Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the electric soup

Hit the Kasabian button, shorten all names and add prefixes such as ‘lar’, ‘of’ and ‘ini’, make the shirts checked, brand the footwear, make moderation a dirty word and generally head way down the evolutionary scale, it’s stag do time! This time for my half-Basque pal in Bristol, occidental land of smoked beats that I’ve never visited before. Yes, these meet-ups come with a laddist warning and other grim associations, but i am savouring such occasions even more now due to the rarity of being able to go out for any more than three hours away from local environs, and the change in face-to-face communication away from the distrusting, attritional modes of the office.

(not actual booze or one of our boozers shown)

What I like about such a weekend is that two days of human contact, indeed right up barking shite into the pallid faces of your mates, effectively abolishes the need for virtual communication, social networking and general Web 2. The last tweet was some time through the dismal Algeria game, blogs were definitely out, surfing in general even with our web-enabled phones just unnecessary, and the usual email carping between those invited is replaced with direct digs. Not only does it abolish that need but two days of ultrabooze make those simple plug-me-in tasks become quite difficult. Unfortunately though I took this too far by failing to engage my phone to wake me up at a socially useful hour. As a best man, I was about to duck a key protocol. Chuck a custard pie in my face, or up my arse, along with a considerable financial forfeit.

After the turgid football (I got puerile kicks in the Brizzie local by cheering for a team called the ‘Gland’ but balls to the seriousness - I’d predicted this stalemate when the draw was first made), Friday night's club was a soul and 50s rock and roll night with thankfully a bit of dub and ska late doors; Saturday's was soul/rock/pop/indie in one of those places incorporating the now refashionable bowling lanes. Soon as I saw the general size of the place I thought we’re going to enjoy it here – yards aplenty for boys to run around in. It’s in keeping with the weekend spirit that I don’t trawl the web for the venue/night names but both places were for those who would see themselves as the cooler cats but who don’t want the full sweaty hedonism or rave heaviness. They were literally and metaphorically a few streets away from the Park Street/Waterfront commercial bustle, but only a few streets, and musically if anything more conservative. Saturday in fact we wouldn’t get into ‘Panache’, where our new best girlfs texted they were at, because stag and I had placed a ‘no shoes’ edict on the weekend. The casuals are coming, but have no fear they can’t get in!

The Saturday afternoon trip up to the picturesque Avon Gorge/Clifton Suspension bridge area is a treat as it's where we have our ‘kickabout’ like we always do, laughing as one of our number does his calf within minutes then later as someone loses the game of H&Vs (er, me). As the low-to-medium workout knackered some of us, we chilled on the green upping the ‘don’t go there’ ante of the conversations. Taboos that usually can’t be said get said, but somehow all with a nice spirit. The obligatory trip a few hours later to a ‘gentleman’s club’ (ha-ha) was initially just something to be ticked off for many of us still not utterly convinced by the overt sexualisation of society, and who more prosaically don’t like being hassled every 30 seconds by a sex worker who I’m hoping would rather not be there too, but even I couldn’t deny the hilarity of the specially arranged stag entertainment upstairs (best belt up about that).

But the key site both nights was perhaps the horrifically styled and naturally overpriced hotel lounge bar, where drinking and whatnot continued for several hours both nights with ‘the Saints girls’, a hedonic hen troupe actually not from Southampton but from Hythe/Dibden Purlieu on the other side of the water. With infidelity not on the menu for the betrothed and the engaged, the spirit was mostly really friendly, really social – I’ll show you a picture of my kids and you show me one of your dogs. I think it was gone 6am in the room again on Sunday morning when I had to admit the deliberate audio monging of Tom via the Gristleism loop machine was just irritating and it was time to get some sleep. Soon it would be time to fuck off back to London to detox.

Despite a slow recovery, the welcome return of partner and twins a day before their fourth birthday and entertaining football in the Brazil-Ivory Coast game, the Fear when it came on Sunday night was prolonged and brutal, some payback. Little black dogs of doom in my head getting larger. In the near blackness of the bedroom I imagined whatever I wanted, wherever the demonic stream took me. Sweat poured out as alcohol had poured in. When I did get the odd 20 minutes in my fitful dreams there were cows in the garden and inside whatever house I’d constructed that we couldn’t remove. Strong, defiant beasts, eh? I’d entered ‘the crunch’ which Ayoade’s Saboo in the Boosh was fond of emoting. It was a bleak temporary hell, and it was appropriate too that in the last few weeks I have rediscovered the tune that did for me in the alconarcosocial bleakness of 97/98 – Nasty Habits’ Shadow Boxing. When your mind is really not playing at oblivion Doc Scott’s slice of bleak rave death does the job.

