Archive for April, 2011

April 30, 2011

James Lavelle and the return of Unkle

Mo Wax founder and producer, James Lavelle, has been throwing sonic shapes for the good part of two decades.  Forming the seminal record label, along with his school friend, Tim Goldsworthy, they pioneered the trip hop and electronic London underground of the mid 1990’s.  Goldsworthy left soon after while Lavelle released the lauded, ‘Psyence Fiction’ in 1998.  A high watermark that he’s failed to match since.

Lavelle’s name is synonymous with innovation and collaboration within the dance fraternity.  At times though this seems a little misdirected.  Apart from those initial forays into trip hop, rap, house and turntable artistry, which culminated in the Mo Wax release of DJ Shadow’s era defining album, Endtroducing, and the aforementioned UNKLE debut, his output is frustratingly inconsistent, often impeded by the number of collaborators and consequently over produced.   Goldsworthy meanwhile went on to start the influential New York record label, DFA, with James Murphy.  He has since had great success with nu-wave bands, The Rapture, Hercules & Love Affair and Cut Copy.

Seemingly making up for lost time and in a current whirlwind of productivity, Lavelle has become a bit of a workaholic of late.  After taking nine years to release two UNKLE albums he has since completed another three in just four years.  Using the same title as last year’s album, ‘Where did the night fall’, his latest offering is basically a collection of all the work he’s released over the last 12 months, including album and two EP’s, with an additional few rare and exclusive tracks.  Confused?  You’re not the only one.  Sometimes persistence can be rewarded.  Unfortunately in this instance, it’s not the case.

There were some things to admire about last year’s, ‘Where did the night fall’Lavelle seemed to pick his collaborators more wisely, less based on celebrity, more on economy.  He reconstructed his sound from the Brit rock of ‘End Titles….Stories for Film’ into electro psyche rock, re-entering familiar territory, with metronomic beats and rich, layered textures.  The guest vocalists were woven into the fabric of the song, rather than glued on at the end.  Although the sound at times was too bombastic and again, over produced, but getting back on the right path.  

So it seems a shame that Lavelle has taken yet another step back.  Recently released, ‘Only the Lonely’ EP, is featured here, with many songs salvaged from last years album sessions, featuring long time collaborator, Gavin Clark, the Duke Spirit’s Liela Moss and none other than the prince of darkness, Nick Cave.  Although the same problems still persist.  All the clever sequencing, use of reverb and taut atmospherics can not hide the persistent problem of a lack of personality in the music.  An exception and the best song here is Cave’sMoney and Run’, which has a great Industrial-psych blues groove and Cave howling over pounding drums.  Sadly all the other songs don’t have Cave as a conduit.  Sure, the likes of Moss and Clark sing their parts proficiently, but a lack of lyrical nous and song definition fails to highlight one song from another.  

The new tracks brought to the mix don’t offer redemption.  ‘When the lights go out’ is a standard rocker, buried under a fog of sound.  ‘Not a sound’ is a Death in Vegas style instrumental, with post rock reverb and chugging guitar.  Turgid at best.  It’s as if Lavelle is still trapped in the 1990’s and like his fellow peers, Massive Attack, seems unable to produce an album that isn’t suffocated by studio programming.  Curiously the last song, ‘Every Single Prayer’ offers a little respite from all the bombast.  A distant relative of Thom Yorke’sRabbit in your headlights’, with sparse, shimmering piano, Clark sings a prescient warning for Lavelle, “Don’t let me down / You know I’ll never come again!”

April 21, 2011

The Most Expen$ive Mu$ic Fe$tival in the World?

After last weeks fanfare announcement of the Splendour in the Grass 2011 line-up, and now that the dust has settled, it’s time to ask; Is Splendour in the Grass the most expensive festival in the world?

On face value it appears so. $525 for the full price camping ticket, $400 if you want to join the mad scramble trying to book overpriced accommodation elsewhere! The line-up is good, but hey that is still a lot money!

