Monday, 20 December 2010

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Dark, Beating Heart of Francesca Woodman

That the Victoria Miro Gallery is showing its third and largest Francesca Woodman exhibition in a decade is an indication of the growing reputation that the late American photographer holds around the world. Her work has struck a definite chord with a generation of art lovers, collectors and gallery-goers during the three decades that have followed her death in 1981, and has appeared in collections in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum and MoMA in New York and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, amongst other institutions.

Constant is her nakedness, a series of black and white curves and soft focus shadows. Where her face is in clear view, her expression is one that is lost, yet focused – possessed, even. Viewed posthumously, as only they can be, they hint at her suicide, a grim finality that put a stop to her working life at the age of 22.

More commonly, though, these are images that depict abstract, quasi-humanoid forms that are often blurred beyond recognition: split reconstructions of self, obscured by crumbling detritus in the dusty, abandoned locations she favoured. Torso and limbs hug a doorframe in an untitled photograph taken in New York. Old, peeling wallpaper frames a navel in one shot from the Space2 series taken on Providence Island, and covers all but her arms and the sides of her crouching form in Then At One Point I Did Not Need To Translate The Notes; They Went Directly To My Hands.

The latter title could have been taken from a Kafka fragment, as indeed could the image itself be used to illustrate the Prague writer’s most famous tale, The Metamorphosis, poised, as Woodman appears to be, between transformation and annihilation. They are pictures that could be described as surrealist, but that have a dark, beating heart that make them a more universal prospect, making her work comparable to that of David Lynch. The American director, who ploughs a lone furrow as Hollywood’s only gothic absurdist, described Kafka as “the one artist that I feel could be my brother”. He never mentioned anything about a sister.

Francesca Woodman runs at the Victoria Miro Gallery until 22 January 2011. This article was first published at

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

REVIEWED: Strategies Against Architecture IV by Einstürzende Neubauten for The Quietus

I reviewed the new (perhaps final) instalment in the German industrial pop band's Strategies series. It was for the ever-wonderful Quietus, one of only two UK pulications seemingly eager to feature this incredible group. The other was Dazed, which I interviewed Blixa Bargeld for - will post that interview in a bit. For now, read the review of the album on The Quietus.

INTERVIEWED: Poet/Funnyman, Tim Key for the Daily Telegraph

Tim Key is a very funny man who has made a comedy record that is out on Angular/Invisible Dot. Go and see a show during his tour in February, you will laugh a lot. In the meantime, read this short interview for the Daily Telegraph, and then buy the vinyl record, which should prompt you to laugh a lot also, or your money back (I think).

Monday, 15 November 2010

REVIEWED: TEDx Aldeburgh for New Statesman

I recently went to Snape Maltings near Aldeburgh in Suffolk to attend the TEDx Aldeburgh conference; it is a hushed place with an abandoned-like quality that seems almost custom built for musical contemplation. Read my review for the New Statesman here.

Friday, 29 October 2010

INTERVIEWED: Edwyn Collins for The Daily Telegraph

Edwyn Collins has a honking great laugh that is impossible to convey fully on the page. To try and describe it — like a cross between an ecstatic seal, say, and an unruly bicycle horn — is to do it an injustice.

Luckily, Collins has plenty to laugh about. Miraculously, he is about to embark on a European tour, five years after a stroke led to two brain haemorrhages that nearly killed him and left him in hospital for six months. In September, he released his seventh solo album, Losing Sleep, his first collection of new songs since the ordeal.

The record is a joyful ride, his most pop-sounding in over a decade. He attributes the directness of his new material to his struggle with language, due to dysphasia, a product of his stroke. “Before my stroke, on my last album Home Again, I was clever-clever,” he explains, sitting on a sofa in the studio that he shares with Seb Lewsley, his best friend and producer. “Now my songs are direct and clear enough to focus on what the struggle of life is about. I can get to the root of things.”

It plugs straight back into the rich vein of warm, slightly wobbly pop and fresh, soulful sensibility which has been his trademark since the group that he made his name with, Orange Juice, released its first single, Falling and Laughing, in 1980.

