Hell in a handcart Music

Must we throw this pop at our kids?

From last night’s Evening Times:

NEW boy band US5 have launched a tour of UK schools starting in Scotland. The band played their debut single Maria at Mearns Castle High School and Mearns Primary. Today it was the turn of Renfrew High and Cleveden Secondary to hear the quintet. 

OK, maybe I’m getting grumpy as I approach the grand old age of mumblemumblemumble, but how exactly does this benefit the schools? I can see how it benefits the extremely well-off record companies – schools tours are an established way of breaking new acts, whether it’s boy bands or lostprophets – but why should schools provide a promotional outlet for giant corporations to flog their wares?

I’d be interested to know the mechanics of these tours if anyone out there knows the ins and outs…


Live review: Eels, Glasgow ABC

[photopress:sj3640.jpg,thumb,alignleft]I hate gigs. Unless you’re down the very front, the much-vaunted atmosphere of a hot, sweaty club is massively overrated in my experience: instead, you spend the whole night putting up with people who don’t really understand the concept of live music, and who make ten trips to the bar despite the obstacle of a few thousand people between them and their pints.

Then there’s the inevitable collection of Really Tall Blokes who think they’re midgets, and who have perfected the knack not just of blocking your view but of anticipating your every movement and intercepting each one so the view remains blocked, and of course the constant chitterers who spend the entire concert wittering on witlessly. Factor in the bad sound and the fresh joy of Scotland’s smoking ban (although at least the ABC lets you nip out between the support band and the main attraction) and you need to really, really, really love a band to bother going to see them.

As I may have mentioned once or twice I love Eels, although I also realise that buying a ticket to see them is something of a lottery. Will it be an electric set or a with-strings one? Will E play the stuff you know, or spend the night amusing himself with obscure back-catalogue cuts and strange covers? That’s part of the fun, I reckon, and after a long tour with a string section you just knew that E would be gagging for some rock this time round – and he was, although not to universal acclaim. “Play some slow songs!” one bloke kept yelling. “It’s too heavy!”

I thought it was more garagey than heavy, but if you prefer the low-key Eels then you’d have hated the gig. As E might put it, last night was rock o’clock: twin distorted guitars throughout, slow stuff speeded up and played like the stooges, and a stone-faced “security guard” throwing karate shapes and offering cryptic between-song comments before finally climbing behind the keyboards. No bass, though, and while the keyboards provided the occasional bit of low-end thump the bass’s absence left a rather big hole in the sound – especially when, as happened far too often, songs were extended for years with nothing but droning feedback.

Still, it was big dumb fun. A tremendous cover of Iggy’s Rock Show, a (remarkably faithful, ie. demented) version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You, Sinatra’s That’s Life positively drenched in cheese, everything turned up louder than everything else and a sweet conclusion that involved two delighted young girls trading dance moves with the “security” chap. Souljacker at insane volumes, the rockier stuff from the Blinking Lights album, howling versions of Rags to Rags and Cancer for the Cure, and best of all, a heartbreaking version of Railroad Man with just E’s voice and guitar. I still prefer Sad Eels to Rock Eels, but I’d rather have Rock Eels than No Eels.

I still hate gigs, though.

Media Music

Fake Plastic Trios

There’s a nice wee article in today’s Guardian about Hope Against Hope, a band on Myspace that was offered a gig by Alan “I signed Oasis, me” McGee:

The difference is that Hope Against Hope are a scam, a spoof indie band “with no talent whatsoever” invented by Q magazine in order to prove that the Rupert Murdoch-owned site is now just another cog in the older industry phenomenon of hype.


The ten most tech-savvy rock stars

According to Business Week, they are:

Franz Ferdinand, because Sony released a Franz MP3 player

Neil Young, because his album appeared online a week before release

Bono, because Motorola makes a RED version of the SLVR phone

Chuck D, because he saw the way the MP3 wind was blowing

U2, for lending their name to an iPod

Prince, for releasing a major album online back in 1997

David Bowie, for running his own ISP

Moby, for campaigning for net neutrality

DJ Danger Mouse, for the Beatles-sampling Grey Album

Lupe Fiasco, because T-Mobile put two of his songs on phones in advance of his album launch

OK, Business Week’s a business magazine, but their most tech-savvy musicians are largely “musicians with tech-savvy marketing departments behind them”. I’m surprised they haven’t included Gary Glitter for his extensive knowledge of the JPEG image file format.

Music Technology

Ripping CDs to iPods is illegal, says BPI boss. No it isn’t, says BPI boss.

Q: Do you believe people who are buying CDs legally and copying that music to an iPod should be punished – as they are, in fact, breaking the law?

A: Consumers don’t have the right to copy CDs in the UK and never have…

BPI boss Peter Jamieson speaks to BBC online, January 2006.

On a separate issue, the BPI’s chairman, Peter Jamieson, reassured the public that they were not breaking the law by copying their own CDs to iPods.

The Guardian, this morning.


