31.12.08

Disco 2009?


What sound dominated 2008? When you are looking at the industry from a long tail perspective, with all the various niche labels and artists beginning to flourish, it really is difficult to pin down what they year sounded like. The pop chart was its usual mess of cheap RnB and mildly entertaining electropop, with even some Nickleback thrown in to balance things out. Not forgetting the Brit school class of '08, of course.

I had been predicting the return of disco for quite some time. You could feel it bubbling - the word returning to the vernacular, a mid-tempo pace coming back to the dance floor. Hand claps and triangles were seeping into even the most stalwart of producers material. We'd already seen some mainstream applications - both Madonna and Goldfrapp had big success with Confessions and Supernature - though I felt both of these albums used disco in a kitsch retro form (incidentally in 2008, both artists turned their back on disco with albums that were commercially less successful).

Hands down the best "dance" album of the year goes to Crazy P's Stop Space Return - fantastic fresh disco and electronic pop. The underground retro italo movement also came to the front with Heartbreak's debut Lies - hot on the heels of Vogue's prediction that italo was back. I had thought that new albums from The Killers and Cut Copy might encorporate more of the disco sound - instead, they kept things cautious and stayed well within their established boundaries of 80s pop.

And DJs were allowing the sound to sit prominently within their sets. A visit to Glasgow during Sara Berg's UK tour allowed us to check out Optimo's set at Sub Club. The small basement was alive with shimmering nu disco and italo - truly the best set I heard this year. Metro Area - no stranger to the genre that they perpetuate in immitable style - delivered the best mix of the year with their contribution to the Fabric series. The London club scene was not so consistent - with large clubs closing down, and the kids still falling into k-holes across Shoreditch, harder darker electrohouse still dominated - though there were signs of a more melodic, discohouse trend developing (The Joiners Arms legendary Thursday night sets being a prime example!).

Will disco finally re-invent itself in 2009? For the sake of the future of clubbing - lets hope so.

Image from PTGreg on Flickr

28.12.08

BEST OF 08: Politik


If you measured the year in column inches, surely this was the longest. More than ever, the media spat out a heavy dose of misery and disaster porn. Some of the top stories that rocked the news:

The McCanns Did It
A terrible story of a missing girl and the all-encompassing PR campaign - the mystery continues. Overshadowed now by the equally ridiculous tale of Shannon Matthews.

The Credit Crunch
After years of excess, suddenly it is chic to be cheap. When the tabloids started to create a logo for an economic concept, that’s when I knew we were in trouble.

100 Months
Andrew Simms' report gives us 100 months to save the planet. Despite this the UK government still feels the path to salvation is for us all to unplug our mobile phone chargers and boil less water, while encouraging us to consume as much as possible in order to save the economy.

Amy Winebar/Kate Moss/Pete Doherty
So boring, And for six months, so unavoidable. Thank god for fickle journalism – even Adele gets more press lately.

Celebrity DJs
Sam Ronson. The Geldof Children. The drummer from this month’s one hit wonder indie band. Playing at the hideous dive near you. Enough is enough. It’s no wonder that … 

Turnmills/The End/Astoria/Ghetto/The Cross Shut Down
… no one goes to clubs anymore.

But its not all doom and gloom --

Obamamania
Finally politics got exciting again – but true to form, the fun wasn’t to be found on our side of the Atlantic. As America suddenly came to its senses, perhaps the world didn’t seem so bleak after all. 2009 should be an interesting year …

Image by ally.thomson on Flickr

22.12.08

BEST OF 08: Readings and Writings


Where the year lacked volume in sound, 2008 certainly was not without inspiration in the written form. In fact it is difficult to pin down the top tombe of the past months – indeed, some of my favourites were not written this year but have helped shape my thoughts regardless – and deserve a mention. Not to forget the great blogs that feed my Netvibes daily …

A true awakening and reinforcing voice – that to be niche has value and should be championed. 

The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein
Horrifying – the type of story that requires a constant shaking of your head in disbelief. And prophetic – considering the recent collapse of the western world’s economic system.

Essential wisdom and pearls of daily guidance.

Also essential wisdom. And a constant supply of mirth.

Prime position on the reading list, however, is A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle – which has become a bit of a guidebook to me with its insight into the human condition. Tolle explores attachment theory and dissects the ego in a way that is clear and simple to grasp. Some might consider his words to be spiritual guidance – that isn’t really my thing … instead I would say he has unlocked some clues as to what it means to be human and alive. 

Thanks to my dear friend Sham for giving me Eckhart. And apologies to everyone else for not shutting up about the bloody book.

21.12.08

BEST OF 08: Body-Piano-Machine


Friday's Independent features Andy Gill’s summary of the year in music (along with records of the year from an ultimately random selection of “people who should know” – first up, Adele (!?)). It’s a nice look back – I wish my attention span had the capacity for twelve months, but unfortunately this has been another year where little jumped off the shelf.

The big exception is MaJiKer. His debut Body-Piano-Machine caught me by surprise and hasn’t left my playlist since. Completely fresh, his sound is a new take on electroacoustic pop – blending the piano with body percussion and a classic Yamaha synth. Conceptual, but pop nonetheless.

At the heart is fantastic song writing, with a compelling diversity of style. “Flesh & Bone” is as finely crafted as can be – intimate and intricately woven. “The Chase” is a mysterious triumph – rooted in deep house. The playful “Le Femme Android” and “Strings And Wires” provide a balance by camping the proceedings up – and find themselves annoyingly entering your subconscious on every occasion.

MaJiKer is based in Paris - last month I crossed the channel to see him perform live – and suddenly the entire album made even more sense. The show was more theatre than simply a gig - an experience that I can only compare to Fischerspooner’s brilliant shows. 

