Thursday, 30 June 2011

Move over U2, I want to see some Mexican wrestling.

I arrived back on Monday, the morning after the (long) weekend before, looking like, as my girlfriend affectionately described, Stig of the Dump, eager to hear what my family (all keen music lovers) had made of the BBC's coverage of the festival. I was particularly intrigued to hear their opinions on Beyoncé's headlining set which brought down the curtain on the Somerset festival until 2013. I thought she had put on a brilliant show even if it was unfair to describe it as a solo performance when much of my enjoyment was derived from the fantastically energetic dancers and the novel and impressively tight all-female backing band.  My father, however, wondered whether having a commercial pop artist headlining the Pyramid Stage was, in his words, ‘really Glastonbury’? Many punters see it as a ‘rock’ festival and thus should be headlined by rock bands. It was similar to the reaction of many Glastonbury veterans to the decision to choose Beyoncé’s spouse Jay-Z as a headliner in 2008. Does the music of Beyoncé and Jay-Z really fit in with the vibe of the festival?  

Well, firstly, my answer would be yes. Glastonbury is not a rock festival. Those who subscribe to this view should rise from off their sunken deck chairs in front of the Other Stage or crawl out from under the canvas of the John Peel tent and take a walk around the whole festival site. On this stroll they will absorb all the different genres of music, the theatrical and comedic performances and the circus and cabaret acts and then hopefully reassess their claim. Even the title of the festival, ‘Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts’ tells you that this is not just a musical event, least of all just a rock music event.  This year saw performances from the Wombles, the physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox, some Mexican wrestlers, the comedian Angelos Epithemiou, Caroline Lucas MP, U2, and a talk on whether ‘veganism is the ideological glue to bring together movements for social change’. Now, I have been scratching my head but I am struggling to think of an umbrella under which all these acts can be placed. This is why it is not just acceptable that a pop act headlined the Pyramid Stage but also imperative that they continue to do so.

Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, what rock acts could have headlined this year?  At this point there may be many people hurling names at me such as Pulp or Radiohead but their secret, special guest slots on the Park Stage were a huge success and the story of the festival.  Radiohead never seem to do anything by the book so it is no surprise that they did not headline and Pulp probably needed a break after a throng of headline performances (I mean they are middle aged now). Some may wonder why the Arctic Monkeys did not headline but, although I am pained to say it, the Sheffield lads have lost something of their spark over the course of their two most recent, interesting but rather limp records.  What about the Strokes? Over the hill. Muse? Headlined last year and past their best. Perhaps Primal Scream could have headlined the Pyramid rather than the other but even they have resorted to just bashing out their 1991 classic album Screamadelica. There really are not that many options at the moment.  However, the dearth of rock bands is not just apparent at the headlining end of the scale. It is true of new bands too. Whereas in previous years I have spent a considerable amount of time in the John Peel tent checking out the next big thing, this year I only watched one act there, Yuck (that’s the band’s name, not just my disgust at the situation).  Perhaps it is just my taste but I really think the problem goes deeper than that. If you listen to the charts at the moment you will be lucky to hear a strum on an amplified guitar for they are perpetually flooded with synths and electro-dance tunes.  Whatever happened to those heady days of 2004 when you could not turn on the radio without being told about the next Kaiser Chiefs or Franz Ferdinand.

So what I have done there is give you a much longer, more ranting version of the conversation that I had with my dad which pretty much ran as follows:
Dad: “But is Beyoncé really Glastonbury?”
Me: “Yes.”
But in my head all these furious thoughts were aching to come out.

So we must wait another two years before the return of Britain’s premier festival. I think a year off will do everyone good as it will serve to keep us hungry for more. One can too easily become complacent. I would not be surprised if by 2013 the drought is over and Glastonbury sees three blistering headline sets from the world’s most exciting rock bands. But I doubt it. In fact, I wonder if one day there might be a non-musical act headlining. I think Mexican wrestling would really work rather well on the Pyramid Stage. 

P.S. I saw this band at Glastonbury and they were absolutely sensational. This is a video for their song How It Ends. You may recognise it from the film Little Miss Sunshine for which they wrote the soundtrack. It's beautiful. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

New Hope #2

I'm not very good at keeping up the momentum here. I was hoping to do a blog a day. Ambitious.

