Raising the bar (tab)

September 19, 2008

When did this happen?

The past few days, I’ve been at a couple of gigs: firstly Black Lips at Heaven, last night Torche at the Underworld. Heaven – to be found just off Villiers Street, ‘tween Charing Cross and Embankment stations – is a nightclub first and gig venue second, so prices were expectedly high. But as much as £4.40 for a beer? Surely not.

But this was no one-off: at the Underworld, Camden, last night, two (different) beers both cost £4 or over. When did we reach the £4 pint? (Or less, size-wise: one of two was just under a pint, in bottle form.) And why was I not informed before being stung in the wallet this week?

Shocking. But the gigs were great. Check out a clip of the end of Black Kids’ Lips’ Heaven show here:

Black Lips on MySpace
Torche on MySpace


Rewind: Botch (and why the time for reformation is nigh)

September 9, 2008

Find a Facebook group relating to this article here

With only two studio albums proper to their name, that Tacoma’s Botch remain so very revered today is testament to the impact their dramatically taut and technically astute hardcore made at the time; and, more pertinently, how that blast has echoed ever since their 2002 disbanding.

A reunion isn’t out of the question, as members remain active in (not so) new projects: bassist Brian Cook is in These Arms Are Snakes (and contributed to the second Russian Circles LP), vocalist Dave Verellen is currently fronting Narrows alongside members of Some Girls and Tropics, and guitarist Dave Knudson is a key player in Minus The Bear. Only drummer Tim Latona seems to have dropped off the radar. But despite occasional rumours of a one-off revival, nothing’s ever been confirmed, with members reportedly proud of their achievements but not interested in dipping back into Botch’s catalogue for a final hurrah.

But what achievements: 1997’s compilation The Unifying Themes of Sex, Death and Religion made little impact internationally (it was reissued in ‘redux’ form in 2002, and again in 2007), but critics began to take notice of the four-piece’s intelligent interpretation of hardcore come their second, 1998’s American Nervoso (later reissued in 2007 with five bonus tracks). Here was an album that took the brutality common in so much American hardcore and matched it with technical prowess – an ability to wrestle the most abstract noises from the most conventional means – way ahead of the band’s peers. Its influence was immediate, fellow Washington State band The Blood Brothers acknowledging Botch’s immense input on their debut, This Adultery Is Ripe. Others, too, couldn’t shake the feeling that Botch were pushing the hardcore genre down wholly new avenues of adventurous arrangement.

Botch’s follow-up to American Nervoso would prove to be their final album, and undoubtedly their best. We Are The Romans is the classic of their canon, an album inducted into Decibel magazine’s Hall Of Fame in 2005 and rated as the second best album ever by Rock Sound a couple of years later, behind Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come. As with all Botch long-players, it is also available in an expanded form, its deluxe edition of 2007 running to two discs and featuring a wealth of demos and live recordings. But the original album is brilliant enough to stand up for itself, even almost a decade after its release.

Saint Matthew Returns To The Womb’ builds upon motifs of high-end guitar trickery, blood-curdling roars and crunching riffs that made plenty of appearances on American Nervoso, and ‘Mondrian Was A Liar’ runs a similar course, but these two instantly engaging offerings are but surface-level distractions: explore the album deeper and We Are The Romans reveals its wonderful idiosyncrasies. ‘Swimming The Channel vs Driving The Chunnel’ is a slow-shifting, almost post-rock piece with mumbled, deadpan vocals which somehow still convey a great sense of emotion. It fizzes and buzzes, like helicopters circling overhead, while the whole time drums appear to be building to a peak, only to fall short a few feet from their goal, intentionally. It’s a brilliant sidestep, indicative of a desire to not be shackled by genre conventions. Not that Botch ever really played to the rule book, but this was the four-piece at their most playful, at their most fearless.