The subject of a soon-to-be-released major retrospective box set, Orange Juice were at the vanguard of bands who sprang out of post-punk Glasgow. They came armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop – mixing up the jangling guitars of the Byrds, the disco of Chic and the bite of punk — as well as an array of secondhand overcoats and, most importantly, bagfuls of wit. Yet, aside from the squelching disco hit Rip It Up, which reached number 8 in 1983, Orange Juice never quite scaled the heights of imitators like Haircut 100, who took the Orange Juice template of guitars, funk beats and sweaters and ran with it.

Though Collins later won some solo recognition with the global 1994 smash A Girl Like You, pop stradom eluded Orange Juice and they were dropped by Polydor in 1984 after they failed to repeat Rip It Up's sales, leading to the band splitting. But for Collins, their lack of success has turned out to be a blessing.

“I suppose otherwise you would be like ABC are now, on tour with that Here & Now show,” laughs Grace Maxwell, his wife, a fellow southern Scot and his manager for nearly three decades. “Stop it, Grace. Martin Fry is my good friend,” replies Edwyn, in a moment of quick-fire banter that has become the pair’s trademark following his stroke, since which his wife has been an omnipresent figure by his side: in the hospital as he embarked on a long recovery, at his many therapy sessions, and in the majority of interviews since.

Collins instead became a figurehead for the DIY underground music scene, a fact that was made clear to him when, before his stroke, he was confronted by three men in north London. “You’re that Edwyn Collins, aren’t you?” one said in a broad Manchester accent. “You invented indie.”

If he is an indie figurehead, he is a reluctant one. As the Eighties progressed, Collins increasingly distanced himself from the many fey indie bands who revered Orange Juice. “When Edwyn started, indie just meant his records had been independently distributed, with no majors involved, everything on the cheap,” says Maxwell. “By the mid-Eighties, it had become a genre, with an affected tweeness about it that we hated.”

While Orange Juice have enjoyed a resurgence among a generation of vintage-clothed vinyl completists, Collins is quick to quell the band’s importance, to him at least. “OJ means a lot to me, but it is in the past. I’ve got to look to the future. Back then, I was experimenting. We weren’t quite ready.”

Many of his devotees might disagree, such as the young musicians who turn up on his latest album, including the Cribs’ Ryan Jarman, Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and Brooklyn band The Drums, who co-wrote the stunning In Your Eyes, a song filled with a twin sense of loss and hope.

It came about after Edwyn and Grace’s son William met the band at a gig. “Orange Juice made these perfect pop songs,” explains Drums frontman Jonathan Pierce, who sings with Collins on the track. “They feel so fragile, like they could fall apart at any time. There is something really human about that.”

Collins is still quite obviously impaired. Paralysed on his right side, he no longer plays guitar, but he has, incredibly, retrained himself to be able to draw with his left hand — the birds on the cover of Losing Sleep were all sketched during his recovery. Each month sees a new milestone reached.

The previous weekend was the first time he had been left overnight at home in his house in over five years as Grace travelled to her home town in North Lanarkshire to give a reading of her autobiography Falling and Laughing (named after Orange Juice’s first single), which charts Edwyn’s recovery.

Above all else, Losing Sleep is a testament to the healing qualities of music, and its profound mystery. Two days before he was due to leave hospital in 2005, the only phrases he could say were “Yes”, “No”, “Grace Maxwell” and “the possibilities are endless”, which he repeated like a mantra as part of his therapy.

Then, from nowhere, sprang a melody and lyrics — a song. That song, the acoustic ballad I’m Searching For The Truth, closes the album. “Some sweet day, we’ll get there in the end,” Collins sings in a high-pitched variant of his familiar, trembling croon. Today, you might suggest that he already has.

The Orange Juice box set 'Coals To Newcastle’ is out on Domino on Nov 8. Edwyn Collins starts his European tour at the Komedia in Brighton on Nov 4.
First published in The Daily Telegraph


Dazed asked me to write something about Ari Up following her death last week - I interviewed her a couple of times over the past few years, once for Dazed. She was wonderful, kind and, most of all, a force. The picture above was taken during last year's Slits tour with Wetdog, and features Wetdog drummer Sarah Datblygu.

