Monday, December 29, 2008

Flamenco Metal: Rodrigo Y Gabriela

From: Amsterdam Weekly
Rising from the ashes of small-time Mexican metal band Tierra Acida, Rodrigo Y Gabriela are an acoustic guitar duo that may just make your parents interested in the finer works of Slayer and Cannibal Corpse.
Their unique style developed from time as modern day mariachi, busking on the streets of Mexico and Ireland, combine elements of metal, tradition flamenco and elegant classical guitar. In Ireland, with busking peers like Damien Rice, the duo soon went from the streets to cafes and galleries and onwards to the international stages of London’s Hammersmith Apollo and the WOMAD festival circuit.
On stage, the workload between the two is divided equally. Rodrigo noodles through high-speed solos and ethereal yet technical finger picking while Gabriela’s heavily percussive rhythmic style pays as much respect to Latin guitar as to metal’s finest rhythm sections (think of Lars Urlich and Cliff Burton as you listen Rod and Gab’s interpretation of Metallica’s “Orion”).
The composition of originals like “Vikingman” and “Juan Loco” switch from Latin grooves to “Flight Of The Bumblebee” ferocity, while “Tamacun” is like the soundtrack to a Columbian drug lord car chase, but the real crowd-pleasers come from the inventiveness of their covers.
Live, the duo are seated and spotlighted while the crowd, black-clad metal heads with their hair pony-tailed for the occasion, world music hippies and all guitar lovers in between assist in sing-a-longs to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”.
Whether fans knew the duo through their eponymous studio album Rodrigo Y Gabriela or via live recordings, they could rest assured that on the night the meticulous compositions aren’t ruined by ego-ridden improvisation. “Our solos are exactly what’s on the record” the duo insists. “As a metal fan and guitarist you always want to hear the same fucking solo!”

Coldcut: Cut n Paste Pirates

So the election is over and the good guys won with The O-bomb taking the office soon. But beforehand Brit electronic musos and political mischiefs Coldcut and the TV Sheriff got together and made this little media mash-up called Revolution 08. It is an update of Coldcut vs TV Sheriff: World of Evil produced for the 2004 US election mentioned in the below interview I had with Coldcut's Matt Black for Empty Magazine.

