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My Musical Life 2014

In the Christmas 1988 issue of Melody Maker the Stud Brothers wrote one of my favourite features of all time. It began something like this: 1988 was the best year for new music ever.

I kept a load of those Christmas issues. I loved them. However, I’m pretty sure 1988 has gone missing unfortunately. It went on to rave about the best releases that year including the likes of Butthole Surfers’ Hairway to Steven, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions…, My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything, Happy Monday’s Bummed, Dinosaur Jr’s Bug, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa…and loads more. There must have been some acid house in there too.

And the thing is, they were damn right. We really had never heard anything like any of the artists named above (with perhaps the exception of Dinosaur Jr). Oh, I’m sure they would have raved about The Young Gods too – they always raved about the Young Gods. Anyway, everything was totally new back then: never before had we heard noise and power used as beautifully as My Bloody Valentine. Never before had we heard hip hop like Public Enemy. Even the Happy Mondays were doing strange funky things that were totally new.

I was 15 for most of the year, 16 by Christmas. 1988 was a formative year for me. Things would get a lot more exciting as rave flourished, De La Soul’s DAISY Age bloomed and My Bloody Valentine got even more blissed out. And clearly, the ages 16 to 22 are exciting enough anyway – even without a wholesale musical revolution to try and keep up with.

And keeping up with music was a difficult task back then. We had John Peel late nights on Radio 1. We had Melody Maker…that was about it until rave tapes, Kiss FMMixmag and then Jockey Slut came along. There was no way we could afford all the records we wanted and even with the joys of home taping, we were a long way short of being fully clued up. I still haven’t heard The Young Gods.

But I’m supposed to be writing about 2014, right? So we have pretty much the opposite state of play right now. The internet has bequeathed us an absolute overload of new music. That was really bloody exciting for a few years but for the last few I’ve found it tiring. A bit of a headfuck really.

However, in 2014 it seems that some sort of order might be coming about. Perhaps this order is only in my own brain as I manage to differentiate which sites and sounds I really like, as opposed to the ones that just sound interesting. But internet headfuck (or not) aside, it strikes me that 2014 might just be the best year in the history of music ever.

Yes, I was as surprised as anyone by that realisation. ‘Cos there sure as hell has not been any musical revolutions during the past year that I have been aware of.

However, I was browsing (nay, devouring) The Wire’s Reissues of the Year and it struck me that there are all sorts of fans of music exploring old music and curating it with a passion and attention to detail, which is both artful (that is full of art rather than cunning) and historically important.

Labels such as the fantastic Light in the Attic are presenting all sorts of beautiful forgotten gems to a much wider audience via the soundclouds, youtubes, blogs, magazines and message boards of another load of  rabid music fans. While the internet can be an almighty headfuck, in this context it is also an extremely virtuous circle.

So here’s a list of just some of the amazing reissues I have heard:

Lewis – L’Amour (Light in the Attic)

Caustic Window – Caustic Window

OK, just two then. But the stories behind both re-releases are almost as fantastic as the music within. But this is where things get really interesting. There’s a whole bunch of superbly curated historical compilations:

Gigi Masin: Talk to the Sea (Music from Memory)

Various: I am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990 (Light in the Attic)

Various: Native America, Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985 (Light in the Attic)

Various: I’m just like you: Sly Stone’s Flower 1969-70 (Light in the Attic)

Ariel Kalma: An Evolutionary Music (original recordings 1972 – 1979) (RVNG Intl.)

Then there’s a bunch of old music I’ve just listened to a lot this year, discovered in books or in the web’s echoes:

John Martyn: Live at Leeds and Inside Out

Donnacha Costello: Together is the new Alone

Daniel Bachman: Seven Pines

Pub: Summer and Do you ever regret a pantomime?

