Friday, 31 December 2010

Capital, Workers & Democracy

"We’re All In It Together…"

How often have we heard this phrase, presented as a statement of fact by political leaders? It seems to have become the ‘must have’ phrase, to be repeated ad nauseam every time some new round of ‘austerity’ is to be inflicted on the majority of citizens. Certainly it’s the phrase of the moment for the likes David Cameron and George Osbourne.

But are we?

We all know how badly most people have been affected – and are about to be affected – by the largest global financial ‘crash’ since the Great Depression following 1929. Unemployment, falling wages, reduced benefits and welfare across the board – with much more on the way.

But what about the rich? How are they doing, and what are their prospects? Don’t know about you but I’ve found that any facts and figures for this minority, who hold the vast majority of society’s wealth, seem to be so far under the Politics and Media radar as to be deeply subterranean.

However, Daniel Raventos of US Political Newsletter ‘Counterpunch’ has come to the rescue. He cites a report by Merrill Lynch, a bank owned by Bank of America, whose target clients are the 9 million or so persons, worldwide, who are either rich (HNWI – High Net Worth Individuals with assets of $1M+) or super rich (‘Ultra’ HNWI - assets of $30M +) [‘Assets’ here exclude primary residence, ‘consumer durables’ or ‘collectibles’]. So, that would include, oh, David Cameron, certainly Tony Blair with his reported £20m ‘consultancy’ for JP Morgan (bank), most, if not all, political leaders and a great many politicians anywhere in Europe or the US. Probably a lot of the senior TV media ‘journalists’ and presenters too.

So how are they all doing in our ‘we’re all in it together’ financial crisis?

Yep, you guessed it! Not badly at all. Aside from a sharp, temporary, dip when global shares fell at the onset of the crisis in 2008, their aggregate wealth is back pretty close to where it was before the crash – back up to $39 Trillion by 2009. Sure, they lost a couple of years of ‘growth’, but not to worry, things are looking good. Merrill Lynch are confident in their projections for the next 3 or 4 years that they can help them along to an average 5% year on year growth in ‘net worth’. That’s ‘net worth’ of course after, you know, life’s mundane essential consumables and consumer durables have been deducted – restaurant bills, a few designer rags to knock about in, the his‘n’hers Ferraris, toilet paper, that kind of thing.

So maybe we’re not all in it together then? If you’re wondering why, read on…

Surely it's time we looked at the fundamental driving forces deep underneath all the propaganda and BS? Simply put, there are two utterly opposing interests at work. On the one hand, Owners of Capital, who primarily live off renting (or investing) money or other assets and the Workers whose primary income is derived solely from their Labour.

Yes, it really is that basic. The fewer Workers can be paid for their Labour, the more wealth the Capital Owners gain and vice versa.

But here's the rub with Democracy. Intrinsically the Workers are in the majority – always. So a democratic system that actually represents their interests is fundamentally at odds with the interests of Capital Owners whose main desire is to own ever-increasing, limitless Capital. Which is without a shadow of a doubt where the evidence leads. How many Owners of Capital have we heard say that they have 'enough'? Virtually none. Over the last few decades the wealth of the rich has risen dramatically whilst the wealth of Workers has stagnated or decreased, with real costs in health and peoples' lives, to say nothing of unrealised potential. And the divide is increasing.

Of course, both sides need each other. Entrepreneurial drive is very often a good thing and works to the benefit of all. Crucially, such worth to all is the very thing that ultimately guarantees the consent of Workers for Owners of Capital to operate and even be highly rewarded. But if the system of democracy worked properly, the welfare of the majority would place limits on the accumulation of wealth. It clearly doesn't. The 'banking' system has been shown to be a casino, run by Owners of Capital, where they retain the profits but vast losses must be paid off by Workers nearly exclusively.

Most of us recognise the need for both 'sides'. This is entirely consistent with what, in a single phrase, might best describe the route for all of us to our maximum fulfilment and happiness – “ each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities...”

Furthermore, most us know what psychological and sociological studies have confirmed. ‘Needs’ are different from 'wants'. Needs make us happy, wants really don't. And the freedom and opportunity to pursue our abilities is also vitally important.

Some of us need to live life on a ‘bigger stage’, some don't, and all can be equally rewarding. What we need is society that reflects this truth whilst ensuring equality of opportunity.

So a balance must be struck between Capital Owners and Workers. In a democracy, this is the job of Politics and equally importantly those who should enable us to be accurately and fully informed, primarily the Print and TV Media, but also Science and Academic research. It should be obvious that these institutions need to be as independent as possible from both competing primary driving forces. But by our own foolish consent, corruption, both legal and illegal is endemic in Politics and Media and, partially so, but increasingly, in Academia.

Demonstrably, Capital Owners have become so wealthy and powerful that both Politics and Media are effectively owned by them. Greed is something that can and does infect us all and it is certainly at the core of the most powerful Capital Owners we have today. The speed with which humanity is degrading the very planet and ecology that gives us life is the absolute evidence of this. The best, untainted and overwhelming evidence we have from Science is that the wipe-out of 95% of all species, including our own, is a serious possibility that may become irreversible within less than a few decades; a result of climate change. And that is far from the only resource or pollution catastrophe that awaits us imminently.

The only way out of the impending demise is for the key institutions of democracy to be removed from the hands of the Owners of Capital. By definition, those representing the majority (Workers) cannot also be members of the minority (Owners) club. This does NOT need to be, nor should be, state, beaurocratic control or ownership of everything, but simply a system where 'rules' – rule of law – applies fairly to all. We are told no such system can exist. Don't believe it. A system that removes corruption by State, Private or other 'concentrated' interests is perfectly possible. It is absurd to believe otherwise of a species that has developed such immensely more complex systems in science and technology. We simply need to devise appropriate employment rules and terms in the same way we have for other 'special' categories of employment, such as police or military.

