Monday, June 27, 2005

Wireless for sound

It felt like we were cheating, and looking at the cross over between the two line-ups at the Glastonbury and Wireless festivals, it was. Even the usually anodyne newspaper diary dates put apologetic inverted commas around the word festival when referring to Wireless.

Firstly, Wireless was in Hyde Park central London, it doesn’t run on concurrent nights and it was suffocated with corporate branding (02 and Nokia principally). Hell, we even had our dinner at a nearby Pizza Express rather than noshing on a hotdog made of lips, bums and chicken’s ears. Putting it on the same weekend as Europe’s largest (and most proper) of festivals left it feeling like Glasto’s evil deformed twin brother.

It is probably for this reason that we simply referred to it as ‘The New Order gig’. Rain meant we avoided the line-up’s very long tail… we caught Moby playing music from adverts, but missed the one single types; Graham Coxon, The Bravery, Fischerspooner et al for a Fiorentina and coke.

If you were to draw lines between Peter ‘Oooky’ Hook, Stephen Morris and the late Ian Curtis they would meet at Bernard Sumner. Sumner is Everyman, part poet, part posturing rock star, part plumber. Oooky has pinned his “Bass Mechanic” icon to the floor with six inch nails; he still plays his bass two inches from the floor – something he originally did because Joy Division’s equipment was so awful he could only hear himself if he played down where his amp was. He still has the straggly rock star hair, he’s still stick thin. He’s a little weather beaten, but he looks and acts pretty much the same as he ever did. “Fooking ‘ell, it’s a fookin’ forty year old mosh pit, fookin’ grow up” chastised the 49-year-old bass player looking down on the mass of middle aged men with Sumner-esque shot back and sides.

Like their crowd, Sumner has gain weight, got older and becomes an embarrassment to his kids. When I saw New Order about ten years ago he stood stock still as he has in all the other film I’ve seen of him. Part cool, part terrified. Now, however, his shackles are off and he puffs his cheeks out out, purses his lips, turns purple and dances like your dad at a disco.

Festivals are so prevalent nowadays it’s much easier for big bands to satisfy their album promoting commitments by shifting from one festy crowd to another (New Order played on Saturday at Glasto) rather than doing their own tour. It means, however, that there is more licence to play a greatest hits set. Play safe, not everyone has come to see you; hit, hit, hit.

This is not to criticise, you don’t get to see these bands often enough to risk an experimental jazz jam session packed full of rare b-sides. We’ll leave that to Babyshambles and the kids who go to see them. I’ve done that stuff; seeing Radiohead at Kingston University a week after their debut single was released, Oasis in Brighton shortly after Definitely Maybe was released (and the after-show party), but for every iconic moment there are ten Sultans of Ping, Scorpio Risings and Flook playing 10 minutes for Radio 1 before going off. Gimme good product.

And that’s exactly what we got, hit after hit after hit from both the New Order and Joy Division back catalogues. True Faith, Crystal, Temptation, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Transmission, Love Vigilantes. It was safe and predictable programming from a driving, varied and adventurous back catalogue.

They ended with a shambolic rendition of Blue Monday, fighting technical problems to ensure that all the important bits were included at some point though not necessarily in the right order. Bernard sang about ships in harbours and shallow bays three or four times as he tried to three point turn himself out of a tight cul-de-sac. Hooky just played on relentless waiting for others to catch up. Then they left, Hooky carefully placed his low strung base on its stand and made for stage right. His rock starring complete for another night, as he disappeared from view a little girl, his daughter, grabbed him by the hand and the two disappeared off, presumably for a story and bed.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Big spanx, little spanx, what a way to grow

Spankee phoned sounding tired... What did you do last night, I asked...

"I went to a party, I wore a salmon pink shirt, slacks and brown slip-ons. I felt smart, but it seems so wrong, I feel forty..."

There was silence, he spoke again...

"Ooh, Manimal is on Bravo!"

And in the twinkle of an eye he was back.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Wacko fanos

I’m not troubled by the Michael Jackson verdict; it probably worked out for the best all round. Jackson is free (er, -ish) to continue in his own strange way and the trial probably neutralised any threat he might pose. The authorities, on the other hand, don’t have the headache of putting a high risk inmate in the clink. However, that odd band of fans who camped outside the courtroom trouble me greatly. To all those people, consider if you will…

  • twenty year old sparsely adopted fashion fads – trilby hats, spangly gloves, white arm bands - are just twenty year old sparsely adopted fashion fads

  • there may be a relationship between a persistent addiction to plastic surgery and stunted emotional development
  • if your best work is fifteen years behind you, you’re probably not really the king of anything at all
    half hearted body popping is only one aspect of greatness

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Sophie and the City

Oh god, my sister has raised a two and a half year old urban sophisticate. Sophie’s first words to Emma when she came over the other day were “Oh Emma, I love your shoes”. She followed this, having terrorised the cats, by gushing “Oh, I love your stairs”. All very Sarah Jessica Parker.