It is therefore an honour that we are in discussions to having MaJiKer join the Gaymonkey family. We look forward to working with him in 2009. 

From 36,000 feet ...


Written 19th December and subsequently uploaded ...

December has – as always – been a ridiculously busy month. As I always go to visit family around the middle of the month, I find myself squeezing 30 days worth of work into two weeks. Tiring, but ultimately satisfying. As I’m now 36,000 feet in the air with another seven hours until I land in San Francisco, what better time to catch up on my blog writing?

The end of the year is every journalists favourite time to get lazy and write about their favourites from the past 12 months - I thought I'd join in and compile a few of my own.

8.12.08

Sounds of a Cold War


I've been exploring the use of music in various political context - from Madonna's mutterings, through to using work to endorse political parties. The brilliant exhibition Cold War Modern: Design 1940-1975 currently showing at the V&A examines the impact of the Cold War on art. 

The post-WWII modernist era offers two perspectives - apocalyptic, and utopian. The exhibits takes you through the visionaries that explored each of these themes.  Within music, this was demonstrated with two very different approaches.

The bleak anxiety of the early Cold War was soundtracked perfectly by Edgard Varèse's Poème électronique - a collaborative multimedia work with Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis for the 1958 World Fair. I remember studying this piece in university - it was amazing to see it with the original accompanying film. Within the context of the exhibition you really understand the intentions of the piece - sparse, minimal texture - fitting for a time of political tension.

In contrast, the utopian Soviet vision is captured perfectly with Shostakovich's Moskva, Cheremushki. The opera has a ridiculous libretto - we were only shown a short clip during the show, but it featured a couple dreaming of a modern lifestyle in a tower block where their every convenience would be realised. Well, convenience - within the confines of the Soviet view of utopia. I would love to get my hands on the filmed ballet version that was shown during the exhibition - it needs to be seen to be believed.

Both composers were reacting to the world in which they found themselves. For Shostakovich, his art was forcibly shaped - the Soviet regimes used creative culture to further their agendas, and were persuasive to achieve their goals. As with the other pieces in the exhibit, the political climate clearly had influence over design. And in turn, the artists, composers, architects and designers all gave back fantastic inspired work, in spite of the horror of the time. 

A highly recommended must see!

5.12.08

Mimosa: The Colour of '09


As reported by Creative Review, nothing says "fuck you - credit crunch" more than a champagne inspired pantone swatch to bring in the new year. Fabulous.

4.12.08

Doing A Moby


Climatechanger brought this article to my attention - regarding the use of music in advertisements.

The piece is an interview with Bethany Klein from University of Leeds, who has written the soon-to-be-published As Heard on TV: Popular Music in Advertising.

I have often thought it odd that people criticise artists for allowing their music to appear in ads, accusing them of "selling out". To me it is no different than having your music played on commercial radio - which exists solely for the purpose of selling airtime to advertisers. Although your music may not be directly linked to one product, the intention still remains - you provide the interstitial soundtrack to blocks of ad space. Obviously there are products that I would never have my music associated with - but there are also radio stations where I would rather my music was not performed.

One section of this interview stood out to me. It follows a discussion on Moby's whore complex over the licensing of every track from Play:

MM - In your paper, you also quote a journalist who identified the “pragmatic reason that electronic music is making an instantaneous leap to commercials and soundtracks: No one else will play it.”

Klein: Yeah, that’s true. Historically, if you look at the terms of constructed authenticity in popular music, you’ll find that Moby gets out of certain aspects of it because it is electronic music; it’s not rock ’n’ roll.

Now this is odd. Are they really insinuating that no one is "playing" electronic music? Surely if this were the case the medium would not exist - without an audience, there would be no desire to create. And the "constructed authenticity" - are we still having that argument, at a time when electronic music is so prevalent?

Rather it is the versatility of electronic music that makes it so desirable. There is such an abundance of it - in various shapes and forms, that the genre itself is to vast to be generalised in such a way. And consider who is placing the music in ads - young, impressionable tastemakers working in ad agencies, who seek out new music and strive to be the first to use it in the commercial context. 

Of course this isn't a universal rule - there will always be a place for rock'n'roll in advertising - just in time for the next DFS sofa sale.

1.12.08

From Your Fan, G. Brown

I think everyone will agree that this has been quite a hideous autumn for news. Apart from Obama's victory, we have been plagued with a series of horrible headlines - from the shocking violence in Mumbai, to the horror of Baby P's story here in the UK. All on top of the daily deluge of credit crunch malaise.

So with all these pressing domestic and international issues to deal with, surely we can all take heart in the grave interest Gordon Brown seems to be taking in the goings on across the broadcast entertainment media. Is it really necessary, for example, for Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's behaviour to have been discussed in the House of Commons? 

It is no surprise then that Brown is sticking his tuppence into X Factor, with The Times reporting our PM's letter writing talents. Though he might be picking up the pen to write outside of his working hours, I think I'd prefer to know our leaders were busying themselves with the real causes rather than concerning themselves with Simon Cowell's handiwork. 

26.11.08

Malcolm Gladwell


It was fantastic to have the opportunity to hear Malcolm Gladwell speak in London this week.

He is on tour promoting his new book Outliers. In what I think is rather unusual for an author, he appeared at the Lyceum Theatre (why not make money out of the book tour?) - the home of The Lion King. As well as developing great ideas that combine a unique look at popular culture, sociology and psychology, Gladwell is a fantastic story teller - but I wasn't really sure what to expect out of his appearance. 

