18 November, 2008

Review: Max Tundra and Clinic live at The Village 12/11/08

Now in its third year, Heineken Green Synergy is still a little confusing, if not confused. It's as if it's not quite sure if it's a genuine indoor (mini-HWCH-ish) festival, or just another BudRising-esque musical commercial. But who really cares, when they bring quality acts together (unlike BudRising, which usually opts for the high-selling but average) for reasonable prices. This year it really seemed focussed on the "synergy" aspect, bringing some really disparate artists together, like the unlikely pairing of Max Tundra and Clinic, the former being an appparent entity of pure distilled energy and good humour, the latter being weird, dour and brilliant.

That's not to say the gig as a whole didn't work. On the contrary. Max Tundra bounced and hit buttons and keys and blew into things and sang and jumped and danced and raved, producing an incredible amount of sound for one person, albeit one person surrounded by gadgets and instruments. His sound occupies that grey area between dance, electronica and even rock, defying the definitions of all three, and never being afraid to borrow (or take the piss out of) anything else. The music was good, it was interesting, it was loud (as things tend to be in the Village) but what Max Tundra is really bringing back to inhabitants of this grey area is performance. Performance of electronic-based music of any kind occupies its own shady area in the performance annals, confused as its entry is by the idea of pre-recorded tracks and samples. True Max Tundra used tracks, but it was his ability to create a full texture of sounds and ideas over them, while never losing his connection with the audience among his multitude of instruments.

Clinic on the other hand, are a truly dour bunch of Liverpudlians, but with some interesting ideas. This gig was accompanied by monochrome visual projections, which, though they had seemingly nothing to do with what was being played, contributed to Clinic's attempt at de-personalising their music, their masks creating an anonymity and rather than distracting, forcing attention onto their sound. And how to describe that sound? A contantly-changing drone: the kind of drone into which you get sucked, and once you're inside, begins to break up, showing you all its different elements of the whole in their individual glory. Clinic are deadpan on the surface, but broiling under the skin. Even the live show is a masterwork of production elements: an ideal balance between instruments and sounds, the ex-key movements and scale inflections which are unnerving because they soon start to sound normal. Clinic take something ordinary, warp it, make it strange and then make you believe that this was the 'ordinary' all along.

Anna Murray

04 November, 2008

Review: Crayonsmith live at Whelans, 31/10/08

As readers of this blog will have noticed, this writer is trying in her small way to instigate a revolution in the world of music journalism by de-personalising and re-contextualising her own music writing, pop, rock or otherwise. They would probably also have noticed that she is nevertheless (cheerfully) failing at both revolutionary attempts, general and personal. Oh well, no matter. To this end, however, I usually try my hardest not to use words like 'favourite', but I can find no way around saying that Crayonsmith are currently my favourite band playing the Irish music scene (yes, even above Fight Like Apes).

Readers will probably also know that I would even consider White Wonder a favourite album of the last few years, but it was not until this year’s HWCH that I could finally catch the band live, and while the difficulties inherent in converting something so reliant on multitracking and samples to a live setting must be acknowledged, honestly the Crayonsmith live show is not going to change the entertainment world. But they have something that too many bands overlook: an easy-going, relaxed and comfortable attitude. The fans are, almost to a man, equally easy-going but energetic. Crayonsmith’s gigs are, simply put, fun.

Unfortunately, turnout to this Halloween (the band themselves dressed as the Three Amigos) was disappointing. Which in a way was probably just as well, as trying to dance (yet again unsuccessfully) like the 60s chick I was dressed as proved to be quite difficult when you end up acting as the filling in a Grim Reaper/Jaws/Large Hadron Collider triple decker sandwich. Evidently, many people decided that a good-natured musician from Cork was an insufficiently terrifying a Halloween musical treat as, say, the Warlords of Pez. Certainly Crayonsmith failed to come even close to the soul-rending awfulness that was their support. First, a 'humourous' storyteller with piano accompaniment whose terrible punning and poor grammar hurt roughly two-thirds as much as Talula Does the Hula's charmless noise, although it soon became apparent that the reason they hadn't noticed the horrifically out-of-tune guitar is because they have almost no musical talent, apart from cheap hooks.

A last complaint is that Crayonsmith, while playing an excellent set, had so little new material to showcase. Although songs from heavily production-reliant White Wonder are given such new life and a whole different spin when played live, more new material would have added a greater sense of discovery and interest to their gig, instead of being akin to a retelling of old stories. But, as already said, this Crayonsmith gig was fun, ending in a stage invasion which bouncers seemed not bothered enough about to prevent.

