Musical Bloggery

The Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts is back this weekend and countless pairs of wellies are marching their merry way to Worthy Farm in Pilton, a village just outside Glastonbury in Somerset.

The welly-owners will have tents, sleeping bags and bog roll (which is all you actually need). They might also have a change of pants, booze, an inflatable mattress, waterproofs, sun-cream and cigarettes. Some may even have recreational drugs secreted about their person.

The BBC is making the 2013 festival available in ways we could only have dreamed of back in 1993, the fence will be about three miles high, countless A, B, C and Z-list celebrities will schmooze around a backstage area rumoured to have cost £3.7 million, and a basic meal of some soggy noodles with a dubious brown sauce will probaby cost a tenner.

What’s more, this will have set the welly-wearing public back £205. Yes, you heard me right, that’s £205. Plus booking fee.

Until a couple of days ago I was indifferent to the whole thing, but the coverage has become unavoidable and I have become misty-eyed, yearning after the utterly unique experience that Glastonbury provides.

There are other festivals of course – lots of them. Some have better line-ups, cleaner toilets, a more underground vibe, nicer food stalls and most of them cost a lot less then £205. But none of them are Glastonbury. It’s bigger, wilder, funnier, scarier and more intense than the others and nothing can touch it. So why am I not already wellied-up and heading down the A37, clutching a 5 litre bottle of scrumpy?

On Facebook this week, my good friend Crow mourned the passing of the Glastonbury of old. The free-festival spirit has gone; the festival is commercial and televised and full of tory twats, music business wankers and millionaire rock stars. It isn’t what it used to be. And you know what? He’s right; the old festival is gone, replaced by the behemoth we have today.

The question is, does it matter? There are plenty of smaller, intimate festivals catering for any taste in music or lifestyle you care to name, so should it matter that Glastonbury is big and populist?

I personally don’t think so. Today’s kids want this Glastonbury – they want to see huge bands, in (relative) safety, with (relatively) clean toilets and will pay for it. Others want to see the festival on TV and vicariously experience the thrills without hardships. At least some of the Glastonbury profits go to good causes

I have been to Glastonbury 5 times – thanks to everyone who helped me work that out – in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999 and 2000 and I got the festival I was looking for at the time.

It was never about the bands for me. I wanted the wilder side of it – all-night raves, watching the sun come up from the stone circle, braving the long-drop toilets, getting lost in the chaos and occasionally watching a band if I was in the right place at the right time.

The festival that Crow remembers was already gone by the time I got there in 1993. There used to be a free side-festival run by the travelling community in a field set aside for them by the organisers. You could leave the main festival, experience the free-party vibe and then head back for the headline acts on the Pyramid stage.

The last time this happened was in 1990. It was killed by a combination of escalating policing costs, worries about drugs at the all-night sound-systems, and a heavy-handed response by security to a minor incident leading to a huge fight with the travellers that has become known as the Battle of Yeoman’s Bridge.

By 1993 and 1994, the travellers’ field had become a myth. There was hushed talk of sound-system raves run by the travellers in the car-park fields, but as there were raves inside the fence as well it seemed like too much effort to walk that far.

In 1999 and 2000 it was almost impossible to find a proper all-night rave at all. The festival I loved was there if you looked hard enough, but Glastonbury was changing. People wanted to see the bands, and they wanted to sleep afterwards so they could see the bands the next day. Worst of all no-one cared what time the Ozric Tentacles were playing on the Avalon Stage!

The main reason I have avoided Glastonbury since (aside from the weather, and not having £205) is that it’s not aimed at me any more. I would wander around the familiar site, yearning for the old-days and getting annoyed at how it’s all aimed at teenagers with silly haircuts now.

This doesn’t mean I think it shouldn’t exist. I love the fact that there is still a Glastonbury Festival. It’s there to give today’s teenagers a chance to drink too much cider in the sun, try recreational drugs, shag someone who hasn’t washed for 4 days and, most importantly, get away from the worries and cares of the faintly miserable life that teenagers and young adults seem to live these days. And all this to a sound-track of the biggest bands in today’s music scene.

I have been to other festivals. Reading in 1991 and 1992, The Big Chill in 2003, Endorse-It In-Dorset in 2006, 2007 and 2008, Camp Bestival in 2009 and Bestival in 2010. I have been to day-festivals like the Boscombe Community Fair, the Global Gathering, Lovebox, the ill-fated Eclipse Festival on the Lizard, Ashton Court and Brisfest. This year, I am going to the Boomtown Fair.

