Friday, 26 February 2010

The Man Who Doesn't Listen To Big Bands For A Different Reason

“I was talking to a mate, right...” is an ugly way to start any post, but I've never been ashamed of my ugly face, so I'm not going to start being ashamed of my ugly prose now. Because what I'm about to write about would genuinely never have popped into my mind had it not been for a post-Sunday league match chat with a friend about future gigs we had lined up.

What did said mate say that stuck in my mind? “Yeah, I don't really listen to the big bands any more because it's impossible to get tickets for their gigs”.

I went through a momentary patch of ambivalence about this. First it was “yeah”, then “no”, finally “wait, what?” Bit of background. I, like my mate, live in London. That's right, London capital of dreams, where the streets are paved with gold. I like it. And what you also find with London is the frequency of bands playing only one, two or three dates in the UK playing one of those in London. The example that sparked this was The National, and more specifically their gig at the Royal Albert Hall in May. Tickets for the RAH gig sold out in less than an hour, one Friday morning, and while some of those may be explained away by the tickets appearing on popular Internet auction sites, but the vast majority would have been snapped up by real fans.

To put this in context, as far as I'm aware The National are yet to have a top 75 charting single or album. I realise that's not a be all and end all of popularity indication but it still means something, right. A band who are completely off the radar of commercial radio and vast appeal should not sell out a 4,000 capacity venue in about 25 minutes. I'm not really sure why, but somehow it doesn't seem right. Maybe because I'm jealous I didn't get a ticket (although I did manage to get one for the Electric Ballroom gig, announced to the fanclub only at first, which I'm frankly psyched about).

And I can see the appeal of not getting attached to bands with big fanbases on those grounds, but it's a bit like...well, it's a bit like insulating yourself against disappointment. It's a bit of a cowardly approach to life. Granted, in music you can get away with the aforementioned nose-biting/face-spiting because there's that many bands, that much music, that you can pretty much guarantee if you try hard enough, you'll find something you can really engage with, fall in love with. And yes, at the same time the atmosphere of intimate gigs is one of the highlights of modern music, and of living somewhere with as many gigs and venues as London...although it is worth pointing out the different between a buzzing, intimate gig, and a shambolic show in the half-empty back room of a pub.'re ruling bands out because you'll never get chance to see them live? The more I turn this over in my head, the more I'm starting to think I misheard the comment, because the person who made it is a pretty level-headed guy, and he's a big fan of music. Maybe he meant he doesn't try to get tickets for big bands' gigs? I'm not so sure, though.

There's a wider issue here, one perhaps relating to over-hyping bands, and allied to that the fact that some bands become trendy and attract a certain type of special (needs) individual to whom being seen at – or moreso merely having been there at – a certain gig. You can generally tell who these people are, they're a) on cocaine, b) talking all through the gig, and c) utterly dead inside with an unfaithful partner that is if they've got one. It also raises a point that my friend is a pillock, albeit one that's only sabotaging himself. It also raises a point about London, the fact that there's maybe too many gigs – or not enough? Don't forget, there's 7 million people in London, and many more in the immediate surroundings, but I doubt we get, say, 12 times as many touring band gigs as Sheffield, which has a population of 534,000ish. That said, I don't expect much sympathy if I'm playing the “London needs more music scene focus” card. I think people will laugh at me. And throw eggs. Anyway, talk amongst yourselves.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Collection-Ogling and Bus Journeys: The Sociological Aspects of Physical Music Formats

As some of you may have picked up in my previous posts, I have reservations about downloading as a format (both legal and illegal varieties). Not from a musical/artistic point of view especially – any outlet that allows an artist to get their music ‘out there’ can only be a good thing – but rather the sociological aspects. I truly, truly dread the day where I walk into someone’s house and can no longer browse their music collection, be it vinyl or CD. It remains a great ice breaker whenever you were round someone’s house you don’t know that well, and can send conversations off on all sorts of tangents even when you’re with your closest friends. In fact, not that long ago one of my best friends came round, and going through my CDs sparked off so many conversational topics concerning genres, band comparisons, sharing of our opinions on artists’ ‘best album’ etc that before we knew it we had sat up, completely sober, until 3am. Granted, the fact I had to be at work at 8am took the shine off it a bit, but that’s beside the point. Ultimately I can’t see how this little surreptitious joy that owning tangible music can ever translate into this new so-called ‘digital age’. Staring at a computer screen at someone’s 12gb of downloads just doesn’t resonate as much or as well. You can’t imagine Marr having a meeting of minds with Morrissey when instead of being asked to pick a 45rpm single from Morrissey’s collection he scoured his iTunes to pick a track from there……..

Of course, I’m willing to be as gracious as to admit that digital formats do have their advantages in certain situations. A recent pre-club-night gathering/drinking session saw everyone clamouring round a laptop to play being DJ via the wonders of the Spotify streaming service, and that worked brilliantly. Much, much better than the faff and fuss of either making mix CDs or having to keep swapping albums. It truly is, to use an oft-quoted platitude, horses for courses, and in this instance perhaps I’m just being some knee-jerk reactionary, or trying to live in a fog of utopian romanticism, but it’s certainly one of the quaint little asides of owning tangible music formats that I’m keen to hang onto, and would be very sad if it were to disappear in the near future.

The digital format has also removed the ‘excitement factor’ from buying music. I’m sure you’ve all been there. The bus ride (or car journey) into town to the record shop, browsing the musty racks of the independents (fighting between the dodgy stock and high prices to find the gems….or at least how it was in our local one), and the moment of triumph when you find something, be it something you’ve either been searching for for a while, or a new release. Then the agonising wait to get home to give it a first play (made slightly easier if you owned a car), seemingly only heightened the excitement. It isn’t very often I get to experience such a ritual these days, owing to the fact I order a lot of my purchases via the internet (albeit still in tangible formats), though the excitement is still there owing to the wait for purchases to arrive, and the great ceremonial tearing off of the cellophane wrapping .

Again, watching a progress bar slowly filling across a screen somehow doesn’t quite have the same mystique about the whole experience. Streaming services like Spotify can also take the mystique of the great first play. Having burst open the packaging hearing an album for the first time can also be a proper ‘event’. Using Spotify as a try-before-you-buy service as I have done countless times, while meaning you don’t buy a dud (in itself a good thing, don’t get me wrong), also – in my experience – tends to mean the eventual arrival of the release in question is met with a somewhat blasé response. I’ve also had it where I’ve played an album to death on Spotify to the extent that I’m sick of it by the time the actual release hits the doormat. Perhaps this is just me misusing the new technologies available, or not exercising sufficient self-restraint, but it’s still quite disheartening when you’ve waited ages to hear an album, to put it on and think ‘actually, I’ve heard this too many times already’, and have it put back on the shelf.

As mentioned in my other bit of writing concerning the digital/physical debate, I’m in no way preaching about how you should all down tools and go back to physical formats. The digital formats are great for mix CDs, playlists, playing Spotify DJ at parties, or a more convenient club-night DJ’ing tool (miles eaiser than carrying a ton of CDs around, I’m sure you’ll agree) etc (as well as being the only affordable outlet to buy certain Sarah Records releases such as The Hit Parade), and I wholly endorse them in an artistic sense. All I’m doing is thinking aloud on some little asides/quaint novelties that the tangible formats have, over time, brought us and perhaps have been taken for granted recently. I’d be sad to see these go, wouldn’t you?

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Tones of Town TV

Here are some "music videos" of recent songs I like. I have never watched them before, not having any music channels, and also not really caring about them in the first place any more. I say anymore because back when I was 17-20 it was my first port of call to find new bands - ashamedly, I didn't stick to the eclectic diet of the 120 Minutes shows, but watched the Gonzo show, and various top tens. In fairness, they gave my favourite bands of the time - Incubus, Mars Volta, Weezer etc... but I still look at the treasure trove of minimal techno and alternative rock that I now devour daily, and maybe I'd have enjoyed them back then more. Who knows.

The Boxer Rebellion

The Answering Machine

The Unwinding Hours

Bear in Heaven