20 October, 2008

Another Way to Die

In 1962 a cultural institution was born: the Bond legacy. Since the release of Dr. No, the Bond films have acted like a cultural and social barometer, reflecting our changing expectations of cinema in terms of content, attitude aethestics, and of course, most importantly music. Not only was one of the most iconic movie themes ever created with the Bond theme (composed by Monty Norman and played by the orchestra of John Barry, later soundtrack composer for the rest of the Bond series), but the “Bond Songs” have become an institution in itself, arguably more greatly anticipated than the films themselves. In the four decades since the first From Russia With Love, the Bond Songs have equally echoed the changing character of music and the changing character of the Bond films themselves.

Whether Madonna’s dance Die Another Day or any of Shirley Bassey’s oft-parodied soul numbers, the Bond Songs have been marked by (musical) seduction, sex, intense smoothness, bombastic production and big arrangements (with the possible exception of Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better, which omitted most of the above but sex). Quantum of Solace, just like Casino Royale, marks a departure from the Bond norm not only in terms of the film itself and its portrayal of the increasingly stagnant character of its protagonist, but also its theme songs. While Chris Cornell has probably come closest to the sexual character of Bond of all themesters thus far, You Know My Name has, with the release of Quantum of Solace’s Another Way to Die, proven itself the middleman sitting on the fence between Bond’s old-fashioned chauvinistic smoothness and his gritty, troubled but detached new self, poking his toe into the pool of progression. The entrance of Jack White onto the scene has probably changed what we know as the Bond Song for future productions, whatever course they might take. While at first the addition of Jack White to the Bond musical annals (thankfully beating contender Amy Winehouse to the post) seems incongruous at best, with his pared-down indie mentality, it can’t be denied that, whether you are a fan or not, he has already earned greatness status: enough to earn him the musical equivalent of the Bond Girl award for beauty, the coveted Bond Song.

Another Way to Die, especially when viewed as part of the Bond Song tradition, is an aberration. Anything but smooth, it is the first duet, and the one of the more abstract lyrically. Full of menace and darkness, it is not only a divergence from expectation in Bond terms but also in Jack White terms. Its genesis can be just as easily traced through the journey of the White as producer as it can that of Bond, or even of the music scene in general. Through the White Stripes, White betrayed his blues background and took it upon himself to create a new breed of indie, stripping away the excesses and returning to it a sense of innocence, as well as a completely new sound. It might be overstating the matter just a tad, but indie has never quite recovered: only in the last few years has it overcome its angular “Franz-guitar” fixation and with the gradual absorption of electronica followed White’s example and become less but yet louder.

The White Stripes’ last albums were moving steadily further away from their back-to-basics aesthetic and further toward a condensed but different style, and with the Raconteurs, Jack White finally admitted the debt he owes to rock and indie above blues. With Another Way… he equally betrays what he owes to R’n’B, represented by Alicia Keys. As a producer, more recent releases have shown an increased interest in layers and bigger textures: a fact to which Another Way to Die is a testament. Though at first the combination of White and Bond may seem frankly bizarre, but the melding of the brashness of Bond and the understatement of White creates something almost unique. The bold opening guitar riff is as perfect a mixture of early Stripes and Bond as they could have hoped to achieve, merging as it does with Keys’ piano and cohesive strings and brass. The combination of Alicia Keys and Jack White also inspired initial doubt, but her low alto and his distinct range and tone manage to provide both conflict and cohesion. Together with the gritty, almost subversive vocal parts, the result is an unnerving and threatening production to match the new Bond, full of mistrust and disjointed internal conflict left unresolved.

Bond Songs to Date:
• 1963 From Russia With Love Matt Monro
• 1964 Goldfinger Shirley Bassey
• 1965 Thunderball Tom Jones
• 1967 You Only Live Twice Nancy Sinatra
• 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Louis Armstrong
• 1971 Diamonds are Forever Shirley Bassey
• 1973 Live and Let Die Paul McCartney & Wings
• 1974 The Man With the Golden Gun Lulu
• 1977 Nobody Does It Better Carly Simon
• 1979 Moonraker Shirley Bassey
• 1981 For Your Eyes Only Sheena Easton
• 1983 All Time High Rita Coolidge
• 1985 A View to a Kill Duran Duran
• 1987 The Living Daylights A-Ha
• 1989 License to Kill Gladys Knight
• 1995 Goldeneye Tina Turner
• 1997 Tomorrow Never Dies Cheryl Crow
• 1999 The World is Not Enough Garbage
• 2002 Die Another Day Madonna
• 2006 You Know My Name Chris Cornell
• 2008 Another Way to Die Jack White/Alicia Keys

Anna Murray

11 October, 2008

Interview with Nakatomi Plaza

Like many other Irish music dedicatees, the demise of 66e was my Take That moment. To see them reinvent themselves as Le Galaxie (yes I know it’s a completely different band, comparisons will end now. Well, soon anyway) gave us a new hope. Not only that but Anthony, former guitarist and synth-ist for 66e has started his side-project of electronic/house/techno showcasing Nakatomi Plaza: an experiment in sound combinations and a study in mixing skills. Here he talks about his old band, his current band and of course, his going solo.