John Fahey – America and The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death and The Voice of the Turtle

Eliane Radigue: Trilogie de la Mort

Simon Fisher: The Epic of Everest 

Dennis Bovell: Ah who seh? Go deh! and Strictly Dub Wize

Blackbeard & Winstone Edwards: Dub Conference at 10 Downing Street

Marcia Griffiths: Play Me (Sweet & Nice)

And finally there’s all the new music that came out. Some of it I’ve only discovered in recent weeks. Special mention to the ever-reliable Resident Advisor’s end-of-year poll, which always throws up some gems that I never understand quite how I missed. Well, that’s the bad bit of this overwhelming flood of music I guess. A good year for dance/electronic music, not so good for hip hop: 

Mushrooms Project: Mix for Balearic Social

Call Super: Suzi Ecto

DBridge & Kid Drama: Heartdrive podcasts

Ekoplekz: Unfidelity

Aphex Twin: Syro

Kiasmos: Kiasmos

Francis Harris: Minutes of Sleep

Sebastian Mullaert & Ethan Reiter: Reflections of Nothingness

Fennesz: BECS

Imaginary Softwoods: The Path of Spectrolite

And some global sounds that rocked my world:

Ryley Walker: All Kinds of You

Gunn and Gangloff: Melodies for a Savage Fix

Tinariwen: Emmaar

Addis Pablo: In my father’s house

Suns of Dub & Walshy Fire: Present Suns of Dub (official mixtape)

Goat: Commune

Various: Glitterbeat – Dubs & Versions 1

Dub Addiction: Dub Addiction Meets Kampuchea Rockers Uptown

All of which makes brings me to the conclusion that while it might not quite have had the revolutionary impact of 1988, 2014 could well have been the best year in the history of music ever.

 

– My Musical Life 2013, 2012

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Saints are second…still

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Chelsea 6 12 16
2 Southampton 6 7 13
3 Man City 6 5 11
4 Arsenal 6 4 10

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ARMS on the South Downs

Al, Rich, Mike and Me; The Squire & Horse; Sussex Golden Ale; Charlie’s Farm Shop; Sheep; Gumber Bothy; a barn and a bed; a walk; too far to Cocking; off-piste; into a pit; flip flops bad; but good for paddling; oh so fresh water; Rave Gandalf; a pint and reminiscence of Steyning beatings; on the chalk; sweet Sussex cyder; BBQ; campfire; Mikey’s vodka; ouch; bacon and eggs; housemartins frenzy; hiking again; the Monarch’s Way; Charles II; The George & Dragon, Houghton, watering hole for King and Elephant; a childhood sweetheart not forgotten; pretty empty Amberley; another pint; cows; a wrong turn; no bloody bridge; how much further?!; marching; sheep; home sweet home; BBQ; no food; lots of cider; lots of laughs; sleep, breakfast; more sheep; home. x

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Lawrence English, listening with your body and dodgy London venues

“I think at home you’re only working with one set of ears. In concert you start using the body as an ear, and that’s where it gets interesting. There’s a kind of instant synaesthesia that happens – the sense of physical sound on the body and how that effects how you interpret sound with your ears, and that’s for me what I want to do with the concerts.” from FACTMAG interview with Lawrence English.

I like that concept. Nightclub/concert conditions are certainly best for this – that’s why we go to gigs and clubs. However, that is also why it’s so bloody disappointing when you go to a gig with shit sound. This is a HUGE bugbear of mine after recent(ish) gigs involving Erykah Badu at Hammersmith Apollo and De La Soul at The Forum were almost ruined despite pretty damn fine performances.

I meant to do some research into whether it’s the fault of the venue’s soundsystem, a poor choice of venue by the promoter or a poor choice of sound man by the artist. Hip-hop – particularly- seems to suffer in London venue. (Brixton’s Plan B is a wonderful exception but don’t even dream of going to see anything but rock at the Academy round the corner.)

All that aside, it’s totally possible to listen at home with your body. You might need to spark up the chalice but just turn it up, stand in close and soak it in.

 

 

 

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Why England are rubbish at football

I wanted to buy a decent football for my daughter for her birthday. I remembered how hard it was to kick a grown-ups’ football when I was a kid and I remembered how frustrating it was to kick a plastic ball that wouldn’t stay in a straight line.