No matter how many times it has been printed, it is still jarring when you read that when Ari Up joined the Slits she was just 14-years-old. That she took on an already spent punk rock form and dragged it to where she and her fellow Slits wished it to be before she was even old enough to buy a packet of cigarettes, will always remain at the heart of why she was so unique. Fuck me, 14 is even young for an X Factor contestant. How we fawned over the bravery of Cher Lloyd during her ultimately transformative audition. By her age, Ari had already squatted down and urinated on the stage of the Music Machine, now Koko, in Camden.

All of which sounds very punk, and it was. Yet, the Slits have always seemed apart from the vision of the time depicted in those reductive documentaries that tell the story of how a thing called punk somehow came along to destroy a thing called rock. And it wasn’t as if Ari Up sprang out of nowhere: she had been entrenched in the music business since she was a toddler. In an interview for Dazed, she told of being serenaded by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, of Jimi Hendrix hanging around the house, of John Anderson of Yes becoming her Godfather due to the fact that her mother Nora, who later married John Lydon, was a big music promoter in Munich, where she grew up.

After her mother moved to London to be closer to the party, the pair went to gigs together: Up met Palmolive at a Clash gig in 1976, holding the first Slits rehearsal in a London squat the next day. Thrust into the centre of an unhinged punk scene, she remained strong, refusing to succumb to the drug cliche that tends to affect children who try and grow up too fast. She escaped London after the Slits split in the early 1980s, moving to New York and Belize, India and Jamaica. Through the years she floated in and out of the listener's conciousness, whether with Adrian Sherwood's New Age Steppers, her own Baby Ari or Madusa projects, or the reformed Slits.

She was nomadic, but not rootless, never losing her sense of Bavarian identity. “For Bavarian people it is an insult to be called German,” she said. "I am not patriotic or nationalistic. I never say I am from any country or anything. I am into culture and roots." It was attitude that pissed all over Oi! and the rest of the negative by-products of the era, much as she had that old Camden stage.

First published at Dazed Digital

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

REVIEWED: 'North' by Darkstar for The Quietus

The question whether music can still be concerned with place in an internet age that has, to some extent, devoured both, is one that has triggered much debate in articles such as this one by fellow Quietus scribe Hazel Sheffield. As locally-specific scenes lose their importance, is geography now becoming a defunct term in the musical lexicon? Or is place, conversely, more important than ever in understanding music, its melancholic forms, its potency? I'm sticking with the latter. Because, while bedrooms are vital to the planning and execution of the majority of today's more interesting music, one needs to take a look outside to have a chance of creating something as pure and definite as North by Darkstar.

It is the product of toil by displaced northern Englishmen, Cheshire-born James Young and Yorkshire-born Aiden Whalley, the duo behind Darkstar's breakthrough song, last year's romantic, glitchy 2-step dancefloor number 'Aidy's Girl Is A Computer'. At the start of the year, the pair scrapped a whole album of similar fare, enlisted singer James Buttery, and created a series of slow burning, nocturnal odes to love, loss and the problem of place. It has to go down as one of the most successful musical about-turns in recent years.

After the slow building fanfare track that is 'In The Wings', the album is kick-started by the wide-eyed opening bars of 'Gold', their cover of the Human League obscurity 'You Remind Me Of Gold', a B side to 'Fascination'. Locking into a beat, it is noticeably slower – there's less champagne and coke about, less glitz and glamour. It is a plaintive rendition, but no less faithful; if anything it scrapes away the period pomp to unearth a centre of pure melancholy which was already there.

The title track, 'North', is a memory march, an unrepentant evocation of the industrial north, whose last remnants were blasted away during the 1980s, a period which influences much of this album, when the area was awash with synth bands such as the 'League and OMD. But it isn't the only influence. There's Radiohead here, woozy science fiction and Lynchian soundtracks, a whole host of UK dance, industrial and post-rock signifiers. And of course, the Hyperdub tradition, not least Burial. Here, as with that formerly anonymous, nocturnal trailblazer, absence is a presence – but it isn't quite the drowned subcultural world as in Burial's schizoid soundscape. There are boundaries, albeit a complex weave, set by tradition and scaled through blind conquest.

The album belongs in London as much as it does in the north: perhaps even more so, in this capital, toward which musicians and artists – and dreaded 'creatives' – are pulled like iron filings are to a magnet. This metropolis, where all around are men and women in deceptively slack trousers and angled stances, proclaiming abandoned basements and lofts, stairwells and rooftops as “great space...amazing space".

The album's very being reflects the centralisation of culture in the UK: the London Polarisation, you're either there or you're not. Darkstar need to be close to it to survive but, in a way, they have made a devil pact, forsaking their neglected North for north London, friends and customs for fumbling through Clapton, a decade passing like sand through fingers. But in doing so they have avoided the parochial, the specifically local that makes the album not about keeping up with infantilised scenes, but about feelings and musings on alienation and the notion of home.

“Geography is destiny," as James Ellroy said. And while this destiny might not be exactly be what Messrs Whalley and Young once dreamed of, it has become the catalyst for this gorgeous, emotionally rich, unique album. “I won't forget you," repeats Buttery at the close of the album's final track, 'When It's Gone'. His synthetic, multilayered vocal, which has stuttered under the strain of transmission throughout, is unequivocal.

First published at TheQuietus

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

INTERVIEWED: Blixa Bargeld for Dazed

I travelled to Berlin by air in August to eat, drink and talk with Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten. A naturally arrogant, kind, alternately gruff and giving man, Bargeld has presided over Neubauten, this greatest of European pop groups, for thirty years. He translated the menu for me in this Mitte restaurant. Demanded eye contact (you gave it to him); told me of setting fire to his school in protest against the redundant democratic practices of the school council, of his unsurprisingly fraught encounter with Bono and The Edge, and why the forthcoming European tour might be the last time we hear from Neubauten for a while.

You can read the resulting feature in the October issue of Dazed & Confused, on t'shelves now.

Fütter mein Ego!
Fütter mein Ego!
Fütter mein Ego!

Friday, 27 August 2010

INTERVIEWED: Michael Yonkers in this month's Dazed & Confused

In this month's Dazed you can read my Cult VIP piece on guitar experimentalist and forgotten noise icon, Michael Yonkers.

I first heard of Yonkers in 2004, when I was running a low-grade indie night in a basement in Cornwall, where I was at college - the Michael Yonkers Band song 'Kill the Enemy' was on a Sub Pop compilation that I used to fall back on when I'd run out of up-tempo Fall numbers, and it was too early for Blondie.

The album Microminiature Love had been rereleased by the label, 35 years after Sire records had pulled out of releasing it in 1968. To me it was the sound of something totally new, unearthed; a kind of garage avant-rock that straddled time, made by a hitherto ignored king of distorted songs. To since learn that this monstrous, battle-weary baritone wasn't from some Vietnam vet singing the blues but a 21 year old from Minneapolis was mindblowing. And to talk to him a few months back was like fulfilling some dream that started back in that cellar club.

Despite a near paralysing back injury in the early 1970s he has recorded hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of unreleased music since then; he told me how he recorded songs from a motorised hospital bed he had installed in his basement appartment, and of mysterious 1980s electro projects made when he was in too much pain to play guitar, so switched to synth. One later album, Lovely Gold, came out on Chicago label Drag City earlier this year, but there is much still hidden away in his flat in boxes, and in an out of town storage lock up, waiting to be heard. He's currently in his Minneapolis appartment sifting through it all, one tape at a time.

Friday, 20 August 2010


This summer, commissioned by Robin Turner's ROAM project, I undertook a walk of each east London Olympic borough: Walthamstow, Hackney, Newham & Tower Hamlets (grouped together to make one walk), and Greenwich.

Seeing as the bicycle utopia that many self-consciously subversive Londoners have been trying to will into being has become a Barclays-sponsored commuter-friendly enterprise under His Royal Blondeness, Boris, it seems the only decent mode of travel a refusenik has left these days is to walk. However, to say that you are going to walk a fair distance - across a borough, say - draws desperate scrambling from certain company, who fling their Oyster Cards at you, try and lend you their bikes, reel off endless bus routes, train stations, and taxi company numbers in an effort to save you from being exposed to the monotony of London's endless concrete jungle.

Yet it is in traversing these streets by foot that one experiences London's layers; in London Fields, Hackney, for example, it is difficult to meditate on the Death Factory, former home of industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle that still stands today, when you are powering past it on two wheels, following the commuter flow in or out of the centre. Slowing down the process allows you to better absorb London's life, and its remnants.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


Thought I should start posting again. Sorry it has been a while - have been having too much "outside time" recently. Back indoors now, so here goes.