As Nakatomi Plaza and part of Le Galaxie, the name 66e must be following you around quite a lot. Are you finding it hard to break away from the association?
Le Galaxie is pretty much a completely new band to 66e. 66e were a rather more serious act to Le Galaxie and we found that though Ed (the singer with 66e) had an great voice we found it somewhat restrictive in terms of diversifying our approach writing material. Le Galaxie is pretty much all instrumental and a far more upbeat affair. The same influences are there but we’ve applied and taken from them in a different ways. We all would have been heavily influenced by dance music and Le Galaxie gives us a chance to use those influence whereas 66e didn’t really. I suppose in terms of being associated to 66e we try to avoid it as much as possible as we don’t want people judging the band on preconceived opinions particularly because the bands are so different. With Nakatomi Plaza is one further step removed so it’s more my association with Le Galaxie which is cool by me.

Though you were the guitarist in 66e, you've turned to electronica - how did that transition come about?
I actually played a good bit of synths /keys with 66e as well guitar and though I only play guitar live with Le Galaxie I play a lot of synths and programming when we’re writing and recording the songs. The reason why I only play guitar live is to maintain a more “traditional” live element at our gigs. Also for simplicity reasons as we have a lot going on on stage without having another bloody laptop or keyboard there to break down on us. I have always listened to dance / electronic music and with Nakatomi Plaza it was just something I wanted have a shot at.

I assume your system of and ideas about songwriting have changed...?
Ha yeah I actually noticed that. The first couple of songs I wrote as Nakatomi Plaza were very verse chorus verse chorus in their structure. I also notice that the more songs I write as NP there more I’m leaving that way of thinking behind (not that that’s a bad thing).

How do your songs work in a live setting? As in how much to you leave up to your presets and how much do you do live?
Because I’m playing live by myself yeah it can be somewhat restrictive. It’s a mixture of tracks sequenced and playing live. I also have my keyboard mapped to a load of filters which I can control and bring in and out during the set. The plan is to use an Akai MPC in the near future for playing samples live which would really give it a more live feel. Thing is it would probably require more hands than I have so might end up getting somebody to play live with me. That’s the plan anyway.
What kind of equipment/software does Nakatomi Plaza use?
Mainly just Reason 4.0 with a bit of cubase for any live recorded stuff. I’d use a load of sampled vintage keyboards as well.

Why show Predator at your HWCH gig? Why do you consider Nakatomi Plaza a soundtracker?
Ha it was actually supposed to be Predator 2 that night but the DVD player that was playing the visuals wouldn’t play it for some reason. Just did it for laugh really as another element for the gig. “If you don’t want to dance, you can watch Dutch, Mack, Blaine, Poncho, Dylan and Billy tear it up in the jungle”. I would be really influenced by soundtrack music so just thought it would be cool to have on. It’s an awesome movie.

So you're an Atari fan? ;-) Do you listen to computer game music at all?
Actually not really. Meneo is a chip tune dude living in Barcelona and is awesome and has played in Dublin a few times. The Vinny Club is mega also but I don’t know if you could class that as computer game music.

Do you put Le Galaxie before Nakatomi Plaza? Will it always be that way?
Ah yeah it’s Le Galaxie first. We’re super busy at the minute. We’re just finishing our new video and playing an arse load of gigs and it’s going really well. We have a new single coming out on 31st October which we’re launching in Crawdaddy on Halloween night and should be savage. Because we’re so busy I haven’t really got much of a chance to play many gigs as NP lately. I am just in the middle of finishing off one more song and then hopefully get my arse in gear and start gigging around.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
Ah I would just like to keep gigging and playing in as many places as I can. Jaysus that’s a particularly unwitty response. Sorry about that.

Anna Murray

Review of Debussy's 'Pelléas et Melisande', 09/10/08

Dublin City Hall's Rotunda Theatre is a pretty unique venue for an opera. Its high dome, its Georgian architecture, paintings and stately statuary seemed fitting surroundings for Debussy’s setting of Maeterlinck’s Neoclassical play Pelléas et Melisande; being corralled by the circle of pillars, which doubled as stage walls and props, created an intimacy which threatened to dissolve the barriers between stage and audience. However, the small “theatre” meant that the production were forced to use the two-piano rather than full orchestral version. Robbed of the specific colours and timbres prescribed by Debussy’s orchestration, lines, themes and motifs lived up to the their original criticisms and became truly blurred and indistinguishable from each other. With the vocal parts closer to speech than song, and the symbolic significance of certain instruments and the overall character of the music depleted, the opera was rendered somewhat flat, while the singers struggled to be heard in the sound-devouring dome. Though it did serve to emphasise the role of silence in the opera, used by the composer to add weight to certain lines and sentences: in a long-unfolding form such as that of Pelléas et Melisande, any cessation of the pianos in the echoing dome made silence starker, and reverb-laden solo lines more striking.

While The Dublin Corp should be applauded for their attempt to make an relatively difficult opera more accessible (certainly I appreciated being able to follow the story for once), but the English translation of Maeterlinck’s libretto undermines a central tenet of the work’s compositional aesthetic: the close relationship between the Debussy’s vocal writing and the nuances of the French language. A major source of this opera’s original criticism was the composer’s choice to dissolve the traditional forms of opera into a continuous Rousseau-inspired recitative-like speech pattern, which follows the rhythms and inflections of the librettos original language closely, down to the liquid sounds of the protagonists names (the particular accents of which were, by necessity, retained). The English translation therefore rang a little false, a dialogue forced upon an existing framework of rhythms, emphases and cadences.

But despite the above criticisms, and the slight chopping around of scenes, this production of Pelléas et Melisande is an excellent one. I have to own that I did not pick up a program (call me cheap or call me a student) so more details about the cast, musicians and production crew will have to be sourced from elsewhere, but I can say that each of the cast members had power and depth, with Golaud in particular fulfilling his role of the volatile, betrayed husband and Melisande doing what she could with her fairly disinteresting part. Pelléas was as milky as his character but with moments of memorable sweetness. What really shone in this opera was not in fact the performance, but the stage itself. Minimal in terms of its use of space and props, the directors adhered strictly to the nature of the play, placing the symbolic forces of light and water in as important a role in the setting as the characters and props themselves. Lit candles served to not only mark the passage of time and the difference between interior and exterior but to cast light or shadows on characters and moments. The problem of the frequent references to water in the opera (the sea, the fountain, even the stagnant water beneath the castle) was solved by placing a circle of plastic on the floor and using a shimmering blue/green light to project its image onto a pillar, reflecting through shadows and light any action which took place at the water.

Though the opera may not have been exactly as Debussy had intended (Dublin not exactly being early 20th century Paris anyway), this production of Pelleas et Melisande is a brave and original one, eschewing the traditional forbidding formality and modifying the aesthetic traditions of the classical concert or opera in favour of intimacy, minimalism and a valiant attempt at modernisation.

Anna Murray

17 September, 2008

Hard Working Class Heroes 2008 review

Hard Working Class Heroes can make for a very long weekend, but after this year's festival, it's easy to imagine the only people needing recovery time are press, photographers and artists. Especially in comparison to last year, turn-out to this years festival was disappointing: whether as a result of the weather, increased ticket prices and poor timing (not only happening at the same time as the Fringe Festival and a number of other excellent gigs, but just before the start of the college year), it's difficult to tell. Sunday saw nearly the only decent crowds of the weekend, while Friday and Saturday saw small groups looking lost in the bigger venues. In fact the weekend as a whole saw a disappointing amount of organisation hiccups, and a distinct lack of the feeling of smooth professionalism of last year's HWCH.

While most of these hiccups came from the festival's relocation to Temple Bar and the organisers ill-advised choice of Meeting House Square as the festivals focal point - with decibel restrictions and sound difficulties plaguing the bigger gigs, and Sunday's rain forcing organisers to relocate the curators of the festival Sons And Daughters headline show - the change also added a little to the extra interest to the weekend. Maybe this reviewer is alone in feeling a tingle of excitement when it comes to HWCH and the opportunity it provides to discover new music and new artists, but running from one of the main venues in Dublin to a small bar venue to catch someone you've never even heard of is just a little thrilling. And, at least in terms of exciting new acts, HWCH certainly did not disappoint.

Unfortunately timetabling did not allow this reviewer to see the bands previously mentioned here, but did catch some who came as a surprise, some who came as expected, some who came as a disappointment, and some who came with potential.

Contacts’ HWCH Experience

Heartbreak Cartel (Andrew's Lane) - a band who pride themselves in their live show and skill for pure entertainment, Heartbreak Cartel's show was rife with in-jokes and juvenile wigs. With a set of particularly unmemorable songs despite their interesting mix of rock and African and ska rhythms, this was not the entertaining show promised.

Fred (Meeting House Square) - this previously unheard-of Cork five-piece proved to be the biggest surprise of the weekend - after some slightly awkward banter to the minuscule crowd, they launched into a song with a sound so tight and fresh, it was almost CD-quality. Fred's gig was fun and entertaining, and packed with some catchy songs.

Lines Drawing Circles (Meeting House Square) - on the other hand, Lines Drawing Circle's sound was shoddy and uninteresting, despite the quality of their recorded material. With each song having the same structure and sound, the set seemed little more than an ego-trip for the central figure, the singer and guitarist. Harsh though that may seem, I still hold hope for Line Drawing Circles that they can up the ante for their live shows in the future.

