Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Hotel Plays at the Grange Holborn Hotel

Watching The Hotel Plays in three suites at the Grange Holborn Hotel, it is difficult not to picture Tennessee Williams typing in similar rooms, populating scenes with the people that surrounded him: the couple carrying out a muffled argument through the wall, a shifty yet charming bell boy, drunken late-night arrivals, and porters delivering endless room-service orders.

The claustrophobic atmosphere created by packing an audience into a suite, on chairs two deep around the walls, complements the atmosphere of the plays and their succession of insane characters. Williams creates extremes - a damaged soldier drinking bourbon in the morning, an uncomfortable young male escort and panicky, inept crooks amongst them. Being at such close quarters (at one point a character spat some wine and a little landed on my foot, and we had a pretty good look up a young man's boxers) means that you are forced right into the middle of the characters' lives and the conflicts they are facing.

Hotel rooms straddle private and commercial space, blurring what actions might be considered as acceptable. Add to that the infantilising effect of room service - the closest you can get to tugging on a parent's sleeve and asking for some food - and you have a great setting for exploring how people behave when rules are removed.

The Hotel Plays run until the 27th October.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Ryan Dunn at Vyner Street Gallery

Ryan Dunn's collages use the language of advertising photography to create unnerving images that can evoke a range of emotions.

We've seen a lot of collage this year, not least Geoffrey Farmer's overwhelming Life Magazine Cut-outs from 1935-1985 at Documenta 13, but Dunn's work uses a less-is-more attitude to create images that are just as memorable, and just as rewarding of your time.

Sadly, his show at Vyner Street Gallery was only very brief, but as he's been officially labelled 'up and coming' (thanks in part to a role in the Cultural Olympiad) his is a name you will definitely see again.

Detail from Ryan Dunn's Inane Systems

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Keep A Good Thing Going: Omi Palone and The Proper Ornaments

Some good things happened on Sunday at Record Affair, a night put on by the ace Just a Crush at the equally ace Shacklewell Arms. The 9pm finish meant it was PERFECT FOR A SCHOOL NIGHT and there was a record fair from lots of independents. Also, we met someone from Upset the Rhythm who is friends with Dan Deacon: that wasn't even on the flyer.

One of the good things was Omi Palone (we pronounce it like it rhymes - you can say what you want). Singer Phil rejects indie falsetto, keeping things between the Ian Curtis pitch parameters of 'growl' and 'normal speaking voice' (weirdly, but vividly, bringing to mind Michael Stipe 'reigning it in' on King of Comedy). It's good to have limits, and the band work well within them; swooping guitar lines complement Phil's vocal, and the whole thing is set firmly to 'fun.'

Another good thing were The Proper Ornaments: woozy dream pop with a debt to the sixties and nineties-sixties-revivalists. This is a good thing. When The Proper Ornaments inspire another generation of bands we'll be able to write that they owe a debt to the sixties, nineties-sixties-revivalists and 2010s-nineties-sixties revivalists. Music blog posts will be like genealogies of royal families, poured over by the indie elite for the exact provenance of the latest Dalston heroes. Actually, that's pretty much what they are now.

Anyway. This lot are good - far better than these overly sun-drenched recordings suggest. Catch them live.

Friday, 24 August 2012

New Finds at Finland's Flow Festival: Elifantree

Elifantree are a Scandinavian jazz-pop trio, signed to independent Finnish jazz label Eclipse Music. Their debut album, Love and Trees came out in 2010, and they followed that up with this year's Time Out. We caught them on the Tiivistämö stage, where they were exceptional enough to draw the crowd to their feet, away from the delicious sushi and noodles served in there.

Vocalist Anni Elif Egecioglu has hints of Kate Bush in her freewheeling delivery, and drummer Tatu Rönkkö has one of the most triumphant drumming faces we've ever seen. Rounding off the band is saxophonist Pauli Lyyntinen, who, alongside cheer-inducing solos, adds the effects that push this into Bjork territory.
ELIFANTREE - That Girl from Charlie Harjulin on Vimeo.

New Finds at Finland's Flow Festival: Jason Moran

As you might expect from a festival in the hip capital of a self-consciously cool country there were a few esoteric choices in the Flow Festival lineup - but a couple of these really blew us away. One such artist is Jason Moran, who we loved so much we saw no fewer than three times over two days.

Moran is a Brooklyn-based jazz pianist who's been around for about 15 year and often performs with his band The Bandwagon. We saw him with The Bandwagon (bassist Tarus Maseen and incredible drummer Nashteen Waits) and performing solo, and in both settings Moran's talent, musicality and New York cool gave the set a laid back but exciting vibe. 

He seems to be able to take all of the fun parts of avant-garde jazz - the madness and freedom - and dispense with the dull insistence on extended periods of arhythmic atonality which often mar the genre, replacing these with hip hop-inspired beats and looped melodies which burst into explosions of creativity.

A standout track from Moran's solo performance was 'Ringing My Phone (Straight Outta Istanbul)' which appears on his 2003 live album The Bandwagon. Here, Moran plays along with the voice of his wife, speaking on the phone in Turkish to her mother. Check out the video below for how that pans out, especially when he loops a short section of her speech at around 3:20. Moran said he records conversations habitually, with the aim of turning them into tracks like this. Finnish, though was "on some other shit" and was going to take him some time to groove to. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

I've Started So I'll Finnish - Oneohtrix Point Never

Oneohtrix Point Never is the moniker of Brooklyn-based Daniel Lopatin, whose sound has grown out of drone electronica to inhabit a world between cinematic mood music and an 80s version of The Disintegration Loops. Tracks throughout his three albums grow and develop in beautiful and unexpected ways, and can sometimes become frustratingly repetitive before creating release through blossoming or decay. 

