Short music review of Bass Clef’s first album, originally written in November 2006 and published in Kruger magazine.
Artist: Bass Clef
Title: A Smile Is A Curve That Straightens Most Things
Label: Blank Tapes
Calling all dubheads, young and old. Rest assured, this album complies with the Trade Descriptions Act. Yes, there’s plenty of low-end on these tunes, of the wobbly and tuneful variety. But, granted that he borrows much from dubstep in all its current forms (track 1’s time-stretched ragga chatting, quoted from Ecclesiastes, even evokes the 2-step era of ’97), Bass Clef reunites the beats with latterly neglected dub ingredients like live trombone and theremin. There’s even time for some folky-sounding strings and moments of soundtracky rephlexion. In all, a superb treat. Check his live show if you can.
I’ve been away for a while in the USA recently but intended to mark the event in a fitting manner. The next few posts on this blog will be some of my occasional Kruger writings from the archives, originally published in the magazine.
The first issue of Kruger came out not long after I’d co-founded a record label – also based in Cardiff – and it’s hard to say which of the two enterprises was the more ambitious (or maybe foolhardy). But such things are not born merely of pragmatism of course, but of exuberance.
The offices for the magazine were originally based at a house in Elm Street, Cardiff which led to its name. (Hint: horror movies.)
At the time it was typical to see new self-funded DIY magazine projects being announced and lasting for only one issue or even zero issues. By contrast Kruger magazine maintained good standards of music journalism and good design over a six-and-a-half year lifespan. Its remit was broad but with enough emphasis on undiscovered music from around the world – and an appropriate spotlight on Cardiff and Wales – to make it genuinely distinctive.
Every issue was free of charge and covered by advertising from record labels, gig promoters and the like from around the UK. In 2010 anyone would hesitate to start off with such a model for distributing music writing of course – but I’m not really striving to make that point today. Those discussions can take place elsewhere, at least for now.
If you’re wondering what happened to Kruger, in their own words:
We’d like to really apologise for being so quiet recently and generally pretty tough to get hold of. Things have been difficult at Kruger for some time, and while we’ve struggled to work out ways to keep making the magazine, we’ve buried our heads in the hope that things would work out okay.
Sadly, things haven’t worked out okay, and it’s with heavy hearts that we tell you that Kruger Magazine is dead, and will no longer be produced. Our business model has become completely untenable, and the financial strain, without any sign of any long or short term improvement, means that we are unable to continue bearing the burden.
It’s been six and a half years since we first launched the magazine, and in that time it’s changed beyond recognition into one of the best written, most beautifully designed and lovingly crafted magazines in the UK, and that’s all down to the people who have helped us by giving up their time and lending their talent as much as they could along the way.
Whether it was working on the magazine itself, or one of our many spin-offs such as our website, Singles Club, Ivy League Sessions or club nights, everyone that we worked with offered such enthusiasm and dedication that we were often left moved and bemused as to why anyone would care as much as they did about what essentially started out as a vanity project for three friends from Cardiff.
But everyone did care, and that’s why we’re so gutted about having to finally call it a day. Yes, we’re going to miss the excitement of delivery day, and the ball-ache of distribution day, and the feel and smell of a brand new issue, but more than that we’re going to miss plotting features and photoshoots with you guys, and having the most fun ever executing them in the way we all have for so long.
Kruger as a business is not dead, and we’ll be in touch about new ideas and projects.
I’m told krugerlabs.com is the place for info on their future projects. There will also be a fuller archive of older content from the magazine.
Here George Monbiot speaks about the Copenhagen summit, climate change and about Wales’ sustainable energy requirements, recorded at the Pierhead Sessions event in Cardiff. If you didn’t attend the event it’s well worth sitting through the whole thing.
At the very end of the speech he throws down an audacious challenge to Wales:
we are perhaps in a position to become the first carbon negative country on Earth – in other words to actually actually cut more carbon emissions than we produce… it provides a shining example to the rest of the world, where we to take that step.
