Thanks very much to Johny Brown and The Band Of Holy Joy for inviting me to DJ for them at last weekend’s Resonance FM benefit gig. And thanks also to everyone who packed out The Charterhouse and helped raise money for a very good cause. Fresh off the back of a successful UK tour promoting new album ‘Easy Listening’, our heroes tore through their set with tight and well-drilled vigour; while my own efforts on the turntables attempted to be a sort of cerebral yin to their tense and gritty yang. That was quite possibly the single most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written, but I hope you’ll forgive me after hearing the first part of my set; presented here for your approval and delectation:
If I may be so bold, even by my own exacting standards this is rather groovy, including as it does, tracks from Belbury Poly & Spacedog, Sculpture and Resource Centre – my three favourite releases of the last few months. I really was very lucky to have such a supportive crowd, as well, considering I was playing records at least several shades stranger and less bouncy than your standard Saturday night Farringdon faire (particularly when you take nearby behemoth leisure dungeon Fabric into account). Besides, whatever your thoughts on the musical content of the above, surely you would at least concur that it was a decidedly more crafted and personal affair than the dreadful funky house Spotify playlist that followed it.
Despite some interesting conversations with members of the crowd about the records I was playing, I’d like to dedicate this mix to the young upstart who accosted me in the booth (sounds painful, doesn’t it?) and demanded to know ‘what kind of stuff’ I played. This is usually acceptable, but he had already been standing and watching me play that very same ‘stuff’ for a good solid hour by this juncture and one would really assume that enough time to grant him reasonable insight. He also wanted to have a look through my record box in order to ‘thumb my stash’, quite forgetting the unwritten law that the contents of a DJ’s record box are as secret as those of a lady’s handbag. And like all handbags, it’s entirely the owner’s discretion as to which of those secrets get pulled out and bandied about for the entertainment of the masses.
One day I shall probably self-publish an amusing memoir of all these things that have been demanded of me during my DJ sets. Last night’s interloper might just find himself featured alongside a query from the previous week, where a slightly tipsy lady demanded to know whether I could play anything ‘happier’. She was struggling to make this demand heard over the copy of Prince Buster singing ‘Enjoy Yourself’ that I was spinning at the time. I’m not sure if a record happier than Prince Buster singing ‘Enjoy Yourself’ could physically exist. Or, if it did, that I could ever agree with her suggestion that ‘Whitney’ would be the person to have made it.
Anyway, never mind all that, go and get yourself a copy of the Easy Listening at the Exotic Pylon shop. And some Belbury Poly & Spacedog and Resource Centre while you’re at it (that Sculpture record is already going for silly money on Discogs). In the meantime there’s a second part to this mix that I shall doubtless bombard you with at some point, perhaps during a slow week. I might even allow you, dear reader, the privilege of a dig around my record bag. Just ask nicely and wipe your feet first…
Do you remember a few years ago when it was considered almost impossible to be even halfway relevant unless you were involved in the construction of ‘mash-ups’? The art of illegitimately fusing the vocals of one song with the music of another to occasionally thrilling and naughty effect, perfected by the likes of Richard X and 2ManyDJs? Well, I’ve finally got round to making one of my own, in spite of the fact that the whole scene is now considered rather old hat in our post-Nathan Barley universe. However, I’ve decided that is how I operate best – arriving late at a long-abandoned table and picking over the bones. And as there are still a small group of my associates who never tire of comparing my every move with Shoreditch’s favourite ‘media node’, I can’t see much point in stopping just yet.
Another way of putting it would be that I had an hour or two to kill with only the delights of youtube and a slightly malfunctioning copy of Adobe Audition at my disposal. It was quite fun and is surely worth the titular pun if nothing else:
Though far from being an expert on mashing, I always felt that the finest examples of the form were those that managed not only to render the source material in a dramatic new light, but also to cock a gleeful snook at an outmoded record industry’s notions of copyright and intellectual property, rather like a Duchamp’s Mona Lisa you could dance to. And I’m certainly not sure that the above quite manages the transcendent heights of genre classics such as Freelance Hellraiser’s ‘A Stroke Of Genius‘ and Richard X’s ‘We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends‘, both so successful in their own right that it’s unlikely I even need to remind you of their existence. Messers Hellraiser and X have both gone on to forge successful legitimate production careers off the back of these early bootlegs, although to my mind it was the release of the latter’s major label debut that actually sounded the death-knell for the entire mashup scene.
