Category Archives: Music

Eurovision! What a Song Contest Says About a Continent

Stephen Moore writes in his review of Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest by Chris West for The Guardian:

Image result for Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contesthave always been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, the 62nd instalment of which takes place in Kiev on 13 May. At least I hope it takes place – this has been one of the more troubled stagings, with the hostility between Ukraine and Russia spilling over into a competition that is supposed to be an expression of European solidarity.

There is one qualification to my fandom: I don’t think I have ever managed to sit through the contest’s entirety, which these days runs to more than three hours. The bit I like is the judging, which usually occupies the last quarter of the show. That’s when the amities and enmities between the nations of Europe – the centuries-old frictions that have always tended to undermine the grand ambitions of the Eurovision project – come to the fore. Cyprus and Greece vote for each other; Belarus backs Russia; the Scandinavian and Balkan countries vote as a bloc; and over the last 20 years, as the UK has increasingly become the odd one out in the EU, no one has voted for us. It was all too much for Terry Wogan, whose mordant commentaries kept the contest afloat in the UK. He quit in 2008, complaining that the event was now about politics rather than music.


Is Poptimism Now As Blinkered As The Rockism It Replaced?

Michael Hann writes for The Quietus:

“A rockist is someone who reduces rock & roll to a caricature, then uses that caricature as a weapon. Rockism means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher.”

Those are the words of Kelefa Sanneh, from a 2004 piece in the New York Times that served as a manifesto for poptimism, the belief that pop was being short-changed and needed to be defended. It rallied the lovers of pop against those who would dismiss music for not being, well, made by blokes with guitars. At that time, the strength and worth of Sanneh’s words was evident. That was a point at which music’s conversation was being dominated by whey-faced rock bands, by the postpunk revivalists coming out of New York and London, by earnest Canadians such as Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire. It was the highpoint of indie rock’s supremacy, the days when the right trousers and a little bit of attitude could buy you a million great reviews, high slots on festival bills, and major label record deals.

That’s not the case now, of course, which is no bad thing. But has something else replaced rockism? Try turning around Sanneh’s sentences, and they make sense today, 13 years on, but with a very different meaning: “A poptimist is someone who reduces pop music to a caricature, then uses that caricature as a weapon. Poptimism means idolising the latest pop star while mocking the authentic old legend; lionising disco while barely tolerating punk; loving the music video and hating live performance; extolling the lip-syncher while hating the growling performer.”


Cracked Actor: 1975 David Bowie Documentary

A BBC documentary that was first aired in January 1975 covering David Bowie’s time in the U.S. during his Diamond Dogs tour. (BBC)

20 Years Old: Radiohead’s OK Computer

Jesse Jarnow on why Radiohead’s third album, OK Computer, was an instant classic from almost the day it was released on 21st May 1997. (Pitchfork)

Inside the Illuminati with Rosie Kay and Adam Curtis

Judith Mackrell reports for The Guardian:

“I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole,” admits Rosie Kay with a slightly wild giggle, as she describes the world of conspiracies, cults and celebrities that she has been exploring for her latest work. The choreographer has long been known for her brave and sometimes surprising choices, and for the depth of research she undertakes. She and her dancers spent weeks in training with the British army for 5 Soldiers, while for Sluts of Possession she worked with the School of Anthropology at Oxford, investigating tribal and spiritual ritual. None of her projects, though, have taken her into such alien territory as MK Ultra.

Named after the experiments in mind control that the CIA developed during the last century, Kay’s new show explores the phenomenon of the Illuminati, a shadowy cult believed to be on an elaborate mission of global domination, spreading its agenda through the brainwashing of prominent individuals in politics and the media.

Belief in the cult is particularly strong among young people, and when Kay first began hearing about it from the teenagers who came to her dance workshops, she discovered that pop stars are considered to be the Illuminati’s most targeted “recruits”. Groomed from a young age, singers like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and Kanye West have supposedly been made agents of the Illuminati’s New World Order, their songs and videos carrying messages designed to subtly alter the public’s consciousness. According to Kay, “the under-25s now have a whole system for decoding the imagery of music videos, looking for symbols like thrones, butterflies, checkered floors and bird cages, to see if they’re carrying the cult’s message and to see which celebrities have been programmed”.


