Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Two Facts About The Drums

  • Fact 1: One of the Drums is really into puppetry and, after meeting Jim Henson's daughter, worked operating puppets on Sesame Street.
  • Fact 2: The Drums are amazing.

Their set opener and set closer from the final date of their UK tour:

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Manchester: In The City 2010

An evening that began with a nondescript egg and tomato baguette, but ended with bachanalian scenes at a lock-in. What on earth happened in between? Aside from indie celeb spots of Huw Stephens (not Huw Edwards, as Ben Answering Machine pointed out) and Bez, the closing night of Manchester's new music festival was characterised by meandering between venues, following up tips from passers-by and the Buzz Chart on In The City's own trusty iPhone app. Here are our highlights:

Golden Glow

Manchester scenester extraordinaire Pierre Hall's group offer up laconic sunshine pop with the kind of oohs and lahs that could make you fall in love.


The best late 70s/early 80s guitar riffs you never heard, stripped of their dated vocals and put in a blender with post rock stylings. The video above is not to be skipped - the build up is too good. Gathering plaudits from a performance on Marc Riley's 6Music show earlier this year, you have to catch them live.

The Bewitched Hands

Despite one member looking exactly like the rapist from This Is England '86 (not his fault - the series almost definitely has less cultural resonance in their native France) The Bewitched Hands offer up sweet harmony-soaked indie, forming another fleck of foam on the wave being driven by Sufjan Stevens and, more recently, Freelance Whales. Full-on male/female harmonies and tonnes of reverb without any saccharine annoyances? Yes please. Debut album out on the 23rd.


Dance craze kicking off @ Youthless. Craig Marchington is to blame. #inthecityless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Put that video and that tweet together and you get a good impression of what went on at Umbro. Manic dancing and shouting only ceased for long enough to say "how the fuck is he getting his bass to do that?!" before the pure energy the band were radiating took over again. Drummer/vocalist Alex Klimovitsky even made an impressive effort to climb on the flimsy looking pipes that run along the ceiling, making this the gig that we were still talking about as we left the pub at 6am.


Only popped into the refurbished Band On The Wall briefly, but it was enough to decide that Yuck are lovely. Just lovely.

Dutch Uncles



The night didn't actually end with LA hipsters Kisses, but White Ring's screaming-and-VNV-Nation-esque deathtrance was too depressing at the time, and is too depressing now. So we're ending with the penultimate band instead.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Sing Silent Songs - TROVE

We nipped down to the TROVE September preview on Thursday and had a chat with curator and artist David Miller, and artist Paul Newman. It's a great show, with some brilliant works. Check it out:

Sing Silent Songs at TROVE from Ben Rackstraw on Vimeo.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Sheldon Nadelman at TROVE

This summer LIFB has moved into video production - hopefully there will be a lot more of this over the next year...

TROVE is a gallery in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, and their latest show was the photography of Sheldon Nadelman, curated by Morgan Quaintance. We had a chat with him and you see what he had to say here:

Morgan Quaintance at TROVE from Ben Rackstraw on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Hello Sunshine

We bloody love Boys Noize and Fake Blood here at LIFB, so how happy do you think we were when we saw the new Boys Noize-produced Kano tune at #5 on the Hype top 10, closely followed by a housetastic, vocal-extending, remix of Fake Blood's 'I Think I Like It'? Very happy, that's how.

The Kano tune is a bit back-of-the-top-deck-of-the-number-94-ghetto, but has production crisper than the crack of ice in rum and coke. The EXTRA ADDED VOCAL ACTION! of what the extensively named Tommie Sunshine & Figure EC$TACY have done to 'I Think I Like It' steals the tune away from sweaty 3am dancefloor territory and places it right in the middle of a park full of the coolest people you know, playing hackey-sack and tossing frisbees, in vest tops and straw hats. Like the Marks and Spencers adverts done by American Apparel.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Elvis Costello at Birmingham Symphony Hall

A lot phrases concerning performance have connotations of handling or being handled - performers carry a tune, they hold the attention of the audience. I'd never considered the significance of this until last night as Elvis Costello nurtured a collection of songs, moulding them with an ease that belied the complexity of his performance.

Accompanied by three spotlights, six guitars and a truly exceptional hat (which only left his head to be lifted in response to applause), he picked from throughout his repertoire, not afraid to mangle crowd favourites along the way.

