Friday, 21 May 2010

Getting experimental in the East End

Photo by Diamond Geezer

Best laid plans going awry led a long-mooted viewing of the Chris Morris terrorism comedy Four Lions to be missed on Wednesday night. Instead it was time for some experimental music at the OpenLab OpenNight at Bethnal Green Working Man’s Club.

Of the assembled acts utilising open-source software as part of their performance, many bordered on the unlistenable, but at least all showed a willingness to challenge their audience, themselves and in some cases the limits of the human pain threshold. This was not a place for melody or a casual singalong chorus.

The most engaging and traditionally musical crew were the alarmingly-named Cuntbucket, who blended synths, guitar and bass to occasionally thrilling effect, albeit with moments which needed more work. This is obviously no bad thing, though. The idea of the night is about potential and having a progressive attitude rather than producing something more fully formed.

Elsewhere, screeching violins, waves of Underworld synths and a laptop seemingly weeping binary tears after being forced into an arranged marriage with an iPhone all played a role in the evening’s musical offering.

Most intriguing was a “set” from a man named Chris who performs as Popdamage. At this point only witness accounts can be reported (at the time London Liked was deep in thought, staring out over tranquil City Road Basin from the new concrete and steel plateau and steps which lead from the north side of City Road – see photo above).

Popdamage then, comprises a man with a brain scanner and a beach ball. The beach ball is thrown around among audience members, while the brain scanner works with software to create sounds based on the connection between the movement of the beach ball and the brain scans.

Apparently, this progressive and unusual set of instruments failed to work on stage, but later worked for brave audience members who had a go themselves after.

It’s perhaps the first time an artist has tried to combine elements of Clockwork Orange headgear, Kraftwerk and beach volleyball, but must be worth a look in future.

Monday, 26 April 2010

LCD Soundsystem leave London breathless

*Photo courtesy of Roman Tagoe

LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy famously didn’t write for Seinfeld because he preferred the NYC stoner lifestyle.

Quite what Seinfeld scribe and Curb Your Enthusiasm lynchpin Larry David would have made of the nasal-voiced DFA Records founder remains unknown, but US TV’s loss has since been funk-punk’s gain.

Aside from his work as LCD chief, Murphy has made a plethora of albums and remixes that satisfy and excite. Radio 4’s excellent Gotham LP, the staggering Daft Punk-influenced remix of Le Tigre’s Deceptacon and the remix of Sister Saviour by fellow NYC stalwarts The Rapture have all benefited from the Murphy touch. In each case Murphy was complemented by Tom Goldsworthy, Murphy’s DFA production partner.

As for LCD Soundsystem, Murphy has brought the band to a close.

They’ll no longer be touring as the main man wants to spend time scoring. No, he’s not developed some heavy skag passion, just veered into composing soundtracks. His work on Noah Baumbach’s Greenburg was released in March.

Last weekend LCD played what may well be the band’s London’s last indoor** shows at Brixton Academy.

On Friday the show (23 April) was beset by technical problems but like true pros the Big Apple gang cracked on impeccably. Few undergarments stayed dry as feverish disco guitar riffs, battered cowbell chimes and morbidly obese basslines shuddered around Brixton’s biggest venue.

Terrific set-opener Us V Them got two airings after a synth initially failed. Luckily an IT geek got let out from his basement for 30 seconds for a spot of turning-it-off-and-on-again and things improved second time round. Masterful single Tribulations and early fan favourite Yeah provided some ragged but unified chanting. Even crashing moments of garage rock/electro crossover noise like those in Movement or new shoutalong Drunk Girls went down well.

A slightly underplayed version of Daft Punk Is Playing My House seemed to confuse fans before it worked them into a frenzy worthy of the recorded version, but All My Friends received perhaps the best reworking of the evening.

On sophomore album Sound Of Silver, All My Friends is almost a night’s finale, lighters-in-the-air take on the traditional post acid-house dancefloor epic. Here, from the opening seconds, any sort of faithful take on the original had clearly been forsaken like a burnt pie crust.

The fast, banging and resolute reinvention worked. For once all the cheesy hands-in-the-air sentiments of life-affirming rave culture and people coming together over a shared love of music seemed to have a point. Even the most inebriated gig-goers in SW9 thought about their pals both present and absent. It’s hard not to when thousands of people around you are singing, “Where are your friends tonight?”

Murphy often mimicked some of Morrissey’s vocal approach during the show, even if his overall stage persona had more in common with the original arty funk-punker David Byrne.

He brought together this sense of class and cool immaculately on unexpected final tune New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. This five boroughs lament actually did get lighters held aloft and balloons falling from the venue’s ceiling. A terrific ending but one perhaps “inspired” by Hot Chip, the Putney greats who share both a label and occasional member (Al Doyle) with LCD.

After all, Hot Chip let balloons drop at the close of their 2008 Brixton Academy show, too.

Murphy and his six stage companions tore through debut hit Losing My Edge earlier in the set.

But if, as most present agreed, the only way the performance matched that song's title was through spherical rubber plagiarism..?

Their passing will be missed more than that of childhood innocence.

**The band are due to play at Hyde Park's Wireless festival in July.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Knowledge: How to become a London cabbie

Like finding a joke in Flight Of The Conchords, doing The Knowledge is an arduous and utterly unforgiving task which most ordinary folk have little understanding of.

Contradictions lie at the heart of The Knowledge. It often takes as long as a degree to complete but is arguably tougher than most courses which reward students with letters after their names. It leads to a career in a distinctly working class profession where the most dedicated drivers can earn as much as solicitors or accountants. It prepares pupils for a working life which will entail a large amount of tedium caused by sitting in traffic. Yet, for the driver who picks up an interesting fare or for the fare that serendipitously picks the right driver, a London cab journey can provide a life-changing or just amusing experience.

Academics and those who only find value in what Bart Simpson would call “book smarts” may sneer at the suggestion that learning to be a black cab driver could be as demanding as a degree, but a thorough examination of what The Knowledge entails can be revealing.

