Why are Facebook and Twitter killing their RSS feeds?

Just seen this excellent piece by Clare White about the virtues of RSS particularly now that Facebook and Twitter seem to be quietly killing their RSS feeds.

I was going to leave a comment but instead opted to write here. White says:

At risk of sounding hopelessly naive, I don’t know why Twitter and Facebook would restrict the free flow of headlines via RSS. Sure, in Twitter’s case the headline is basically the whole tweet and it may be about attracting people to their website where they can see advertising, but this risks alienating many users. RSS remains the best way for content to be shared and fed through to multiple platforms.

Facebook are trying to compete with the open web and offer the whole experience there. Facebook.com is a – pretty seductive but ultimately inferior – second web.

Facebook the company are happy to use the architecture of the web but would much rather you experience it in their garden. That’s why they don’t want to offer RSS.

I have friends who land on Facebook as their default home page and largely equate Facebook with the web. That’s perfect. For Facebook. More generally I think people undervalue RSS because they haven’t tried it or they’ve been lured away by RSS-lite systems like the Twitter or Facebook feeds. That goes for tech journalists too, the people who should be highlighting how important this is.

Where Facebook does play with the open web – identity system, like buttons, comment system and so on – it’s in an attempt to make websites and their visitors more dependent on Facebook. And to bridge people into their experience.

I don’t know exactly what Twitter are planning but I know they were a promising start-up with a variety of monetisation options they could have chosen but are now essentially an advertising company, as Facebook are. So probably the same.

White also highlights the tension between the “privacy settings” and the open web:

Twitter cited security concerns, but Twitter is a tool for sharing content with the option of setting updates to private if you want to. In the same way, there is no particular reason why RSS shouldn’t also be available from Facebook pages and groups unless they are explicitly set to private. It’s an important part of web literacy to understand that if you wouldn’t share something in earshot of people you don’t know in real life, you shouldn’t share it online. That still leaves a lot that we want to share.

The designers of these systems often make the mistake, or perpetuate the untruth, that privacy is merely a set of software options. Privacy on the web is really about us, the users, understanding what we’re getting into and being in true control of our information sharing. By this definition, Facebook in particular fail big time with their privacy offering. Of course, their interests are not aligned with your interests in controlling your privacy. It benefits the company if there is personal information on there which has been posted in trust.

Thing is, if Facebook and Twitter were totally public it probably would have been better for people’s privacy.

(Diolch Rhys am y dolen.)

“Press release as blog post” drives me mad

MH at Syniadau says:

I have to admit to not being fond of the way that political parties interact with the media before a general election. Policy tends to get broken down into bite-sized chunks that will fit into a one column story or a two minute video clip on the news. There is no room for any detail.

Clywch, clywch! “Press release as blog post” drives me mad. Several times I’ve wanted to learn more and explore the detail – and been let down. By all the parties.

Boiling a complex issue down to a single press release with few or no links is too simplistic. It’s designed for newspapers, radio and TV, who have limited space. But news is, we have endless space on the web.

It also makes me think we’re stuck in familiar habits. Then just bolting on our digital media strategy.

Although I include party politics, this observation is applicable in many fields. We can do far better than this in Wales.

e.g. how about a manifesto wiki (or some kind of open collaborative platform) with deep levels of detail and relevant outbound links depending on how far you want to go down? People can ask questions, suggest improvements and help make it better and more accurate. It’s not expensive. Nobody in Wales is trying this at the moment.

(I know Hywel Williams AS tried something similar once with Wiki Deddfu, the technology was there but it lacked the investment of time and understanding of the human side. Also, it’s vanished from the web so we can’t learn the lessons and you can’t check if my analysis is correct.)

Corollary: it’s very hard to find a blog written by a PR company in Wales which is actually worth your time. Maybe it’s the curse of feeling you have to be “on message”. Comment if you know differently.