From: Empty
Matt Black snuggles deep into a beanbag reserved especially for interviews and pulls a doona over his knees to be comfortable for a chat. “It’s a bit cold in Ol’ Blighty” he says. I mention here in Sydney it’s 9pm and I’m sweating my ass off. He suggests we need an “Intercontinental Heat Exchange Mechanism (IHEM)” as if he’s already got the patent for it. See, Black is a man of action, utilising every piece of technology to create his arts. If the technology doesn’t exist, well he’ll create that too. But until he’s sorted the thermodynamics behind the IHEM we’ll sit on opposing ends of the earth coping with our respective situations.
Sound Mirrors, Coldcut’s first album in 10 years, is a cut ‘n’ paste masterpiece that blends hip-hop, breaks, bhangra, jazz and soul seamlessly with guests like John Spencer, Saul Williams and Roots Manuva. At the time of the interview, before it had dropped, file-sharing networks already had postings of the record. But Black, a computer programmer, and his Coldcut cohort and fellow Ninja Tunes record label owner, Jonathon More, an ex-art teacher, have also been pirate radio DJs among other titles of political and public provocation, so are in tune with what is happening. Black says while people are stealing their music, there can be a benefit to the piracy. “I tend to think with a person such as Madonna say, most people in the world have decided she’s rich enough and really, it doesn’t matter if they download her music. I’m not saying that’s right, that’s just what a lot of people think. Now most people in the world probably haven’t heard of Ninja Tunes. So as music gets shared and copied the Ninja Tunes vibe spreads to bunches of people who haven’t heard it yet and I reckon a certain number are going to want to partake in the Ninja thing and support us by buying our music. So from our point of view there are some good sides too. Having said that, labels are going out of business left, right and centre and it’s extremely tough at the moment. Hopefully our fans will buy the proper thing.”
Black and More aren’t the type to sit on their laurels. Pissed at being ripped off by record companies many years ago, they started Ninja Tunes, developing it into one of the finest independents around with hip-hop side-shoot Big Dada; between the two boasting the likes of Mr Scruff, Kid Koala, Roots Manuva and Hexstatic. Now, to deter the downloading public and promote the purchase of their CD they’ve shown ingenuity yet again. “On the new Coldcut website there will be parts only accessible if you’ve got an official CD, [it will] unlock areas and give you registration there. If you haven’t got that then you won’t be able to access the various goodies that we are going to put on the site,” explains Black.
Innovation is the name of the game. A few years ago Coldcut included their patented VJing software, VJamm, as an extra disc to a release. It’s the same software that Black uses on stage for mixing live video footage as More mixes the music. As another bonus for non-downloaders, the new album includes a data partition that will have a demo of “a much more sophisticated and exciting beast”, VJamm 3, the first version available in stores. Black elaborates, “It’s the same program and some of the same clips that we actually use in our live show. I went into the studio with a guy called Jungle Drummer from London Electricity, a leading drum ‘n’ bass outfit and filmed him doing some jungle breakbeats and I’ve cut them up and put them as samples into VJamm.”
Black’s creativity flows into another side project, an art installation engine called Gridio. It’s a VJamm based piece whereby people walking around the room trigger samples and make an audio visual type mix which is then projected around screens and speakers, controlled by the participant’s movement. It’s been featured in the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona and in Gratz, Austria, each time loaded with different material.
But is there a level of hypocrisy in Black’s attempt to debunk CD piracy while sitting on the huge catalogue of visual samples he uses in a VJamm performance? “We’re aware we can’t just take “King Of The Swing” from The Jungle Book and stick that on a DVD and sell it otherwise we’d get fucked. For the live show it’s fair use to cut and paste stuff from film and TV in the same way a DJ can mix records together but in terms of putting that on the release, one’s got to be more careful. We did licence visual samples on the track “Timber” from Let Us Play that a lot of people know us for. There is a native woman singing this rather lovely chant and we licensed that from the rights holder. I don’t know if she got any money though. We did a track called “Re:volution” a few years ago, a pretty funky political cut up track to celebrate the election and the excellence of our politicians. There is a great sample of Tony Blair saying ‘The lunatics have taken over the asylum’ which pretty much summed it up really; he gives a good sample, Ol’ Tone. We chopped it up and that was actually shown on MTV and was widely circulated. We kind of feel that politicians, the news and the media, they’re fair use really. We pay those guys’ salaries, and the news is the news – it’s what’s going on around us, it’s not just something owned by Rupert Murdoch.”
Coldcut’s anti-establishment ethos has been there from the beginning, in one form or another. With a patch over one eye and cheeky buccaneer-snarls, they were instrumental in the development of London’s premier pirate radio station, KISS fm with many other well-respected DJs. None more so than Norman Jay MBE, to which, of the heady days of KISS, Norman says “We didn’t play obscene records, strange records [yes], records that nobody else would play. We broke the radio mould in that sense, especially with forward thinking people like Jonathon More and Matt Black.”
Matt continues, “Any of us could have gone to gaol for being on that station and from a DJs’ point of view, worse, had our record collection confiscated. But KISS was very lucky. We never actually had a studio bust. We were technically a bit more sophisticated than some of the other stations and actually had microwave links from the transmitter to the studio, now you can’t trace a link like that very easily. So when the DTI who were the authority used to bust it they’d take the transmitter but they couldn’t bust the studio because they couldn’t find it. That was a piratical trick that sort of saved our bacon. But you can get two or three years for running a pirate station. I kind of feel the authorities felt that KISS was the more professional of the stations. We behaved ourselves and we were providing a type of music people wanted to hear which I think is the reason KISS eventually received their licence. I don’t want to big-up KISS too much because I’m not very keen on the way the station has gone since. But back in the day it was the sound of London. It’s interesting to see that process going on whereby the underground throw out that energy and get that love from the people and the commercial vultures sweep in, transform it and package it into just another flavour of hamburger. And then the underground would have to reinvent itself again.”
So as the underground is minced up, pressed into a patty and served with a double dose of cheese what can we expect from the backburner, on the fringes, bubbling and festering? Black and More moved pretty quickly to the Internet as broadband spread. Aside from their Solid Steel radio show allowing anyone in the world with a modem to listen in, they saw another opportunity – Guerrilla Netcasting as Black calls it. “ is another project that I started up a few years ago with collaborators which has been quite a training school, teaching people how to be their own TV station and do streaming media. Apart from just streaming music and entertaining people, there is also what we call dis-entertainment, which is entertainment with an activist thrust to it.” Not only did they host such varied guests as Radiohead and The Surveillance Camera Players but covered protests and served as a catalyst for free thinking. “When the Reclaim The Streets Mayday protests were kicking off in London we were actually getting footage brought up to the Coldcut studio and streaming out within half an hour of it being filmed so that people around the world could see what was going on there and get an unfiltered, unsanitised report from the frontline, rather than the propaganda version they’d show later in the news.”
More recently Coldcut took on the most powerful idiot in the world, in correlation with the US elections of ’04, collaborating with politically activated cut and paste artists such as Nomig as well as TV Sheriff for the project. “If you have a look on you’ll see this thing called Coldcut vs TV Sheriff: World of Evil and we did that for the American election which was a sort of a remix of the “Re:volution” track. We generally collaborate with people from different countries when we’re going to make a comment like that, to find out how they feel about their own country rather than steaming in and wagging a finger from abroad.” A quality the leaders of the free world could take on board.
And once more their scepticism in the powers that be comes to a front on Sound Mirrors, initiated immediately by the guitar-driven rollicking opener “Everything Is Under Control”. It finds American swamp rocker John Spencer howling the chorus and Mike Ladd’s grimy rap spitting shards of lyrics inspired by American free-thinker and psychedelic guru, Robert Anthony Wilson. “He wrote this book called Everything Is Under Control that is a run down on what goes on behind the scenes; how the banks work, who’s running things, different scandals. He doesn’t say this is the truth, you’ve got to believe it – he just puts out ideas for your consumption. His message is ‘distrust authority and think for yourself.”
Showing no sign of dissonance in music or in life after 20 years, Black and More’s stance reflects that of Robert Anthony Wilson’s message. “They’ve definitely inspired me to the attitude that you can do anything in music,” says George Evelyn of Nightmares On Wax, and owner of Wax On Records. As Coldcut continue to invent more methods to distribute their mayhem these pastiche pirates also inspire through independence and innovation artists like Evelyn for the future.