There may even be a bunch of caveats and challenges not immediately obvious from Monbiot’s presentation of the issues. But this is where dreamers and schemers like Monbiot can inspire us. Someone else can pick up the practicalities.
More devolution from the UK government is pretty much necessary for this. Wales’ energy requirements and distinctive advantages are different from those of England. The Syniadau blog makes a good summary of the issues here. In short, last week’s policy statement on renewable energy from the Welsh Assembly Government has some of the talk to move beyond coal burning but we don’t have the powers to actually make it happen.
In Wales, we are currently a net exporter of energy. It’s one of our lesser-championed products. Along with animation and cheese. But this abundance of energy comes at a cost to the environment.
So I’d also add that to maintain this income from energy, or even increase it, we should be backing sources we can rely on for the long term – wave, tidal, wind power and so on. As Monbiot points out, these are resources we have in abundance.
Unfortunately, as Monbiot mentions, we have the staggering fact of open cast mining happening at Ffos y Frân in Merthyr, causing terrible noise, dust and smoke pollution from as little as 36 metres of the nearest house. All this has the approval of local Labour councillors, Welsh Assembly Government and the UK government.
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The arts and politics magazine Planet has just published my short article with thoughts about Hacio’r Iaith, on their website. In it I mention open events, social media, intellectual property, open source and WordPress. All views are mine – as if I could ever presume to speak on behalf of such a diverse community as Hacio’r Iaith!
A group of us did a free, open event in Aberystwyth on 30th January 2010 called Hacio’r Iaith. It was fun. I learned things. It was based on the BarCamp format. You can use the format to have a conference on any subject and many people do. Some people call it an unconference.
The reasons we organised an offline event should be obvious. A chance to shake hands and consume body aroma content, the only remaining experiences not yet available online.
Around 40 people came. That number seemed about right for a one-day event, I didn’t even get a chance to talk to everyone properly.
One of the main aims was to get people together to talk about shared interests, so on that basis it was almost bound to be a success after the second or third person said they’d come along. When you know people will get talking there is no need for anxiety, even if the wifi access goes down (it was fine actually), the food doesn’t arrive (it did and was splendid – thanks chefs and sponsors!) or the firewall doesn’t allow FTP access (unfortunately it didn’t, but that was a mere glitch and chance to learn something).
Keywords will be in bold here because this is getting long…
The offline component of the event is finished. For a few reasons it’s a pity you can’t access big chunks of the event now. You really had to be there maaan. Saying all that, it’s still open to an extent because we purposefully made it a hybrid of offline and online. Several web-based backchannels existed before and during the meet-up: the event wiki, the group blog, Twitter messages, videos on YouTube and photos/images on Flickr.
These backchannels persist afterwards, which increases the value of doing the event for years to come. That goes for potentially everyone on the web (especially now that Google Translate can get you the gist of the Welsh in several other languages).
These are some of the benefits of the social web. These benefits are seldom discussed by the mainstream media, incidentally!
I want other people to see all this stuff if they search for related things. I know there are other people who attended who want it to have an influence. On that note, not every problem is a problem of information. (That’s the second Neil Postman link in this post. Consider that chin thoroughly stroked.) But some problems are related to information. For instance, taking abundant information and converting it into something useful is something we can step up. It’s something that could benefit Wales, where I live and most of the attendees live.
I’d like to see more BarCamps, unconferences and so on happening in Wales. Incidentally that’s part of the reason why I’ve chosen to write this in English, to give the non-Welsh speaking people in Wales some access to the proceedings. And other people around the world who might be interested.
As far as I know, Hacio’r Iaith on Saturday was the first BarCamp-style event to be conducted in Cymraeg, the Welsh language. The subject matter? Web and technology as it relates to the Welsh language. Those things – language and subject matter – don’t necessarily follow. Naturally people discuss their language in their own language. But a group could organise a BarCamp about any subject and do it in the Welsh language. Absolutely any subject.
For nearly everyone who attended it’s their number one language for everything they do daily and has been for as long as they remember.
I can only talk about the sessions I attended. Everything is from my perspective!