First, an interview with this year's indie-boy pop entity, The Drums, published in the Daily Telegraph in June...

Monday, 26 April 2010

THE PRISONER; My visit to Swakopmund, Namibia

There have been inevitable criticisms of ITV's remake of 'The Prisoner', the main question being;'Why remake it at all?' It is a fair point - we live in a world in which the fear of putting serious money behind original ideas has crippled much mainstream filmmaking. The original series was a surrealist enigma, an open-ended puzzle - a Lynchian premonition - open to interpretation like a Kafka novel. But, watching the series, and knowing the ambition behind it,I think it wrong to write it off without a fair hearing.

I visited the set in September 2008 while the series was being filmed in Swakopmund, Namibia, talking to actors such as Ian McKellen, Jim Caviezel and Ruth Wilson. Wilson told me how the writer Bill Gallagher instructed the cast to read John Gray's book, Straw Dogs. Will Self wrote that Gray’s greatest feat was to highlight the human race’s ‘unwillingness – inability even – to appreciate not simply that we are the kin of the other animals, but that like them we are ultimately powerless over both our individual and collective destinies, which leads to our nonsensical faith in progress.’ A progress that leads leaders of men like Two to sadistic acts in the the name of furthering the human race.

While filming began in Swakopmund a story ran in national newspaper The Namibian. 47 skulls of local tribesmen were being stored at the Medical History Museum within the Charité Hospital in Berlin and had been requested to be returned to Swakopmund. They had been taken to Germany from Namibia around a hundred years ago to ‘prove the superiority of the white race’, following an ‘extermination order’ from General Lothar von Trotha in 1904: German troops surrounded thousands of members of the Herero tribe; men, women and children perished under machine gun fire. Many survivors were reportedly sent to concentration camps in Swakopmund and Luderitz Bay to the south.

My piece, which ran in the Telegraph Magazine on 17 April, can be read here.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

"IMMATURITY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING": These New Puritans interviewed

A 40-minute high-speed train ride away from London is Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, the place that the four members of These New Puritans call home. Today, twin brothers Jack and George Barnett, Thomas Hein and Sophie Sleigh Johnson bound and stumble on the grass-padded patches of marshland that rise out of the mud-flats. Distinct in uniform black against dull greys, greens and browns, they walk without talking, as a violent, biting wind terrorises them, animating Sophie’s hair into a frenzy, the Thames flowing calmly behind.

Leigh-on-Sea is a commuter dreamscape, a pleasant mix of suburban stillness, gorgeous landscape and real history (the town was listed in the Domesday Book). Around the turn of the millennium, Leigh became the unofficial home of the hairdresser – coiffeurs Lee Stafford and Adee Phelan ended up on docusoaps and the town, in a way, followed suit, as bars, restaurants, and fitted kitchens were transformed into hives of gossip.

The 22-year-old Barnetts went to a Catholic boys’ comprehensive school, where they met bandmate Hein. Jack had already learned guitar and cello and he put his brother George to work on drums, and taught Hein the bass. He began to imagine bands in his head, and gave them various names. “University Trashcans was the first one we actually formed,” remembers George. “I don’t know why I came up with that name,” Jack adds. “I didn’t know what a university was.” Other projects followed – China Pig, Mexico City, then finally, These New Puritans.

For TNP, Jack wrote songs that attacked the ersatz and tapped into his passion for psychogeography, magick and symbolism. The Barnetts’ cousin Sleigh-Johnson was installed on keyboards and the band slowly graduated from local pub function rooms to the London cicuit. Soon enough, they were commissioned to soundtrack Hedi Slimane’s Dior Homme spring/summer catwalk show in Paris 2007, kickstarting George’s sideline career as a high-end male model. The band quickly signed a shared deal with two of the most respected labels in the UK, Domino and Angular. Did they think they had made it? “I just remember hating the venues, and hating everything about playing,” recalls Jack. “I don’t know why we even carried on. Probably because we wanted to record something that is really good, which has only really happened now.”