Coldcut’s Sound Mirrors is out now on Ninja Tunes

Surf Music: It's what you make it

As a music lover that grew up by the beach I’ve always been interested in the interplay between music and surfing. And I’m not just talking about how great Jack Johnson is.
Here are three examples:

The first of which is from Jbrother's Longer, where Joel Tudor dances on water to Errol Garner’s shuffling Misty. Watch Joel’s movement, his feet and board, in time to the music. He’s like a ballroom dancer without the spandex and fake tan. Jbrother knew what he was doing. Thanks to Michael Fordham at the September Project for enlightening me to this piece of film.

The second granted is cliché (and a plug for yours truly) but transplants you to a certain time and place with 8mm film to the tune of Sydney’s premier surf band of the 60s era The Atlantics and their song "Flight of the Surf Guitar" -– the title of which is a homage to classical piece Flight of the Bumblebee, this is film shot by my father from back in the day, up and down Australia’s East Coast. The film finished in the Top Ten the Insight 300sec International Film Festival

The third piece is from Surfica Musica where surfing legend Derek Hynd, Two time world champ Tom Carroll and others gathered with classical musicians lead by Richard Tognetti. The fiddles sound so raw and sharpe, the horse hair biting at the strings as surfboard rails carve into the faces of waves. The film won this year’s New York Surf Film Festival.

Of course, 99% of the time it’s film splices music and surfing into an artistic threeway. However I am a firm believer that when you get off the couch and into the water with a song you love in your head you’ll surf better than if you’ve got a shitty song stuck in your melon. That can be anything from the slow groove of gangsta rap scoring the smooth glide of a longboard or a shortboard beachbreak session to some skittling bebop jazz. Hell, if Britney is your bag, have at it. Whatever makes you dance.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Interview with Chopper: a mad man's rap sheet

From: Empty
This is old but it wasn't on the web anywhere so I wanted to post it. A while back I had the scary privilege of interviewing Mark Brandon Read aka Chopper. The gangster/author/comedian/painter had just added rapper to his bow with the album An Interview with a Mad Man, produced with some of Australia's underground rappers. Admittedly (I write safely from the other side of the globe) it was a damn shit album, but for Chop's spoken word moments, which are fucking classic. Anyway, Chop Chop has put out a new song with a hip-house artist Ace Wonder featuring Bukkcity, and a sample from the gangster - it's pretty shit. Listen here. Chop has proved himself a best selling author, a successful painter and great comedic story teller and with his criminal past he's got serious street cred. He just needs to learn to edit his output to maintain a bit of artistic cred. He don't know shit about shit when it comes to dance music. But in my eyes that's a compliment, he listens to original alt-country heros like David Allan Coe, Guy Clark and Steve Earle. Alas I've said too much, here's the story.

Excerpt from Interview with a Madman
“This is Mark Brandon Chopper Read. This is a message for all those journalists and music experts that are going to review this album and they’re gunna put shit on my musical ability and my rhyming and my singing ability and my being involved in this particular genre of music, Well, fuck youse all and that’s all I can say, fuck youse all. Go and get a dog up the whole lotta ya.”

This is my first interview with an ex-felon, what shouldn’t I ask you?
“You can ask me anything you like mate, I couldn’t care less.”

On the phone, at a nice safe distance, Mark Brandon Read is a man of few words unless provoked on one of two topics: his enemies of either the underworld or the art world; or on self-promoting. The latter he is brilliant at; not just is he a made man, he’s a self-made man.
Since publishing his first memoir Chopper 01: From The Inside, in 1991 from jail, Chopper has been under ridicule by the media and art critics for capitalising on his crimes and gangster lifestyle. Of course they’ve only added fuel to the fire by beating up the situation. He repeated the tried process for another few books, naming names and illustrating his torturing repertoire with titles Term of His Unnatural Life, How To Shoot Friends and Influence People before swinging into fiction with The Singing Defective and The Popcorn Gangster and – much to the dismay of uptight parental bodies – the world of children’s books with Hooky The Cripple illustrated by Adam Cullen, and an adults only fairytale The Adventures of Rumsley Rumsfelt. And while he didn’t make a penny from Chopper the biopic of his tumultuous gangster life, it certainly bolstered his profile to become Australia’s anti-hero, a title the man himself embraces whole-heartedly. From author he moved to stand-up comedy, meanwhile selling out an entire collection of 150 paintings, one of which sold for $8000. With everything he’s published, publicised and joked about, it’s debatable whether actions do speak louder than words as he’s more famous now in a multitude of the arts than he was infamous as a gangster. And considering he claims to have killed 19 people in his previous career that’s a very big challenge.

How did this record come about? Did you approach Rott’n?
“I met this young kid doing work experience and he was helping out with the film crew and he said “do you want to do a rap song with me?” and I said “Why should I?” and he said “well I just work at Pizza Hut in my spare time.” And I agreed to help him out cos he was a young kid and he had a dream. So three years later he had earned $30,000 from Pizza Hut to put the CD together so I helped him out to do the CD. His name is Jesse and he is Rott’n Records.”
What do you say to those people that are going to cast this off as another way of profiting from your crimes?
“Well screw them, I’m the only real-life gangster doing gangsta rap in Australia. I mean hip-hop has got a fascination with the criminal world. I’m the only real criminal doing hip-hop. I’m the only one that’s shot anybody, right. Who else has all these other hip-hoppers shot? I mean how many people have 50 Cent ever shot? Who’s he shot and killed? He’s killed fucken no one, he’s shot nothing. And yet they put a lot of emphasis on their criminal credibility, they’ve got none at all. So to all my critics ‘screw you. You’re all a bunch of faggots and peanuts.’ Ya know, who are they? They’re just a bunch of fairy boys. Nancy boys, the lot of ‘em.”
What style of music do you normally listen to?
“I listen to Country music, David Allen Coe.”
Did Jesse or any of the guys get you interested in other rappers?
“No, they got me disinterested. ‘Cos the ones I heard were a bunch of faggots.”