OPN are on stage at midnight at Flow, and it's easy to see why. Our shared dreamimage of Scandinavia here at LIFB is of flowing landscapes and minimalist design, the contrast of days of endless sunlight with the knowledge that days of endless darkness are only a few months away. The sound of OPN,  with its combination of melancholy and nostalgia fits this perfectly.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Cross the Finnish Line - Tamikrest

People say the protest song is dead, yet today it seems like we have as much to protest about as there was in the 60s and 70s. The Taureg people, a nomadic part of the Berber population of North Africa, have more to protest about than most, after recent events in their history of rebellions and fighting for their own land.

This year, Taureg fighters returning from fighting on both sides of the Libyan revolution helped to stage the latest offensive, taking control of an area of Mali and claiming its independence as the state of Aswad, only to be expelled by Islamist groups that had originally helped them.

Tamikrest, a Taureg band, play at Flow Festival this year - and set out their politics in a statement on their website:
The development of this territory and these settlements is a personal and collective duty for all of us. No one will work for the preservation of our land if we do not do it ourselves.
That was written before the recent events, so it seems like this is going to be an act with a lot to say. How they say it is through a euphoric combination of African rhythms and Middle Eastern harmonies. As jazz trumpeter Winton Marsalis said recently, people in the west seem to think that African music provides rhythm whereas western music provides harmony and melody, and it's not really like that. Tamikrest blend Warm electric guitar riffs with soaring pentatonic vocals to create the sound of the desert that the Taureg people love so deeply.

Perhaps the people who feel that African music is all rhythm are the same who say the protest song is dead. These people should head to the Wastelands stage for the Friday night of Flow Festival and see what they're missing out on.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Nice Guys Finnish Last - Joose Keskitalo

Joose Keskitalo supports Bon Iver on the opening night of Flow, and initial listens show why the Finnish act has been paired with the US indie superstar: plaintive melodies accompanied by electro-acoustic guitar. Here, though, there is the added interest of harmonica and some dips into barroom shanties like Esineet and Pimeydestä pimeyttä vastaan

At times Kekitalo appears to be aiming for the accolade of 'Finnish Jack Johnson', especially on Luultavasti jäit junan alle. This is faint praise indeed, but a listen to Luultavasti jäit junan alle should actually remind you of the time that we all liked Jack Johnson to begin with, not when we wanted to tear our ears of after 'Better Together' got its ten-millionth play. A more flattering comparison is with Beck, whose track Asshole he borrows from liberally on Peer Gynt.

Even more enjoyable is the relatively poor quality of Google Translate when it comes to Finnish. There is little information about Keskitalo in English, so we're having to base our research on phrases like 'Equally, his songs, often about death, only to sound like her, of course.' This doesn't bode well for our understanding of what on earth is happening when we make it to Helsinki.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Race to the Finnish - Black Twig

Photograph by Heidi Uutela

We're going on our Summer hols, and Mrs LIFB has sorted us out with tickets to Flow Festival in Helsinki. Loads of the acts are Finnish and in the lead up to the festival we're going to be profiling some.

Black Twig are Helsinki-based and signed to small local label Soliti. Although their name, and the title of 2011 tune 'Death Scene', suggest they are part of the great Scandinavian doom metal tradition, they actually produce perky indie. 'Death Scene' combines chiming, shoegaze-y guitars with earnest vocals, whilst this year's single release 'Paper Aeroplane' opens with guitars set firmly to REM mode, and has a chorus with a series of woos - like a European Dandy Warhols - that are going to sound perfect floating through a Finnish afternoon. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Antonio Roberts on the New Aesthetic

Antonio Roberts is an artist and a thoroughly nice man, you can find him on twitter @hellcatfood, and his website is here. He wrote this article for the latest issue of TBB.

When discussion around the New Aesthetic were taking place I initially took a stance against engaging in the conversations or reading anything about it, even refusing to read the original Tumblr blog by James Bridle or the essay by Bruce Sterling. This defiance was at times difficult as the New Aesthetic was invading all of my internet hangouts such as Twitter, Facebook and various mailing lists that I’m subscribed to (CRUMB, netbehaviour). I was even sent links to the essay and site directly, the assumption being that the ideas presented in it related to my interests. They were somewhat correct in assuming this, but my defiance still persisted.

Despite its sudden popularity The New Aesthetic is not actually very new. Bridle’s site was created on May 6th 2011, but it had gone largely unnoticed until Sterling’s essay was published. This sudden rise in popularity is similar to the way that memes develop. The rise (and fall) of a meme can be mapped out into very distinct stages:

  1. An original idea is formed and posted onto the internet
  2. The idea expands and develops
  3. People start to do their own interpretations of this
  4. The spike in popularity
  5. Repetition without context, alongside heavy criticism
  6. Overuse
  7. The fall of the meme and disappearance from the internet

I was less interested in taking part in the hype surrounding the meme, and more interested in its long-lasting effects on art culture. It could, like many memes, have its 15 minutes of fame and then disappear, or it could actually have a long-lasting effect on the arts in general.

When I finally relented and began to read the essays and resources surrounding the New Aesthetic I noticed an immediate problem: that of defining what the New Aesthetic actually is. Bridle, on the New Aesthetic blog, provides a vague definition on what the New Aesthetic is, as well as explaining briefly what his motivations are:

“Since May 2011 I have been collecting material which points towards new ways of seeing the world, an echo of the society, technology, politics and people that co-produce them.

The New Aesthetic is not a movement, it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.”