The band’s new album, Hidden, is a defining LP for a new decade – a purge and a renewal that embodies the spirit of inquiry of great British artists past, contorting stolen forms to convey a unique aesthetic. Co-produced by Graham Sutton of post-rock project Bark Psychosis, and mixed by Stones Throw’s Dave Cooley, it features vocals by Heather Marlatt of US wyrd-pop makers Salem, the massive

sound of Japanese Taiko drums, a 13-piece brass and woodwind ensemble from Prague, and a school children’s choir from London.

Their 2008 debut Beat Pyramid was packaged as a puzzle, and brought together Jack’s disparate passions, such as numerology and J Dilla’s hip hop production. It worked well, but the more you listened the more you began to wonder whether the enigma was enhanced by the fact that it was a disjointed document in a lot of ways – a fusing together of the different styles that Jack had assigned to the band.

A label marked “pretentious” was routinely slapped on to them, which unending editorials that described the band in terms such as “fiercely intellectual”, as well as the incorrect accusation that the band all went to public school, did much to promote. Yet, while at times deserved – this is, after all, a group whose singer claimed he liked to fall asleep on stage during gigs for 30 minutes at a time – such a label essentially lionises mediocrity and punishes ambition, safeguarding tame, ironic consensus-culture in the process. It did not sit well with the band and, this time around, they believe that they have made music that people can engage with. “I think this album will have much wider appeal because it is more interesting emotionally,” says Barnett. “Before, we had really pinned down themes – infinity, secularity, that kind of thing – and one kind of tone. This time, there is a lot more scope for people to get involved.” But don’t mistake it for a new-found sophistication. “Maturity to me is the same thing as being boring. There are ridiculously immature things on this album, like a full children’s choir singing, ‘This is Attack Music!’ I think immaturity is the most important thing in music.”

Hidden began with a plan to merge the violence of dancehall artists such as Vybz Kartel with Steve Reich, and underpin it with melancholic 16th-century British renaissance composers such as William Byrd. But an obsession was forming in Barnett, with two unlikely bedfellows – English composer Benjamin Britten and Britney Spears. “I had this fantasy of wanting to combine the post-Timbaland pop sound of Blackout – one of the great classics of our time – with Benjamin Britten,” he says. “To make music that has the complexity of a Britten opera but that sounds like Britney Spears. And that is kind of what we ended up with.”

Barnett recognises much of Britten’s ideals in the way he wants to work. “He deliberately rejected the European avant-garde,” he explains. “He said it was the same as a totalitarian dictatorship and by doing that, his music was more interesting.” Britten found inspiration in his home of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast when composing the tragic 1945 opera about a fisherman put on trial for abusing his young male assistants, Peter Grimes. Barnett has moved back to Leigh on Sea recently from east London, and the album reflects the part of the Thames Estuary where it was written. Single “We Want War” best displays this new found romanticism for their home. Lyrics such as “And that the Thames flows beneath the grass... sea breeze, sea breeze...” explore the grim and the celestial in the sometimes bleak, sometimes beauty-filled landscape. A shimmering, ecstatic choir reflects the silver of the sea. It is underpinned by a deep-rooted directness that might be traced back to savage local bluesmen Dr Feelgood. Being a seven-minute fusion of operatic brass and grim dancehall beats it is, potentially, commercial suicide. Yet it is also breathtaking.

Barnett’s next project might be a Britten-style song cycle inspired by the 12 islands of Essex. He is thinking of living on one of them – Foulness, just north of Leigh and Southend. For nearly a century it has been used by the MOD, who blast an arsenal of weaponry into mud-flats, the boom audible for miles around. Despite the controlled warzone that surrounds them, around 150 people live in the village. There are rarely any visitors, the yearly bike race is your only chance to get on the island. Last year, Barnett entered.“It was so funny,” he relays. “I was just slowly going along, taking pictures of everything. You can walk right up to the guns. It’s crazy. You are in this tiny village when suddenly, looming over you, there’s this sign that reads STATE OF HIGH ALERT.”

A move to Foulness would be a kind of homecoming – the Barnett brothers’ grandfather used to play organ on the island. It is an outpost, a dreamworld, where Jack can be alone to create. Yet it is not the outside world that is the problem. “I am the most stoical person in the world away from music,” he says. “Nothing bothers me that I can’t change. But when you are making music, you can change everything. It’s terrifying.”