Rejecting the hip-hop community by calling them a bunch of faggots is no big deal for Chopper who has always chosen to create his art as an outsider.
And while it might be the artist – it’s more likely the entrepreneur in Read that has him immediately deliver to the market whatever he has just created and simultaneously adopting the appropriate title; be it author, painter, gangsta rapper or straight gangster, with all others in the game becoming competitors rather than colleagues.
How many other luminaries in Australian pop culture can brag about wearing so many successful hats? Unlike high culture, pop culture succeeds on name brands, slogans, diversification and quick returns and the Chopper Read tag is an extremely saleable product – to quote “rival” rather than “fellow” gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg, “I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind”. Shit, shouldn’t Chopper have an action figure by now? Either way you know you’ve made it when you’re the victim of a knock-off or parody.

What are your thoughts on the Ronny Johns Half Hour impersonations?
“I like that, yeah that’s good. He does me pretty well… Well, he impersonates Eric Bana pretty well.”
And of Eric Bana’s role and the way the film portrayed you?
“I didn’t mind Eric’s role. The movie was 80 percent true and 20 percent bullshit. He did a good role, he’s a good impersonator, he’s not a good actor. He’s a good mimic, he won’t win an academy award but he’s a good mimic.”
At the beginning of one song on your album you shit on Tarantino’s depiction of cutting off ears (from Reservoir Dogs). To the law-abiding citizen it was a pretty gruesome torture yet you lopped your own ears.
“I thought that was a shit scene, there was no blood. When you cut somebody’s ears off there is blood all over the place, they just don’t stop bleeding. I lost nine and a half pints out of cutting my ears off. They didn’t even stop up on the operating table. They had to put plasma into me, as a blood transfusion. It’s like putting on two taps on the side of your head, pissing out red blood. Fucken for hours. And he didn’t have any blood on him, that copper that had his ear cut off. That Tarantino knows fuck all about cutting off ears. He shouldn’a done it, unless he checked up with someone that cut off their fucken ears and found out about the blood, he shouldn’a put that scene in the movie.”
So what could one expect being stuck in the middle with Chop Chop, what’s your favourite torture mechanism?
“A blow torch between the toes?”
Oh Fuck, did they scream?
“Fucken oath they scream.”

Torched tootsies aside, along with Chopper’s media persona and wrap sheet, it seems he’s is a nice guy – given that he can muster up some kudos for the impersonators and that he helped a young guy with a dream. In Tasmania where he now resides, he’s considered a fine citizen and a polite and gentlemanly customer at his local café. In his own words from the record, “I may be a stand over man but I’m a stand up bloke”. He claims he’s never harmed an innocent person, picking only on the murderers, drug-dealers, pimps and general human filth. He’s also volunteered his time to produce campaigns to stop the abuse of women and drink-driving. The latter featured Read speaking to camera in his kitchen, undoing his shirt and revealing the many scars he received while in gaol: a slash in the face; a butcher’s knife here and an ice-pick there before threatening to the viewer if they’re unfortunate enough to hit somebody while under the influence “you ought to pray to God that you don't go to prison.” The advertisement won a coveted Cannes Gold Lion in 2001 for Saatchi and Saatchi Australia.

You’ve got a number of scars on your body, explain what it’s like to be stabbed in the back, literally?
“I got stabbed in the guts too. It just feels like a big heavy punch with a cold needle in the middle, cos the knife blade is cold. Where as the bullet feels like a big heavy punch with a hot needle in the middle because the bullet comes out of the gun hot.”

And like the scars he’ll bear for life, reminding him of his jail-time, are his tattoos. It would seem none of which he regrets; not even the “SHAZ” across his wrist. They’d get the ink through the education system in gaols – “tie a needle to a matchstick with cotton, dip it in the Indian ink and go for your life. Jet black Indian ink and it comes out blue on the body.”

You started the longest gang war in Pentridge Jail history that lasted five years. What did you fight over when you’re in jail with nothing?
“I just didn’t like their fucken heads, that’s it. So I attacked them.”
How would you go in gaol these days?
“I’d go alright, as long as I could recruit an army of young blokes to back me up. At 51 years old naturally I couldn’t handle myself against young blokes these days, don’t be fucken ridiculous, ya know. 51 years of age, give us a fucken break. But if I could recruit half a dozen mentally ill young blokes and arm them to the teeth I’d take the fucken jail over.”
And that’s what you did at Pentridge?
“Yeah, fucken oath.”

After Pentridge Chopper was moved to maximum security at Jika Jika doing three and a half years in Unit 2. “It was 23 hours lockdown a day, with one hour to yourself for a shower, a shit and a shave,” he explains on of the album tracks. “It was mental and emotional fucken torment. You’re sitting there like a shag on a rock for bloody years, it’s pretty fucken hard. Go in when your twenty, come out when you’re thirty.” Maximum security consisted of only three prisoners, himself and two others. Life took its toll on the other poor souls, both now passed away.

