Just a quick thing to throw up here, following my previous post on music: this, from the BBC. A rock and alternative music festival in Kabul, which given the range of problems and the level of conflict to be found in Afghanistan is about the least likely place you might expect to find one. But then, maybe such a festival is kind of important for precisely those reasons? Most of the bands playing are from the Kabul area, and it’s equally impressive that in that context there are people who have the resources – instruments, rehearsal space, time – to even pull bands together and play their music. Marvellous.
And it’s the second festival of alternative music that’s been held there.
If you don’t live in the UK, you probably won’t appreciate what a major step this is: the BBC have just reported that the red tape around the licensing of live music has been lifted from small venues (capacity up to 200). This means some 13,000 pubs and clubs no longer need to go through difficult bureaucratic hurdles and pay substantial licence fees in order to have live music.
It’s a big deal for small bands, people trying to get known in the music business and so forth, because when the current regime was introduced it resulted in many thousands of smaller venues closing their doors to live music. It also, of course, made it more difficult for more ‘experimental’ artists to get going – because who was ever going to take a chance on putting them on stage in a large venue that needed to recoup substantial licence costs? And by ‘experimental’ in this context I don’t just mean weird electronic and suchlike, but a range of styles and a range of performers who are trying to do something a little bit unusual and distinctive with their music, and trying to see if there’s an audience out there for them.
So now a lot of musicians, aspiring bands and so on can return to the traditional route of building up a loyal following in their home town, and then around the country, going on the road to build their ‘tribe’ of followers a little at a time. And there will be, I hope, a lot more live music in a lot more styles and genres somewhere near you.
So, for once, I can report some good news and a sensible government policy!
I’ve recently been looking in some detail at community radio, this being related to a speculative project I’m planning to do a little later in the year. I’ve become a regular visitor to the coffee bar at my own local community radio, Hermitage FM but thought I’d share this one I’ve just discovered: Resonance FM. They’re based in London and the community they transmit to is essentially a creative one: their ‘About’ statement indicates it was established in 2002 by the London Musicians Collective, as a ‘radical alternative to the universal formulae of mainstream broadcasting. Resonance 104.4 fm features programmes made by musicians, artists and critics who represent the diversity of London’s arts scenes, with regular weekly contributions from nearly two hundred musicians, artists, thinkers, critics, activists and instigators.’
And it really is music you won’t hear on any commercial station; cutting edge, innovative, experimental, and hugely varied. It gives exposure to bands, individuals, loose collaborations, and plays the kind of stuff that’s only ever ‘published’ as pressings of a hundred or so white-label vinyl records. I’ve yet to hear anything on there I didn’t find stimulating, provocative or inspirational.
Your own milage, or course, will vary – just bear in mind I grew up listening to everything from punk, goth and rave to Stockhausen and Subotnik, and the first and only musical ‘instrument’ I learned how to play was a VCS3 analog synthesizer!
Community radio, by the terms of UK licensing rules, only transmits at 25 watts with a typical range of 5 kilometres from the transmitter, and they’re based in central London. The good thing about the internet, though, is you can get a live feed to your PC and a lot of their stuff is also available as podcasts.
Because I work from home, I rarely get into the city centre. However I had a few in-town jobs to do, went for a coffee at Darkside and then, by the clock tower, came across this guy busking there, who turns out to be someone called Oded Kafri.
Whatever you think of the various Youtube segments embedded on his site I can assure you he’s many times more impressive live. As best I can tell he has a regular kit, plus some eccentric items like a large water bottle upturned on a stand, and an electronic kit that allows him to trigger a selection of bass, flute and other riffs and some special effects.
Hearing ten minutes of really cool drumming just made my day. I may be easily pleased but I thought it was worth sharing.
I do, albeit fitfully, try to Keep Up With Things. I get tired of doing the y6dsl;ltgg ting thing (i.e. beating my head against the keyboard in the hope that words will flow from it painlessly). I make a coffee, watch a snippet of TV or radio, or see what’s new on Youtube. And what’s new suddenly seems to be the lambada. All over again.
The lambada, for those who haven’t come across it, is a dance. It seems to have originated in the north of Brazil, and Wikipedia describes it as ‘generally danced with arched legs, with the steps being from side to side or turning, and in its original form never front to back, with a pronounced movement of the hips. At the time when the dance became popular, short skirts for women were in fashion and men wore long trousers, and the dance has become associated with such clothing, especially for women wearing short skirts that swirl up when the woman spins around.’
It became very popular internationally in 1989 when a French musical producer encountered it, returned to France, created a band (Kaoma) and put out a lambada style single sung in the original Portuguese – the video for which included some very suggestive dancing. If that isn’t a good enough example of globalisation, it then turned out the song he’d chosen was an unauthorised use of the translation of a 1981 song by a Bolivian band. Law suits followed and money changed hands. The actual song involved, in Portuguese, was ‘Chorando se foi’ (‘Crying, he/she went away’). Whether that was apt given the legal battles is of course a whole other question… but is seems Kaoma are still around, judging by recent Youtube video of them performing in various cities in Europe.
Anyway. The thing is, this was a song from the 1980s that suddenly seems to have been recovered, plundered, and given a new lease of life. In the last week or so I’ve been hearing techno and trance versions, quotes from it as four and eight bar breaks in the middle of other sings, and Youtube seems to have recent lambada-derived music from all over the place – including among other things a Russian version.
It is a known feature of global, postmodern culture that artefacts are taken and transplanted from one context to another, and the past is ransacked for ideas that can be recycled. I have no particular issues with the lambada being recycled. It was a catchy summer tune and while it’s not quite my style, it does have a certain something. I do have an issue with my brain putting on constant loop as an internal soundtrack but that’s not the lambada’s fault.
I do wonder, though, what drives the seemingly random processes of creative people selecting this or that tune for recycling, and what drives the fact that it’s suddenly taken off again. The best I can do is suggest that it was feelgood music in an era of economic hardship; now we’re back in austere times, feelgood music is suddenly important again and maybe the tunes from previous periods of economic downturn are the places people are looking for it.
I was scooting around the internet earlier today and came across something I hadn’t known about before – dubplates. In the headlong move towards digital technology, there’s a retro thing going on – in fact it’s probably been going on, quietly and in the background, for a long while.
While most of us are capturing our old film, video and vinyl records onto fully digital media, there are people busy recording music digitally and then transferring it onto vinyl. This is something you see in the DJ world, and most often in reggae and drum&bass, because they tend to prefer the acoustic response of vinyl (or so I gather, I’ve been having a conversation with HOCSoundSystem about it). There’s apparently a division of opinion in the DJ world about the respective merits of vinyl vs digital media.
Investigating further, I see from Wikipedia that dubplates – one-off vinyl records – have a long and distinguished history in reggae because it’s easy to press a single disk with an existing music track and custom-made lyrics, for example for a particular sound system. But they’re increasingly common in other music genres as well now.
The equipment isn’t exactly cheap but the price of has decreased substantially over time to the point that some people literally have the kit in their living room.there are apparently increasing sales of dubplate cutters – the gadget you need to do this work – and booming business for the specialist dubplate ‘cottage industry’.
When intrigued me was the very retro-ness of this industry, the fact that the ‘old way of doing things’ is still valued, and has a large and increasing following.
It made me wonder how a similar retro-style might look in other industries. For example, if you look on Ebay these days you’ll find quite a few suppliers of handmade paper and notebooks, etc. Some while ago I came across someone who hand-prints books on handmade paper, binds them himself and offers them as limited editions – though in that case, what he’s offering in this form is, if I remember tightly, copies of mediaeval magical grimoires and treatises that are very probably available on the internet – but there appears to me a market for what would be in effect freely available text in this specialist form.
Even the ‘Hearing Voices’ poetry people I blogged about a few days ago have put work out, not as a web page or e-publication, but an actual magazine – it’s not limited circulation per se, but I can’t image there were huge numbers printed and those who have copies will possess a physical thing that connects them to a particular place, time, event and vision of what’s possible in poetry.
And in the art world, of course, numbered limited-issue prints are a known and accepted part of the market and have been for decades.
This is, really, about exclusivity – having a one-off, customised vinyl record to play to a club audience, one of a number of specially-made ‘luxury edition’ books, or an item that has some personal significance of ‘I was there’. Different takes on the idea of exclusivity, but all quite understandable.
Meanwhile, going back to my trusty 1907 Army and Navy Catalogue, which dates from a time when the Army and Navy Stores in London sold everything the gentleman officer would need for his posting abroad, I see that many popular books of that time were available, not just as ‘paperback’ and ‘hardback’, but in half a dozen different bindings and paper qualities from six shillings and fivepence up to forty shillings.
So this all makes me wonder whether there might still be a market for, say, limited edition fiction, handprinted, sold almost as an artisan craft piece. And I’m not talking about reprints of top ten novels, but new original fiction. A deliberate turning back of the clock to older methods, styles and values. Under what conditions might such a thing be viable as a product?
I don’t know the answer but I’m interested to hear anyone’s comments!