Wales Referendum 2011: I was there… kind of

I’m very pleased about the yes result in the Referendum on further powers for the National Assembly. These powers will ultimately benefit Wales. This post is only partly about that, it’s certainly not an attempt to sum up the total of my views on the subject – or give you a general picture. I think various blogs and commenters have done that very well.

I blog when I want to put a page or thought on the web that I don’t see from anywhere else. So this time I want to talk about my experience yesterday and jot down a thought about the “public space”.

As I was going through the coverage today, in particular Syniadau’s full videos from the leaders’ speeches in the Assembly building, it struck me today how removed from the event I was. Even though yesterday I was only about fifty yards away from the Assembly building.

Yesterday afternoon, before any of the counts, I made the short journey to Cardiff Bay. I already knew my chances of going in were small, my companion had official clearance and I didn’t. But I also knew that the yes campaign was the clear favourite in the opinion polls and was backed by all the main parties. Regardless of the outcome I considered it to be a historically significant event so I figured I wanted to be at the source. That’s not so much from a blogger’s point of view as just a citizen. If sneaking into the Assembly building wasn’t an option, perhaps I could be part of the fringe.

Cardiff Bay was about as busy as it ever is on any ordinary afternoon.

There was nothing unusual except the BBC and their twin portable offices. Maybe a few other journalists were roaming, but it was a small presence.

We walked up the steps, passing a police officer and assorted Assembly staff. We walked past the airport-style scanners to a desk. It was all very spacious, a lot of light through glass on every side, no bustling crowd in the reception. Staff representing the Electoral Commission were behind the desk with one greeter, wearing an orange Iaith Gwaith badge, standing in front. My companion had her name checked off one of the lists on the desk. “I think you’re on this list here.”

They turned to me: “Do you have accreditation?” and I replied no. In my peripheral vision I sensed a twitch of security staff on standby. Rather than stop to glean any insights from a hopeless situation I made plans for a reunion with my companion and I walked out. It was a pity not to be allowed in.

Plan B: now at least I could hurry home and check the online bustle. I could read some stats and binge on data rolling into multiple windows, radio and TV signals.

Except it didn’t feel like that kind of event.

Minutes later on the way home it was encouraging to bump into my old tutor on his bike, heading Bay-ward to sample the action. I did a u-turn. Soon after we absorbed a stray yes campaigner (who I’d only recently met on the streets last weekend). The three of us gathered round a transistor radio in the sun, discussing the results as they came in, watching the Bay. So much for the fringe though. We were the fringe.

It was a good afternoon. Someone mentioned that the news screen in The Hayes in the centre of town had assembled a modest number of passers-by. Where was our screen? I also thought of the people at the various counts around Wales, people at home in clusters cracking open a lager with friends, office staff gathering around monitors. We heard the cheering on the radio but I felt pretty atomised from all that.

There were other strays. Later in the Millennium Centre, waiting for the last two results, we spotted a well known Welsh historian strolling around in hiking boots, sampling the mood from passers-by, doing what historians presumably do on a historical day.

I’m trying to give you an image here of how quiet it was in the Bay. I guess events sometimes happen like that. It wasn’t a Berlin Wall moment or an Obama moment or a crowning of Hywel Dda moment.

What was public about the event was that it was broadcast in the media. The glass-walled conference with the leaders was designed for the media. But what struck me is how exclusive this conference was, when it probably didn’t need to be. I wanted a GATHERING. Political events of historical importance should be public events. You know, with speeches to the plebs, cheering, maybe a rogue boo.

What about that huge space in front of the Assembly? Or maybe inside the red Pierhead Building? Crowds are not organised as such, they appear as a congregation around the announcements – when citizens are given access. This should be the default. Of course security is an issue but if you’re a politician you should accept the small risk as you do frequently anyway. Just get out there. Stand on a platform and talk to us.

The party members gradually trickled out eventually, to pose for photos.

