno pulses, Ant relentlessly tinkering with the rhythms in case anyone tries to make sense of things: the greatest moment, as ever, is when the beats fall through a trapdoor halfway through and Ant fills the listener's ears with screeching, half-cock, half-siren loops. Way to get stared at on the Tube.

Turning to other labels, I can't recall if I've praised E Z Riders' "Black Box Theory" on Cluster, but its no-nonsense approach pays dividends, metallic hooks reflecting the austerity of the silver office buildings congregating around Moorgate right now. Meanwhile, on Hydraulix (public service announcement in this land of no songtitles: you're looking for Hydraulix 029), D.A.V.E. the Drummer and S P Groove team up for two toe-tappers rooted in samples that could almost be throwbacks to the heady days of Donna Summer disco, propelling more mechanical sounds into a heady blissed-out oblivion. The AA side just about wins (again), with a tiny repeated clang that could almost be a lost chord from "C n' C's Mithering" being submerged in the ceaseless rhythms. Ripe Analogue Waveforms' new single (the cat. one for this one is RAW 030) sees Rackitt and label boss McAffer ransack their archives for blurred acid house sounds in a true Jolly Roger style, even if they never quite turn them into a landmark tune: and honourable mention to DDR & Chris Liberator's "Aqua 320" 12" on Maximum Minimum - Ant turns up (by the year-end he will probably be responsible for half the tunes released in the UK) to do a repeto-vocoder thing on the B side, but the DDR and Chris side is the pick, going for that Limehouse Green-style lurching loop and punching it repeatedly into submission.

Then there's the Lucksmiths. "Warmer Corners" is the approx. zillionth example of their consummate mastery of non-corporate pop, more intelligent and more melodic than anything being foisted on meaningful percentages of the population by radio or record labels. People that think that products from the global hit factory economy, from Scott Storch to Stargate, are necessarily the pinnacle of modern pop need to listen (or, rather, be forced to listen) to the Lucksmiths, not least because they would implode messily on the realisation that there are even in this day and age fantastically erudite and charming international genii merrily kicking sand in the face of the notion that your second studio album, let alone your eighth, should be anything other than fresh and welcoming. "Sunlight In A Jar" is the sprightly sound of the spring in your step on the sweetest summer day, "Putting It Off and Putting It Off" a pristine example of their perky pick-me-up pomp, and the opening, brass-accompanied "A Hiccup In Your Happiness" probably what prompted all that alliteration. The recent single, "The Chapter In Your Life Called San Francisco" brilliantly sets out the no. 1 theme of Lucksmiths songs, distance: in both place, and time, as it sensitively uncovers the uncertainties and paranoia of the long-distance relationship. But my favourite, right now, is "The Music Next Door", simply for the way that it unfolds over four minutes of tugging emotions (none of your flat joyless indie-pop boy-meets-girl girl-leaves-boy woe-is-boy narrative) before tumbling breathlessly into the most memorable, hummable single melody line of the whole album and lifting the listener several miles into the soggy ether. (If you remind me, I may try and pick up on the way that some of the super-palatable Free Loan Investments indie fuzz of labelmates the Happy Couple belies some very bare emotional torment in that band's lyrics, too).

Anyway. On with the show. But really, oh boy. Roll Deep's "The Avenue". I don't know what to say. I hate being a curmudgeonly old so-and-so (no really), and it's pristine n'all, and I know that out there in serious reviewerland the easygoing, pop-friendly journos of today have taken great delight in irking the purists (HMHB references are today taking priority to the usual "golden era" ones!) um, where was I, sorry, 'purists' whose jaws must have collectively dropped on listening to the new LP, and I don't in any way want to justify them in their gloating, and um, I am not sure what's happening with all these commas, but... basically, there are plenty of people who can do this sort of commercial almost-rap shtick. There are comparatively few, on the other hand, who can hit the heights of "Show You", "When I'm Ere" or "Poltergeist" (at least, they're as high as the heights on the new album, "Rollin' Deeper", get). The worst thing is that the tune that RDC are sampling for "The Avenue", by the Maisonettes, is so terrible and weedy in any case (you can only wince at the 80s synth lines) that you find yourself longing for the verses, only to find a double-whammy in that the rapping suddenly seems so plain and top 40-perfunctory. As for the album, well, it would have made a great 3-track 12" (tracklisting above), as many albums would, but falls about ten songs short of being the debut it should have been, despite an inspired cartoon sleeve. There's none of the angst and finding-its-wayness of Wiley's "Treddin On Thin Ice", none of the electricity and bounce of their considerable if irredeemably disparate back catalogue. So while hardly bad, it has to go down as a crushing disappointment (I know it's inevitable that when the grime artists get signed up, they might really go hell-for-leather with the studio time and mass appeal crossover potential, but do they all have to ? Shystie ? Roll Deep ? Kano ? Lady Sovereign ? What if Lethal Bizzle does with his album ? Now that, I think, would be the end). Basically, Riko's grinding, distorted rap on "Random" is probably better than the entirety of "Rollin' Deeper".