That last para aims to emphasise that even at the personal level let alone the wider and infinitely more worrisome social that I do see such immersion in the TAZ pool as unsustainable and it is ludicrous to expect it can be enjoyed without some kind of payback. Furthermore, there is a nagging need for more tangible memory of the occasion which the supercharged approach does not support. But with such rabid detox must come further evaluation. What I take from this weekend away is great generalised memories and luv 4 da ladz but also a feeling that such activity need not be conducted exclusively within a bubble. Achieve that and there'll be no need to feel close to death the night after.
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Friday, June 11, 2010

From platform 5

somewhat moody (read cloudy, and subfocused) image of the fast rising Shard at Ldn Bdg

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Actress' measured performance

Boomkat’s 14Tunes Actress pack is a fine hub for those after an overview of Werk label boss Darren Cunningham’s oeuvre while he basks in praise for his new album, Splazsh. At £6.86 it’s so cheap to say ‘Go On Then’ and download the lot but, ever the frugalite, I chose a selection from the selection. Tailored to my own preferences of course but indicative enough. I already had the Paint, Straw and Baubles ep, the precursor to the Honest Jon’s album. I used the downbeat-yet-futurist title track on my recent mix more to punctuate bigger statements before and after it; I also struggled to get to grips with Zomby’s gloopy rmx of that (did he sample the queasy bass rushes of one of the tunes on his hardcore tribute mix?). The final track Maze seems inspired by the bleepy tones on the Zomby hyperdub ep itself, but with what sounds like the snatched sounds of men working out maintaining the uneasy momentum.


That said I don’t think there is a lot of stylistic variation within Actress’ work, even though he swims across house/techno and occasionally garage waters. As with so many other modern producers, there is a reluctance to construct a narrative (the fabled rave journey) or draw defined shapes (in contrast with the clean lines of his cover artwork) and a reliance on rhythmic ticks disturbing the linear progression, incidental bleeps and snatched vocals sung or otherwise. Even the technoid Ghosts Have a Heaven, which threatens to head for the packed dancefloor of a main-room eurotechno club, drops back from that intent by having its main synth line drop in and out of the mix with minor pitch variations. With top end percussion working to deny the overall impetus, it’s a wobbly, dulled thud.

On Hazyville’s I cant Forgive You a mumbled voice drops in and out between the techno break (which a tick tries to dequantise in vain) and the synth line is usually little more than a snatched note above that de rigueur vinyl fuzz. Another voice appears occasionally strangulated. It’s a playful take on early 90s chill-out but if it had been around at the time would have probably irked the listener.

With construction rhythms and Chicago shakes, Always Human works dat booty, sounding like B-side Moodyman in the process though voices and the synth lines are only that little bit fuller. Perhaps wary of a wider statement, it’s gone almost as quickly as it establishes its full content. The so-called Prince tribute Purple Splazsh, also off the new album, employs a full loop against snatched samples from the symbolised man and rhythms that deliberately never get going.

The Neu Haus So Glo Mix rmx of Joy Orbison’s Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow is simultaneously the most modern, and strange and effective – ‘house’ in execution but with only a low-key synth line and female vox as the traditional sustainers. The rest is a continuous interruption over the nine minutes of little ticks and other vocal samples to keep the main reverbed pulse going. It's neat and play wells to those with attention deficits.

Overall Actress has a very modern sound but it’s not something you can easily take to your heart or have an emotive response to. You could call it coffee table techno for its lack of impact but I’m not sure who you would be impressing if you played it to the never-raved. With little to shout about either in indignation or praise the latte sippers are unlikely to remark on the muted references to house and techno’s past glories in these sometimes underwhelming or seemingly inconsequential songs.

However, it’s just messed with enough to avoid the dreaded ‘sophisticated’ tag and it’s the very lack of dancefloor cliché, deficit of overplayed standardised synth lines and unwillingness to dramatise the rave experience that makes it very 2010. It’s faint praise I know but that seems appropriate for this type of output. With ‘happy’ or ‘euphoric’ now discredited and ignored ciphers, perhaps Cunningham can use his materials to make something out of this incidental downplayed approach to make something more uneasy or disturbing.
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