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.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.

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.

Bass Clef – A Smile Is A Curve That Straightens Most Things (Kruger music review)

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.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.

The sad demise of Kruger magazine

It’s sad to see the end of Kruger magazine.

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 is the place for info on their future projects. There will also be a fuller archive of older content from the magazine.

Some of my Kruger writings re-published on this blog.

Wales as “first carbon negative country”? George Monbiot at Pierhead Sessions

George Monbiot speech part 1:

George Monbiot speech part 2:

Audience questions and George Monbiot’s answers:

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.

Surely even climate change deniers will be exhilarated by the suggestion of this? Allowing for his USA context, Tim O’Reilly gives us even more reasons to back sustainable energy sources.

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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