2010: year of a thousand RATM-style campaigns?

I have two predictions for 2010.

Prediction one is that we will see lots of online campaigns around songs, inspired by Rage Against The Machines’s chart success in 2009. It will be easy to be dismissive and call these “copycat” campaigns but the idea of mobilising large groups of fans via social media is a seductive one. And I think it’s more interesting than just letting the established industry and media dictate the sum total of who’ll be successful.

The first example I’ve seen is a Facebook group called “Cael band Cymraeg fewn ir TOP 40/Get a Welsh Language act into the UK TOP40” for a band called Masters In France.

Taking some cues from the RATM campaign, I think this is certainly achievable if the tune can be played on radio and the campaign can be blogged about and covered in some mainstream media. It would help if it were a band with some kind of following and a core band of independent, active supporters to act as campaigners in their own spaces, as was the case with RATM. As you’ll recall, the band got involved as a result of a “grassroots” campaign, which was well organised and had its own Twitter hashtag #ratm4xmas too. It wasn’t merely a Facebook group, but a campaign which existed in other places too.

See also: 1000 True Fans and the case against.

While comparing RATM to two other online campaigns, Simon Dickson identifies these factors:

  • they were negative campaigns – in the sense that they were based around someone or something that people didn’t like: religious advertising, Simon Cowell, Kerry McCarthy; and
  • there was a specific, measurable outcome: the sight of a bus with a poster on it, the announcement of the Christmas chart, the result from Bristol East on election night. If enough of you support me, we will get ‘X’ – and we will know if/when we have won.

Despite being “food for thought” rather than an exhaustive study, it’s worth reading Dickson’s whole post, especially if you’re interested in activism in the broader and sometimes non-frivolous aspect of the term.

So what’s my second prediction?

As we become more networked, aware of trends in society, more inclined to pass comment on it all and more capable of publishing those comments, I predict… more predictions and armchair futurology than any previous year.


The tune Gabriel by cosmic disco band Kindness is probably among the more intriguing musical releases from 2009. (You should be able to play the whole track above. If not, try Kindness on Myspace or the Pitchfork blog post where I found it.)

Although lyrically apt, it’s not a Christmas song as such. But this is the year we were reminded that seemingly any tune has the potential to be picked up, redefined and – without touching the contents – “remixed” into a Christmas tune, purely by presenting it in a different context.

So there goes. It sounds wintery and ultimately it’s a Christmas song to me because I’m listening to it and posting it here.

The festival of Christmas itself is a remix anyway – of older winter festivals… Enjoy it and make sure your version is a righteous one.

Back to the music. If the song sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a cover version of the original Gabriel, the classic 2-step garage tune by Roy Davis Jnr and Peven Everett (Spotify / YouTube). The original’s gospel roots are a lot more obvious. Like a lot of good gospel music it sounds like it’s caught between Saturday night, in the club, and Sunday morning – in church.

Nadolig Llawen! Merry Christmas!

Underpass makes tunes

Underpass is a Cardiff-based musician and DJ. Above is a video for a new tune from his new album. It reminds me of home.

He and I have a long history as colleagues and friends, including running a club night called Machine Meadow. It was 2004 and we wanted to DJ and book people we wanted to see, like Werk label, Adverse Camber collective and Kode9 (first dubstep night in Cardiff?). Among other things, I also promoted Multistorey EP and plugged it to radio – with some degree of success!

Ability as an electronic musician is partly about songwriting and partly about the art and science of studio production, both of which Lee has been carefully honing for a long time. So here’s to him and his new tunes! The early mixes I’ve been hearing have been splendid indeed, including a tune with multi-instrumentalist and former Placid Casual artist Rhodri Viney (alias Broken Leaf).

Read the Underpass biography or follow him.

Thoughts after Telstar (the film)

Telstar is a British film about 1960s record producer Joe Meek.

It’s been in some cinemas here for around a month and despite some decent press, apparently it hasn’t “grossed” much at the box office, which is a pity. Why? Influential though he is, Joe Meek was a producer not a performer and hence not an enduring household name. And arguably, the strand of music – early British rock’n’roll – is not among those currently being revisited or re-appraised. But neither of these is a good reason to avoid seeing a film! (Or distributing one, if that’s the situation.)

I recommend it, even if you think you’re totally unfamiliar with the life and work of Joe Meek. Saying that, you might know Johnny Remember Me (from that curious mini-subgenre of teen death ditties which flared up in the early 60s) or Telstar (otherwise known as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite Desert Island Disc).

The weaknesses are the typical ones you get in this sort of film. In particular, they can’t resist some heavy nods to the future significance of certain events, for the audience’s benefit, like when Meek casts a demo tape by a then-unknown Beatles into the bin, that sort of thing. I guess that was deemed more important than showing any of the other performers he actually did work with that were left out. Admittedly, there are bound to be details glossed over in a career as prolific as Meek’s. Despite these minor flaws it’s well worth a look.

This isn’t a proper film review by the way, so here’s a piece of space age skiffle called I Hear A New World, from Meek’s formerly long lost album of the same name.

For me, Joe Meek’s tunes are a more recent part of a musical adventure starting with latter-day electronica and going via 1970s dub reggae. In other words, I suppose my discoveries have gone backwards chronologically. Meek, in my head, belongs in a kind of loose collection of 1960s pioneers of sound experimentation, like Delia Derbyshire, John Baker and Brian Wilson.