Turning 25: Things Fall Apart by The Roots

Marcus J. Moore wrote in a review for Pitchfork in August 2016:

Things Fall Apart artworkIn 1999, the Roots were in limbo. The Philadelphia hip-hop band had released three critically acclaimed albums but were still considered something of a novelty act, featuring a big guy with a big Afro on drums (?uestlove), a sharp but unshowy MC (Black Thought), two beatboxers (Rahzel and Scratch), and a stellar live show—all anomalies in the gilded age of Puff Daddy and the million-dollar sample clearance. The Roots had by this time amassed a faithful cult following, but none of it translated to mainstream success. They were selling more records and slowly moving beyond their dedicated base of jazz and traditional rap purists, but their career wasn’t headed anywhere in particular.

Reflecting these tensions, the Roots opened their fourth studio album, Things Fall Apart, with dialogue from a scene from Spike Lee’s 1990 film, Mo’ Better Blues, in which characters Bleek Gilliam and Shadow Henderson—played by Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes, respectively—debate the state of jazz music. Gilliam doesn’t want to sacrifice his creative vision to pander to crowds, and he thinks black people should come to his shows simply because he’s making black art. “That’s bullshit,” Henderson quips. “The people don’t come because you grandiose motherfuckers don’t play shit that they like.” The clip seemed to acknowledge the Roots’ reputation: They were too smart for their own good, too self-aware, and they were getting in their own way. It was as if, from the very beginning, the band sought to be misunderstood, to find somewhere to hide from the mainstream.


Paul Joseph Watson Is A Pop Culture Pleb

Anthony Fantano responds to Paul Joseph Watson’s latest video The Truth About Popular Culture, saying that he makes some of the dumbest assertions about pop culture and contemporary music. Watson has since posted a video titled: Conservatism is the NEW Counter-Culture(The Needle Drop)

Albums of the Year 2016


2016 was another pretty good year for music. Here’s a list of our favourite albums, EP’s and other releases from the past 12 months. Let’s hope 2017 is even better. Happy New Year!

Albums of the Year…

  • A Tribe Called Quest – We Got This… Thank You 4 Your Service
  • case / lang / viers – case / lang / viers
  • Cavern of Anti-Matter – Void Beats-Invocation Trex
  • Colin Stetson – Sorrow
  • Common – Black America Again
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
  • Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield
  • Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution
  • Ian William Craig – Centres
  • isvisible – xxiv
  • Kadhja Bonet – The Visitor
  • Lambchop – FLOTUS
  • Mogwai – Atomic
  • NAO – For All We Know
  • Noname – Telefone
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  • Solange – A Seat at the Table
  • Swans – The Glowing Man
  • The Caretaker – Everywhere at the end of time

Best of the Rest…

  • Anderson .Paak – Malibu
  • Bat For Lashes – Bride
  • Cat Le Bon – Crab Day
  • Deerhoof – The Magic
  • DIIV – Is The Is Are
  • Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
  • Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – EARS
  • Katie Dey – Flood Network*
  • KA – Honor Killed The Samurai
  • Kikagaku Moyo – House in the Tall Grass
  • KING – We Are KING
  • Lorn – Vessel
  • Magic Magic – TV Life
  • Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
  • Saul Williams – MartyrLoserKing
  • Soccer96 – As Above So Below
  • Ultimate Painting – Dusk
  • Wild Nothing – Life of Pause
  • Xiu Xiu – Plays the Music of Twin Peaks
  • Young Romance – Another’s Blood

EPs of the Year…

  • Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit
  • Nine Inch Nails – Not Actual Events
  • Seanh – Sadevillain EP
  • serpentwithfeet – blisters

Compilations and Live Albums…

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Kate Bush – Before The Dawn
  • King Crimson – Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
  • Placebo – A Place for Us to Dream
  • Sun Ra – Singles: The Definitive 45s Collection
  • Various Artists – Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995

Ones to Watch in 2017

  • Kadhja Bonet
  • KING
  • Noname
  • serpentwithfeet


Did Trump Team Offer Ambassadorships in Order to Lure Celebrities to Perform at Inauguration?