Half Cousin (Dame Lane) - the first act I caught of the Scottish invasion and one of the best acts of the weekend, despite a nervous and distinctly un-confident performance. Looking frustrated at his inability to control sampler, drum machine, guitar and voice at once, Half Cousin combined these to form songs that twisted around themselves and evolved into unexpected sonic landscapes.

Nakatomi Plaza (The Button Factory) - a member of both the now-extinct 66e and the considerably more alive Le Galaxie, Anthony must struggle sometimes to shake his roles in both of those and be recognised for his own new work in electronica and house. His set as Nakatomi Plaza, replete with a background projection of Predator, was dense and multi-layered and shows him as an artist with a right to stand on his own.

Grand Pocket Orchestra (Andrew's Lane) - GPO's debut EP earlier this was excellent, promising and above all misleading. While the EP gives the impression of innocent, quirky popsters, the live GPO is wild, manic, loud, post-punksters. A compelling show, despite a attention-starved keyboard/melodica/xylophone-player and a muddied sound.

A Lazarus Soul (The Button Factory) - a keys-based band bereft of their keyboard player, this show has taken the title of the most dull gig I have ever encountered. Although I remain unconvinced that it would have been any more exciting with the keyboard player.

The Parks (Eamonn Dorans) - The Parks are still a young band, in sound as well as age, but a year or two of solid gigging, exposed to both critics and difficult audience will create a decent indie band out of the three-piece. As it is, they reek of too much money, shelter and teenage-garage-angst (an impression not helped by their scenester fans), but potential in the band is rife. The Parks are one to watch in the future.

Crayonsmith (Andrew's Lane) - having released one of the best albums of this year, White Wonder, Crayonsmith did not disappoint in a live setting. Helped by a crowd of obvious fans, this gig had one of the best overall feelings of any gig of the weekend, while pounding out exciting songs from the with a new guitar-based bent.

My Brother Woody (Academy 2) - though the force behind the most cheerful albums of the year, the surprisingly small audience in Academy 2 made for a disappointingly flat performance.

Not Men But Giants (Academy 2) - another disappointment and a boring gig, there is little to be said about their set, other than their penchant for stop-start rhythms and cheap tricks grate after ten minutes.

Robotnik (Academy 2) - Robotnik considerably upped the ante of the nights performances. Despite being delayed by ten minutes by technical difficulties, forgetting his capo, and then further plagued by the same difficulties halfway through, Robotnik only managed to punch out three tracks; but nonetheless the (substantial) crowd was crying out for more. All quirks, costumes and energy, not to mention excellent tracks, this was probably the best set of the weekend.

Sounds Of System Breakdown (Eamonn Dorans) - SoSB's show was similarly troubled, but this time by both electronic and personnel. Armed with a powerhouse of electro-rock tracks, Rob Costello first suffered a breakdown of software and then had to take out some time to teach his drummer where the downbeat in his track was located. Fortunately, the rest of SoSB's set easily made up for this embarrassing start.

Autamata (The Button Factory) - ever the darlings of the Irish music scene, purveying their peculiar brand of cute electro-pop, Autamata still have the power to shock. Loud, aggressive and sexy, the live band makes for quite a show.

Anna Murray

18 August, 2008

Interview with Neil O'Connor of Somadrone

You've had an extensive musical education. Can you tell me more about that and your career?

Extensive being in that academically my training is extensive, but I am self taught mostly. I am currently finishing my PhD in Composition at Trinity College. I also lecturer in Music and Sound design in 3 different universitys. It’s been a cruel, amazing, numbing, exciting and life changing experience, all at the same time. The musical process and experience has changed me, for better or worse I am yet to find out. As part of the PhD, I have written two pieces for 19 musicians and electronics. They are 25mins each so its quite substantial. Would be great to have them performed, but its hard and expensive. Maybe when I die they might have a retrospective and play them. Not bloody likely.

As someone who has had experience with both , what to you think is the main difference between electronic in art music and popular music?

Well popular music is standardized . Its like a clock, or fridge. It has certain element which make it work, and make it marketable. the same element applies to pop music. I teach a class called “Music and Popular Culture”. Within this we look at the writings of Theodor Adorno. He suggested that culture industries churn out a debased mass of unsophisticated, sentimental products that have replaced the more 'difficult' and critical art forms that might lead people to actually question social life. False needs are cultivated in people by the culture industries. These are needs which can be both created and satisfied by the capitalist system, and which replace people's 'true' needs - freedom, full expression of human potential and creativity, genuine creative happiness. Thus, those who are trapped in the false notions of beauty according to a capitalist mode of thinking, are only capable of hearing beauty in dishonest terms. So basically , he HATED pop music.

Do you think Adorno's "critical theory" should be applied more to pop music by journalists? Would this change anything about pop music?

Yes, I think it can be applied to music, but pop music will never change because it's a formula: break it and it stops working. It's hard to be critical if it's a generic product; would be like reviewing the same album over again.

As a composer, particularly as someone who has written for pure electronics as well as instruments, what is the difference for you?

I have been writing for instruments for years now, my last album “Of Pattern and Purpose” was 75% live instruments and my new one is even more so. Personally, I think pop music is important in that it reflects our culture, but “highbrow" music takes a more significant reflection, puts a little more thought into it. I mean pop music is standardized; verse chorus verse ect. With art music, there are centuries of historical development, a history not only rich in developments of harmony, melody and rhythm but also in instrument design. In jazz or classical, the time signature (rhythm) can change from 5/4 to 2/2 to 4/6 in an instant. Pop music is 4/4, that’s pretty much all.

You mentioned a new album...any more info on that?

I am half-way through a new album, hope to get it out Jan/Feb 09. I recorded pieces of it in Hamburg and here. There's lots of piano, harpischord, vocal and electronics. Its a lot more organic than Of Pattern and Purpose.

Would you have a favourite composer within the electronic medium?

That’s hard to say because there are a lot I respect, but can never put my fingers on the ones who inspire me. Well, my all time favorite electronic act are Kraftwerk. I mean not only were they 20 years ahead of their time, they established a form of music that has never been imitated. They built there own drum pads and predicted that the personal computer would dominate the future world. When you listen to their songs, if you imagine if all the instruments were played by acoustic ones (a group called the balanescu quartet cover their songs on string quartet). I mean it might as well be Bach!

Anna Murray

12 August, 2008

Interview with Dry County

Dry County managed to confuse and frighten the majority of their fans a few weeks ago with the announcement of their "last ever Dublin show". Did this spell defeat for the band who are one of the few who are truly blazing their own trail through the Irish music industry - their electronic eclecticism providing a last stalwart defense against the ravages of the indie machine? Or a tactical withdrawal before their claws slip from their hold on their lead? Kevin from the band explains their decision to withdraw and change their name, and tells of the new album in the works.

What has prompted the withdrawal and name-change?

Well the whole idea of a name change has been building for a while.when myself and phil first started making music it was a lot quieter. It was acoustic guitars/soft synths and drum loops, so Dry County seemed quite fitting. Then as our sound changed the association didn't seem to suit. People would ask if we were a country band or call us Dry Country which became annoying. We [above left] wanted a name that wouldn't draw such instant ideas about what the band were. Also there is an American band [above right] of the same name who make...wait for it...country rock. The withdrawal is to write and rework the live show. We want to come back with new songs (as well as the old ones) a new name and a new approach.

Why change your name when you're really just getting known? What effect do you expect the change to have?

It's always a worry having to change something especially when you are quite well known but I think it's better to do it now so we only have Ireland to convert to the new name. We've started to play the U.K / U.S etc so before a name catches on we want to make sure it's the right one. The Irish were said to be one of the best countries when it came time to convert our currency to Euros....now that's promising :)

Is this anything to do with your losing out on the Choice Awards, which many had you tipped to win? A fresh start?

It's funny because that's one of the reasons we didn't want to change the name. We got so much exposure from the nomination and gained so many fans that we didn't want people to forget we were part of it. Plus our award says Dry County...sniff sniff.

The band have seen a fair amount of progression and change musically since you started: will this new album be a completely new departure for you?

I think we as a band will always progress from album to album. The minute you cant go any further with something you should just stop. That's why it's sad to see great bands who have released two or three great albums and then hit a wall. They get stuck in a limbo of releasing the same album over and over. We are always writing and there is a lot of stuff there already. As far as tone and sound of the record I guess that will come together when we take the time out.

Tell me more about the album.

Our focus at the moment is writing. Anything and everything. From a piano to a synth, drum programming to a turkish guitar, it's all relevant. Then we will search for that one song that has the whole tone of the record. Then we build around that. Albums are a whole thing as opposed to 10 songs one after another.

What about your record contract?

Unexpected Falls came out on Lazybird records and that helped us distribute it throughout Ireland. For the next album we want to push further afield. I think that the traditional idea of a record deal is dead. With the internet and downloading becoming so big, a lot of power has been taken from the big record labels. A lot of bands are liscencing their music to labels as opposed to signing it away. This is also part of our withdrawal, so we can figure out the best way to get the music heard. I guess if Domino came a calling we'd be happy enough.

In your opinion what other exciting things are going on in Irish music these days?

Theres alot of good stuff: Giveamanakick - Somadrone - Adebisi Shank - MJEX - God is an astronaut - Vinny Club - Si Schroeder - Weakling and king - Jape - Super Extra Bonus Party - Halves - Cashier No.9. It's nice to see Irish bands getting a higher billing [at Oxegen] this year. We have music coming out of Ireland that is just as good as the U.k. and U.S. It's just a shame that so many times the band's whoa re doing well here are not always the ones that should. You might have to dig a little deeper but it's there.

06 August, 2008

Review: Wolf Parade live at The Paradise, 02/08/08

Gigs in the US are different to Irish gigs in subtle but important ways. First of all tickets are so much cheaper it almost makes the mind boggle; but you can never expect to get a ticket at face value. Ireland hasn't seen touts like the American touts, and let's hope it never does. It's not unusual to see $20 tickets going on sale for $60 on average - which still, you may notice, makes it cheaper than most Irish gigs. The second, of course is security: even in pub venues, there are at least two bouncers (with a subtle aura that makes you think they moonlight as brick walls) checking ID at the door, plus the bulky security men inside the venue (who can make their way through a crowd with wraith-like subtlety and speed that is quite frankly terrifying). Third is merchandise, strategically placed so that you have to almost fight your way through it to the venue itself. Lastly, and most importantly, is the crowd: American audiences (from what this reviewer has experienced thus far) are considerably less likely to be drunk, and considerably more likely to quietly enjoy and appreciate the show, with a moderate amount of dancing at best, and go home to bed nice and early. Anything that comes close to moshing, or even excessive movement is not tolerated. How much of this attitudal difference is related to the second difference as mentioned above can only be guessed at... Whether this is a difference you can warm to depends, naturally enough, on the artist or situation, but also on what kind of concert-goer you are. In other words, it depends on whether you go to see and appreciate what's going on on-stage, or go for the vibe, the fun, the communal headbop. Either way, it suited Wolf Parade.

(To continue with this comparison game, the Irish equivalent of The Paradise venue in Allston is most likely a cross between The Button Factory and a theatre venue like The Olympia, but with a slightly higher capacity than the first and darker than the latter. It also has a considerably better sound system than most similar-sized Irish venues, or for that matter some of the bigger venues.)

Supporting act Wintersleep, got off to a decent start with a song that will in time no doubt be known as their opus. Changing time signatures, juxtaposing quiet and loud, introducing increasingly intricate patterns and combinations...they had all the trademarks of a possible American answer to Ireland's proliferation of instrumental rock bands (no, I'm not letting this comparison angle go), yet left you with a nagging feeling that there was something missing, the only solution to which would be vocals. Yet when the vocals made their entry, it was difficult not to feel it was better incomplete. From there on in it was downhill: while their energetic performance was doubtless technically excellent, exhibiting mastery of musical devices and instruments that you would expect, they also proved themselves masters of formulae and repetition by using a similar if not identical backing vocal line for every song.

Wolf Parade's set, on the other hand, was a riot of energy, unique sounds, dense soundwalls and personality. Having just released the follow-up to the clever and brilliant Apologies to the Queen Mary, the band were not afraid to throw all they had into their show. It was a collection of subtle contrasts, not least between how they looked and how they sounded: although they look like a loose-banded disparate collection of college indie-rockers, hippy alternative-junkies and dreamy stoners, their sound was tight and dense, even sophisticated, and relentlessly driven forward by some invisible but yet palpable kind of inner anger or power. This is not to say they seem bitter, as do so many less interesting groups; in fact, all of Wolf Parade's tracks show a depth, musically and otherwise, that is lacking in many such groups. Drawing as they do on both folk music (listen to singer/guitarist Dan Boekner's not dissimilar and idiosyncratic Handsome Furs side-project) as well as the Canadian artists that have paved their way, Wolf Parade still manage to push and drag their ideas along a slightly different path. Though this path appears to be darkening as they go, it is by now becoming characterised by stop-start changing tempos, sound manipulation, melodic and harmonic ingenuity and ambiguity in equal measures. The end result was a gig that makes your head swirl just a little.

01 August, 2008

Hard Working Class Heroes '08

Oxegen and Electric Picnic are all very well if you're into that kind of thing (by which I mean standing around shivering in the mud to catch a few minutes of the same old bands from across a field of equally muddy people), but there are few music festivals, if any, quite like Hard Working Class Heroes. Instead of serving itself or the monster we deride and rally against as the "industy", it serves Irish musicians: providing a platform and an audience (and of course media attention) to the country's most promising upcoming bands, making it probably the world's only festival where you don't need to be a success before you play at it, but most likely will be afterwards. What's more it does so economically - you don't even need a tent, just a LUAS ticket, and you get to spend most of your time indoors. You get a lot of bands for your money, and from an observer's point of view, shows which way the wind is blowing in Irish music (cf. the proliferation of electronic-based bands over the last few years). And it's always so lovably modest about it all.