I should also mention that I’d arrived wearing a Yes For Wales / Ie Dros Gymru t-shirt, holding an afro wig and some oversized sunglasses. I came prepared. Thing is, you never know when a Wales political carnival will spontaneously break out and you might need to blend in with – say – fire eaters, stilt walkers and vuvuzela orchestras. This BBC photo montage captures “scenes” from the results day, including the lone figure, me. I don’t want to diminish the importance of Wales’ decision or the change but on the day there was very little that could be called a scene.

Daily Telegraph figures for S4C are wrong (and possibly dishonest)

David Hughes at the Daily Telegraph asks today “Is £1,000 per viewer an acceptable price to pay for Welsh language telly?”.

I don’t usually do “reactive” blog posts. But there is a serious mistake here which we can hope to correct before it becomes a canard. He says (emphasis mine):

As part of its belated introduction into the real world, the BBC has been landed with the £100 million a year annual bill for S4C, the Welsh language channel. That may sound like peanuts in the context of the corporation’s £3.6 billion annual spend but it highlights the fact that S4C’s viewers are the most lavishly subsidised in the world. As these viewing figures show, the biggest audience the channel gets – for its daily soap Pobol Y Cwm (People of the Valley) – is just over 100,000 viewers (most of the channel’s output commands far smaller audiences – 25,000 viewers will get a programme into S4C’s Top 20). It means that each of those viewers is costing the taxpayer (and, from now on, the licence fee payer) about £1000. This extraordinary level of subsidy has gone largely unremarked since S4C was set up nearly 30 years ago. That’s largely because the channel is of high quality and has played an absolutely crucial role in the revival of the Welsh language. Many would argue that this is a reasonable price to pay for such a prize. But such largesse is certain to come under increasing scrutiny in the forthcoming age of austerity.

This is wrong. Hughes is dividing the total cost of S4C by the number of viewers for ONE programme.

He arrives at a figure of £1000 per viewer because he has only taken Pobol Y Cwm into account. Ergo, the Pobol Y Cwm audience is the S4C audience.

This answer could only be correct if none of the other (many) S4C programmes is bringing other viewers to the channel. He should be looking at the cumulative audience for S4C which is a more difficult figure to get. We can’t assume anything either, given how diverse S4C is – and has to be.

Any such calculation assumes the quoted viewing figures from BARB are reliable too. That’s something which I found doubtful back in January this year because of their inadequate sample size but continues to be unquestioningly accepted among some of the press.

If you don’t watch Pobol Y Cwm but you do watch S4C, Hughes has missed you from his calculation. And if you’re a taxpayer then you may take issue with phrases like “lavishly subsidised” and “largesse” as well.

Comments are off but trackbacks and pingbacks are on.

The invisible gatekeeper (how to develop creativity and culture in Wales)

Over on IWA’s blog, Colin Thomas writes about bypassing gatekeepers in his write-up of the Creativity in Hard Times event. I like his themes but Thomas could go further and I’d like to identify an “invisible gatekeeper” so here’s a post in response.

Lately I’ve done a lot of thinking and a bunch of posts in Welsh about copyright, licensing and content here. As it’s not my first language I’m hitting limits about how expressive I can be at the moment. I think the ideal language to discuss Welsh language culture is Welsh itself so I hope to rectify that pretty soon. But on with the blog post.

I went to a small premiere of the first episode of Pen Talar, the S4C TV series recently (it’s partly what inspired PenTalarPedia which I co-developed).

At the event Arwel Ellis Owen said a few words and mentioned the Tynged yr Iaith radio speech by Saunders Lewis which features in Pen Talar. For what was to become a pivotal moment in Wales’ history it’s now astonishing that only one person had the foresight to record the audio of Lewis’ speech. His name was Dafydd Alun Jones and the audio would have been lost to history if he hadn’t taken the initiative. As I understand it this was an unofficial, unlicensed recording done at home. I don’t think it was part of his original plan but this enabled the official LP release to happen later. Whatever your politics, I hope you’ll agree it was a pioneering thing for Jones to do.

