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.
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*.
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.
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 anniversaryof 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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.