So is prison the right way to rehabilitate someone so they can rejoin the community with both parties safe in the knowledge that they won’t re-offend?
“No. I don’t know [what is] but prison is not the answer. You’re not going to rehabilitate anyone in jail. But then again you’re not out to rehabilitate them.”
Are you still looking over your shoulder for gun-toting enemies?
“No. Thanks to the Melbourne gang wars that have been going on since 1998 every enemy of mine on the face of the living earth have been killed off.”

Nowadays Chopper is back in the community and fitting in just fine as a celebrity, busy signing autographs wherever he goes. What with his trademark handlebar moustache, his missing ears and the blue markings that look like he passed out at a party, he’s not the most inconspicuous man.

Interview With A Madman is out now on Rott’n Records through Shogun Distribution.
Mark Chopper Read

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Hosers!

Merry Christmas Hosers.
I got a John Wayne poster, Hospital by Toby Litt, two awesome bow ties, speakers for my computer and I gave the gift of music – 7 inches for everyone! HO HO HO

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All Killer, No Stocking Filler Holiday Season Playlist: Songs for the Discerning Caroler

From: Time Out Amsterdam
In case you’re already bitter from festive cheer and Xmas muzak we've put together this ‘All Killer, No Stocking Filler Holiday Season Playlist: Songs for the Discerning Caroler’. Unfortunately we can’t actually make it and send it to you personally but all these tracks are easy to download from your favourite online music source. We even found some Hanukkah and Kwanzaa tunes to mix things up a bit.

1. Polyphonic Spree – Happy Christmas (War Is Over) No better band could cover Lennon and Ono’s kaleidoscopic Christmas carol than this robed choral cult.
2. Ben Folds – Bizarre Christmas Incident Rollicking and rambunctious, Folds’ eggnog is spiked and Santa is stuck up a chimney.
3. Sufjan Stevens – That Was The Worst Christmas Ever! Yuletide ukulele by a repeat offender – seek out his box set of five Christmas EPs.
4. Woody Guthrie – Hanukkah Dance Ironically, Jewish artists wrote many Christmas jingles like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and “White Christmas” while Guthrie penned this charming Jewish barn-dance ditty.
5. The Eels – Christmas Is Going To The Dogs One for the mutt-lovers. Don’t forget Rover’s gift under the tree… or he’ll chew yours.
6. The Walkmen – New Years Eve A jangly, drunken, end-of-the-party tune that sees in the New Year with a one-night stand.
7. The Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) Calling a truce for the evening, Punk’s parents wonder where Santa’s magic has gone.
8. The Wombats – Is This Christmas Liverpudlian scallywags recall an imperfect English Christmas with dinner table fights and sleet instead of snow.
9. U2 – New Years Day Whether echoing the plight of Poland’s first non-communist trade union or just about being hung over on January 1, it’s a classic.
10. Spinal Tap – Christmas With The Devil “The elves are dressed in leather and the angels are in chains, the sugar plums are rancid and the stockings are in flames”. Nuff said.
11. Adam Sandler – Hanukkah Song Who knew so many words rhymed with Hanukkah. Spark up the menorah (and some “marijuanikkah”) for the Festival of Lights.
12. Death Cab For Cutie – The New Year “So this is the New Year, and I don’t feel any different.” How often does the night stand up to expectation, or you by your resolution?
13. Run DMC – Christmas In Hollis Christmas rapping (pun intended), the Queens trio find urban middle ground between Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and Death Row’s Christmas compilation.
14. Georgia Anne Muldrow – The Kwanzaa Song Connected to African harvest time, the continent’s worldly diaspora celebrate the seven days of Kwanzaa (Dec 26-Jan 1). Muldrow gives a Kwanzaa shout out from hip-hop label Stones Throw (Check out their Badd Santa Xmas compilation).
15. The LeeVees – How Do You Spell Channukkahh? Indie pop-punk with tongue in cheek (yet no Yiddish inflection in throat) from their Hanukkah Rocks album.
16. The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl – A Fairytale of New York The season’s most heralded Christmas song – a debauched tale from a Christmas Eve drunk tank.
17. Mary Margaret O’Hara – What Are You Doing New Years Eve? A shuffling, smoky croon closing with Auld Lang Syne’s chorus for that twelve o’clock kiss.
Further downloading: Manic Street Preachers – Ghosts of Christmas, Smashing Pumpkins – Christmastime, AC/DC – Mistress for Christmas, Yellowman – This Christmas, The Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick. And find even more at Brooklyn Vegan

Monday, December 22, 2008

Kraak en Smaak

From: Amsterdam Weekly
You know you’ve made it when American cop shows with initials in their titles are using your songs. Leiden’s upbeat, funky breaks trio Kraak en Smaak scored just that with feelgood single ‘Squeeze Me’ earlier this year. That said, they don’t really need CSI’s help—the song’s own video, of flick-book trick photography was cool enough for Kanye’s tick of approval. Their most recent album Plastic People, has been a huge break-out overseas, allowing them to tour the world, sell out New York gigs and appear on US talk shows. Onstage, it switches between DJ and band mode, but Tuesday night's show will see a busy stage with singer, MC, drums, bass, keyboards and percussion to leave a crunchy after-taste. (Colin Delaney) Paradiso, Grote Zaal, 20.00, €12.50 + membership.
Note: Name not actually a reference to hard drugs – actually translates from Dutch to English as "Crunchy & Tasty".

