Chemicals for breakfast, Deja Vega, Ian Svenonius, Melody Gardot, Olivia Neutron John, Pentagrams, Psyence, Sleaford Mods, Stupid things that mean the world, The Band of Holy Joy, The Currency of Man, The Land of Holy Joy, Tim Bowness, XYZ, Zebra
WARNING: INDUSTRY BACKED NAPS NOT FEATURED. THIS IS A PAYOLA-FREE ZONE
Sleaford Mods, Tunbridge Wells Forum. 2nd April
The last gasp before the world would be different. The culmination of the tour that altered their path, their hard-work and no-nonsense approach would see them play Glastonbury to a half-full tent of curious would-be-converts, cover for Iggy Pop on BBC’s Radio 6 and become the (not always comfortably) go-to-spokesmen du jour for society’s disenfranchised. Oh, and they managed to further get the goat of Britpop troll Banal Gallagher. Nice.
The packed out Forum saw another incendiary performance, ever-full of atavistic anger, apathy and alienation, the band reflecting the crowd’s uncertainty of their place in everyday life. Always challenging, never contemptuous or complacent. The world awaits the next move.
Tim Bowness, Tufnell Park, 26th August
Back in the olden days, before craft beer and bloated bellies of yeast there was crafted music, music put together with feeling and verity. Tim Bowness is that practitioner. Erstwhile member of Porcupine Tree and No-Man, his voice (LIVE!) is more dominant and arresting than on record, with the band sound evocative of the 1980s ‘Big Music’ (c.f. The Waterboys, Big Country). Expansive and elegiac.
‘Sing to me’ off this year’s Stupid things that mean the world is a song that Coldplay-dough-boy Chris wishes he could excrete, this song encapsulating the melancholy lacking in those cry-babies-by-rote. It’s a topsy-turvy state of affairs.
Deja Vega, Shiiine On Weekender, Butlins Minehead, 6th – 9th November
‘Sonic architecture in excelsis’ is how Christopher Wren would have described this performance by the criminally unsigned Deja Vega. A freakpower-trio second to none delivering an aural assault on all and in every sense. Cacophonous creativity does not come better than this, LIGHTS! CHIMERA! ACTION! The risk of whiplash is ominous when witnessing, the neck-breaking machine-gun thuds rendering the viewing victim incapacitated. Every ending a beginning. Newcomers to the band evidently enthralled, evincing ecstasy and elation. End of.
Innovative, imaginative and indispensable. Have I mentioned these before …?
Psyence, Shiiine On Weekender, Butlins Minehead, 6th – 9th November
Topping their set at Hoxton’s Bar & Grill in January Potteries-dwelling Psyence took control of a 1000 strong throng delivering a masterclass of poise, power and performance. Frontman Steven Pye the epitome of the pin-up, basking in the lights, commanding and charming, resembling the love-child of Frank Zappa and George Harrison (21st century psyence, innit?) backed by a superior tri-pronged heavy-rock chug of expertly moulded clay, worthy of Henry ‘Gimme’ Moore. Confounding, captivating and classy, ignore the also-ran psycho-nots, back a thoroughbred pstallion.
The appliance of Psyence, makes perfect psense. Psygn up, get on board and take that trip.
Melody Gardot, Royal Festival Hall, London 17th November
As part of the 2015 London Jazz Festival, chanteuse Melody Gardot played at the brutalist environs of the Royal Festival Hall, a venue at odds with the ‘Gattaca-ambience’ inside, where the sterile compartments contain a wall-of-sound. Her latest album Currency of Man is an intelligent and documentarian look at the state of things, the social issues that appal us all. Her peripatetic upbringing a clear influence in her art.
A collective endeavour and infinitely more than the muzak coffee table mulch that arises every year (you know who they are), the set deftly fluctuates between torch songs to politically charged missives of anger and frustration. Gardot’s oeuvre is a miasma of styles: every song telling a story, every reaction a creation.
The Band of Holy Joy, 12th December
This multi-layered ensemble have been in existence for over 30 years incorporating numerous influences and styles with ever-present themes of NOW. None more so than on the new, marvellous album The Land of Holy Joy.
This intimate gig in the cavernous underbelly of Farringdon’s Betsey Trotwood is predominantly an airing of the album, North Eastern émigré Johny Brown’s lyrically elliptical tales of witnessed events and autobiographical psycho-geographical exploits of inner-space and outer-place. The set also featured Easy Listening’s ‘There was a fall/The Fall’ a tale of social injustice namely the horrific and unlawful death at the hands of our boys in blue of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson in 2009, an uncomfortable listen for an uncomfortable story.
Still ‘manic, magic and majestic’ after all these years, this band can and will change your world. Repent and exhort ‘hallelujah!’