The Knowledge (and how to get it)

The Knowledge comprises 320 routes which stretch across London. These routes, know in the trade as “runs” can be found in the ‘Guide to Learning the Knowledge of London’ (more commonly known as the ‘Blue Book’), which is issued to anyone who wants to become a cab driver. The runs can start or finish anywhere in a six-mile radius of Charing Cross and must be completed using the straightest route from one end to the other. Along these runs are points of interest (known as “points”) which include, but are not exclusive to: Theatres, cinemas, embassies, professional organisations, sporting venues, hotels, hospitals, places of worship, government buildings and pretty much every other place a resident of or tourist in London has ever wanted to go. The names and locations of these spots must be learnt, as must every street name on every run.

At this juncture, some readers may think, “Wow. That many routes and points would take a long time to learn, I’m happier to pay someone to do this for me.” In which case, you’ve already proved the worth of black cab drivers. Others, more confident in their observation and sense of direction may ponder the size of the task and think, “It’s a lot, but I could handle it.”

There is, of course, more.

Started out (down a dirty road)

When handed the list of runs, wannabe cab drivers tend to buy a scooter and fix a clipboard attachment on to the handlebars. This helps so they can read and memorise individual runs from the Blue Book as they ride around London learning runs, street names and points.

Regardless of their existing knowledge of London, most Knowledge boys (or girls, though these are much less common) spend at least a year, sometimes longer, reinforcing their what they think they know of London and learning the runs as well as they can before taking a mandatory written map test.

During the map test students are given start and finish points of five runs which they must write out in full exact routes of five runs in full. Additionally, a series of five blank sections of Ordnance Survey maps are also given to examinees to plot other road names and points. It is not unusual for wannabe cab drivers to fail the map test, on some occasions more than once.

What really makes the lot of the trainee London cab driver tough is the method of examination after the map test and the accompanying tough and exquisitely torturous journey from novice to expert. Rather than being asked to merely drive the runs for their examiners while naming streets, Knowledge boys have to “call” (ie read out) their routes correctly at a series of “appearances”.

Keeping up appearances

At each appearance a Knowledge student must meet an examiner at a pre-arranged time at the Public Carriage Office (PCO) at 15 Penton Street, N1*. He or she must be dressed as if for a job interview** (ie suit and tie). Once seated in the examiner’s office, the examiner will name a point to start from (eg, the Iranian Embassy) and a point of interest to finish at (eg, the Royal Astronomical Society). After correctly naming the road the starting point is on, the student must call the whole route including all correct directions and street names, taking one-way streets into consideration and always remembering to travel in as straight a line as possible. It is not enough to name a route comprising the main roads (that’s what buses are for).

At each appearance a student must call four runs correctly and score a “C” to pass to the next appearance of the stage. The inner-workings of Knowledge examiners are notoriously secretive and they will only award a “C” if they are happy with all the routes taken. It is not enough to call a route, it must be the route or at least extremely close to the route the examiners had in mind. The route may not be the same as initially learned in the Blue Book. If that sounds rather arbitrary and unfair, that is because it is.

In real life, the average cab driver will deal with thousands of fares. As anyone who has ever worked with or for the public will attest, the world is full of cretins, ignorant fools, violent imbeciles and strange, sexual deviants. Some of whom are actually quite unpleasant. Therefore examiners are keen to test how students respond to pressure by deliberately causing a distraction during exams by tapping on a desk, singing and generally cocking around. The idea is that if you snap under exam conditions, you’re certainly not ready to face the public and represent the PCO and by extension, London, every day.

This is not to say examiners don’t have a sense of humour. When Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008 there were reports of examiners asking students, “Take me from Lehman Brothers to the nearest job centre.” In the BBC TV documnetary Modern Times: Streetwise one potential cabbie who had been in prison before attempting the Knowledge is asked to start a run at HMP Pentonville.

If a Knowledge boy has a weak spot, a PCO examiner will exploit it.

How often are appearances and how many are there?

At the first stage appearances are 56 days apart. To move on to the next stage a Knowledge student must get four Cs. Those keen on maths will immediately work out this means the quickest any student can pass the first stage is more than seven months (ie four appearances x 56 days apart).

However, the likelihood of getting four straight Cs in a row is extremely low. Getting a D at an appearance during the 56 days stage is allowed up to three times before a student has to return to the map test and start again.

Therefore the longest that can be spent on the first stage of appearances before returning to the map test is just over a year (seven x 56 days , based on a student scoring three Cs and three Ds before getting the final D which sends him back to the start).

It is not uncommon for Knowledge boys to have to return to the map test. At this point some will inevitably drop out.

After more than a year on a scooter learning runs before even starting appearances and another year learning while attending appearances, to be told to return to the map test means a minimum of another seven months before you can even move on to the next stage.

Eventually, those that haven’t given up (and plenty do) will pass the 56 day stage. This is the hardest and longest stage, because, well, trying to learn the names, locations and interconnections of thousands of streets takes a long time. The more you learn, the easier it gets.

Rather obviously, the more time Knowledge Boy puts in to studying the A-Z and driving around looking at streets and points, the quicker he can learn and the quicker he can pass each stage.

This is why, like everything else in life, the Knowledge favours the rich or at least financially secure. If you can afford to give up work and have spare time, you can spend more time on the roads and pass the Knowledge quicker.

Once four Cs have been passed at the 56-day stage, appearances are 28 days apart. Same rules as before, except now a rudimentary driving test also has to be taken. This is to test overall ability and temperament of a student. Observant readers will work out this stage can be passed in a little under four months at best (ie four Cs – four x 28 days) and a little under seven at worst (ie four x C, three x D – seven x 28 days).

Those who get four Ds again have to return to the map test, but by this point, it’s pretty unlikely a Knowledge student will get four Ds unless he drinks a bottle of absinth every night and rots his mind and memory away. Admittedly, many may consider this a sane and reasonable reaction to living in London but it won’t help you pass the Knowledge.

This stage also sees the introduction of examiners posing hypothetical routes, eg, “Take me from Trellick Tower to Camberwell Green but avoid X bridge, closed because of road works or Y street, which closed due to a bomb scare/protest/impromptu rave.” This makes a run tougher to call, but is entirely fair. London is perpetually beset by road closures and road works, so this sort of query is akin to a cab driver's real experience.

The penultimate appearance stage involves appearances 21 days apart, with the same rules as before. Four Cs here will take just under three months, with the lengthiest possible time just under four months.

Upon gaining the final C, drivers get their Requirement or “Req,” perhaps appropriately pronounced “wreck,” given the amount of time and effort it has taken to achieve and the effect such studies would have on most ordinary people.