The internet reliably informed me that size 3 is “the official soccer ball” for toddlers and young children under the age of eight. (Size 5 is the normal size for adults.) However, the internet couldn’t find me one to buy.

I thought that it would be nice to buy her the official World Cup ball, the Addidas Brazuca, but I could not find a size 3 Brazuca on Amazon, eBay, the official Addidas site or through a Google search, unless it was shipped over from the US.

Nevermind I thought, I’ll head into the West End to find one. First stop was John Lewis. The sports department apologised and suggested I try the toys department. The toys department didn’t seem to understand what I was asking for.

“A leather football. Size 3 is for kids,” I explained. They said they had a sponge one. When I said no thanks, they suggested I try JD Sports across the road. I thought they just sold trainers and t-shirts but I gave it a try.

The cheerful chap on the door looked at me quizically before asking his colleague. “We might have one downstairs,” he said rather doubtfully before explaining that downstairs was closed due to flooding. Nevermind, I thought as I left, there’s Nike Town across the road. Nike are doing the 2013-14 Premier League Official Match Ball – the Incyte – which went on sale on July 1st. (I’d discovered this while looking for the Brazuca on the internet.)

According to the Nike blurb: “Nike RaDaR (Rapid Decision and Response) technology maximizes the ball’s visibility allowing players to see the ball earlier and react quicker, while five-layer construction optimizes the feel of the first touch, allowing players to bring the ball under control quickly and with ease. A high-elasticity layer on the surface allows for a cleaner strike and helps the ball travel with more speed. The micro-textured casing also delivers a more accurate ball trajectory than before.”

That sounded good to me. Addidas could keep their Brazuca. I’m fussy but I’m not that fussy.

Nike Town could well be the coolest shop on the planet. Models of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar greet you at the entrance, shop assistans juggle footballs or bogle to banging dancehall. Nike Town really is a Nike advert come to life. It’s pretty amazing. One problem though – it doesn’t sell kids’ footballs. The very cool and very nice assistant suggested I try Sports Direct. I accepted his advice cheerfully but asked him to complain to his boss on my behalf. He said he would.

Sports Direct on Oxford Street is the opposite of Nike Town. There is no sign of glamour here. Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley piles them high and sells them cheap in the shop where he made his fortune. The new Oxford Street branch also loses coolness points for being on the premises of HMV’s old flagship store. The first shop assistant looked at me quizically – I don’t think she spoke English – and I said I’d look inside. The second assistant suggested I try a bin at the back of the store.

Yes! They had size 3 footballs! However, these shiny Sondico balls at £4 a pop didn’t look anything like the beautiful Brazucas or Incytes I had in mind. They looked pretty hideous actually – even the pink one that I thought my daughter might quite like. However, they didn’t have the pink one in size 3. I caught the eye of the nearest asistant and asked him if he had any decent balls in size 3 – perhaps an Addidas or a Nike one? I was directed to another bin. No joy. I took it into my own hands and decided to scour all the bins in the shop. No joy.

As I was leaving I noticed a rather snazzy Nike ball in a position of some prominence by the door. On closer inspection it turned out to be the Nike Incyte – the official match ball of the 2014-15 Premier League season. And just beneath it was a size 3! By this stage I could not believe I had found it. None of the assistants seemed to know it was there and the five-layer construction means it feels like no football I had ever held before. Perhaps it was a volleyball?

However, another assistant assured me it was the official ball and would probably set me back about 40 quid. “Oh, but it is quite small,” I protested.

He scanned it and told me it would cost £16.99. Hurray! Mission accomplished.

I was happy as I walked away but it left me wondering about England’s World Cup display and all the thought pieces and analyses that followed the team’s exit. Is it any wonder we’re so shit when it’s so bloody hard to find a decent kids’ football?

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Out of the mouths of babes part 3,345

Mika (4 yrs old): I want to listen to Frozen.
Me: I want to listen to my music cos we always listen to Frozen.
Mika: But I’m not used to grownups music.
Me: Well perhaps you should get used to grownups music?
Mika: But I’ll be used to grownups music when I’m a grownup.

True dat.

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