So I asked myself, “with regard to content how can we be like Dafydd Alun Jones in 2010? What should we be doing?”

Even now you can still be a pioneer by recording audio – and now video. But the revolutionary and exciting changes I want to discuss are in copying and distribution. And the most effective distribution we now know is the web – in other words, uploading something to make it available online. Tynged yr Iaith is now on YouTube and can be embedded on any web page or blog next to any comment you’d like to make. It’s just one piece of cultural produce from Cymru of course.

When I started university in 1999, a friend showed me Napster which was software to enable peer-to-peer music file sharing. It gradually became clear that this would change the nature of the game for content creators, owners and distributors (although I might not have expressed it quite that way at the time). Today there are many people, young and old, who realise that unlicensed copying can be a legitimate practice – it’s just waiting for official, more sensible, licensing. Decades ago it happened with various rights around music like the performance right for songs, in response to unlicensed uses. It really should now happen for other works including TV programmes and films – especially those which are unavailable or out of print and therefore, regrettably, approaching limited use or even uselessness in this digital age. Unlike text, you’re not even officially allowed to lift a segment of a film to use under fair dealing as a “quote”.

YouTube’s own mechanisms for royalty collection are still being debated and sometimes negotiated by lawyers, by many accounts they are flawed. But these are minor details. Similar discussions happen around Spotify the licensed music streaming service which actually uses peer-to-peer sharing in the background to distribute the music and lower costs.

Dafydd Alun Jones (as I understand it) did not write to the BBC expecting to wait for a letter of permission to come back. In doing so he could have missed the programme.

Today we are missing the programme in Wales, not only figuratively but also literally.

Many, many things lie decaying in archives. They don’t make a penny for anyone and they need to be released somehow. Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis was made available recently in an extended director’s cut because a reel containing lost scenes was found in Argentina. That was lucky in a way. It’s a warning for us and shows us what we need to emulate – to the power of a hundred – with Welsh culture. We can’t rely on a tiny number of decaying copies somewhere. Nevermind old things which have gone into the public domain, I actually think we are missing wider availability and business opportunities by not copying the cultural treasures of TODAY. By copying we increase not only the long term value of a work but its value today. But there are more ways to maximise this value.

The Newport parody video which Colin Thomas mentions is a good example of remix which is a major practice which the web enables. This is just a continuation of 20th century sampling and folk cultures which date before that. Remixing can be another legitimate practice which is waiting for a sensible licence (and sometimes tantalisingly close to huge profitability). Jay-Z who raps on the original New York track routinely releases acapella versions of his songs. He’s not stupid. This “openness” leads to more creativity, more underground kudos, more free promotion and more highly paid gigs for Jay-Z. Remember when Danger Mouse unofficially sampled a whole Jay-Z album and combined it with The Beatles on his own Grey Album? He didn’t ask for permission and it led to a legal letter from EMI’s lawyers. But people forget that detail because not long after Danger Mouse signed a recording contract and became a massively successful EMI artist (as a key member of Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley and so on).

The comparative paucity of Welsh language content means we need to use every single trick we can find to make it go further. There is amazing creative potential in Wales lying unused and waiting to be enjoyed – and financially exploited.

Often what’s true for things in English and other big languages is so much more true, utterly true, in Welsh. Lawrence Lessig talks about how creativity is being strangled by the law, which is a perfect example. Lessig’s metaphor of strangulation is sometimes too painful for me to think about in a Welsh language context.

There’s an economic race to the bottom going on now. We need to remove as many restrictions on creativity as possible – the two that come to mind here are the excessively long copyright terms and constrictive “all rights reserved” licensing.

No matter how famous you are, if you create stuff (music, programmes, films, art, blog posts) then you need to make it your business to research what Creative Commons means. I recommend that family of licences because they are the most popular and now the de facto and will ensure the widest interoperability of different works from around the globe.