Finally comes the suburb test. This involves calling runs as before, but on routes from central London far into the suburbs. These are generally concerned with main roads and don’t cause many problems to the now-confident and able Knowledge boy. When the suburb test is passed, a Green Badge is handed over by the examiner unceremoniously to the Knowledge boy, who has earned the right to drive a Black Cab in the world’s greatest city.

What happens next?

Aside from saying things like, “I had that Bob Holness in the back of my cab,” the lot of a cab driver is an odd mix of restriction and freedom. How many days, nights, weeks and months each year are worked are at the cabbie’s discretion. There are apocryphal stories of cab drivers who live in Spain as men of leisure for three weeks a month only to return to London for one week in four to work enough hours to earn a month’s wages. Tales also abound of those who only work three days a week. On the flipside, cabs themselves cost upwards of £20,000 or have to be rented at £250 a week, so anyone that thinks an hour a day can earn is sorely mistaken.

For most of us, who could never be bothered to undertake the Knowledge, we're just grateful the 20,000 London cab drivers have made the effort.

After all, as anyone who's ever stood freezing on a moody midnight street corner can attest - at the right time and in the right weather, cab drivers can be more sought after than choir boys in the Vatican.

*For drivers that fancy a pint or several after their appearance, The Lexington, an excellent bar formerly known as Clockwork Orange is just around the corner on busy Pentonville Road, while Islington’s Upper Street and Essex Road have perhaps the highest concentration of pubs in London. In this drinker’s opinion, Slim Jim’s Liquor Store is the greatest of these for its selection of whiskeys and jukebox.

**Note to journalists not in the financial, political sector or business sector, musicians and general media types, this means how we’d have to dress for a
proper job interview.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Banksy film neither turd nor triumph

It’s not often a film review pays attention to the actual environs of the cinema the screening has been viewed in. Yet in the case of preview showings of Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop, a few words are necessary.

Press screenings have already taken place at Sundance Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival and in London, with the city hosting the former event also becoming a victim - or beneficiary - of the street artist’s prolific stencilling. Ten pieces were thrown up around Utah’s Park City while Sundance took place.

Back in London two advance screenings a day at pop-up cinema The Lambeth Palace have sold out (the last is Thursday March 4). Skim readers who read that last sentence and wondered why Banksy is showing his movie at the Archbishop of Canterbury's gaff should heed the definite article.

The Lambeth Palace is actually a network of rooms on the right-hand side of Leake Street Tunnel. The tunnel was used as a short cut by cab drivers when the Eurostar used to leave from Waterloo, back in the days before the cross-channel service left from St Pancras. In the years since, Leake Street has been covered in graffiti, much of it of a high standard if you like that sort of thing. Banksy himself has organised events down there.

At The Lambeth Palace refreshments are sold from a burnt-out ice cream van, while other Banksy pieces adorn the foyer and walls (see accompanying photos). The actual screening room is small (150 capacity), but has a certain sort of grim charm. During the screening occasional train rumbles could be felt and heard from above. A vault under the train tracks near Waterloo is an ideal spot for a guerrilla-ish event like this. For that and child abduction from the look of things.

The film itself is something of a slippery beast, as one might expect from a man who manages to evade the law and stay almost completely anonymous while simultaneously earning hundreds of thousands of pounds selling his work to patrons like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. There is obviously a question over what his work is really worth but that’s a debate for pub nights and broadsheet weekend magazine section editors. What interests London Liked is the man’s wit and audacity as much as his ideas. In many respects, once you get past the scale of his ambition and the detail in his stencilled image, he’s just like any other pleb with a marker looking for a white toilet wall.

Banksy himself would probably be the first to admit to this. The one thing the pseudo-documentary does impress upon viewers is the man’s humility and courage. Of course, any impression can be faked and any emotion manipulated in the edit, but regardless of any graffiti writer’s effrontery, it takes a special sort of nerve to paint nine separate pieces on the Israeli’s security wall and vandalise a Disneyland ride with an inflatable Guantanamo Bay detainee.

Exit Through The Gift Shop has a particularly tricky narrative. It purports to be a documentary about Thierry Guetta, an eccentric Vintage clothing store owner who lives in Los Angeles and is obsessed by documenting his life and that of everyone he meets with his video camera.

Of course, Guetta happens to be the cousin of mosaic tile-wielding street artist (Space)Invader. Guetta sees this as some sort of sign and decides to make a full-blown documentary about street art (or graffiti, to people who don’t do it, or at least don’t cock about on train hoardings at 4am doing it).

Guetta tracks down a number of venerated street artists and gets tight access through his relationship with Invader. Guetta is alleged to have met Invader in 1999 but it isn’t until 2006 he finally links up with Banksy. By this point the Bristolian is arguably the world’s biggest street art name, so the documentary has a new focus. Now Guetta follows Banksy to Disneyland, the West Bank and everywhere else worth tagging.

Eventually Banksy tells ridiculous Guetta to deliver a finished piece because Guetta has spent so much time on the film. Of course, Banksy ridicules Guetta’s finished documentary and suggests Guetta become a street artist, which he does in a matter of months, with huge success.

If this all sounds a bit thin for a feature-length documentary, even a spoof, that’s because it is. There are quite a few moments of hilarity, mostly due to Guetta’s incompetence and inarticulacy or Banksy’s wry observations. There is also impressive footage of street artists in the act.

At the end of the brilliant, high velocity pre-credit sequence one graf artist leaps up a wall and away from security guards just in time to escape. Any viewer with a pulse will want to raise a fist in appreciation and solidarity. Wherever you sit on the art/vandalism debate, it’s impossible not to watch the lengths some of these people go to and admire their efforts.

But it’s equally true, as Conservatives and cynics may suggest, that if the global mob of street artists put as much effort into, well, anything as they did scribbling on walls, they could soon come up with something worthwhile like a cure for cancer, a new version of Pet Sounds or some kind of universal torture device that only affected recruitment agents.

The film itself is worth seeing, even if it would have made a better hour-length Channel 4 documentary than a feature film. On the plus side, a knowing voiceover from Rhys Ifans throughout seems to poke more fun. It could be his Welsh accent, but Ifans does appear to be calling Thierry, “Terry,” deliberately. Ifans used to be big mates with Super Furry Animals so is no stranger to a bit of mischief. Also, while we're not really on the subject, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Roni Size contribute fitting work on the soundtrack.