What we got was a further glimpse into why Gladwell is a master of his craft. His "performance" (for lack of a better way to describe it!) was simple - just him, a podium, and his big ideas. No films, slides or dread PowerPoint - just delicious words.  His stories wove together to deliver his thesis, suspenseful tales that combined his dry humour and novel concepts. While some may criticise Gladwell for belabouring the point, none can argue his expertise at telling tales. Brilliant stuff.

21.11.08

No Music Day


Today - the 21st of November 2008 - is No Music Day. 

Devised by former KLF-frontman (and overall philosophical musical tinker) Bill Drummond, this day is set aside so that we might acknowledge the role that music plays in our lives. A sort-of aural-Lent, the concept strives have us individually recognise our relationship with music simply by giving it up for one day.

I think the concept is genius; in our current mass consumption + devaluation model, our appreciation of music has been tarnished. Days like today force us to think about something very precious in our lives that we take for granted.

On the No Music Day site you are asked to make a pledge as to whether you will - or won't - be observing todays festivities. Personally, I shall - no listening, no humming, no whistling. Unfortunately I can't stop the music in my head, but perhaps by observing today I will gain a better appreciation of the joy of the jukebox in my mind.

18.11.08

Outsiders


"Nothing of value was ever created inside the British music business. It always came from the outside, from outsiders created in the real world. These people, out of necessity, rejection, frustration and talent, and with vision, built their own ark and sailed it alongside and ahead of the music industry. 

In doing so they created their own market. They did their own research and development. They did it, and they still do it, in small clubs, playing in front of a few people, supporting other bands, going up and down the country in little vans. They do it in home-made studios, they do it on MySpace. They don't do it on XFactor."

Johnny Marr - University of Salford Lecture
from The Independent (14th Nov 2008)

I loved this transcript in Friday's Independent. First off, it was just great to get a chance to read some of Johnny Marr's thoughts on the music business. But most of all, I enjoyed how he distills down these long tail concepts.

He goes on to say how we live in a time of "conformity and uniformity" - and I agree that this is perpetuated by shows such as XFactor. I sometimes worry that a whole generation will grow up thinking that the music business alone will validate their talent, that hard work will never pay off unless that judge at the end of the stage gives them their big break.

But as Marr points out, the outsiders carry on. And in the end, it is the outsiders that are inevitably most remembered and revered for what they create.

10.11.08

Division Kent - Melnyk is Behind the Wheel


The enigmatic duo of Division Kent came to my attention in the spring. I was approached by a visionary guy that works with them (and has subsequently introduced me to quite a few great artists, including the talents of Keenhouse) with a request to do a remix.

DK are from Switzerland (bestowing them with immediate interest on my part ... always been fascinated by the Swiss!). They are comprised of the breathy visceral vocals of Andrea B, backed up with the sound of Sky Antinori. Theirs is a dark electropop - with smatterings of Curve and Eurythmics. They've created an atmospheric world - what I expect to find if I were to catch a glimpse behind David Lynch's giant red velvet Twin Peaks curtain ...

I'm not doing many remixes right now - only selecting those that I feel are going to give me some level of creative satisfaction. I was really excited to be able to choose any track from their latest LP - Gravity - to remix. It was simple - "In The Headlights" was undeniably inspirational. A perfect synth line with which to build upon. 

I've recently discovered that "In The Headlights" is one of several tracks on the LP produced by Gareth Jones - a true genius, responsible for some of Depeche Mode and Erasure's finest work. 

You can download the remix for the next few weeks FREE from here:

Gravity is out now. Download it from iTunes.

5.11.08

A New Hope


The BBC news reports of the Obamajubilation this evening featured an American man in London expressing his delight at the election results. "Now I won't have to pretend I'm Canadian when I travel abroad" he exclaimed.

Growing up as a Canadian I have always resented Americans. For the fear they made me feel - as they threatened to test their nuclear weapons over our country, and for the Gulf War that unfolded before our eyes on our television sets. For their ignorance of us - even though we were such close neighbours, and for their imperialism over our culture.

As I left home to see the world I wore my flag, as all Canadians do, to avoid being thought of as American. 

Last night - for the first time - I felt that things could be different. That America could actually become all those things it prides itself on being. For this is the most exciting and inspiring political change in my lifetime - bar the fall of the Berlin Wall. To have a true leader who has the potential to unite and change the world. 

Maybe Obama got in at the right time - as a different choice for a nation on the brink of collapse and fatigued under the incompetence of Bush's administration. But for now, lets assume that America is reaching its tipping point.

Perhaps fittingly it is bonfire night in London. Grey and misty, with fireworks exploding through the night - a bizarre celebration and reminder of a revolutionary from the British past. But maybe tonight it is in honour of a new revolution - a new hope for everyone.

4.11.08

The (Biggest) Competition


The competition ends today.

I hope our american cousins understand the gravity of the power they may choose to wield today. I expect every one of them to be out voting. 

When George W. Bush won the coveted prize - ushering us into the current era of darkness - I let it slip on a technicality. Surely the US populace could see that this man was not fit for such a job - so the chads must be to blame.

But when they made the same mistake four years ago, I realised that the land of the free was misguided. First time lucky - second time, stupid.

This is their last chance to actually prove to the world that the USA can use democracy wisely. If they don't get it right tonight, I'm giving up on America.

Image by Michael Beirut for the Democrat's Artists for Obama initiative

3.11.08

Painting A Vulgar Picture



"Re-issue, repackage, repackage
Re-evaluate the songs
Double pack with a photograph
Extra track and a tacky badge"

A vulgar picture indeed. Morrissey warned against the ills of label control of artists in his epic ode from The Smiths' final studio album - Strangeways, Here We Come.

How bizarre then that Mozzer and Marr have gotten together to endorse the new mega-compilation - The Sound of the Smiths (out next week). Or is it? The Smiths are no strangers to the re-issue. We've already had the Best ... collection.

