Monday, 5 June 2017

South Of Ireland: A Short Story

Emlagh Point, County Mayo, Ireland. Image credit: Diego Sideburns Flickr 

South Of Ireland

It had been three years since Kieran Smiley had buried his father. It felt like days. He could still feel the County Mayo chill from the graveside now, buried beneath the mud that formed the walls on either side of him. Those walls so often felt like the only friends he had, but they were more synonymous with the predictability that had become his biggest enemy.
            
It was May 1917. He’d always expected to come here and for it never to feel like home, but that had changed with the insufferable boredom of the changing seasons. He’d spent the last twelve months engaged in staring contests across vast plains and pot-holed hillsides, and the longer the sun seemed to drag itself through the mire the more he could convince himself that it looked like Ireland. His father had died for a vision, and he was convinced he would return home to another war zone. Maybe it had been a mistake to enlist. He’d done it to honour his father, but for all the death that surrounded him now he was still unfairly being made to wait.
            
These sessions of waiting room dullness, the painful repeatability of the change between pleasant sunshine and wafer-thin rain, were only interrupted by the death he’d been craving for so long. He was thankful that he hadn’t reached the point of finding the act of going over the top completely joyless yet. He was only in his early twenties, but he’d grown up with terror. Death didn’t frighten him because those days of conflict were the only ones that didn’t seem a towering iron cage.
            
He was woken before the sun had appeared from behind the Messines Ridge on the 7th June by a fierce barking.
           
“Company! At arms on the west flank in forty seconds!” came the order, transmitted through the gruff Cork parlance of Sergeant Robert O’Flannery.
            
Kieran Smiley buttoned his shirt around his long torso eagerly. He noticed his fingers quivering, but they didn’t slow him. It couldn’t be later than three in the morning, else the rumble from the mines and spluttered debris from the other side of the ridge would surely have been his alarm.
            
The next ten minutes felt expectedly like an age. The groan emanating from the Earth when the mines finally detonated seemed to Kieran a cruel fusion of laughter and indiscriminate Godliness; more like Krakatoa than the Battle of the Somme. In that instant, both the past and the future seemed superfluous. The colour of the sky put shame to Dante's depictions of Hell, and the noise, he imagined, would not even be rivalled by The Rapture.
            
He looked to the shorter, younger man next to him as they took their positions on the left side of the trench. He’d known Timothy Specker at school, and somewhat admired how easily the boy had been able to appropriate himself as a loose cannon.

“This is it, eh, Smiley?” he said, a grin turning up the corners of his mouth. “All of the fighting at home and we’re going to die somewhere where we sometimes get to see the sun. Winter seems like a long time ago now, doesn’t it?”

Kieran suddenly felt warmer, more alive. “That’s right, Tim,” he nodded, before turning back to face the wall. “It certainly does.”

“Twenty seconds!” came O’ Flannery’s voice again from further down the trench. “On my whistle it’s up and over boys! Hold the line, and I don’t want to see anyone stopping without acquiring a bullet hole. Let’s make short work of this, yes?”

Kieran felt the temperature of his blood rise beneath his skin. The three shrill whistle blasts would be the change. Three years destroyed in a second. 

***

The sun seemed ghostly rather than fierce. The week since the offensive had been one of squatting between trees and scraping blood off rocks. Everywhere Kieran looked, men and structures resembled what he always thought warfare should look like. This isn’t what it’d been like in Ireland. There, assassinations in dingy pubs weren’t followed by heads buried in hands, not on this scale anyway. Now he could barely remember his father dying.

The swiftness with which the charge came and went had made him feel hollow. He couldn’t make himself feel terror or honour anymore. Anything prior to the previous week seemed of little note. He’d seen men dying before. It wasn’t the piles of bodies or the languid respect paid by Field Marshalls which unnerved him; it was the speed with which everything had changed. Just days ago he thought martyrdom was the honourable thing. Now he felt five years older. By sundown that evening, he could barely remember the piles of bodies.

He woke after the sun the following morning, without any provocation or call to arms. Tim hadn’t made it through the offensive at Messines. Had he died for king and country? Or was it merely to make the time pass quicker?

Leaving the make-shift bunker and trudging towards the edge of the glade where he could see the sergeant puffing on a cigar took him past the rows of German prisoners. They were prisoners of time: they were waiting for their judgment and their futures, and it was only time that could deliver them either.

“Smiley,” nodded O’ Flannery as Kieran approached. “Wondering what the next step is, eh?”

