Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dusty Corners

I’m ahead of time this morning having bought Sunday’s Observer at 11pm last night, giving me license for a lie in.

Having enjoyed Billy Bragg’s short punchy set (photo from rashbre) comprising of lectures on record stores and a few classics at Rough Trade East yesterday, it’s interesting to draw parallels with his thoughts on how punk rock was discovered in the dusty corners of independent record shops, with live music venues. In music monthly today, it discusses the recent dominance of the o2 arena, but takes a brief look at the great live music venues that are either shut already or in process of doing do.

With venues like the Astoria marked for closure, & the Spitz already gone, Bragg’s dusty corner myth rings true, as we increasingly see great old decrepit live venues in decline much like the independent record store. It’s a similar state of affair in New York, with CBGB closing down in 06, and experimental jazz venue, the Tonic, favoured by Tzadik label eccentrics, levelled to make way for condos. It’s easy to see that the dusty corner is getting cleaner by the second.

But this is where the internet comes in. Perhaps Bragg missed the point when he criticised the lifelessness of instantly finding what you want, rather than leafing through hundreds of vinyl’s, as this is exactly what the internet allows you to. It has dusty corners springing up all over the place complete with spider webs and moth eaten handkerchiefs. Maybe lacking the romantic notion Bragg favours, the net does provide a forum for individuals to get their music out there, cutting out all the middle men in the process. You could argue that it also provides a greater medium for experimentation as musicians are creating for no particular audiences. Although he’s right in saying the majority is probably rubbish, he’s wrong in assuming the corporate nature of the beast. Myspace may have sold out to Microsoft, but there are hundreds of indie sites just like it waiting to be tapped into by A&R execs (if they still exist) and given the publicity they can’t provide themselves. As the artist takes increasing control of the production process (i.e. their bedroom), perhaps the future of the great labels exists in PR only.

Don’t get me wrong, I love record stores, and am concerned that following Google’s announcement to induce a bidding war for search terms, chances are the internet will become an even larger well-oiled corporate machine. However, this rapid growth will run out eventually, and when we’re all bored of staying indoors, and global warming has brought with it the ‘great British summer’ we’ll all have to return to the record shops, and the dusty corners will be swarming again.

Let’s not forget, the city is huge, and there’s still loads of dusty corners to find, and if you liken this to ever expanding genres of music, then there’s already more than enough to wade through. Post apocalyptic hardcore anyone?

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I heard about a man who was on the 19p a loaf breadline. He lived in Kings Cross and ate Pease pudding on toast for breakfast. He liked to take photos but could only afford 36 exposures a week. He’d use his freedom pass to ride the buses and snap the days of the city. His flat was covered in a thin layer of mould, it was worse around the sofa, and he worried how he’d afford to fix the TV if it broke.

He had a daughter who he rarely saw, although when he did he liked to take her out for a pot of tea and a cake in a nearby cafĂ©. He’d have to make sure he always kept a few pounds back for these hastily imminent visits. These were the only savings he could speak of.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

When worlds collide

There’s a lot of chat about the future of books at the moment - whether we’ll all buy into electronic readers, or just give up reading completely. But classic publishers Penguin are doing something which has began to raise a few eyebrows in the literary and digital media worlds.

We tell stories, is an alternate reality website that’s using new media sensations like Google Maps & Twitter to tell stories across the internet. Penguin have commissioned six authors to use these mediums in order to create the first ‘digital novels.’ One story, by Charles Cumming, is your classic spy adventure but with a twist. The story unfolds over a Google map of London, featuring locations such as St Pancras station & the British Library. A great imaginative tool methinks & it’ll be interesting to see how many people start staking-out suited chaps as they disembark from anonymous trains with suspicious suitcases strapped to their hands.