Remember, none of the basic welfare provisions that have been won (and are now being rapidly eroded) have ever been voluntarily 'gifted' by the Owners of Capital (now owners of Politics and Media) – nor can we expect them to be. Since the Owners now own Politics and Media virtually entirely, any attempt to work within the present system is no more than rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. The system must change.

To the younger generation of Workers (or the unemployed or underemployed): good luck – you'll need it. Sad as it is to have seen the mere fledgling attempts at democracy so badly undermined, your lives, either way, will be nothing like mine.

Words: Mike Hall
Images: Tabz O'Brien-Butcher

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Matthew Dear @ Deaf Institute, Monday 6th December

There’s a fine line between neat progressive layers and melody-less dirge. It may seem an odd opening statement when the musician in question is Matthew Dear; author of 2003’s melodious minimal tech masterclass, Leave Luck To Heaven, and an attentive scholar of Detroit techno. But tonight’s performance shows a desire to take the development towards Brooklyn's brooding electronic pop cool in his subsequent albums, 2007’s Asa Breed and this year’s Black City, and rest it atop ear-shattering strata of miasmic noise.

The start is delayed due to the weather that you can’t fail to have noticed of late, but thankfully the Deaf Institute curfew is flexible enough to allow full sets from both tri-synth Hyperdub signees Darkstar and the headlining Matthew Dear’s live band.

Darkstar bring with them an earthy gloom in the form of thick, smoggy soundscapes, which are permeated only by glistening clean piano tones. They preach an urgency through atmospheric electronica as if soundtracking impending doom in all its stark desolation. Aside from downtempo treats such as the Moby’s ‘My Weakness' sound-alike, ‘Deadness’, with its Mount Kimbie-esque sampled shakes, there’s a variety of possible reference points. There’s a vocal likeness to Secret Machines' Brandon Curtis on the atmospheric ‘When It’s Gone’, while Portishead’s ‘Machine Gun’ is recalled as the following track winds up with a tinny monotony, like a toy drummer marching into an organ-fuelled warzone. And their remix of Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’ is an ample set-closer; in limbo between halfbeat Eurythmics whimpers and echoes of the sound it makes when you run your finger round the rim of a slightly filled glass.

It’s a lesson in simple-sounding complexity, and vice versa, until Matthew Dear takes the stage, dressed in a half-buttoned white shirt with a black jacket and met by a strip light shining upwards onto him like an expansion of torch-lit tales of terror. The scene befits his full-band swagger (he operates under different pseudonyms, with the others swerving closer to the tech/house groundings of the Ghostly International and Spectral Sound labels). Once there, he enforces a beefed-up scuzz, largely masking the trumpet that occasionally enhances recorded structures. This isn’t always a bad thing, by any means. The krautrocky constancy is intoxicatingly groovy as stubborn basslines infiltrate heads’ ability to stay still, nodding instinctively as they do. But vocals are lost, perhaps deliberately, in the vapid layers of echo and feedback.

When the density relents you’re left with highlights, such as the swirling haze of ‘Shortwave’, and when you can make out the intricacies within the constructions then even the musically polluted are palatable. Thunderous processed beats welcome in ‘You Put a Smell on Me’ before Dear redirects the dazzlingly bright strip light towards an entranced audience. There’s a brief rest from rib-shaking beats for the ‘Little People (Black City)’ intro, which is short-lived as soon the latest record’s lead single builds to ear-bending proportions. En route the bass slides and deep monotonic vocal delivery cannot be faulted, but the tendency for every crescendo to reach the apocalyptic is a little grating.

The encore begins with a melancholic solo performance of ‘Innh Dahh’, but the house-addled version of Asa Breed’s ‘Don and Sherri’ only serves in the end to drill home the target of concrete walls of sound, until the walls subside and crumble as Dear’s band depart, leaving prepared loops rolling through the void of a personnel-less stage; ending the set how it began.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Simon Bray

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

HldTght Interview

HldTght are a new curation collective in Manchester. Now Then hung out with one half of the founding duo ahead of their debut exhibition at Soup Kitchen this week. Until the beans were spilled last week they kept their identity hidden – even from their best friends. You might say that sounds hella pretentious when combined with their vowel-less name, but it stems from a certain necessity. Which all makes it seem really serious, especially when you have to write it down in an interview.

"It's not serious. The exhibition is fun, but generally the part of the art world in Manchester we work in is really constrictive. As you would get working in such a social community, everyone knows everyone. And the same people are being put in exhibitions together time after time. Then it can go two ways – either everyone starts feeding off each other in a progressive way, or people just start seeing the same influences and don't push themselves in the positive directions their talent deserves. You get disillusioned and uninspired and obviously it takes the fun out of making art. HldTght is about encouraging artists to work outside of their normal practice, with no pressure attached to selling their work or for the work to fit in with their 'aesthetic'.”

What’s gone wrong in Manchester particularly?

“There is a lot of talent in Manchester, but there are very few venues or organizations that will put on shows of artists’ work if they don’t feel any of it will sell, and they don’t have funding to cover their costs. Free For Arts Festival is starting to go some of the way towards making things happen - motivating artists to get up and find unusual venues for events, but it only goes on for one week in October, and everyone who takes part is supported under the welcoming arm of the Free For Arts press machine. Sketch City and Upper Space have both faded into the dust and soon Mooch N4 Street Art Gallery will be gone. All these projects prove that there is a lot of interest [in the city], but unless there is someone there to drive the talent and push things to happen, nothing will. HldTght is starting something new, completely funded out of our own pockets. We want to prove to ourselves and to Manchester that you can put on big shows, with big names for little to no money if you have the drive.”

“HldTght is about immediacy, it’s about not waiting for a gallery or bar to call you up and ask you to hang some work. We saw a space we liked and decided to put a show on. Six weeks later I am surrounded by people spray painting on the walls and hammering structures together. There needn’t be red tape and proposals and funding applications, there just needs to be the desire to give the city something it is missing out on, and something to talk about.”