This definition still leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which is a problem certainly echoed by many people, evidenced by the plethora of attempts by others, Sterling included, to define what the New Aesthetic actually is. A search on the ever-reliable Twitter revealed definitions and interpretations of the New Aesthetic that ranged from the insightful to the humourous to the downright idiotic. Some of my favourites include:

  • The #newaesthetic could stand to become more of a #nudeaesthetic that investigates emerging forms of pornosophic philosophiction.[amerika2012twitter]
  • this goes out to all the artists and thinkers out there who share my disgust at the nostalgic hip-trip that is the so-called #newaesthetic[jones2012twitter]
  • Every #NewAesthetic becomes a new anaesthetic. At the speed of light we can go from new to numb, meme to meh in minutes.[2012twitter2]
  • The New Aesthetic should be called The Open Aesthetic. No boundaries #opensource #reality #culture #politics #newaesthetic #openaesthetic[2012twitter]
  • The #newaesthetic has already become old.[marone2012twitter]

That last Tweet echoes one of my main problems with the New Aesthetic, and indeed any attempt to provide a definitive definition of any art movement that is still evolving: The ideas that the New Aesthetic are based on are already old by the time they are published. New artwork, technologies and theories appear each day, and with the always-on nature of the Internet, where a lot of this art/content is disseminated, it is futile to attempt to create a catch-all terminology to describe what has been produced and also what is to be produced in the future.

Bridle posts artefacts to the blog in an attempt to clarify what artwork could be classed as falling under the New Aesthetic. Aside from the very act of appearing on the blog alongside other artefacts, the artefacts are posted without explanation as to why they fall under this definition. The hope is surely to let the content speak for itself but, for me, it just led to more confusion. Is the New Aesthetic about digital art, hacking, glitch art or pervasive art? Is it a combination of all of them or none of them? Is the New Aesthetic, broadly speaking, everything that is new?

It seems Bridle is the only one that truly understands exactly what the New Aesthetic is, and that’s why it comes across as a personal project. The site and its blog posts are his attempts at 
comprehending what he sees. This may help him to see the digital/hacked/glitched world in a clearer way, but without explanation it just leads to more confusion for everyone else.

It is ironic that by the time you read this the New Aesthetic may have (hopefully) died and, like most memes, disappeared completely from our mindsets and browsing sessions.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Michael Glass on Post-Product Placement

Guest writer Michael Glass on film. Catch this article in the latest issue of TBB.

Product placement isn’t something a filmmaker wants to do. It’s forced upon them, and men in suits need it to pay for their movies. And we all hate the men in suits, right? Yeah, those men are evil. They don’t understand creativity. They just want to make money.

Poor product placement removes you from the reality of a film. Strategically framed shots make James Bond look very cool indeed in his Aston Martins and Jaguars, checking into hotels with his Samsonite briefcase in hand, impatiently checking his Omega watch. Will Smith looks decidedly less cool in I, Robot as, in the midst of pootling about in Audis, arguing with FedEx robots and listening to his JVC hi-fi, he opens the most exciting box of his life: a shoebox. So enraptured is he by their arrival that he’s unable to resist showing them off to a relative, saying, ‘Converse, vintage 2004’ – truly a line for the ages. Never does he explain that these is particularly appropriate footwear for beating up robots and saving the world. He just likes his brand new shoes that, incidentally you can buy.

It used to be valid to complain about product placement. But these days, you have to be thankful for product lines just to have any films to go and complain about.

Hollywood’s struggle for ideas isn’t new. Purchasing the rights to books and plays has been a reliable way to generate new films for many years (not to mention Oscars). Then they started adapting comic books and videogames. You’re less likely to win awards, but you can spin out nice big franchises with them. And then Hollywood jumped the shark.

You might think I’m talking about Transformers, but you’d be wrong. Depite being the least inspired film of all time (a reboot of a 1986 animated film, itself a spin-off from a TV series, which in turn only existed to sell Hasbro toys), you can at least, at a stretch, consider it a remake or adaptation. I’m talking about Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a theme park ride. A famous one in which you slowly float past animatronic pirates repeating two-stage motion cycles of heavy drinking, knife fights and casual rape. Its relationship to the film series is in nothing more than name. This truly marks the moment when Hollywood ran out of ideas. When the men in suits (bastards!) literally flicked through a magazine and made a film of the first thing they landed on. There was ample opportunity to create tie-in products, though. Pirates-themed plastic rubbish can found in every aisle of Toys “R” Us. This year saw the release of a film without even that level of substance. 

Battleship is another Hasbro property (they are literally one of the most powerful companies in film now). Until it finally came out I was convinced that it had to be a joke. This game doesn’t even have dolls or animatronics to turn into characters. There is no story. It can be played with pen and paper. And crucially, it’s impossible to imagine anybody buying the Battleship board game because of the film. You’re no longer being sold anything but the film; there’s simply nothing else you could buy even if you wanted to. The things we used to be sold are now being shaken dry by panicked men in suits (bastards!) who desperately need a new franchise. Toy and ride connections are no longer about sales; they’re about people rapidly running out of inspiration.

This is an era of cinematic indolence and duplication that we’ll simply have to live through until, following the release of Scrabble vs Upwords 3D, the men in suits (bastards though they are) finally find that they’ve adapted and remade everything that exists, look around the abandoned wasteland of vacuity they’ve created, huddle together for warmth, and slowly but surely expire, allowing civilisation to at last rebuild.

...Anyway, that’s a while off. And really, the only reason I wrote this whole article is in the hope that desperate old Hollywood picks it up, spins it off into a lovely big franchise, and I can go to sleep knowing that I’ve helped the world become a little bit worse. Ker-ching!

This level of product placement has provoked some pretty good responses from the creative community on the web, and the deep, deep love we have for Tetris here at LIFB makes this our favourite:

Thursday, 31 May 2012

On the Life In Flashback Stereo

We've been doing some Spring cleaning this week, and had to find some suitably motivational records for this arduous task. Now the LIFB office is a bastion of minimalism, but only thanks to these guys. All from the North of England, you say? A complete accident, we promise.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Jake Shears buys music like we buy music

Jake Shears' post a couple of weeks ago really struck a chord here. He's put down exactly how we feel about spending time with music.

He brings out the joy of all-you-can-eat consumption through subscription services and the web:

Every week I scour all of the new releases again like I used to do in a record store, piling them up and going through them, keeping the ones worth a second go and releasing the ones that didn't quite catch my ear. I also get to see what other people are listening to and have discovered some incredible records by folks like Young Galaxy, Ford and Lopatin, Kurt Vile, Real Estate, and Scuba. And I love making playlists of new stuff and have a list going for every season, that I'm adding to and pulling from, so it's an always a constant work in progress. Once I'm ready to start a new one, I leave the current list as is and don't touch it again. It's a great diary of what I've been listening to.
He compares this to his passion for vinyl:
I started buying vinyl more and using turntables in my house. I found it really relaxing and contemplative when I just wanted to take some time on a particular record...when there's an album I really like, I still head to Rebel Rebel in the West Village and buy it on vinyl. 
He doesn't expand on this, but WE KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN JAKE. At LIFB we stream music all day long, and sometimes have the Hype Machine Top 50 on at the same time just for kicks. But we also aim to buy at least our favourite album of the year on vinyl each year (amongst a tonne of other records that otherwise would stay in the Age Concern 75p box forever). In 2011 it was Bon Iver's Bon Iver, in 2010 it was The National's High Violet... we haven't got 2009's Miike Snow yet, but did manage to find 2008's Elephant Shell by Tokyo Police Club recently.

And that's the crux of it: it doesn't matter that there were at least four other albums released in 2011 that could have taken the place of Bon Iver, this isn't about being completist; equally, it isn't about buying the vinyl in December as a prize for making an end of year list; it's about a physical object that shows something we thought was good.

You're never going to be able to listen to everything. This realisation hits everybody at some point. You're not even going to be able to listen to everything worth listening to. One reaction to this is to retreat to the old ground of listing and ranking, subdividing time to listen to music that is worthy - that's the easy way out. The better reaction is to try and achieve a zen state where as long as what you are listening to feels good, then you are not wasting your listening time. And, occasionally, even if you think it's terrible and the person in the car with you thinks it's good, that can be a worthy listen also. A martyrish listen. Well done you if you've got there, we haven't.

We have an image of being old, instructing children to pick a record they like the look of to listen to while they play. As snazzy as cover flow looks, it just doesn't fit into that picture. That's why we're going to keep buying important records on vinyl. Not all of them, and not a set number from different genres and sub genres, but just at least one a year that we like. That's enough.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Horace The Gentleman - Art and Blues at St Pauls Gallery

One of Horace The
Gentleman's Beijing trip
inspired paintings.
Horace The Gentleman is the bassist from The Specials, and an artist. We said hello at the preview for an exhibition for his work on Friday, and can confirm that he is officially the most charming member of a two-tone band we have ever met. The 'Gentleman' epithet has never been better applied. Also, he performed with Blues to Go, a blues and rock n roll band, rocking out a Chuck Berry cover and a great version of Standing On Top of the World.

The Specials are a bands who have been passed down to current twenty-somethings by their original fans. We're now in a mid-generational flux where we will be able to see if these bands like this will be carried further. Far fewer people with parents who grew up the 1940s have intergenerational music appreciation than the children of baby-boomers. Since the regular explosions and implosions of popular culture from the 60s onwards, passions have been handed down to children and carried into adulthood. Elvis Presley is an early example, Aretha Franklin, Nick Drake,  Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Queen, The Who, The Ramones, The Specials, Madness... Are the children of the first few years of the 21st Century going to inherit a passion for Oasis, Blur and Nirvana (even the Spice Girls) from their 90s-raised parents, or are they going to listen to The Beatles and Rolling Stones like their grandparents and parents?

Pop culture is often criticised for a lack of depth, for a transience that means it burns brightly, then leaves nothing behind. There is something more than nostalgia for an ephemeral joy, however, about passing down a musical act to your children. It is about creating a sense of family when the media tells us daily that we are fracturing - if we don't sit around the piano anymore singing the latest manuscript, we can at least debate whether Paul Simon's work was better solo or with Garfunkel, then listen to Graceland.

A major inspiration in Horace The Gentleman's recent paintings is a visit to Beijing to see his son, who was living out there.  Sitting five feet from Horace as he played the bass, surrounded by these paintings, gave us pause for thought about this. We urge you to call your Dad or someone else you care about, and talk to them about the music you both love.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Chinatown/Gastown - Wandering through Vancouver

Gastown is the oldest area of Vancouver, a city that can otherwise seem to be a gleaming clutch of skyscrapers held between the mountains, forest and ocean. Like areas in many cities where there is poverty and homelessness, low rent also means the growth of an artistic community. 

We took an early evening wander down Main St, through neighbouring Chinatown, then explored the three parallel roads that form Gastown: Powell Street, Cordova Street and Hastings Street. The extraordinary thing about this trio is that whilst Powell and Cordova seem to be succumbing enthusiastically to gentrification, West Hastings had enough openair drug taking, prostitution and street selling to make it seem like Hamsterdam in The Wire. 

Instagallery at Kee's Laundry

There are sides to the area to be celebrated, however. Our first stop was Kee's Laundry, where Instagallery, a very timely exhibition of Instagram images of Chinatown opened today. The exhibition is interactive - images are pulled from the #ChinatownYVR hashtag - and they are already showing over 600 entries.

Just around the corner was The Board of Trade, a great new independent clothing shop. It had a really minimal layout that made it feel like an exhibition space, and co-owner Eunice Quan is rightly proud of their menswear offering, much of it handmade by business partner David Lin. It felt a lot like what Liquor Store are doing in Birmingham, but with more of a focus on small designers. A favourite in womenswear was the collection from Priory of Ten.

The Board of Trade
Heading into Gastown, Gallery Gachet was showing Drawuary, the result of 14 artists making one drawing every day in February. The results were reminiscent of the work of Guo Fengyi we saw at Vancouver Contemparary Art Gallery last week. Collected together, the drawings were like pages from a scrapbook, with the timescale of the project making them seem like cryptic diary entries.

Drawuary at Gallery Gachet

 Finally, we pressed our noses against the Royal Canadian Snowflake Factory. Housed in a heritage building on East Cordova Street, Robert Chaplin casts snowflake shapes in silver, and just like real snowflakes, each piece is unique.

A Royal Canadian Snowflake

What seemed to link Instagallery, Drawuary, the Royal Canadian Snowflake Factory and even The Board of Trade, was a real clarity of vision; each is a simple concept executed with quiet confidence and style.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Everything Sounds Like Phil Collins

Two songs have been receiving heavy rotation on the LIFB stereo recently, and there is a disturbing pattern emerging. Over both 'Some Nights' by New York band fun. and 'Vase' by Sweden's Miike Snow, the legacy of Phil Collins looms large. 'Some Nights' has inspired spirited renditions of 'True Colours' over the top of the whoa-oh-oh bits, and there is something about the treatment of the vocals in 'Vase' that make them sound just like like they are being performed by Collins himself. 

Miike Snow - Vase:

The idea that 'prog is back' has been around for a while now, powered by a gradual increase in releases of concept albums and the stamp of Gallic cool on a number of prog-ish releases - a Genesis t-shirt popped up in the video for Justice's On'n'On - but nothing has sounded quite like it could have been discovered on a late period Genesis album than these two.

Following years of painstakingly sifting through vinyl bargain bins we have become familiar with Collins' face. He is a 75p box regular - our theory is that the people who buy his records aren't actually fans of music, but because buying records is what people do, they buy the blandest stuff they can find, then when they get older they dump him en-masse. Because his face - usually in terrifying close-up - adorns almost all of his solo albums, he's become a guardian of the cheap second hand records. His impassive stare is that of a bouncer, assessing your suitability to buy a scratched Tina Turner best of or A Night At The Opera. 

Listening to 'Some Nights' and 'Vase' however, we see that his stare is really one of patient contemplation. We made a collage of all of his albums this afternoon that you can see at the top of this post, and the power of his compound stare proves conclusively that Phil Collins knew this was going to happen. At this rate we'll be wading in middle-of-the-road prog until the net generation break free from his clutches. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Fierce Festival 2012 - Dachshund U.N and Love Letters Straight From Your Heart

We had a grand old time out on the town last weekend, picking out two highlights of Fierce festival - Birmingham's annual performance art jamboree.

First up was Bennett Miller's Dachshund U.N. - a performance / installation hybrid involving a recreation of a U.N. office with dachshund rather than human representatives. Aside from the pleasure gained from the surreal nature of the performance, the best part of this event was witnessing the culture of West-Midlands dachshund owners. The U.N. representatives were recruited entirely from their ranks, and dozens more turned out to support. If only the real U.N. was quite so convivial...

Secondly, Love Letters Straight From Your Heart was a touching piece of theatre that mixed audience contributions and short scenes to celebrate what it is to express love. The show veered close to schmalz,   but avoided it through a sense of honesty that was reflected in the use of TROVE, a superbly ramshackle and versatile venue, as the setting. Cava was poured, dedications read, and there was a brilliant bit involving Kate Bush. We defy anyone to leave this show without becoming at least temporarily misty-eyed.

Monday, 26 March 2012

"Can you sing?" A Thousand Shards of Glass at AE Harris

Strictly, A Thousand Shards of Glass is a one-woman show - an immersive storytelling experience driven by Lucy Ellinson's compelling performance. However, it provokes a sense of collective memory and nostalgia for childhood storytelling that makes it feel packed with characters and warmth. Clever devices mean that engagement is never onerous while the audience is still place firmly at the center of the story. A single layer of seating, in a circle, suggests a camp fire, playing a game or sharing a meal, and the work played with each of these, and more, over its course. 

Like nostalgic retellings of childhood, the narrative seems episodic - leaps in location and mood keep the tempo up, but sacrifice some overall coherence in the process. There is a feel that some heavy workshopping was involved somewhere down the line, although writing is credited to Ben Pacey only. The flights of fancy, dramatic set pieces and rapidly changing locations owe a debt to modern action films, but without the visuals that help to make sense of things in that context Lewis Gibson's superb sound design helps gamely to tie it all together.

More conspicuous than the action, however, are numerous literary and cinematic references, from Frankenstein to The Matrix, and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy to Die Hard: With a Vengance. By weaving together strands of familiar stories, Pacey has created a tapestry that should hold more than one touchstone for any audience member. When the heroine is enlisted to save humanity, she is asked only if she can sing. A Thousand Shards of Glass is a humble contribution for this song for humanity, a song of stories where the singer is backed up by every snippet of half-remembered narrative that lingers in their consciousness. Whilst it is a one-woman show, the circle of audience members cannot help but sing along as they retell their stories to themselves.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

LIFB loves Vancouver

After hearing for a number of years that it is the 'greatest city ever', we can announce that LIFB is going on tour to Vancouver. We've started to increase our daily maple syrup intake, from 10ml at the beginning of this week to over 100ml this morning alone, and are feeling more Canadian by the minute.

The real preparation, however, started year back. Two of our favourite music sites, Radio Zero and Schitzpopinov are Vancouver based, Radio Zero's mixes soundtracked every houseparty at University, and Schitzpopinov are tastemakers extraordinaire, playing no small part in our infatuations with Boys Noize, Jack Beats and Fake Blood. 

It feels like a bit of a pilgrimage to be going to the home of two entities we've been following so closely, and we're going to be keeping our ears to the ground to report what goes on after the locals all finish climbing mountains, rollerblading and windsurfing for the day.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Birmingham Emcee Performing at SXSW

We like to do lists here at Life in Flashback, and at the top of our most prominent is 'attend South by Southwest'. 2012 is yet another year the opportunity to cross that off has passed us by, but we now intend to live vicariously through Birmingham-born emcee Lady Leshurr. She's heading over there with her incredibly fast flow to show the US how it's done. Her rise to fame has included an appearance on a Tinie Tempah mixtape, and props by Mike Skinner. Mr Skinner's tweet is so eloquent, that there's really little we feel we can add.

A true poet.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Liquor Store

Liquor Store is a new independent men's fashion shop in the Great Western Arcade. They opened a couple of weeks ago, and their first lot of stock is a great mix of classic brands and newer stuff. There are some awesome pieces in there and the shop has a great, friendly vibe. Particularly interesting is LA-based Shades of Grey, in which I could dress myself from head to toe. This kind of independent shop is exactly what Birmingham needs, especially in the often-neglected area of men's fashion. Buying something from here is supporting the creation of a kind of Birmingham we want to live in - which is especially nice when all the stock is so desirable!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Gravity - Birmingham Rep at mac birmingham

The strength of this new play lies in its subtleties. It would be easy to linger too much on a character damaged by the death of a parent, one living with depression, or another with a brother on the front line in the Middle East, but playwright Arzhang Pezman avoids easy exploration of these issues. Instead, Gravity positions the issues as catalysts, and focusses on the unravelling of lives that happens as a result.

A school is the perfect setting for throwing together a group of characters with different problems, the shared pressure between pupils and teachers means that a plot can come to a head quickly, and the expectations of classroom behaviour mean there is a seam of repression ripe for exploding to the surface. Pezman's own experience working as a teacher in Wolverhampton is used to good effect - there is a sense of realism in the behavior of the pupils, but it is Kathy, the pastoral support who keeps a dangerous pupil in the school through a lack of other options, who best unveils some of the more shameful secrets of our education system.

Drama set in schools can live or die by the quality of parts and acting of the pupils. Stereotypes are easily deployed, and pupil parts can too easily be played for laughs. Ashley Hunter, Rebecca Loudon and Boris Mitkov avoid this - gaining the laughs, but injecting enough pathos into the roles to keep them realistic. Hunter's performance is particularly notable for the way he captures the complexity of early adolescence and the way teenagers deal with conflicting desires.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Post-Fun: Your Phone is Killing an Art Form

As an artistic phenomena becomes more popular it becomes stupider. This isn't to say that the population, en masse, are idiots, only capable of enjoying the basest of culture. Top-flight football involves as much skill and understanding as the opera. Hirst's spot drawings have as much to contribute to discussion of colour and presentation as Blumenthal's food. Audiences cross over, and consumers combine niche interests to suit their appetite. But, to appeal to everyone all the time, culture gets stupid. Has anyone actually seen Blumenthal's menu for Little Chef in real life? No, because we've all been at stupid McDonalds. How many of us have actually been to a Hirst exhibition? Very few, compared to how many of us have read the (mostly) stupid press coverage of his work. Every middle class person you know under the age of 35 may have watched the HBO masterworks, but everyone has been engrossed in stupid, stupid Hollyoaks. However, there is no cultural phenomena for which this is more true than computer games.

Smart phones and the aggressive marketing of the female demographic now means that the computer game market is bigger than many could ever have imagined. There are many games that fit into the Heston Blumenthal end of the cultural spectrum - Skyrim is ambitious and accomplished, and, as unattractive as I personally find running around shooting things in a realistic setting, the Call of Duty series has some merit in recreating the experience of warfare. Many independent games are embracing a postmodern cannibalism of gaming conventions, the excellent Braid and Super Meat Boy amongst them. Yet, as this detailed and nuanced article from Wired explores, the rise of the casual gamer, on smartphone and social network, is also the rise of the stupid game.

Ian Bogost's 'Cow Clicker'
The crux of the Wired piece, an interview with game designer Ian Bogost, is that Facebook games now appeal to only the basest parts of our intellect. They set arbitrary, easy to complete tasks that reward with just the right frequency to keep us coming back. Like rats in a lab running through a maze for a treat, except the maze is just a straight tunnel you have to walk down 5 times a day. And we don't even have to walk, just click a button. Monetization of this model involves either advertisers paying for our blind commitment to that part of the Internet, or the motivation of slight improvements to the game through in-game purchases. Bogost was upset at this development in the industry that he loved, so he created Cowclicker, a game satirising the likes of Farmville by having just a single square of pasture with a cow on it. The game involves clicking on the cow, with a hilariously large number of clicks triggering a slight reward. The best of these was, for 2500 'mooney' (the game's currency), a cow image that was exactly the same as the free cow gamers have at the start of the game, but facing right instead of left. A brilliant satire, but with one flaw - it became incredibly popular.

