I’m a Londoner, that I love London so
It’s a song my father used to sing me when I was a child (even though he was from Dundalk via Dublin, though to be fair he also used to sing Molly Malone) but it only occurred to me last night how true it is.
I was at the Sydney Opera House to see The Cinematic Orchestra do a set with the Sydney International Orchestra with a special visual ‘backing track’ by The Light Surgeons. It was, in a word, epic. And as I sat there, on the other side of the world, listening to an amazing group of musicians play music which had tinges of jazz, Italian movie soundtracks, afro-beat, hip hop, folk and everything in between, it got me thinking about London.
Because, to me, precisely because they sound so globally eclectic, The Cinematic Orchestra sound like the sort of group who could only have come from London. I’m sure that the musicians are from all over the world, but it always strikes me that people come from all over the world to create something truly new.
New York is always lauded as the city of immigrants, whilst Australia was the destination for one of the largest migrations ever, but both of them are still, in many ways, a little segregated. And they’re also new at this game. London on the other hand has been welcoming and absorbing immigrants since the Romans arrived two thousand years ago.
Someone once said that when a man is tired of London he’s tired of life; the suicide rate quadrupled overnight
And I also used to like to repeat a description of London from a black can driver that I heard in a documentary about London cabbies. He said that he quit his job when London was no longer a city but just:
7 million strangers I hate
And both of these are true. Londoners love to put themselves and their city down in a way that doesn’t seem to happen in other cities.
As I was watching fireworks to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Australian navy a couple of days ago my friend made the very insightful observation that Sydney celebrates itself like almost no other city. And that’s no bad thing. But Londoners like to mock their city because, really, underneath it all, we know it’s amazing. Most of us, I would imagine, share Stephen Fry’s view when he compared London, and the English language, to Paris, and French.
A few years ago I joked that:
I have no soul, just a map of Soho burned on my heart
I guess I meant it as a way of putting myself down. But really, I think it’s a badge of honour.
The Cinematic Orchestra’s performance last night was a perfect example of this; at time spine-tingling, at times almost over-whelming, at times incredibly funky.
If anything, my only criticism would be that they tried too hard to be sophisticated, and went a bit John Coltrane (at his noodly worst) when they are at their best when their obvious love of the grimier side of modern music, whether that be rave or hip hop comes through.
It was a privilege to witness though and I came out of it as proud as I’ve been in a while to be a Londoner. Like most people who claim that distinction, I’m not actually from the city, but it took me to its heart.
(And yes, I realise that the image at the top of this post if of a piece by a French artist, but it’s in Soho and I never claimed to be consistent)
Daft Punk’s return has generated acres of coverage, reviews ranging from rave to merely fawning, and even saw several thousand people flock to a rural town in Australia for the launch party for the new album, where the French duo failed to show.
But possibly the best thing to have come out of the release of their incredibly retro new direction is this video, which sees the song Get Lucky put to a video compilation of people dancing on the classic American show Soul Train. The moves, outfits and general attitude are all so amazing it just makes me smile.
When you watch these kids dancing back in the 70s you can totally see how funk begat disco, begat hip-hop. After all, who were the band sampled by early hip-hop legends Sugarhill Gang on the classic Rapper’s Delight? Disco kings Chic, whose guitarist Nile Rogers supplies the ravishing guitar licks on Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, which brings us nicely back to where we started.
Marc Mac has been close to the beating heart of contemporary British for over two decades now. He was genre defining in the early 90s dance/hardcore movement, as part of A Homeboy, A Hippie & A Funki Dredd and redefined drum & bass as half of 4hero, where he was responsible for my favourite ever remix. And more recently he has been cataloguing his love of soul music, in all its forms, through his Visioneers project.
Their album Dirty Old Hip Hop, which consisted of instrumental covers of many of the most sampled tracks in rap, was and is one of my favourites of the last few years, and the follow-up, Hipology* (and the associated free mix-tape), which I only just discovered, is even more of a love-letter to the last great art-form of the 20th century. Kind of like an album length version of The Roots’ Act Too.
Anyway, I’ve been listening to his Visioneers stuff again quite a lot recently, and this has to be the stand-out track; it really is just beaitiful. The guitar line is wistful, funny & sad, the beat is, of course, absolutely spot on, and the whole is simply wonderful. Seriously, it has to be one of my favourite pieces of music of the last few years.
It’s like he bottled nostalgia, wrapped a beat around it and then pressed it on vinyl. Just listen to it, you’ll get the idea.
[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/2088259" params="" width=" 100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]
*He’s also created a wonderful scrap-book site cataloguing the things that have influenced his work.
Wallflower photo by yours truly
I’m a bit of a one trick pony. Or maybe two or three tricks. There are a couple of little obsessions I have, and I tend to keep coming back to them.
One of these is how ridiculous it is that British rapper Ty isn’t a whole lot more famous; he’s an amazing rapper, with thoughtful lyrics, great beats and melodies, and deserves to be a massive success.