So why the secrecy over who you are?

“We knew if we'd said it was us from the start some people would have doubted how ambitious it is, seeing as we're friends with many of the artists. Creating a name and theme was what we needed to do first, then by keeping our personalities hidden it allowed us to be anyone, someone ‘important’ even, and see what great ideas the artists had in return because they really felt they'd need to step up because they had been contacted by a 'curation collective', not by 'their mate they saw last night'.”

That makes it sound like it’s the same group of people you said were being put in exhibitions together all the time...

“Of course it's not just about putting on people we know, we've got 30 great artists in different disciplines, really big names like Agent and Penfold [who curated July 2009's edition of our big bro magazine Now Then Sheffield]. We've got elements no-one should expect like performance artists as well.”

How do the pieces come together then? Should we expect something totally unrecognisable from the artists we know well?

“We just told people the basic concept and invited them to come up with fresh suggestions and new work that would fit. From the start the emphasis of the exhibition has always been on trying new things, pushing yourself and working outside of your normal discipline. I’m not asking an illustrator to make a sculpture or performance artists to paint, but I am asking maybe a spray paint artist to work more with brushes, painters to try Poscas rather than acrylics, or to try painting different subjects and ideas within their work that wouldn't normally fit into their practice's portfolio.”

Joyride Playground – we don’t want to come up with some ridiculous thesis that probably ends up using the rubbish word ‘juxtaposition’, can you tell us about the concept?

“Joyride Playground is about playing with something too much until you reach a good or bad point. If you joyride a car, chances are you’re bound to have fun, but you have stolen something that is not yours with the intention of pushing it until you crash or burn it out. Most joyriders are underage and do not have a license, just like all the artists choosing to use new mediums for the show aren't practiced or professionals; they are joyriding on the back of an entire movement created by graffiti and aerosol art when picking up a spray can. We basically want people to stick two fingers up and say ‘fuck you, I don’t know how to use it but I’m going to give it a go and I’m going to have fun doing it.’”

Talking about having fun doing it, it’s fairly rare to get an open studio – is that just because it’s all actually being created on site?

“Having an open studio is really important for us to allow people to come and see the process. I’m always amazed by time-lapse videos of exhibitions, but why watch a video, come down to the open studio and meet the artists, ask them questions and find out how they do things, getting stuck in; it's all about everyone being on the same level. By taking away artists’ safety nets of working under their usual practice, everyone becomes slightly vulnerable. Artists you may have been following on flickr or through blogs become just the same as you and everyone starts to work together, pooling advice and skills.”

nd th nm?

"We liked the idea of 'hold tight' because of the association with playgrounds and fun fairs. The abbreviation [HldTght] makes it sound a little less like something your dad would say to you when he pushes you on a swing in the park, because, let’s face it, we only hang out in parks to drink and smoke these days.”

Joyride Playground exhibition @ Soup Kitchen
30 illustrators, artists, sculptors, performance artists and graffiti writers
Open studio // 13-16th Dec // 12-8pm
Launch party // 17th Dec // 7-10pm // after party babies 10-2am
Runs from Sat 18th Dec ‘til mid-February. Open Mon-Sat 12-5pm

Interviewer: Sam Bass
Images: HldTght

Monday, 13 December 2010

Arts, Music & Events Preview, December 2010 (Part Two)

No doubt about it now – the year is fast dwindling away. The events keep on rolling though, and here’s our pick of the remaining bunch for a final preview of 2010.

First of all there’s a week’s worth of live art down in the Soup Kitchen’s basement. Hld Tght is the moniker, and it'll showcase a long list of artists, including one-time Now Then magazine featured artist, Mr Penfold. From Monday 13th ‘til Thursday 16th there’s a chance to see work in progress before the week culminates with music and performance art at their launch event on the evening of Friday 17th.

While on the subject of art, one69a have filled the old Babycakes clothes shop’s disused space on Edge Street (NQ) with a pop-up-artists vibe. Grotto, as it's known, will only be there in the run-up to Xmas, so Yule (sorry...) have to be quick to browse what’s on offer.

There are a few live shows worth your time this week before the inevitable slumber as the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky between 22nd and 25th. Celebrate that one how you will, but warm up with 1960s folk messiahs Pentangle’s guitarist on Thursday 16th as John Renbourn shares the Band on The Wall-promoted stage at greenroom with steel string blues strummer Johnny Dickinson.

Otherwise, in what seem to be predominantly folk-themed options for Thursday, Dan Haywood’s New Hawks embark on the third stop of an album launch mini-tour. Salford’s Sacred Trinity Church is the location and my hunch is that the band / venue combo will be a perfect match. The raconteur – signed to the ever-reliable local Timbreland Recordings – has the storytelling edge of The Decemberists along with occasional hints of homage to Neil Young in sonic structuring.

A third choice is a tongue-in-cheek belter named Swamp Planet Christmas at the Anthony Burgess Foundation. The tagline of Seasonal Stories From Outer Space gives you a clue as to what to expect; literary readings bridging Yoda with Yuletide, tinsel with tangent universes and aliens with angels, such as William Gibson’s Cyber-Claus and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Star.

Next a change of genre for Friday 17th Ruby Lounge where the pop pickers at No Future Club have organised the presence of funky swing rehashers The Correspondents, then on Saturday 18th This City Is Ours kick off their fresh residency at An Outlet with a collection of electronic music slanted tune-selectors and the 2/3rds of From The Kites of San Quentin offshoot, Ord Mantell. The latter is free of charge.

If you can make it over to Wigan without too much hassle (or if you happen to be there in the first place!) then make sure you drop by The Tudor House Hotel on Sunday 19th, where briefly Manchester-based promoters Imploding Acoustic Inevitable have lined up the enviable ensemble of Paddy Steer, Liz Green and John Stammers for the bargain entry price of zero pennies.