This mangling was most apparent in a violent re-working of 'Watching the Detectives', his first hit back in 1977, which ended in Costello picking out melody lines in the wrong key over a wash of crunching distorted acoustic guitar noise. There was a noticeable shift in the atmosphere, as 2000 middle-aged people heard one of their favourite songs as it might sound covered by Animal Collective. It was brilliant.

Most brilliant, however, was 'Slow Drag with Josephine', "how rock 'n' roll sounded in 1921". This trip to the past was provided by ragtime melodies, an un-amplified acoustic, and Costello, freed from the microphone, delivering the lines from the front of the stage. That something of that level of electrifying brilliance was a song from Costello's soon-released new album only highlights quality of his body of work as a whole.

Stories of having his Dad in the audience for fathers day, being unknown to American audiences when supporting Bob Dylan, and writing music with Paul McCartney ("that great Mersey-delta Bluesman") all added to the charm, but the most touching moment came with the first song request. As Costello returned for the encore someone in the stalls shouted for 'My Three Sons'. Without saying a word he took a step back, dropped the tuning on his guitar, and played it. This is an example of the connection with the audience that permeated the evening. Costello was a performer not only carrying a tune, but carrying the hearts of everyone in the Symphony Hall with him.

Monday, 24 May 2010

TBB #2 is Here!

Come and get it! The latest issue of Birmingham's premier collage-based magazine is here! TBB#2 - This Bourgeois Battalion is done, and this one's got big questions (are computer games art?), feminism (are high heels GOOD or BAD?), arts (investigation Created in Birmingham's shop in the Bullring), foreign parts (the music of Nantes), and MORE (much more).

You can see AND download it here.

And if you press 'Fullscreen' on the little reader below... well... it's pretty special.
TBB#2 - This Bourgeois Battalion

Monday, 3 May 2010

Electric Carnival in Digbeth

  • Chase & Status
  • Fatboy Slim (the first hour or so)
  • Boys Noize
  • Tiga opening with 'Shoes' and closing at 6am with the same song Boys Noize ended with last year: the 'My Moon My Man' remix
  • 5:30am - a man dancing with TWAT written on his forehead in luminous paint
  • Everybody friends, walking up the road back to Moor Street.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

TBB #2

TBB #2 coming really soon!

Well Done Kele

'Tenderoni' - the debut single from Kele Okereke (usually found fronting Bloc Party) got its first play on Zane Lowe this week, and it's a banger. With the underground-going-overground sound of the opening synth, comparisons to Wiley's 'Rolex' will be inevitable, but this has the uplifting soul of the best of Bloc Party's material (i.e. not the 'oh no! what is happening in this paranoid world in which we live?!' stuff) rather than Wiley's playful aggression.

It sounds pretty ripe for a remix - maybe by someone with an uplifting vibe like A-Track, Boys Noize or Fake Blood (or even someone really amazing like Tony Lamezma) rather than the typical Dubstep house of representatives. Get on that please Kele. Ta. Album is out on June 22nd.


Monday, 19 April 2010

Nantes Loves Electro Too

The guy in the sandwich shop said that the kids love house, but all we could find was an electro night - so we went to see if they like that too. Turns out we were right, the Bloody Beetroots show was packed full of lycées, roughly 16-18 year-olds from the city's colleges. This meant that not only was the bar empty, but the crowd inside the cavernous Halle de la Trocardière were bouncing off the walls.

The band are much heavier live than their plethora of remixes and last year's Roborama would suggest - they even re-brand themselves Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77 when they go on tour, adding a drummer to their line up. Adding to the surprise heaviness is the vaudeville of the Venom masks (the character from Spiderman, not some kind of poisoning facewear) the duo wear, as they flit between guitar, bass, synths and microphone.

Tunes from the album sounded like real hits, although they're played regularly at Custard Factory nights they're given new life live, with 'Cornelius', 'Butter', 'Warp' and 'House No. 84' (previously featured on this blog) going off. Add in a cover of the brooding 28 Days Later Theme, a melodramatic bit of Bach's Tocata and Fugue and the PHENOMENAL 'We Are From Venice' (see below) with live strings as a finale, the Beetroots managed to cement their place amongst the best live dance acts in the world.

Chatting at the end, Axwell, an 18-year-old lycéan, said "Justice, SebastiAn, Crookers... it is very exciting" - easy to say if you're 18, wearing Prada glasses and go to a posh secondary school but keep it real at Electro nights in the ghetto end of the Rezé - but that was no barrie to my realisation that as ropy as my French might be, the the only phrase I really needed to know was "j'aime Ed Banger".