“Not really sir,” he replied. “It doesn’t seem to matter to me.”

“Ah, you’ll get used to that feeling.”

The sergeant’s mouth hinted at a bleak smile. Kieran shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot for a second.

“It’s like I can’t even picture their faces back home, sir. My mother. My sister,” he mumbled.

“Aye,” sighed O’ Flannery. “It’s not warfare that changes men Smiley. It’s having too much time to think, and then suddenly having none.”

He turned, clasped Keiran by the shoulder and headed back towards the bunker, leaving him to stare across the plain beyond the edge of the forest. 



Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Radar: Cultural Highlights Of May So Far




Image Credit: Rene Passet Flickr 

Here's an article about some cultural things, whether music based or otherwise, that I've been enjoying over the past couple of weeks or so. Recently I wrote about the personal need for art-forms as a paradigm to get lost in, but more universally it seems that the best antidote to panic is to submerge oneself in the things that are dearest to them. I'll try and post one of these every few weeks; it's worth mentioning that - as you'll glean from the book and TV show which I discuss here - not everything I write about will have been released in 2017. Largely the only thing I manage to be constantly up-to-date with is music, although this is changing so there may be more on that front soon. 

Anyway, here are the things that have been thrilling me recently. As always, I hope you find something that peaks your interest. 

MIX: Avalon Emerson Live @ Printworks, London

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San Francisco producer Avalon Emerson has, via a series of exquisitely crafted and dynamic sets and mixes, carved out a rather inimitable niche for herself as a DJ. This set, recorded at a party hosted by Hydra at Printworks in London in March, completely encompasses all the blood-pumping, tear-jerking and deeply personal facets that she's become known for dealing in. Things kick off in wonderfully banging fashion, as the first half an hour sees her weave in Objekt's 'Theme From Q' (sure to be heard across many a dancefloor this summer) and her own furiously euphoric re-cut of Shamir's 'On the Regular'. The second half an hour is a journey through perhaps the most stunningly beautiful passage you'll hear in any mix this year, before a swift run of drum 'n' bass emboldened by Photek's classic 'Complex' re-shifts the atmosphere and adds even more colour. 

It's her incorporation of Nina Donovan's 'I Am A Nasty Woman' poem, performed by actress Ashley Judd at the Women's March in New York in January of this year, that sees the set's finale reach its zenith, and while the whole two hours is phenomenal, it's this which levitates it to being a celebration of diversity, vivacity, femininity and jubilation. It's the kind of dancefloor moment which will go down in clubbing circle history. 

Listen to Avalon Emerson's set via Soundcloud HERE

BOOK: Yeats: Selected Poetry

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I'm not totally sure why I decided to start reading this collection of W.B Yeats poetry (this edition published by Pan Books, London in 1974)  I found on my mother's book-shelf recently. Ultimately it was a combination of not being overly familiar with his work and a growing fascination with the structural limits and reserved time frame that exists in most poetry. But it's fair to say that, for all of my favourite writers and their idiosyncrasies, none of them are as adept at creating, summarising, envisioning or relaying feelings as William Butler Yeats. 

Yeats' use of words is neither particularly complicated nor introverted, but so wholeheartedly do the convictions, perspectives (whether his own or not) and emotions pervade from the pages in this collection (which spans his entire catalogue and timeline of work) that the poems here lift the veil on a magnificently deep connection with his home country of Ireland, the human condition, war, love and prophecy. An underlying melancholy and sense of regret is the most common base for many of these verses, and slammed as they are against a pastoral, bleak and vivid depiction of the Irish landscape and folklore, they create an ethereal beating heart that's as much a product of the early 20th century as it is the desire to make these feelings tangible. This collection acts as a way into a world stricken with grief but not ignorant of glimmers of hope, which is why reading it in 2017 can seem like a vindictive activity. 

TV: War & Peace, BBC One

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I have a strangely long relationship with Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace. I first brought the book when I was eighteen, hoping to spend the summer before embarking on my first year of university getting immersed in it, but I've started reading it about five times and have still gotten no further than about forty pages in. First aired in early 2016, BBC One's adaptation of the legendary novel was perhaps exactly what someone like me needed, and the results were fairly beautiful. 

