31 March 2004


..so anyway I was down with the Recognise crew last week (another great night, lads) showing-off my iPod to whoever would look. Reactions ranged from cautious approval to total envy to, in Will's case, outright hostility. "Those things are the death of music!" he exclaimed with barely concealed contempt. Will reckons iPod will lose him and all those other hardworking musicians loads of potential earnings. To which I respond: invest in a decent MP3 website and sell your band's music there instead of wasting money on elaborate vinyl packages. You can't un-invent the technology, so learn to work with it. And that goes for all those major labels out there who really are engaging in an exercise in futility by trying to combat the downloaders. But apart from that, respect to Will for playing Mankind's disco version of the Dr. Who theme.

One particular comment from another friend got me thinking. He works with an iPod owner who keeps his on permanent 'song-shuffle' mode. These means that tracks (or, if you prefer, albums) are played at random. Although I was aware of the shuffle function, it hadn't occurred to me that I might actually use it. You see I'm the sort of person who likes to be in control of his musical diet. The process of selection, of thinking "what shall I play today?" is intrinsic to my daily routine. That's why I rarely listen to the radio, other than when driving, 'cause I like to be my own DJ.

Yet I couldn't get the idea of song-shuffle play out of my head. iPod has already changed my perspective of my music collection. I'm starting to view it in a more modular way, rather than a collection of discreet blocks. By adding that random factor, I would be not only losing control of the sequence of events, but also wrenching individual tracks from their usual homes on albums and compilations; breaking everything up into an unpredictable flow of stimulation. It's strange that, even though I don't like it when other people are controlling the sounds, the idea of letting a machine make the decisions (based on parameters that I have set for it) seems quite attractive to me. It would be like listening to a radio that plays only music you like without any annoying chat between tracks.

Shuffle-play is nothing new. Many CD players have had them for years. But even the 5-disc changer systems seemed too limiting to be of any real use. I now have 1691 songs in my iPod, from over 260 different albums, compilations, EPs and singles from a similarly varied selection of artists (it's not even half-full yet - I try to rip at least 5 CDs a day). That feels like enough to make experimenting with shuffle-play an interesting project.

So I decided that, as I was spending most of today at home, I'd give it a go. I set iPod into song-shuffle mode, jacked it into my stereo system, pressed play and left it alone to do it's thing while I went about my business. I'd hoped to play at least a hundred tracks, but in the end only had time for half that. Here's what iPod decided to play today:

Prefuse 73 Altoid Addiction (interlude)/B12 Hall Of Mirrors/Boards Of Canada Basefree/Boards Of Canada You Could Feel The Sky/Aphex Twin Come To Daddy (Little Lord Faulteroy Mix)/Close,Up,Over Olivine/Phil(3)/Kraftwerk Techno Pop/Wagon Christ Rendleshack/Funky 4 Plus 1 That's The Joint/Eric B. & Rakim Put Your Hands Together/Suicide Harlem II/Universal Indicator 303/Aphex Twin Ventolin (Carharrack Mix)/Nobukazu Takemura Let My Fish Loose (Aphex Twin Mix)/Air Suicide Underground/DMX Krew Konnichi Wa!/Air Don't Be Light (Edit)/Audio Bullys Ego War+'Hidden' Track/Mark Stewart Shame/Philip Glass Heroes (Aphex Twin Mix)/Underworld Dirty Epic/U-Ziq Dance 2/A Certain Ratio Life's A Scream/Luke Vibert Rank Rink Ring/Radioactive Man Twistyboomklart/B12 Obsessed/Kid Koala Skanky Panky/UHF Everything/Boards Of Canada The Color Of The Fire/Luke Vibert Music Called Jazz/Steve Poindexter Computer Madness/Boards Of Canada Orange Romeda/Wagon Christ Workout/Amen Andrews London/Kinesthesia Triachus (Aphex Twin Mix)/Sampson 'Butch' Moore House Beat Box/Kraftwerk Tour De France (Francois K. Mix)/Kraftwerk Computer World 2/AFX CD Only #2/Luke Vibert Harmonic/AFX Isoprophlex/Wagon Christ Tomorrow Acid/Bush Tetras Can't Be Funky/Suicide Sweetheart/Squarepusher Tommib Help Buss/Boards Of Canada She Is P/RAC Detour/Kraftwerk Spacelab/Radioactive Man Fed-Ex To Munchen/Aphex Twin Beskhu3epnm/Plaid Cedar City/Prefuse 73 90% Of My Mind Is With You/U-Ziq Beatnik #2/James White & The Blacks Contort Yourself (Original Version)

Now I'm frankly embarrassed to publish this selection. In no way does it do justice to my varied music tastes. But the fact is that yes, the first CDs to get ripped into iPod were from Warp, Aphex and Vibert etc, so I guess that the view has been distorted because there are whole eras and genres that I haven't even begun to tackle yet. For instance, no reggae, jazz or anything pre-punk yet. But if this is a mirror of my obsessions than I guess I have to accept it. It just makes me look really one-dimensional. If I'd been in charge of today's music selection, I would've probably been playing some Remarc stuff, 'cause I'm really into that Amen-junglist zone at the mo'. iPod had other ideas.

