Friday, February 27, 2009

Afghanistan, Slam, Money, U2, and Waves

It feels like a random Friday, so this post is just what it says in the title - a random collection of Friday thoughts.

Firstly, on the subject of the previous post, there’s fairly hairy account on Counterpunch of how things are breaking down in Afghanistan. Check it out here. It’s not very promising.

I’d like to thank Mr Steven Scanlan for his very nice comment on the post regarding Slam @ The Arches. I spent a long time waiting to see those amazing nights captured in words, and after convinced myself that nobody else had done it, I did it myself. It sat on my computer for 2 years unfinished because I couldn’t get it right, and only late last year did I finally find the inspiration to finish it off and get it posted. It’s great to know that someone I don’t know remembers it just like I do. I’m not tripping, my memory is not playing tricks on me, I’m not glorifying it unnecessarily – it really was that good.

Economics. Mike Whitney (again on CP) has a very interesting article on the problems Eastern Europe may cause the world financial system. Equating the fall of the current economic system to a potential resurgence in fascism seems a little bit far-fetched, but stranger things have happened, and as one of my great musical and political heroes Mad Mike pointed out in his legendary Jockey Slut interview back in 1994, “Every time it gets tight over in Europe the nationalists want to come out and blame all the foreigners for all their problems”, so go figure. The BBC this morning has the news that there’s a €24.5 Billion rescue package for the banks in Eastern Europe. How far that will go in very tight credit markets when Whitney quotes sources as saying they’ll have to repay or roll over €400 Billion in debts this year, is another question.

U2 – now there’s a current issue. Firstly, because they have a new album about to drop. Secondly, because they moved all of their tax affairs as a band to The Netherlands in 2006, depriving Ireland of quite a lot of tax, and that’s a decision that’s coming under quite a bit of pressure as the financial downturn starts to bite. So anyway, the new album can be previewed in 60-second chunks on the Irish Times, and there’s a brief interview with them here. I can’t wait for the album – the sounds and production are always fascinating, and no one has a voice (or lyrics) like Bono. I mean, if you look back over their albums, back to The Joshua Tree and before – every one of them has probably 3 or 4 tracks that any other band would kill to have written just one of. And this continues album after album – just amazing. I’ll have to come back to this another time.

As for the tax thing, they are on a bit of a sticky one here. Having moved their tax affairs to The Netherlands around the time that Ireland announced that it was (quite rightly) putting a cap on the tax-free allowance for artists, they’ve come in for all sorts of ungodly stick for robbing their native country of the tax which their global enterprise could bring to Ireland. As Bono would explain it in the above interview, Ireland has been the net beneficiary of tax incentives in the last 10-20 years, as so many companies have based themselves here as a tax haven, and so his point is that there is a lot of hypocrisy in targeting U2 for moving to a more advantageous tax situation. I think that’s a bit weak personally. While the Irish may not criticise other companies for coming in to the country to set up in a favourable tax environment, people in the countries that these companies originate do criticise the movements of these companies, and in the US Obama is now specifically financially targeting companies that ‘offshore’ operations and jobs to reduce costs and save taxes. So if it’s right for the US to criticise companies offshoring jobs and facilities to Ireland, then it’s certainly right for Irish citizens to criticize Bono and the lads for their avoidance of Irish tax.

I’m also extremely disappointed to hear that the debate that Bono promised Dave Marsh on the value of celebrity activism is now not going to happen. Apparently, Bono pulled out with no explanation, which is gutting, as I was expecting a stout defence of celebrity activism, which would have been extremely interesting to hear. I’ve always been interested as to why Bono insists on hanging out with world leaders – he does have a constituency of sorts, but he seems to always offer the carrot end of his fame instead of the stick, which doesn’t make very good negotiating sense to me.

Anyway, if you want more Bono, I’d highly recommend the book “Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas” – you can find it on Amazon here, although obviously I’d recommend supporting your small local non-chain bookshop. It’s full of fascinating thoughts on music, politics, authenticity and artistry, and is a brilliant and thought-provoking read. It also pretty much explains exactly why Bono does all the activist stuff that he does, if you read closely enough.

To finish off the day, here are some waves. Surfers search and search for the perfect 'peeling' wave. South Africa has probably the most famous one, in Jeffreys Bay, and while it may not go for quite as long, Thurso East on the North coast of Scotland is pretty damn close to perfect.

Here’s a video of it looking both perfect, and frighteningly big. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Combat Outpost

The Guardian site is now carrying the latest video dispatch from John D McHugh in Afghanistan.

If you really want to know how things are going, then you can watch the video here.

This is what the US soldiers are facing on a daily basis. Grim, whatever you think of the politics of the situation - the moment where they a British Lee Enfield from 1902 in the mountains of Afghanistan really tells you everything you need to know about fighting in this country.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Andrew Maxwell

Last week I went to a 'proper' comedy gig for the first time in - well - possibly ever. One of my favourites from Irish TV show "The Panel", none other than Dubliner Andrew Maxwell.

Maxwell goes to see Hibs every time he's in Edinburgh, so he's quite clearly a man of vision (especially as he's from Dublin, which is full of more part-time carpet bagging bigot Celtic fans than any other location on the planet). Plus, he's got some quite socialist tendencies, so as a bit of a left-wing type (I'm in to controversial things like free healthcare to everyone at the point of delivery, large-scale cheap public transport, people who are earning vast amounts of money should be taxed heavily - radical stuff right?) - he's often in huge amounts of agreement with what I think.

He made one very interesting point during the gig, which is that while the Israeli Christmas slaughter was happening (my words, not his), RTE (the Irish state broadcaster) didn't want them talking about it. Despite the fact he wanted to talk about it, RTE preferred to edit anything out regarding that, and keep it on light and funny local stories.

Anyway, there's loads of his stuff on the web, including some funny stuff on Hibs and oil.

My favourite of the moment, is his rant about SUVs. Mabye you have to be in Dublin to grasp the full scale of the insanity, greed and reprehensible consumerism that has gripped Ireland and its capital for the last ten years - whatever, Maxwell's rant on The Panel mixed righteous fury about these futile status symbol pedestrian-killers, which some mindblowingly funny spluttering Irish twists on the English language.

"Red as the fucking Mars!"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Smokebelch II

On a strange Monday morning, in a week of titanic upheavals at work, unemployment and financial disaster hitting across the Western world, a redundancy of one of my friends, two funerals of my friends family members in the last week (one I attended, one I only knew about), it's a morning where you look for the best.

Back in the early 90s, "Smokebelch II", by Sabres of Paradise came out and simply stopped me cold. I first heard it on Radio 1 in the UK, in it's remixed form - turned in to a clattering monster by David Holmes of Belfast. I laid hands on the 12", and played it till I wore it out. Then there was the original Sabres version, which was far less clattering, more emotional, but still underpinned with the deep thud of a dancefloor kick.

In truth, Andrew Weatherall and Sabres stole the tune - lifted it wholesale, from L.B. Bad's "New Age of Faith", to whom the credit must go. But despite the theft, which is one of the most blatant I've ever heard, there can be no denying that the Sabres reworking of this idea is simply amazing.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the best incarnation is the Sabres "beatless" mix.

I remember the first time I walked in to a 'proper' nightclub - it was the Sub Club in Glasgow, probably some time in 1992. Weatherall was DJing (at least 4 hours himself, it went on till past 6), and I was curious enough to want to see him. I walked in with a friend, on a voyage of discovery, down the steps, in to immense heat, huge volume, dark corners and a heaving crowd, and deep in the basement, in the middle of the night, found the furnace of the dancefloor in freeze-frame meltdown to the overwhelming emotion of this tune.

An incredible work of melodic guitar guide tones, angular resonant corners rich in 5ths and portamento, backpedalling pads in the background, plucked string basses, and the richest arching synthetic string line.

In the middle of the night, deep in Glasgow, or on a pensive Monday morning in Dublin, this tune has all the answers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ma Mi La Kay

While in the Caribbean last summer, I had the honour of hearing this group play. We had been out shopping, and purely by chance stopped on the way back at a bar. We stopped for two reasons - we could hear cool music coming from the bar before we got there, and to add to that, it was some of the most intense midday heat I've ever walked in.

As we desperately fought off the heat (which was utterly blistering even in the shade) using the quite extraordinary Piton, we were able to listen at close quarters to Ma Mi La Kay. 5 or 6 guys (it wasn't clear) with a combined age of about 972 (apart from the bassist, who couldn't have been a day over 30 - no idea how he sneaked in to the group!) playing traditional St Lucian music in the sun.

Mostly violin led, but with banjo-like instruments, bass, and lots of really nice rolling percussion, it's amazing, melodic, cheery stuff. They were so good that I ended up buying their CD on the spot (it's mentioned on the website of the Canadian lablel that seems to have been involved in producing the CD here). It's been getting heavy rotation ever since I returned home, and it must be one of my favourite impulse music purchases ever.

You can download a 1 minute sample with a brief voiceover here (although it's crushed by the encoding to MP3, and sounds much fuller on the full CD version).

I'd definitely recommend getting hold of a copy if you have even the slightest disposition towards acoustic, live music - it's fresh, funky, uplifting, and really well recorded.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Jason Brunton - "Mixed Metaphors" (Iridite)

Iridite don't release very much stuff, but a lot of what they do release is very high quality indeed.

"Mixed Metaphors" is one of their most recent, and offers three different versions of the title track. It's an absolute belter of a release.

Jason Brunton's original is a super-deep tough jazzy workout, dominated by hard swinging 909 hats, bouncing snares, and a raking chord that rises and drops in semitones and fourths. As usual with Brunton, there's lots of thought in the track, but whereas with some other tracks this means too many sounds, motifs and ideas, on this one the innovation is restricted to the drum programming and the dominant synth sound (plus one other searing chord that sails in over the top of the track after a couple minutes). This keeping to the less-is-more school without falling in to the endless-loops trap makes it one funky monster that never gets boring, while keeping a solid flow from start to finish. It's got a hint of the better bits of Carl Craig about it, but it has a club-footed toughness that Craig often lacks. For me, this is one of Brunton's best tracks to date - serious and intense techno soul music.

On the flip, there are two remixes offer two contrasting styles. Marco Bernardi comes first, and serves up a version that manages to straddle an invisible line between techno and the crispest of electro styles. Again an artist who I occasionally find has too many ideas all happening at once, here he gets it absolutely right, with robotic vocals, sinister looping chords, a synthetic stringline that is just not-in-tune enough to give the whole thing a loose and dangerous feel, and the hardest of lethal electro backbeats. I'm not particularly partial to electro, but I would play this out in an instant. Killer stuff.

Finally, Iridite stalwart Rei Loci weighs in with his reworking, and it's another absolute beauty. A driving four-on-the-floor beat that starts out sounding clicky, but when you turn it up, you discover it's actually a bruising, crushing monster, with phasing basic channel style chords emerging in a different key to everything else and dislocating the entire feel of the track, a wobbling root-note battering away hidden in the middle of the mix, and lots of work on the normal first and fifth notes fighting against the phasing chords in the dislocated semitone. The drum programming builds and builds as the track progresses and become more and more insistent, and the more it goes on, the more you want to leap to your feet and close your eyes. Heavy and claustrophobic, this is another Rei Loci stunner.

All in, it's a fantastic release, with three contrasting and complimentary techno soul styles, all hugely playable (how often does that happen on a 12" these days?), and all executed near-perfectly. Highly recommended.