Whilst his recent move to the Tru Thoughts record label isn’t likely to propel him into the upper end of the charts, it does mean that we get some new music from him, including this classic slice of intelligent British hip hop.
Photo via Tru Thoughts
Because I never get bored of Ghostpoet. And he so should have won the Mercury.
I’ve just seen the ad of the year, and it’s Channel 4′s trailer for its coverage of the Paralympics (I rather liked their cheeky billboard as well which I have at the top of this post).
The ad, produced by Channel 4′s in-house team, is simply epic set to a blistering soundtrack in the shape of Public Enemy’s Harder Thank You Think (which includes a sample from an absolutely fantastic Shirley Bassey track called Jezahel): I hadn’t heard either track before but they’re both absolute belters.
The horns that Public Enemy sample from the Bassey song would blow the doors of a Mini.
So, here’s to Channel 4, Public Enemy and all the paralympic athletes: you have to watch out for wheelchair rugby (there’s a clip of it in Meet The Superhumans) – I watched an amazing documentary about it a while ago, and can’t wait to see it again.
I was chatting with my good friend Matt earlier today and he reminded me of a great project from a couple of years back. American blues rock band The Black Keys got together with a whole host of rappers, masterminded by Damon Dash (who, perhaps unfairly, I always think of as the man who tried to make Posh Spice ghetto), and the result was Blakroc.
Anyway, it’s a really great record: it strips hip hop back to its roots – a groove and a rhyme. This video of the creation of the project includes some fascinating examples of how different musicians work, including some of the rappers writing their lyrics on a Blackberry, as do the others on the site. Though there’s nothing cool about a Blackberry, everything about Blakroc is supercool. For a taster of what the project was about, here’s one of the stand-out tracks, featuring the always fabulous Mos Def.
As I’ve said before, I’ve never been a huge Beastie Boys fan, in terms of buying their albums and listening to them all the way through, repeatedly. But a huge number of their songs have a large hold on my heart, and I’m guessing that there are plenty of people like me who will have been very sad to hear of the death of Adam Yauch, AKA MCA, at the painfully young age of 47.
For us Gen Yers, who grew up with the MTV astronaut burned into our minds, The Beastie Boys were basically the first hip hop rock stars. Parents hated them, kids loved them, and they got both young and old very worked up for very different reasons. Listening to (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) as I write this I realise that it’s essentially an updated version of Summertime Blues.
But more than that, it’s their later work, and their other achievements that are the reason they have a special place in my heart. Their 2nd album, the cult classic Paul’s Boutique was amost willfully left of centre considering the fact that their debut, Licensed To Ill, was a global smash. They ditched New York for California and created an alternative business empire, including a record label, clothes label and even a magazine. They campaigned for Tibetan freedom, their organ player released some pretty class music himself, and a Fatboy Slim remix of their track Body Movin’ became a staple of the big beat movement.
Oh, and apparently they invented the term mullet.
Sure Shot is a track from their 4th album, Ill Communication, which catapulted them back to the forefront of popular culture. The video for the track Sabotage was directed by Spike Jonze, highlighting their links with the skateboarding world, and is now a cultural reference in its own right. But Sureshot was always my favourite track off of the album: powered by the mighty flute loop sample from Jeremy Steig’s Howlin’ for Judy, it’s the Beasties at their best. – raw, funky, with surreal lyrics that never fall into rap cliches.
I’ll be playing a lot more Beastie Boys tracks this weekend, but this one is as good as any to get started with.
MCA by Fabio Venni on flickr
So, last Saturday saw Gilles Peterson’s first show on the wonderful 6Music, and it was great. Rambling, sprawling, diverse and, most importantly, oozing with a self-evident love of music, it covered everything from David Bowie to Paul Weller, Dr. John to Jamie xx, Quantic to Dinosaur L, and even a weird little cover of The Simpsons’ theme tune by someone called Dexter*.
There were quite a few stand-out tracks, including the aforementioned Something Better by Quantic & Alice Russell with Combo Barbaro, the prog-funk-rock of Dr John’s Getaway & the hypnotic off-beat house of Well Wishers by Julio Bashmore. But the track that made the show for me, because it encapsulated everything I love about Gilles’ work, was the cover of Kanye West’s Flashing Lights.
It’s hypnotic, it blends genres, it’s modern but with a firm nod to the past and BADBADNOTGOOD are a band that Gilles has supported tirelessly over the last year or so, as he does with so many great acts. And it also ticks my own personal box of being a cover version, albeit an instrumental one. It’s kind of like a Cinematic Orchestra for the noughties.
Here’s hoping next week’s show will be as good. And the one after that. And the one after that, and the one after that, until, well, forever really.
*Gilles said he didn’t know anything more about this track but that “that’s what Google’s for” – unfortunately Google isn’t for this one.
Lights by Caleb Roenigk on flickr