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.


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.



"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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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.