Lets be pragmatic and look at the fundamentals of the festival:

  • The relatively small attendance of 32,000 adds intimacy to the event. The organisers are certainly not trying to squeeze the punters in, to maximize returns.
  • The geographical distance of Australia always adds a certain amount of mileage to the artists tank. Even though the artists management/label would be footing the bills, the festival organisers would be caught between a rock and hard place in terms of negotiating.
  • Competition in Australia is pretty sparse, particularly during winter! And it’s a long way to the fields of Europe!
In a way it’s difficult to compare an Australian music festival held in a southern hemisphere winter against all the northern hemisphere summer festivals? I accept that its probably not a level playing field. Even so the price difference is so severe that one can’t help thinking that this is yet another example of Australians getting ripped off for a luxury product or paying over the odds for international goods. Surely with the Australian dollar being so astronomically strong the organisors will save a few bucks by featuring such a large number of international artists on the bill?
I bet they all want to be paid in Aussie dollars this year?
The most expensive festival in Europe is the godfather of the music festival, Glastonbury.  At £200 ($310) it is an aeon away from its hippy roots, the price has doubled in 10 years, but i guess that’s the price of progression.  Most of the European festivals price themselves between $220 and $300 for 3/4 days. An absolute snip if you’ve got a pocketful of Aussie dollars!  There are all shapes and sizes depending on your preference.
Admittedly there are very few festivals the size of Splendour with such a stellar line-up, with the exception of England’s – Bestival and Benicassim in Spain perhaps.  In fact Benicassim, with a capacity of 50,000, has managed to sign the company of Arcade Fire, Portishead, Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes!  Not bad for $250!  Even the festivals that party for 6 days, Paleo Festival – Lake Geneva and Sziget – Budapest, will only set you back around $300!

Whether it’s the most expensive music festival in the world, which it probably is, is superfluous anyway, because it will sell out in record time and the demand for next year will supersede this!  And it’s not going to get any cheaper!
Anyone want to start a festival? If you build one, they will come!
April 21, 2011

TV on the Radio bassist dies.

R.I.P Gerard Smith

Only 36 years old and playing with one of the most innovative and exciting bands on the planet.  Having just released their fifth album – ‘Nine types of light’ and about to embark on a tour of the summer festivals, it is a tragic and untimely death.    Discovered while busking on the streets of NYC, he joined the band and became an integral part to their multi-layered, intricate, yet fluid sound.  A story of triumph in the face of adversity has ended on a sudden and sour note.

April 16, 2011

Coachella streaming live on YouTube

Over the next three days Coachella festival is being streamed live for free on a YouTube Coachella channel. Surely this is the way all festivals should be broadcast?  Hats off to the organisers of Coachella for pioneering for the people!

April 15, 2011

Ghostwood relive the days of Shoegaze

Beach Road Hotel – Sydney

It was 20 years ago this year that Nirvana’s Nevermind was released to mass acclaim. Grunge became the de-rigor sound of every discernible teenager and the alternative music scene was never the same again. Indie rock bands entered the charts and the homogenization of music began.

Shoe-gaze was another lesser known genre around during the late 1980s and early 1990s, shadowed by the lengthening popularity of grunge it was a much more introspective and non-confrontational sound, spawned out of the universities of England. Unlike grunge it failed to gain a foothold in the national consciousness and collapsed under the weight of self-indulgence. Most bands disbanded in the mid 90s or fell below the radar, but for a brief moment in the history of modern music there was a real excitement around this slightly esoteric, wholly inclusive and proudly adolescent sound. The term shoegaze was actually labeled because of the way the bands use to look down at their effects pedals while performing, this was not engaged showmanship but it was engaged listenership. Music was often played through swirling distortion and guitars built layer upon layer of sound to create an amorphous escapism.

Two decades later and the music scene is suffocated by overly produced and career contrived artists, pressured by record labels and tempted by the golden goose. Enter Ghostwood, jettisoned from a time before Pop Idol and Twitter. Not exactly. Formed in 2006 they have been traveling the circuit, offering redemption for anyone who cares to listen. In the slightly incongruous surroundings of the Beach Road Hotel, Bondi, the band launch through a set of uncompromising, shoe-gaze influenced and very loud alternative guitar music. It was unapologetically shambolic at times and brazenly louche but this is a band who are channeling the best of that forgotten scene.

‘Robot with clothes on’ vibrated and droned like early Slowdive while early single ‘Red Version’ had a spindly guitar motif reminiscent of Ride. Many songs tonight surged and spiraled with reverb, guitars twisted and buzzed, the sound at times smothered the small, under resourced venue, this is a band that like to set their dials to 11. Although much like their shoegaze brethren, there is melody amongst the mayhem. A pop sensibility hidden underneath the sinew of sound.

To portray Ghostwood as mere shoegaze imitators would do them an injustice. There are certainly more strings to their bow. Lead singer, Gabriel, sings with an angst akin to a grungy howl, not the barely audible vocals of a shoegaze band. Then there are the recent singles, ‘Cutlass’ and ‘Sunset Mirage’, played in quick succession tonight they hint at a more rounded, melodic sound, with the latter resembling Liverpool cosmics, The Coral, all psychedelic pop and galloping rhythm. Last song ‘Rest My Soul’ finishes with a hazy groove, a slow builder, it swaggers like a youthful Oasis.

Though clearly not the vanguards of the current resurgence for all things reverb, Glasvegas, Deerhunter and The Horrors to name but a few; Ghostwood furrow a distinctive path nonetheless, one that echoes back to the halcyon days of indie/shoegaze without the distraction of the corporate chart.  This is an unrefined, unrestrained band inviting the listener, like them, to get lost in the sound.

April 9, 2011

U2 break touring record!

U2’s current 360 tour is about to become the largest grossing tour in history. This Sunday in Sao Paolo the Irish supergroup will pass the $558 million mark, set by The Rolling Stones for their A Bigger Bang tour in 2005 – 2007.  It is estimated that the tour will eventually break the $700 million barrier when it wraps in July. The record-breaking tour will also become the highest attended tour ever, with over 7 million tickets sold in 110 countries!

Their main rivals in global straddling, bank busting, ego stroking tours are of course the aforementioned, age defying rockers, The Rolling Stones.   The sexagenarians have played 4 of the 10 biggest grossing tours in history, playing to over 20 million people and collecting a cool $1.5 billion in the process.  That’s more than the annual GDP of Russia, India and Spain!  Not to be outdone, in the last 20 years U2 will also have amassed more than $1.5 billion once their current stadium behemoth has been deconstructed.  The key to their current record snatching extravaganza has been the sheer size of venues they’ve played in every city they’ve besieged, the average attendance is over 64,000.   Wow, where next for the band?  Is there anyone who hasn’t seen them live?  Unlike the Stones, I’m sure they’ve got a few more circumnavigations left in those ambitious minds.

April 4, 2011

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM finish in style!

In the tradition of some of the greatest bands of all time, LCD Soundsystem brought down the curtain on their career while at the very top of their game!  Echoing legendary bands such as The Clash, The Smiths and The Jam by retiring at the peak of their craft, the band played an epic 3 and a half hours at Madison Square Gardens, their biggest headline show, in their beloved hometown of New York.  What a party!


April 2, 2011

Japan’s disaster fails to ignite charity concert

In an age when we seem to have charity concerts for almost everything, the biggest natural disaster in the history of Japan has failed to ignite enough interest among the global music elite

The global powerhouse of promoters Live Nation were behind the event, aimed at bringing a host of stars together to perform at Wembley Arena on 14 April.  TV deals with NBC and BBC were already finalised to broadcast the event live.  A spokesman for Live Nation said, “Unfortunately with now only 13 days to go to the proposed Concert for Japan, sadly we are in a position where we have been unable to secure the artists required to produce the worldwide TV broadcast that we had hoped for and have therefore very reluctantly decided to proceed no further.”

Live Nation had already drawn up a list of artists in conjunction with Sony and Universal to plunder their A-grade roster, so why is this such a shot in the foot for Live Nation?  And why are there no global superstars willing to perform?

Surely the appeal of playing in front of a massive TV audience should have been enough to tempt the most unwilling publicity seeker?  Everyone knows that charity is great for PR and increasing sales, so why did the two majors fail to persuade any of their career hungry artists?

Maybe the artists schedules are too busy?  Although perennial UK rockers, Liam Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft, Paul Weller, Graham Coxen, et al. are finding the time to play at Brixton tomorrow night? Maybe the world is suffering from disaster fatigue, after the recent major earthquakes in Haiti and Christchurch, Foo Fighters played a benefit gig in NZ last week, that artists feel there is no unique advantage to performing for yet another disaster fund?  Or maybe the approached artists just lacked the basic compassion and empathy to perform a couple of songs for a grief-stricken country?