Category Archives: Music

Things I never knew you could do with a Canon point and shoot camera

Did you know you could shoot RAW with your Canon point and click? Extend the available time you can record video for? Script up events and actions? Play games?

Lifehacker to the rescue.

This was promptly bookmarked under ‘Things to do when I’m bored’ – my default bookmarks folder for neat things I want to try :)

BLOC Weekender 2008

Well a week after the event and I feel fully recuperated from several nights of sleep deprivation, beer guzzling, techno grooving and non-dieting.

For those of you who don’t know BLOC is a relatively new annual 3 day dance weekender, mainly focusing on the techno end of the musical scale. No place for knob twiddling introspection (a la ATP), this is 3 days (and basically non-stop) eclectic, hard, danceable music purveyed by some legendary names.

ATP before Christmas was fun, but Aphex Twin was the notable highlight apart from Portishead, so I don’t think its a terrible surprise that I enjoyed this event a lot more. In fact it was greatly reminsicent of the original ATP I went to in 2003 that was curated by Autechre.

Saw too many people to name them all so I guess a quick run down of the highlights and disappointments is due. I thoroughly enjoyed the reformed Red Snapper on the first night, but was left a little cold by Amon Tobin later in the evening. I’m not sure if they put him on in the wrong slot, or he was just playing the wrong tunes, but given how much I like his work it was a little disappointing. I was having fun at the Underground Resistance gig too, despite some of my companions being less than charitable about them – I do admit that there was a little anachronism about it however. I really enjoyed my introduction to two back to back acts on the Saturday – both Sleeparchive and Monolake pushed all the right buttons for me. Of the other ‘big’ names (i.e. ones I have previously heard of ;)) Dave Clarke put on a blinding set (again possibly against expectations of my friends who had been disappointed with him at Sonar previously). Radioactive Man was similiarly excellent. The biggest disappointment was probably the Dexorcist who managed to play a great selection of tunes really badly – I don’t know what went wrong, but he was probably relieved that the fire alarm went off in the middle of the set. I had left at that point, and would have loved to have seen how many people continued dancing on the dancefloor to the sound of the alarms, blissfully unaware of what was happening.

The two acts I enjoyed most were probably the Wee DJ’s (the fact that he is neither small – nor are there more than one of them – makes me smile). The fact that the Avionix Records folks were well acquainted with him meant that I was not going to miss his set – and I’m really glad I didn’t. I think he got the best reception I saw in the smaller venue over that weekend. I finished up the weekend before the last act played (knowing full well I had to get up at 8am on Monday ;)) so the last act I saw was Phuture 303 which completely blew my mind at some point early on Monday morning. I’d just forgotten how much fun it could be to bounce around with 2,500 other people to an astonishing selection of tunes.

BLOC – very well done – the sound systems were great (probably helped by the fact at least one was a Funktion 1), the act selection was great, the punters were great. The bouncers were cool, the chalet was brilliant. Even well enough equipped for the non vegans in our group to sit down Sunday evening to a full lamb roast and a couple of bottles of good red wine. Not sure how many other people did that on Sunday, but the look on James face (who popped in just before we dished up) was priceless.

No hestitation in saying I will be back again next year, hopefully with the same great bunch of people, to do it all over again!

On lack of updates/ATP

I know updates are a bit thin on the ground these days – work is pretty hectic in the run up to Christmas (rather than slowing down like it used to be when I was a proper scientist!) and it hasn’t been helped by my laptop blowing up, our Condor central manager blowing up, our RAID array on the HP cluster blowing up (followed by the head node on the cluster blowing up, followed by another node on the cluster blowing up). Oh yes another machine blew up as well and took out a KVM and shut one of our racks down when the UPS failed to kick in. I just hope that given this particularly woeful state of hardware failure, for once everything might run smoothly whilst I am away for Christmas (which I realise is laughably wishful thinking).

