Friday, 25 February 2011

Odd Future

"Quality. Cause motherfuckers are bored." I remember the words on the back of Def Jux Presents Volume 1 like they were burned on to my retina. That was 2002. In 2011, Def Jux has ceased to be the centrifugal force that it once was, lucky then that something new has just come to relieve the boredom.

Odd Future is the most exciting crew I have seen in ages. Tyler the Creator, Hodgy Beats, Earl and co are more like a punch in the face than a breath of fresh air. The internet is currently convulsing with debates about the near-the-knuckle lyrical content in the songs from the artists within the OF crew. Actually, they're not so much near the knuckle as leeches devouring the whole hand for the fuck of it. Even given that, all of this: "Oh are they sick, man? Are they real man? That guy Tyler is a faker man, thumbs up if you agree" bullshit is missing the point though. OF are so much more than the sum of their nasty words.

Lyrically OF are fucked up, there is no questioning that. As the saying goes though, it ain't what you talk about drugs and rape it’s the way you do it. On the bands wiki page that they have consistently denied being horrorcore when anyone tries to stick them with that label, and it doesn't come as a huge surprise. Trying to pin them down to something as limited as horrorcore does OF a severe disservice. Listening to Necro and the other doyens of the horrorcore scene was a cold experience. Behind the aggressive lyrical fronting, there was nothing else to grab onto, no substance or reason to care about whether what you were hearing was real or just calculated posturing. Listening to OF is completely different. They are the sound of youthful intelligence running buckwild; intelligence and personality seeping out of every syllable. It's not just about being controversial, it's about expressing the maelstrom of emotion and thoughts any kid worth paying attention to will undoubtedly feel. OF have personalities enormous enough to make the whole circus of dirty beats, sexual aggression and frequent vomiting in videos seem like a natural extension of themselves.

Everything that justifies OF to be as gloriously fucked up as they are was encapsulated in their recent performance on Jimmy Fallon. Tyler and Hodgy both appeared on stage in balaclavas: Tyler in Green with an upside-down cross on the forehead, Hodgy in black, minus the satanist imagery but no less menacing for it. After thirty seconds of Sandwitches the space around Hodgy and Tyler is so thick with malevolent energy Jimmy Fallon and the keyboard player from The Roots look nonplussed for a second, before they wisely come to the conclusion they are witnessing the first flush of two genii. It's not even a slight exaggeration to say that this is as striking a performance as At The Drive-In performing One Armed Scissor live on Letterman. The best part is though, behind all this craziness, OF just don't give a fuck. The giveaway comes at 1 minute 23 seconds when Hodgy can't stop himself cracking up after Tyler juxtaposes a line about aspiring to be Jeffrey Dahmer with breaking garden gnomes. As soon as the song ends Tyler jumps on Fallon's back with a grin the size of Texas and sticks his tongue even longer. OF are vibrant, alive, exhausting, thrilling, ugly, beautiful and fucked up. Everything young kids making music of any kind should be, but almost never are.

For any of you out there still debating about whether or not OF are for real or not, or whether to take them seriously, shut up. To those shying away from the lyrics, you're missing the point. OF matter. It's that simple. If they weren't worthy of your attention they wouldn't have it. They are the antidote to the boring autotune and bling bullshit spreading through hip hop like a virus. Stop questioning it and get on board.




Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bullshit apprenticeships

You know that quote from Goebbels about the big lie? Let us recap: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

We have come to a place in politics now which is directly influenced by Goebbels' cynical machinations. The Tories have evolved to realise the power that slick PR can have in implementing an unpalitable agenda. This is not a new phenomenon though, PR and spin have been a reality of politics since Kennedy marketed himself into the Whitehouse almost 50 years ago now. The only difference is the agenda and the scale of subterfuge attempted. Call me Dave and his gang are pushing through a cynical programme to break up the influence of the state more radical than anything attempted by Thatcher. To touch on a theme explored in an excellent article by George Monbiot, the conservatives of 2011 have learned that if you really want to hammer the poor to make the rich even richer, you don't shout and scream about it. You do it quietly with concerned yet warm look on your face. Tell them how you feel their pain, and wish there was another way, but there just isn't. Concilliation not confrontation. It works best of all if you can actually make people believe that the slap in the face you are handing them is for their own good.

While George wrote in the article above about the cynical dealings behind the scenes to make life easier for the rich and powerful, I want to talk about the other side of the coin. When a situation born out of contempt for the average person is marketed as being a great opportunity. In a word, apprenticeships. Apprenticeships, when used correctly, can be an excellent path to a stable career for the apprentice, and a way of allowing employers to invest in the kind of skilled workforce it needs while boosting productivity in a way not achievable through purely academic training. This has been a successful model in sectors like construction, engineering, plumbing, design etc for hundreds of years. And while it is true that Labour helped to create a stigma about vocational qualifications like apprenticeships during its regime, the need to rehabilitate apprenticeships is now being seized for more devious ends by the current Tory-led government.

Endless media campaigns are now flooding the local press all across Britain, and creeping into the nationals and broadcast media too; all telling us about the scandal of bias against apprenticeships. About how learning on the job is wonderful. No student-loan debt for today's savvy apprentices, thank you very much! Endless heads of chambers of commerce and college principles are falling over themselves to wax lyrical about vocational training. The thing is though, doesn't it depend on the vocation?

If your apprenticeship is setting you up with the skills to be a valuable resource in the labour market, giving you a trade and a career, then that's great. More and more though apprenticeships are being created in areas where they don't belong, as a way for employers to expolit their staff by not paying them the going rate. How would you like to be an apprentice in a call centre for example? Earning £95 a week (about two pounds an hour) for a job that would be miserable even if it paid ten times that amount. It doesn't stop there either. Apprentice administrator anyone? How about a pre-apprenticeship? That's right, a pre-apprenticeship. Unemployed people are now being offered the chance to volunteer on schemes lasting anything up to six months at the end of which they might get an apprenticeship if they do well enough. Yesterday I even saw an article about an apprentice street cleaner (local council's are being encouraged to participate in this apprenticeship revolution as the money saved on paying staff humane wages can be used to squeeze a few more miles out of our wonderful age of austerity).

How much is an NVQ Level 2 qualification to answer the phone to people having problems with their Virgin Media accounts really worth? I'll tell you, less than the paper its written on. All that 'qualifies' you to do is work in a call centre. The kind of basic training which used to be provided at a reasonable wage is now being sold to you as an opportunity you should be grateful to be given £2 an hour to participate in. So in 2011 what have we learned? That Goebbels clearly wasn't quite as good a liar as our man Dave. You don't hide an unpalatable truth from the people, silly. You give it a different name and tell them its a wonderful new dawn. Doublespeak never looked so good.

To learn more about the government's push on apprenticeships, visit http://www.apprenticeships.org.uk/

Friday, 17 December 2010

Headache

Playing Halo: Reach till 2am last night,
My own fault
Headache comes on thick and tense,
Brain snap crackles and pops

Clumsily claim the last cheese and pickle roll
from the sandwich guy who comes round the office,
"Only vegetarian thing...can I...have?"
Words departing, replaced by gummed-up stupid

Damn I want my head back,
Without the ache.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Shower gel and sexy funk

Just to get you up to speed, two things sparked off this blog entry: one, dancing like an idiot around my room to Big Boi's latest album and two, using Original Source black pepper and cardomom shower gel. In the shower that is, not in combination with the dancing and music.

In the shower I was faced with the choice of two shower gel options, the nice winter cardomom stuff or lime and tea tree. I had a brief thought that the lime and tee tree might work as something to take the edge off the horrendous cold weather that London has been having. It may well seem painfully obvious to anyone reading this, but the kind of light Brazilian bossa fantasies that flashed through my mind when I was making the crucial shower gel decision don't really work in the depths of winter. Black pepper and cardomom definitely wins the day. Then, in a fairly inspired piece of musical synesthesia I thought of two albums I have been listening to a fair bit in recent months, each one corresponding to one of the shower gel options. The lime and tea tree is an excellent collection of German-Brazillian crossover house music mixed by the perma-genius Rainer Truby, called Glucklich Vol.3, the black pepper and cardomom is Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi.