The jury is out on Banksy’s directorial skills for now, but that’s partly because so little of what he presents here seems real. By all means give viewers a spoof or play with preconceptions but no one likes an out and out cheat unless they’re in on the joke.

It seems massively unlikely Thierry Guetta is for real. He could even be Banksy. After all, Guetta doesn't look too disimiliar to a man The Daily Mail claimed was him in 2008, while many of the other scenes in Exit Through The Gift Shop could have been faked and the smartness of that title alone gives an indication of the tone. Art, street art, multinational corporations and business in general are all ripe for parody and out and out piss-taking so Banksy obliges. Just don’t expect a revolution in cinema.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Gorillaz and Banksy make for moist March

Just a quick fumble today. Some would say that's all I ever manage, but the imminent return of Gorillaz on their third album Plastic Beach is tremendously exciting. The first tune to surface from the album is the terrific 'Stylo'.

This sterling track has already been raved about everywhere from Tooting to Tokyo. On a personal level, I've been banging on about this track to everyone myself since it surfaced a while back. To paraphrase The White Stripes' 'Fell In Love With A Girl' - I said it once before but it bears repeating.

Even if 'Stylo' featured just the Damon Albarn vocal and the simple, minimal Danger Mouse bass and synth workout it would be a brilliant tune. However, the cunning street corner Mos Def rap and extraordinary, agitated, even frenzied Bobby Womack vocal ensure this tune is nothing less than outstanding. This can only be proper, really. The man behind Across 110th Street wouldn't just pop out of retirement after two decades to work on any old toot.

Londoners will also be salivating upon reading the latest from 'Murdoc', (Almost certainly Albarn's animated alter-ego at the heart of Gorillaz).

Murdoc/Albarn told NME: "Gorillaz were always influenced by The Clash. They were always my favourite band, I loved how they took the heart and soul of punk and reggae smeared it in London graffiti and paint and then sailed it round the world."

He added:"I don’t think that’s a million miles from what Gorillaz do now."

Rather excitingly, the title track includes former Clash guitarist Mick Jones (a hero London Liked was lucky enough to meet at a Primal Scream gig in 2006) and bassist Paul Simonon, the latter of whom worked with Albarn on The Good, The Bad and The Queen's debut (and probably only) album.

There'll be a full rundown on the Gorillaz album and any other Gorillaz news here soon.

STOP PRESS: Thurs 25/02.10: It has been announced this afternoon London station Xfm will be playing the whole of Plastic Beach on Tuesday March 2nd...

Just time to mention Banksy. The anonymous Bristolian grafitti artist has been a fascinating figure in the (street) art world for years. His pieces have been seen in locations across the world and particularly in London. One big question, perhaps the only one which really matters, is this: Can Banksy do anything more meaningful than paint clever pictures, with the odd joke in, on public walls?

The answer will be here on Monday when there'll be a review of his directorial debut, Exit Through The Gift Shop.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Plasticines throw some killer shapes

*Photo: Plasticines @ The Borderline, February 8 - courtesy of Talia Kranes

At the beginning of an exciting week of new music for London Liked, Plasticines rocked The Borderline in stylish, punky fashion. Last Monday (February 8) Katty Besnard led the terrific young French female quartet with raw AC/DC attitude and tambourine shakes that certainly kicked the efforts of former Oasis warbler Liam Gallagher into touch.

Four women from just outside Paris sporting an unashamed swagger and who met at a Libertines gig. Can this only mean impressionable teens down the front and trying-to-pretend-they’re-not-perving men filling the rest of the small, but lively Borderline? Partly. It would be easy to write off Plasticines as Long Blondes via Ladyhawke with a Gallic twist at first listen but that is to undersell their charm. Parisians seem to be stereotyped as cold, stylish and irascible, but Besnard and her bandmates (guitarist Marine Neuilly, bassist Louise Besillien and drummer Anais Vandevyvere) charm the tough, disconcertingly quiet school night crowd effortlessly, but with the obsequiousness that makes, say, Robbie Williams or Mika such a grating live prospect.

Now on their second album Plasticines have the confidence and tightness that mostly only comes with experience, specifically experience up on stage. From the recently released About Love album, former single Bitch shines in lean, snake-hipped fashion. It’s got drive and with a title like that, sassiness is almost a given. Besnard sings like PJ Harvey, even if the riffs and rhythms recall Gossip. Saucy. *Runnaway meanwhile sounds like The Go-Gos whilr Another Kiss is extraordinarily good fun, almost as though The Ting Tings returned and decided every song they wrote would match the quality of Be The One.

A brief word about their covers to end. You’re No Good, originally performed by Betty Clark in 1963 but covered by everyone from Elvis Costello to Van Halen, has the righteous party feel of The Knack’s unassailable My Sharona. Almost as good was the mademoiselles version of These Boots Were Made For Walkin’. Not quite as seductive as the Nancy Sinatra take, but what is? And no, “Geri Halliwell’s cover,” is not an appropriate answer.
By Wednesday (February 10) a change in direction was needed. So? London Liked has always kept dubstep at a distance. It’s been around in various forms for half a decade on pirate radio stations across London, sounding to casual listeners like dark garage gone dub-minimal or jungle with slower beats. Crude terminology to the afficiandos of the scene maybe, but the big question on many a ravers’ lips is simple. How do you dance to something with difficult, often slow time signatures?

With any serious consideration this question falls down like an obese man drooling in front of Greggs. Drum ‘n’ bass is hard to dance to if you don’t pick one beat to follow, say a snare a bar. With dubstep, like d ‘n’ b, is all about picking a drum sound or bassline you can follow and sticking to it. If the tune’s too slow, make like Marley and get skankin’. Easy when you know how.


Deviation was the dubstep destination last week and it the scene finally made sense. The brooding, minimal stuff Mercury-nominated Putney producer Burial became respected for was at a minimum in favour of basslines Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry would weep over and acid synth meltdowns electro DJs would cheerfully steal. Gramaphone in Commercial Road was as lively on a Wednesday as could be expected on a Friday night. DJ Zinc, who heard his ace Ms Dynamite-featuring single Wile Out dropped enjoyed himself, while even superstar producer Mark Ronson got his crunk on. All that speaker pressure surely made a difference from producing soul-pop classics for Amy Winehouse, at least. Deviation happens once a month, but it’s worth feeling ropey at work the next day to attend.


Lowlife is another big underground name that’s been around for donkeys in The Big Smoke. Yes, it’s the name of a series of venerable underground parties rather than a sub-genre of urban music, but hey - start your own blog if you don’t like tenuous linking**. Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, a pair known as much for their formidable DJing skills and sterling club culture books as they are for their superior knowledge of dance music, set up Lowlife in 1995. It’s a word-of-mouth event, which always sells out despite the dearth of advertising.

Anyway, again London Liked was virginal before the night.*** But in brief, the warehouse party feel, ragged but atmospheric venue, friendly punters, complete absence of bad attitude (even among security) and uniformly excellent music made Lowlife a winning night.

There’s bound to be more about the night, its two founders and the fantastic house music on here in future. Especially as the next Lowlife is the 15th anniversary…

*though the double ‘n’ is unlikely in use to distinguish it from the excellent Del Shannon song.

**Actually that’s a great name for a blog.

***OK, it’s not cool to be a Londoner and admit to never having been to a dubstep night or Lowlife, but in my defence, I have done a few cool things in my life, some would say many, considering my social, intellectual and financial handicaps. By that I obviously mean my ability to say and do idiotic things with unerring frequency, my ability to squander money stupidly and my seeming inability to regularly earn what most people would consider to be a decent income.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Soho and swearing

Both Soho and swearing are endlessly exciting, naughty, ridiculous and often unfairly maligned.

Considering their parallels it’s quite fitting that the card above is available in a branch of Scribbler on Wardour St, the longest street in Westminster’s delightfully seedy-yet-glam party district and arguably most fun area of central London. Chain stores of any kind are rarely centres of design excellence, originality or intellectual rigour but this one, which has 10 branches in London, is something of a rarity. It’s a card shop that sells cards which make you laugh out loud and doesn't leave you full of hate the second you cross the threshold.

When asked about the absence of the harshest of all swear words the polite assistant could not offer an explanation, but could recommend wrapping paper adorned with, as he put it, the “C word”. No, not Cameron - although many use the Tory leader as a synonym for the real missing word.

Back once again to the opening par. The key is in the adjectives. Exciting, naughty, ridiculous. Apart from funny, clever and attractive, there may not be three as complimentary words in the English language to describe a place, person or thing.

As for Soho, the usually reliable Irvine Welsh wrote in his 2002 Trainspotting sequel Porno, “It’s Soho but it could be anywhere that has no character any more.” Admittedly, this line is both brilliantly bitter and depressingly empty; the kind of thing Camus or Palahniuk would get off on, regardless of the statement’s veracity. It should also be mentioned that Welsh may not hold this view, of course, as it is part of Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson’s interior monologue.

Critics of London’s central sex shop and edit suite wonderland complain that it is both childish and silly, while accepting it is a place meant for adults. This conflict of image can be applied to swearing. There’s as much joy to be had at the silly end of curse words, as there is at the dangerous, violent end. South Park’s Terrance and Philip are great but the dark, extreme profanity uttered by Malcolm Tucker could make the weak or just timid cry in real life.

A person’s love of swearing does not necessarily mean a limited vocabulary or a failure to articulate oneself with clarity. Swearing is often just a quick way to be unequivocal. What’s wrong? It’s fucked. OK. Let’s fix it. Who’s he? He’s a prick. Is he? Let’s leave. Beyond all that, swearing may be lazy and offensive, but it’s fun. Especially when trying out new or unusual expressions. Try some out today. But not around kids. They’ll get around to it soon enough and to encourage them to swear is irresponsible and could cause a lot of trouble, especially if they’re not your children.

So bollocks to that.

*At the time of publication Clinton’s do not stock the wrapping paper.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Hot Chip finally fulfil potential

Clearly someone at Hot Chip base couldn’t hack the competition.

Since the band released patchy third album Made In The Dark early in 2008 other graduates of Putney’s Elliot School have not only peaked above the popular music parapet but leapt right over it to snag critical acclaim.

Later in 2008 Dubstep producer Will Bevan, who plies his trade with the moodier moniker Burial, saw a hefty sales increase after winning a Mercury Music Prize nomination.

Last year belonged to The xx, the young band whose stunning, elliptical debut album featured at or near the top of many album of the year lists.

To Dem Chip Mans' (as no one has ever called them or probably will again) credit, in 2010 there is little chance of another Elliot alumnus surpassing their latest offering.

From big singles like the staggering, probably career-best anthem Over And Over to awkward-funk album tracks like Keep Fallin’ and Down With Prince via the odd superb non-album single like My Piano, Hot Chip’s confident way with a sorrow-soul dancefloor definite has never been in doubt.

But across their opening trio of albums, they never delivered a consistent enough end product.

One Life Stand sees Alexis Taylor-fronted band brush off the “Great singles band” tag in convincing fashion.

Just to get the one less-than-exceptional moment out of the way first, Slush is less great than the other nine tunes here. As ballads go it chimes away pleasantly enough and unexpectedly includes some steel drums in a melancholic fashion. It just wouldn’t soundtrack Del looking wistful at the end of Rodney’s wedding reception as poignantly as Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years does.

There’s no massive need to think about Slush yet (UK residents have had quite enough of it during this winter), but it does crop up on track six, so be warned.

Back at the start Thieves In The Night begins the album well. Drums that recall the more breakbeat-influenced tracks by The Chemicals Brothers like Under The Influence slot into a song half Air-gone-dark, half Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.

Hand Me Down Your Love sees the introduction of old-skool pianos of the kind you can hear at Back To ’92 raves and on Northern Soul records. There’s also a beat half-inched from Doves' Pounding.

Are these south-west Londoners only listening to their own record label’s back catalogue now?

String samples figure heavily here and on I feel Better, with the latter notable for an autotuned Joe Goddard vocal. It’s also another occasion steel drums are wheeled out. Twice in one album? Did Super Furry Animals even have the balls to do that?