Creative Commons is a sensible move in a digital era because the digital era is synonymous with copying. Aside from open licences, content owners and record companies will have to change and where the money comes from may change. But our problem in Wales is not piracy – it’s obscurity. (Thanks to Tim O’Reilly for that insight.)

People are already mashing up S4C and it’s leading to, as you’d expect, mixed results. But in order for really cool things to happen in abundance, people need to be explicitly encouraged.

So what is the invisible gatekeeper? It’s the way we approach copyright. It potentially affects all creative people in Wales.

In my ideal world I would like to see all S4C programmes released under a permissive licence such as Creative Commons to allow and explicitly encourage adaptations. All of these would need to be credited as derivative works. I realise there are a whole bunch of things that need to be done before that can happen, such as negotiations with various unions and production companies. These are important but like YouTube’s spats over percentage points with PRS they are details.

The BBC have toyed with open licensing (Creative Archive and R&DTV come to mind). It’s one way they could take on Murdoch.

We pay for S4C, we pay for the BBC, it’s time we looked to maximise the value of these things. What could happen if creators were given more resources and more freedom? It’s an interesting thought experiment, let’s make it a real experiment.

S4C’s licence or adoption of Creative Commons (in my ideal world) would probably have to allow only non-commercial re-uses. If S4C liked the result, they could then work out a separate deal with the remixers/co-creators. A hypothetical example could be (say) a Galician language production of Pen Talar On Ice. I’m only half joking about this. It could be performed, recorded and copied non-commercially. If anyone wanted to use it commercially they would have to come to an agreement to pay S4C and, presumably, Fiction Factory who are the production company behind Pen Talar. This is all standard practice when something openly licensed leads to use under a separate commercial licence.

Colin Thomas says:

There seems to me to be alarmingly little realisation of what convergence will mean for the future of Welsh media. Only Y Lolfa, it seems, is producing books in Welsh that can be read on a Kindle or e-book…

Book publishers will realise the benefits of ebook distribution, I don’t doubt it. There’s money there.

But while we’re on it someone needs to release Thomas’ TV programme The Dragon Has Two Tongues digitally for those who weren’t around (including me). In the digital age, we need a link to the programme because a misty eyed reminisce is not enough. Stick it up on YouTube if you must.

In summary here are three major benefits – and corresponding threats – which I’ve expanded on through this blog over the last few weeks. You can apply them to creative output from Wales but particularly things in the Welsh language:

  • Benefit: wide availability now (threats: restrictive licences and for older stuff, copyright term)
  • Benefit: wide availability tomorrow (threat: lack of copies)
  • Benefit: creativity, re-use, remix and adaptation (threats: restrictive licences and for older stuff, copyright term)

Bonus: read the story of Bernie Andrews for another example of archival heroism.

UPDATE 19/10/2010: Just found some extracts from The Dragon Has Two Tongues on YouTube, courtesy of someone who’s transferred them from wobbly VHS.

UPDATE 15/12/2010: Just re-read this and realised this sentence is too limited “And the most effective distribution we now know is the web – in other words, uploading something to make it available online.”. I didn’t include online methods of distribution that use the Internet but run outside the web, e.g. BitTorrent, FTP and so on. It also doesn’t include peer-to-peer copying that happens on other networks, e.g. intranets, LANs and other media, e.g. a memory stick. Most of the principles are the same though. Fecundity is good.



In conversation with dubstep don Pinch (Kruger music interview)

Below is a fairly early interview with dubstep DJ, producer and label owner Pinch, which I originally wrote for Kruger magazine in 2006.

I was chatting about the still emerging dubstep genre with Mike Williams the magazine’s editor in some Cardiff bar. We decided to do an interview with Rob Ellis alias Pinch.

I’d originally met Rob in December 2004 at Moloko club, Mill Lane in Cardiff. He’d travelled from Bristol to my Machine Meadow night (which I ran with Lee Underpass) in order to catch Kode9 playing dubplates of grime and dubstep.

Rob mentioned he was a dubstep enthusiast who made his own tunes – so far so typical for a random guy in a club.

