RIP Horace Silver

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The first Gilles Peterson show I really remember listening to is still one of my favourites.

It was 1994 and a friend at university had been sent a tape of one of Gilles’ Sunday afternoon shows for Kiss which he kindly copied for me (illegal downloads, analogue style). What blew my mind then and still sums up what I love about Peterson’s approach to music is that in the same show, and almost back to back, he played Josh Wink’s acid classic Higher State Of Consciousness and the epic Sayonara Blues by The Horace Silver Quintet.

Whilst I can’t say I still listen to the former much anymore, Sayonara Blues has gone on to be one of my favourite ever pieces of music. It led to me buying quite a few of Silver’s other albums and it’s why I was really sad to hear of his passing, though at 85 he certainly had a good innings, and an eventful one at that*.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQT2-dvUhZQ

Anyway, words can’t do justice to the man, so I’ll finish where I started, and leave you with this tribute mix that Gilles has made of Horace Silver’s amazing back catalogue.

*Including being part of that photo you can see at the top of this post, A Great Day In Harlem, taken for Esquire in 1958. An amazing story in and of itself.

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Happy Birthday Stevie Wonder

Earlier this week Stevie Wonder turned 64. I meant to blog about it on the day but have been feeling a bit under the weather. Anyway, better late than never, here’s a post to celebrate the birthday of, arguably, the single most important musician of the 1970s. Bowie would possibly be a close 2nd*.

Like so many of the greats his work has fallen a long way since he was at his peak, but honestly, he’s still responsible for more great music, directly and indirectly, than pretty much any musicians of the 20th Century, apart from Lennon, McCartney and a few other people.

And, with that in mind, above we have a very apt McCartney track to which, where Stevie is concerned, the answer is yes, whilst below Mr Wonder shows that he could even improve on The Beatles.

Happy birthday Stevie, long may you be with us.

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A History Of Boy Bands In Shreds

These days the phrase boy band is often used as an insult but really it’s a term with a rich history. And it’s amazing to see how much boy bands of the past have in common with those of today.

From The Beach Boys…

to One Direction…

to Daft Punk (more of a bot band, but you get the idea).

Shreds. They’re a meme. Who knew? It’s like the spirit of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 formed a band.

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Adventures In Britpop

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I recently got back from a holiday on which I had my normal book binge, to the extent that my Kindle melted (though that’s another story). One of the books I read was the autobiography of Louise Wener, former singer with Britpop band Sleeper.

Reading a book that charts the course of the Britpop explosion seemed rather apt seeing as everyone seems to have decided that this year is the 20th anniversary of Britpop (presumably based on the fact that both Definitely Maybe and Parklife were released in 1994). Wener’s book includes references to blur, Oasis and a host of other players in that scene, both big and small, with plenty of dirt, gossip and snide asides chucked in for good measure. It also details the undoubted sexism that pervaded much of the music industry, and probably still does.

In the book Wener seems to hold a bit of a grudge against blur because they’re arrogant and won’t let her band share blur’s rider when they support them on the Parklife tour. That wouldn’t surprise me – Damon has always come across as pretty arrogant whilst anyone who has read Alex James’ own incredibly entertaining autobiography will know that they were at the centre of a whirlwind that would send most people slightly mad.

Of course, it was probably supporting blur on that tour that helped Sleeper break in to the big-time. And it’s also pretty certain that no-one was likely to base the birth of Britpop on the year when any of Sleeper’s records came out*. Because, what the book never really admits, is that the reason that the likes of blur did better than Sleeper is because Sleeper were basically shit. With one hit single**.

Despite that, it’s a good read for anyone who lived through that time and was as in love with much of the music as I was. If you do want entertaining books by people who also actually managed to make more than one good record, I’d also recommend the previously mentioned Bit Of A Blur by Alex James and the painfully honest Telling Stories by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans.

If you’d rather just have an aural trip down memory lane, I’d recommend these two playlists – one a BBC 6 Music Best of Britpop, the other one I put together myself taking in some of the best tracks from 1994.

*If anything I would suggest that it was 1993, the year Suede by Suede and Modern Life Is Rubbish by blur both came out as I’d argue that Definitely Maybe isn’t really a Britpop record at all.
**They actually had 6 that cracked the top 30, but Inbetweener is the only one that has held any charm.

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Song For My Sugar Spun Sister

For the last month we’ve had my sister staying with us here in Sydney. On Monday she left to head to LA, San Fran and NYC.

This one’s for you Amy, it was a blast having you.

As was seeing Public Enemy.

And the impromptu night in Surry Hills which inspired the playlist below.

Cheers sis. Have a safe trip and come back soon.

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Damon Albarn – Lonely Press Play

Damon Albarn is a genius. I really don’t think there’s much doubt about that (or at least I hope there isn’t).

However, at the start of Lonely Press Play, the second release from his long awaited debut album Everyday Robots, I was worried that he was, once again, going to purposefully make his music less listenable by adding in unnecessary bleeps and beeps.

)

The first track that was released, also called Everyday Robots, was, for me, a bit like a lot of Thom Yorke’s recent output – just a bit too weird. And I thought that Lonely Press Play might suffer the same fate. 

But then, it didn’t. It’s just, well, beautiful.

 

 

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Pharrell & The Republic Of Content

Back when I first started attending search conferences you would often hear people saying “content is king” or some variation of the same phrase: on that I remember repeating quite a lot was “conversation is king, content’s just something to talk about”.

However it struck me recently that the metaphor of a king was rather misguided as it suggests that one single piece of content will rule all others. Or, in other words, that it’s possible for a brand to create one piece of content and then sit back and count the winnings. Instead, increasingly, it seems obvious to me that we actually live in a republic of content where power and influence is available to just about anyone.