As an experience, song-shuffle was surprisingly enjoyable. Initially it felt like driving a car with someone else steering, but once I'd acclimatised to the situation it actually became quite thrilling. Sure, not everything was what I wanted to hear at that particular time, but just as often it was exactly what I wanted. And some of the tracks that initially disappointed soon began to grow on me, transporting me into their zone as opposed to me trying to find something to soundtrack my zone. The constant mood-manipulating, in tandem with the anticipation of "what's gonna play next?!" was really jazzing my system. It also forced me to listen to some stuff that, even though important to me, I maybe hadn't listened to very often. In a couple of cases I wasn't even sure who or what I was listening to.

I'm resolved to continue with the shuffle-play mode, though not permanently yet. But I need to get more tracks and styles in there yet to get anything truly meaningful out of it. Maybe it'll help me to understand what's really important to me, to find the link that holds everything together. And maybe that's bullshit..

22 March 2004


Two items of opposing interest in this month's Record Collector mag:

1) The number of legal downloads undertaken in the UK during January passed the number of 12" singles sold for the first time. Over 150,000 downloads were recorded, a figure boosted by the arrival of new services such as MyCokeMusic and the Warp label's Bleep. The figures contrast with UK singles sales for 2003, which fell from over 52 million in the previous year to just over 36 million - a drop of a third - with a further 20% fall predicted for the first quarter of 2004. Singles sales have fallen by a half since 2001, and WH Smith is among those retailers withdrawing from the market.

Over-the-counter music sales overall only held up in 2003 due to albums purchases, up 6% thanks to a combination of falling prices and breakthrough acts such as The Darkness and a batch of new soul/jazz stars, including No.1 album makers Katie Melua and Jamie Callum, plus Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Hayley Westernra and Jane Monheit. Album sales hit 263 million, making £1.1 billion.

2) Following BMG's 36-song, 2-CD Ultimate Hall & Oates collection, a DVD-Video of that name appears on 17 May, accompanied by bonus-track-boosted, remastered versions of their Private Eyes and H2O sets. Revamps of Big Bam Boom and Voices follow on 26 July, with all the packages featuring bonus material, such as 12" mixes and unissued tracks.

21 March 2004

Okay, so I've become an MP3 whore-thief. And de-objectifying my music collection feels pretty fucking good right now. I just reached the point recently where I suddenly realised that I don't want anymore CDs, vinyl etc. Sure, my appetite for new music remains undiminished, but having to own, store and maintain this collection of stuff is getting to be a bit of a drag. I already own more CDs than most other 'regular' people, and I'm damned if I'm gonna put up another fucking shelf when the current one fills up. The idea of non-corporal music storage sounds like just the ticket.

It's been fascinating to observe how iPod has been changing my listening habits. The ability to quickly scan through your collection by artist, album, composer or genre is truly liberating. Far more efficient than peering at endless CD spines, searching for inspiration. And the ability to quickly cue up 'playlists' is a revelation. It's like making yourself a new compilation tape every day. I know there's a lot of people out there, including some close friends, who find the whole concept horrifying. But try it first. Believe me, it's the future.

On the subject of peer-to-peer file-sharing, sure I'm guilty. I've done it before and I'm doing it again. In my defense I must state that so far I've been primarily involved with sharing out-of-print, hard to find music, that isn't currently generating any income for it's creators. This situation may change. No promises. Warp's 'Bleep' site seems like a good example of how labels can play the MP3 game whilst maintaining income. I'm becoming very attracted to that whole ideology. I can envision in maybe ten years time having almost no physical music collection at all, other than a few symbolic or sentimental items.

I've been procrastinating for long enough. It's time to take the plunge.....

18 March 2004

Lifestyle Update:

1) iPod. The wife took the not-so-subtle hint and bought me a 20GB version for my birthday. Love ya, baby!

2) Gutterbreakz is back into file sharing. Fellow Soulseekers might spot me lurking around sucking greedily on their files. Currently downloading AFX's Hangable Autobulb EP from some guy in Illinois. If anyone wants to hang out and chat, let me know which room you're in and I'll see ya there....

11 March 2004

K-Punk takes up the Marvel Comics theme and runs with it. Wow. If I had the facilities I'd post up a few examples of early Marvel UK stuff in retaliation for his outrageous attack on them! I wish I could post up some of my own stuff too but, as you now know, that all went up in smoke years ago. The only visual art I create these days are subconscious doodles when talking on the phone. Generally these are sad-faced ancient figures, with mountains of pain in their eyes. I have no idea why.

Mark makes the point that there were very few Marvel fans here in the UK back then. Consequently, finding the comics wasn't always that easy. We had one specialist shop here in Bristol, called Forever People, which was located on Park Street in the city centre. This road is now the place where all the specialist Record shops can be found, so I still make regular trips there to this day. Back then I wasn't able to get into the centre very often, so had a map in my head of all the 'Marvel-friendly' newsagents in the vicinity. In fact Newsagents exerted the same kind of irresistible tug on me then that Record Shops do now. It could be said that all my obsessive comic buying & collecting habits have been transferred to vinyl and CD collecting as an adult. The joy of flicking through a fresh batch of Marvels on the lowest shelf of the newsagent was as big a rush then as flicking through the new releases section at Imperial Records is now.

Family holidays on the south coast were always exciting because those little sea-side newsagents would often have piles of dusty old Marvel issues lying around. They were more concerned with selling ice cream and buckets & spades, so hardly ever turned over their comics stock. Good places to find missing back-issues!

Mark's other point about the popularity of War comics rang true as well. I was having a discussion about those with a friend down the pub recently. The problem wasn't so much that they were boring, more the fact that they often contained images of truly sickening violence! A typical cover-image would be a hate-filled British Commando spraying a hail of bullets into the writhing bodies of a couple of hapless, blood-stained Germans. I wouldn't want my kids looking at shit like that. Sure, it's important to educate children on the utter horror of war, but these sensationalised stories were not the way to do it.

Speaking of violence in children's comics, the most popular form of comics in the UK then and now were yer typical humour things like Beano, Dandy, Cheeky, Beezer etc. My eldest son likes reading the Beano now. It's interesting to see how it's changed since the end of corporal punishment. Previously, each story invariably ended with the kid getting a fucking good kicking from parents or teachers. A good, hard thrashing across the arse with a slipper, cane or any other object to hand. The Viz character Biffa Bacon took that whole violent parenting genre to ridiculous new heights. Nowadays, the parents have been neutered; powerlessly looking on in hopeless dismay as their kids run riot. Any form of violent retribution will come from the character's peers. There's also a far higher level of toilet humour than before. I guess the artists and writers of today are those that grew up watching the Young Ones and Bottom.....

09 March 2004

I've been flicking through this book I got out of the library called "Sci-fi & Fantasy Collectibles" by Phil Ellis. It covers Action Figures, Books & Annuals, Comics & Graphic Novels, Toys, Trading Cards, Posters and Ephemera. It's not an in-depth catalogue of everything ever, more like a fascinating skim across the surface, with plenty of tasty full-colour pictures. I swear to god, there's some images here that really mess with my head...long forgotten childhood obsessions raise themselves forlornly and beckon me into the past. There was one thing I was looking at that triggered some buried memory for a split second, but it was gone before I could grasp it. The worst bit is when you look at some of the prices these things are fetching and realise that your mum chucked 'em out 20 years ago.

Another thing that I got a bit miserable about recently was when I realised that all the comic strips I wrote & drew when I was a kid no longer exist. Until about the age of fourteen, I was convinced that my destiny was to illustrate Marvel Comics. I got the book "How To Draw Comics The MARVEL Way" for Xmas when I was about eleven. That really helped me develop my style. I was so sure that was gonna be my career. Then, in my teens I just sort of lost interest. So anyway I just had this urge recently to look back through all that work I did, all those stories and ideas I had, but they're long gone. Thrown out to make space for more useless crap, no doubt. It feels like I had bottomless reserves of creativity and enthusiasm back then. And commitment. I wonder what my eleven year old self would think of the adult that he became? Disappointed might be an understatement....
I picked up the new Squarepusher album today. My initial response is positive, but I won't say any more until I've had a chance to thoroughly absorb it. I've been following Tom Jenkinson's career with interest since his debut album "Feed Me Weird Things", released on Rephlex back in 1996, although I don't buy everything he does. A quick flick through my collection suggests that I buy roughly every other album. So the last one I got was "Go Plastic", which I still think is the high-watermark of his output and of the drill 'n' bass genre in general. This came out in 2001, the same year as Aphex Twin's "Druqks". At the time I was a little irritated that Richard James' album was getting so much attention when Squarepusher's offering was clearly far superior. Whilst "Druqks" comes across as a carelessly thrown together compilation, "Go Plastic" is a supremely focused, concise collection that truly defined the outer limits of the genre.

In his book "Energy Flash", Simon Reynolds voices some serious doubts about the relevance of Squarepusher and the 'art techno' brigade in general. I can understand his viewpoint completely and suspect that the reason for my interest is because I fit the description he gives for the kind of audience that Squarepusher et al attract:

"...head nodding rather than bootyshaking is the order of the day, and there's no drug factor, just beer and an occasional, discreet spliff. This is a mostly bourgeois-bohemian mileu of rootless cosmopolitans, rather than a hardcore dance scene."

He's pretty much got me bang-to-rights there, the bugger. Whilst I take more than a passing interest is nearly all post-88 dance micro-genres, I never actually felt that I was part of a 'scene', more a curious observer of the music and the behavior of it's devotees. This standpoint could actually be applied to all areas of my life, actually. For instance, I've always been interested in fashion, but have never tried to look fashionable myself. I just never feel the urge to join in. I guess I've been a bit of an outsider (though definitely not a loner) since I was a kid. But it's not like I'm alienated, or anything so melodramatic, 'cause I really like people in general. But sometimes I feel like I'm looking at all the beautiful fish in an aquarium, rather than a gathering of human beings in a club.

I've never been interested in drugs, other than that "occasional discreet spliff". My poisons have always been lager, nicotine & caffeine. True, I did experiment with ecstasy a couple of times, but I had this really terrible experience one night. Me and my mate Geordie necked a couple of pills before we left the house and everything was going fine. But then we were in this club where a rasta got into an argument with this guy who looked like Phil Mitchell from Eastenders. Next thing the rasta shoves a pint glass in Mitchell's face. As he drags himself off the floor, a stream of blood starts trickling down his face from a huge gash in his forehead. A crowd starts to form. It's at that point that time started to slow down. All the sound in the room became muffled. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. It was like reality started getting pitched-down and timestretched into a guttural, ominous groan. I spent the rest of the evening clinging onto a pole near the bar, wracked by waves of claustrophobia and paranoia. My other friend Neil, who luckily was straight that night, talked me through it, keeping me just the right side of hysterical. The violence I witnessed had somehow turned my euphoria into something dark and nightmarish. Is it possible to have a bad trip like that on E? I suspect we'd been sold something else entirely. Whatever, I've never touched pills since.

But back to the main thrust of this post. By Reynold's reckoning, it's my inherent rootlessness that attracted me to the whole Vibert/Aphex/Squarepusher scene. If there's anywhere I can truly call home in 2004, it's the warm, reassuring bosom of Warp Records and it's affiliates. It's been that way ever since the day I bought LFO's "Frequencies" and the "Pioneers Of The Hypnotic Groove" compilation back in 1991. Sure, I'll always be interested in what else is going on, but I'll never really be a part of it.

07 March 2004

Phew! K-Punk takes up the threads of my ill-conceived but heartfelt ramblings and generates a wave of activity in his comments box. Thanks for making me feel less stupid than I actually am, Mark.

But what the hell was I on about, eh? I guess that, in a similar way to Arthur Russell believing that music without drums was successive to music with drums, I think that instrumental music is successive to music with vocals & lyrics. I don't know when or why I formed this opinion, but that's just the way it is. Somehow I perceive music that communicates purely through rhythm, timbre and texture to be deeper than more direct communication through words. But in the same way that Russell was still fascinated with drums, so too I find plenty of joy in good vocal-based music. Where would I be without my beloved Daryl Hall, Alan Vega, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Ronald Isley etc etc etc? The stuff that emanates from these guys' vocal chords can send shivers of electricity down my spine. But that's my emotional side responding. The intellectual side would rather be ruminating on the qualities of an Aphex Twin hi-hat sound.

Consequently, the idealist in me believes that pop should have outgrown it's lyric-based structures and evolved into an amorphous blob of mood-manipulating, nerve-stimulating sound matter. Maybe by 2104 we'll get there.

06 March 2004

Random 'big-up' to Imperial Music on Park Street. No particular reason, it's just my fave record store in Bristol, and I like the staff.