Enlisting Paul Dano as protagonist Pierre Bezukhov was an inspired move, but the production went to greater lengths to show off the wealth of young British artists who are starting to become welcome regulars through the likes of Lily James, Tuppence Middleton and James Norton. Add in to the equation the mercurial old guard combo of Brian Cox and Jim Broadbent, a remarkably eerie soundtrack and a pristine, fine-tuned cinematic projection of upper middle class antics and visceral battle scenes, what the show lacked occasionally in context it made up for in well-judged wholesomeness. Just over a year on and it still ranks as one of the BBC's finest historical drama propositions. 

ALBUM: Pond- The Weather

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Perth, Australia based Tame Impala affiliates Pond have honed in on a zeitgeist moment for their seventh LP, The Weather. The en vogue psych-pop sound that Kevin Parker has re-energised and embellished in the mainstream over the last few years does find itself interwoven into the first half of this record, with songs like 'Paint Me Silver' and the Ariel Pink-esque 'Colder Than Ice' being smothered in just enough hallucinogenic light to potentially earn a place on the "edgier" side of the Radio 1 roster. The whole record is an invigorating, often achingly addictive and textured opus, whether it's residing in poppier climbs or slightly deeper moments like the slow-burning saxophone-centric wig out of 'Zen Automaton'. Despite it's sun-kissed domain however, the lyrics are delivered by frontman Nick Allbrook with a sardonic sense of retirement that, although drenched in humour, adheres to an outlook based on the notion that it's time to give up on the human race. Just like all the best psych-pop, it marries exuberance and druggy craft with poignancy. 


MIX: Hunee, BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix

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It's always special when a DJ who isn't a household name gets given the chance to propose their craft to a slightly more mainstream audience. Pete Tong & Radio 1's Essential Mix series have done wonders in this regard, and famed crate-digger Hunee delivers in spades on his contribution. Like the aforementioned Avalon Emerson, Hunee's mixes revolve around an almost intellectual understanding of texture and colour, and the two hours on offer here run the gauntlet in terms of experimentation, beauty and twisted, alien shapes and ideas. The majority of the cuts here are little-distributed house and techno tunes which thrive at the deeper end of the spectrum, but the push-and-pull dynamic that exists between the different flavours is always fluid, antagonistic and interesting. It's the last half an hour though which will provoke the biggest grins, and Hunee embarks on a series of gorgeously feel-good and international funk and disco, providing the perfect summer accompaniment in an era when throwback tactics are all the rage. 

You can listen to Hunee's Essential Mix HERE

12": Dom & Roland- Aliens/ Zodiac

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Mined from the archives of the legendary Drum 'n' Bass duo's unreleased '90s material as part of their Dubs From The Dungeons series, Aliens / Zodiac is a time capsule from the past, the alluring resurfacing of an era steeped in technical ability and precision but with the kind of heart and soul that much of today's DnB seems to lack. Both of these weapons are deeply otherworldly, skulking out of dark warehouses and taking on hulking forms rooted in fat, distorted bass lines and tech-stepping rhythmic cycles while leaving plenty of room for gaps, silences and growing dystopian shadows, especially on 'Zodiac'. It's a release that's both suitably banging and cold, and one that harks back to a time when this music was pure futurism broadcast from another dimension. 

ALBUM: Full Of Hell- Trumpeting Ecstasy

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Although this is only Full Of Hell's third LP, it's their first offering of stand-alone new material in four years. The time in between this and 2013's Rudiments Of Mutilation has been spent adhering to and developing the notion of them as the grindcore newcomers with real evolutionary ideas via split releases with Sludge metal weirdos The Body and Japan's dark-hearted noise master Merzbow. Eleven tracks long and clocking in at twenty three minutes, there's a certain amount of back-to-basics, nails-down-a-blackboard savagery going on here, completely submerged in nihilism and bleak, near anti-human philosophy and grooviness. But as expected, they make time for cavernous, eerie spaciousness (particularly at the finale of closing track 'At The Cauldron's Bottom'), discordant sampling and electronic excursions, and the title track, featuring the vocal talents of Canadian songstress Nicole Dollenganger, is THE most haunting thing I've heard so far this year. 2017's most thrillingly nasty piece of work rears it's ugly head. 






Sunday, 23 April 2017

5 For Healing: My Depression, And The Records That Help Me

Image Credit: Gloria Williams Tumblr
In this article, I explain how my fascination with music, and certain records in particular, has helped me confront my struggle with clinical depression. 