Don’t get me wrong, ‘X-Factor vol.1‘ is a perfectly agreeable collection of sleek and futuristic pop with some nicely rough edges. But when flicking through the liner notes, I was surprised to discover that alongside the usual glossy photos of fabulous sexy people looking confused, a full half-page of the CD booklet was devoted to a lengthly paragraph of stentorian legal jargon on the subject of copyright violation and of the stiff penalties that would be imposed on anyone engaging in unauthorised usage of its contents. When I then noticed that underneath this dry piece of corporate finger-wagging was written ‘Rich X says “That’s me f**ked, then!”‘ in quasi-graffiti scrawl (though complete with polite asterisks), it felt as if all the cheek and wit that epitomised the best mashups had been bludgeoned to death by the hammers of the law. I am certainly not going to insult your intelligence, dear reader, by outlining the staggering hypocrisy of a major label releasing an album featuring tracks that began life as illegal bootlegs produced by someone who has achieved success through illegally copying other people’s music on a ‘copy-protected’ CD . Or indeed of including a half a page of dire legal warnings on the consequences of doing anything with the music other than passively listening to it. Unless, of course you happen to work for Virgin Records, in which case pull up a chair and I’ll draw you some diagrams…
On a completely different and far more important note, Band Of Holy Joy are currently on tour promoting their excellent new album ‘Easy Listening’, which is out now on Jonny Mugwump’s rarely bested Exotic Pylon label. They’re playing at the Charterhouse Bar near Farringdon on Saturday 22nd and I’m very pleased to announce they’ve asked me to be their support DJ. This band are always worth catching live and are currently on top form, and I can assure you the only mash-ups occurring will happen to the characters who populate their dark and expansive brand of classy folk-punk. Best news of all is that all proceeds from this event will be going to help keep Resonance FM on air, so it’s a good night for a good cause. Here’s a quick taster of recent single ‘Wyrd Beautiful Thyme’ to get you in the mood:
And to give you an idea of what to expect from my contribution to the evening, I’ll leave you with a reminder of last November’s DJ set at The Forum supporting Public Service Broadcasting. Remember that if your band, gallery opening, dance party or public event is in need of it’s own DJ, you’ll find me well-prepared, punctual and reasonably presentable. I also do weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and funerals for unpopular relatives. Send a cash-stuffed envelope to the usual address…
Howlround are hereby absolutely delighted to announce that we’ve been asked by the Touch organisation to make a contribution to to it’s on-going Touch Radio series. We wanted to give them something special, so we’ve dug in the archives and dredged up our first ever live performance from last year’s Great Escape festival. It was, as the liner notes observe, ‘the first time these delicate, bulky, unpredictable machines had ever left the studio – a complete step into the unknown – and therefore something of an occasion’. And at just short of eighteen minutes it’s also the first significant chunk of our live recordings we’ve ever made available.
We’re in some pretty auspicious company, too, as Touch Radio boasts a veritable treasure trove of audio treats all available entirely for free via the Touch Radio website, iTunes or the British Library: Philip Jeck, Jacob Kirkegaard, Chris Watson, Simon Fisher Turner and People Like Us to mention just a few. My current favourite is Aino Tytti’s Hellissandur Mast [GRD 7970], which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in a good long while. No wonder the British Library’s sound archive has taken on the entire collection!
Special thanks to Mr. Mike Harding for the invitation and hopefully we’ll be making further live recordings available in the coming year. In the meantime you can keep up to dates with the latest Howlround developments by following @howlroundmusic on Twitter or, better still, visiting our brand new bespoke website Howlround.co.uk! Now seems as good a time as any to break a bottle of metaphorical champagne across its bows…
When it comes to things that make me happy, its been said that I’m pretty much an open book. Indeed, as I’ve had cause to remark in the past I’ve attained the enviable position of having friends and well-wishers across the land and beyond queueing up to inform me of any imminent cultural developments that might just tickle my foggy fancy. And so it proved once again last weekend when I received a deluge of messages asking if I was aware of an impending BBC Radio 4 programme presented by musician, sound-artist and all-round genius Matthew Herbert, that would undoubtedly be ‘right up my street’- ‘The Art Of The Loop’:
Matthew once made an entire album from the sounds of a single pig’s life, so he’s no stranger to the benefits of loops and sampling. He talks to producers, musicians and loop-creators and experiments with technology ancient and modern; he hears from looping’s defenders and detractors and looks into a musical future which he finds fascinating but many find terrifying. And, along the way, he builds a dance track out of a Radio 4 Continuity announcer.
As you may remember, Mr. Herbert and I have a modicum of shared history. A couple of years ago we experienced something of an altercation involving conflicting respective sonic tributes to former World Service buildings, which caused some to label him my ‘arch-nemesis’. It was a period in my career that came to be known as Herbertgate, though I need hardly point out that I have always been a huge admirer of his work, if perhaps less of a fan of the BBC commissioner that sparked the furore.
Anyway, ‘The Art Of The Loop’ is a predictably fascinating listen and, as ever, what makes Herbert stand head-and-shoulders above so many others is that his work investigates the philosophical and political implications of these looping and sampling process as well as merely demonstrating the clever and beautiful music that results in playing with sounds in this way. At the time of writing, there are merely a few days left to listen again, so I urge you to click here while you still can. I do wish Radio 4 would keep it’s archive online for a bit longer…
Curiously, it was the final sentence of the programme description, he builds a dance track out of a Radio 4 Continuity announcer that really caught my attention on this occasion, providing as it did a sudden jog of the memory back to a simpler time when I was a young undergraduate with big, impractical dreams and very little common sense. For yes, dear reader, I too once made a dance track out of a continuity announcer. What are the chances? Could ‘Hebertgate’ be about to enter a dramatic new phase?
Hardly. Memories of my music undergraduate days are hazy, not because of any time spent sowing the proverbial wild oat, but merely, as my dear old Gran used to say, because I’ve had a sleep since then. But one incident from that time is all-too-well preserved and it concerns a simple DJ culture workshop being run as part of my BA Hons in contemporary and popular music. Not terribly dramatic flashback-material, but stick with me.
Originally arranged by my course tutor and planned as an academic yet informal demonstration of various DJ techniques and their influence on dance culture and modern music in general, the Music Department made the decision to publicise the workshop by inviting a local TV news crew. I assume the theory was to promote the department’s open-minded approach to new and different compositional techniques alongside the more traditional classic approaches they were renown for . But sadly getting the media involved proved decidedly unwise, as that night’s programme transformed a perfectly competent and interesting workshop into that bastion of regional news teams everywhere, the ‘light-hearted “and finally” slot’. Presumably there were no kittens up trees or amusing photos of phallic-shaped vegetables that evening. ‘If the man at the turntable is a doctor and he’s spinning discs’, sniggered the reporter of DJ, saxophonist, sound artist and respected academic Dr. Matthew Sansom, ‘does that make him a “spin-doctor”‘?
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Anyway. incensed at this outpouring of scorn at the expense of my noble profession and filled with plenty of righteous ire, I quickly set about working on a riposte. If the idea of dance music being played at a major academic institution was so ripe for local news parody, I reasoned, how would they feel at finding their words incorporated into a dance track of their own? And so I took to creating a piece of music using nothing but the voices of the studio presenter and the news reporter. The only exception was the kick drum, which is taken from the contemporary Robbie Williams song ‘Rock DJ’ that opened the report, which should tell you everything you need to know about just what a nuanced and thoroughly researched piece of television I was dealing with. In some small way, it felt like making them eat their words. Or dance to them, still haven’t quite decided if the analogy works. Not that any of that really mattered more than getting one over on the establishment. Hear me roar, local newscasters!
The results were… well, look, it was a long time ago. Don’t judge it too harshly…
It goes on for quite a while longer, but I think that’s probably enough to be getting on with. Certainly nothing that will give Mr. Herbert a sleepless night. I know you’re probably wondering how on earth I ever managed to scrape a 2:1, but I’d like to think that what the piece lacks in skilful technique, it makes up for in youthful vigour and rebellious spirit, as well as being a crude but useful way of exploring the compositional techniques that would go on to help create more meaningful and significant later work. I mean I’d like to think that, really I would. The most comforting thought is that these days we’re all a little older, a little wiser, and no longer have to look towards regional news teams to define our existence. For that at least, we must be grateful.
Oh, and I can assure you this marks the end of my trawling the personal archives. I made an awful lot of very terrible stuff back then and thankfully had the good sense to lose most of it. In fact, I’m very glad that I went through my ’embarrassing demo’ years before we reached our current situation where it’s absolutely impossible to lose anything. Rather makes me wonder if sharing this with you now isn’t just shooting myself in the foot…