Math-core, metal-core… terms used in relation to Botch, but no sub-genre really sticks, even now. Listening back to We Are The Romans, to American Nervoso and the band’s final recording, the five-track (discounting a short opening track) An Anthology of Dead Ends EP of 2002, it’s tough to pick any names from today’s hardcore ranks who’ve reshaped the field in such a dramatic way. The aforementioned offshoots play their parts, but where are the bands nowadays producing records that shift from the purified rage of ‘Vietmam’ to the understated splendour of the morose ‘Afghamistam’ (both sequential tracks from An Anthology…). I never saw the band live, but knowing that (most) members are still exploring creativity within their musical callings gives me hope that, perhaps, they will again match the heights achieved with Botch. Not that these highs were evident at the time – like many true classics (rather than instant-hit 5/5s), We Are The Romans has only been elevated to such a level over the course of a good few years.

It seems to me the time is right – if not before this year is out then certainly next year, the tenth anniversary of We Are The Romans – for a special, one-time-only reunion, be it in Washington, London, Australia, Japan… wherever. Have albums, will travel. Such an event would simply be too great to miss. To say the chances are slim is an understatement – as outlined above members have so far made it clear that any reformation is highly unlikely to happen – but if Botch were ever to set a stage alight once more, 2009 seems the year to do it.

Video: ‘Saint Matthew Returns To The Womb

Video: ‘Hutton’s Great Heat Engine

Video: the encore at Botch’s final show

Botch on MySpace
Botch on Wikipedia
Rewind: Unwound

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Thoughts on the very idea of ‘classic’ albums.

September 8, 2008

As lifted directly from the boards of DrownedinSound.com.

(Pluto Prize list centric)

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i’ll bet that there’s not one album on the list that people are still goin to be listening to in three years time. as i said, maybe fuck buttons
haribo7989 | 8 Sep ’08, 15:50 | Send note | Report this | Reply | x

That’s rubbish.
Have you heard all twelve? Didn’t think so.
Besides, who cares if they’re being listened to in three years’ time? I rarely listen to albums I consider classics from three years ago – I listen to what’s new, mostly, as do many people who genuinely love their music.
As a snapshot of excellent albums from the period July 2007-July 2008, the Pluto 12 plus the Mercury 12 = a pretty fine 24 indeed.
Mike_Diver | 8 Sep ’08, 15:53 | Send note | Report this | Reply | x

oh ‘most people who genuinely love their music only listen to new music’? fuck off! no wonder so many people around here express daft opinions like ‘the beatles were shit’..i listen to tons of new music (i’d say about 3 hours of new music a day) AND i listen to classics.
just cos you’re passionate about music doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have standards, in fact it should make you more demanding about what’s truly great and what’s merely good. but then again, you are the guy who saw fit to award ‘weekend in the city’ a 9 rating.
for the record, i own 7 of the albums and i’ve heard enough material from the other ones to decide that they’re not worth my hard-earned.
haribo7989 | 8 Sep ’08, 16:09 | Send note | Report this | Reply | x

Seven from twelve? So you’re only just over 50 per cent qualified to state what you did above? Well done. And where do I say ‘only new music’? Rarely was the word I used, and I’d imagine that most people who frequently visit DiS for news on current artists breakthrough and mainstream listen to those acts much more than they do, say, the Beatles, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Wire, Public Enemy, etc.
I own many a ‘classic’ album – whatever you mean by classic (presumably you’re referring to albums that critics too old to remember the last time they went to a gig that wasn’t seated consider genre- and era-defining documents and artifacts? Fuck them, fucking dinosaurs) – but rarely turn to them when there’s such a brilliant stream of new music coming out week in, week out. It only takes a little time to turn over some stones and discover something magic, something to rate alongside these perceived ‘classics’, which are only ‘classics’ today because nobody has had the balls to properly stand up for records released since the birth and death of punk. To move the goalposts. To stick two up to John Lydon and tell him ‘Bollocks’ is bollocks, and piss on the graves of Harrison and Lennon spelling ‘only two songs off the white album are any good, you self-absorbed self-aggrandizing dead twats’ as they go.
I HATE the notion of classic albums, given the wholly subjective nature of the absorption and assessment of art – unless you’re analyzing the process over the product, exactly what are your guidelines? There were ten or more albums released last year that were better than Sgt Peppers, or Dark Side, if not more… there was because that’s progress, evolution, development; it’s refinement and redirection and the embracing of technology and sociological elements that simply never existed before the time of those records’ gestations.
Music is movement, not moments; it’s not judged on static fossils, but on living processes. Snapshots serve as reminders, lists as spotters guides, but there’s no such thing as categorical zeniths, as absolute classics. How can there be? If there was everyone making music today would give up.
Saying that the Beatles were shit is not a daft opinion. It is an opinion. Do you not see that that’s the beauty of such instantaneous art as pop music – one man’s brilliance is another’s annoyance. If you can’t see that standards exist only in the mind of the individual, and that the archaic notion of classics is born of redundant commentators alone, then truly you’re discussing music in the wrong place. Go talk to a wall.
What does it matter what I gave an album that came out last year? What’s the relation of that to this argument? I like Bloc Party.
Mike_Diver | 8 Sep ’08, 16:28 | Send note | Report this | Reply | x

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What great LOLs.

Bands I will miss the last train for.

September 8, 2008

A reformed for one night only Botch.
AC/DC. Probably.

Two nights ago a band from San Francisco endured awful sound in a half-finished north London venue before a crowd that couldn’t be called entirely polite – background chatter did drown out certain nuances of said band’s singular sound. Yet this band, against the odds, delivered another memorable set, one to rank not among their personal best, but certainly among the best shows this soul shall witness this year.

I can’t truly express what it is about Enablers that gets to me; there’s a rawness to them, a transparent honesty, a fire-eyed desire for exorcism, for catharsis via contortion, musically and physically. There’s sinewy limbs and flared nostrils, broken strings and jaw-dropping percussion, precise and balanced, exquisitely accomplished. There’s a frontman with front, proper; a man whose performance goes beyond lungs to mouth to microphone. Exact words are lost in the fog, but the power. The power is the driver.

There’s age, too: these men are men, not boys playing at being men. They are tour-worn, road-tested, time-readied. Theirs is a sound that is out of step with all fashions, with all trends circular and standalone; theirs is a sound that rolls through my synapses with unnerving regularity, rhythms riding prose designed for paper as well as public address. Rhetoric meets rock and roll, poetry versus punk. Sound and vision blurred in one beautiful cacophonous wash of metallic angst and tender aggression. Each cut a chapter of a tale too wide to be fully realised, to ever have an end.

Night bus slides to the sound of ears ringing, and the 11.49 from London Bridge couldn’t be further from my mind.

Enablers on MySpace
Photography by Lucy Johnston

On the pros and cons of internship

September 5, 2008

DiS – my employers until really quite recently – are on the look out for interns. Fair enough says me: I recall well how many packages would arrive a day, dreams dashed against rocks without padded cells even being broken. Simply too many for one man alone to handle, so it’s sensible to call in support.

There are positives to agreeing to such work for no remuneration, beyond the occasional cost covered that is. Connections mean everything in the music industry – it’s an old but true adage that it’s not what but who you know – and it’s possible that whoever is brought in by DiS will worm their way into the industry successfully. Past employees proper have gone on to run labels and work at management companies, and earn a crust, so the idea that DiS can be a stepping stone is a valid one. Here’s hoping the trend holds true for me.

Also, if you’re truly into music in its myriad forms, the material you’ll be exposed to will be like a dream come true. Without working within the industry there would be loads of favourite bands I’d have missed: of the right now, that’s acts like Nadja, Pyramids and Calories. On the downside, those rose tints will soon turn a shade of grey, as it’s easy to become a cynic, sceptical of every act’s motives. You will question ties with particular companies, and develop something of a competitive streak: in the world of online music coverage, first is everything.

There’s no such thing, really, as an online exclusive unless you chase it – provisions from PR companies exist as exclusives for seconds, minutes maybe, as blogs x y and z link to your site, or simply lift the relevant code. It’s a 24/7 deal – during my two-year full-time tenure at DiS I never switched off – even on holiday, on a hillside in Scotland, I was taking calls about the booking of a DiS gig, and organising for writers to attend certain gigs. It takes a determined mindset to make it in music journalism, in terms of editorial/full-time positions, and most interns will fall by the wayside at great speed. Friends of mine have caved in, and they’ve gone into such roles with plenty of experience. It can simply be too much for many.

Also, interns demand a lot of time from employees proper – I was always reluctant to take them on as DiS consumed almost all of my time per day, except for a 30-minute stop for lunch. I didn’t have time to show whoever came in the ropes properly – their experience was delivered in drops rather than rivers, and as such thumbs were left to twiddle. Whoever goes into DiS to help out should expect to do this, unless the idea is to truly strip back the content on the site to but a few news stories per day, and perhaps one feature and one review.

There are interesting points made by former DiS writer and current in-house NME bod Ben Patashnik on the DiS ‘advertorial’ piece, accessible here. I agree with much of what he says, but it is very rare for anything substantial to come from an unpaid placement. If the successful candidate really mucks in, above the call of duty, they may find their place in a shrinking industry. But most people just want a few free records and a name on their CV.

The point? Don’t walk in blindly, I suppose. From the outside looking in the idea of writing about music for a living must seem phenomenally attractive, but once that thrill subsides it really is Just Another Job. It has perks, but so do all positions – just depends on what constitutes an appealing bonus in your book. Be prepared for the hard grind, the toil and what feels like the weight of the world to be heaped atop you. But trust me too when I say: it’ll feel amazing when you make that mark and the rewards come your way (and I do not mean monetary ones – if that’s what you’re after: wrong business for you!).

BTW: I have never done an unpaid internship outside of university, where it was part of the course, and strongly advise those not living with parents/those who can cover bills to not do it. It will drain your reserves, emotionally and financially, and chances are that nothing will come of it (certainly not enough to repay what you put in). If you’re still keen (I do recommend it to students with financial support), you know where to go.

Further reading:
‘Ask the experts’
A proper pros and cons article

I like Foals (new video centric).

September 4, 2008

I do, truth. The Oxford five-piece have been mainstays on the iPod since before their debut album, Antidotes. Since I like it so, here’s the new video to ‘Olympic Airwaves‘ (released October 6 via Transgressive), directed by regular cohort Dave Ma.

This seems to be a revised recording, too. At least to these ears.

Foals, ‘Olympic Airwaves

Find Foals on MySpace here, and an interview I did with Yannis here.

Shred Yr Face tour

September 3, 2008

One of the last things I did at DiS was work with a number of super people on the pulling together of a tour for October, the inaugural Shred Yr Face tour. It’s headlined by Los Campesinos!, with support from No Age and Times New Viking. Three great bands from three great labels – Wichita, Sub Pop and Matador – on one great tour.

And now things are hitting their stride – there’s a Facebook group for the tour, which you can join, and soon there will be a blog running, with updates from participating bands and guest contributors. Add to that exclusives (songs, competitions, things) and the whole community vibe, and it’s all pretty sweet.

At the moment Shred Yr Face dot com isn’t a whole lot to look at, but it’ll expand before long, so do check it out and keep your eyes and ears open for further developments.

I’m doing what I can to aid the tour’s cause at the moment, but obviously finding a job comes first; applause is due, therefore, for the efforts of Gareth D, Natalie J and Tom W, who are gonna make this an interactive success, and hopefully set the foundations for further Shred Yr Face tours.

The tour dates run as follows:

14 Brighton Komedia
15 Liverpool Carling Academy 2
16 Leeds Irish Centre
17 Dublin Whelans
18 Glasgow School of Arts
20 London Electric Ballroom
21 Bristol Fleece
22 Manchester Academy 3

Click here for details on tickets and age restrictions. Tickets are on sale NOW.

No Age, ‘Eraser

Los Campesinos!, ‘Death To Los Campesinos!

Times New Viking’s ‘Zebra Session’