By July 2006 and this interview, Pinch had just recently released his first 12″ for Planet Mu and a handful of things on his own labels. He’d toured a bit but at the time it still wasn’t at all inevitable he’d be the dubstep scene stalwart he is today. The accompanying photo in the magazine, taken by Michaeljohn Day, showed Pinch grappling with a stack of ringing telephones which turned out to be very fitting.

“There was a factory somewhere in the States where workers were complaining about seeing ghosts – not just feeling them but actually seeing them.” says Pinch.

“They sent some people to investigate and eventually found that the cooling system was emitting a low frequency of 19 hertz. They turned it off and it was fine… You see, around 19 hertz is the resonant frequency of your eyeballs. It makes your eyeballs vibrate. It affects the way they deal with the information in front of you. Everything’s got a resonant frequency.”

Pinch could fill several magazines with weird and chilling tales about sound. As a devotee and champion of what’s become known as DUBSTEP – arguably the first bona fide new musical movement to emerge from the UK in a while – his fascination with bass and its spooky Fortean properties long ago become an obsession.

As any likeminded follower of bass-driven music may know, dubstep as a genre has been bubbling away contentedly for some time now. Sounding like some lazier, hazier cousin of the grime scene, with roots in the 2-step garage sound, the common factors in any dubstep tune are a large and seductive cushion of bass with sparse yet swinging drum rhythms. Unlike grime, it is mainly instrumental and there are few MCs to speak of. Melodies and vocal snatches appear, often quite subtly, then vanish. But always the bass.

Pinch is our guide to this new and thrilling world. He recalls the initial confusion: “a lot of people listen to it and think it’s two kicks, a snare and a hi-hat – ‘what else is going on?’ (they say)… But there’s all this 40 hertz sub-bass which is moving and gives it a groove but it just won’t pick up on your hi-fi so you won’t even know it’s there really. Undeniably you have to have at least heard it once on a big soundsystem to really get it. Then you can come back and listen to it in a different way. Once you’ve had your belly shaken a bit you can kind of get why it’s like that!”.

At first a distinct trickle of vinyl releases from pioneering London-based artists on the very fringes of garage such as Zed Bias, El-B and Horsepower Productions, now a healthy surge of tunes from artists such as Digital Mystikz, Kode9, Benga, Skream, Loefah, Burial and Pinch himself have signalled its growth to the wider world.

Pinch again: “it sounds a bit condescending but a lot of people wouldn’t listen to garage or allow themselves to listen to it because it has this cultural association with the bling, smart shoes, shirts and bottles of Moet. Which is a side of it which I don’t like but I still LIKE the music. There’s a lot of garage tunes which people could listen to if you call it dubstep that allow a certain group of people to like it because it doesn’t have this cultural reference attached to it.”

It is most definitely a do-it-yourself movement; a punk movement, in the less guitar-specific sense of the word. As such it gathered its initial hardcore following with zero interest or support from established or major labels. The best ways to discover the sound have been underground pirate radio such as Rinse FM and online mixes on blogs and online forums. And the clubnights…

Now based in Bristol, Pinch is a key catalyst in the city’s adoption of the sound, having been the founder of some notable clubnights (Subloaded, Context) and record labels (Earwax for “drop-heavy” tunes, Tectonic for deeper stuff). He’s also working on his debut album for the Planet Mu label, to be among only a handful of artist albums in dubstep and preceded by the follow-up 12″ single to his debut Qawwali. He’s one of the most laidback-sounding artists on the label, traditionally a home for earbleeding electronica, joining the more abrasive dubstep-mangling of Vex’d on the roster.

How did that come about? “Jamie from Vex’d told Mike (Paradinas, label boss) about it and said Rob (Pinch) has got a tune… I sent him an MP3, didn’t really think anything of it. He rang me up about a month later asking if he could put it out. To be honest I didn’t really think it was good enough to put out! But I thought if he thinks it is then wicked.”