In fact my first indoctrination of the band was via the odd but utterly marvelous Louder Than Bombs. Odd in that it was a North American creation - released not long after The World Won't Listen - the European selection which was comprised of almost an identical track listing.

No doubt the new cherry-picked-by-the-gods-themselves collection has been slotted in to the release schedule just in time for xmas, and to introduce more of the catalogue to the download market. 

But why not just re-issue the collection of albums? The Smiths were a fantastic album band - The Queen Is Dead sitting very high on my own list of admired perfection. I worry that a new generation of disciples will grow up not knowing of the great song books the band created.

As for the re-mastering, this is a futile and ridiculous effort. Smiths LPs were well produced - Strangeways being a particularly marvelous studio achievement. We know, however, that music is getting louder - people are starting to expect a certain level of oomph from their purchases, which sadly is not from better production methods, but simply from digital mastering. Perhaps the folks at Warner feel that Mozzer just isn't moping loud enough - and have to have him turned up. Does re-mastering actually add value - or is it simply "earbrushing" history - changing the way we may have been meant to hear the music?

When I saw the advert for this new release today, I did get quite nostalgic. I have every Smiths LP and 12" single on vinyl - so glorious, these pieces of plastic have provided infinite inspiration ... not only for the music they hold, but the majesty of their artwork. Detail such as the hidden etchings on the vinyl's inner label ("ARE YOU LOATHESOME TONIGHT?") or simply the minimalist layout over the iconic sleeve - these moments of pop history are destined to be lost forever as we move into the digital age.  

Sadly this was your life.

2.11.08

Cloudbusting


I was perusing Gareth's Bleeps and Booms blog today and read about his recommendation for creating artist and tag clouds from your Last.fm profile.  Very exciting indeed. 

Not as visually stimulating as Wordle - though it does pulse and morph after you have created it - and limited to 50 artists/tags, the concept is still enjoyable nonetheless. And a great way of examining your listening habits.  
 
Mine is a bit messy. According to the code's creator, this is because I tend to listen to similar musical styles - and therefore my cloud is dense, with the relationships between the artists/tags being too tight. Apologies. Old habits die hard.

It reminds me of the old Ishkur's guide - which apart from the brashness of the editorial and the hideous logo font - has often provided me hours of explorational joy.

1.11.08

Sigmund Freud - Analyse This


After a busy week getting the release party together, I had the honour of a visit from Canada from my parents. They don't get the opportunity to visit that often - once a year if I'm lucky, so it was great to have them over.

They are big James Bond fans (as am I ... yes - its true) so we went to the opening night of the new film Quantum of Solace. We all agreed the film was an incredibly adrenaline rush. The only thing missing was the theme song ...

The opening credits of every Bond film has always been a cinematic highlight for me. That classic moment where the scene changes - morphing into the iconic psychedelic title sequence as the theme begins. Who can forget the opening piano to "Nobody Does It Better" - or the twinkling mystery of "Diamonds Are Forever". These songs have been integral to the Bond brand and stand the test of time on their own.

So what has happened lately?? When was our last great Bond theme?

It certainly isn't "Another Way To Die" - from Quantum. I'm not quite sure what David Arnold was thinking - pairing up Alicia Keys with Jack White.  The track is abysmal and instantly forgettable. All noise and no drama - nothing fitting of the intensity of the film. Still, it could have been worse - we could have been blighted by an Amy Winehouse/Mark Ronson charade.

25.10.08

Revolutions - The Launch Party

Set List
Our launch party for Revolutions was held in London last night - Sara and I had a fantastic time with a really great crowd of people. It was also amazing to get to perform "Revolutions" live with Sebastian - he was brilliant.

It has been quite a busy week preparing for the event. Big thanks to Rhonda for all her help in organising everything for us! We couldn't have done it without you.

Photos to follow ...

13.10.08

OurSpace


While I waxed on yesterday about MySpace losing its mojo, the BBC confirms that only 25% of people polled in a recent survey find the networking site to be their favourite place on the web for music.

That is a shocking statistic - considering I would hazard a guess that most people see the brand as being geared towards bands and their fans. But it backs up my thoughts that the platform isn't really working anymore.

The headline of the article is equally perturbing:

"Almost 75% of music pirates would stop if told to by their ISP"

Two points here:

1.) The poll was conducted in a survey of 1500 people. Who out of the sample have NEVER downloaded music without paying? And out of those, who would admit to it? I'm not sure I know anyone in the 20-35 category that haven't downloaded music (or perhaps even a film) for free - whether they would admit to it, is another point. Those in the "pirate" group must then be quite a high percentage.

2.) The fact that it would take a third party company - even one with no legal authority, such as your ISP (in my opinion they are merely a conduit of information - the crime is between the end user and the copyright holder) - to deter the theft, is very interesting. It says a lot about our society's acceptance of being monitored vs. our value for copyright.

Psychologically we do not process the act of downloading music without paying for it as theft - UNTIL we are caught doing it by someone else. Those polled might confess to the illegal download - and thus they recognise that it is "wrong" to do so, but this knowledge alone is not enough to have them change their behaviour. It is too easy to get away with the act, so morally we do not consider it wrong. Much like speeding - if no one is there to see it happen, is it really a crime?

Image by asboluv

12.10.08

InterNetworking


A recent visit to Facebook this week got me thinking about the role of social networking in our modern busy lives.

First off - what a mess Facebook has become.  I have been avoiding it for months now - primarily because the functionality of it was tiresome (have I ever really wanted to be "poked" by anyone I didn't know? or turned into a zombie? hmm). Seeing it this week I was amazed anyone can be bothered with it - the "new" design is a truly shameful cluttered chaos.