As mentioned, there’s a lull for s few days, but Mind On Fire rear their hip-hop heads the soonest as they infiltrate The Nook’s airspace with reggae and ska oriented Sunday Sessions on 26th. They’ve also teamed up with Herbal Sessions, Drum Music and Dub Smugglers for a mammoth NYE party at Dry Bar.

And finally, on a related note, MOF’s brand new label compilation, Great Minds Vol.1, will be available to buy from both those events, as well as Eastern Bloc and Piccadilly Records before being released further afield in the new year. Perfect if you’re after an amalgamation of Arabian flavoured dubstep, uptempo tech-tonics, chilled ambient compositions or classical-flute-meets-hip-hop. Quite a mixture across eight producers.

Words: Ian Pennington

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Arts, Music & Events Preview, December 2010 (Part One)

Your teeth are iced together, you can see your exhalation condensing, your gas bill is going to be astronomical, but the length of this city’s independent what’s-on list is showing no signs of diminishing in the same vein as the height of mercury in your thermometer. If you’ve been taking part then a Movember ‘tache will help mask some of the cold, but otherwise I’d recommend braving the outdoors for the following.

Welcoming in the final month of 2010 will be Trof Fallowfield’s regular Cool Runnings activism and dub reggae clubnight. Arrive early on Wednesday 1st and you’ll learn about the intentions of Manchester Social Centre and autonomous social centres in general.

Still on the political activism slant, there are a couple more educational evenings soon after on Thursday 2nd. University of Manchester-based group, Open Media, are screening Crude: The Real Price of Oil in University Place Theatre A; open for students and non-students alike. On the same night Salford’s Working Class Movement Library open their Object Lessons Part Two exhibition, in collaboration with the curators at Islington Mill, which sees the results of artists digging through the WCML archives and interpreting their findings for display. There’s no rush though since it’ll adorn those walls until the end of January.

Also on Thursday 2nd, Format invites you to its dubstep infused 2nd birthday. Billed as live and in 140bpm are Pinch and Distance, while local favourite Illum Sphere is set to fill your ears in support.

Shifting tempo and pitch a little along the dance music spectrum for Saturday 4th, Wigflex host a tech-flecked discotheque at Sound Control with Shed and Al Tourettes mixing their beats and pieces. In the arts, Kraak Gallery house a weekend arranged by local artists collective Lead Pencil under the cosmically themed Pluto & Uranus Are Missing heading.

Monday 6th at Deaf Institute is safely the gig of the month as Now Wave team up with HearHere to pair a couple of electronic forerunners in the shape of melodic minimal-tech maestro Matthew Dear and Darkstar, a trio often lumped in the post-dubstep, future-beats niche alongside Mount Kimbie (but just as often recognised as inhabiters of that music journo nightmare; a current genre void). Dear is due to DJ at the Simian Mobile Disco Warehouse Project, but Monday's live show has that extra appeal on a rare tour.

Back at Kraak, a quick turnaround is scheduled to pave the way for an exhibition whose accompanying acronym is one of the more fulfilling you’ll find. Super Awesome Fun Exhibition, aka SAFE, features the idiosyncrasies of Florian Fusco, amongst others, from Wednesday 8th. The 8th is one of those busy days with plenty to choose from, so perhaps save this one for another time before it ends on Wednesday 22nd.

Elsewhere on the 8th there’s a forum going by the poser of ‘How can the third sector help shape transport in Manchester?’ If you have the answer, then bob along to The Mechanics Institute in the early afternoon. For those who like their rave tinged with funky electro-house, Prostitutes & Policeman have pencilled in Fake Blood to paint the town red (or Sankeys at least). There’s also the first instalment of Sounds From The Other City’s winter incarnation, Sounds Like Another Christmas. Aside from being a less impressive acronym than Kraak’s (see above), SLAC is a sort of watered-down, spaced out (as in time-wise, as opposed to ‘whoa man, this is some spaced out psychedelica’) version of SFTOC. The premise is one of partnership promotions with some local music selectors, with fanzine Pull Yourself Together getting the ball rolling at Salford’s Kings Arms pub by asking Liz Green and Dinosaur Planet along to perform.

Second on the SLAC front is Bad Uncle’s planned staging of epic jammers Rangda, Howlin’ Rain and Easter. Don’t miss that.

If you thought I meant ‘spaced out’ in the psychedelic sense then you won’t be disappointed by the Now Wave/SLAC collab that brings both of Ripley Johnson’s soundwalling projects, Wooden Shjips (@ St Philip’s Church) and Moon Duo (@ Islington Mill), to the Chapel Street vicinity, separated by mere minutes. That one’s on Friday 10th; another busy slot for listings.

Another option is Chorlton recycle artists Rubbish Revamped, who take over Beech Road’s new café On The Corner, 6-9pm. Or if you’re out in town, then head to the intriguing, seasonally focussed fare at Briton’s Protection. Folk Threads have set up an open mic night a cut above many others by inviting musicians and poets to try their hand at writing original material on the subject of ‘winter’. To get involved contact the linked email, or just turn up to see the results.

Finally on that Friday, crack out the baubles and tinsel for a pair of nights loosely riffing around the proximity of Western civilisation’s favourite consumer-fest. There’s a couple of stars on top of the Dry Live tree, co-headlined as it is by both The Rook and the Ravens and Ten Bears, who’re then followed up by Revolver and Good Vibrations DJs. And not forgetting the partridge in a pear tree. Over in Withington, Red Deer Club and Cloud Sounds are generating more early festive cheer. There won’t quite be twelve drummers drumming, but with Fuel’s two floors both in action between 5pm and 2am, they’re not far off that tally; Y Niwl and Jane Weaver topping the lists upstairs and downstairs, respectively.

The closing two SLAC nights feature Helmets For Men (Saturday 11th) and Comfortable On A Tightrope (Sunday 12th) showcases. Alternatively on the 11th, Warehouse Project have another mammoth array of floor-fillers, this time curated by Modeselektor and featuring Moderat, Hudson Mohawke and a bunch of others intent on soundtracking your all-nighter.

