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


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 --

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


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.