The games that Cowclicker satirises also exist on the casual gamers console of choice - the smartphone. Games on smart phones fall into one of three categories: the port of an old console game, original game ideas that have some sort of narrative arc and a definable ending, and manipulative games with arbitrary tasks designed to consume your time and generate in-game purchases. It is not so simple to say that these categories are definitive labels for intelligent and stupid games, however. Many of the ported old games hide pointlessly repetitive gameplay behind a smokescreen of nostalgia. And anyone who has tried to get three stars on all levels of Angry Birds knows that even games with an achievable ending can involve plenty of mindless play - something that even infects the originator of the 'different levels with same gameplay organised into worlds' model, where gaining all 120 stars in Mario Galaxy 2 prompts an instruction to go back through every single level to gain 120 more. The third type are the most blatant, however, and it could be argued that they pave the way for more intelligent games to include more manipulative forms of monetization into their designs.

Tiny Tower involves building a tower, with competing needs for residential and various forms of commercial floors. Except they don't really compete. There is no scarcity of resources, the gamer must merely wait for his tower to generate enough money to allow them to build another floor. The manipulation of the gamer comes through incremental reward - to get money you must re-stock your commercial floors. This can take anywhere between 5 minutes and 5 hours, after which your phone will prompt you to click on the floor to complete the stocking process. The more floors you have, the more often your phone will prompt you, so the more often you return to play the game. It's an alarm clock for a non-event. Temple Run, on the other hand, is just an Indiana-Jones-ified version of the Chaos Emerald levels on Sonic 2. In other words, the gameplay of a mini-game from a game made two decades ago, with the style of  film made three decades ago. Postmodern asset stripping should be celebrated when it creates something new and interesting, but in Temple Run it is at its most cynical.
Sonic 2 / Temple Run
Temple Run's debt to Sonic 2 is at the heart of the problem with the rise of the stupid game. By reducing the narrative and complexity in games, cynical developers are sending the form back to poorer times. Naivety has a legitimate place in art: music has genres including punk; numerous visual artists play with the idea; and novels written from a child's perspective can provoke interesting insight, with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas more recent examples. The difference between this and gaming however, is that examples in music, visual art and literature use a naive approach to create a new perspective. There is no argument that Temple Run or Tiny Tower change the way we look at the world, or medium of the computer game, in an interesting way, or that they are even intending to.

The concluding rooms of the recent Postmodernism exhibition at the V&A documented how the movement, after gaining mass popularity and ubiquity, became corrupted by money and was destroyed by the vapidness that resulted. To illustrate this, exhibited in one small space, was a Warhol Dollar Sign, Jeff Koons' silver Louis XIV, and a yellow sequined jacket by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel. Temple Run, Tiny Tower and others like them are the gaming equivalents of these gaudy pieces, suggesting that they might be as dangerous as they are stupid.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

This might be quite old...

...and we nicked it off the excellent Leisure, but it might just be what finally makes me buy a skateboard. Superb shouty hip-hop from Death Grips. You can download the whole album from their brilliant website.

Post-Dubstep - The battle to reclaim the original name for the genre I love

As culture continually consumes itself and the music press diversifies through a million blogs, labels like 'post-dubstep' are inevitable. This isn't new - the idea that we are living in a freewheelingly progressive stage of cultural development fuelled by the internet is nothing but an egotistic delusion; punk was born in 1974, and the first usage of 'post-punk' was in 1977, so things moved just as fast in a pre-internet world. However, this precedence doesn't make the vague, hard to define 'post-dubstep' term any less insulting to fans around in the genre's early years.

I feel I can count myself amongst these fans as much as anyone who lived outside London during the birth of dubstep at the turn of the century. In 2005, I left my parochial, scenic hometown for a parochial, scenic campus university, and developed a desire for something more urban. Dubstep satisfied this need, and when I graduated and finally moved to an actual city it became the genre I lived in. The claustrophobic privacy of the beat, the space in the production and the sparse use of vocals all painted a picture of urban decay, graffiti on concrete walls, smashed windows and CCTV, but somehow made it incredibly beautiful. Burial, Benga, Skream, Digital Mystikz and Various Production soundtracked my growth out of my teenage years and transformed the way I saw my surroundings.

This story ended as dubstep exploded sometime around 2009. The fury of the fan of an underground genre as everyone else gets in on the act is well documented, and is a stereotype worth expending a lot of energy in avoiding. Initially this wasn't difficult; it was good to see the music I loved find a wider audience, with more people to talk to about the tunes and bigger crowds creating a more exciting atmosphere at club nights. Soon, however, like a politician corrupted by power, the popularity of dubstep went to its head and things took a turn for the worse. 

Skrillex vs James Blake, as
imagined by Hipster Runoff.
The genre split in two. One strand shot inexorably through Flux Pavillion to the relentlessly noisy Skrillex, and the other built upon the sound of Burial by keeping some subtlety and room for contemplation, producing James Blake as a breakout artist. Frustratingly, it is the former, the intelligent sound of dubstep, that became known as post-dubstep. Here, Skrillex is Blake's nemesis, facing off against him over a dubstep/post-dubstep divide like an electronic music version of Superman and Lex Luthor. This fantasy is brilliantly substantiated by Blake describing the fight for the dirtiest bass in modern dubstep as"almost like a pissing competition" in a Boston Phoenix interview last year, covered hilariously in numerous Hipster Runoff posts

Recently, with tongue firmly in cheek, Vice magazine asked if Skrillex was "dubstep's Miles Davis." In this case, though, Skrillex is more like dubstep's Bob Dylan, with Blake's comments an updated version of the heckling of Dylan as 'Judas' when he picked up an electric guitar and turned his back on folk. The big difference with this analogy is that nobody calls Dylan 'folk' anymore. The Judas-shouters got to keep their genre. The only alternative genre name is an American contribution, 'brostep', described by Rusko as 'like someone screaming in your face for an hour'. This has yet to stick over here. I'd like to suggest 'noisestep', 'buttonmashingstep' or 'messstep' as a British alternative.

