Tag Archives: Music

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#Britawards vs #BBCFolkAwards

How to describe the particular type of nausea induced by last might’s Brit Awards? It was not so much the music itself – bands like Bastille and Rudimental are producing catchy, modern pop, and I loved the choreography in Bruno Mars’ performance of ‘Treasure’. Rather, it was everything else about the event itself: The arrogant, cursory acceptance speech by Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner; Harry Styles’ joke “what did we win” when he arrived late on stage to collect an award; and presenter James Corden’s constant references to people taking cocaine in the loos. The entire programme seemed to be channelling a drug bore, who thinks he is being the life of the party when in fact he is rambling and obnoxious.
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Why video games will never be 'culture'

Listening to the Overthinkers over-think video game culture (last week) and films (this week), I have begun to worry that video games will never be ‘culture’. More generously, I am concerned that video games will never attain the same cultural currency as other art forms.

This is because people do not absorb the culturally significant video games of the past, as they do with significant literature, film, and music. Continue reading

Two Great Pieces of Collaborative Internet Art

Ever since my intimate involvement with Sweet Fanny Adams in Eden, Internet-only art has been one of my recurring interests. Most recently, I noted the delightful xkcd cartoon that only really works properly online, using features available in computers. Art that is not simply a recording of a performance that took place in some place and time. Art that is not simply a scan or representation of something that exists on a wall or street corner somewhere. Art that you cannot experience anywhere but on a connected device. Art that could not have been created before the twenty-first century.

Here are two more examples, both extremely simple, both aesthetically pleasing on the surface, and both with an added beauty because of the collaboration that is inherent in their creation.

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Two Great Folk Songs on the Danger of Guns

Thinking about the ‘Bollocks To Nick Griffin‘ video I posted set me reminiscing about the Imagined VillageEmpire and Love‘ concert I attended in 2010.  Chris Wood is part of the collective, and before the main event he performed an acoustic set.  Among the songs was an amazing, chilling song about the killing of Jean Charles De Menezes. I did not realise until now that the track is called ‘Hollow Point’ and actually won best song at the 2011 Folk Awards.

I still remember the chill I felt when I first heard Chris sing the words “He never heard the footsteps behind him / by the bus stop at Tulse Hill”.  In that moment, what was an abstract story of an everyman trying to make his way in the world becomes a frighteningly specific narration of the final moments of one particular person.  The accompaniment is a simple acoustic guitar, but the lyrics build to an inevitable crescendo, just as the CCTV footage we have seen of De Menezes on that day builds to the inevitable, appalling, unseen dénouement down in the carriage. Continue reading

Sharing Adele on the Internet

What a fantastic supercut from Zapatou:

I love stuff like this – it speaks to the idea of a shared humanity and global culture, something that only the internet reveals.

And it is enriching art like this which is likely to be compromised by the propose SOPA legislation in the USA.  Yesterday a number of sites, including Wikipedia, went ‘dark in protest at the proposed law.  SOPA is a US initiative and so its difficult to know what we in the rest of the world can do to support it.  Signing this Aavaz petition (along with a couple of million other people) might be a good start.

 

WOMAD and Multiculturalism

Afro-Celt
Moussa Sissiokho, Johnny Kalsi and James McNally at WOMAD 2010. Photo by yrstrly

One of the highlights of WOMAD last weekend was watching a comeback performance by the Afro-Celt Sound System, who rocked the tent on Sunday evening with a tight blend of two cultures. The undoubted crowd-pleaser was a three-way drum duel between James McNally on the bodhran, Johnny Kalsi on the dhol, and Moussa Sissiokho on the tamma (‘talking drum’).  Underlay a little bit of electronica and some pipes, and the result is something that cannot fail to move you, both physically and emotionally. Its great to see musicians do that to an audience – and its even better to be a part of such primeval happenings yourself.  In such moments, the rising pace of the drums causes your mind to wander and wonder.

Here, I thought, we have a group of disparate musicians bringing their different traditions together to create something new.  Indeed, ‘fusion’ music is one of the festival’s specialities, and the Afro-Celt Soundsystem are very musch a creature of WOMAD.  But in watching the McNally/Kalsi/Sissiokho three-way, I was reminded that such music only works if the individual members have a (shall we say) traditional music upbringing.  Perhaps the discipline, and the distincitiveness of their separate musical heritages, are actually pre-requisites for their fusion music to work.

If true, it is an argument for a fairly rigourous form of multiculturalism.  Perhaps there is a value in encouraging not the fusion of cultures itself, but instead a promotion of the more traditional practices on which that fusion is based?  Only with a mature understanding of one’s culture can you confidently engage with others, and thereby play a proper part in creating something global, transcendental.

In a diverse country like Britain, this means supporting projects which pedestalise both the minority cultures, and the deeper roots of English and Celtic cultures.  This approach implies division, and the creation cultural silos, and has come in for much criticism in recent years.  But watching the talents of the musicians at WOMAD, you cannot help but percieve the long, accumulated embedded within each artist.  When you do, its natural to want to preserve and protect that history.