A night out in Amsterdam

After a recent Tricky show at Amsterdam's Paradiso I hung around out the front to ask a few punters, some coming out of Tricky, others going into a hiphop show, where the best night spots are to go out.
If you're coming to Amsterdam soon and want to find where the cool kids hang, rather than just sitting in the Leidseplein at a tourist's bar, listen closely.
Pass the Dutch.

Maintaining the Rage?

The below article, Maintaining the Rage: Rocking with a Conscience I wrote for Rolling Stone Australia's 2006 Year Book. Two years on and the Make Poverty History engine that was once chugging away, working hard, collecting every celebrity and do-gooder in its path has now lost all steam. Nine days from 2009 and the website outlines their goals for 2007 with no '2008' tab to speak of.

So what happened? Gone are the lame wrist bands. Gone is Lord Bono. Gone too is his son, Christ Martin, who realised if he stopped trying to save the earth and focused on tunes he could write an interesting pop record again. Gone is John Butler, with his dreadlocks went his political activism. And gone are Liam Nesson and Jamie Foxx clicking their fingers in front of a white background that I always thought was just a really intense ad for GAP.

Or can we just assume that the whole thing worked a treat. Passing the hat around at a rock show really did the trick and that poverty was indeed made history. Hell, not only did we Make Poverty History but we Rocked the Vote as well. There's a democratic President about to take the seat, and he's Black to boot. It's all coming up Bono. So I guess Eddie too can stop writing politically-charged rock songs and get back to his grungy and introspective Clinton-era ways. Break out the cigars. Here's the text.

Maintaining The Rage: Rocking with a conscience
Music fans and activists at Melbourne’s Make Poverty History concert were treated to a surprise appearance by Pearl Jam and Bono at the November 17 2006 event. The duo, dubbing themselves U-Jam added international clout to the concert that already featured local artists the John Butler Trio, Jet, Paul Kelly, Eskimo Joe and Sarah Blasko. The CEO of World Vision Australia, chairman of Make Poverty History Australia, Minister Tim Costello also took to the stage.

Pearl Jam and Bono opened the show with a stirring and alternate rendition of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”, a song that Pearl Jam have been playing live for many years.

“It was very cool to be present for that moment,” says John Butler. “That chorus is like the beacon of hope in the song. So in the Make Poverty History context it seems very relevant to me. We’ve got a long way to go to make progress and globalisation fair and sustainable for all human beings on this planet. That's why we got to "keep on rocking in the free world”, otherwise ‘the dream’ is just a joke.”

While U2’s main business in Australia was a national tour based more on feel-good anthems than overt songs of protest or activism, Bono had arrived wearing not only his trademark sunglasses, but the hat of a diplomat. “He’s the only historical figure I know who can play both the prophetic outsider role and loudly criticise governments and then play the insider role and go into the halls of power whether it’s the White House or Downing Street and cut deals for the poor,” says Costello. This was no more apparent when Costello issued a challenge to his brother, Treasurer Peter Costello to meet with Bono and discuss Australia’s international aid contributions towards the Global Fund.
While Bono’s post-meeting statement was diplomatic, vague and generous towards the results, Tim Costello continues to underline his relevance. “In the past he has influenced Bush to change America’s contribution from millions to 14 billion to the Global Fund and it’s American version.”

Three weeks earlier at the ARIAs Midnight Oil was inducted into the Hall of Fame. The rock ‘n’ roll bureaucrat Bono introduced them in a pre-recorded tape that stressed the importance of the Oils and their contribution not only to the Australian musical landscape but also the World’s. Silverchair then took to the stage with a powerful rendition of the Oils’ “Don’t Wanna Be The One”. At the end of the performance Daniel Johns graffitied “PG 4 PM” in stark white spray paint against the black backdrop – taking former Oil’s frontman and recently elected Labor frontbencher Peter Garrett by surprise.

As spokesman for the Oils, Rob Hirst seized the opportunity to ruffle a few feathers within the Australian music industry, and spark a debate to an audience of millions as to whether Australian music still has any fire in its belly. He said “Last week GW Bush finally admitted that Iraq may prove to be his Vietnam, but Vietnam inspired some of the greatest protest songs ever written. Not so now, surprisingly, even when hundreds of thousands of Australians crowded our streets to demonstrate their opposition to another senseless war. Maybe complaint rock is still being written, but it’s ignored by an industry hypnotised by get-famous-fast TV shows. Bless you, John Butler, but you shouldn't have to do it all by yourself.”

Hirst’s comments pushed Butler into the spotlight. He says “I think Rob was speaking generally, and generally on the mainstream commercial airwaves, I would say there isn't a great deal of strong opinions other than that of love. Which is great and all but for any other kind of opinion, especially those of dissent, it's rare to find. The only song I can think of in recent times that was saying something about our political climate on commercial radio was Powderfinger's "The Day You Come" speaking of the rise of the fascist One Nation party and leader Pauline Hanson. However, the minute you go even a little underneath the mainstream one finds there is an enormous wealth of acts speaking out about what's going on in our society.”

Bernard Fanning agrees that the protest voice has not been completely lost. Later in the ARIA evening, as he received an award for Album of the Year for his debut solo album Tea and Sympathy he replied to Hirst’s comments. He said it wasn’t solely John Butler who was standing up for change but he accepted the challenge and called on more artists to do the same.