“(Afterwards) I wrote the VIP remix because I thought he might be interested and he was cool with putting it on the flip. Since then I thought well, wicked, someone wants to put my tune out. Maybe I should put a little bit more effort in! Maybe try and get my head around production. I took a bit of an anti-production stance. I thought ‘it’s not really about production and super fine tuning your beats, it’s just having the material and having good ideas’… But I’ve actually come round and realised it’s somewhere between the two, a balance between art and science…”

These are surprising words from Pinch if you’ve heard his insidious and addictive Qawwali tune. High standards are good and particularly welcome in dance music right now.

“I like sounds that don’t sound like they belong in this world. That’s the thing I’m really drawn to and those kind of melodies as well. It’s other-worldly, that’s where it works. It takes you outside of your everyday existence and allows you to step outside of yourself. I think that’s why dance music is suffering now because eventually it did penetrate into mainstream culture. It was being hammered on radio and adverts, you could hear it all around you… but before that it was an ESCAPE from everyday life.”

“That’s the power of dubstep. I had a sensation of total disillusionment with what was going on. I used to love jungle and drum’n’bass and just got sick of it because it was boring and it wasn’t innovative. It was about compressing a wall of sound and an urrrrrr delivery (he mimics hardcore bassline). People have kind of sussed it out and spelled it out and understand what’s accepted, the boundaries. And as soon as you have boundaries it’s no longer something that exists out of the world.”

“One of the greatest things about dubstep is the wild variety of stuff coming from the scene that’s completely experimental and people trying to do things in a really different way. It hasn’t got a definition that you can lock on to very easily.”

“I don’t think it’s possible for it to go and be accepted by a commercial environment. It’s very much about bass frequencies which don’t get picked up by apparatus for commercial use like your telly or little radio. People won’t be able to use it in that way. Take a Skream tune, often it’s got a catchy melody and you can use that bit of it. But you’ll never be able to use – and abuse – the chunk of the bass weight that’s underneath it that gives it the ride. Fingers crossed, it’s going to be immune to that dilution process.”

Pinch was raised in Newport, musically significant but perhaps not the world’s epicentre for any form of dance music. Were you part of the revolution when elements of rave music mutated into jungle around a decade ago? “I was never really taken by it until I’d heard Goldie’s Timeless (album) and I fell in love with that. I remember going to see Goldie in Cardiff… in ’95 with Doc Scott and supporting DJs. That was wicked, mind blowing, really. I hadn’t really heard that kind of darker, techier, deeper side of jungle… With the breaks and the focus on rhythm and different sounds and even hoover sound effects and all these things.”

“That and Leftfield, before I left Newport – same year, ’95 – were amazing live. Completely different variations on their tunes. I’d been along to indie concerts with my mates. And (then at Leftfield) I was like, hold on, people are not squashing up to be at the front. You could walk around and have a little dance. People were evenly spread out and it wasn’t this kind of pointless waste of energy. It just suddenly occured to me… The crowd was different… People were more interested in dancing than squashing up to get as close to the front as they could and jumping up and down. I loved that. That’s the path I went down.”

Now Pinch’s passport bears testimony to his global adventures in bass – Berlin, Budapest, London, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minneapolis have all been submerged. It’s an exciting time.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.

John Baker – The John Baker Tapes (Kruger music review)

Music review of two John Baker albums, originally written for Kruger magazine in July 2008.