For Gaymonkey, social networking has been an amazing tool.  I remember the first time I heard about MySpace - I didn't quite understand why I would need another home on the web when our own was doing so well. However, the direct marketing potential quickly became very clear. Finally we had a platform to interact with lovers of music - and potential fans! The dream of the Long Tail was born ...

But as more social networking sites have popped up, MySpace's power has diminished. Facebook has proven to be more appealing to the less-music conscious masses, and it feels that no one is using MySpace to interact - it is now simply an easy way for a band to have a website.

The big winner at the moment for labels and their fans is Last.fm. Gaymonkey artists have always been involved with the site - and while they started out as more of a digital radio service, their expansion into social networking has been very slick. Here we can actually see who has been listening to our tracks, and then interact with them directly. The potential to build a community of like-minded individuals, passionate about our niche, seems very real. And the library is massive - providing the ultimate on-demand resource. Who needs radio at all anymore?

Whenever I mention Last.fm on this blog, someone emails me about imeem.com, boasting about its superiority. Imeem has nothing that interests me - certainly it caters to a more mainstream american market as it has no presence in the UK. 

A new kid on the block is SoundCloud.  Based around peer-to-peer sharing, the site could prove to be very useful for labels and artists to swap music without using FTP or services like YouSendIt. Although it is a member site, i'm wondering how they will get around potential copyright infringement by joe public ...

The synopsis? as social networking becomes increasingly a part of our lives, the scope for the niche communities to find their own corners of the web to hang out in becomes even more possible. The Long Tail will support those sites to thrive and grow.  And hopefully we won't all lose the ability to interact with each other in the real world ...

Image by rabinal

11.10.08

They Could Be Heroes

"Lyrically though, I'm proud of Falling Down on this album. You mentioned earlier that you thought it was about a comedown from drugs. That song started when I was sitting in my back garden this time last year and there was this beautiful early autumn sunset. I was thinking about all that climate-change bollocks and came to the conclusion that man really is incapable of destroying all this." 
Noel Gallagher, Irish Times

Noel Gallagher was never going to be a poster child for any worthwhile cause.  His small mind seems capable only of the solitary task of spewing forth the same inane drivel - in the form of either his ridiculous opinions, or the regurgitated musical mulch he's been releasing since the mid-nineties.

Certainly if he looked beyond the porch of his country pile, he'd see that man is making quite a dent in his pretty little world.  Then wouldn't it be refreshing if an icon, such as himself, were to stand up and do something about it?  Think of the influence he could have over his legions of fans. 

What if he asked every one of the unwashed masses who attends Oasis' forthcoming worldwide tour to consider taking public transportation to see them - maybe even giving them a discount to do so? Or played some gigs by webcast rather than tour to the far end of the globe by private jet?

Madonna could then take some lessons from old Noel.  I love it when she gets political. Madge likes to talk the talk - just take a peek at her live visuals for "Get Stupid'.  But she suffers from a severe case of cognitive dissonance.  While she wants her fans to seize the moment to save the world, she fails to recognise the damaging effects of her own career - with a massive carbon footprint from not only her travel, but that of her adoring masses.

We need more heroes.  Such a shame that these two continue to fail to grasp the potential of their influence.


7.10.08

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up, Vlad?


It is interesting to see where our leaders move on to once they have received their P45 and leave their seats in office.

Tony has been doing a great turn on the circuit - in between his part time position as advisors for JP Morgan and Zurich. Then there is Al - who may have lost the White House job, but went on to collect his Nobel gong for saving the world in the fight against climate change.

Mr Gore might be tough on carbon - but according to The Times - its Vladimir you want on your side. 

What better way to deal with political retirement than to release your own series of judo DVDs? Certainly Putin isn't getting into home entertainment and media just for the money.  I'd like to think it was simply a goal he'd had as a young child, and now that he hasn't really got the mandate to crush rogue states or order the execution of dissidents with radioactive sushi, he'd prefer to lend us his wisdom on self defense.

Looking forward to seeing how Ms Palin decides to retire ...

Image from Wikipedia

5.10.08

Late Night Music

Our television sets have become burdened with late night music television.  Now and again you might catch a great exclusive video on Channel 4 - but by and large the programming tends to be self indulgent rubbish (cue Jo Whiley/Zoe Ball/Mikita Oliver/Steve Jones et al. fawning over disinterested sweaty greasy arrogant nouveau guitar icon wannabe).

Last night I had the extreme displeasure of catching the tail end of the BT Digital Music Awards. Because we really need another music awards show.  How the nominees - never mind the winners - were chosen has yet to be revealed to me, but the real cringeworthiness of the affair was the blatant propaganda of the inter-award vox pops, where selected artists waxed lyrical about the importance of downloading legally.  Although the message was important, the sheer boredom exhibited by the talent forced - no doubt by their worried record label - to express their supposed thoughts on the matter (clearly from an autocue) detracted somewhat from the impact.

Throw Ferne Cotton's presenting skills into the mix, and I had every reason required to reach for the remote.

2.10.08

Wordle

wordle
Wordle is a little bundle of java joy that set the studio buzzing today.

It analyses your site/blog, and constructs an instant cloud, assigning hierarchy to your most used words. The fun the continues as you get the opportunity to select from a choice of layout, font and colour options.

A glance at my own musings seems to indicate that the words "never" and "bit" are most prominent. Surprising - I thought I was one of those "never say never" people ... 

It does amuse me that "Adele" gets a prime placing top right ...

29.9.08

Who Will Save Us When We Fall?



It is fascinating to watch men in suits panic while the house of cards that they built falls around them ...