Craig Mathieson, senior writer for Rolling Stone and author of The Sell-In suggests the meaning in music does exist but has been buried a little deeper. “It’s now far more subtle. Part of the ‘80s political vibe was very obvious, very "I'm rockin' in my blue singlet and singing about steel workers while taking 20 grand off the door deal". There was more back then, but some of it - not Midnight Oil - was a pose. Now you have a Powderfinger, a Herd, a Drones, etc, but no-one wants to be deliberately anthemic in covering politics. Today, to me, we're a far more sophisticated audience. Grand gestures from previous eras now appear either corny or staged.”

Tim Levinson aka Urthboy from the politically active hip-hop collective The Herd says, “Political music and ‘complaint rock’ as Rob Hirst put it, is not cool. There are various ways of presenting music that is perceived as cool and political music is not that I believe. Quite often you are categorized or dismissed as one trick-ponies. Often people will think, well I’ve heard that before.” Levinson believes the audience are more infatuated with escapism. He elaborates, “There are people who are getting a few little political bits into their music but it’s certainly not perceived as being an appealing way to take your music. A lot of bands are influenced as what they perceive as being exciting. In the last few years it’s gone from a revival of rock ‘n’ roll to this 80s haircut style of band and that’s considered edgy and yet anyone making political music is instantly going to divide any potential audience they have.”

“In Australia,” says Mathieson “it's worth noting that we have no history to match America's - we didn't have the music of the 60s, we don't have an ‘Ohio‘ or ‘Fortunate Son’ as inspiration. Is it cool here? Not particularly, but if you can do it as well as The Drones do on ‘Jezebel’ - a black box recorder for the 20th century that explodes into future tense - then it's impossible to deny”.

A recent case study by Jenny Waterhouse of Queensland University of Technology proves the major players in the music industry aren’t willing to take risks and will only release what is tried and tested, the ‘get-famous-fast TV shows’ as Hirst put it, leaving the confrontational songs alone. Adding weight to Butler’s comment that Hirst was referring to the mainstream, to commercial radio and television. It’s the reason why frustrated artists such as The Herd took the independent road as John Butler did, creating their own record company Elefant Traks to release their music and be able to make their statements without the bureaucracy of a major record company.

Pearl Jam, have proved you can make political music on a major label while being one of the biggest bands in the world. Their self-titled album of 2006 featured “World Wide Suicide” (which reached #2 on the Billboard Mainstream rock chart) and went on a tirade against the Bush administration. In the past they’ve had equally politically-edged songs “Do the Evolution” and “Bushleaguer”.

In 2004 Pearl Jam were one of the main acts on the Vote For Change tour held in cities that were considered swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and the critical Ohio. Other artists included Dixie Chicks, Neil Young, Jackson Browne and Death Cab For Cutie. While the tour was considered a success in raising money and awareness none of the states went differently than expected, with Ohio staying with Bush, despite the tour holding six concerts there.

On the band’s website is a link to Rock the Vote that aims to inspire young Americans to become politically active. Vedder and Pearl Jam have been strong voices against the Bush Administration. There is a strong activism component that links to a number of organizations and likeminded websites dealing with Arts and Education, health, the environment, women’s issues and Native American rights. There is also an explanation of their Carbon Portfolio Strategy – an effort to advance clean, renewable energy and carbon mitigation within the band, from daily routines to the heavy emissions that come with touring. The aim to be carbon neutral is also followed by the likes of the Dave Matthews Band and Dixie Chicks.

But whether musicians are using the message within a song to provoke and agitate as Hirst claims, or not, it seems they still have a conscience. Many artists are happy to lend their voice, their music and their time, as well as money to a good cause. As well as the Make Poverty History concerts there has also been November’s Legs Eleven in Sydney’s Domain that brought together Tex Perkins and Tim Rogers, Sarah Blasko, Bob Evans and more raising money and awareness for breast cancer research. John Butler has in the past donated a percentage of ticket sales from his tours to organizations such as the Wilderness Society, Save Ningaloo Reef Campaign and the Refugee action coalition. On his recent Funky Tonight tour, one dollar from every ticket sold went to the campaign to stop the proliferation of the Uranium Industry in Australia.

Likewise Fanning earlier in the year gave the proceeds of the only official single from Tea and Sympathy to Youngcare an organization that helps create appropriate care facilities to those young adults suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. He also, with Kasey Chambers played a benefit show at Brisbane’s City Hall in June.

Across the other side of the globe the likes of Chris Martin and Coldplay have felt the philanthropic pull towards Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign. Although Martin doesn’t expect or want to be the next Bono, and while he’s well-versed on the subject, he said on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton in July “I think we can make as meaningful a contribution as Beyonce can to L'Oreal. That's what I feel we can do. We don't necessarily have the answer on Fair Trade and we don't necessarily know anything. We know probably a little more than some people, but we're not experts. Even if it's just advertising the two words, then it's just in someone's head. When you're not a politician and you start getting involved in politics, people are a little wary of it.”

Tim Costello head of World Vision says the general public are suspicious of politics but believes it’s the politicians that turn them away, saying, “I think 95 per cent of the Australian population aren’t really interested in politics. They focus on their own lives and politics is blur, something they consider at election time. They are interested in music, that’s why they listen. When Paul Kelly or Bono speak about the poor, they listen. For politicians they generally don’t listen. They’re just not interested. They’re so used to politicians slagging off at each other for political advantage that they discount the value of the words, the words don’t have the gravity.”