WOMAD flags by Wolfgang Haak on Flickr
WOMAD flags by Wolfgang Haak on Flickr

The Universal Healthcare MP3

Congratulations to the Americans, who have recently corralled their Senators to vote for a reform of their inequitable healthcare sytem.  It is the “biggest piece of social legislation in 40 years”, according to Andrew Sullivan.

To celebrate, the rapper MC Yogi has released an improbably titled MP3, ‘Universal Healthcare‘, which is free to download.  He was responsible for the fantastic ‘Vote for Hope‘ YouTube hit last year and I admire his open, 21st Century style of marketing.  As well as providing some free downloads to entice new fans, he also encourages remixing.

MC Yogi
MC You can visit MC Yogi at http://mcyogi.com

In other free MP3 news, The Hood Internet have released Vol. IV of their Internet Mixtape: Swell.

So, We Can Engineer a Mass Movement to Hack the Christmas Pop Charts, but We Can't Agree on a Global Climate Change Treaty?

The schadenfreude becomes stale quite quickly, doesn’t it? No sooner had the whoops of glee at Simon Cowell’s failure to reach the Christmas Number 1 spot for the fifth consecutive year, and the many ironies of the Rage Against the Machine campaign were clear for all to see.  First amongst these is the fact that R.A.t.M.’s angry Killing in the Name and Joe McElderry’s saccharine version of The Climb were Sony Music records:  Joe is on Simco Records (i.e. Simon Cowell) “under exclusive licence to Sony Music Entertainment UK Ltd” while Rage Against The Machine’s label is Epic, a subsidiary of Sony.

The campaign put a small dent into Simon Cowell’s sales figures.  Last year, Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah sold 576,000 copies in the week before Christmas, while this year Joe McElderry only managed 450,000.  But this hardly suggests that Cowell’s business model is on the wane – Leon Jackson only sold 275,000 copies of his single, When You Believe in 2007.  Cowell knows that a bit of controversy is good for his bottom line.  He knows that the label ‘Christmas Number One’ is an entirely relative marketing concept anyway, and modern music history is littered with classic hits which never reached that false summit.

So although the Facebook campaigners for Rage Against the Machine were successful, I can’t help thinking that there is something confused about the campaign and its aims.  They say:

… it’s given many others hope that the singles chart really is for everybody in this country of all ages, shapes, and sizes…and maybe re-ignited many people’s passion for the humble old single as well as THAT excitement again in actually tuning in to the chart countdown on a Sunday.

In taking this line, the campaigners seem to be endorsing the Singles Chart as an appropriate indicator of good and popular music, when it is manifestly nothing of the sort.  Yes, they reclaimed the ‘excitement’ for a single week… but they did so with a seventeen year-old song which was chosen precisely for its contrast with its competitor.  That is entirely different from what the campaigners have nostalgia for – new music from good bands, battling it out.  Former chart battles were essentially a positive contest, with music fans buying their favourite record.  The 2009 campaign had an entirely negative “anyone by Cowell” message, which is unsustainable.

False Metrics

Modern internet campaigns often seem to fall into the trap of chasing targets based on false metrics. The campaign for Gary McKinnon (the computer hacker in danger of extradition to the US) seems to be a victim:

lets make #mckinnonmonday ‘trend’ – TWEET4GARY NOW !!! please tweet ALL #american friends and ask them to help #FREEGARY #garyMckinnon
- @cliffsul

The aim of #mckinnonmonday is to make Gary McKinnon trend #garymckinnon Pls RT
- @dandelion101

Shouldn’t the aim be to generate anger and interest in the Gary McKinnon story? How helpful is all the constant RT’ing if it doesn’t translate to bodies at the protest, letters in the politician’s in-tray.

And it is not just impoverished grassroots campaigners falling into this trap, either.  Here is a recent tweet from a Cabinet Minister:

Support #welovetheNHS, add a #twibbon to your avatar now! – http://twibbon.com/join/welovetheNHS

Admittedly, sending the tweet is hardly a burden on Mr Milband’s resources, but its odd and disturbing that politicians and political campaigns have started to relate to us in this way.  The idea that the NHS is something to love is presumed, and the campaign becomes about forming a huge group of people around a slogan for a fleeting moment only.  Did anyone capture the e-mail addresses of those who tweeted #welovetheNHS?  If not then it seems like a wasted moment.

And as for Twibbons?  This innovation seems to me to be a hugely reductive exercise, shrinking political debate to a space 100 pixels wide.

Now, lest you assume I am engaging in pure snark, I should point out that I am as guilty of this hashtag chasing as the next person – perhaps more so.  I helped the Burma Campaign devise their 64forSuu.org project, which was, frankly, all about the hashtag.  And only today I’ve written a press release lauding the fact that PEN‘s Libel Reform petition has just reached 10,000 signatures, a figure that will something only if it serves to light a fire under either Jack Straw or Dominic Grieve.