I am by no means an economist. But I have a strong interest in politics, and am developing  an even deeper curiosity into the relationship between how our society governs itself and the economic systems we create.

And as a devout liberal social democrat, I should be overjoyed at seeing the events unfold over the past few weeks in the western world markets. Institutions exposed for their ineptitude and greed, resorting to calling for a lifeline from the very governments that habitually shun regulation. Administrations rushing to reach into the coffers to bail out the financial system that has fed them. Unfortunately, the governments in charge of fixing the problems are no better than the ones who caused them in the first place.

Have we not learned from these mistakes before?
Apparently not.
This is Revolutions - the perpetual cycle of history.

Image by Hobo

25.9.08

Time

This week is feeling a bit overwhelming - too much to do, and too little time to get things done. Thus I feel I have broken the subtle vows of blogging by slacking off the past week and not writing. What would Jerry say?

Just returned from a great trip to Stockholm - to visit with Sara and get a bit of headspace before the release of the album. This has been a bit of a crazy year for us - with not a lot of time to see each other.  So it was fantastic to be back in Sweden and enjoy the autumn.

Revolutions is out now on iTunes as a bit of a pre-release. We aren't shouting about it ... there are quite a few things in store over the next 2 months to promote the album.  Including the limited edition CD version (which can already be preordered at the Gaymonkey Shop).

The limited edition disc comes in a numbered double gatefold vinyl sleeve. Its our way of giving an acknowledgment to the ultimate album format, which sadly we have never been able to release. But also to make CD packaging more sustainable, by making a collectable format rather than a disposable plastic jewel case.

There are only 1000 copies - once they are gone, the CD format will be deleted.

10.9.08

Gong Show

Reasons to be frustrated by the Mercury Prize:

1. The most deserving band never wins. In fact looking at the victors list since the prize was launched, of the winners only Portishead - Dummy would have won my vote. 

2. Leftfield artists that don't stand a chance in hell get nominated, but of course never win. Kind of like poor Malta in Eurovision.

3. Could they just GIVE RADIOHEAD AN AWARD? It wouldn't kill them. The fact that OK Computer was trumped by anyone - never mind Roni Size - was bad enough. To be nominated four times, and then not win - even with the slightly-lesser brilliant (but still remarkable) In Rainbows, indicates that there is some sort of injustice.

4. Despite these indiscretions, it is the last UK award of musical merit that is vaguely noteworthy. That doesn't stop some nominees from taking this piss by leaving their £20k cheque in the toilets, or not bothering to show up.

5. It - like all these things - has to be sponsored by a bank.

and finally ...

6. They continue to allow Brit School luvvies into the hat - Adele?  Please ...

9.9.08

Italo-vogue


Vogue has released its list of what's hot this autumn.
And at number 5 - italodisco.

Fabulous.

3.9.08

"Revolutions EP" by Melnyk


Today is the official worldwide release date of the new single. Pleased to be able to finally release "Revolutions "to the world.

Having my first new material out in over a year is quite an interesting feeling. I've worked so hard for this album, just as I did for Silence - only this time I suppose we have so much more experience of the music industry and how all the pieces of the puzzle fit around a release. Still, I feel like we are moving yet again into new territory - the business has changed so much in the past 3 years, that anything could happen with this record. 

"Revolutions" was about the third track that I wrote when I started putting songs together for my second album.  I knew I wanted to do something with more of a traditional pop song form, which Silence had touched on but never fully explored. 

One night, shortly after I started working on the instrumental, I was out with Fonteyn, and he took me to a bizarre basement members club off Regent Street to see this new band he was in love with.  The group were Heartbreak, fronted by this charismatic moustachioed Argentinian. They delivered a dark set of original italo inspired electro, fitting for the odd surroundings. And his voice stood out to me to be something entirely special. I knew he would be the one to collaborate with on this new track.

Last summer Sebastian came to my studio to try out some vocals.  We actually started with "Want It Now" - which I invited him to write the lyrics for and used as a bit of a test to see how well we would work together.  He was brilliant - I knew straight away that he was the one for "Revolutions". 

I then went off traveling for a few weeks to India, and actually wrote the lyrics in the back of a car somewhere between Delhi and Agra. Its funny where inspiration takes you! The melody had been firmly planted in my head for weeks - I just didn't know what the song was really about. Perhaps it was all that rich colonial history ... or maybe Ghandi? 

On my return Sebastian came back to the studio and we finished the recording in the afternoon.

There are so many meanings to the song - I explored a bit of them in a previous post. Just as the word has many connotations, so does the track itself. But I guess I can leave it up to the listener to decipher for themselves.

"Revolutions EP" is out now via all the best download merchants.
Including, of course, iTunes.


Melnyk - Revolutions - EP - Revolutions

30.8.08

Crazy P - Stop Space Return

It's been a long, long time since I got excited about an album. It seems like people aren't focusing on the format at all right now (and if Bill Drummond, oh wise sage, has anything to do with it, the LP is on its way to the grave ... )

A few weeks ago I was sent the new Crazy P album "Stop Space Return" (having dropped the "penis" in some sort of bizarre symbolic castration ...). They've moved from one classic label (Paper) to another (2020 Vision) but they are still fantastic.  And this new album does not disappoint.

What I look for in an album is continuity - both in sound and in form. I want to be guided by the music from track to track - just as a novel guides you from chapter to chapter. The version I received was via MP3 and the tracks were out of order - I could tell from the first listen (and the fact that the last track has a huge space to lead you to the ubiquitous bonus track). Once rearranged the genius was revealed.