On the title track there seems to be even more drumming of the kind Londoners usually only clock on August bank holiday in Notting Hill amid crushed Red Stripe cans and jerk chicken bones. Like an especially chilli sauce-covered kebab after seven pints of Wifebeater*, it’s a brave choice, but worth taking a chance on.

The chorus and verses on One Life Stand are both excellent, if completely different. Each verse has a dark UK garage feel, like the sort of track Zed Bias used to put out years before grime became a going concern, albeit with a beat more at home on a current funky or progressive house tune. [That means funky as in the contemporary genre you can hear on pirates rather than funky in a '70s James Brown sense.] For the chorus, it’s a different story – all euphoric Prince chords and lubricated guitar. Like 12 Monkeys, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you can’t help but admire it.

As with the three past records there are a few ballads on this fourth, but when they come wrapped up as lovingly as Alley Cats, it’s hard to complain. It sounds like a particularly great song by The Whitest Boy Alive, but also sounds like the cab ride home in the morning after one of those nights that makes life worth living.

We Have Love will be one for the fans who got off on seeing Hot Chip perform Wearing My Rolex with Eskibeat originator and unexpected chart conqueror Wiley at Glastonbury 2008. Unquestionably influenced by that east London legend, it’ll probably go down well with the bassline crowd, too. Thunderous stuff: odd, wobbly and malevolent like someone remaking The Wicker Man in the main room at Fabric.

Towards the conclusion of OLS Keep Quiet has an expansive, haunting quality. Fever Ray and the last Portishead's 3 may have been key influences. That last album may have been made in it, but this song should certainly be listened to in the dark.

Take It In rounds things off in a smoky, mischievous Xpress 2 style. Perhaps the most banging track is saved for last and one that ostensibly made for a 4am dancefloor. This could only be expected with that wink of a title. Whether they're on about dangerous narcotics or academic learning, listening will almost certainly lead to a happier life.

As with the rest of One Life Stand, pleasure will come to those who imbibe repeatedly.

*Note to non-drinkers: This is one of many crude nicknames for strong Belgian lager Stella Artois.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Crossrail progress leaves sorry station core

Victoria may be the busiest station on the London Underground network and serve a whopping 76 million passengers each year, but it surely loses out in the battle for Most Annoying Tube Station In London.

The true frontrunners for this dubious accolade can only be two fetid Oxford Street apertures: Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road.

During rush hour Ox Circ, as everyone writes in txt msgs, is a ghastly crammed hub of gawping slack-jawed tourist flotsam and hollow-eyed wageslave drones surrounded by irascible drooling religious nutters. The rest of the time it just feels like some ludicrous Orwellian joke. No matter how often or comprehensively it is refurbished Oxford Circus will always look unfinished.

Tottenham Court Road’s festering hole is even worse and is surely the lamest Tube station in London. Many weary passengers would happily fellate an entire colony of lepers rather than use it ever again.


Busking doesn’t always have to be the refuge of the musically inept and those who avoid bathing. The man who performs Abba songs in the tunnel leading to the Bakerloo line at Charing Cross may deserve to have their entire regrettable back catalogue (on vinyl, not CD), shoved up his member but some might be allowed to live, come the revolution. But not the woeful goon(s) bleating away at TCR. Come back Jedward, all is forgiven. All except your version of the Ghostbusters theme tune, that is.

At ground and subterranean levels Waterloo station is prone to more fuckwit-filled crowd bottlenecks than Topshop on a Saturday. Part of this is the sheer size of the cavernous orifice and its 23 necessary escalators. Waterloo is often horrendous, but at least two airport-style moving walkways give one stretch a pleasant feeling of unreality. Particularly if you sprint along one listening to drum ‘n’ bass and dodging fellow passengers in an attempt to make your meaningless life more amusing than it is. You can take sharp little glances behind you as you run and imagine being Jason Bourne in The Bourne Fornication or whatever it’s called, too.

But TCR frequently sees bottlenecks that make sentient beings long for death-by-something-unspeakable like happy hardcore or Jeremy Clarkson.

There are endless other reasons why the thought of using TCR is as welcome as Gary Glitter at a crèche, but enough’s enough. This is a blog not a Dostoyevsky novel.

The one thing TCR had going for it was the building above it. Aside from grotty old takeaways with less than rigorous adherence to health guidelines, this creaking edifice was home to the Astoria and Mean Fiddler, neighbouring venues which could always be relied upon for great nights out*.

Aside from hosting many world-beating bands (and as many appalling artists) the Astoria provided a home for perhaps London’s most famous gay night of the last two decades. G.A.Y ran between 1993 and 2008 (until it moved to Heaven) and regularly saw big pop acts - including Amy, Britney, Girls Aloud and, lordy, Chesney Hawkes – appear live. It was obviously a good thing, whether as a straight man you never went but only saw the queues after leaving a Friday gig, a straight woman who went to party with gay mates and avoid being chatted up by dickheads or, of course, as a member of the target audience of gay men or women. Walking up Charing Cross Road and seeing G.A.Y in big red letters could often instil a sense of pride for London’s occasionally almost palpable sense of inclusion and tolerance.

After all, as a straight, white man, it’s sometimes easy to forget that people of my colour, sex and sexuality have it far easier than, well, everyone else. Except for the rich.

Now the surface building above TCR has been whittled down to an essential core, the landscape around one of London’s most frantic junctions looks alien. Crossrail is coming, so Hackney residents can get to Chelsea games more quickly and the TNT-reading Kiwi and Aussie hordes in Shepherd’s Bush can head to Essex without trouble, should they feel the need.

Whether or not a palatial tower of Haribo, sorbet and pancakes fills the space above Tottenham Court Road or whether, more likely, some ghastly mall is built to suck more soul from this town, some of us will miss the sort of grime you just don’t get at the O2.

Coming soon: Have Hot Chip finally delivered a consistently brilliant album on the fourth attempt? Find out when London Liked gives you the skinny on one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated albums.

*On a personal note, I once drunkenly fractured my thumb falling down the stairs one night in 1999 (after Gay Dad's set but before Mansun headlined) and saw Foals perform one of the finest gigs I’ve witnessed in my life on a Monday night in 2008. A toilet attendant also sang, “Born in Lewisham,” at me while I stood at a urinal in 2004 in the Mean Fiddler, but that’s another story.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

xx art show lacks Saam's spark

The xx forged a formidable reputation in 2009 for the stunning after-midnight mood music that comprised their debut album. Voted near or at the zenith of several end-of year-polls, the Putney-educated quartet (now trio after the departure of keyboardist Baria Quresh) achieved great things with deceptively simple songs ostensibly hued from whispers and longing, tears and aching.

