Staring At The Shoes Of Giants

Back in 1991 Damon Albarn claimed that Leisure, blur’s début album, as going to ‘kill…baggy‘, the genre popularised by the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays which had also spawned Northside. As it turned out Nirvana killed grunge but blur were right about one thing – baggy wasn’t the major influence on Leisure, shoegazing was.

I was reminded of this fact after hearing a recently re-discovered demo version of Setting Sun by Oasis. The track was released as a single by The Chemical Brothers, with Noel Gallagher on vocals but it now seems that, rather than writing them specifically for that track Noel must have done an Aphex Twin*.

Whereas the version released by The Chemical Brothers sounded like a modern reworking of The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows this demo has more in common with Oasis’ with the tracks on Leisure. It is, basically, a shoegazing track. Washed out but amped up guitars, a slightly hazy feeling and a nasally vocal. It’s shoegazing 101. The scene may have been almost universally maligned but its impact was felt far and wide.

As mentioned, the debuts of both blur and Oasis owed massive debts to the likes of Ride, My Bloody Valentine and pretty much everyone else on Creation Records which was basically the official label for the shoegazing scene. And whilst many of the bands who briefly shone during the late 80s & early 90s, such as Slowdive, Chapterhouse and Revolver rarely made a dent on the charts, others fared better.

A bunch of lads from Wigan called Verve** took the washed out guitar sounds made popular by shoegazing bands and added a dollop of Doors’ style mysticism; having refined this mix over three albums with a twist of northern attitude, they went on to outsell Oasis with Urban Hymns.

Ride, another Creation signing, were one of the first bands from this scene to properly crack the mainstream; two of their first three EPs broke the Top 40 (the first Creation releases to do so, 7 years after its formation). Their debut album, Nowhere, fell just short of the top ten but Leave Them All Behind, the first single off of their second album hit number ten.

As with The Verve, Going Blank Again saw the band building on their roots, with traces of The Who and even The Byrds to be found, alongside samples from Withnail & I. Highlighting the connections, bassist Andy Bell went on to join Oasis.

Of course Ride’s efforts in the charts would pale in comparison to Oasis after they too had been signed to Creation. But whilst they were often compared to the likes of The Beatles or the Sex Pistols, in their early (and best) work, Oasis had, as I’ve said, clear links to the (generally Southern) bands who were often mocked as being ‘The Scene That Celebrates Itself‘. Adorable, one of the last signings to Creation before Oasis, have often struck me as being a prototype for the latter with a good looking, cocky front-man and songs that melded melody and razor-sharp guitars brilliantly.

Looking back at Oasis now, I can’t help thinking that if they had stayed truer to these roots their later releases would have been less like a successful Bootleg Beatles than they were.

*Aphex Twin once handed in one of his own tracks having been paid to remix a Lemonheads song because he had forgotten to do the remix.
** They added the ‘The’ after being sued by American jazz label Verve; the band’s initial offer to change their name to Verv, thereby ‘dropping an e for America’ was rebuffed.

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Like A Tech Version Of Today

It’s strange the things that you miss when you move to a new country.

In Ireland I missed tea-bags (you can’t get the scientifically proven better bags that are PG Tips Pyramids) whilst in Australia I often miss the BBC. Whilst back in the UK recently (for a massive 6 hours) I had the pleasure of listening to Radio 4′s Today – I can listen to Gilles Peterson’s 6 Music show at any time, but Today only seems to make sense listened to live, in the morning.

So, I’m very glad to have found Benedict Evans’ podcasts for Andreessen Horowitz; with his cut-glass accent and dry sense of humour, his razor-sharp analysis of what’s happening in the world of tech is like my very own tech-focussed version of Today.

Here he is drilling down into a bunch of recent mobile stats and pulling out real, actual insights (as opposed to the common-sense observations that so often get passed off as them), in this case into the way that technology changes the way people do their jobs, but not necessarily the jobs themselves. He uses car-rental companies as an example. You should listen.

Here he is distilling down the three hours of the keynote presentations from Google’s recent I/O conference.

Truly, the internet makes the world seem smaller every day.

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RIP Horace Silver

great day harlem

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

super

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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