The first session was about tools for Welsh learners, including a website and series of online lessons called Say Something In Welsh build with phpBB, an iPhone application called Learn Welsh and some ideas for mobile app “flashcards” suggested by a tutor. We talked about the conflicting difficulties of making apps available to all mobile users, even if they are web-based apps running on mobile. I asked Aran from Say Something In Welsh a question about open content and search engines. The site is a private “walled garden” for a number of reasons related to maintaining a community of learners, but it’s free to register to join. (UPDATE: See Aran’s comment below for more about this.)
I then stayed for the Metastwnsh podcast recording and live web stream. Metastwnsh is a web and technology blog with several contributors. There was some discussion of gadgets and some jokes. My favourite part was a discussion of how the language choice of our online posts and conversations can differ from that of our offline choice. In particular, Twitter was cited as an example of a tool which first language Welsh speakers sometimes opt to use in English, for many reasons – some understandable. It was suggested that perhaps in some cases they file it under an “English language part of their brain”, alluding to the possibility that bilingual people associate some spaces or platforms with specific languages. So the effect of the platform is not necessarily “neutral”, or doesn’t remain that way. (I’ve been building a list of Welsh speakers on Twitter, including learners. Every person who is on the list can see the list and access all the other members of the list. It’s a way of strengthening the network and thereby, potentially, the impulse to post in the Welsh language should people wish to do so. Linguistic diversity leads to other forms of diversity and improves the internet as a whole in my opinion.)
I popped next door to catch the very end of a presentation about Llen Natur, a website about wildlife and nature. It has a dictionary of species, maps and photos.
Free lunch was not something I had insisted on, especially as it increases the admin for such events. But Rhodri ap Dyfrig was convinced it was possible and fixed up catering and covered it with money from some of the sponsors. For me it was a valuable part of the event, meeting some very talented people I’d only previously known online.
It was my turn next – purely because I’d volunteered to speak, as had everyone. So the title was “FyWordPressCyntaf.com – does dim angen profiad o flaen llaw” (which translates as MyFirstWordPress.com – no previous experience necessary). I wanted to talk about WordPress as a blogging and general site CMS, downloadable from wordpress.org with no coding necessary. It gave me the chance to talk about free software (unambiguously rendered as meddalwedd rydd in Welsh, free software as in freedom) with a bit about how localised code and themes are available for Welsh (but, as I also added, we can always do with more). Unlike the audience, Welsh isn’t my first language so I had a job explaining some of the concepts. I achieved my main objective though, which was to get a bare bones installation of WordPress running to show how quick and easy it can be.
In hindsight it was a little ambitious to shoehorn the mash-up/hack session into the event plan. On the day I ended up putting my talk in the hack session, which came just to mean practical session. Even WordCamp, which I attended last year, was spread over two days – allowing space for team building, pre-planning and the hack session on the second day. At Hacio’r Iaith, I think the initiative and creativity of the attendees to do the hacks could have been there, as well as the capability. But in a day already packed with presentations and to some an unfamiliar format, it became too much to expect. Next time some more practical stuff would be good. I do think a dedicated hack event could work.
We had a quick discussion about making online how-to videos and what subjects to cover. There is plenty of room for how-to videos in Welsh, especially showing non-geeks and normal people how to get the best use of software and the web. The ideas we generated are available to take.
Finally I went to a session on the game Civilization IV and its unofficial Welsh translation, using game mods. Welsh translation of open source games like OpenTTD also came up. I’m not a big gamer but it gave me some ideas…
As I said here about song-based campaigns, negative campaigns can work (by that I mean campaigns that unite against something). News is usually “negative”, it’s very often about conflict.
For campaigners it’s also about establishing the cause in different places and among different influencers – not just a Facebook group, but a conversation point, a Twitter hashtag/phrase, news stories, blog posts… Online, everybody can be an influencer, to an extent.
I think the group does act as a hub for the rest of the campaign, a backchannel of sorts. Why? Facebook is dominant, it relies on existing friend/social connections, joining a group is relatively frictionless and each action in the group (joining, posting something) results in a news item for others to see.