But I won’t be going back to Glastonbury. I had four great years and one slightly dubious one at Worthy Farm (2000 was a bit much – the fence came down and an estimated 150,000 extra people appeared overnight).  I don’t want to spoil the (hazy) memories of those sun-soaked weekends. Plus, I only got rained on once, in 1999, and never had to wade through a thigh-deep mix of mud and overflowing toilets. I’m quitting while I am ahead.

If you are going I hope you have a brilliant time. Enjoy the music, live the life, lose some brain-cells and then remember it as fondly as I do. Give me a wave, I’ll be looking out for you on the telly coverage.


I popped home today to spend a bit of my lunchtime with the dog and, as usual, had BBC 6Music on in the kitchen. As I was getting ready to come back to work, 3AM Eternal by the KLF came on, and I spent a happy few minutes raving away in the kitchen and rapping along with Ricardo, much to the bemusement of the dog.

I have played the KLF on my occasional podcast, and even on my radio show, and they always go down a storm, particularly the three records that make up the Stadium House trilogy – What Time is Love?, 3AM Eternal and Last Train to Trancentral – which, along with the Tammy-Wynette-voiced Justified and Ancient, are the tracks by them that most people know.

More dedicated listeners might know the White Room LP, which was supposed to be the sountrack to a road movie they never finished, or Chill Out, which lays a good claim to being the first ambient house album (note the use of the word house in that sentence, ambient music had already been around a good while by then). How about the marvellously tongue in cheek America: What Time is Love? which pushed the production to the extremes used in American mainstream pop music at the time? Or Kylie Said to Jason, the ill-fated attempt to replicate their success as the Timelords from a few years earlier?

If you know your Kentucky Liberation Front folk-lore you’ll know that Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty started life as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (furthermore known as the JAMs) and released a couple of albums both of which were immediately deleted due to serious copyright infringements (of Abba and The Beatles to name just two). They also released one of my favourite ever techno records – the mighty It’s Grim Up North –  whose 8.53 running time consists of Drummond listing grim northern English towns over hammering beats before collapsing into a windswept rendition of Jerusalem. As The Timelords they managed a number one single with Doctorin’ The Tardis by mashing together a few glam standards with the Doctor Who theme. They even cheekily followed it up with a book called The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way).

Jimmy Cauty was also a key figure in the early life of the Orb, another obsession of mine. He was a member when they recorded A Huge Evergrowing Brain… but left before the release of Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. He also recorded a strange LP called Space which is an ambient concept album describing a journey around our solar system which came out on the KLF Communications label.

After their run of hit singles as the KLF, each one usually accompanied by a hilariously over-the-top appearance on Top of the Pops, they pulled off a series of increasingly anarchic stunts. They started in the music world by appearing with Extreme Noise Terror at The Brits to mangle 3AM Eternal (I have a 7″ copy of the recorded version of this that is one of my most prized possessions) before firing a machine gun full of blanks into the crowd and then appearing later the same evening to dump a dead sheep from a van onto the red carpet outside. They then moved on to the art world as the K Foundation, giving out an art award to the “worst artist of the year” and finally, in one of pop’s oddest but most majestic moments, burning a million pounds in cash in a hut on the Isle of Jura. As well as this, there are persistent rumours connecting them to the creation of several crop circles which apeared in the mid 90s.

They have released bits and bobs since then as the K Foundation and also as 2K, but these are a pale shadow of the hits from their glory days. So kick back, put on Chill Out, then get your rave on to the Stadium House trilogy for afters and celebrate the anarchic black sheep of pop. As you may remember from my post about Jack White, I am a firm believer that music isn’t just about music. Performance, image, style, delivery and myth all play an important part in really great music and all of them are sorely lacking in today’s bland pop landscape – come back KLF, we need you now more than ever!

If this little potted history of the KLF is not enough for you, there is a new book about them which I am very excited about but can’t read because it’s currently only available on Kindle. It’s called KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money and is by JMR Higgs. Paperback due 2013! In the meantime, us Kindle-less folks will have to make do with the extensive Wikipedia entry for the KLF and JAMs and the plethora of online rumour, gossip, folk-lore and fable surrounding King Boy D and Rockman Rock’s adventures in sound, art and performance.

I’m in a state… a real state.

The reason for this is the announcement this morning that Kevin Shields has nearly finished the long-awaited follow up to My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 Loveless LP. My feeling about MBV and Loveless have been covered on this blog before, so I expect you can imagine how eagerly I am anticipating the new LP (with an EP to follow next year!)

The thing is… will it be any good? Loveless was a great LP but wasn’t their best in my opinion. Will the new LP move back towards the more organic sounds of Isn’t Anything, or move across into more electronic territory? Or will it be an over-produced, more-of-the-same wash-out?