Another story uses Twitter, and is told through badgering short text messages across the characters' profiles. It’s the kind of thing that you can imagine being completely real. Log into Twitter anytime & you’ll see a thousand conversations taking place, but if you begin to follow them you never know what you’ll find out…

Overall I think it’s a great way to get people, glued to their Iphones & laptops, to start reading again, and provides a wealth of creative ideas for the tech savvy young budding novelist.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Drops in the river

I bought an ep by a band called Fleet Foxes the other day and have since been enjoying their sunny country bumpkin worshiping tunes. It’s great when you find a piece of music to slow down to, and that ignores the complexities of life. So much of music is riddled with salary crisis, golden handshakes, or problems at the ATM, that it makes me wonder my more indie rock music isn’t used to advertise financial services. Hard Fi’s turgid ‘cash machine’ would make a great Abbey National ad. ‘We’re working for the cash machine,’ well of course we bloody are, top marks for pointing the obvious.

Maybe it’s just because spring is finally beginning to show signs of life that I’m enjoying music from the fields & trees again, and come winter I’ll buckle down, collar up and tune into some depressed ‘on the dole’ banter from east London. But if you like a bit of CSNY, blended with the ‘bron-y-aur-stomp’ & wooden country chapels, then check it out. The cover art's a bit like Roger Dean’s fantastical landscapes on ‘Yes’ albums, which is always a good thing.

Monday, April 7, 2008

You wouldn't steal a car? ... would you?

Reading the paper this morning, it claims 95% of digital music downloads are illegal according to new reports conducted by the British Music Group.

With illegal downloads pushing the music industry into panic stations, it’s hard to believe that they can afford to produce records for sale at all, given all the bad press kids on the net get these days.

So instead of creating advertising campaigns to convince kids that illegal downloading is the equivalent of stealing a car, perhaps its worth looking into how we can promote the joy of owning records. If we’re meant to be so obsessed with shopping & consumerism, then why don’t enough people actual want to buy records these days? My initial thoughts lead to the fact that records aren’t advertised the same way as most products, and the ones that are, are usually Pop Idol winners or mainstream rock. Take I Pods for example; with the irresistible colours & groovy beats, this is what’s killing record sales. We as a public buy into the trendy apple culture which eliminates the need to buy a physical record. Apparently “people aged 18-24 keep around £750-worth of unpaid-for music on their MP3 players,” thus suggesting the majority of music listened to via new media is illegal.

But on the other hand this provides new opportunities to sell music, & for musicians to make money via new ad-funded business models. But in the wild rush to embrace the new digital mediums we see before us, are we forgetting the feeling of what it is like to own a collection? The one that stands proud by the fireplace & tells a thousand more stories about ourselves than an I Tunes playlist ever will.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Happy Shopper

A rare thing happened today, a conversation in a shop. It wasn’t a high street chain mind, but an independent shop. It made me think what a rare experience actual contact during shopping is, as opposed to the usual small talk.

With crowded high street shops & short tempered staff, and the growth of de-personalized online shopping, it’s hard to find a consumerist experience worth discussing. But you know when you come across it. You get that tingling feeling along your spine, the way telephone surveys make you feel – like someone random actually cares what you think. Living in a big city, it’s hard to find such intimacy. Usually the streets are too full to care about the squabbles of passers by, or to allow the space & time conversation needs to flow. There’s a lot of rush, and I imagine you’re always wishing the person in front would speed up. It’s a bit like driving really, accept we have no mirrors, so when change lane and pull out in front of another person, we end up being the slow person ourselves.

A logical step for this conversation would be to complain about the lack of independent shops & the proliferation of high street chains, especially as the shop in question was a record shop. However, sometimes the anonymity of the high street can be a blessing - some indies are hugely intimidating, with star tattooed hipsters grinning at your taste, bearded nose pieced hedgehogs wearing t shirts with flames on the back or simply unhelpful staff caught up in their own trials & tribulations to notice the drowning customer.

Today I had a good chat, had a good listen, and was given some pretty top recommendations. I’d like to see Amazon get it right first time...