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Nantes Loves Reggae

"10 years ago, maybe not so much, but now you walk around and it's reggae party here, reggae party there. The kids like house, but most people listen to reggae." The owner of a sandwich shop on the Rue du Maréchal Joffre, Nantes. He's not wrong; flyers for reggae nights fill shops down the thin cobbled streets of the old city. Much of daily life here is soundtracked by the partytime.fr web radio station, broadcasting reggae and roots music out of Paris, and local reggae heroes Truth and Right.

One of the reasons behind the growth of reggae soundsystems in this city over the last decade is Ras Abubakar, who set up Zion Gate Music - a well regarded Nantes-based reggae label - in 1996. We caught up with him in Oneness Records, the record shop he runs on Rue du Maréchal Joffre. Here he explained that much of the reggae culture here comes from immigration from the West Indies, and his label, along with their house band, bring artists from around the world to record here. This meant that, alongside purchases of Beastie Boys' Check Your Head Curtis Mayfield's Superfly, I managed to pick up a Zion Gate record featuring a singer from Birmingham. 6 hours in Nantes and already I've got a little taste of home.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Hello, the Summer.

At LIFB we can normally be found fighting the good fight against the locust-swarm of terrible mash-ups, a long-lasting fad that invaded the internet the day the world decided that taking recognizable bits from two different songs and playing them at the same time was postmodern and cool. It was when Danger Mouse did it with the Grey Album. It isn't when you do it with Pink Floyd and Soulja Boy.

However, sometimes the concept throws up something that has an existence outside the realm of less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts novelty. New York's Max Tannone - the DJ and producer who gave us last year's Jaydiohead (Jay Z/Radiohead - worked in parts but the rhymes were overwhelmed by guitars and was just a little too angry) - has just dropped Mos Dub, Mos Def rapping over Dub and Reggae classics.

Like any mash-up collection that aims for a little longevity, most of the tracks are produced in such a way that they avoid 'name that tune' obviousness (with the exception of the excruciating Travellin' Underground). Reggae always sounds like summer, and the careful updating of classics, as controversial as it might be for some, is always welcome here - this one is going in the car for those increasingly regular journeys with the window wound down.

And this is our favourite cut:
Mos Dub - 04 - In My Math by lifeinflashback

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Pitchify is Good.

Spotify is the the definition of amazing, I think we're pretty clear on that. But sometimes I open it up and feel totally overwhelmed by what it offers, I just face it with a blank expression as my brain fails to focus on a band or album that I might like to listen to. It's at this stage that I retreat to my 'safety band' - a padded cell of an album that I can put on when my mental jukebox goes into meltdown. More and more frequently have I been turning away from the overabundance of choice that Spotify presents and just listening to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut.

BUT ALL THAT HAS CHANGED! Well, all that has changed when I'm gawping at Spotify thinking 'I wish I could just think of a critically acclaimed non-commercial band to listen to' (which, lets face it, is the prayer I offer up the most often). Pitchify has been linking Pitchfork's highest rated albums to Spotify since the end of last year (and added Drowned in Sound reviewed albums in Feb) and is really very good for suggestions of new things and older things to listen to 'if you like that sort of thing.'

Monday, 29 March 2010

Hold Up, Before We Get Started... Guess Who's Coming?

Introducing are a nine-piece band that play DJ Shadow's Endtroducing (released in 1996, the first album to be composed entirely of samples - cheers, the Guinness Book of Records) live, recreating every drum loop, esoteric vocal sample and the famous organ solo with actual instruments. An impossible task? They came to the Hare and Hounds in King's Heath last Friday to show Birmingham that it can be done.

The opening of a call for a round of applause for the DJ himself was a sign of the good humour with which the band approached their task. Despite looking like a collection of detail-loving music obsessives (and on this blog, that's not an insult) they weren't hung up on the subject matter and played with laid-back flair. This meant that the jazzier side of the record could come through and the odd little vocal parts, with the potential to be twee and annoying, passed off as geekily cool - especially the "one of them has eyes as big as Jolly Ranchers. Beautiful girl" bit on the untitled sixth track.

There was a special mention for drummer Mike Reed at the beginning of 'Stem/Long Stem', and he really deserved it. It would be clear to anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the album that this is a project that lives or dies on the quality of the rhythm section. Fortunately Introducing have nailed it; Reed was amazing, as was bassist Rob Pollard, driving the songs forward with technical brilliance and exactly the right vibe.

