Monday, 23 March 2009

Victory in New Zealand

Remember the recent blackout protests in solidarity with internet campaigners in New Zealand?

Well now the NZ Prime Minister has stepped in to throw out the controversial Section 92A proposal, which would have forced ISPs to sever the internet connection of anybody accused of copyright infringement.

At last, a victory for civil liberties and no doubt the blackouts had at least some kind of role in getting across to the NZ government the widespread anger at such a draconian law.

Not only is it a victory for civil liberty groups, but it's a devastating blow for the copyright advocates who will seemingly stop at nothing to protect their precious profits, even if it means impinging the most basic tenet of law or stomping all over creativity.

Viva la revolucion!

Friday, 20 March 2009

'Spring Has Sprung' - Spotify Playlist

Here's a playlist I just whacked together on Spotify. It's a collection of mainly jazz/broken beat/hip-hop stuff that I feel has a bit of a spring in its step - perfect now the sun is shining and spring has officially arrived.


Fridge - Cut Up Piano and Xylophone
Nicola Conte - A Time for Spring
Outlines - Just A Lil Lovin'
The Herbaliser - You're Not All That (feat. Jessica Darling)
Recloose - Catch a Leaf (feat. Rachel Fraser)
The Matthew Herbert Big Band - Pontificate
Jazzanova - Far From Home (feat. Phonte Coleman)
Krafty Kuts & A Skillz - Fluteism
Jurassic 5 - The Influence
Mr Lif - Get Wise '91 (feat Edan)
Belleruche - Bird Mess
Soul Quality Quartet - I'm Not Here
Bolia We Ndenge - Bosamba Ndeke
Charlie Parker - Koko
Baby Mammoth - Pigs in Space
Osunlade - Thira
Outlines - Matter of Time
Jazzanova - Lucky Girl (feat Paul Randolph)
Santana - Jingo
Janis Joplin - Summertime
Grateful Dead - Friend of the Devil
The Clash - Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad
The Beat - Tears of a Clown
The Black Seeds - The Answer
Laurent Garnier, Bugge Wesseltoft, Phillippe Nadaud, Benjamin Rippert - M Bass
Earl Zinger - Think They All Gone Home Now
Nostalgia 77 & Barth - Omaha Boy

If you don't have Spotify, you need it! Stream music for free from a huge and ever growing catalogue. Find out more here.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Copyright Extension Debate

An interesting discussion on the European Union's recent approval of copyright extension is unfolding on Shane Richmond's Telegraph blog. The debate is taking place between guest bloggers, Professor Martin Kretschmer, and Assistant General Secretary of the British Musicians Union, Horace Trubridge.

I'll add my tuppence worth once the series of posts draws to a close but in the meantime you can see for yourself.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Fabric 45 - Omar S -Detroit

By jove! Fabric have gone underground! They've ditched the limelight hoggers, the superstars, the zeitgeist and introversion is once again the flavour of the month in EC1. As much as it's still a cracking venue, responsible for many insane nights out and equally impressive CD releases, it wouldn't be unfair to say that the London institution has gone a bit more 'safe' in recent years, especially after being seduced by yellow plastic duck botherers O2 into opening Matter inside that pseudo-60s tribute to a diaphragm, the Millenium Dome, I mean The O2...

Instead of plodding down yet another well trodden path, the Fabric lot have roped in Detroit native Omar S to whip up something tasty for their latest mixtape. Little known outside Detroit, and less so inside it, Omar is something like the last bastion of underground Detroit, quietly going about his business (100 releases to date) without so much as even a myspazz page to shout about if from.

The mix is ambitiously a collection of Omar S productions and nothing else. This angle has already been tried, successfully, by Ricardo Villalobos and his hard drive full of minimalism. This time, the sleeve notes declare this to be 100% analog with "NO COMPUTER BULLSHIT PROGRAMS!", stuck in the past perhaps, like the famous city where it was conceived? Or an effort to rejig well worn drum machines and synths into something refreshing?

Well it's a bit of both really, oozing both classic Detroit and more contemporary vibes. Opener 'Polycopter' is insanely funky, spinning round and round and twisting inside out like some warped fairground ride while the church-like synths of 'Strider's World' float around like an unreleased score to The Omen. 'Crusin Conant' is stripped back twenty-first century minimalism that morphs into 'U', a slow ode to Joey Beltram's 'Energy Flash'. The slow blips of 'Oasis 13 1/2' play alongside a teasing beat that keeps hopping in and out, all the while a subtle electric piano tinkers in the background before oozing into the foreground

I'm a sucker for complex percussion and 'Simple Than Sorry' is fantastically fidgety, an imposing kick alongside what sounds like an army of tap dancing spiders in tandem with a scratch DJ and subtle synths that evoke Berlin. 'Psychotic Photosynthesis' is a futuristic groove that feels cold yet warm and infective at the same time. The sci-fi synth is a mind control tool from the future that really gnaws at the brain and is wonderfully juxtaposed with the jacking soul of 'The Maker'.