Last week the Hard Working Class Heroes crew announced the Irish bands who will be joining the Scottish ambassadors of this year's invasion. However, this year - it's sixth year running - HWCH is facing a number of problems. After the opposition it faced last year at having all gigs take place in the POD complex, HWCH has returned to Temple Bar. Whether this is a good decision remains to be seen, as while the POD complex had the advantage of having a number of stages in one area, Temple Bar trumps it for variety and informality. Logistically similar, preference will likely be a matter of taste rather than logic. The second problem facing this year's festival is the Dublin Fringe Festival, taking place 6th - 21st of September (and interestingly being handled by the same PR company, Friction), which is posing a challenge to the HWCH by hosting some interesting Irish-band gigs of their own across the same weekend in the famed Spiegeltent. This year's Hard Working Class Heroes will have to work hard to get their audience, but half newbies, half usual suspects, it's one not to be missed.

Bands to watch: HWCH '08

  • Hybrasil: been around a while, but getting better all the time

  • Crayonsmith - released one of the best albums of the year so far.

  • Le Galaxie - arisen from the ashes of the beautiful and brilliant 66e, they're doing their best to shake the association by pressing buttons and twiddling knobs. But they do it well.

  • Grand Pocket Orchestra - not quite an orchestra, but cute and lovable, and probably the only band that can pull off a song about odd socks

  • Super Extra Bonus Party - winners of this year's Choice Award and the missing link between club and rock. A live sensation of the kind rarely seen anymore.

  • The Kinetiks - apparently the cutting edge in Irish indie, about to take over the world any minute now (and they know it too)

  • Autamata - so innocently likeable, and on their third album, hardly new to this. Brilliantly unpredictable.

  • Halves - beautifully and expansively filling the gap left by Butterfly Explosion and 66e. Otherwise know as the Irish Sigur Ros.

  • The Ambience Affair - a loop-based two piece that though in early days, could develop into something truly interesting.

  • Exit: Pursued By A Bear - the winners in the best name category, though it's not as if they need the extra attention: more floaty electronic/rock mixes, but utterly absorbing.

  • The Cades - swinging rock that's impossible to resist.

  • Robotnik - a one-man lo-fi/pop powerhouse that deserves to rub shoulders with his extensive list of influences.
Headliners and schedules to be announced soon at http://www.hwch.net/.

24 July, 2008


Contacts, a.k.a. Yes, Another Music Blog. Another load of self-absorbed, pretentious articles by a wannabe and/or failed journalist, bemoaning the state of current journalistic standards and publications that won't let them write what they want to write, as ever making the mistake that journalism is a means of personal self-expression as they wait to be talent-spotted. Will this one be any different? This writer is no more funny, talented or even readable than others, and there are some extremely talented music bloggers out there. She has worked as a journalist for some prominent Dublin publications and loved it. So why Contacts? Because, she's in Boston, not doing any writing, and honestly, kind of bored.

Journalism, while by it's nature requiring some sort of personal abilities, insights and subjective criticism, is not a means of self-expression. It is a job: a journalist's responsibility is to analyse (admittedly this analysis will be subject to their own insight and understanding) and present information, whether it be an album review or war feature, to the public, and
not at every opportunity to present their own selves. Here is where the problem with modern Irish, if not international, music journalism currently lies, a problem which internet blogging is perpetuating, not circumventing.

This and more. After criticising her band in a review, I recently received an unpleasant, if not downright abusive, email from an irate singer, accusing me of ignorance and, well, general crapness, and foretelling my doomed future as a journalist and musician. Hey maybe I was wrong, maybe I simply misunderstood all her ripped-off riffs and posing, but the question I have been trying to answer since - apart from where the hell she got my address - is whether this hostility was borne of a genuine belief that her music was above honest, even adding the buzz-word, constructive criticism, or was she just so insulated from flak by the blanket positivism of the Irish media, where such criticism no longer really exists, and everybody tries encourage the "new Irish band". And this is the nub of the problem. Irish popular music journalism is almost lacking critical and analytical thought, overwhelmed as it is by personalising journalists trying to get their word in edgeways, and sometimes, just sometimes, even currying favour with their biased editors (no names please).

There has always been a divide between journalism and musicology, and probably rightly so. Most casual readers and music fans are probably not that interested in reading, say, a 10,000 word study of the ancient crumhorn, but that doesn't mean journalism, ever the priest brother to the doctor musicology, cannot learn from critical theory and analysis. A popular music or casual classical fan is entitled as much as a high-art scholar to read a proper serious analysis or critique of what they are listening to. While internet-based sites are more adventurous in this regard, print and broadcast media have still to catch up. Of course, not all music fans are interested in this critical thinking, and light music journalism, the fashion and charts and funny side of the industry, is just as necessary. The point is choice, and that is what's lacking.

is about making connections between the analytical methods of "high art" (an odious term) and the lighter journalism of pop art. The two needn't always be separate. So will Contacts be different from any of the other hundreds of music blogs lying around the internet waiting to be discovered. Probably not. Let's face it, it has already gotten off to a bad start, when the opening post is a pretentious condemnation of the standards of Irish journalism by a self-referencing wannabe journalist.

Keep reading.