I was 18 when I got diagnosed with clinical depression. I’d always been an emotionally unstable child. Before, I always thought it was just a product of being an easy target for bullies at school; I was small, never particularly good at any sport and in love with Ancient Roman history from the age of five. For a long time my mechanism was to just kind of devolve into myself- embrace all my interests and just let myself be who I thought I was. The problem was that I always cared far too much about what other people thought. This anxiety and paranoia showed no signs of diminishing by the age of sixteen, and probably the endless pressure of teenage antics like being cool enough to be invited to underage house parties and looming GCSE expectations accentuated this more fervently than I realised.

I’m now twenty-two, and as may have been obvious by the tail-end of the last paragraph, making excuses and finding reasons as a cause to pin-point specific feelings is still a natural defence for me. People who battle depression every day will know that they themselves find the disconnection between life-circumstances, no matter how seemingly positive, and mental happiness to be completely illogical. In fact, no matter how unfeasible it might be to others, when you’re coping with your own insular mood-swings and self-deprecation all the time, it’s the frustration of not knowing how to combat the black spots, the dark moments- those that rise up out of nowhere, at any second, and can seem insurmountable for weeks on end. In those moments, how worthless one feels is only interrupted by the knowledge that it’s not true but can’t be reasoned with.

There are a vast array of coping mechanisms offered to us by psychiatrists, doctors and those closest to us, and indeed, there’s a huge amount to be said for exercise, organic nature and practising mindfulness in terms of their healing qualities. The unpredictability of the darkness is what hits the hardest though. Depression and anxiety disorders are experienced differently by everyone, but for me, the hardest aspect to combat is the sledge-hammer weight of the swings. The fact that you can be out having a wonderful time with friends one second, and the next feel like you’re being held under water before slowly being released only to be dragged to the bottom by lead weights tied to your wrists. There don’t have to be any warning signals- sure, if you’re in a dark place anyway then going out and sinking six pints is ill-advised- but it could be your best mate’s birthday and it could get to 11 o’clock and you’d want to fall over and never get up.

I have a number of things I do to try and keep those thoughts and experiences at as far an arm’s length as possible. Despite the fact that I’m surrounded by loving family members and wonderful, understanding friends, I almost always feel like I can’t talk to anyone about it. I’ve always been someone who has shut people out, but I’m now experienced enough to know that this is mitigated by a sense of post-chat achievement. By that I mean that talking to people, whether friends, doctors or complete strangers, can be the most cloud-busting recess of all. Overcoming the initial fear and approaching someone is always the hard part, but once you’ve hurdled that then the rest comes with surprising fluidity. When I don’t feel like talking to anyone at all, walks around my village and the surrounding fields deal with those feelings sumptuously. Reading, whether specifically about mindfulness or escaping into entire worlds created by the likes of George R. R. Martin can offer a reality so detached from your own that you almost forget you exist.

For myself though, as will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, the greatest source of release is music. I could write for pages about the healing quality of music and include the details of many a scientific study into the power of music and why it makes us feel the way it does, but I’ll spare you that. Instead I’ve decided to pick five records which have helped me (and I’m sure will continue to help me) through the darkest of times. Those records which feel like friends when I feel like I have no one else. Those which may not be personally relatable but convey emotions and atmospheres that make sense in different lights and approached from different angles. These are the records that I’ll always return to whether for comfort, to wallow, or just to become something entirely different for an hour or so. Of course, this is a highly personal list and meditation, so whether the “healing” powers of these records will hold any weight with anyone else, I have no idea. Since it seems that our generation is closer to accepting the individuality of these struggles however, maybe that’s why I feel these records are so important for me.

A huge enormous thanks to everyone who has supported me and helped me in every way they can over the last few years (and throughout my life generally). Know that everything is immensely appreciated. And thanks for reading, as always! In some respects, just having a quick skim-read of this is the greatest kindness of all. 


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Kate Bush- Hounds of Love 

My gravitation to Kate Bush’s music wasn’t recognizably due to any feelings of depression or disenfranchisement, but it was synonymous with the time when I started to pick up on dark spells and low moods that occurred for no apparent reason. Perhaps predictably, Hounds of Love and ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ in particular were my invitations in, and since that day this is probably the record I’ve looked to most prominently for comfort. ‘Running Up That Hill…’ has become the calling card for feeling at home, feeling like there’s somewhere to belong and somewhere to hold on to. ‘Mother Stands For Comfort’ is universal in its representation of the power of relationships that run as deep and as indefinitely as is imaginable, and ‘The Morning Fog’ at least imbues ideas of the veil being lifted, even just for a second, before the distraction from the dark mood ends. For me, Hounds of Love is a complete compendium of solace. 