But time’s are a changin’ and the recent Labor leadership changeover in December 2006 safely installing Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as Leader and deputy respectively saw Garrett move into a more prominent position on the front bench – appealing to a younger generation of voters and environmentalists, a necessary shift in the eyes of Costello. “Garrett is one of the few politicians that for people who aren’t interested in politics, actually listen for who he’s been. His long history of connecting his music with his values has won deep respect.”

Along side Chris Martin is Radiohead’s Thom Yorke who has backed Make Trade Fair and who’s albums like Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief as well as his recent solo album The Eraser are filled with protest songs. Of Bono’s ability to meet with politicians he’s said in the past “the difference between me and Bono is that he's quite happy to go and flatter people to get what he wants and he's very good at it, but I just can't do it. I'd probably end up punching them in the face rather than shaking their hand.”

With a more cynical opinion on the benefit concerts and the power and clout of rockstars, a group of independent artists from the US and Canada teamed up with UNICEF, to not only raise money but mock a few of history’s greatest rock charity moments. Artists such as Beck, Karen O, Thurston Moore, Buck 65, Peaches, Comedian David Cross and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark as well as members of Islands, Postal Service, Sum 41, Wolf Parade and more under the guise of the North American Hallowe’en Prevention Inc recorded download-only track “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en”. The track aimed to raise funds and awareness of UNICEF’s tradition of Trick-or-Treat for Halloween wherein kids help kids by going door-to-door collecting donations rather than lollies.

The song’s inspiration stemmed from a frustration with other benefit songs’ often patronising attitude and western-centric worldview – a belief in tune with the July 15th New York Times editorial that said Live 8 and the Make Poverty History campaign was an “insult both to Africans and to common sense” – the song mockingly begs the rest of the world to help stop the terror and atrocities that spread throughout North America every October 31.

“You can’t completely front on those events because they are bringing an awareness about these issues” says Levinson. “As much as cynics would like to say it’s just rubbish. It is focusing people’s attentions, but I’d be surprised if there were any great outcomes. You put on these shows that are all attached to the draw card of celebrity and it becomes another New Weekly/Who Magazine kind of event. People can feel good because they’re supporting a good cause. If that contributes to people being engaged by topical issues, and where people say ‘actually it’s cool again to not only give a fuck about ourselves' that’s good. These are generally great 'good vibe' events but I’d like to see more attention to outcomes."

Hirst speaks with the same passion he has had for nearly 30 years and with the aim to provoke, inspire and agitate. It’s not John Butler doing it all himself but if Hirst’s comments force ears to prick up, inspire other musicians to become active and aggravate those complacent ones then the torch that Midnight Oil burnt can be passed on.

While the message may not be in the content of the music like it used to be – brandished earnestly with blue singlet bravado – artists like John Butler, The Herd and The Drones are still writing challenging music, but as Mathieson puts it, with subtlety. In other ways artists like Hilltop Hoods, Silverchair, and Sarah Blasko maintain the rage in their actions with a palpable move from apathy to activism. And there will always be international supergroups like Pearl Jam, Coldplay, Green Day, P. Diddy and his 2004 “Vote Or Die” t-shirt and of course U2, who choose to use their super powers for good, rather than evil.

Published in Rolling Stone Australia's 2006 Yearbook.

Amsterdam Gig Guide

From: Amsterdam Weekly.
Here's the gig guide until the end of the year. It's pretty quiet at this time of year around here. There's a few parties going on and plenty of festive cheer in the classical world but as far as live music goes it's a bit slow. That said, here are my picks. Tonight, Monday 22 December, you could anti-up, and head out into the cold-as-ice weather for G Unit'sM.O.P at Paradiso. Or alternatively catch Rusty Santos' colourful project, The Present in the small hall.
Tomorrow, Tuesday 23, Leiden lads done good Kraak en Smaak whip up something tasty again at the Paradiso. Saturday 27 see local old-timer swamp rockers Claw Boys Claw team up with Melbourne Australia's Cosmic Psychos at Melkweg.
Monday 29 Sludgy, swampy electro-rock duo on drum and keyboard zZz raise the dead at Melkweg. If you're lucky enough to be in town, I'll take you. I'll leave you with this brilliant video by zZz

Also, New Years Eve... party at Adams: Crude & Dorkmeister and DJ Crane presiding.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Safe European Home

I considered calling this blog Safe European Home, after a song by one of the best bands of all time, The Clash. As the world implodes on itself, be it through credit crunches, war or reality television I’m sitting here in my Safe European Home in quaint, ol' Amsterdam.

On second thoughts, as the title for a whole blog it was kinda shit and obscure. Nonetheless I found this ragtag tapped-together piece of footage from The Clash documentary Westway to the World. It’s been re-cut from the original way film maker Don Letts edited it, but I do like the content.

The song is about Joe and Mick’s trip to Jamaica to explore the sounds of reggae and how on arrival the Brits didn’t feel welcome in Kingston. Thus on return they were happy to be in their Safe European Home.

The song itself is not the best Clash song ever -– that would be “Train in Vain (Stand By Me)” – but it still fucking well rocks.

The clip also shows their growing interest in hiphop culture and Topper’s drug use which would end up the drummer’s Clash career.

Pop quiz: What British group sampled the kid’s rap on their 2004 album?

You can watch Westway to the World in its entirety on youtube.