Everything Everything move swiftly on from debut album critical plaudits by drafting in an orchestra for a one-off at the RNCM on Monday 13th. That one’s on Now Wave’s clock as well.

And last but not least: two records from local musicians worth banging against your eardrums this month. Sheffield psyche label Blackest Rainbow have matched up Mancunian noiseniks Gnod and A Middle Sex for a split 7”, while My First Moth have packaged up Neko Neko’s ‘Pesticide’ on the same format.

Words: Ian Pennington

Monday, 22 November 2010

Baths @ Deaf Institute, Friday 19th November

Just a day before Kieran Hebden took to the WHP with a Jurassic line-up of brooding glo-fi, Warp-esque hand-picked acts, Will Wiesenfeld aka Baths was showcasing his altogether more fragile, West Coast development of the ethereal (yeah, I know, can we think of a more clichéd word?) glitch movement in Manchester. Refreshingly lacking the self-awareness of much of the house/glitch-step direction that UK acts seem to be taking, Baths is even a mercurial breath of fresh air to the west-coast glitch-hop Low End Theory scene.

It was Daedelus who introduced Baths to Anticon and Low End Theory, and for all Wiesenfeld's stunning tinkles and rushing beats – and hefty facial chops, check – that keep his brand of heavy romanticism from straying into ambience, you can see why. But Baths is a wreck on stage. Being grounded in hip-hop, it’s great to be totally taken by surprise by a supercute and cuddly little bear on stage, as openly gay as Quentin Crisp.

Introducing himself to Man-chest-hair is a good way to go down [yuppers, sniggers intended]. But after this quick pre-thought intro his falsetto vocal delights are accompanied by uncontrollable body flapping, throwing himself into the passions of giddy childhood dance. ‘Animals’ is even given extra delight by paw lashes, scampering across stage. It’s a real shame he hasn’t invested in some decent live effects kit though, because if you know how special and individual the cuts and jilted pitches are on each of his tracks, the endless tampering with the same filters and phasers really kind of ruined it for me. Hell, though, when you finish with a touching dedication to Hugh Jackman, who cares?

Compared to Saturday, which was sold out in its thousands months earlier, Wiesenfeld played to just over a hundred people. WHP really missed out here, and I can’t help but think they only did it because Baths just wouldn’t fit in to all that macho posturing. Perhaps he’s actually more man than any of them to just go out and radiate his essence.

Words: Sam Bass
Picture: Laurent Du Bus

Friday, 19 November 2010

Tame Impala @ Ruby Lounge, Wednesday 27th October 2010

Decent antipode rockers have been at a premium of late, which could go part way to explaining the sell-out crowd here tonight at this, Tame Impala’s second trip to Manchester.

After a quick test on the delay trigger, the Perth four piece drift in with debut album InnerSpeaker’s adagio opener, ‘It Is Not Meant to Be’. The slow, woozy intro may make little early impact, but the first single to be lifted from that album, ‘Solitude is Bliss’, soon moves through the gears; room-filling effects eagles swoop overhead, their talons turning attentions stagewards.

The bombast of another single, ‘Lucidity’, keeps up the tempo, but between songs there’s an ever-present temptation to play around with palm-muted strums that is the downfall of many an effects pedal embracer. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of musicians who, to their credit, wield artificial oscillation masterfully; Tame Impala are one such band. Indeed, since its popularisation in the late 1960s, many balance non-stop on a wah-wah pedal, but the inter-tune fidgeting can detract and grate.

Nevertheless, when used in composing melody the array of sound warpers is a definite plus point. Where ‘Expectation’ ends on a combination of fuzz and delayed chorus flange, there’s an interlude during which retro sci-fi special effects permeate recalcitrant bassline scuzzes, which relax into a soothing chillout before upping the tempo to its finale.

Desire Be Desire Go’ cranks into screaming guitars to signal the end to newer material with a closing medley of older tunes to look forward to. First there’s the poppier ‘Remember Me’ with its pout-worthy stomper of a riff, then ‘Skeleton Tiger’ emerges through pounding heartbeat drums, breaking down to jam mode and seamlessly reviving the original rhythm, to the crowd’s obvious appreciation. Finally, a Krautrocky steadiness akin to Neu! closes the show with ‘Half Full Glass of Wine’; not so much half-full of wine as of Cream – namely their song, ‘Sunshine of Your Love’.

True to their word, an earlier insistence that they don’t do encores is upheld and we’re left with a psyche racket simmering in our ears.

Words & Images: Ian Pennington

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Arts, Music & Events Preview November 2010 (Part Two)

It doesn’t seem long since the last one, but the time is right for another of our bi-monthly preview write-ups. There’s not a lot of preamble I can think of to introduce the second half of November, so we may as well dive straight in.

Continuing that vaguely aquatic theme are Red Tides, whose folky ballads are due an appearance at the Night’N’Day Café, Tuesday 16th. On the same evening there’s a Manchester Friends of the Earth initiative hosted by Nexus Art Café under the exclamatory moniker of Swap It! Stitch It! Style It! Bring at least three items of clothing to throw into the mix and leave with something brand new and unique. What’s more, you’ll feel far cleaner than you would do if you’d spent the time rushing around Primark before filling their filthy coffers.

Wednesday 17th sees a couple of gigs worth tossing a coin between. Heads says The Phantom Band @ Deaf Institute (Now Wave); tails and you go to Holy Fuck (with Buck 65) @ Academy 3 (High Voltage). Both have released sterling sophomore LPs this year.