Artist: John Baker
Albums: The John Baker Tapes Volume 1 and Volume 2
Label: Trunk Records

In the old days, the BBC could source its own original music and jingles at the Radiophonic Workshop, housed in Maida Vale Studios, London. Beginning in 1958 the workshop went on, most famously, to produce the score and sound effects for Doctor Who. Visionary though it was, that job has a tendency to overshadow their litany of other soundtrack projects. The workshop has now alas gone, as has its most prolific sound architect John Baker. But thanks to curator Jonny Trunk we now have these curious, weird and downright fun collections of restored workshop tapes and other archive material to enjoy. This is the sound of eccentric Britain in the 50s, 60s and 70s, often childlike and playful and strangely familiar even to younger listeners. Woman’s Hour, Dial M For Murder and BBC Cymru are among the many programmes featured, as are dusty library relics with titles like Piano Concrete MQ LP48/5. Much of this quality music is low budget, pre-Roland and most definitely pre-digital editing with Pro Tools etc. Baker would press the record button, pluck rulers and uncork bottles (three decades before the revered Matthew Herbert and other found sound magicians!) then painstakingly splice the tapes to produce rhythms, melodies and off-kilter incidentals. As a listening experience you may prefer to dip in and out. Volume 1 is the better starting point, while volume 2 rounds up the non-BBC material like obscure library stuff and home recordings. Both volumes have copious sleevenotes to satisfy the budding anthologist in you.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.

Recloose – Perfect Timing (Kruger music review)

This music review was written for Kruger magazine in July 2008. I loved Recloose’s early stuff and was disappointed by the Perfect Timing album. I wanted to communicate this in a way that didn’t sound too snarky. In hindsight I think I failed…

Artist: Recloose
Album: Perfect Timing
Label: Sonar Kollektiv

Close your eyes and imagine you’re an underground dance music producer. You are a master in the studio and can play it like it’s your instrument. You also do pretty mean jazz saxophone, thanks very much. You’ve been honing your craft for years, and after meeting digital soul legend Carl Craig for lunch in Detroit circa 1997, you get hooked up with Planet E records and become the toast of the underground. Later, Gilles Peterson and other “heads” rush up to shake your hand at tastemaker club gigs as you notch up sweet little records like Cardiology (hey, nice one on that Isolee version!). Later still you truly arrive – in a strictly underground sense – with the dancefloor-conquering deep house anthem Dust. BUT! After years of performing and DJing in trendsetter clubs, mere low level success is getting a bit… trying. For instance you dearly love Prince and long to make classic hit albums like him. As you’ve no doubt twigged by now, you are Recloose. Full marks if you read this far with your eyes still closed. Anyway, your career. You’ve reached the same crossroads as many talented people before you. It’s almost textbook stuff! What to do to get wider acclaim? You know, take it to the next level? Just get some nagging pop hooks, in this case scat soul vocals. Form an 8-piece band who are impossibly tight live. Rid yourself of anything resembling DEEPNESS – in other words, lose the subtle quirks and dark little innovations (that made you so special in the first place). It’s the way of the world – as one promising artist moves on, we can look for another to spring up in the gap. Recloose is making a serious play for the coffee table market here. We can only wish him all the best.

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Prod – The Artworks Formerly Known As Prints (Kruger music review)

Music review written in July 2008 for Kruger magazine.

Artist: Prod
Album: The Artworks Formerly Known As Prints
Label: Pollinate Records

New artist, new album, new label. Prod could potentially be lumped in with multi-talented producer-soul singer peeps like Jamie Lidell, Mocky, maybe Hot Chip at times… Prod is a street geek who’s mastered skittery 2-step beats and rude bass hiccups. Full marks for the beat science which is tight – and club-friendly in that the rhythms are all quantised. In other words, a DJ might play it and you could dance to it and it’s not really the kind of thing you expect from a trained saxophonist called Duncan. So he knows his way around a small studio. Against the peers mentioned above, it’s the glitch jazz element that’s his unique selling point. And you know, it kind of works too. Despite the busyness of an hour of cut-up breakbeats, live instrumentation, cheeky bleeps and boy-girl soul duets, the whole suite comes over surprisingly focused and accomplished. That said, the quirk factor is high and your reaction to this album will depend on whether you can deal with the earnest whispery blue-eyed soul vocals (see also: Lidell, again). The titular reference to the purple one is no mistake – this is possibly the kind of experimental pop album that Prince himself should be making if he weren’t busy wading through cash and suing YouTube.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.