First published in the February 2010 edition of Dazed & Confused magazine. Photography by Leonie Purchas

REVIEWED: Various Artists: Cold Waves and Minimal Electronics Vol. 1

Chris Petit's remarkable new film Content, a companion piece to his late 1970s road movie Radio On, positions the director driving away from a past that is gaining on him, as he narrates over footage of car journeys, road after road. He offers up the internet - the way it ensures an ever-present past, how it detaches each of us from one another - as a reason for 21st century sorrow.

It might be the reason that the songs of Cold Waves and Minimal Electronics Vol. 1, an album of songs by little known European acts - with one American and one Canadian thrown in for good measure - sound so prescient. Unearthed by Angular's Joe Daniel and Pieter Schoolwerth of Brooklyn label Wierd, the majority of these tracks were recorded on the edges; songs that came into being isolated in European suburbs between 1980 and 1986, away from the media invented glamour and glitz of the city. Today they sound like future echoes of current feelings of a similar disconnect, caused by the dominance of technological communication which increases with each tweet.

'Polaroid/Roman/Photo' by the French group Ruth is the song most imbued with this sense of melancholy. The whirr and click of a Polaroid camera in action begins the song and a beautiful, slightly sombre trumpet and flute harmony closes it. The beat plods along steadily, with unforgiving purpose. It is a mindless, robotic slump boogie, a club-friendly riff on technology-as-crushing benefactor, which anticipates a future where the act of pose-as-performance, once the preserve of a modelling elite, has segued into the everyday. Where the camera has become an ubiquitous companion, the wall-posted photograph a consistent reminder of a very recent past.

Despite the icy, clinical connotations of the term cold wave, translated from the French la vague froid, this is a profoundly human album. Laden with brass these are organic creations that act as a kind of reappraisal for analogue synths and drum machines over digital music software. French group OTO's 'Anyway' careers deranged like an electronic freakbeat outfit willed on by a sax-less James Chance. Manu Moan, singer in Swiss band the Vyllies, wails about the devil over metronomic beat and troubling keyboards on 'Babylon'. Italy's Jeuneusse d'Ivoire's 'A Gift of Tears' begins like a fragile Joy Division dancefloor filler re-imagined by Neu! before soaring along a dream-like freeway.

"Radio On," Chris Petit said recently, "ended with a car 'stalled on the edge of the future', which we didn't know then would be Thatcherism." The irresistible melancholia that pulses through the Xeroxed saxophones and cold-steel synths of Cold Waves... feels like a European reaction to the unstoppable rise of consumerism, as well as a music made in anticipation of the walled-in existence that technology has since brought into our lives. We have made suburbs of ourselves and the only road out is on the dancefloor.

Originally published at

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

MUSOHISTORICAL #3, #4, #5, #6

Sorry for the break in transmission... my history of SOHO gay nightclubbing, first published in the Daily Note, is here...

Camden from UFO to Britpop via the Lurch Scene here.

New Cross and Deptford here.

And finally, my trudge through the Olympic site and Newham.

Monday, 8 March 2010

REVIEWED: John Cale at Royal Festival Hall

Because wise men at their end know dark is right: the Welshman's visit to the South Bank, as reviewed for the Daily Telegraph.

Friday, 19 February 2010

REVIEWED: Hole at Shepherds Bush Empire

Courtney's Hole comeback after a 11 year live hiatus, reviewed for the Daily Telegraph here.


The second in the series is set in Hackney; quick getaways, revelations, music and murder featuring the likes of Genesis P-Orridge, Four Aces' Newton Dunbar, and Jack the Hat McVitie. It featured in last Friday's edition of RBMA paper Daily Note (today's edition features Soho) but you can view the online edition here.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

REVIEWED: An English Journey: Re-Imagined

By train and bus we journeyed to Aldeburgh, Suffolk to view the first performance in this series of psychogeographical meanderings put together by Paul Smith, Iain Sinclair, Alan Moore and others. Was potent stuff. Read my review in this week's New Statesman, or here.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


I'm writing a series of London music histories, published each Friday in The Daily Note, the free newspaper of the Red Bull Music Academy, currently taking place in London.

RBMA's base is in Southwark, the subject of the first history. Take a look at this PDF if you didn't catch it on paper last Friday.