Keep that coin handy because you’ll need it again the following night. Different kettles of fish this time, so that might ease the Thursday 18th decision. Firstly there’s local songsmith Jim Noir at Ruby Lounge, who gained infamy a couple of years ago for a pair of TV advert spots with his debut album jangles ‘My Patch’ and ‘Eanie Meany’. If that’s not for you there’s a photographic display launch night at The Art Corner. Delphine Ettinger, aka Ashes57, is showcasing her snaps of dubstep’s rise to prominence while Jehst (DJ) and the Format residents will provide some musical accompaniment. The exhibition remains viewable until mid-December.

Hip US record label Anticon have sent their signee Baths out on tour. The Manchester leg is at Deaf Institute on Friday 19th, courtesy of High Voltage. Fans of Bibio, Animal Collective and the like should make the effort. Or you could keep it local that night by visiting Fuel in Withington for a Red Deer Club conducted event, which includes Sophie’s Pigeons, Christopher Eatough and Stone Butch And The Bear.

Forget your coin for the next decision – you’ll need something closer to dice. Unless, of course, you’re better at making decisions than I am when spoilt for choice, which is quite likely. Anyway, for those who fancy leaving it to chance, roll a one and you could try getting a ticket to my pick of the Warehouse Project this season, the Kieran Hebden-invited bunch (Four Tet, Caribou, Theo Parrish, Mount Kimbie, Actress, Nathan Fake, James Holden – what a line-up that is!) Roll a two: stay at home and watch some shite ‘reality’ telly. No? Best avoiding that outcome then. Roll a three for a Friends of the Earth fundraiser at the Ram & Shackle in Fallowfield. Mount Fabric top the list of music.

Roll a four and find yourself at the 5th Carefully Planned all-dayer. They usually know their folk music so if the Castle Hotel’s walls have ears then it’ll be quite content with the nine acts from 4pm onwards. Roll a five (this is a little too Big Break now, isn’t it?) and a trip to catch the last day of Islington Mill’s current art exhibition, The Doers, The Drifters and The Dreamers. While you’re there you can sample the Contemporary Ceramic Art due to be adorning the Mill’s fresh first floor furnishings, which will have been open from Tuesday 16th. Finally, a sixth side to the die could be Golden Lab’s offerings at Fuel, which features Vibracathedral Orchestra pair Mick Flower and Neil Campbell, who’ve worked with seemingly poly-limbed percussionist Chris Corsano and Tom Greenwood of Jackie-O Motherfucker. A freak-out is on the cards at that one. All that in one day. Phew.

That’s a tough day to follow for choice, so I’ll narrow it down for Sunday 21st: Wotgodforgot have Sun Araw, Zun Zun Egui and Gnod all doing their various warped rock things under the same roof. Islington Mill’s roof to be precise.

Experimental electronic types Hoya:Hoya have kicked off as a record label. You may have already picked up their first compilation on vinyl, but if not then Monday 22nd is the day it’ll go digital.

When passing through Stretford the other day it was hard not to spot the Christmas lights proudly illuminating the night sky and my immediate thought was that they must just be getting their money’s worth. But, to be fair, that festive consumption period is looming ever closer and the folks at Islington Mill have spotted the proximity as well. Their annual crafts fair takes place on Thursday 25th.

Also on Thursday 25th in a Christmassy arts theme, Mooch N4 launches its next Street Art exhibition, Lump of Coal and a Satsuma. Otherwise, there’s music on the same night from northern noiseniks 65daysofstatic at the Academy. Support comes in the form of From The Kites Of San Quentin.

On the final long weekend of the month and Content have a tech-funk disco in store for Friday 26th at The Attic. Recloose’s name is the one commanding the entry fee with a promised melange of chilled grooves and minimal beats. Fast forward another 24 hours and you should look to Now Wave’s double portion of Ratatat. Saturday 27th at Deaf Institute sees a live set followed by the DJ guise under the ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ heading of An Evening With Ratatat.

Still want more for your month? How about harmony addled indie poppers Best Coast at Ruby Lounge on Monday 29th? Sorted.

On a related note, if you’d like to review local events like those previewed, or even just have something to say that you feel is worth publishing on subjects from politics to the arts via local issues, initiatives and good causes, then don’t hesitate to drop an email to ian [at] nowthenmagazine [dot] com.

Words: Ian Pennington

Thursday, 11 November 2010

ITC 2010 @ Band On The Wall, Thursday 14th October

If my impression of In The City is one of numerous musicians clamouring in a small dingy venue for the attentions of a solitary big league A&R who, a) has been bothered to leave their hotel room/bar, and b) actually has any budget for any negotiation of a loan destined to end in some tricky repayments, then at least the Band On The Wall venue itself differs from part of that preconception. As for A&R folk, who knows? But, as hinted at with this preamble, it might be worth aspiring recording artists avoiding the allure of such Sirens when their promised paradise floats so close to the rocks these days.

Having said all that, Anthony H Wilson’s lasting legacy wouldn’t have foreseen the industry’s 21st Century devolution, however the original premise of bringing London-centric major label players up north does now strike as a little outdated given the countless other options available to musicians in this era of technological mores.

Of this year’s fledglings, Now Wave have cherry-picked some of the brighter prospects around, with a running theme of two-guys-and-some-gadgets.

First on are worriedaboutsatan, a duo who’ve been around for a few years now (in fact, it’d be wrong to assume that any of those performing either at official or fringe ITC events have formed only a fortnight prior, but then it depends on whether your definition of ‘new’ is more closely aligned to that stated in the dictionary or by Edith Bowman). Facing each other with laptops primed, this time the set-up is one of a divided stage; as if competing in online Battleships. That is to compare it to the audience-facing Futuresonic appearance in 2007; an early slice of recognition for the pair. Since then worriedaboutsatan have also developed their sound, from post-rocky soundscapes to the more electronica-flecked, pulsing layers of clicks with flickering, flinching waves of guitar-infused echoes.

There are thicker, more muscular bass accompaniments in sections, such as those acting as foundations for the sample of Scuba’s ‘So You Think You’re Special’, but it’s the downtempo elements that resonate longest. Imagery conjured for the finale brings the sound of umpteen lonely drips amplified together for a steady shuffle along an underground rail track; slowly but naturally ceasing to a standstill.