The set sheds new light on the differences between live and recorded music. I listened to the parts more intently, discovering previously unnoticed details like little repeated sections and cool beats. I also enjoyed the sparser sections far more than I ever have when listening to the record.

Live music, as it's no real surprise to be reminded, holds the attention more powerfully and has a sublime energy lacking from anything tied down to endless repetitions from a medium of your choice. There's something about a group of people sharing a room with you and hearing your responses to what they're doing... people fashioning something that wouldn't exist without them, and will never exist again in the same form beyond the moments that you are sharing... a feeling amplified through the uncanny experience of music both totally familiar and new and exciting... these are the reason that make what Introducing are doing something pretty special.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Nice Pair

Earlier this week the latest collaboration between Erol Alkan and Boys Noize - a double A-side 'Lemonade/Avalanche' was finally released by Erol's label Phantasy Sound. This is a pairing up there with rum & raisin, bangers & mash and skinny jeans & deck shoes: the best DJ I saw last year (Boys Noize at the Custard Factory) and Alkan, who has as much as anyone in his field to define the popular modern electro/dance scene.

After initial listens the pick of the two is Lemonade, which pairs a riff tending towards the Boys Noize end of the spectrum, with the 'a bit more interesting than just thump-thump-thump' beats of Erol. Avalanche is an altogether darker and more brooding affair - the Scar to Lemonade's Mufasa, if you will. Only time will tell whether it will become the better song, before being usurped and thrown to the hyenas by a young upstart Lemonade remix returning after 'finding himself' in the clubs of East London.

Here you go:

Thou Shalt Always Spell 'Phoenix' P-H-E-O-N-I-X

Phoenix released a lovely live album for completely free this morning - thanks Phoenix! As Thomas Mars, their incredibly French and - amazing - Sophia Copolla-dating lead singer, revealed on 6 Music today, he felt like it was record label sacrilege when the band released 1901 as a free download early last year. The last 12 months have worked out pretty well for them though, gaining a much bigger audience outside France and seeing 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix', the album from which 1901 was taken, win the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in January.

They've obviously decided that releasing stuff for free = loads of success, and so are treating us to 'Live in Sydney' as a free download. Just go here and you can keep a piece of Franco-Australian sunshine to carry you through this patchy beginning to Spring.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Two Door Cinema Club at Birmingham Academy

There was some fitting St Patrick’s Day fare from Northern Ireland’s Two Door Cinema Club at Academy 3 last night and, even though most of the audience looked too young to have been on the Guinness, they weren’t acting like it. There is little adoration as powerful as the adoration of 16 year-olds for their favourite band, but over some serious handclaps and word-perfect singalongs it sounded like this lot might have made a poor choice when preparing their tunes for time on the road.

Birmingham is hardly known for great audiences at gigs, but a new generation in the surprisingly well lit Academy 3 suggest that the future might be different. Bouncing from the opener, singing throughout most recent single ‘Undercover Martyn’ and hardly stopping for breath until the encore, the atmosphere was frenetic. An especially energetic welcome was reserved for ‘What You Know’, yet to be released but all over the Hype Machine, and surely pencilled in to the immaculately kept Moleskine diaries at Kitsuné HQ.

Sadly, though, the sharp synthesized drums of the band’s recordings have been replaced by an actual human being - an attempt, the press release assures us, to bolster their live sound. However, cool electronic drum sounds complement their art rock perfectly, making last night's live drumming sound messy. This was especially true of ‘Costume Party’ which, after the intro, had the synth and guitar parts so low in the mix that they drowned under splashy cymbals.

Because of this, the live show straddled indie dance a little uncomfortably and I found myself silently willing the band, as they tuned their guitars through the great wash of electronic sound that introduced the encore, to just put them down instead. Unfortunately psychic abilities are no more advanced in Bangor than it is in Birmingham and they launched into yet another arch dance tune transformed into something you would hear in the main room at Propaganda.

The closer was ‘I Can Talk’ which, despite having an intro that has dined out with Delphic’s ‘Doubt’, finally sounded like the band promised by their debut album. The band are set to explode all over this summer's festivals, but they might be wise to rethink what they offer as a live act before they go out to win any more fans.