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Kendrick Lamar- Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

I’d never heard any of Kendrick Lamar’s music before purchasing Good Kid, MAAD City back in 2012. It was probably the first time I’d ever bought a record based on positive reviews alone. While the narrative of a young man growing up in Compton and ducking gang crime, unpredictable murder rates and dreams of escaping suburban poverty was never going to be compatible to me personally, I think it’s telling that on the front of the vinyl version of this record it’s described as “a short film”. With immense verbosity and wisdom, Kendrick approached themes of depression, isolation, self-deprecation, substance abuse and societal pressure with such a deft hand that all of them took on incredibly human characters and became an out-stretched hand to me when I was in a 3-day long spell of having all things tied around me in a suffocating bubble. “How are you gonna love somebody when you don’t even love yourself?” is a lyric that’s always lurking at the forefront of my mind. 



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Black Flag- Damaged

It sounds like a cliché now, but there’s a lot to be said for just sticking on half an hour of absolute fury and pretending to smash the shit out of everything when you’re in a pit, and Black Flag’s classic 1981 debut is, for someone whose preferred heavy music is that which I skated to between the ages of 15 and 18, the epitome of that. From the euphoric, knife-edge assault of the opening salvo of ‘Rise Above’ and ‘Spray Paint’ to Rollins’ animalistic, sardonic vocal delivery to the sledge-hammer-to-the-nose directness of the self-explanatory ‘Depression’, this record (for me) is the origin of the idea of anger and nihilism in punk being feel-good and soul-saving. The aforementioned ‘Depression’ and ‘What I See’ both make me feel capable of taking on a double-decker bus no matter what mood I’m in, so when they’re most necessary they’re completely cathartic.


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Wild Beasts- Two Dancers

Another record whose reality is far removed from my own, and perhaps the epitome of what I alluded to as music as escapism. Based on the whirlwind debauchery of the travels of 19th Century French romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud, Kendal quartet Wild Beasts’ Two Dancers is a fascinating dialect to get lost in; one which indulges in some of the most natural advances of the human mentality- lust, vice, societal deconstruction and eventually death. Like the records of Kate Bush, or David Bowie, Two Dancers created a piece of art so insular and so much based on history and a literary sense of the human condition that it almost felt like reading Rimbaud’s work itself- audacious, brash and sumptuous escapism that presents a world to feel at one with.


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Call Super- Fabric 92

There’s not been a record released so far in 2017 that I’ve returned to more than UK producer and DJ Call Super’s contribution to the Fabric mix CD series, which I reviewed glowingly on this very site. Joe Seaton intended the mix to be very personal to him in terms of technical style, and while it could only be put together so illustriously by him, it’s his selection which seems to run the gout of emotions and feelings. It’s this that imposes and distinguishes the relatability and evocation of his mix. Its fusion of Carl Craig’s near tear-jerking ‘A Wonderful Life (Epic Mix)’ with his own ‘Acephele II’ is one that conjures all the joy one feels on a great night out, or after finding a new love interest, while Tomas Ankersmit & Valerio Tricoli’s ‘Plague 7’ conjures images of the nightmarish cage that can be so impending and so unbreakable when at the peak of a low spell, in turn ugly and friendly in its pain. Something about the fluidity of the 70 minutes here, no matter how deep or dark it sometimes looms, is just completely wholesome. 












Sunday, 26 March 2017

Record Store Day 2017: Just Say No

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The tail end of last week saw the arrival of the time of year when record buying (on a general level) stops being a hobby and becomes a Deal Or No Deal- style slice of marketplace propaganda. Taking place on April 22nd this year, it seems fitting that the simple seduction of Record Store Day lands at a time where information is warped into post-truth fanaticism and previous indifference is largely becoming panic-stricken Twitter-based outcries. We live in an age where distribution and consumption has never been lapped up so submissively, whether that be with regards to migration, secular aspects of funding or, indeed, how much value there is in a picture disc.

As with most things purveying the corporate side of the music industry these days, it's easy to be cynical about Record Store Day. Until just a few days ago, I was excited about the prospect of a picture disc containing rare versions of Danny Brown's 'Ain't It Funny?' and previously unreleased Goat material. Of course, there's plenty of charm in the idea of a "grand unveiling" of unheard music at the base level of intrigue that all music obsessives will be familiar with. However, the idea that this is best addressed with a zoo-like shop-based work-out rather than a streaming through Bandcamp or a specialist website like Metal Injection, for example, is where the landslide begins.