Local two-piece D/R/U/G/S make their mark by shunting the tempo up a few notches courtesy of tectonic thumps and a smattering of ivory twinkles. Never ones to dwell on a beat for too long, the underlays bypass some Caribou and Four Tet’s ‘Plastic People’ in semblance, but always with a more imposing bassline artillery; up there on a par with tech trance bpms.

D/R/U/G/S, although due to appear on at least two other occasions during the ITC gigging window, have a buzz band appeal that attracts a roomful of wristband holders and, consequently, Walls’ audience is a whimper by contrast.

But Walls’ set is far more calculated, controlled and significantly less ADD than that of D/R/U/G/S, and although it’s not worthwhile comparing the two duos too far beyond the obvious personnel similarity, it’s hard to avoid linking the acts with only a short break separating them on the night. Signed to German electronic label Kompakt, Walls can command a certain respect, but also carry a certain expectation. Indeed their eponymous debut and its plaudits add to such anticipation in the diminished crowd, and it takes a while for the mellower tones to settle in with D/R/U/G/S’ rave-sparkers still ringing in your ears. But the slow-building static and cosmic iron lungs are a more fulfilling entity; Walls know where the speed dial can take them, but work themselves up to that level via restrained strata of vibrating pings and squashed minimal squeaks. When you reach the pinnacle it’s all the more rewarding than their predecessors’ musical Tourette’s.

Gaberdine’ exemplifies their steadiness, but there’s also the fuzzy Fuck Buttons-esque wake-up call of ‘Burnt Sienna’, erupting like the yawn of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Mount Kimbie are last on and attract some of the floating voter venue surfers back onto BOTW’s recently-pristine, now-blotched carpet. They drop initial beats akin to a low bouncing ball, which progresses as if thrown into a pond to ripple outwards; shivering the floorboards and forcing movement from the intrigued gathering.

This performance is not without its hitches, though. First of all, Kai Campos manages a wry smile at the first instance of unintentional silence, brought about due to guitar connection issues. Mildly chagrin expressions from Campos’s band-mate Dominic Maker illustrate the long pause later on while the aforementioned guitar DI is remedied; a ten-minute lull in proceedings that he jokes will be made available to buy on CD after the show. It’s nice to know they aren’t taking it quite as seriously as those who don’t stay to give them a second chance.

Despite the mishaps, the pair persevere with a modified set including Maker’s looped samples solo and a concluding effects-pedal-less version of ‘Field’ that sees a cleaner guitar join the echoing tongue clacks. The helium-voiced ‘Mayor’ is a standout with its live-specific builds, while the pitch-descending chimes leading into ‘Before I Move Off’ are met with appreciation from more than one animated audience member.

All of which can neither enhance nor damage the growing reputation of a duo who’ve become the namedrop of choice for many a post-dubstep commentator. And, as previously stated, ITC isn’t going to make-or-break your musical adventure, particularly when you’ve already released one of the albums of the year (Crooks & Lovers) via Scuba’s Hotflush record label.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Simon Bray

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Electronic Exchange: Live Review & Interview

There’s an irony in the venue name for this packed Mind On Fire promotion. Every nook and cranny is spoken for in the Chorlton bar by the time aptly named inter-European duo The Electronic Exchange take their positions in the makeshift stage area tucked into the corner of the room. That the visuals show is then projected on the opposite wall is indicative of, depending on how you see it, the awkwardness or uniqueness of the space.

The minimal glitches and wall-shaking bassline rumbles filling The Nook are born from a very 21st century musical model. Najia Bagi (vocals) and Tullis Rennie (production/electronics) are a pair who rarely find themselves in the same room together, yet have released a debut EP consisting of four tracks intertwining ideas from them both. Nevertheless, they agree that the distance between them – Manchester to Barcelona – often acted as an advantage.

Najia: “There was lots of correspondence between us – both audio files and emails, but that’s one of the things that was brilliant about it. For me as a vocalist, it was really great to have the space to write one melody then, whilst falling asleep the following week, write another one and be able to use them both!”

Tullis: “It was a new experience for us both but the working process certainly has its benefits. We never felt restricted by time in order to be creative, as you might in a studio session. I think we really felt liberated to pursue our own ideas when recording, but then always had feedback and comments from the other about those ideas. The perfect mix, I’d say! Being remote from each other certainly wasn’t a drawback in our case...”

Even given this detached synchronicity, there might be a tendency to relax with no deadlines breathing down your neck, but the collaborative element served to urge a steady creativity, with emails the catalyst.

Tullis: “I’ve never met anyone who can write so many emails in one day! It was great; we really developed a working relationship and a buzz between us about the tracks. I tend to procrastinate when I’m producing, and then work in flurries of activity, so with someone to bounce off and occasionally chivvy me into finishing something, but also having that time and space, is the perfect combo.”

Najia: “I think Tullis described the process accurately when after our gigs in the UK and before he flew back to Barcelona, he said, ‘OK, so I’ll email you, and I’ll expect eight emails back from you!’ But for me, the process gave me the space to write vocal melodies that I might not if there was a band surrounding me playing loud instruments – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but because I work well when there’s more time and less pressure.”

Another side to the project was the mystery of songs as a jigsaw puzzle where you only have sight of how half of the pieces are laid in place. During the show, this compositional mystery manifests itself through occasional reassuring glances shared between the pair, but the smorgasbord of sounds from electronic echoes to doomsaying drums affix homogenously with softly looped vocal tones.

Najia: “Tullis started the ball rolling each time and, when he received the first set of vocals, he would tweak it, sometimes with some guidance from me, and send it back and I'd get going again and so on and so on. In terms of technical process, I would send the track in its entirety to show where I felt that the vocals should be, and then the separate clean files for Tullis to play with. So very often, where I thought the vocal lines would be isn't where they would end up. And that is fantastic! Like magic...”