A collection of fantastic discopop ("Love On The Line"), with even a smattering of dark deep house ("Caught Up"). Though they tread somewhat on the line of commercial house, what I love about them is their ability to create their own take on disco that is fresh and relevant. "Lie Lost" could have been made for heavy rotation at the Loft - with its comped piano chords and delicious strings. Check out the Maurice Fulton mix for even more nostalgia ...

It really is the summer of the return of disco.  Fantastic.

Go to 2020 Vision's page to get a free download of Lenny Annex's equally brilliant mix of "Laid Lost"


27.8.08

Long Tail Epiphany Pt 2: Sharing Lessons Learned


I've been constructing this post in my head for several months now - longer than I've been blogging actually. Reading The Long Tail - and recent experience of our music being shared across the blogosphere - has helped me to finally come to some sort of position.

People always ask me how I feel about the apparent death of the music industry and people downloading music for free. I've always had the same response - copyright needs to be respected. And I still firmly believe that.

I have a friend named Duncan who is constantly making mix CDs for his friends.  Every time you see Duncs, he is sure to have some new tunes to share by some esoteric artist that he has plucked from the net. He is a true maven - getting delight from sharing his discoveries. The same goes for bloggers like Mark and Raj. What these guys have in common is their respect and love for the music they shout about. 

That support and acknowledgment of respect - to me - is worth so much more than the loss of 37p net revenue for an iTunes download. I think most artists who battle constantly to get their music heard would agree with this.

The internet has changed consumption. It is now easier to get what we want, when we want it. Instant gratification. Without mavens in this world of infinite choice, most people wouldn't be exposed to all the fantastic music that is being made that might be considered niche or leftfield. Sharing has always been part of the culture of alternative music - technology has now just made that more of a global possibility, and I find that quite exciting.

In a fitting post script, I've heard Muxtape has been shut down ...

Image by beta product on Flickr

26.8.08

All I Want for Xmas ...


It may be months away (though the London weather would tell you otherwise), but these little gems are the perfect gift for Melnyk this xmas.

I'd also like an ensemble of tiny musicians to play them please.

17.8.08

Two Pop Birthdays

Two big birthdays this weekend.  Madonna, and the compact disc.

Both are entering their twilight years ... and while we once marveled at their brilliance, they are starting to lose their lustre.

Wired gives three excellent reasons why the CD is on its way to retirement.  I've ranted on a bit about these reasons before - but they are worth repeating again. 

12.8.08

Long Tail Epiphany Pt 1: The Death of Distribution


I've been delving deeper into the concept of the Long Tail - which is proving to offer me multiple epiphany moments.  Anyone working in the music industry that hasn't read it should - in fact, I have a feeling most major label suits have read it - and it scares them shitless.

One of the laws of the Tail is to "Democratize Distribution". In the digital world of infinite choice, the old rule of the industry does not apply - physical distribution is no longer the key to reaching your audience.

When Gaymonkey launched we worked hard to find a distributor. We were rejected by many of them because we didn't have the sound they were looking for (which puzzled me greatly - what did a distributor know about what music people wanted to listen to - surely there is an audience for everything?). But when Silence started to get a lot of attention, the distributors came to us.

We thought we had it made - the door was unlocked - finally people could get our music. And at the same time we had made some strong decisions around our digital presence. Things were great.

But soon I realised it wasn't going to be so rosy. Distributors don't just sell your music - they control it to maximise their profit potential. To sell more units, they strive to push your catalogue into "the curve" - the mass market space everyone has traditionally battled to be in. Selling a few units a week to stores is too time consuming to them - they need you to have a hit, or you aren't worth their time. 

So in true freakenomics fashion, they force albums into big retailers hands (HMV, Virgin, Fopp, Play.com) - the distributor makes money on initial units shipped - even if it is returned, they still keep their cut, while the labels are forced to foot the bill. The label loses out, and so does the artist.

It was suggested by our distributor that we were "too niche". They worked hard to get all their albums into the curve, and we needed to be there too. Last year they went bankrupt.  So did Fopp. Virgin has gotten out of its music retail division, and HMV has significantly trimmed down its inventory to focus on games and compilation CDs that they can flog at high volume over xmas. Maybe the curve isn't so great after all. 

In our new world of democratized distribution, the label and artist controls the release schedule. We still work closely with our digital distributor to plan our releases, but there is no pressure to modify our catalogue or promote within the curve. Because in the Long Tail niche is respected - and in the end the listener has the infinite choice.

Image by noseacuerdan on Flickr

9.8.08

Cover Me


It really is all about recycling these days.

The age of the cover song is back.  In the golden years of rock'n'roll it wasn't uncommon for bands to cover each other - often only a few months after a track had been released by the original artist.  But in these modern times, sampling has been the preferred method of recycling old material.  The worst offender, of course, being Kanye West, who consistently insists on barking his inane rubbish over the top of records (including putting his stamp all over Daft Punk - with their express permission, something I'm not sure I can ever reconcile ...).

The problem relates, I believe, to the musical education of the masses. The kids that consume the rehashed hits have no idea that the music they are based upon was previously a success of its own.  

There is no excuse, however, for the handbag hard house trance cover of eighties classics. During a beach cafe breakfast in Ibiza I was subjected to several monstrosities - including a european vocal treatment at 140bpm of Ultravox's  "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes".  My gym insists on playing "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" by Chicago - as covered by some band called Aquagen - who have simply quadrupled the tempo and thrown a snare and synth overtop of Peter Cetera.

On the very, very rare occasion you are reminded of a dance version of a classic that truly becomes a slice of genius that stands up on its own.  Maybe its my love of the Boss, or perhaps just the joy of the wood block, but recently (whilst enjoying the sounds of Thursday nights at the Joiners Arms) I was reacquainted with Natalie Cole's late eighties cover of Pink Cadillac and experienced a disco epiphany of my own.