(In terms of electronic pioneers, I have some Kraftwerk albums but they’re not my favourite band or anything. I continue to listen to stacks of other stuff especially dub and reggae, which never ages.)

All this reminded me of the book Ocean Of Sound by David Toop (from 1995), especially this bit:

Ask musicians of a certain age a question: Who revolutionised the recording studio? Invariably, the response will include the following names: Phil Spector, Joe Meek, Brian Wilson, Lee Perry. At critical moments of their lives, one common link between all these studio innovators was a state of mind known, for the sake of society’s convenience, as madness.

Whether this is a link of causation or correlation, I don’t know. Could it be unhealthy, in itself, to be so obsessive about creating a perfect sound? Or is this a more general burden those with artistic genius are commonly said to struggle with?

Toop’s book goes further but the film doesn’t deal with these kinds of questions directly. We see Meek suffer from paranoia, depression and mental illness. But he also begins to believe his own hype and reject nearly everyone who’d helped him find success. That and the drug abuse, money worries, obsession with the occult, blackmail attempts and social maladjustment (in relation to Meek’s sexuality) and legal challenges probably form, you might think, some basis of an explanation.

As with Phil Spector now, it’s an odd juxtaposition to celebrate the genius and listen to such fantastic music yet be reminded how dark things ultimately became.

Delia Derbyshire on Ada Lovelace Day

It’s Ada Lovelace Day today and the brief was very open – just write a blog post about a woman in technology who you revere.

So here’s mine. The above video shows Delia Derbyshire demonstrating reel-to-reel music recording and production.

Derbyshire was known for her creative sound engineering work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (which was itself the subject of some 50th anniversary retrospectives last year). Among those working long-term there in the early days there were three women in total, all of whom deserve credit. But I’m going to focus on Derbyshire.

Although many might know her as the warped genius behind the original – and best – Doctor Who theme, Derbyshire was very prolific. There are countless more fascinating themes, incidentals and effects on her CV, including a big batch of recordings which have only recently been found and reported.

While DJing, I’ve been known to play the spooky, beguiling and downright peculiar tune Love Without Sound by The White Noise, a band in which Derbyshire was a key member. The track is 40 years old but sits quite comfortably (but in a funny way, uncomfortably) with latter day tunes.

The fact that it’s now difficult to find the original vinyl LP, entitled Electric Storm, is some sort of indictment on either the record buying public or the marketing people at the record label. Either way, in 1969 that lack of attention would have been disappointing. But not for me in 2009 because I own and cherish one. W00t!

If you’re curious, the album was reissued last year by the famous (but somewhat oxymoronically-named) Universal Island label. You can hear it on CD, download or on Spotify where such services exist.

Delia Derbyshire was by many first-hand accounts a shy person. Dedication, focus and extremely high levels of patience were almost requirements for the job at the Workshop. These character traits, along with the BBC’s low esteem at the time for this mere “service department for drama“, may explain in part why appropriate recognition for her talents has been late in coming.

But among other luminaries who have been hybrids of performer, composer and producer, she really holds a place. Joe Meek, who was working on similar techniques in the 1960s but in the more mainstream world of pop, can be considered a peer. More widely, the name Delia Derbyshire should really be listed next to visionary producers like Phil Spector, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Brian Wilson (for adventurousness of musical output, it should be said, rather than behaviour).

Here’s to crazy electronica from the 1960s. And here’s to Delia Derbyshire!

Truckers Of Husk – Person For The Person

Here’s a music video for scene stealers Truckers Of Husk. I’m sure you will agree it is mighty fine – a carnival of craziness, much like their genre-mashing music.

For this we can thank Casey Raymond and Ewan Jones Morris, the co-directors. They were the ones who made the recent Future Of The Left video (filmed in The Vulcan pub) which also had its web premiere this week. There’s no rule that says you can’t release two such works in the same week. Just hit everyone with both and make it feel like Video Christmas.

The above Truckers Of Husk video is also notable for a brief cameo role by yours faithfully. (This is, after all, my blog). Unless you include Ewan’s How To Sleeveface video, it’s been a long time since I last did any acting.

In particular, my role here makes a long-sought change from school productions, where I was always picked to be cast as the elderly man.

The Point RIP

I was DJing there only last Friday, now it’s finished.

Full statement from The Point.

The Point has been a terrific place for the music scene in Cardiff. I have witnessed and participated in so many awesome gigs and events there. Just off the top of my head, who remembers Polar Bear, Johnny Clarke, Candi Staton, Euros Childs and Threatmantics, Roy Ayers, Mary Anne Hobbs and Virus Syndicate, Richard James, Devendra Banhart, Oxjam, Super Furry Animals, Faust, Horace Andy, Bounceathon (twice), Secret Garden (several), Beirut and David Holmes, Swn Festival (twice), Soft Hearted Scientists, Josephine Foster, Battles and Truckers Of Husk, Lightning Bolt and DJ Scotch Egg, Iron and Wine, The Fall…? That’s just a few.

It’s such a shame to see that they now have to close, brought on by extremely short-sighted planning of nearby apartments – which led to noise complaints and unexpected costs in already tight economic conditions. This kind of situation is not unique for a gig venue in the UK either.