Followers of underground genres have always had a protective snobbishness about them. A regular of Forward, a pioneering dubstep night, once told me that they moved to a Sunday to keep away the genre's loutish new fans. This, he explained, would allow the regulars to continue to stand still and listen to the music on the phenomenal soundsystem they have at Plastic People, whilst holding their pints and nodding their heads. For them this was infinitely preferable to throwing yourself around as a producer smashes his hand down onto random sampler buttons mapped to a range of squeals whilst glitchy bass makes your own thoughts inaudible. Even if you don't agree with that, you have to agree at the very least that it is a completely different thing, deserving of a completely different genre label.

Like rock and roll, psychedelic, prog, disco, punk, new wave, grunge, indie, garage and grime were the genres that belonged to kids of the 50s to the 90s, dubstep felt like our time. Our time is reflected in the fact that the genre has produced Skrillex, Bassnectar, Flux Pavillion and Funtcase, producers who have raced to the bottom - both in terms of the amount of thought that goes in to their productions and the depths of bass. In an age where integrity drowns in the moats of greedy politicians, is packaged with bankers bonuses, or sacrificed for the political desire for a more unified Europe, the same is happening for the music we love. Fans of dubstep should try to harness the revolutionary spirit of the Occupy movement and fight for subtlety and intellectual input over soul-crushing noise. Skrillex fans don't even have pepper spray - let's claim our genre back.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Introducing at The Hare and Hounds

"Who wants to get silly?" With this, Introducing launch in to Mr Scruff's 'Fish', a song so silly that a chorus that repeats the title over and over again isn't even the silliest part (for us, it's the line 'trout are freshwater fish/And have underwater weapons'). Playing a set of Scruff songs live will inevitably be sillier than working your way through DJ Shadow's Endtroducing - the group toured that in 2010 and we reviewed it here - but it made the night less about witnessing a musical experiment in returning sample-based music to its real-instrument origin, and more about throwing shapes so fluid that they flowed through the floorboards.

Just like the Shadow show, the sounds were perfect, from the guitar that opens 'Spandex Man', to the wobbly bass of 'Sweet Smoke.' All that was beyond their reach were the songs with rapping. Vocals were well dealt with, but an extra dimension could have been created by an emcee that would have enabled them to play 'Jusjus' or the brilliant 'Vibrate.'

First and foremost, though, Introducing are a great band. The songs they draw inspiration from are allowed to take centre stage because of their professionalism and cool showmanship. Their greatest features are crisp bass and a playful improvisation around the songs - including a ragtime break in the introduction to set-closer 'Get A Move On'. This meant that this was a night that reinvigorated Mr Scruff's back catalogue as well as paying homage to it. Even though the songs are more lighthearted than their previous project, Introducing take their duty to the artist that inspired them just as seriously.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Justice at Birmingham Academy

Justice are like an act cobbled together by people keen to give music journalists an easy life. Whether it's the ease of comparing them to that other French electronic music duo, the gift of the heavy metal cross imagery, or the Genesis T-shirt in the On'n'On video making every reviewer bring up prog, there's a lot to write about. This obviousness translates to their music; whilst not quite reaching Skrillex levels of insulting simplicity (I picture him as a frenetic version of Ross Geller playing the keyboard - which someone else has OBVIOUSLY already created) the continuous womp-womp bass and guitar sound hardly carries the complexity of the prog that these people seem to think runs through their sound.

This point is where the Catch-22 of the successful electronic music act arises. Club music is about never, under any circumstances, stopping the party. However much DJs talk about building a vibe and changing the mood throughout their set, it isn't the same as a concert band with hits at the beginning and the end, banter with the audience, and breaks between songs. This works so well in a club because there is a culture of taking a break whenever you like, for as long as you like, and expecting to be able to return to the party much as you left it. With strict curfews and horrific bar queues, this culture doesn't exist in concert venues. At times Justice got repetitive and dull, yet it felt sacrilegious to take a break from the set in a way it never would in a club.

Still, you can't begrudge their success, and it was the components of this success, the standout hits from the debut and new album, that made this an enjoyable night. Genesis is still the best opening music for any act ever. The Party, Waters of Nazareth, DVNO, and D.AN.C.E. are incredible. On'n'On is a great addition. The highlight of the night was where they held the part in Waters of Nazareth where all the sound drops out for absolutely ages, with the lights ups, before letting loose the vocal from the We Are Your Friends remis that launched their careers. Even though it was a party that ended at 10:30, it was still a party.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Something Else We're Looking Forward to

is DJ Format at The Hare and Hounds on Friday 16th March. DJ Format was such a big portion of the music I listened to at University, and I still put If You Can't Join Em, Beat Em right up there. It doesn't say he's bringing D-Sisive or Abdominal, but hopefully there'll be some live emceeing. This'll be a nostalgic one.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Re Introducing

Introducing - the jazz band who formed through a brilliantly successful attempt to play DJ Shadow's Endtroducing with actual instruments - are back in Birmingham with their second project: 'Project Scruff.' With Mr Scruff arguably lacking an entire album of classics the calibre of DJ Shadow's masterwork, they have sensibly opted for picking out the greats. Here's a sneak preview from Village Underground late last year: