Friday, 2 September 2011
Kev Brown at Lookout! Circa Nov 2007
I was surfing Myspace one night (it was October 2007), and one of my favorite rapper/ producers Kev Brown sent out an update saying that he was in London. It turned out his show had been cancelled and he and half the Low Budget crew were sleeping on Tranqill's floor. Virtually hyperventilating I called some friends with a live night called Lookout! and demanded they change the line up at the last minute. Two days later and Low Budget were rapping and making beats live on stage at Favela Chic.
The guys asked me to stay on and help programme, and through Myspace we managed to book Muhsinah, Ty, Blu and Ta'Raach, Stacey Epps, Eric Lau and Rahel, Fatima and lots of other artists with Alexander Nut and Cavalry as our resident DJs. There was a lot of sleeping on sofas, last minute line ups and minor emergencies, and we ended up giving the artists every penny we made on the door, but it was more than worth it. We were one of many similar live promoters at the time - Deviation which I also ended up working on, Doctors Orders at Herbal, Cargo and the Jazz Cafe were all putting on great live line ups of independent and emerging talent.
Fast forward to 2011, and things look pretty different. London has become one of the major cities in Europe international artists find it hardest to book a show in. Georgia Anne Muldrow, Taylor McFerrin, Blu and Exile, Cody Chesnutt, Mia Doi Todd, and many other great performers have all been on tour in Europe in the past year with no London date (not to mention the live talent based here). Generally venues and promoters are booking safe-bet big name artists slightly past their prime for lower fees, crowd pulling electronic producer-DJs who can just show up with a laptop (no backline, band members or tour manager required), or in the case of Cargo music so bad people have to get drunk to numb the pain.
I wasn't going to do another live night. It's hard and scary - you lie awake worrying about the sound system, ticket sales, flight prices and last minute cancellations. I convinced myself everyone must be happy enough with DJ sets and old school rappers. Then I saw Quadron perform at the Queens Head in May. The band were truly incredible - I will never forget that show as long as I live, but because it was a bit random and last minute there was only a tiny fraction of the familiar faces I knew would have felt the same way in the audience. I refuse to believe that the hundreds of Londoners downloading, blogging, tweeting and ranting on about amazing new music don't want to see it live. So I resolved to call my dear friend Eric Lau and ask for his help, and later this afternoon I'm going to go and hand in a deposit I can't afford to the venue for our first event.
It would be so easy to sit here and just blog, but this blog started in the first place because of the live events I was involved in, because I wanted to do something active to support the musicians whose work I love so much. I didn't know anything about anything, I was just passionate; so if you can offer an artist you love and want to see perform in London a spare room, a cheap flight hook up, a rehearsal space, or you just buy your tickets in advance, we would really appreciate your help.
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
I'm so excited to announce that we are launching a regular monthly live event in the basement at the C.A.M.P. in Shoreditch starting on Thursday 15th September 2011. If you came to Lookout!, Pause, Deviation, Bitches Brew or Tomorroww over the past few years you'll know we like to party - bring your inhaler and a towel.
We're starting with a very rare and special full live show from our musical hero and friend Dego (4Hero/ 2000 Black) performing his recently released album "A Wha' Him Deh Pon?" with a full live band, featuring London's finest musical talent. Supporting will be PMOI crew favourite, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tanya Auclair performing her original brand of experimental pop much lauded by the likes of Gilles Peterson. As if that weren't enough our resident DJ Eric Lau will be holding it down with an original selection of goodness until 1am.
To top it all off the inspirational Sri McKinnon will be launching her new exhibition "Mindscapes" (upstairs), Mrs Mck's Pudding Club from Relay Tea Room will be selling the most delicious selection of cakes and treats you've ever seen, and United 80 will have a musical pop up shop!
Advance tickets are on sale now [Click]
Sunday, 14 August 2011
"Black culture in this country has had a huge contribution, on our music and, a whole range of cultural ways…" My heart sank as I watched Owen Jones attempt to take to task an apoplectic and ill-informed David Starkey doing a fantastic impression of a racist on Newsnight this week as they discussed the London riots. Grateful as I was for the gesture, Jones's inability to think quickly of an effective and undeniably long list of positive contributions black culture has made in Britain was almost as sad as Starkey's shrieks of "Rap? You glorify rap?!"
In September 2007 I was working on the opening performance of the Bernie Grant Arts Centre - a desperately needed arts center in the heart of Tottenham dedicated to diversity, built by architect David Adjaye to commemorate the late Tottenham MP and community leader Bernie Grant. My daring boss tried to push the name of the devised piece of musical theatre created by a cast of 35 young people with London's finest directors, rappers, vocalists and songwriters past the board. We promptly had to do damage limitation on thousands of flyers and "RIOT" became "GRIOT". Her hopes to transform the negative connotations of the history of that word in that area associated with that MP from violence to joy and creativity were quickly dashed. The performance was a success as were many of our creative projects dedicated to diversity and cross-artform collaboration, but less than a year later most of us were made redundant. The official line to the press was that we lost our funding. The real story was much more heartbreaking, as issues of governance, ulterior motives and financial mismanagement reduced the dreams we worked ourselves to the bone for to virtually nothing in under a year. Three years later and Tottenham was once again on fire.
I watched last week's events unfold to a soundtrack of Watch The Throne, Jay Z and Kanye West's new collaborative album released in the same time frame as the riots. My initital reaction was utter revulsion, as on first listen I picked up on talk of watches, cars and shoes - themes of materialism, a word hurled at the looters of London like mud. Several listens later and I stand on the opposite side of that fence, but also with a greater understanding for the politicians, historians and anyone else whose limited perception of hip hop is that of a superficial, dark and frightening caricature. Subtlety can be hard to pick out on a first listen, even with open ears.
Starkey's issues with the language of urban youth culture provided a sharp reminder that in Britain, a country with shockingly low social mobility, class is still a huge issue. In the US things are different, and money talks much louder than "the right" pronunciation, lineage and schooling - it generally brings with it a level of acceptance harder to obtain on these shores. I am privately educated (as with David Lammy when I speak you might not know my origin with your eyes closed), but that made little difference in my time as an arts fundraiser as I was probed by the well-to-do for information about my presumed absent black father or possible adoption, neither of which was the case.
Watch The Throne certainly has the familiar and almost obligatory sprinkling of club tracks and boastful lux-life references which help guarantee its success on US radio, but a more careful listen reveals a tale of the American dream. Jay Z is still talking about how he has escaped a poor upbringing, absentee father and dealing crack, whilst Kanye is still talking about the difficult effects his hard won superstar life has had on him (in particular his current pre-occupation with being disliked and labeled a racist), but that he's still fighting for it. Hiding or layering the depth of meaning is an intentional device rappers often apply, but many of this album's underlying themes are overtly aspirational -
"The streets raised me, pardon my bad manners
I got my liberty chopping grams up
Street justice, I pray God understands us
I pledge allegiance to all the scramblers
This is the star spangled banner" - Jay-Z (Made in America)
At the end of 2009 Matthew Herbert remarked to Paul Morley in the Guardian that it would be difficult to tell what was happening in the world through listening to pop music over the past decade. That might be true of pop music but that's not exactly the case with much of hip hop and grime. They both come littered with references to popular culture placing them explicitly in time, and they are also often the autobiographical experiences of the writer. This is the political voice of many young people, positive or negative, it is a view of the world through their eyes and mouths. The tired argument so often made that hip hop is causing violence is quite frankly arse about face, since songwriting generally involves finding inspiration in what you know - the music is the product of experience not the other way round. Apparently because it's not written up in a shiny report (Standard English of course) it cost a shady quango thousands to produce it's not worth listening to seriously.
Whilst I take issue with the way the riots and associated issues are being dealt with by our government and much of the media, it has made one thing abundantly clear to me. We are in dire need of a "British Dream". The inspirational American ethos, the very benchmark of their culture, that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth" sounds pretty good. Ours might need to be a bit more cynical with clauses regarding crippling humility and the weather, but surely anything's better than "The Big Society" - not even David Cameron's old pal Rhymefest could write a song about that.
Wednesday, 3 August 2011
Sunday, 24 July 2011
It's not you it's him. That is if you don't fully understand or are vaguely impressed by something Eric proclaims to be simple, he's just a really humble person. He also hates interviews so it's nice to seem him so relaxed on camera.This might be the last of this kind of sound you hear from Eric for a little while, he's been working on a raft of new stuff lately - collaborations, pseudonyms and experiments I can't wait to hear more about. Eric and PMOI also have a little announcement coming soon I'm getting very excited about, keep 'em peeled...
"I'm not surprised" was the resounding conclusion on Twitter. I was.
Without going in to specifics I've spent most of my life around addiction, and it's a long time since I was amazed by the toxic volumes people can put in to their bodies and survive, the terrifyingly dangerous situations they can stumble through unscathed, and the heartfelt promises to stop they can't keep. The point at which most of us would have found shocking or surprising was probably a road bump long since passed. By the time someone actually does go too far, they've usually gone further than we can possibly imagine.
Like a lot of Londoners, I met Amy Winehouse once. It was years ago with my sister in Kentish town, she started pointing and saying to her boyfriend "look, those two are so pre-eeyy" as if we were puppies she'd like to take home. Not quite sure what to say we just told her we were fans of her album at the time "Frank" and ducked out of the way. I remember thinking how strange it was that she was Amy Winehouse, yet she seemed insecure. The stories about her hadn't reached our ears at that point, we were just impressed by her brave, honest (and funny) songwriting, not to mention that voice.
Fast forward to last night as I watched people blame Amy, the people around her for not intervening, the media for their callousness - the list was endless and totally understandable, but wrong all the same. Addiction is a disease, and it often ends up killing its victims. It's hard to sympathise with because the outward appearance is that the addict doesn't care and it's their fault for not trying hard enough. Apart from the mental side of it, the physical experience can be a similar urge to needing to eat when you're starving or drink when you're parched - for those who blame Amy I hope they ask themselves if they would be strong enough to suppress an urge that severe every single day. For those who feel her family should have intervened further, short of tying someone up and never letting them out again there's nothing you can really do to stop them. You just have to watch the person you love kill themselves slowly in front of you, and it's every bit as painful for you as it is for them. As for the media, it is our responsibility to hold them accountable for their behaviour before someone dies, not just blame them afterwards.
I keep seeing talk of how Amy Winehouse will forever be as defined by her addiction as she is by her music. I beg to differ. I think that is up to us. I choose to remember Amy for her inspirational yet down to earth songwriting, how her music got me through sad times or made me laugh out loud, her incredibly special voice, and how she opened the door for talented female artists who don't fit the mould, and don't hold back.
Thursday, 21 July 2011
I say "review" but technically "gushing outpouring of unbridled adoration" is probably far more accurate so I'll try to keep it brief.
I'd heard very little about Fatoumata Diawara which is strange considering what an incredible specimen of the human race she is. An electric guitar playing, mind altering beauty, 'human firework' dancing, limbs like a moving sculpture specimen to be more precise. Her style of singing was something I hadn't come across before, a beautiful tone and range but so expressive - one minute full of dry laughter and the next heavy with sincerity. At one point Fatoumata proffered an inviting description of how to get to her village and proceeded to take us there with her casually masterful band, which just intensified my longing to visit Mali - if ever there were a successful advert...
I admit, I whispered "I would NOT want to have to follow that!" before Baloji and his Orchestre De Katuba took to the stage. How wrong I was. I think the brilliance of some of Baloji's videos (Karibu Ya Bintou, Tout Ceci Ne Vous Rendra Pas Le Congo) left me imagining he couldn't possibly be as exciting in person. As Orchestre De Katuba filed on stage looking every bit as slick as the Indépendance cha-cha video my hopes were raised, and when Baloji appeared in a shiny red tuxedo jacket with an aura of confidence so evident it was neon, I realised the videos were just the appetizer as they launched in to a set fueled by African funk that could have launched a jet.
Perhaps what struck me most (and there was a lot of striking, the band were incredible), was Baloji's mastery on stage. Every movement and moment seemed calculated and choreographed without losing any of the excitement - the attitude on stage was one of gleeful anticipation, *we know what's coming next and trust us you're going to like it*. The mood switched from playful to serious to steamy to jubilant but the barriers really came down when Baloji announced "they call this 'world music', but this is our music". From that moment on we all danced like the palm wine was flowing at an African wedding.
I'm not sure Baloji falls in to the traditional heartthrob category but the women to my right started squirming and screaming "tomber la chemise" as the jacket came off and the sleeves were rolled up with unmistakably suggestive intent. There's definitely something iconic about the man - I had that same feeling of intense absorption and awe you get when you watch one of the greats, as your soul pledges to return at every chance just to experience it all again.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Marques Toliver "Deep in My Heart"
This EP came out back in April and went on a long list of things to check out I never did - face palm. JB III comparisons aside (Toliver could almost be a less vocally oversexed and overstyled cousin), there's something really magical and original about this guy. At the very least you must listen to this song past 2:46. The rest of the EP is equally juicy, I keep uncovering interesting new nuggets with every listen.
Buy: Marques Toliver "Butterflies Are Not Free" EP [iTunes link]
I've just come across this lovely artist of Ghanaian extraction based in Canada, Kae Sun. I really like the stripped down sound of his "Outside The Barcode" EP, which he released for free at the end of June. The video above was shot at the farm where the EP was recorded, he reminds me in places of both Nneka and Paul Simon, there's something warm and endearing about this music.
Download: Kae Sun "Outside The Barcode" EP
It's almost strange how similar José James sounds to Gil Scott Heron, particularly on the chorus of "Winter in America". Mr James will be performing a not very secret show at Jazz Re:freshed in London this Thursday.
Wednesday, 13 July 2011
I'm so cynical. My first thought when I heard this track was how incredibly sync friendly it sounds. Get money. Ahem. Luckily this painstakingly gorgeous video by the talented Mr Thomas of stitchthat.tv has forced me back in to fan mode alongside Cornelia's ultra-femme dangerous pixie vocal (seriously I've met her, she looks like she might lure you in to the woods to play then steal half your Haribo if you doze off - watch your back).
You can buy Aquarius Dreams through Cornelia's very own record label Camp Mozart now.
New Nigerian national anthem? It's certainly more scathing than "Arise O Compatriots, Nigeria's call obey..." As someone who left in August 1995 before they hanged Ken Saro-Wiwa three months later, I appreciate those brave enough to keep talking about the fact Nigeria has a long way to go. It's exceptionally difficult to tread the line between politics and art without compromising either but Nneka seems to have been put here to do so.
Thursday, 7 July 2011
"So we have a new incredible artist called Tawiah that I reckon you’re going to like" says the PR email. How sweet. I'm pretty sure at least 90% of people I know are still playing Tawiah's incredible EP In Jodis Bedroom [iTunes link] from 2008 regularly. Looks like the major label push has begun however, let's hope they get it right because everyone with properly working ears will be supporting Tawiah, one of the most talented artists this country contains.
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
I do realise I have become Lianne La Havas's weird blogger stalker, because I can't stop posting everything she does, but can you blame me? I think not.
Teaser really is the only appropriate term for this - you barely have time to fully screw your face before it's over. Om Unit sent me the MP3s so I guess you can come round to my house if you need to, or just wait for it to come out on 12" & digital via Om Unit's new label Cosmic Bridge.
One take. I admit it's perhaps not the most captivating piece of footage [I screen hopped] but the music is brilliant - a juicy Little Dragon resmack to coin the Rustie-ism. Annoyingly it doesn't seem to be on their [equally brilliant] new album The Process. I will thus of course be paying them a visit at Lovebox to demand recompense.
I first came across Mountain Man supporting Jonsi from Sigur Ros in Brighton last year and fell in love with their voices, sucker that I am for Appalachia. It could have been quite a risk for Jonsi to pick mountain folk as opposed to fellow magical woodland folk as a support act but it worked. Apparently this is an audio + video release, I can't find it in iTunes UK but am crossing fingers it's on the way.
Thursday, 30 June 2011
Tomorrow morning Beyonce will be performing a televised free concert at Central Park in New York, almost exactly 28 years after Diana Ross performed a concert there for 800,000 people (the first day in the beautifully choreographed video above was rained off part way through so she actually performed the full show the next day, Friday 22nd July 1983).
After watching Beyonce's undeniably amazing (say something, what?) and historical headline set at Glastonbury this week I'm too exhausted to watch her again anytime soon. However I have just found a link to Diana Ross's slightly more sedate but equally glamorous affair, complete with (just slightly) gushing heartfelt proclamations, an impossible number of hit songs, and miraculously - even bigger hair.
Watch Diana Ross Live in Central Park 1983 here/ buy it on Amazon.
*Disclaimer - the video seems to take at least 5 minutes to load but it does work so be patient!
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Photo by Oddisee
It's hard to choose a favourite from an EP which only has three songs on it. They're all beautifully crafted, but the title track Origami might be my favourite to listen to live because it's paired down to just Tanya's voice and her trusty Microkorg.
If you haven't yet heard "Origami" you can listen & download here and I would highly recommend catching Tanya live at Love Box festival or one of the other gigs she has coming up this summer.
Listen + Download: Tanya Auclair "Origami" EP here