Given the fact that vinyl sales reached their highest peak for 25 years in 2016, the prices now charged by places like Rough Trade East and Rise in Bristol are expected retail manoeuvres. There's not much doubt that many of the exclusives on offer this year will be pushed to more extortionate amounts than previously. Part of this is due to the accessibility of records in places like HMV and high street super market chains, whose pernicious stocking of major label big hitters is continuously turning record buying away from devout listeners and into an itunes-style cover-all decoy.

The wider point regarding this is that, sure, there's still an enormous sense of community and camaraderie to be found when visiting independent record stores on a daily basis. But when they're turned into price-driven exhibitions, there's not much of an incentive to avoid buying original pressings of many of these records for as little as £10 on Discogs. SPOILER ALERT: Picture discs sound woeful anyway. The whole point of Mayhem's Deathcrush EP is that it sounds like it was recorded in a biscuit tin; getting that big-room vibe off a decent sound-system and being able to hold and look at the sleeve will be a far more rewarding experience anyway.

None of the arguments here are about elitism, either. I believe anybody should be allowed to buy records- It's been said 100 times over the past few years, but the resurgence of vinyl as an art-form and passion is a very fine thing. Cynical accessibility and exclusive pressings limited to a few hundred copies are two sides of the same rotten coin in this respect. On the one hand, the attempt at forcing mass appeal to line the pockets of labels like Sony and Island via sales through Tesco and Sainsbury's is devaluing that very idea of music as a passion.

On the other hand, inaccessibility shuts out fans who are generally stimulated by furthering their collections, or people who are looking to start one based on, *ahem*, sound and vision rather than trendiness. Exclusivity isn't about building a sense of community anymore; it's another example of the music industry being stolen from the people it should target. Especially when it comes to something that's largely still as devotion-based as vinyl, none of these exclusives will be as marketable as is being suggested. Record collections are about personality and should never be based on a marketing man's wet dream.

The argument about record flippers veers in and out throughout the year, as it does with ticket touts. One piece of positive news to salvage amongst the nihilism is that, as pointed out in this excellent blog by Discogs user Diognes_The_Fox last year, the value of 2015's exclusives turned over online for a price that far exceeds what people would have paid for them initially had fallen back to either list price or, indeed, just below. Undoubtedly record flippers have an unusually callous perception of music fans, but when cash grabs are reflected in marketing and promotion as seemingly worthwhile for the listener then the ball has started rolling way earlier that someone selling Radiohead's Kid A for £100+.

The best way to diffuse these people and their games is to avoid events like this "holiday" altogether. By all mean buy copies of the records that are listed, but buy them somewhere honest, either an independent retailer online (Boomkat, Juno, or Bandcamp to name just a few of the most direct) or in an independent record store ANY day of the year. And as cool as splatter-coloured vinyl is, lots of records are pressed in dynamic and aesthetically interesting ways in their original versions; pick up a copy of Deafheaven's Sunbather and you'll most likely find it slammed on fluorescent pink and yellow wax. Of course everyone is entitled to buy on RSD- as highlighted earlier, collections should be deeply personal things. But there does come a point where one has to decide which you value more: A haul ending in a rarity that ultimately means nothing after purchase, or an activity based on love and intrigue that shouldn't be allowed to become another cog in the corporate mire.




Monday, 20 March 2017

Call Super- Fabric 92

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Artist: Call Super/ Various Artists
Album: Fabric 92
Record Label: fabric

Revered UK producer and DJ Joe Seaton brings his masterful, shape-morphing skills to bare on maybe the finest Fabric Series contribution yet

Given that fabric's two Mix CD series, respectively titled simply 'Fabric' and 'Fabric: Live', are arguably the most successful and popular specimens of their kind, the sense of joy and want to continue down the trajectory of pushing the most exciting and forward-thing DJ's and mixes on a worldwide scale has been resumed without any kind of reserve or lapse in quality since the club's re-opening. The fabric series' have been a prolific way for those not able to regularly enjoy the club's cultural prevalence and the coming-of-age empowerment indulged in by many of the producers and DJ's who have made contributions to experience all facets of the dance genre. It's probably not controversial to say that without them the widespread appeal of dance music, especially in the UK, wouldn't be half as prevalent. 

Joe Seaton, aka Call Super (one of various aliases he releases music under), is a name that constantly drips from the tongue of anyone who has had more than a passing interest in club culture over the past five years or so. His often visionary productions and chameleon-esque approach to DJ'ing, honed especially by several incredible showcases with Berlin's Objekt over the years, have cemented themselves at the heart of the UK's beating late-night core. In many ways, he's the perfect candidate to succeed the reigns of the mix series from Nina Kraviz, whose Fabric 91 was one of the strangest but most technically adept chapters yet. 

In a statement released prior to Fabric 92, Seaton said: "The late hours seem strangely unrepresented within this series, and I thought I would start there instead of using this opportunity to add another peak time chapter to the collections". It's an almost impossibly smooth mix and as Seaton's words allude, it doesn't shy away from the most club-friendly elements of the dance sphere (Objekt's shape-shifting 'The Stitch-Up' and Call Super's own 'Acephale II' ensure that), but it's a selection that largely prioritises atmospheres and magnetic, sunken grooves and contains plenty of his penchant for dynamic shifts and disorientating turns. 

Although Seaton says that he wanted the mix to somewhat reflect how he plays in a club, the overriding sense of a non-live mix in his hands is an opportunity to draw in thinkers; people completely aware of the music's history, heritage and context and thus those seeking out dramatic paradigms or real emotion, and Fabric 92 has both in abundance. 

The soothing, barely there bubbling of Photek's 'T'Raenon' is balanced as a sleepy lull between the forthright, reflective groove of Two Full Minds' 'No Smoke' and Don't DJ's mind-warping 'Pornoire', which here is ever-so-slightly tweaked to slot in without a second's hesitation. Shortly after the "epic mix" of Carl Craig's 'A Wonderful Life' is transformed from being whisper-quiet into being totally sun-kissed and euphoric before melting gloriously into 'Acephale II', providing us with the mix's biggest moment of sheer, unadulterated ecstasy. 

The final 15 minutes or so feature this venture's most sumptuously reserved and textured gambit, which soars from the early acapella blues/soul of Walter Brown's rarity 'Keep On Walkin'' set flawlessly against the backdrop of Karen Gwyer's trance-inducing 'Hippie Fracca' and a brief, nightmarish flicker of Thomas Ankersmit & Valerio Tricola's drone demon 'Plague #7'. Yves Tumor's classic 'The Feeling When You Walk Away' manages to pack some sunset-drenched imagery into proceedings before the angry contemporary ragga of Speng Bond's 'Cutbacks' round things up with an inspired nod to the criminal justice bill and a government-lead mission to strike out at the poor & young.

Seaton said of the mix that he wanted it to be "primarily highly personal", and certainly Fabric 92 is the kind of mix that could only be achieved with an acute and unique, persistently evolving approach to DJ'ing. That Call Super has attempted unorthodox ideas and pushed different sounds and ideas out of their comfort zones to create fresh experiences and feelings should come as a surprise to no one familiar with his work, but it's particularly powerful in a context like the fabric mix series. Not only does it proudly carry on the tradition of bringing the more esoteric depths of dance music to the fore, but it's also the contribution to the series that has the most life-affirming sense of self and intrigue yet. 

9/10

Monday, 13 March 2017

Lessons In Hypnotism: Leif & Inga Mauer Reviewed





Inga Mauer. Image credit: Rene Passet Flickr 

Two of Techno's brightest names show off their mesmerising chops on two of 2017's most exciting dance releases thus far

Image result for Leif- july V/ shoulders back


Artist: Leif
Album: July V/ Shoulders Back
Record Label: Tio Series

While it may run the risk of becoming "the cliched story" to cynical minds, one of dance music's proudest traditions is its record label culture. After years on the circuit as both a producer and DJ, it seems more like a natural step for the London-based Leif Knowles than it does for most. His esoteric deliveries and prolific output since the mid-noughties have certainly given him enough of a platform to launch something that celebrates those consistencies even further.

July V/ Shoulders Back is the debut release on his newly fashioned Tio Series imprint, and as expected it barrels through with all the character and nuance we've come to expect from him with a resolutely fresh twist. 'July V' grows from humble beginnings into a jarring, burbling series of jagged synth loops, growing into itself seamlessly and taking on fried, layered forms. It turns in a recognisably Leif-centric melodious heart around the mid-point before finding its feet in self-assured oddness again as it draws to a close.

By contrast, 'Shoulders Back' has more of a rigid structure from the start. Drawing on a more classically banging persuasion, its mesmerising lead synth is simpler in nature but just as enticing. Coupled with a deep-cut analogue bass lick and a well-measured but propulsive beat, it proves itself just as intriguing as the weirder recesses of Knowles' work.

8/10


Image result for Inga mauer schtum 012


Artist: Inga Mauer
Album: Schtum 012
Record Label: Schtum

The new 12" by mysterious Russian producer Inga Mauer steps into contact with record label culture from a different direction. As its title suggests, it's the 12th release on rising German label Schtum, who have kick-started the likes of Avalon Emerson and Leibniz into prominence in recent years, and who have a penchant for soliciting both a hard-nosed and forward-thinking approach to techno. Mauer uses the four tracks on Schtum 012 to explore different traditions within a club-friendly framework and takes them to nearly impossibly sunken, no-nonsense depths.

Opener 'Dno' has a gloriously smooth and strident stomp to accompany its fat and fuzzy two-note synth lead that's packed with the ecstacy of a Hamburg sweatbox at 2am. 'Silences' is cavernous and dark but comes loaded with the kind of infectious, subterranean repetition that the likes of both Randomer and Roman Flugel have secured in the past. There's a real tinge of euphoria in the sense of the "doom of our time" atmospherics exorcised on the pounding closer 'Dystopia' via deceptively simple but hyper-coloured melodies and effervescent vocal samples. Best of all though is the warped, hallucinogenic crawl of 'My Flights Without You', all swamp-mired wobs and an increasingly banging but reserved groove, all an eerie base for the swirling vocal cuts floating in the foreground.

8/10

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Stormzy- Gang Signs & Prayer

Image result for stormzy- gang signs & prayer

Artist: Stormzy
Album: Gang Signs & Prayer
Record Label: #Merky

Stormzy's debut LP extends both Grime's hardcore roots and contains a fresh-faced kind of humanity

The debut album from Stormzy, Gang Signs & Prayer, starts in the expected fashion. A dark, bubbling instrumental packed with menace and a hint of American trap propels him as his distinct, gun-shot flow brings to life Croydon industrial-estate fire. But then comes the assertion that "while you were fighting your girl, I was fighting my depression". It's subject matter that will rise again on the record's candid closer 'Lay Me Bare', but it's not completely uncharted territory for grime. Dizzee Rascal ended his seminal 2003 debut Boy In Da Corner with 'Do It!', a track that saw him confessing to suicidal urges that only guts were preventing him from obliging. 

But Gang Signs & Prayer is hardly a complete throwback triviality or a re-hashing of old ideas. Just like the best grime it comes loaded with gritty identity, but perhaps in a relatively untested manner it confronts and develops a recognisably human face for a genre so imbued with the cold, hard reality faced by vast swathes of London's misrepresented youth. 

There's plenty here that unashamedly harks back to grime's roots. 'Cold' is a searing banger that sees Stormzy wrap himself in the sort of gangsta mentality most honed by the likes of Giggs a decade previously. 'Bad Boys' is an eerie crawl through a desolate Lewisham warehouse at 3am, with a masterfully aggressive gambit from Ghetts and gems like "they think they're like Narcos, they're just some Netflix bad boys" adhering to the genre's perpetually dark but self-aware sense of humour. 

There are layers to be found in these heavier moments too. 'Mr. Skeng' addresses split personalities and a self-directed culture change in raucous fashion; one of many references to the connection that Stormzy will always have with his formative, gang-centric years as explored with more subtlety in the heartfelt pathos of '21 Gun Salute' and 'Don't Cry For Me'. 

The real moments of vulnerability that have lead many to herald Gang Signs & Prayer as a sea-change in personality come in the most lovelorn moments. 'Velvet/ Jenny Francis (Interlude)' is an overtly smooth, Drake-esque ode to the kind of love-life our protagonist can offer, while 'Cigarettes and Kush', featuring a beautiful gambit from Kehlani, uses narcotics as a metaphor for regret, misplaced entitlement and heart-broken longing. Unfortunately, despite its cosmic sonics 'Blinded By Your Grace pt. 2' lacks any real tact and proves beyond measure that there's almost no way to make the line "Let's hear it one time for the Lord" sound well-composed in rap verse. 

Gang Signs... isn't a fully recognised standard. It's occasionally inconsistent in its impact but it bristles with humanity and, perhaps most tellingly, approach-ability. It's certainly more adept than Skepta's Konnichiwa was last year at carving a (mostly) captivating personality, and it's also the first grime record for years that's left plenty of room for foreseeable growth. 

7/10

Key Tracks: 'Cold', 'First Things First', 'Cigarettes and Kush (ft. Kehlani)'
For Fans Of: Wiley, Kano