All of this can probably be forgiven, however, when I asked where her new cousin Jessica lived (answer: Tamworth) she replied “London”. No she doesn’t, said I. She turned, looked me in the eye and replied “We all live in London”.

Oh yeah, the bloody world doesn’t exist outside Zone 6, I know her type. I tell you, she'll be double cheek air kissing and sipping Manhattans out of her beaker soon …

Monday, June 06, 2005


I won’t bore you with the minutiae of my deeply uninspired conservative party pleasing five hour set at Vibeke’s party on Saturday. In fact, my iPod made a better fist of ‘varied and eclectic’ as I tidied the kitchen on Sunday (Dionne Warwick, Orbital, Gorrillaz, Elbow, PJ Harvey).

Typically, I never seemed to be playing the right record at the right time. One girl came up to me and said “You know you’ve just played Crazy in Love (literally 2 minutes earlier), can you play it again, no one will notice” another said “Have you got any Jamiroquai?” to which I said no, so she wailed “You must have, because I love him”. I did tryto help the girl in the dainty wedged sandals who wanted “More reggae or hip hop… or The Killers”. It’s about par for the course for this kind of party, an occupational hazard if you like. Still, one bloke came up to check a Mint Royal tune I played (during my Ruffles pleasing early evening warm up) he also gave me a big thumbs-up for some Beanie Man, so that was nice.

It’s also nice to see beautiful people dancing and smiling to things you’re playing regardless of how tired the music feels to you. The party was noticeably full of beautiful people. Vibeke’s Norwegian and their was much Scandinavian vitality on show. However, it’s amazing how the beauty can fade when you’re presented in front of the decks with the same pristine smile for the sixth time in two hours. One girl repeatedly tried to explain in the most general terms imaginable, what she wanted to hear. The best she could do was “Less yo, more concrete”.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Big hit, album track, album track, bigger hit, biggest hit

Any bassline which makes your nostrils vibrate is OK by me. The Chemical Brothers used it repeatedly during their Brixton Academy set last Friday which made for an ace night out.

Due to the prevalence with which the music press use the term, it appears potentially illegal to review the Chems without saying things about their “Blockrockin’ Beats”. There’s more to them than Big Beat survivalists. Such a varied back catalogue sweeps from all the tracks with Beats in the title (Block Rockin’, Chemical, Chico) to their housier anthems; Out of Control, Hey Boy, Hey Girl, Star Guitar. Then there’s their epic Private Psychedelic Reels (one per album) and their serious collaborations (with the likes of Flaming Lips, Beth Orton, Bloc Party et al). On top of which they weave the new album.

The performance was OK; Ed coaxes complex textures from his bank of modules whilst Tom is detailed with volume controls and waving. Their timing was out throughout, running through track after track at a frenetic pace. With six albums to play from, it was like they didn’t want to miss anything out. Maybe they need to be a little braver and drop something, even the big hits.

All of which means the whole thing was a little stuck somewhere between regular gig and full-on rave. Frequently the night peaked, racing away at a pulsating house pace, before a retro break from Exit Planet Dust appeared. Huge roars. Then the beats were slowed to the requisite speed and the energy waned. It’s a shame, with better programming they could have built and built the night to frenzy.

None of which should take away from what was a good night out. Sara came with me; a veteran of Busted, Britney and Take That concerts. She seemed to enjoy the culture shock; the sticky Academy floors, the lack of foam fingers in the merchandise stand, the offers of drugs (easy to spot, black guys with no sense of rhythm).

And we parked two minutes from the venue, which was the best bit of all.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Taking the sith

Star Wars, even the original trilogy, wouldn’t have survived if it’d been launched today. We’re too prosperous and comfortable with the real world to accept innocent fairy tales based in galaxies far far away. Even The Invincibles was applauded because it dealt with the anonymity of suburban life and not because it was a cartoon about retired superheroes who return to save the world.

In our hierarchy of needs we’re well beyond basic survival, we’re beyond needing comfort and escapism; we can buy all these things. Finding spiritual enlightenment trekking in Nepal costs about the price as a packet of Pringles. With all these needs satisfied, we’re obsessed with a need for credibility. This requires cynicism and intellectualism; all part of a process of modern self-actualisation.

The achingly credible and intelligent are wanton to dismiss Star Wars with their breathtaking analyses that the films are riddled with poor acting and telegraphed plotlines. In 1977, nobody went to see Star Wars for a religious experience, they were living in drab times and the cinema was a quick hit of fun.

All six films are silly, but they’re fun and exciting silly. Whilst I could do a few less robots saying “Uh Oh” before being smote by a Jedi, Revenge of the Sith is great. It pauses only to set up the arrival of Luke and Leah and the death of Padme. But the rest of it is loads of fighting, lasers going “peowm! peowm!” and lots of running around like a bunch of pillocks… like just like innocent games played in the playground.

It’s not a historical document; it’s not trying to say much more than good is good and bad is bad. It’s just trying to entertain two hours, if we really had anything to worry about, we’d appreciate it for doing just that.

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