That Girls Aloud live review I promised

It isn’t easy being 33 – or at least, it isn’t when you love Girls Aloud. I don’t mean “love” in an ironic, aren’t-I-amusing kind of way; I mean “love” because Girls Aloud make music that makes me want to dance like a chicken. I mean “love” as in, “I love the album so much I’m willing to be gouged for tickets, spend an evening in a soulless shed and develop severe back pain from crouching down so I don’t block the view of the kiddies behind me”. That’s love, and it means spending entire evenings feeling like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon 2. At 33, I am clearly getting too old for this shit.

I get the first blast of too-oldism when I pass the merchandise stall, see a few harried dads handing over fistfuls of tenners, and do a quick mental calculation: one dad plus two kids equals three tickets, two t-shirts, two programmes and no doubt lashings of fizzy pop.  £150, easy, or even more if dad wasn’t fast enough and had to buy his tickets from eBay.

The second bit of too-oldism occurs when I’m waiting for the band to come on. It’s a typical arena gig, with big screens at the side of the stage so those in the back rows can see… the ads? When did gigs start including ads? Join the support band’s fanclub! Download ringtones! Buy Impulse deodorant! What the fuck?

The third Danny Glover moment is when the Girls finally appear on stage. As a red-blooded bloke I’m looking forward to seeing the Girls in various states of undress – which is, let’s be honest, why I’m at the gig rather than listening to the album on headphones and thinking things my wife would batter me senseless for thinking. But when they arrive on stage I’m thinking food, not rude.

There are three kinds of thin. There’s thin, there’s far too thin, and there’s holy-crap-someone-give-that-girl-a-cornish-pastie thin. Girls Aloud have moved decisively into that third category, and as the outfits get more skimpy the more obvious the lack of calories becomes. Instead of fantasising about Nadine, Nicola and a big tub of baby oil I’m thinking about giving them a good hearty meal, and possibly dessert too. Needless to say, that worries me immensely.

As for the tunes… well, they played the good ones, and they played the bad, dirgey ones too. They also did a horrific, karaoke-style medley of various eighties movie tunes (Footloose, Fame, the sort of things you’d expect), and an inspired, happy-clappy version of Kaiser Chiefs’ I Predict A Riot (last pop gig I was at, Sugababes did an Arctic Monkeys song. Maybe there’s a new EU regulation that means all pop bands need to do a Slightly Surprising Indie Cover).

Overall? The sound was awesomely bad, the dancing was endearingly amateurish, the between-songs banter was impressively inane and Nicola – the One Who Never Smiles – looked like a gin-soaked auntie throughout. Not the best gig I’ve ever been to, or even in the top ten (Sugababes were miles better, and it’s hard to top Muse for sheer live silliness), but you know what love’s like: if Girls Aloud tour in 2007, I’ll be first in the queue for tickets.

Music Technology

If it’s too loud, you’re too right

Stylus Magazine has published a superb feature about music, which answers the question: why does so much modern music sound crap? It’s all about loudness, apparently: not volume, but compression that’s designed to make tracks sound as loud as possible. That’s why Keane are twice as loud as Nirvana, which is wrong on so many different levels.

Levels have crept up over the last decade though, and alarmingly so. Nevermind is 6-8dB quieter than, say, Hopes & Fears by Keane—to contextualise this, those 6-8dB will make Nevermind sound approximately half as loud. On most modern CDs the music is squashed into the top 5 dB of a medium that has over 90 dB of range. It’s like the oft-quoted myth that humans use only 10% of their brain, only real—imagine what we could do if we realised potential. Think of the classic, exciting Pixies formula again—it doesn’t exist anymore, because those dynamic leaps have been ironed out. Keane should NOT be twice as loud as Nirvana.

Hell in a handcart Music Uncategorised

Back, sort of

…although with 700 emails and about 3 feet of post to wade through, it’ll be a while before I’m able to do much. But a few quick thoughts:

  • Some enterprising games company should turn the old RPG Paranoia into a console game. Dysfunctional sci-fi with a warped sense of humour… it’d be great.
  • Looks like Glasgow Council has been at it again while I’ve been away: they’re extending their nightclub glass ban to all city centre drinking establishments, so if you’re in a restaurant and fancy taking your drink through to the bar then you’ll have to pour it into a plastic glass. Apparently ver Council also intends to bar sales of wine by the bottle, presumably to battle Cotes Du Rhone rage. Sheesh.
  • Italians? Stylish? Hahahahahahahahah.
  • Girls Aloud gig: decent gig (although I could have done without the appalling musicals medley) ruined by the worst sound I have ever heard at a big gig. Not sure it’s due to the SECC’s legendarily bad acoustics, though, because the nearer to the speakers you got the worse the sound became. Not that I particularly like the soulless cavern that calls itself the SECC, particularly when they adopt a ridiculous no-pass policy that means once you’re in the venue, you can’t leave for any reason whatsoever if you want to get back in. Sheesh, again.
Music Uncategorised

Smells like Teen Spirit, played by an orchestra. Of ukuleles.

Google Video, via MetaFilter.




Another month, another evening where I’ll be the oldest person at a gig: on Sunday night I’m off to see Girls Aloud, or at least I will be if the honest-looking eBay seller doesn’t rip me off. Yay!