And I went to see the Forest Giants (the band, not the trees - if you go and visit the latter, you can't see the wood for them). It transpired that my exposition [aka rant] on the dea(r)th of singles elsewhere on this blog was opportune, as recent mini-LP lead track "Beards", one of the tunes which I identified as being made for 7", actually had been intended to be one at some point: but then Invisible Hands, who put out its classic predecessor single "Postcards" and the rollicking "In Sequence" set, decided that they would be better off putting out the likes of Hazel O'Connor and Mick Karn instead. At least the Giants started their set with "Beards", although on stage, without the extra guitar lines (which I have more recently identified as sounding not unlike the Pastels' "Nothing To Be Done"), it took on a more subdued hue, focussing more attention on the conversational meander of the lyrics ("well I just got back from hell... I didn't like it much") while I sucked all the blackness out of a couple of Guinesses. From that, a too-short set of warm guitar fuzz ensued, spacey chords and the odd catchy chorus mingling in the smoky Castle back room before melting into the swelter of a humid north London evening. It left me extremely encouraged about the next album, and extremely discouraged that there appears to be no label out there with the means or the nous to release it.

"We're Napalm Death, from Birmingham, England" was perhaps an unnecessary introduction for most of the hep kids (plus me) blinded by the ruby-red glare of the old Camden Palace's refurbed interior, but as usual it heralded a set from Messrs Greenway, Harris, Herrera and Embury that was equal parts vituperation (esp. against Mr Tony Blair, from London, England) and sheer joy. Few things can put a smile on my face as readily as knowing canters through "Breed to Breathe" and "Suffer The Children", although the inclusion of various newies ("Vegetative State", the amazing "Silence Is Deafening") hardly hindered me in maintaining my grindcore grin. Coquettish flirting, in the name of fandom, with Mitch Harris at the bar also helped (exclusive ILWTT mini-interview with Napalm Death on their recent line-up change: "So what happened to Jesse [Pintado] then ?" Mitch: "He wanted to do other things - what can you do ?")

Plus, the four-piece that played immediately before ND sounded pretty good, kind of Lock-Up-ish: unfortunately, I couldn't work out which of the many listed support acts they were. The only thing I can tell you is that (one of) Cancer, Diecast, Cataract, 25 Ta Life, Mindlapse, End Of Days, Descent, Gutwork, Insomnium and My Precious Blood are a band I would def like to hear more from.

That's enough rushed reviews for now. There are plenty more new records I want to draw your attention to, but then I also want to listen to them rather than 'write' about them. Plus, I is tired. So "maybe next time..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Well here's a surprise.

Just to reiterate, this is a party that 3/4 of a million people voted for last year in the European elections (and got some results in the general election that the Greens, for example, would have been delighted with). We are not talking about the tiny minority we should be.

At some point on I wrote about how I'd been at Trafalgar Square and witnessed the BNP hijacking an Al-Mujahiroun demonstration (and if only the two groups knew how much they actually had in common). There was a moment, after a depressingly obvious "Osama" chant from the men in black, where the police imposed a sudden, huge cordon around the suddenly teeming mass of people invading the space in front of the fountains (like a football crowd surge, for those of you who remember the days of terraces), and I found myself trapped inside the line of policemen - and otherwise surrounded, as far as I could see, only by Griffin's fascist acolytes, in their trademark Burberry and, predictably, football paraphernalia: Brentford and Chelsea daubed on the ubiquitous union flags, I remember in particular. So I will always be grateful to the policeman who took pity on me when, after trying unsuccessfully to break back out, I pleaded "I don't want to get stuck with the Nazis" - not least as, if he hadn't bundled me out, I was about to get one hell of a kicking. The copper even managed a comforting "good on you, son", and for the first (and probably last) time I could have kissed a policeman.

Right now, this battle for fringe supremacy is being played out in the papers and press, rather than around Nelson's Column on a balmy bank holiday weekend. But with an inescapable editorial theme implying that the UK's Muslims should somehow be spending their time apologising to the rest of the population, rather than being allowed to mourn and then move upward and onward with the rest of us who share in this sadness, you know that there will be plenty of would-be voters prepared to lap up the propoganda which takes the pundits' self-righteousness only a stage (a shade) further. The police know that, which is why they're having to stand guard at city mosques, and that in itself shames London, because it means that not enough of us have stood up against the relentless, repetitive subtext that the attacks are all down to "them", "them" being the 1,500,000+ people in British Muslim families rather than the 15 Al-Mujahiroun agitators with megaphones who would have claimed, then at least, to have sympathised with the bombers' actions. And if there's really "no smoke without fire" then everyone in the UK needs take a long hard look at themselves and offer each other apologies, when our society, in living memory of WW2, has collectively spawned 750,000 who can go into a polling booth and place an X by the name of a fascist candidate.

And yes, I do feel even worse in the knowledge that what's happened to London just once in the last decade or so is happening in Baghdad on a seemingly daily basis. I'm hoping that in weeks to come we will start to identify rather more strongly with their plight again.

And I know this is just blog-standard therapy, but I don't even have the energy to proof it for sense. I keep meaning to write about music but when some people in east London, despite the coming together for the Olympic bid and the coming together in grief last week, show they can be so hateful, so quickly, it seems rather pointless, doesn't it ?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Right. Having eventually got out of the City via a very long walk home (we had to stay in the office on police advice and watch the death toll unfold over the internet) I can't put it better than Ken Livingstone. So.

"This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful; it is not aimed at presidents or prime ministers; it was aimed at ordinary working class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christians, Hindu and Jew, young and old, indiscriminate attempt at slaughter irrespective of any considerations, of age, of class, of religion, whatever, that isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith, it's just indiscriminate attempt at mass murder, and we know what the objective is, they seek to divide London. They seek to turn Londoners against each other and Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack".

Very near my work, in the heart of the City, is the plaque commemorating the spot where the first bomb fell on London in 1940. It was funny how I'd never noticed that plaque before tonight. We've been here before - indeed, bombings were a constant here during my childhood - and, um, we shall overcome.

I'll be back on the London Underground as soon as they let me.