When it was announced that innovative music promo director Saam Farahmand was producing a video installation piece involving the album, a richly creative meeting of minds and solid collaboration was the minimum which fans of either could realistically expect.

After all, Farahmand is best known for his regularly impressive work with day-glo slackers Klaxons and has also turned in memorable videos for acts Simian Mobile Disco and New Young Pony Club.

Unfortunately, when viewing The xx installation in the basement of Vinyl Factory, in Soho's Poland Street, it was hard not to feel slightly underwhelmed.

Three individual column speakers arranged in a triangle formation were fitted with small, sunken TV screens a few metres apart in a vast empty room. The speakers played the aforementioned album, while the tv screens showed pre-recorded footage of individual band members singing and playing instruments in time with their respective recorded parts. White light dimmed and brightened to emphasise relevant basslines, guitar parts and beats in time with the music.

This may sound rudimentary in the extreme - and it was. For an audience now hardened to challenging and sophisticated art stunts and even blockbuster movies as obsequiously stunning and visually complex as Avatar 3D, it was hard not to feel somewhat undersold.

A missed opportunity this time, but given The xx's refreshing approach to creatively bankrupt endeavours like cover versions, it's impossible not to write this off as a blip at the start of an auspicious career. After all, if they can breath new life into evergreen house classic You Got The Love and Womack and Womack's life-affirming pop-soul standard Teardrops, they can surely overcome this minor setback.

As for Farahmand? If Spike Jonze is anything to go by, he'll rise again, just sharper and weirder next time.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Ten reasons why 2010 will smack it

1 Fewer lists

Now that the execrable 2009 is over, they’ll be a lot fewer lists cluttering up every vaguely cultural magazine and website or feature section therein. Editors (not the band) and their employees will be forced into generating ideas with a hint of originality.

Lists do have their place, albeit mostly for ensuring toilet paper is not forgotten on the trip down the supermarket. They are also good for stimulating debate among the terminally workshy on important topics like “which Elbow album is the best?” or “which Will Ferrell film most wants makes you want to kick him in the balls?”.

Yes, there is something fleetingly comforting about compiling a carefully prepared group of your favourite things and listing them in one place. But similarly there can’t be many serious or even frivolous pop culture consumers not totally jaded by the endless array of top tens, hundreds and even thousands that have been seen and heard everywhere from The Guardian to Fact to XFM.

Nick Hornby and his list-happy novel High Fidelity have a lot to answer for, even if the book is essential reading for anyone with an unhealthy pop music obsession.

My Top 5 lists:

1 Guest list – any that lets you into a place with free booze
2 Schindler's List
3 Listless – how everyone feels after reading so many fucking lists
4 Jess List – an Australian girl I once took to see Asian Dub Foundation. No joy, though, if you know what I mean
5 Listeria – Foods that can cause it include hot dogs, deli meats, raw milk, cheeses (particularly soft-ripened cheeses like feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, or Mexican-style “queso blanco”), raw and cooked poultry, raw meats, ice cream, raw vegetables, raw and smoked fish and the green lip mussel

2 World Cup 2010

For football fans on their way to South Africa in June, this is already the most anticipated part of the year. Even for those with weddings and babies due. Skint stay-at-homes who live and breathe the beautiful/ugly game are also tremendously excited. There’s more drama at the World Cup than you get in a series of 24. They'll be Dodgy refereeing decisions, unexpected and ostensibly dubious triumphs of teams normally considered to be second rate and moments of insanity that become iconic and as talked about as any footballing excellence on display. There are always moments of hilarity, too. Expect ridiculous and inane punditry from all the usual BBC suspects, bizarre own goals and winning celebrations even Mika would find OTT. Be sure to watch out for unnecessarily extravagant sartorial displays, silly dances and even sillier chants from drunken, semi-literate supporters of all creeds (and that’s just in London pubs. Boom boom).

Although it’s extremely unlikely this year’s tournament will end with anything as shocking as the Zinedine Zidane headbutt of 2006 , they’ll be plenty of other debate-worthy topics off the pitch. Chief among them being: is sub-Saharan Africa ready for a tournament of this scale? Although it would be a mean-spirited and possibly racist curmudgeon who wished South Africa anything but great success this summer, it’ll be interesting to see how this particular part of the world copes with an influx of spoiled millionaire footballers and the attendant media circus, in light of security and infrastructure questions. Whatever happens, June can't come soon enough.

3 Someone might kill that cunt in the Go Compare adverts.

4 DiCaprio leads movie charge

Leonardo DiCaprio turns up in two exciting releases from directors who’ve made careers out of delivering the goods in powerful, often influential fashion. The much-delayed asylum-set shocker Shutter Island looks to be Martin Scorsese’s first out and out psychological thriller since his underwhelming Caper Fear remake, though he and DiCaprio also tackled mental illness in The Aviator. Christopher Nolan directs Inception, a cerebral thriller apparently set within the mind. Imagine if The Matrix had been made with philosophy students rather than Pepsi Max drinkers in mind. But don’t expect to understand the film on first viewing. Aside from the obvious budgetary differences, Inception appears to have much more in common with contemporary brain/narrative-warping classic Memento than Nolan’s two fine Batman films.

The Expendables looks to be the year’s top unreconstructed action film. Stallone, Willis, Jet Li, Arnie. Surely it can’t fail? Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland should be, at the very least, visually astonishing, particularly as it will be screening in 3D. Regular Burton collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are on-board, as is Back To The Future weirdo Crispin Glover, while the Disney film will offer a tempting mix of live action and animation. It’s bound to be beguiling and odd but will it attain the heights achieved by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Toy Story 3 is Pixar’s summer blockbuster. This too, will be in 3D, but will have to be amazing to have even a fraction of the emotional impact of the animation studio’s stunning last feature, Up.

Edgar Wright also returns with Scott Pilgrim Versus The World. It’s not the final part of the Cornetto Trilogy but should be pretty impressive. Ever since he shot Spaced Wright’s work has shown a knowledge of and passion for comic book culture, so fans of him and the original Scott Pilgrim stories should expect visceral action thrills and plenty of irony. If all that ain’t enough, The Rum Diary hits the silver screen. Hunter S Thompson's great lost novel is arguably one of the greatest books about what it means to be a man written in the 20th century and remains a pretty damn good take on what it is to be a journalist, too. Withnail and I's Bruce Robinson is directing and Johnny Depp is again playing Hunter S Thompson (or thereabouts)… It can’t, or at least shouldn’t, lose.

5 Loads of great acts returning with new albums

There’s plenty of ace new music kicking about (Washed Out springs immediately to mind as do many other acts that'll be mentioned here soon) but big names that have already made an impact look set to dominate in ’10. Literate New York indie poshos Vampire Weekend , Putney's melancholic ravers Hot Chip and Montreal marvels Arcade Fire are all set to release their latest albums.

Aside from solo albums from both members of Outkast and Nas, politicised Philly alt-rap crew The Roots and top Essex pair Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip have tunes ready to go. Fans of the short fat production whiz and the tall, fantastically-bearded poet/mc can but hope their second album will match stunning debut Angles. On a pop tip irrepressible antipodean pop princess Kylie is back, London’s finest R'n'B diva Estelle has new material waiting in the wings and Mercy singer Duffy is on her way back. In Unlikely Pairing News, there may even be some tunes on the way co-written by Tulse Hill’s own Adele Adkins and… Jack White. Finally, mentioned here alone because it is likely to be as uncategorisable as their two previous albums, Gorillaz will sling out their third record, Plastic Beach. With De La Soul making at least two guest appearances and Mos Def also joining the project, it could be among the most interesting releases of the year.

6 Election fever brightens recession-hit Britain

It’ll be almost inescapable in newspapers, on TV and online for months but ’10 is an election year. Policy announcements will race out of government at a frantic rate, with countless dusty initiatives forgotten while new ideas are conjured up relentlessly. For the first time in British politics, they’ll be a series of televised debates, in line with what voters have long experienced in the US. Political upheaval usually creates a fertile landscape for satirists, so big things should be expected from the better columnists, old standbys like Rory Bremner and hopefully Armando Iannucci. The Thick Of It is already the best thing on British TV, but it’ll be interesting to see how a major change of government influences the show.

Although feeble, desperate competitors with little chance of winning occasionally pull through to snatch victory from the jaws of ignominious defeat, Gordon Brown is unlikely to. He’s a dour, dull ballbag-looking man who has bumbled Britain through a recession as an unloved Prime Minister, after succeeding a massively unpopular nigh-on fundamentalist Christian warmonger at No 10. He was never going to be a success, really. It’s time for him to step aside, but I won’t be voting for the Conservatives. Regardless of how much the party has changed under Cameron, they’re still the party that represent power, money and privilege of the few over the many. That aside, even a few decades ago they were a racist, sexist, homophobic bunch of tossers and like all decent people I can’t abide that shit.

So Cameron will be the next Prime Minister. Working people will get stitched up a little bit more but not much more than normal as there’s so little between Labour and Tory in 2010. Still at least we’ll have someone to hate rather than just yawn at on TV.

7 Language keeps evolving (on and on)

Unfortunately, no end is in sight for the hideous linguistic trend of smashing two names, either forename and surname or two different people, together. Years after the terms Brangelina, Bennifer and - what was presumably the first celeb instance - J. Lo gained currency the UK reached a nadir with Jedward. It was bad enough that Irish X Factor losers John and Edward were so utterly hateful, but saying or typing “Jedward” was so utterly cretinous it instantly lowered the IQ of anyone who did it.

This may be a minor annoyance, but it is part of an overall brilliant trend, that of language evolution. Over the last decade "sick" and "ill" have finally joined bad as words that can be used as synonyms for good, while the word "standard" has been used euphemistically by Londoners for years. It can mean something which may or may not merely be up to an appropriate standard. Yet more often than not it is applied to something which is commonplace, but simultaneously excellent. For example, a friend might remark that he or she had a heavy session in the pub on a Friday night followed by a lengthy and energetic session of sex with their partner upon getting home. The reply? Standard.

In some circles “actually” became a euphemism for “fucking” in its adjectival sense (ie to mean “extremely” rather than “having sex”) two years ago. This has died down somewhat but there can be few ways more satisfying than expressing disbelief than saying, “Is he actually joking?”

Really, perhaps the latest word to get a linguistic update can mean anything between, “That seems mildly unlikely,” and, “Are you some sort of idiot or lying?”

It can’t be long before more old words wriggle away from linguistic orthodoxy and become used in fresh, interesting ways, even if "really" is getting somewhat stale.

8 We’re getting further away from 2009

Every single day that passes is a good one because we get further away from 2009. It was a stinking, festering, dog-raping, dozen months of unspeakable, unhappy bullshit that shouldn’t be wished upon anyone but your worst enemy ever again. It made 2007 look like the greatest year in existence. Whether or not you personally suffered, unemployment, flaccidity, an STD, weeping genital abscesses, heartbreak, loneliness, depression, the murder of a loved pet by an insane neighbour, the sudden inability to control your bodily fluids or an unforgiving combination of them all, chances are some of your friends or family did. Life is never an endless sunny parade of japes, but 2010 will have to usher in nothing less than the apocalypse to be worse than last year.

9 Sweet US TV still being broadcast

The Wire and The Sopranos have long finished but Family Guy is running until at least 2012, while Futurama and South Park will be knocking about until at least 2011. So they’ll always be something decent to watch for that time between getting in and getting busy.

10 East London back on the map

It’s been a lame old four years for anyone in south-east London wanting to go direct to east London but the bus replacement service finally jogs on into the sunset this summer. By June, lucky Dalston residents will be able to schlap down to Penge on one easy trip on the newly opened East London line extension. OK, so the merits of these two delightful neighbourhoods could be debated for literally minutes, but it can’t be denied that you meet some right wrong ‘uns in both. Serious jammers (and by that I mean people who regularly trot from one compass point to another across the capital) will be more excited about the further extension next year when it’ll be possible to go from south-west London (as far as Clapham Junction) to south-east without the hassle of taking the Northern Line up to London Bridge. But still, a public transport route connecting West Croydon and Hoxton in one move? Inspired.