So I’m in a state, I’m excited beyond belief but braced for disappointment. Fingers crossed!

So there I am, aged 14 or so, happily listening to my cassette of Tango in the Night by Fleetwood Mac, my Iron Maiden albums and my Bon Jovi singles * when, on a holiday in the Lake District, my friend Andy plays me a scratchy tape copy of a song called Slow by My Bloody Valentine and all of a sudden I’m catapulted deep into droney shoe-gazing music, growing my hair and pestering my mum to buy me some 8-hole DMs.

I still remember what it felt like. In a moment I realised all I knew about music was suddenly wrong. Or if not wrong, then certainly out-dated and a bit embarassing. This new music had been made for me, by people that understood exactly what I like, how I felt, what appeals to me and what makes the hairs stand up on the back of my next. It felt like that song was a metal bar laid across the tracks of my musical taste, and when I hit it, it sent me careering in a new direction on a voyage of discovery.

These moments happen to us all. At least I hope they do, I can’t imagine being stuck with the same taste in music for ever and ever. If this is the sorry state you find yourself in, please accept my sympathies. Anyway, as my music taste expanded these moments happened a lot at first and less often later on, as finding anything genuinely unlike anything I’d ever heard before became statistically less and less likely.

It’s worth noting that these musical derailments aren’t necessarily caused by songs that go on to be your favorites. The second one I experienced was The Orb’s Peel Session version of the mighty A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld (Loving You). It was released in 1991 and played as part of Peel’s festive 50, to which I listened on my little radio in the dark when I was supposed to be asleep. It’s not my favorite Orb track now – in fact it’s not even my favourite version of A Huge Ever Growing Brain… ** – but it will always remain the tune that made me realise how spectacular electronic music can be.

So, after The Orb sent me sideways, the next moment came courtesy of Acen’s Optikonfusion remix of Close Your Eyes, a slab of hardcore rave music with a pitched up sample from The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun that signalled the beginning of my long love affair with rave, and the next when I heard Q Project’s Champion Sound, the track which led me deep into the heart of the jungle.

After many years of listening to electronic music to the exclusion of pretty much everything else, I was reminded how good real music is by Badly Drawn Boy’s Bewilderbeast and how good rock music is by The White Stripes’ Ball and Biscuit. In 2006 I finally worked out that folk music is a thing of wonder thanks to Flook and their track Gone Fishing. Most recently I discovered that a bit of country is a beautiful thing when I heard Dolly Parton’s stunning Little Sparrow in a youth hostel in Betws-y-Coed.

As I said, these moments are fewer and further between these days and I haven’t had one for a good few years, but I’m always looking for them because nothing beats that feeling of freefall when you realise everything you thought before was wrong and the world has just got a little better.

*By the way you’ll be pleased to know I have re-embraced Fleetwood Mac and Iron Maiden since that moment… but not Bon Jovi I’m afraid.

** This is my favuorite mix of A Huge Ever Growing Brain

I was fortunate enough to catch Hot Chip last night at Bristol’s O2 Academy, supported by Django Django. I was a bit worried about it, because I absolutely love their new album In Our Heads, but I had heard mixed reports about their live show.

It didn’t help that it was at the O2 Academy, a venue which is traditionally regarded as a little bit shit by many Bristolians. I’m slowly getting over this though, as with a little bit of effort a band should be able to make you forget where you are (despite the £4.50 cans of beer, Gaymers cider, overcrowded dance-floor, narrow stairways and smelly toilets). The Hives did it a couple of years ago, the Civil Wars and NoFX did it recently and last night, both Django Django and Hot Chip did it too.

I should probably mention I’m not a much of a reviewer – I can’t always remember what songs the bands played, and in what order, or the names of any of the band members – so I’ll leave that to someone else. All I can tell you is that Django Django were a really great surprise. I’d heard a couple of their singles on BBC 6Music and liked them in a background sort of way, but live the harmonies sounded a bit like Ride but with better beats and less floppy hair. Even better than vaguely sounding a bit like a band I liked back in 1990, some of the band members could play more than one instrument which is something I absolutely love to see! The crowd, initially dubious, really warmed to them and by the end of their set there were plenty of people dancing enthusiastically. Oh, and they did some quite long instumental groove sections (heavy on the percussion) and quite often didn’t stop between songs, both qualities I admire in a good live band.