It also wasn’t helped that I escaped the hardware hara-kiri in order to transport myself to All Tomorrow’s Parties: Nightmare Before Christmas, a 3 day music festival curated (in this instance) by Portishead. However it was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made to go. 6 days away from work, no pressures, excellent music and good company. I went with Chris Gibbons, one of my extended ‘Edinburgh family’ even though I never met him when I lived there – but we have a suite of mutual friends. Honestly, I spent 18 months in Edinburgh and wherever I go the network of friends that I made there haunts me still :)

ATP was weird – we’d both been to the Autechre ATP in 2003 which was a full on technodancathon at Camber Sands. The Minehead venue seemed bigger in comparison – 2 enclosed stages, and one Pavillion stage (mind you this tent had buildings inside it) and the music varied from experimental knob twiddling electronica, to hip hop to trip hop to doom metal. Avoiding most of the latter the real highlights were Portishead (first gig in 10 years, quite possibly the best gig I have ever been to), Aphex Twin (so good we saw him twice!) and GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan who gave a full performance of Liquid Swords. Other acts of note were Boris – an amusingly heavy rocking Japanese group (and believe me that’s saying something given my generalised loathing of J-pop and J-rock), Francoiz Breut (amazing voice, great set, looked like she was off her face), Oneida with their ‘wall of sound’ apocalyptic metal/techno and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame.

We didn’t get to see Ladytron (removed from the bill at some point in the run up but I never noticed, which was a real shame), Seasick Steve (clashed with Portishead), Polar Bear (queue apathy kicked in in favour of either pizza or wine, I can’t remember).

Disappointments – well the Madlib Medicine Show could have been better. The DJ was fantastic, but Madlib was peddling hip-hop that could best be described as ‘weak’. The Horrors were awful, just rubbish. I don’t understand why they were ever music press darlings. If you’re going to play 80’s metal and your only USP is that you dress like Robert Smith (and yet in the programme blurb bang on about how edgy you are and how many riots your gigs cause) you’d better be really good. Dear Horrors, you are not.  Team Brick appeared to be a man howling into a microphone and sampling/distorting the results.  To call this music really would be stretching the point, in fact it was the musical equivalent of going to an avant garde poetry recital and quite frankly just about as much fun.

Anyway we sat around drinking a number of fine bottles of red wine, eating at Pizza Hut and Burger King, going bowling, playing pool, running through the ‘The House of the Dead” series of zombie splattering light gun arcade games and embarassing ourselves on the DDR machines in between gigs. It felt like a proper weekend away and I cannot recommend ATP festivals highly enough. Next up is BLOC 2008, which I suspect will be a little bit less sedate…

Just noticed the ATP post had gone!

Hmm still can’t wait for this and I would still encourage interested parties to come along and sample this fine event!

Gory details here:

http://www.atpfestival.com/events/portishead/

But basically think 3 days of interesting and eclectic music, private chalets to sleep in, lots of cool people to talk to and safe in the knowledge that 3 days of your life has been gently controlled by Portishead themselves.

Awesome. So happy I have my ticket :)

Graham Coxon

So I saw Graham Coxon last night at the Newcastle Uni SU with Phil and Jen.

I’ve not heard *any* of Coxon’s output since Blur parted (he is their former guitarist) and I’ve always held Blur, and especially Damon Albarn in particularly high regard (Gorillaz ‘Demon Days’ album was the best album of 2005 bar none). I always credited Blur’s sound to Albarn – certainly lyrically, and I assumed musically, but about 20 minutes into the Graham Coxon gig, I realised that he has an awful lot to do with it.

I know I like to put music into slots, but Coxon does have a really weird blend. Like many guitarists, you can tell he started with the blues, and can still play a mean blues guitar – but this is all mixed in with driving, poppy, upbeat sounding (but downbeat lyrics) which slides quite happily into the kind of punk that burned so brightly in the late 1970s. He’s not the most engaging person on stage, not a huge amount of interaction with the crowd, but has he grimaced and perspired through the 90+ minute set the music said it all. One of the best gig’s I’ve been to, and certainly the only one that I’ve ever seen bona fide crowd surfing going on (the kinds of gigs I normally go to are the ones with deep beats and people who are generally too away with the faries for that kind of coordination). A really pleasant mix of people from the kiddies right up to those clearly in their 50’s. I did start to feel a little on the upper limit of the age range, most people were at least 10 years younger than me! Whippersnappers. Probably have no bloody idea who Blur were anyway.