Amy Goodman speaks to Itay Hod, senior reporter for TheWrap, who recently published an article on Team Trump’s efforts to bring in A-list starts to perform at his inauguration by offering government posts and ambassadorships, among other things. (Democracy Now!) 

Trump Team Dangled Ambassadorships to Lure A-List Inauguration Singers

Itay Hod reports for The Wrap:

trump inauguration ambassadorships timberlake katy perry beyoncePresident-elect Donald Trump’s team is struggling so hard to book A-list performers for his inaugural festivities that it offered ambassadorships to at least two talent bookers if they could deliver marquee names, the bookers told TheWrap.

The bookers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they were approached by members of Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee in recent weeks with offers of cash or even plush diplomatic posts in exchange for locking in singers.

The first insider said he was “shocked” at the proposal: “Never in a million years have I heard something so crazy,” he said. “That was the moment I almost dropped the phone.”


November Playlist

October Playlist

Art, Politics and Society: How David Bowie Changed the World

Afshin Rattansi speaks to writer, broadcaster and cultural critic Paul Morley about how David Bowie made a world of difference. (Going Underground)

September Playlist

Twenty Years After His Death, Tupac’s Legacy Is Still Felt

Mosi Reeves writes for Rolling Stone:

Two decades after his death on September 13, 1996, Tupac Shakur endures as one of hip-hop’s most iconic figures and its most powerful enigma. His life was a tapestry of often contradictory images: the concerned young father cradling his son in the video for “Keep Ya Head Up”; the angry rapper spitting at cameras as they swirled around his 1994 trial for sexual assault; the artist who animatedly, yet eloquently, pushed back at Ed Gordon’s questions during a memorable BET interview; and the man who seemed to predict his own demise when the “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” video, released weeks after his death, depicted him as an angel in heaven.

Although he is no longer with us, the myth of 2Pac the thug angel remains. No other artist better illuminates hip-hop’s fault lines between regional pride and mainstream success, and the struggle to transcend and elevate beyond humble origins while honoring the streets that raised you. His wayward, conflicting expressions of pride, militancy and gangster-ism resonates in a world when black men and women celebrate their heritage and collectively organize against a racist America, yet are also cautious to protect themselves from each other.

Fans – particularly East Coast rap listeners who, after all these years, still harbor a grudge against him – will continue to debate whether 2Pac’s albums can measure up to Nas’ Illmatic, the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, or Jay Z’sReasonable Doubt. But no one can deny the way he transformed hip-hop into his singularly muscular, tattooed, bald-headed, bandana-clad image.


Is Robert Del Naja the real Banksy? Massive Attack member named as graffiti artist

Martin Robinson reports for The Daily Mail:

New theory: The hunt for the true identity of Banksy took a new twist today after a member of Massive Attack was named at the artist by an investigator who has plotted his art and found they matched to Massive Attack gigsThe hunt for the true identity of Banksy took a new twist today after a member of Massive Attack was named as the artist.

Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja, the founding member of the Bristol band, has been accused of being the guerrilla graffiti star because art keeps appearing near their gigs.

In 2008 former public schoolboy Robin Gunningham was named as Banksy by the Mail on Sunday – and scientists analysing his work also believe it is him.

But now investigative journalist Craig Williams, 31, claims the artist could be Mr Del Naja, or perhaps a team of people led by him and linked to Massive Attack who combine their concerts with graffiti.

Mr Williams has plotted Banksy murals around the world and said that on at least six occasions more than a dozen appeared shortly before or after Massive Attack gigs in the same cities over the past 12 years.

3D was a graffiti artist in the 1980s and has admitted he is friends with Banksy – but the journalist’s new research concludes he may be the artist himself.