Its very easy to raise ‘awareness’ of any given issue, but that’s not the same thing as establishing a consensus that what you are proposing is right.  And in turn, that is not the same thing as actually motivating people to action.  It would be a great shame if “taking action” became synonymous with simply sharing links and joining endless Facebook groups, because when that “action” fails to translate into meaningful change, we will only find that another generation have been turned off politics, disillusioned.   The Obama campaign has been criticised recently for its rather top-down approach to twitter, which didn’t really engage in conversation with supporters.  But nevertheless, he actually inspired people out of their houses and into the campaign HQs.  Did some of us think that Twitter could start a revolution in Iran?  Not quite (as Jay Rosen points out).  While the #IranElection tag on Twitter has been a useful tool for the protesters and for those reporting on the crisis it is clearly the people on the ground that will really put that regime under pressure (and we hope that the passing of Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri will provide inspiration to renew that pressure).

All of which is to say that George Monbiot’s sanctimonious article this morning had the ring of truth about it:

For the past few years good, liberal, compassionate people – the kind who read the Guardian – have shaken their heads and tutted and wondered why someone doesn’t do something. Yet the number taking action has been pathetic. Demonstrations which should have brought millions on to the streets have struggled to mobilise a few thousand. As a result the political cost of the failure at Copenhagen is zero. Where are you?

We’ve been tweeting #hashtags and adding #twibbons to our avatar, George.  Get with the programme, yeah?

A True Born Englishman?

I did not comment on Nick Griffin’s Question Time appearance last month because I was on holiday.  But I did catch it on one of the BBC World channels which are helpfully broadcast into South Africa.

Overall, my impression was that the other pannelists collectively agreed to discredit Griffin with ad hominems, rather than engage with, and demolish his arguments.  Several obvious and definitive retorts went begging.  For example, in response to Griffin’s unsophisticated critique of Islam, Baroness Warsi could simply have pointed out similar hateful lines from the Christian bible.  Instead, she made a round-about speech on the contribution of Muslims to Britain which looked like abvoidance of the question.  Likewise with the pathetic nonsense about “indigenous” Britons.  None of the pannellists seemed to counter this in the definitive manner I would have liked to see.

What they needed was some poetry.  I am delighted to discover The True Born Englishman by Daniel Defoe, written in 1703.  An excerpt:

The western Angles all the rest subdu’d;
A bloody nation, barbarous and rude:
Who by the tenure of the sword possest
One part of Britain, and subdu’d the rest
And as great things denominate the small,
The conqu’ring part gave title to the whole.
The Scot, Pict, Britain, Roman, Dane, submit,
And with the English-Saxon all unite:
And these the mixture have so close pursu’d,
The very name and memory’s subdu’d:
No Roman now, no Britain does remain;
Wales strove to separate, but strove in vain:
The silent nations undistinguish’d fall,
And Englishman’s the common name for all.
Fate jumbled them together, God knows how;
What e’er they were they’re true-born English now.

It reminds me of England, Half English by Billy Bragg:

My mother was half English and I’m half English too
I’m a great big bundle of culture tied up in the red white and blue
I’m a fine example of your Essex man
And I’m well familiar with the Hindustan
Cos my neighbours are half English and I’m half English too.

Update

Andrew Sullivan makes this point in The Sunday Times, in a post about race in America: ‘Scratch white America and beneath it is black‘.

#MichaelJacksonRIP vs #IranElection

Evenin’ all. I wanted to make a quick point about certain global news stories, and the relative amount of news coverage given to each.

Its fashionable, yet incredibly easy to complain that the Michael Jackson death has crowded out news of other more pressing matters. Shawn Micallef sounded an early word of warning about this attitude:

There is no need to compare MJ & Iran – completely dif, just intersect on same medium, not a social/moral lesson to be learned.

Then (again via Twitter, though the link is now lost in the maelstrom) I came across this MJ/Election mash-up, and it occurred to me that coverage (be it on Twitter, blogs or the international MSM) is not a zero-sum game, and that coverage of one piece of news could promote awareness of another.

If you consider Jackson’s output, there are actually loads of other songs that could fit a revolutionary template. Songs like “Heal The World” and “You Are Not Alone” seemed (to me) quite sanctimonious and irritating when they were released. But with the passing of Michael Jackson, the self-congratulatory element to those tracks seems to dissipate. They’re now ripe for the picking as a backing track to some feel-good montages of the peaceful demonstrations in Tehran. “Earth Song”, “Black or White” and (going back a little bit further) “Man in the Mirror” also carry that We-Are-The-World vibe… as does, of course, “We Are The World”! They could all fill the role of unofficial theme-tune to a non-violent protest movement.

Too cheesy? Not one bit of it: The “Yes We Can” generation of political campaigners are unafraid of such accusations. Meanwhile, tracks like “Beat It” could accompany comedic images of Ahmedinejad and Khameni and Keyboard Cat.

I meant to post this last week, so I feel sure I am behind the curve on this one. Yet a quick search through YouTube doesn’t yield further examples. Let us know your favourites, either in the comments, or via the tips form, and maybe we’ll do a round-up or something.

+posted at Liberal Conspiracy. Comment there.