Tullis: “Like Najia mentioned, there was this 'magic' or 'surprise' element to the work – a track would turn up in your inbox and you'd have no idea how it had progressed.”

The music itself is also a step in a different direction for both musicians. Tullis is no stranger to samples and off-kilter electronica – the introductory rhythms are narrated by rehashed words of wisdom from an early champion of electronic music, Fred Judd – but The Electronic Exchange has taken him down a darker, more beats-driven path towards Portishead territory. Indeed the effect of Najia’s vocal delivery alongside these echoing clicks, clacks and thwacks is not too dissimilar to Beth Gibbons at her angsty best; a variation from her sound with the guitar-focused To Sophia.

Tullis: “Najia’s voice inspires me to try to write music I wouldn’t normally write. I’m not really a beat-maker, but I’ve always aspired to be one. Basically, I'm not cool enough for those guys. But in a way, I think that's what sets us apart a bit. Those kind of reference points – hip-hop, soul, current UK bass music... basically things to make people move – but coming at it from a different angle.”

“The stuff I've worked on before as a solo artist is much more abstract electronic soundscapes, or being a laptop musician in some free improv ensembles - so this is quite a departure for me. That's why we called it ‘toolshed dub’ in the press release – it’s like if your Dad takes up a bit of an embarrassing hobby, which really should be confined to the shed outside. I'm a hobbyist beat maker.”

Najia: “At risk of sounding gushy, I feel the same as Tullis – his music has inspired me to write vocal melodies, harmonies and even lyrics that I would never have had the courage to do previously. Because there is so much space in the music he writes, creating lead melodies, harmonies and other vocal lines has been really easy for me.”

“The first song we wrote, 'Noises', is a real indicator of how I felt at the beginning of the process, because I was playing it again and again in the kitchen while I was washing the dishes and suddenly I sang out ‘Wish I had the noises to make, but I don't.’ I didn't feel very confident at the beginning. But when I sent that riff to Tullis we were off! My favourite musical genres are Jazz, Soul and Motown really, as well as lots of other – always tuneful – music, so I'm coming at this from what I hope is an original angle. I don't really know any ‘cool’ music, apart from Flying Lotus, so I hope that makes what we write sound fresh!”

There are already plans to continue to embrace the internet’s global village.

Najia: “We’ve started to write already – we didn’t plan on writing an entire EP when we started; it was just an experiment, led by necessity, but it far exceeded my expectations. I hope we’ll continue to write like this while we live in different cities...”

Tullis: “I'm really excited by the direction of the latest tune we're working on. It’s going to broaden our sound. The working relationship is still progressing. I've started to suggest lyrics, which I would never have done in the past!”

The EP has been made available through netlabel Concrete Moniker and, as its co-founder, Tullis has some valid and intriguing insights into the successes and limitations of music predominantly heard through low-quality laptop sound-systems.

“I think the role of recorded music in people’s lives will continue to stay the same in terms of its sentimental value – people who have always valued it will continue to do so – but the monetary value of recorded music is in flux, and the way people consume music is changing rapidly.”

“In some ways that's OK; the easier it becomes to disseminate music via the internet with mp3s, the easier it becomes for more people to hear new music more easily. However, there are some things that sadden me, and that's literally the sound of recorded music as it moves into the future. I can just about tolerate 320kbps mp3, especially now as people are mastering productions separately to work as digital releases, but most people seem happy to listen to any old download, stream or low-grade Youtube rip of a song, and listen to it on their inbuilt laptop speakers. I'm someone who spends their life obsessing about sound quality and production, but that craftsmanship is getting lost.”

“Also, while I'm ranting, I feel that the generation of music fans that is developing right now has little or no attention span. When did someone last put an album on via their computer and then sit down and listen to it start to end...? Without skipping, shuffling or having Spotify ads interrupt it?”

Needless to say, unless you’ve just arrived from 1985 in a modified DeLorean, the goalposts have been well and truly moved on the music industry’s playing field. But before you slam the door back shut on this uncertain future and put your foot down ‘til 88 mph, be assured that there’s a whole World Wide Web of opportunity for those who, like Tullis, are willing to put in some time and effort.

“The role of the record label as it was historically, the 20th century model shall we say, is pretty much dead. Labels still have their part in terms of being respected taste-makers, but so do online magazines, blogs and web-based digital shops, so the illusion of ‘being signed’ to make a record has been lost. These days you can do it yourself, and you're nearly always the better for it. You have complete artistic control, any money made is your own, and the internet is the best marketing tool in the world.”

The marketing potential is key, and their netlabel is undoubtedly a benefit to those musicians whose recordings are made available through the website, but a balance tilted towards organic independence will always leave a certain glass ceiling. Launched in 2007 – shortly after Radiohead’s brief mainstream-pot-stirring pay-what-you-like digital download of In Rainbows – Concrete Moniker could never hope for the same fanfare to promote their releases as the aforementioned Oxfordians can freely muster. But they remain committed to the same ‘customer decides’ model of download payment, and this ethos is what provides a platform (if not a possible springboard) for music worthy of greater recognition.

Aside from lamenting listening ideals that are diminishing with every stride into the 21st century’s throwaway music-on-demand culture, Tullis is pragmatic but positive about the helping hand that his netlabel can offer its roster of leftfield experimenters, that also includes invention from Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra, The Splice Girls and Rennie’s own various collaborations.

“The cons are, of course, that you're starting out alone, and you have no clout, but the way we work with Concrete Moniker is that no-one is in a contractually binding agreement, so that if they got some interest at a higher level, they're free to take it. A bit like how Fierce Panda used to work in the 90s – that's what we're aiming for, but an electronic version.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Images (except images #2, #3 & #10): Jacob Russell
Images #2 & #3: Courtesy of The Nook / Mind On Fire
Image #10: Alex Rennie