Despite my previous dismissal of the new wave of synthpop, I should perhaps clarify that I still believe in 'pure' electronic dance music, when the vibe is right. I really liked a lot of the so-called 'electroclash' stuff that started coming out a year or two back. The best tracks referenced the early '80s, but emphasised the minimal, alien qualities and kept things simple and spacious. As a statement, I still think the "First Album" by Miss Kittin & The Hacker is one of the best debuts I've heard in years. Following on from that, I would say that Miss Kittin's "Radio Caroline" is one of my all-time favourite mix CDs - and that's not just because some comments I posted about her got printed in the CD booklet! No, it's because I think she has outstanding taste and I love the way she makes connections between different 'phases' of electronica, like mixing-in Autechre's mid-90's abstract tune "Flutter" over Jesper Dahlback's "Nyckelpigs" and from there into Pan Sonic's "Hapatus", dissolving the borders of (micro)genre and era. And then there's the way she does her little monologues over the top, giving you tiny insights into her life. Genius! I couldn't imagine any male DJ coming up with something so honest and unselfconscious. Anyone who truly believes in the sensual power of electronics should own this.

A more recent compilation of interest is the latest set from Hydrogen Dukebox, "Music For Heroes Three". Although certain tracks do slip into 'muzak' territory, there's enough here to encourage electropop fans that there is further scope for innovation. Norken's "Motorbreeze" kicks things off nicely, with hints of Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" phase and a dirty, smeared bassline that injects some much-needed muscle into futurism's skeletal frame. 3rd Eye Parametric's "Inner Thoughts" is simply sublime: austere 808 beats, slivers of synth-drone and the mearest hint of a processed vocal emerging wraith-like from the void before dissolving back into deep space. Futurist godfather John Foxx makes an appearance too, remixing a track by his 'protege' Metamatics in fine style. Brutal!

I'm a firm believer in matching form with content, so the idea of using electronics to perform traditional song-based material in 2004 seems like a colossal waste of potential, in my view. Remember when acts like LFO and Orbital were taking instrumental techno into the pop charts in the early '90s? Surely that was the template on which modern pop should have been based. And when Garage invaded the charts a few years ago, it seemed to be speaking a new language. So what happened?Our technology has evolved, but the methods of conveying ideas and emotions have remained static. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Girls Aloud as much as the next man, but there's always that sense of unease....shouldn't pop have evolved beyond all that by now?

I suspect I may be talking complete bollocks here, but hey I ain't Simon Reynolds fer chrissakes! I'm just some geezer who writes what comes into his head without thinking it through too well. If anything above resonates with you, please let me know...

03 March 2004

I was watching a documentary on the TV last night in which the title music and almost all the incidental music was lifted from Aphex Twin's "Selected Ambient Works Vol.II", with a couple of snippets of Boards Of Canada too. It worked perfectly in that context and makes explicitly clear the link between Richard James' ambient work with that of the Radiophonic Workshop in the 1960's. The 'thunderous hush' and eerie soundscapes of SAW II draw distinct parallels with stuff like Delia Derbyshire's "Blue Veils and Golden Sands" which, by a staggering coincidence is being used in a sketch for The Impressionable John Culshaw as I type this.

Aphex Twin was one of the first post-rave artists to benefit from the lucrative world of TV licensing, when Pirelli tyres paid him 'lottery money' for the use of one of his more relentless rhythm tracks in one of their TV advertising campaigns back in the mid-90's. Since then his music has appeared in so many programs and adverts that I would imagine he could live quite comfortably from these proceeds alone. But of course it's not just RDJ who's making a mint out of it, everyone from DJ Shadow to Moby to Daft Punk have all done well in the world of television. Even electro-godfathers Suicide managed to get their early demo "A-Man" used on a Tia Maria advert a while back. The most recent surprise has been Pram's re-make of LFO's "Simon From Sydney", on heavy rotation soundtracking a car advert.

Now, I personally think it's great that a large portion of my own music collection is getting so much exposure through the media, but a little while back I had what might be called a 'minor disagreement' with a correspondent of mine on this very subject. She hated it when all these cool tunes were being 'prostituted' for the sake of commerce and industry and wished they'd leave 'our' music alone. I would counter that it's better that 'our' artists are getting nice fat cheques in recognition of their talents, and exposing the public to some great music into the bargain. Plus I get to have loadsa fun spotting all the tunes and irritating the hell out of my wife.

Hall and Oates' "Maneater" is playing on a show called "Tabloid Tales" on BBC1 right now. Wicked...