So, on Facebook you might end up looking at photos of a friend’s new child, taking a Buzzfeed quiz to decided where you should live or read  Guardian article about how the NSA are using social networks to monitor what people are doing. And, to use 2014′s buzz-phrase of choice, when all of this content is ‘native’ it really doesn’t matter whether it’s branded or not, it only matters whether someone is doing something that stops them interacting with your brand.

Ben Thompson summed this up brilliantly a while back:

attention is a zero sum game; every minute spent in Snapchat or LINE or WhatsApp is a minute not spent in Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

To which we could add ‘or giving you an opportunity to sell to them’.

This was brought home to me again today when I saw the 24 hour video that has been created for Pharrell Williams’ track Happy. It is essentially made up of over 300 individual videos, each of them set in Los Angeles and each of them essentially mimicking the original video, which saw  and they feature Pharrell and lots of other people dancing and singing on a street, with a cast of hundreds that includes ballroom dancers, skateboarders, Magic Johnson, Steve Carrell, Jamie Foxx & Odd Future. The ‘standard’ video is essentially a Best Of for the 24 hour version.

 

And that’s basically it.

Pointing out that Noel Gallagher is wrong about something isn’t exactly an Olympic sport but, when he said that ‘no-one watches videos any-more‘ he rather missed the point. People rarely watch shit videos anymore.

But videos like Pharrell’s Happy marathon, or Arcade Fire’s mash-up of video and Google Maps, the Beastie Boys’ comedy epicBob Dylan’s multi-channel karaoke or Danger Mouse’s visual extravaganza can actually command even more attention that ever.

It might seem crazy that anyone would make a 24-hour video for a song that lasts a fraction of that time but the film, which is what it really is, is absolutely delightful. It’s a great track for a start*; charming, full of life and innocent.

And the videos, each of which feature little snapshots of people enjoying themselves, is much the same, though I do wish they’d flown out the Northern Soul girl for it**. In many ways it reminds me of the movies Swingers & In Search Of A Midnight Kiss in that, it is, essentially, a love letter to LA.

Whatever.

When someone can spend a whole day watching almost endless variations on a 4-minute pop video, what exactly are you going to do? Because the king is dead, vive la République!

*So’s the movie it’s taken from; don’t let the fact that it’s supposedly for kids put you off.
**Maybe they did, did you really think I’d watched the whole thing?
*** Here’s the whole 24 hours.

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Suite For Ma Dukes – Stakes Is High (De La Soul Cover)

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This, as my friends back in Dublin would say, is for the day that’s in it.

De La Soul were the band that helped me truly fall in love with hip hop. 3 Feet High & Rising is a stone-cold classic. But then so are quite a few of their other work, including Stakes Is High, produced by the beat genius who was J Dilla.

This cover of that amazing track is taken from a fund-raising concert where Dilla’s amazing output was interpreted by an orchestra and a few of his old accomplices including, in the case of Stakes Is High, Posdnous of De La Soul (one of my favourite rappers, ever) and Talib Kweli.

You can see and hear the emotion in the crowd and on the stage and when the strings really lay into the sample of Ahmad Jamal’s Swahililand the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Every time.

The Stakes Is High cover is an amazing version of an amazing song, and a fitting tribute to Dilla’s amazing talents and, of course, De La Soul’s fantastic output.

And so, as I wait for my free donwload link to arrive (and hope it will work when it arrives), I leave you with another charity tribute to Dilla (this time from Phife of A Tribe Called Quest) and an absolutely amazing radio show from just after he died. Peace.

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Be The Ad Break

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There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.

Ty Webb (Chevy Chase), Caddyshack

There are many forces in the universe, and they aren’t all encapsulated in cult comedy from the early 80s. One such force is the rising battle between consumer attention and advertisers. Whilst reports of the death of TV have been greatly exaggerated (there will undoubtedly be a few over the next few days to celebrate the arrival of the 2nd series of House of Cards), what is true is that the attention of viewers is increasingly hard to hold.

To be honest, we’ve always known that ad breaks are the time when people go to the loo, make a cup of tea or just walk around so as to avoid getting cramp, but now they have even more ways to avoid watching the ads. If they’re not on Facebook or Twitter they could just fast-forward through them on their DVR. How then to get people to pay attention?

Recently there has been a trend of owning the entire ad-break: this isn’t new, advertisers like Nike, T-Mobile &  Honda have long known the benefit of creating epic ads that fill an entire break. But this new variation of that tactic is slightly different. Essentially it involves weaving one brand through an otherwise normal mix of ads.

DHL were the first company I heard of doing this. Basically their van appears in every other ad in the break that they top & tail. It’s cute, very slick advertising, but not really something I think people would necessarily watch rather than making the tea/tweeting/fast forwarding.

Channel 4 did something similar during their Comedy Gala in 2011. In this instance the brand doing the weaving wasn’t an advertiser so much as the advertisee. I’m guessing that this was a way of Channel 4 getting premium rates for the ads, which is fair as, in this instance, the allure of seeing what people like Jimmy Carr would do to an ad is probably strong enough to fight off the collective ADHD for a few minutes at least.

And then, just the other day, Lego (my favourite brand more or less) recreated an entire ad break out of bricks to promote the launch of their new movie. It includes Lego versions of Vinnie Jones and Lenny Henry. How could it get any better? Not only would people have been unlikely to want to look away during his, a whole heap of people who weren’t even there have decided to watch a video of it since.

Of course Lego are well versed in what brands need to do to gain and keep attention in the modern world, and highlighted that again here: becoming a publisher doesn’t just mean throwing men from outer space or creative native ads. Content that people want to watch can still take place in an ad break, so long as it’s not one that sets off 1.5 million kettles.

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