This is maybe an early choice though and the mix loses its way as the energy and vibe is lost in the transition into 'Oasis One', but such is the nature of Omar's work that it's only a momentary lapse. 'Oasis One' gently builds and develops in an almost orchestral manner - it really feels like every individual component of the track is being played by a seperate musician, all skilfully arranged by the feather light touch of the Detroit maestro. 'Blade Runner' is an old school delight that should be on the soundtrack to the eponymous film and the Unreleased Long Mix of 'Day' is more Chicago than Detroit with its bumpy bassline-driven rhythm something of an anomaly on this particular mix, not that anybody should mind.

Maybe it's pscyhological, after having read his sleeve notes, but there is definitely a rawness about Omar's sound. The beats sound incredibly organic and wholesome and in true testament to the spirit of Detroit he manages to squeeze some real warmth out of his machines. The only complaint is that it doesn't quite work as a mix. It's something I can't quite put my finger on but some of his records would probably sound better within a 'deeper' mix. Such is the scope and range of his work that in some ways it stifles the true potential of his productions. In a longer, more in-depth mix that really taps into the human psyche, such tracks as 'Psychotic Photosynthesis' would unleash their power and fill the dancefloor (or bedroom); rather they are forgotten about as the next track enters the fray.

This is no bad thing of course, and just one of the many nuances of the art of DJing. The Fabric press material proudly proclaims this "a stunning, arresting portrait of who he is as an artist, as a DJ, as an outsider, as a radical in an otherwise indifferent music world" and to be honest it's hard to disagree with that. Some of the more minimal tracks maybe wouldn't cut the mustard in a Hawtin set, but the boy has clearly got some talent, and considered as an artist album rather than a mix compilation, Omar S' effort is certainly deserving of its plaudits.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Atomic Jam, Birmingham (7th March)

Q Club feels like a throwback to the good old days when anything with four walls and a roof (and sometimes less) was ripe for a party. Housed in a former Methodist hall and not in the slightest bit small, the bible bashers have long since made way for those who are instead slave to a beat. Techno mentalists Atomic Jam set up shop here many a year ago before the venue shut for five years but after a successful homecoming in November, the Jam crew have committed to throwing two parties a year. Headlining the bill Saturday were Dave Clarke, Adam Beyer and Ovr (James Ruskin and Regis), ably supported by residents Chris Finke and Steve Strawberry and in the other rooms by a whole host of bleepy, breaky, bassy DJs and performers from Birmingham's underground.

Quite frankly, I'm surprised the HSE let anything go on in there at all; dancing up in the gallery overlooking the floor in the main room is only suitable for those with a head for heights, and certainly a memorable experience. The whole place could really do with a lick of paint - peeling, crumbling walls, long untreated wood and torn fabric chairs are abound - but quite frankly who cares? With hundreds of likeminded clubbers swarming through the venue there's more than enough life about the place. There's also no clear presence from the organisers, save a shabby little portakabin on the way in, and it all very much feels like a little secret, albeit a loud one. Pranged out and over excited clubbers prowl around the upper levels and the dank corridors, but even the most unsavoury of clubland characters feel harmless as flies. It's all very blissful and there's something heart warming about seeing old forgotten buildings given a new lease of life and a new purpose, almost like a life transfusion.

By far the most charming aspect of the club is the punters. Students, mods, the odd chav, glammed up girlies, metalheads, fashionistas, seasoned ravers and even a few couples the wrong side of 40 all shared the space, and as cliched as it sounds, were simply united by the music. Despite the cavernous main room with its ceiling up in the clouds somewhere, the techies have got the sound near perfect and the oozing acid of Hardfloor's 'Acperience' welcomed our arrival to an already buzzing and bustling dancefloor. Looking up at the gallery it was hard not to think of the rave scene in the Matrix and the irony of a subculture getting their rocks off to their own demigods in an abandoned place of worship was never far away.

Adam Beyer was the first of the headliners to take to the booth and plunged into a Drumcode inspired set of rolling, percussive techno, warming up smartly for Dave Clarke. As ever, the baron of techno tore the crowd a new arsehole, showing off an astonishing ability to read a dancefloor and keep it on tenterhooks throughout. Chris Finke followed with a more Detroit and pure funk orientated set, but it lacked a bit of direction and by the time Ovr took the controls the crowd was thinning, a shame, considering their set was funky as hell.

Elsewhere in the rabbit warren that is Q, drum'n'bass rocked the generally empty third room at ridiculous decibel levels, whilst in the bar tucked away behind the main arena, Noodle, Electrode and Data Trace Records warmed the cockles with some bass heavy electro and dubstep. The turntables lay dormant in this room, with all manner of hardware devices controlling the music, most of which I've never seen before and no doubt it was the cutting edge that was carving out a groove all night. And if all got a bit much, there was the Chai Tea room overflowing with the charm of a school tuck shop come hippy haunt, though somehow my vast reserves of energy steered me away from there until the end of the night when half the club could be found piled on top of each other in a soporific mess.