I love the kind of music that weaves inbetween latin, jazz and more traditional European house styles, so when I came across Glucklich three months ago it was a dream. Even though the summer was already becoming a distant memory, Truby's picks dominated my stereo like a funkier version of the music bore you find in the corner of all the best parties. Summer does fade however, and with it the pleasure of lime shower gel goes too. Winter requires deeper, dirtier notes to get things moving, whether you find them in soap or audio. So although it was actually released right in the middle of summer, when Big Boi came into my life about a month ago with his dirty winter stank, well, sorry Rainer, but there was no contest.

To cut a long story short, the video below celebrates the kind of butt-naked funk that should be the soundtrack to your Winter. And in case a fortitous google search should bring you here six months late, have some lime-flavoured house on me too.





Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Top 10 albums of the year- and a few more

Album of the year lists are always a bit tricky for me, as I am pretty crap at listening to stuff in the year it comes out. I tend to shy away from stuff that’s being hyped up, then ‘discover it’ on my own terms a few months or years down the line when everyone has moved on. Kind of like the music-nerd equivalent of an urban fox raiding a bin in the dead of night. This year I was a bit more on-point than usual but there was another complication in that 2010 was the best year for music in a long time. Frankly, there was too much stuff for someone as lazy as me to keep up with. To that end I have included a list of honourable mentions for records which I am almost certain I would have loved, but have only heard parts of, or haven’t heard at all yet, and so can’t work out if would be better than the top 10 I have selected. In the case of the Basia Bulat and Roots/John Legend records I gave them a lot of attention and enjoyed them a lot, but not quite as much as the final 10 I picked.

Gorillaz РPlastic Beach РA clear standout for album of the year for me, expansive, daring, stylistically diverse and yet at heart an amazing pop album. Damon Albarn now surely deserves the clich̩ of national treasure.

Caribou – Swim – I read somewhere about this record that it is both the perfect Saturday night and Sunday morning record. That sums up the thing better than anything else I could say.

Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here – Astonishing reinvention from Scott Heron, aided by the head of XL records Richard Russell. I gave the record 9/10 in my review for DiS here http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15097/reviews/4139058

Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise – The best electronic record of the year for me, in a year with tons of outstanding examples of that genre. The thing I loved most about Black Noise was that although minimal and cerebral, warmth radiated from every second of it.

Strong Arm Steady – In Search of Stoney Jackson – My favourite hip-hop record of the year, and part of a vintage year of releases for Stonesthrow.

Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers – Brilliant exploration of the further reaches of dubstep, and very user-friendly for those uninitiated in the ways of bass music.

Big Boi – Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty – This album would almost be worth including in the list for the fact that it contains one of the songs of the year in Shutterbug alone, but the fact that the rest of the album is awesome seals the deal.



Scuba – Triangulation – Really, there isn’t more than a thin and curly hair between this and the other electronic albums in this selection, but purely in terms of the fact that Triangulation has spent slightly less time on rotation in my stereo it has the lowest position of the four.

Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter’s latest record is a mysterious trawl through the fog of hindsight and loss. Definitely my favourite guitar album of the year.

The Ruby Suns – Fight Softly – This album didn’t get a lot of love across the music press/blogosphere, but I thought it retained all the fun and charm of previous Ruby Suns records while ditching the world music for electronic influences. For more wise words on why this record was great read this
http://drownedinsound.com/releases/15174/reviews/4139298


Honourable mentions
The Phantom Band – Wants
Janell Monae – The ArchAndroid
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The Acorn – No Ghost
Gangrene – Gutter Water
Basia Bulat – Heart of My Own
The Roots, John Legend – Wake Up

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Depression

Welcome back to my malnourished blog. Today’s entry partly explains why I haven’t written anything in while, only partly though. Much larger factors in my radio silence are The Wire, Halo: Reach and my general laziness. Anyway, today I want to talk about one of the few things that Alastair Campbell and I have in common, to wit, depression.

While I often though of Campbell as a horrible figure during the Blair era, his charity work and the publicity he has brought to mental health issues has gone a long way to redeeming the man in my eyes. I am sure he is very glad of this partial turnaround from a blogger that no-one reads. Anyway, now that we have negotiated the tricky proposition that AC is not entirely a force for evil, we can consider the significance of a man of his stature in politics confessing to having a history of depression- at times severe. Despite what the Janet Street-Porter’s of this world would have you believe, (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1278510/Depression-Its-just-new-trendy-illness.html) depression and other mental illnesses are not the trendy new accessories of the middle classes, they are a problem which affects 1 in 4 people regardless of wealth, race, gender or any other dividing line in society. The attitudes of people like Street-Porter ensure that there is still a huge stigma around mental illness and many people are too frightened of what people will think of them to admit they need help.

In this climate, it is hugely admirable of Campbell to be so candid about his own experiences. The donation of half the proceeds from his new book to mental health charity Rethink is also a fabulous gesture. This is not meant to be a rant against anyone or any problems in society, I do far too much of that on here as it is. This post is more what came to mind during a recent flare-up of my own brand of depression. Like Campbell, I am probably closer to having this thing licked than I ever have been- although such a total victory probably doesn’t exist for depression sufferers. It still flares up from time to time though, without explanation or reason, like the attentions of a selfish lover. When it does, all of the numerous blessings and privileges in my life seem to shrink in the shadow of the dark cloud above them, and me. Society is much more tolerant when dealing with mental illness than it used to be, but those hateful few who still believe that its all put on, or people suffering from mental illness could get better if they ‘chose to’ will never appreciate the crushing weight people feel on their shoulders when they are in the grip of mental illness.

It is hard to know how to round this one off, probably because I didn’t have the luxury of an enemy to structure a diatribe around this time, but I guess all I really wanted to say with this blog entry is that I have a fairly tough week or so. To put my name out there as someone who knows what it is like to have the black dog hump their leg from time to time, so to speak. But also, as someone who is in the fortunate position of knowing that the cloud will pass, some people don’t have that luxury. If there is anyone out there who reads this and wants to talk to someone about a similar experience, please feel free to send me a message on here. Or, for anyone suffering but unsure of where to turn for help, please check out the link below to the Rethink charity. They do excellent work.

Rethink: http://www.rethink.org/

Alaistar Campbell’s blog: http://www.alastaircampbell.org/

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Get off the air

The grey skies present when I look out the window in the morning point squarely to one thing: Summer is gone; Autumn is here. Autumn has also brought along some other As with it. 1) Another series of The Apprentice 2) Another chance for Britain to collectively embarrass itself fawning over an old man behaving like a curmudgeonly wank-shot.

Firstly, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that Lord Sugar has done a commendable amount of charity work over the years, and his determination to rise above his humble beginnings is admirable. This article is by no means meant to be a character assassination of Alan Sugar, but nevertheless, it is hard to sit back and accept the national obsession with The Apprentice which rolls around every year. The format basically involves Lord Sugar and two sycophants of his choosing setting a task each week for the contestants (15 initially, one is eliminated each week until the final) to perform to the best of their ability, then abusively criticise and humiliate the contestants when they return to explain how they got on. The fact that the contestants are usually such an obnoxious bunch of morons that it is tempting to say this is the least they deserve is still not quite enough to justify the hard-nosed-businessman- pornography that follows.

Each week Lord Sugar displays aggression, bullying, extreme competitiveness, lack of human empathy and just plain rudeness. You know, all of the kinds of unattractive human traits which parents and schools generally discourage. Obviously when a rich man on the television behaves appallingly, the moral implications are swept aside by the giddy thrill of entertainment we all crave.

Consider how you would feel if the boss of your workplace treated you the way Lord Sugar does the contestants on The Apprentice? You would, almost certainly, be angry, upset, or both. And with good reason. Behaviour like Sugar’s on the apprentice should be unacceptable in any civilised society, not held up for adulation by entertainment journalists blushing like schoolgirls at the thought of our straight-talking hero in a sharp suit. Movies and video games (especially video games) are constantly criticised for being too violent, too sexualised, too exciting…etc etc. The defence that they are all fantasy, and strictly censored so as not to fall into the hands of children young enough to be damaged by them, never holds much weight with Britain’s self-appointed mortal arbiters. It is a curious irony then, that a reality tv show can go out at prime time and set a terrible example of how to behave in real life as long as there ain’t a bare nipple or bullet in sight.