Photo of Recycled Records from pb031 on Flickr

2.8.08

Long Tail and the Ego


Seth has been talking alot again lately about the Long Tail.

This is something I think that the music industry really needs to re-consider (or, indeed, think about for the first time ... ). With its obsession on chart hits, and the make-or-break mentality that plagues new artists on big labels, the industry has forgotten all about the Long Tail.

Seth hits it right on the head when he points out that the mass market is "where ego meets profit". Its the place where your distributor wants to put your album - where they urge you to increase advertising spend to get racking at HMV or (heaven forbid) Tesco. And where you might be convinced to pitch your music just to satisfy your own ambition.

Music can exist perfectly within the Long Tail. If you have 5000 fans on MySpace, show them the love. Forget about the Top 40. You're in better company with the other artists who are producing genius material but have never had to deal with the tribulations of a souless, unforgiving mass market. And you have the space to make your own music remarkable - without the pressure of conforming to a trend.

Will Page - Chief Economist for MCPS-PRS - disagrees with the theory of the Long Tail being applied to the industry.  See what he has to say here.

24.7.08

Taxman


Everyone is talking about the proposed £30 annual “licence fee” for internet users to mitigate illegal downloading of music (and possibly films). The money generated from this scheme – which would be charged via your ISP subscription – would then be distributed to labels and publishers to help fill the void in sales revenue. Users would then be free to download and P2P share as much music as they wanted.

There are several fundamental flaws in this “solution”:

1.) It does not tackle the behaviour change required by consumers of music. The message this sends to people that are illegally downloading is that it is now ok to do so – for the paltry sum of £30 a year. 

2.) There will therefore be no reason for anyone to legitimately buy music – shops like iTunes and Beatport will inevitably be forced to close. These stores help artists to grow by profiling them, giving them editorial space and helping people to discover new music.

3.) Those that have never downloaded music before will have to pay what is essentially a tax. ISPs would have to administer the charge – why would anyone agree to pay this if they objected to what they saw as an unfair tax? 

4.) The revenue will be distributed based on popularity. Therefore the labels with the most popular artists (presumably “most popular” will based on actual sales) will receive a larger slice of the pie, regardless of whether or not they should be due compensation for loss of sales.

Clearly the big labels will opt for this as it will be additional revenue in their pocket. But it will not address the cultural problem that we are creating in de-valuing music and the people that work very hard to create it. The music industry needs to consider behaviour change tactics for its customers and seriously reconsider the value it is providing to the consumer in its product. We need more innovation, and less intimidation!

22.7.08

Thugfucking


I'm not even sure where it was that I first heard Thugfucker.

I think I had been bouncing aimlessly around MySpace, and simply stumbled across their page. If I hear something I like, I tend to add the band as a favourite to check back with later. You couldn't forget their name - definitely memorable.  

Since then I have been loving their work immensely.  They have done one of my favourite mixes for the brilliant Dirty Dancing label (Compuphonic - Analog Sparkles) and with each new track they produce, they gain respect. Theirs is a special take on electrodisco - one that makes no apologies for use of melody (so rare in the electro genre!).  All wrapped up with an impressive splash of funk.

So it is with great pleasure that we can reveal their remix of "Revolutions". Sensitive to the original, but with its own joy - this is one of my favourite commissions since Gaymonkey was launched.

Check out Thugfucker on Myspace - and look out for their debut album ...

Melnyk - "Revolutions (Thugfucker Remix)"
taken from Revolutions EP
out 1st September
Gaymonkey (GAY26)










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15.7.08

Coffee Table Music

"Designer lives. Designer films. Designer music." 

Thus proclaims The Guardian (Friday 11th July) in their analysis of thirtysomething lifestyles. The thesis? As we get older, we lose our edge.  We begin to consume, shall we say, more highbrow fare that is easy on the ear or eye.  And with music, the "coffee table" genre is born.

Music that you put on in the background to set a mood. Stuff The Guardian reviews. Bands you might hear at the Latitude Festival.

There is no need to apologise about the coffee table music in your collection.  In fact, as I was reading the article, Sigur Rós's 'Untitled 3' came onto the pod, followed by The Beloved. Attributes such as melody, a downtempo pace, and artistic integrity tend to get bands tossed into the genre (just look at every Mercury Prize winner for the past five years ... pre-Klaxons of course).

Maybe I'm just being defensive.  Gaymonkey did deliver Ebb to the world, after all.

Ebb - "When Dusk Begins"
taken from Loona 
Gaymonkey (GAY17)








12.7.08

Dancing to Save the World


Design Week reports the launch of a yet another venture to save the world - this time, we're going to do it by dancing.

New London club Surya opened this week - the city's first "eco-nightclub" - by an organisation called Club4Climate. Alongside serving organic and fairtrade beverages in surroundings furnished from recycled materials, the venue features a dance floor that can generate electricity from people dancing.

Although the idea sounds intriguing, and I agree that all venues need to examine their energy use and procurement to do their part, my immediate reaction is that Surya will go the way of most of London's expensive concept clubs. People won't give a monkeys about the magic dancefloor or the sustainability of the venue - clubbing in London is all about location, who is playing, and where your mates are going.

My replusion at the whole idea is actually centred around Club4Climate's ten point mission statement, which sounds like it has been ripped out of some early nineties rave manual and is about as effective at saving the planet as Madonna and JT's latest call to arms. The whole cause is being championed by Austin Powers' cast reject Dr Earth - the sustainability movement needs icons, but Dr Earth certainly isn't the posterchild we have been looking for.

Club4Climate are also promising a "eco-friendly holiday destination" island, which further points to the likelihood that the whole venture is one giant, opportunistic, greenwashed turd.