Interceiving; Risk, Reward and Metal Machine Music

Any kind of creative endeavour that dispenses with rigid perimeters is risky, yet potentially rewarding.

Here, the road branches in two distinctly different directions – one paved with ARTISTIC GLORY and signposted ‘Creative Genius’; the other paved with the unsold copies of Metal Machine Music, and signposted ‘What Were You Thinking, Lou Reed?’

In between all this, freeform jazz sits awkwardly, as freeform jazz is wont to do. But, thankfully, this is not the story of freeform jazz.

This is, however, the story of Quebec’s Interceiving, a band who have so determinedly abandoned musical convention that they decided to call their best song Wrong Oboe, for Christ’s sake.

Ineveitably, there is no oboe in the track. How did Interceiving arrive at such a point, such a song? On one hand, the individual elements are distinct, and on the other, they dovetail so neatly that they surely couldn’t be a simple stroke of improv-fortuitousness.

Big, fat (nearly, indeed, phat) synth-bassline throb and shudder, sound washes loosely from here to there, and the beat is relentless. It shouldn’t work.

It ought to sound like the GarageBand spare-time meanderings of a bored Computer Sciences student, but it doesn’t. This is testimony, then, to a band whose togetherness is just so, and who know each other’s next move before the note has been played.

So, happily, it turns out that  Wrong Oboe is a towering example of the unexpected, the familial and – yes – the sound of a good time. Beat that.

_+_; Lasers, Computer Love, and Frantic Asininity

If you ever wanted any more proof that there’s no accounting for taste, here’s a new fun game that will both pass the time and cause palms to be vigorously slapped against foreheads the world over.

Visit a website that streams music, and then go to the page of your favourite band – or your least favourite band. I picked Primal Scream, because of their maddening ability to occupy both those polar opposites simultaneously.

Then cast a lazy eye over the list of their most popular songs, as played by the general public, and prepare to commence the afore-mentioned forehead slapping.

Primal Scream‘s top three most-played songs on Spotify are Rocks, Country Girl and Jailbird. Not the brilliantly acid-flecked Loaded. Not the amphetamine-crazed ACCELERATOR. Oh no.

Not even the frantically asinine Swastika Eyes – the ones that people prefer are the most generically Stones-lite, most barrel-scraping moments in their career. Durrrr.

For the artist, performing this test might have an extra element of surprise – that track they always hated is the one the record buying* public like the most. So _+_ might simply hate his song Laser Beam, but I love it, so there.

_+_ // Laser Beam

If Laser Beam was a machine, it would be cut from a single pristine piece of mirror-shine aluminium. It’s that kind of song, reducing description to mindless hyperbole – such is the white-heat shimmer of the mechanical beats and the fuzzy keyboard washes.

_+_‘s website looks like it has been designed by a hyperactive, sentient robot. The music is made by someone all-too human, trapped in love with computerisation and rigidity. A calm, precise, trickle of crimson blood.

*OK, ‘mp3-illegal-downloading’

Fists, and Radiohead’s Hot Chocolate Rock Covers

Remember when Radiohead were just a classic rock band?

No, I’d forgotten too – but there it was, plain as day, when The Bends shuffled onto my iPod (is using one considered retro yet?). The slick, wide, guitar sound is there. A four-square rock structures to all the songs. The lyrics are tangible, comprehensible, forward. It’s classic rock, all right.

The Bends offers no hint of the genre-busting right turn they would take over the course of their next three albums. The Bends‘ big, beautiful rock could just as easily be an album by a band who were about to morph into U2.

With hindsight, it’s possible to see The Bends as an album of skewed and troubled songs played by a talented rock covers group. The band’s sound is a rich, glossy chocolate that gloops over the songs; and yet – shards still prick through. In the end, Radiohead learnt to love the shards alone.

And here is the inherent beauty of any new band: potential. They might – might – surprise everyone, themselves included. Train all eyes, then, on Fists, a Nottingham band that specialise in deceit.

Fists are happy to pull the wool over your eyes in two ways: with their name, which tricks you into thinking they’re a Doom Metal band, and secondly, with their sound itself, fooling the listener into thinking that they are another twee-rock band.

Fists // Weekend

You too will feel a sense of shame when you realise that they are  a much better band than that. Weekend is slow, then fast, then heartfelt, then manic. Weekend grows organically, caressing you as it twists its spindly, slender frame around your accepting body until the melody is so tightly coiled around you, submission is the only option left.

Fists remind me a lot of the wonderful, defunct, Royal We, and I can think of no higher praise. Royal We were a band who had potential, produced one great mini-album, and then vanished. It would be a crime – a crime – if the same happened to Fists. Tough, fragile, crazed, and excellent.

The Trouble With Live Gigs, Part Two

You might want to read Part One first. It’s more level-headed, whereas this one is rankly steeped in emotional judgement…

Just like the best science lessons at school, this article will be preceded by an experiment. It is easy, and, just like science, only requires honesty to be considered a success.

So, quick – without thinking – answer this: what was the single greatest musical moment of your life? Could you come up with an answer? If you could, your response was probably along the lines of “Seeing [XXXX band] live at [XXXX venue]”.

My favourite gig was seeing Public Enemy perform all of It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, but then there have been a ton of good ones – Art Brut in the Stoke Sugarmill, White Stripes at Glastonbury, Super Furry Animals in the San Francisco Fillmore.

Public Enemy: Bringing The Noise to a lovely park near you

It’s easy in some ways to pin these ‘special moments’ – or memories – on an individual place, time and occurrence. “There’s no substitute for seeing a live band,” people will tell you. They’re wrong.

This is a difficult admission to make without being branded ‘not a proper music fan’, but I don’t think gigs are the most important thing in music. Live music is not the be-all and end-all. But now it has some special, truer, power by virtue of the artist being in the same room as the fan.

This is just demonstrably silly – if this was the case, all nightclubs would close overnight, and we wouldn’t have DJs raking in £10,000 fees for two-hour stints playing records behind the decks and waving their hands in the air.

But now, with the live experience treated as a holy experience, records have become devalued, and this is an enormous shame.

My opposition to this is also a philosophical stance, perhaps – I dislike the idea of art being judged by it’s scarcity as opposed to it’s intrinsic value. For example: the original painting of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is massively more valuable than a perfect copy of it, even though the copy would be exactly the same image.

Gigs become special because of the I-Was-There factor: all you need is the exclusive gig T-shirt or ubiquitous mobile phone video footage et voila – you’re a Real Fan.

Couple this with the overwhelming emphasis placed upon live concerts by the record industry (see Part One), and we are now in a situation where records exist to warrant a tour, as opposed to a record being recorded to, er, make a record.

John Lennon said that abandoning live gigging in 1966 lead to The Beatles‘ studio-bound creative freedom, resulting in the mid-career-high pairing of Rubber Soul and Revolver. Would hearing the songs of these two albums live have been a better experience? Who cares? Why should one be linked to the other?

Answers to these questions weren’t sought by The Beatles. They made a record to be played as itself alone – each song a single, unalterable statement.

Pulp: Somehow The Vital Connection Was Made (wait - that was Elastica...)

So my favourite moments in music have been: hearing Bigmouth Strikes Again for the first time, stunned by the thrilling guitar break; stopping in my tracks when hearing Common People on my radio as I walked to school, and feeling a real connection for the first time; hearing a band whose name I didn’t catch play a bizarro thrash/hardcore techno hybrid on John Peel’s radio show back in 1994, and so on.

None of these thrilling moments could have been shared, no-one could have experienced it with me, I don’t have a shaky-cam recording of it. But they were more important to me than the vast majority of gigs I’ve ever been to.

I feel for those teenagers who sit in their bedrooms, listening to music, and not wanting to go to gigs because the venue will be full of scenesters. Crowds sooth insecurity and the unity of a gig validate beliefs.

Gig going is cool now. Cool craves a scene. Scenes provide security for the insecure. Reject the scenesters. Dig deep and admit your favourite musical moment is listening to your favourite record. We’ll all feel the benefit.

The Trouble With Live Gigs, Part One

Live music is booming. Gig-going was to the Noughties what clubbing was to the 90’s – everyone’s doing it, all the time, and telling you all about how great it is. Even aunts and uncles go to the trouble to book the babysitter and scoot off to the local mega-drome to peer at Green Day or Keane every month or so.

That tall guy who always stands in front of you, at a gig, yesterday

Live gigs have always been engrained in pop and rock culture – but recently, the level of attendance has rocketed, by anyone’s estimations. Manchester, for example, has historically had a vibrant live scene, and yet now, there are more bands playing than ever before.

I could visit any part of the city on any night of the week and find any number of gigs, from the Arctic Monkeys incongruously playing in front of 20,000 punters, to Wild Palms playing for a small clutter of the curious, the rabid or the drunken.

So how did this come about? Why now? Is it just fashion? Will the bulk of today’s gig-goers move on to spending their cash playing croquet or crazy golf as soon as that becomes de rigeur?

Possibly – people, you and I included, are fickle. In two years, who knows? Bands that are charging high ticket prices now are simply making hay while the sun is shining.

I think there’s another explanation too: anyone who works in ‘the industry’ will tell you that live gigs are what ‘drives cashflow’ now. Bands make a pittance from record sales and grab the bulk from selling gig tickets and those £20 t-shirts on sale in the foyer.

Live gigs are the one thing in the music industry that can’t be replicated for free: a bootleg mp3 or shaky mobile phone footage just doesn’t compare.

"Dude! Like, I'll be totally the first person to put this on Youtube... oh."

I listened to a talking-heads meeting of important record industry types – all men, all under 40, all masking the fact that they weren’t entirely sure where the industry was going – at Manchester’s In The City Music Conference a while ago.

This was where I heard this eye-opening/watering statistic: bands – even, say, U2 make only 10% of their earnings from record sales, and the remainder from touring and merchandise.

Compare this with the scenario only ten years ago when any given band would make a bare minimum of 50% from CD sale, and allow your mind to quietly boggle.

Could careful manipulation of our tastes by record companies and other industries be behind the gig-going boom, then?

Probably: look at all the excruciating mobile phone adverts that push the joys of (astonishingly anodyne) live music, and then next time you’re getting sweaty in your local fleapit venue, look at the number of idiots filming a gig on their phones.

Then think about the money that is being drained from consumer who pays for the T-shirt in the foyer, the gig, the phone to film it on, the data allowance to upload the video to a website, and the money the website makes from advertising bands that are soon playing live… repeat to fade.

So it’s our fault, wanting music for free, illegally grabbing it en masse, and then allowing ourselves to be led by the noses to live shows. Still, if this has meant that we’re now attending lots of gigs, that’s a good thing, right?

Well, yes, obviously. But then no, not so obviously. And I’ll reveal why in Part Two, next week…

Photo 1 by Mags

I’m Not A Band – Except, Of Course They Are (Not)

Hey! Just when did being a band stop being so good? Just last month, we met EP Island – the non-band band, and now here’s I’m Not A Band –  a band (which, of course, they aren’t) that isn’t a band (because they’re not one). Just trying to figure out what they actually are is a philosophical nightmare.

This is all a bit of a post-post-modern shock to me. I always thought being in a band was the best way to pass the time. From the sound of it, it still is: I’m Not A Band revel in their togetherness – cute unhinged vocals splicing with monsterous electronic sounds.

One band (sorry – “non-band”) member, Stephan J, considers himself a classical musician, indeed – and it shows – not in pretentiousness, but in construction. There’s a delicacy of thought in Crazy, a song that transcends it’s unintentionally fun euro-english intro and bursts into life as a throbbing floor-filler – awash with hi-hats and bullish synths.

I’m Not A Band – Crazy

I’m going to chance my arm: I’m Not A Band are a band after all. They’re also an experiment to see if anyone will believe their fibs. We won’t. No number of crafty, skewed electronic pop songs will disguise the fact… right?

>In The City Special: Egyptian Hip Hop

The opinion heat-haze of In The City means that an unbiased view of a band becomes impossible. As many people will rave over an average, or downright dull band as those who froth over a good one. You quickly realise that listening to opinion at ITC is almost always a waste of time.

For example: I was told that Egyptian Hip Hop were, variously, ‘rude’, ‘piss-poor’, ‘six out of ten’ and ‘a lot of old tits’. I had to see them. And as it turned out – guess what? – they were all wrong. Well, maybe not about the ‘rude’ bit. They weren’t rude as such, but maybe a little easing of the surliness wouldn’t go amiss.

Still, they were more inventive and had a couple of songs that were better than almost all of the showcased bands. Skinnier than heroin addicts, and sporting fringes that started a millimetre above the ear, they ground out one catchy, looping cranky pop song after the other. Wait – let me stress the vastness of their fringes again: one band member was practically 90% fringe – it looked like he had trained a large hairy dog to sit on his head.

The drummer wore a swine-flu face mask. The band swapped instruments for each song. No smiles were cracked at any point. They were so androgynous, they may have been bred in giant petri dishes. Songs like Heavenly were, indeed, ethereal, curious and new, and Rad Pitt (Pun alert!) is a skewed pop delight.

Strange but true: Egyptian Hip Hop are better than anyone wants to admit. Don’t believe the (lack of) hype. Listen here!

>Today’s New Band – Kong


While in France a bit ago, I watched the Tour de France – except for the first time, it was in real life, as opposed to catching a glance of it whilst flicking through the obscure channels on satellite TV. Having found I was camping five minutes from the exact point of le Tour that is a cycling enthusiast’s wet dream, Mont Ventoux, and on the strength of many breathless descriptions of how INCREDIBLY AMAZING the experience would be, I dragged myself along.

Well, it was a fabulous experience after all. It was a bit like a theme park – maybe Middle Aged Obscure Sports Enthusiast World or something – where you could imagine what it was like to live a dull, mainly meaningless existence where waiting five hours – five hours, mind – for the infinitesimally short moment where a bunch of sweaty, grim-faced men whistle past at light speed, and then rushing for the car to beat the traffic, constitutes a Good Time.
I was grumpy. It was hot as hell, there was five hours of vainly applauding passing police cars for entertainment, and I spent most of the time desperately trying to remember the melody of Kraftwerk’s Tour de France, which was, and now, still is, the only interesting thing about the world’s premiere cycling event.
Not enough bands name songs after sporting events – in fact, if we necessarily exclude any World Cup tie-in songs that limp around every four years, there are none at all. Perhaps Today’s New Band can redress this balance. They’re Kong, a band I intended to write about when I lived in Manchester, before I jacked everything in to travel on a pittance around the continent.
Kong are these things:
Noisy to the point of awkwardness
Obtuse to the point of weirdness
Lovable in an entirely keep-at-arm’s-distance way
Musically creative in the way most bands aren’t, and wouldn’t dare to be
And these four reasons are enough to love them, or at least to devote plenty of time to their bewilderingly deformed rock. Their songs – take Leather Penny Snippet, or Sport, please – are the equivalent of a door repeatedly slamming in your face, such is the total absence of care about what you think coupled with the exhilarating fuck-you-ness of youthful noise-making.

>Today’s New Band – Pooch

>Living out of a rucksack has a myriad of inconveniences – the primary being all those creased clothes – but on the whole, it’s a fairly charmed and streamlined existence. Happiness arrives through lack of possessions; a state of being almost diametrically opposed to usual life.

With the complications stripped away, living an almost care-free existence becomes the norm. It’s a bit like being a child again, except without your mum calling you in for fish fingers and chips at five o’clock.

Perhaps this is why so many people live an on-the-road life – bands, on the whole, love touring (though I bet Bono still wishes his mum would call him and those nice boys The Edge, Adam and The Other One in for tea now and again. Even tiny, monster-ego’d rock superstars need a bit of mothering now and then).

Pooch – Today’s New Band – are a bit egg-and-chips-for-tea in some ways. They’re simple, tasty and satisfying, and their songs go straight for the singin’ and dancin’ jugular.

Killing Me is a grubby disco thrash, and leaves boring stuff, like subtlety, to Radiohead. Pooch want you dancing, now, until you collapse in a happy, sweaty heap.

Spade is a more gravelly, grunting version on this theme, bassily shoving their wares under your nose, but demanding you to move, all the same. They perfect this DANCE, NOW! ideology in Fashionista and French Kiss.

There’s no shame in ‘just’ making music to dance to, though people will tell you it’s a dumb, pointless exercise. Don’t listen to them – if being intelligent and worthy was as much fun, then everyone would be doing it already. The rest of us can have our fun cake and eat it. Listen here!

Photograph by Stephen Edgar

>Today’s New Band – Crashing Humous

>I watched 20 minutes of The Da Vinci Code movie. The book was stupefyingly bad and guess what – a clunker of a book became a clunker of a movie, too. It seems commendably perverse when you consider how many good books are butchered into poor movies.

Anyway, I watched it all the same, knowing I’d hate it. Experiencing something in the knowledge that it will be unpleasant in order to see just how bad it is must be a trait unique to humans. It would certainly explain Phil Collins’ career.

I didn’t think I’d like Today’s New Band, Crashing Humous. The jokey name, the seemingly-ironic synths, the semi-serious rapping all pointed towards a student time-filling joke band. Inevitably, I liked them.

Bus Dance Feat. Dave and In Town flit with in-jokes, stabs at humour and musical parody. That these attempts didn’t always work doesn’t matter – their songs are a swift glimpse into the lives of a bunch of mates who want to have a band, and have made one. It’s their angle, their song, their lives – warts and all.

Songs pass in tight bleeps, washes of sound and whispers, and in Uphill Mountain, Crashing Humous have a song that nearly exceeds the tight boundaries imposed on it. Listen here!