In a clubland where clearly defined crowds dominate despite the increasingly mixed and ambiguous music policies, Atomic Jam is a breath of fresh air, it's clubbing as it's supposed to be. Simple, bare bones with a melting pot of good people and great music. Long may it continue.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Jazzanova - Of All The Things

Jazzanova have been delighting the nu-jazz crowds for well over a decade but it's only now that the Berlin collective have found time to release their second proper album, Of All The Things.

Unusually for a collective composed mainly of DJs, the song reigns joyous and supreme over this particular album. The heavy beats they're renowned for are given less prominence, making way instead for a raft of soulful singers including Ben Westbeech, Ursula Rucker, Bembe Segue and Joe Dukie of Fat Freddy's Drop.

That's not to say Jazzanova's beatsmith hat has been completely thrown out the window though. Such strong vocal talent is perfectly complimented by instrumentation that draws on many different influences.

Opening track, 'Look What You're Doing to Me', has a distinct Santana feel whilst 'Lie' is a light, breezy number, somewhat reminiscent of 'Eleanor Rigby'. 'Little Bird' immediately follows, a heartfelt encounter that benefits from some restrained and intelligent production on the piano that does just enough to let Jose James' voice dominate and make your skin tingle.

Jazzanova also prove themselves dab hands at hip-hop with 'So Far from Home'. Phonte Coleman's empathetic rapping over uplifting beats sits comfortably amongst the rest of the album and is in stark contrast to his sung contribution in the opening ditty.

A lot of credit must go to the running order of the album, which is expertly arranged, constantly piquing interest and leading the listener further in. Furthermore, this smooth 'journey' subtly proves the collective's talent at mixing together many different influences, instruments and rhythms to produce something incredibly cohesive.

Of All The Things is a welcome respite from today's doom and gloom, injecting hopeful smiles into downtrodden and weary faces. Definitely one to keep close to the stereo over the next twelve months.


Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Agoria - Go Fast

The painfully slow and poorly concerted efforts of HMV and Royal Mail finally, somehow, conspired to have Agoria’s third studio album land on my doormat; so apologies if this is rather late.

Go Fast, I learnt upon opening my brown paper bag, is actually the soundtrack to a French indie film of the same name. How that got past me, I don’t know, but it posed a little problem. Having not seen the film, nor being able to find it anywhere to buy online, I felt reluctant to listen to the album if I couldn’t put it into context. But being the admirer of Agoria that I am, I also couldn’t bare to have his material lying around and not being heard.

Opening track ‘Tender Storm’ is a beautiful, intense composition. Ominous, ethereal vocals swirl around in the dark alongside dull, tribal beats and low-end synths. It’s a piece of music that plays on fear and curiosity, simultaneously warding you off and beckoning you forward; the perfect album starter. The following tracks are deep, slow burning and heavily influenced by Detroit (via a slight detour into bluesy guitar territory with 'Around the Corner') and not at all in your face, which is ironic considering the title.

Nearer the end, ‘Run, Run, Run’ alludes to Plastikman’s ‘Spastik’ but turns into something far less frenetic and remarkably organic sounding, and through slight of hand turns itself into a heavy breaks track that harks just a little bit back to the 90s. Closing track ‘Diva Drive’ is the most dancefloor friendly; a bumping, minimal techno cut that constantly evolves and teeters close to the edge of hedonism, bringing around an about turn in the mood of the album and perhaps hinting at some kind of reconciliation in the film?

Go Fast is remarkably different to Sebastien Devaud’s previous artistic efforts, Blossom and The Green Armchair, which were a lot ‘harsher’ in a Vitalic vein. Rather, Go Fast is more akin to his fabled DJ sets, which indulge in his passion for Detroit and jazz and are a bit more noodly, but despite the fantastic opener and strong finish, everything in between seems to lack any raison d’etre.

Clearly, obviously, this album is supposed to soundtrack something and from the sense of emptiness you can’t help but think about the film and what story it scores, but it does little to suggest anything insightful. A great deal of the album feels like a ship bereft of its captain, floating around in the doldrums with no distinct course to follow.

However, taken away from the home stereo and transported to the soulless, clacking commute of a train speeding through bleak Birmingham landscapes, with the rain zipping past windows and grey clouds crawling in the ever darkening sky, Go Fast takes on a life of its own - my life in fact - weeding out those trains of thought (no pun intended) and complex emotions we often dwell on when doing something as mind numbing as commuting.

Unfortunately, I’m not in the mood for riding trains to Birmingham, or other concrete monstrosities for that matter, just for the pleasure of listening to a particular album. At home, away from any kind of narrative, it just feels like it’s soundtracking a forgotten past, when in fact it’s major strength is in soundtracking the present, whether it’s a drab train trip or something more exciting. No doubt, if I were to see the film then listen again the album would take on a new meaning, but most of it still feels a bit empty and rather unsuitable for home listening.

Maybe I shouldn’t have opened it after all?