July Playlist

June Playlist

What Is Fentanyl? The Drug That Killed Prince Has Killed Thousands of Others

Alex Johnson reports for NBC News:

[…] Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid — its chemical name is the tongue-twisting N-phenyl-N-[1-(2 phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl] monohydrochloride — that was first formulated during the 1950s as a safer and more effective alternative to the painkillers morphine and meperidine.

Its creators at the Belgian drug company Janssen Pharmaceutica got the “more effective” part right.

Fentanyl is the strongest opioid approved for medical use in the United States, rated as 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse.

It’s the go-to drug to dull the crippling, otherwise-untouchable pain experienced by many patients with advanced cancer.

The safety part of the equation is another matter.


May Playlist

April Playlist

How Music Helps Us Grieve

Maria Popova writes for Brain Pickings:

Scientists now believe that language and music co-evolved to simulate the most abiding truths of nature. Indeed, for as long as we’ve been able to articulate the human experience, we’ve made music about the most inarticulable parts of it and then used language to extol music’s power — nowhere more beautifully than in Aldous Huxley’s 1931 meditation on how music stirs the soul, in which he asserted that music’s greatest potency lies in expressing the inexpressible.

This, perhaps, is why music is so sublime a solace when it comes to the most inexpressible of human emotions: grief.

Wendy Lesser articulates this peculiar power of music in a passage from Room for Doubt — a miraculously beautiful book I discovered through Oliver Sacks’s reading list.

Lesser, who doesn’t consider herself “a particularly musical person,” contemplates the way in which music bypasses the intellect and speaks straight to the unguarded heart.


Prince: A Shy, Nonconformist, Unknowable Talent

Alexis Petridis writes for The Guardian:

It seems strange to relate now, but in the early years of Prince Rogers Nelson’s career, there were voices that doubted whether he would ever be truly successful.

He was clearly exceptionally talented and possessed a vision for his music that bordered on obstinacy: not only had he produced, arranged, performed every instrument and composed all but one song on his 1978 debut album For You, he had also somehow contrived to get a record contract with Warner Brothers that entitled him to complete artistic control, almost unheard of for a new artist.

But he was also a strange, shy, awkward figure, apparently unwilling to play the promotional game. His interviews were almost wilfully unrevealing; an early appearance on that venerable US music TV institution American Bandstand was such a disaster that host Dick Clark later claimed Prince was the most difficult artist he’d ever encountered on the show. How could anyone so apparently unwilling to play the game ever hope to make it?

As it turned out, Prince knew exactly what he was doing, even when it looked like he had no idea. The way he behaved as his career began in the late 70s would set a pattern for the rest of his life.

He was, if anything, even more lavishly talented than the credit that claimed he’d played 27 different instruments on For You suggested. He went on to make umpteen albums in a myriad of music styles: he could, it appeared, do everything from rock to funk to jazz to psychedelia.

Some of the albums were better than others – his output was so torrential that not even he could completely maintain his quality control – but whatever they sounded like, they always sounded like Prince. And he was infinitely more obstinate than that first recording contract made him appear. For the best part of 40 years, he conducted his career according to a whimsical internal logic that seemed to baffle even his closest collaborators.


March Playlist

The Life and Work of A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg: Interview with Ericka Blount and Davey D

Jared Ball talks to author and professor Ericka Blount and hip hop historian and journalist Davey D who reflect upon on the life and work of A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg. (The Real News)

February Playlist

The Fierce Courage of Nina Simone

Adam Shatz writes for The New York Review of Books:

Nina Simone performing in the 1960sIn 1968, an interviewer for New York public television asked the singer and pianist Nina Simone what freedom meant to her. “It’s just a feeling,” she replied, seemingly flustered by the question. Then, suddenly, an answer occurred to her. “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear!”

This exchange appears early in Liz Garbus’s remarkable documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and it’s a startling moment, for if Simone, who died in 2003, conveyed anything on stage, it was fearlessness. Frustrated in her ambition to become a classical pianist, she smuggled Bach into the night club, combined his music with folk, blues, and jazz, and enforced recital hall rules: those who made any noise while she played could expect a cold stare or a tongue-lashing. Her repertoire was catholic—Gershwin, Ellington, Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan—but whatever she sang ended up sounding like a Nina Simone tune. She did not so much interpret songs as take possession of them.

Her most famous song, however, was one that she composed herself. “Mississippi Goddam” was written in 1963, the same year as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and provided a sharper expression of the mood among young civil rights activists. “This is a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet,” Simone coyly announces, before working herself into a furious assault on white counsels of patience:

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie
Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You’re all gonna die and die like flies
I don’t trust you any more
You keep on saying, “Go slow!”

The mere fact that Simone dared to say “Mississippi goddam” represented a revolution in black political oratory. As Dick Gregory recalls in Garbus’s film, “We all wanted to say it, but she said it.”

Simone’s courage was undeniable, but it was also a shield, even a mask, designed to protect her from hostile forces, real and imagined. White supremacy was not the only hellhound on her trail. She suffered from bipolar disorder, a condition that remained undiagnosed until the 1980s, when her demons had all but taken over and a Dutch fan saved her from near vagrancy. She had a weakness for tough men and hustlers: “A love affair with fire,” as her daughter Lisa Simone told Garbus. (Lisa Simone is an executive producer of the documentary.)

Simone was also deeply tormented about her desires for women. “I have to live with Nina, and that is very difficult,” she confessed in an interview. Just how difficult is the story of Alan Light’s biography, What Happened, Miss Simone?.


Who are the most powerful people in music? Jay Z? Kanye? Beyoncé? No, it’s old white men

Eamonn Forde writes for The Guardian:

The publication of Billboard’s Power 100 list for 2016 has finally put an end to the filthy rumour that the music business is dominated by old white men.

Sorry … of course it hasn’t. The annual poll ranks the most powerful people working in all areas of the industry, and is dominated by white men of a certain age. The top 10 actually has 13 faces in it, and every one of them is male and white.

The Apple Music team’s entry at No 3 is shared by Jimmy Iovine, Robert Kondrk, Eddy Cue and Trent Reznor. Dr Dre, the co-founder of Beats Electronics which was acquired by Apple in May 2014 for $3bn, is conspicuous by his absence.

In 2014, Jay Z and Beyoncé topped the list. They’re not even in the top 100 this year.

Daniel Ek, the co-founder of Spotify who is at No 10 on the list, is the only one in the top 10 who can be classed as young. He’s 32. Irving Azoff, artist manager and CEO of Azoff Madison Square Entertainment, is at No 6. He is 68. Martin Bandier, head of Sony/ATV Music Publishing and No 5 on the list, is 74. Doug Morris, the head of Sony Music at No 4 on the list, is 77.


Beyonce and Art as War: Interview with Ajamu Baraka and Paul Porter

Jared Ball talks to Ajamu Baraka of the Institute for Policy Studies and Paul Porter, the founder of Rap Rehab, to discuss the continuing political fallout of and response to Beyonce’s performance at Super Bowl 50. (The Real News)

The Weird Global Appeal of Heavy Metal

Neil Shah reports for The Wall Street Journal:

Today’s “world music” isn’t Peruvian pan flutes or African talking drums. It’s loud guitars, growling vocals and ultrafast “blast” beats. Heavy metal has become the unlikely soundtrack of globalization.

Indonesia is a metal hotbed: Its president, Joko Widodo, wears Metallica and Napalm Death T-shirts. Metal scenes flourish in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. China got an early seeding of metal 25 years ago when U.S. record companies dumped unsold CDs there. In a male-dominated genre, Russian band Arkona is fronted by singer Maria Arkhipova. Language barriers are less significant in the metal world, which is all about the sound, an often dissonant drone not grounded in any one musical tradition.

The explosion of local bands around the world tends to track rising living standards and Internet use. Making loud music is expensive: You need electric guitars, amplifiers, speakers, music venues and more leisure time.