New Hope #2

I am definitely a sucker for singers who are also mad dancers. I don't want them to be particularly good at dancing or to take it really seriously. But you get some bands with singers who have just perfected their own unique and extraordinary style. In the same way that Jonathon Pierce, lead vocalist of the Drums, grabbed my attention with his remarkable shapes, Duncan Wallis of Manchester band Dutch Uncles left me flabergasted as he performed his fantastically jerky and awkward routine. I first saw Dutch Uncles supporting Bombay Bicycle Club at the Liverpool Academy in December 2009 and enjoyed them a lot without noticing any stand out tracks. I kind of forgot about them for about a year until I saw an advert for a gig at the Shipping Forecast in February of this year.

In that time little changed, not least the dancing, but I had listened to a few tracks so was able to get more involved in the gig. They have now released an album called Cadenza. It's quite hard to get into but once past the prickly exterior it is a really enjoyable album. Their brand of sharp, spiky, off beat pop appears often constructed to a scientific degree and this does not aid its accessibility. However, they have a surprising propensity to mould catchy melodies which jump out at you when you least expect them to.

There are two reasons why I am so fascinated by this band. Firstly, they are not synth based. It seems every new band has to be electro influenced or synth filled and it's really boring. I know all those years ago in the mid noughties there was a horrible deluge of skinny four-piece guitar bands all trying to look like the Pigeon Detectives. It was not a good time. But I really wish the backlash had not been so thorough. Dear record Labels, please stop turning guitar bands into electro bands.

Secondly, Dutch Uncles are not what you might consider conventionally cool. It is hard to tell whether they are deliberately trying to appear geekish or if that is actually them. I hope it is just their natural style. I love this because it gives us all hope. It makes me think that, you know, if they can be cool then why can't I? I think it is similar to the connection that people felt with Morrissey when he wrote about everyone hating him. He was a nerd too but people thought he was cool. Dutch Uncles are a perfect antidote to the disgusting plague of macho, gobbing, greasy bands that are so synonymous with their home city.

Right I ought to pipe down and let you listen to them. I hope you like them. This is the title track from their new album. I think it is just brilliant. Please also look out for Duncan's dancing. I often catch myself trying to recreate those moves in my bedroom. So enjoy that mental image too.


Saturday, 4 June 2011

New Hope #1

Right. I was tempted to apologise for my lack of action over the last couple of weeks. However, I realise that I currently have 0 followers so I'm not sure if there's anyone who is going to be disappointed. But if there are some secret stalkers of this blog then, sorry.

In my first post I mentioned that it was really three bands that had led me to start this blog. Now I don't want you to think that I think I'm the first person to ever declare their love for these bands. I am no pioneer. But I think there are a lot of people who won't have been exposed to these artists. And they should be. I want people to like what I like. Although the chances are that if they ever become really popular I will probably say I never liked them anyway. That's the kind of cock I am. So yeah....

New Hope #1:

This is a band from the Blue Mountains in Australia (which, incidentally, is a place I have been's very lovely). My sister told me about them a few months ago and I liked them immediately. I think they have both clear influences and routes but they also have a freshness to them. For me, that is a balance that only the good bands have. It is virtually impossible to sound completely original which is why an artist has to balance the stolen stuff with a their uniqueness. Their music is very sunny but also, on some songs, a bit psychedelic. They are just really, really good. Their first album Bliss Release is out now in the UK having been released a while ago in Australia and it has already won the Australian version of the UK's Mercury Music Award (basically, the best Australian album of the year). So they come with a fair bit of hype. I saw them in April with about 50 other people in a place called the Cooler in Bristol and it was ace. Also my sister thinks that the girl synth player in the band looks like a transsexual. I think this is, perhaps, an unfair description but please make your judgement on that. Anyway I should stop chatting. I will post two songs. The first is the one which I think could break them. It's quite radio-friendly but that doesn't mean it isn't good. And the second is not on the album but I think it gives a great indication of their versatility. Oh yeah and the band are called Cloud Control.