Ian Svenonius (Escapism) supported by Olivia Neutron John, Powerlunches, 16th December
The mercurial polymath smash-landed in the place where culture goes to wither, Dalston, at the soon-to-be ‘degenerated’ Powerlunches, a small yet large enough space for Svenonius to once more rip up and reassemble rock’s rules, regulations and rigmarole, his rehearsed/off-the-cuff routine the stuff of renown. Convention reinvention. Cliché enthusiasts look on bemused.
Dispensing seemingly abstract observations that pick at the scabs of modern times, he rails at the illusory beneficial changes to landscape, the psychic damage caused by road works, rapacious vulture-capitalists and the distraction-inaction of global sports. Supported by the Fluxus inspired ONJ this spectacle-happening is a depressing reminder of the banal and ordinary that will predictably dominate end-of-year lists. Furthermore, invest wisely in his new tome Censorship Now!!
‘America is neither dream nor reality. It is a hyperreality. It is a hyperrality because it is a utopia which has behaved from the very beginning as though it were already achieved. Everything here is real and pragmatic, and yet it is all the stuff of dreams too … The Americans, for their part, have no sens of simulation. They are themselves simulation in its most developed state, but they have no language in which to describe it, since they themselves are the model’
Jean Baudrillard, America (1988, p28)
‘Neoliberal economics favour the already rich and those rich in assets. This means, in an economy bulked out on the steroids of quantitative easing, older people. Meanwhile, for the young – whether of the precariat or those lucky enough to get into the stable workforce of corporate America – the debt accumulated while gaining the essential passport to middle-income status – a degree – serves as a lifetime drag on asset wealth.’
Reading this piece by Paul Mason on the US’s dwindling ‘middle-classes’ once the bedrock of the ‘Dream’ evoked these memories and provoked these musings.
Having worked at a private, fee-paying London-based US university for 12 years I witnessed first-hand the appalling debt-bind most of the students faced upon embarking on, doing and finishing their degrees. From approximately £5000 per term (three classes) to living arrangements (housing provided by the University was at least £2000 a term) the majority of students would leave close to $100,000 in debt, all by their mid-20s. And this is all before a new life of post-study is entertained, bills, taxes and financial misery awaits. Cogs in the machine forever looking over their shoulder for the wolf at the door.
In effect the system has got you for life, no hiding place, with data ever more harvested, collated and logged, there will be nowhere to disappear, if you wish to stay alive that is.
The same philosophy has been introduced in the UK, proffer the notion of higher education being a stepping-stone and a means of bettering yourself, charge extortionate amounts of money thus tying the individual for life. A bleak existence.
The academic standards have slipped as a result because monetisation means if you have the funds then regardless of levels of intelligence, aptitude and application then you will be accepted and given every opportunity to ‘pass’, the customer is always right. It’s no surprise that the students I encountered who came from hyper-wealthy backgrounds treated the whole time as one big party (and why not that’s what students do isn’t it?). This disparity is evident from the onset, an early warning of what lies ahead. The have-nots becoming the will-ever-nots.
Is this the American Dream? Stuff of nightmares more like. As Mason says, these conditions serve to create a ‘fragmenting consensus’, where once communities were united by industry, a sense of local pride, the collapse of certainties and security = divided peoples = open to exploitation and malfeasance. Hence the folk-devil Trump’s ascent, the stooge and front-man, for whom, remains to be revealed.
Anyone would think it’s connected and deliberate. As one of the comments below Mason’s piece astutely remarks ‘the ghost of Willy Loman hovers over the US’ and the rest of us.
Exterminate, eradicate, evaporate all those nasty terror stains.
Herald the P.M. Porcineophile, the great war leader, channeling his piggy predecessor Churchill, surrounded by his piglets, all squealing their acquiescence, fearful of their political shelf-life, staged concern, rehearsed lines, the platform, rallying cries from the back-seat front-line fudging Generals, Manichean rhetoric, scurrilous slandering of any questioning, Bushist polarisation, good vs bad, us vs THEM, cloaked totalitarianism , terror-torial positioning. Laugh it off.
Auntie Beeb, Big Mother, bastion of veracity presents the ‘facts’:
1. Bomb Syria in order to protect British citizens.
2. Don’t bomb Syria in order to protect British citizens.
How to think? Oh, I’m not supposed to.
And the propagandist Metro’s daily ‘war on Daesh’ despite the King of NLP stating that there is no link. Cognitive dissonance, symbols and signifiers, dichotomy, it;s all around me now .
‘It’s tempting to dismiss this as an overreaction to a harmless ad (or as old hat, since Orwell said something similar before). But Eisenstein makes a convincing case that it matters. When daily life requires turning a blind eye to the falsity of countless things we’re told, it weakens the power of language to sort truth from fiction. “Increasingly, words don’t mean anything any more,” he writes. “Because we are lied to all the time, in ways so routine they are beneath conscious notice, even the most direct lies are losing their power to shock.” Unwittingly, we grow more tolerant of untruths and semi-truths, making it easier (among other things) for our political leaders’ dubious schemes to pass without serious challenge.’
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Friday 26th May 2017, University of Sheffield
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