So, the challenge had been laid down for Hot Chip and I am very glad to say they rose to that challenge. As a relative newcomer to their music I was waiting for tracks from In Our Heads and they played plenty of them, mixed brilliantly with stuff from their previous albums. Two songs in and the band came alive, relaxing into the wonky, soulful, electronica-infused indie music that they do so well. There was more instrument swapping, and plenty of simultaneous, multiple instrument playing too. There was attention to detail, at one point someone handed Alexis Taylor a guitar which he played for a whole 4 bars before handing it back! The music was soulful, funky, exciting and geekily clever, and the band were clearly having as much fun as we were. Oh, and they now have a sexy lady drummer, what more could you ask for?

Highlights? Night and Day was awesome live, These Chains was stunning despite losing the UK-garagey feel to the drums and they dropped from Ready for the Floor into a cover of Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac (a favourite song of mine from the first album I ever bought!), but pretty much everything was good. As with Django Django, there were moments where the band hit a groove in an instrumental section and just let fly, and with the light show and the shades wonky electronica it was easy to get a little bit hypnotised by it all. Who needs drugs when the music is this intoxicating?

So, lots of fun and pound-for-pound the best value gig I’ve been to for ages. I ache all over from dancing solidly for three hours and I have had yet another good experience at the O2 Academy. Now, it they could just clean those fucking toilets properly and stock a decent cider.

The weekend just gone saw the return of a decent music festival to the Ashton Court site in Bristol. Brisfest wasn’t quite like festival from the old days – you had to pay to get in for a start – but the line-up was well thought out and catered for exactly the sort of people who used to go to the old festival, but who weren’t always catered for musically. There was a metal tent, break-core DJs in one of the bars, a dome full of techno, a BBC introducing stage, a decent dance stage and a solid, eclectic line-up on the main stage with artists as diverse as Sheelanagig, Hawkwind and De La Soul. We had a sunny Saturday and a rainy Sunday, which was pretty good considering the summer we’ve had up to now.

However, there was a problem.

It being a Bristol festival, there was at least one band playing whose bio in the programme described them as “An incendiary blend of live drum and bass, dub, dubstep, bashment, breakbeat and world music with no backing tracks”. Now, I have no problem with dub, bashment, world music, or even breakbeat, and I don’t care much what you do as far as dubstep goes, but live drum & bass? This is a problem, and let me explain why…

Drum & bass – like techno, house and trance – is an electronic genre. It’s all about repetition, about the rhythm of the track, about loops and unchanging tempos and about creating a constant flow of music. It is strictly defined as bass-led, breakbeat music at 160-180bpm and I think it’s the breakbeat bit that causes the problems.

No-one makes ‘live’ techno, or ‘live’ trance, but bands assume that if they just play their drums at a drum & bass tempo and turn the bass up a bit, they’ve created drum and bass. They haven’t. All they’ve done is played a bit faster and turned the bass up a bit. The resulting music doesn’t have the hypnotic quality, the groove, the… electronicness (for want of a better word) which sets drum & bass apart.

If you listen to a proper drum and bass tune – let’s take for example Krust’s Soul in Motion – you can hear that although it shifts and evolves as the tune goes on, it is still recognisably a piece of electronic music. The metronomic, un-changing tempo is what makes it so perfect and allows DJs to work with it in the mix.

Now, it is possible to do drum & bass live, but only using computers, samplers, sequencers, drum machines and the like. As soon as you have live musicians, playing actual instruments and especially drums, at 160-180bpm, it ceases to be drum and bass and simply becomes fast soul, or fast funk, or fast something else.

There have been some valiant efforts (London Elektricity live, Reprazent) and some shitty ones (Blackout), but nobody gets it right because it simply isn’t possible. I’m sure the music is fun and lovely if you like that sort of thing, and the inherent energy of music at around that tempo is undeniable. Just don’t call it drum & bass, it can only lead to disappointment.

Is there anything more exciting than discovering new music? It’s even more exciting if the music you discover is by an artist who has been around a while, but who you’ve never checked out properly before. So not only do you have their new stuff on rotation, but there is also the delicious anticipation of digging into their back catalogue and potentially unearthing hidden gems. Kind of like digging up potatoes from a vegetable patch, only without the need to swarfega your hands afterwards!

I only mention this because I have just realised that Pink, the Four Tet album I downloaded from iTunes a few days ago, is absolutely brilliant. I’ve heard bits and bobs of his before (particularly Moth, his stunning collaboration with dream-garage legend Burial) as well as his Fabriclive mix, and I’ve been kind of aware of his existence since the mid-nougthies, but I’d always assumed his music wasn’t going to be my thing.

Turns out that he writes beautiful, interesting, rhythmic house/techno/electronica of the sort that makes me go weak at the knees. Now I’m hoping I was wrong, and that there are some delicious musical morsels squirrelled away that I can find as I go through his back catalogue.

Ah, how exciting!