The crowd bounced happily around, Phil grooving like he’d been stung by a jellyfish and a cracking time was had by all. Didn’t drink too much, but by god I couldn’t get to sleep from the ringing in my ears..

Next gig.. THE SHINS! and boy I can’t wait for that…

Arctic Monkeys

So I’ve been waiting for the Arctic Monkeys album for a little while now seeing as their everpresent press coverage has been leading nicely up to the album launch. Bowing to little peer pressure I sampled the album today on the way to and from work on the trusty ‘pod.

So is it any good?

Yeah, they’re pretty damn good actually. Suddenly you can see that the fuss around them is somewhat deserved, but I wonder why they are so popular. The sound, vocally typifies what I love about British music – self-deprecating, observant, rather downbeat, but the AM’s play it with a little bit of hope. You can trace the sound and the sentiment back as far as you like, in certain sections echoes of early Radiohead are apparent, some very Pulp like twists are in there, and there’s still a bit of Smiths in there for good measure – but backed up by rather frisky, sometimes punk-like guitaring.

And I think this is why they stand out. This is not an album dripping in studio production values. The amped guitars do actually sound more like what you expect from a gig rather than what you get in a studio. The effects are used sparingly, they sound quite vintage, a little overdrive here and little crunched distortion there. They sound like a great live band.

There’s not a single duff song on the album, and I rather like this trend – not many artists can pull it off, Kaiser Chiefs did rather well with their debut album (but sound desparately overproduced compared to this), I am Kloot never put a foot wrong (even with 3 albums).. but the whole album has that wealth of personal experience of the band draped over it. I do wonder how long it can last. If all this has come out in the first album – and then you’re propelled to stardom – what on earth do you put out next?

Of course they’re touring now, and one rather wishes he had gone to see them before they hit the big time, but whilst we all still knew about them. Their gig in Newcastle is at the Carling Academy on Sunday. Needless to say, long since sold out.

Great album, can’t wait to give it some repeated listening.

Hip-hop don’t stop..

It really doesn’t, and the more I listen to it the more I love it. Rob pointed me in the direction of Fort Minor last week. Fronted by Linkin’ Park member Mike Shinoda, they sound like Linkin’ Park without all the rock, which I don’t mind to be honest, despite thinking that Hybrid Theory is still one of the best albums released, I always thought Shinoda was a great MC.

This actually all started off from a conversation I was having with Jamie as we gobbled pizza and were watching Kerrang! and up popped Shinoda with the X-ecutioners (turntablists) this was mentioned to Rob who then pointed me to Fort Minor.

What’s nice about the album (Rising Tide) is that it steers clear of some of the more overtly lyrical and dictionary driven rap and actually heads back to where I imagine the roots of hip-hop are. It’s personal music, you can tell Shinoda has something to say right now (you can’t say the same for Eminem these days). It’s all delivered in a very direct style, reminding me of an angry Fife Dog from A Tribe Called Quest in terms of well-delivered, lyrical simplicity. I guarantee that there’s a load of rap lovers that wont like it for its hefty dose of realism (a hip-hop song that points out that most hip-hop is in fact a fabrication made to sell records because white 20 somethings (hey and 30 somethings too!) like to feel ‘cool’?) but with excellent support from people like Common on the album, it’s been spinning on loop on the iPod for days.

Speaking of Common, I still don’t know what to make of him. ‘Be’ still sounds like what gets played on Radio 1 as ‘rap’ which all too easily crosses over into the soulless wasteland of utter crap that is modern RnB – but despite the fact I can’t always appreciate the RnB underpinnings, there’s no denying that Common is a fantastic lyricist and the jazzier stuff is far more interesting to me on this album. Must try harder with this, however his appearance on Rising Tide is fantastic.

Oh yeah new blog category too. Yay.