The amazing 'Undercover Martyn':

Monday, 8 March 2010

TBB #1

TBB #1 is now available! It's got some climate chat from Emma Vickers, bits and pieces you've read on here, some words from Charlie Levine and a winsome piece by Edward Greenfingers. And a satirical sports page. Pick up its collage-y goodness in any number of a handful of central Birmingham locations, or check it out in all its pdf glory.

Friday, 26 February 2010

6 Music is Not a Threat to Commercial Radio

Reports in the Times Online that the BBC will announce the closure of 6 Music and the Asian Network next month have exploded over the internet like only middle class outrage can. Mark Tran reports for the Guardian that:

the BBC intends to shrink overall services and focus more on quality over quantity.

Quality over quantity? A selection of the most played artists on the 6 Music website includes The Who, The Cure, Blondie, New Order, Madness, The Rolling Stones, Blur, Beck, The Jam and The Beatles. Even though the list also includes U2, it’s difficult to suggest, by any objective measure - and many that are subjective - that this doesn’t represent quality.

What will the argument from the BBC be though? The £6 million budget of 6 Music is a drop in the £3.5 billion licence fee, and only a small dent in the £25-30 million they reportedly want to cut from the £100 million budget for buying-in shows from abroad. The Times leak suggests the BBC will admit that

the average age of a 6 Music listener — 35 — is very desirable for advertisers, and the station unfairly harms its commercial radio rivals.

Is this honestly an argument behind any service provided by the BBC? If, during the week leading up to Comic Relief, there is a drop in donations to other charities, should it be cancelled? If a great storyline in Eastenders means that fewer people tune in to Coronation Street, should they make life more boring in The Square? 6 Music doesn’t aggressively target their audience, and the 35 year-olds so desirable to advertisers could easily be targeted by commercial rivals.

The latest figures suggest 6 Music has 695,000 weekly listeners. Absolute Radio, with a similar playlist and, therefore, a similar demographic, has double that (and have, this afternoon, been reported in the Times as interested in buying 6 Music) Kerrang! also has twice the listenership of 6 Music. Over all, Heart Radio clocks in with more than 10 times as many listeners. These commercial stations, with a roughly similar music policy, are clearly not scrabbling for market share in the wake of a leviathan BBC station.

More interesting will be the reaction of the BBC to what one report has already labelled ‘uproar’ in the ‘Twitterverse.’ After ‘Moir-gate’, will this be another example of the small socio-economic group that makes up the majority of UK Twitter users affecting the vastly similar small socio-economic group that run the UK media? The powerful, Twitter-centered community has another target in its sights, but, passionate as we are, how much weight should our views carry?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Hype Machininsts

Three tenths of the Hype Machine top 10 is currently being taken up by songs involving the Xx: three remixes, then another mp3, 'Intro', at #18. This is as important, in this age of genre schizophrenia, as any other measure of cultural value, surely marking this album out as the biggest since Justice appeared on every single blog on the internet.

Of course, sparse beats with plaintive vocals are eminently remixable, especially with a fashionable dubstep aesthetic. The album is also incredibly intimate, sometimes feeling like eavesdropping on a private conversation, and this intimacy translates nicely into certain schools of downtempo electronic music.

This success, then, is unsurprising: hype is hype, the album is great and the sublime soporific wash of downtempo dubstep continues unabated. What is strange, though, is how long it took me to realise it was good. I loved Justice as soon as I heard them, the same with other blog-hyped acts like Boys Noize, Burial, Miike Snow and Animal Collective. But I hated the Xx: boring, depressing and inexplicably loved by everyone.

Maybe it's a lack of immediacy. I always hated The Smiths, grating at Morrissey's intonation and bored by the pace. And I'm from Manchester. It was only when, from the molasses of popular culture, a few songs had slipped in to my consciousness, and I was forced to sit down with The Queen is Dead that I realised how great they were. The Xx are like like the Smiths in a number of ways: subtle, nuanced and deeply personal.

I have spent an adolescence bouncing off walls and grinning to big silly drops, offensively crunchy synths and unashamedly yobbish tunes, but had always felt that something was missing. A 'Sunday Playlist' at Uni attempted to address this void, filling up with acoustic tunes and minimal house, but that lost its purpose when I graduated and no longer had whole days to sacrifice to lying in bed and listening to soporific indie music.

The Xx do fill this gap though, and do it beautifully. They deserve the plaudits on blogs and in the press, and may even teach me patience and an appreciation of subtlety again.

Currently #5 in the Hype top 10: