Monday, 22 December 2008

So long Astoria

Well, this is it folks. London's Astoria, a live performance venue since 1976, is to close its doors for good on Thursday 15th January.

In March this year, then mayor Ken Livingstone confirmed rumours that the theatre was to be bulldozed to make way for the Crossrail underground line, despite loud protests and a petition of more than 35,000 signatures. Livingstone alleged at the time that a new live music venue would be built in the area to replace the Astoria, but will Boris Johnson honour that promise.... don't hold your breath.

In a double blow, nearby flea pit the Metro is also to close. Organizer of their infamous Blow Up night, Paul Tunkin, told NME, "At present we are looking for new premises to relocate the venue to but have yet to find one suitable. Ultimately it is another nail in the coffin for central London's live music and club scene."

You'd been hard pushed to find a music fan in greater London who has never been to the Astoria, first built as pickle factory and converted into a cinema in 1927. The legendary venue has hosted early gigs by the likes of Nirvana and Radiohead and is first choice for big names such as the Rolling Stones who are looking for a more intimate spot than their usual stadiums and cattle sheds.

Barry Hyde, the lead singer of the Futureheads, spoke thus of the venue: "Venues should be dirty, they should be a bit smelly because smelly things happen in venues. Sweaty people had fun and the Astoria was always something you’d look forward to."


And the last ever party at the Astoria is going to be hosted by..... Manumission?!? You mean infamous Ibiza party night Manumission? Really?!? Apparently there's going to be "a fusion of rock and dance acts" (for "dance" read "90s era rave") and "a carnival of cabaret", presumably with their standard "bleeding edge sexuality". See you there... or not.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

What Is The Best Album of 2008?

I really wanted to do a top 5 albums of 2008. Every magazine / website / blog has done one to at least 50. All I wanted was 5. I asked 68 people for their top 5 in order to get some balance – the NME did so with their writers and metacritic did it with every review available – and no one would commit to an order of preference. I completely understood when Dan and I were pushed provide our own submissions.

The problem with, and beauty of, this method was that the selection was pretty broad including artists I’d never heard of, records I’d decided I just wouldn’t like, some obvious inclusions, drum and bass, releases from 2007(?), and John Legend. I certainly didn’t predict the results.

I’ll cut to the chase. The list.

The Album of the Year!!

TV On The Radio ‘Dear Science’

Second Best Album of the Year!!

Gang Gang Dance ‘Saint Dymphna’

Third Best Album of the Year!!

Abe Vigoda ‘Skeleton’
Fleet Foxes ‘S/T’
Lil’ Wayne ‘Tha Carter III’
Metronomy ‘Nights Out’
MGMT ‘Oracular Spectacular’
Santogold ‘S/T’
Vampire Weekend ‘S/T’
Zombie Zombie ‘A Land For Renegades’

Fourth Best Album of the Year!!

Benga ‘Diary of an Afro Warrior’, Born Ruffians ‘Red, Yellow, Blue’, Danny Byrd ‘Supersize’, Death Cab For Cutie ‘Narrow Stairs’, Deerhunter ‘Microcastles’, Elbow ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, Empire of the Sun ‘S/T’, Flight of the Concourds ‘S/T’, Goldfrapp ‘7th Tree’, Grace Jones ‘Hurricane’, Harvey Milk ‘Life… The Best Game In Town’, The Hold Steady ‘Stay Positive’, John Legend ‘Evolver’, Jose James ‘Dreamer’, Justice ‘The Cross’, Kanye West ‘808s & Heartbreak’, Kings of Leon ‘Only By The Night’, Langhorne Slim ‘S/T’, London Elektricity ‘Syncopated City’, Marnie Stern ‘This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That’, Neon Neon ‘Stainless Style’, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds ‘Dig Lazarus, Dig!’, Radiohead ‘In Rainbows’, Rosin Murphy ‘Overpowered’, These New Puritans ‘Beat Pyramid’, Veronica Maggio ‘Och vinnaren är’, Vetiver ‘Thing of the Past’, White Denim ‘Workout Holiday’, Why? ‘Alopecia’

That's right, 29 albums drawn for 4th place.

What is clear is that 'Best of...' lists are a good example of bad journalism, wasting ten pages in an issue of The Word or NME just to rehash reviews from earlier in the year. You never agree with their No. 1, often it's tough to agree with anything in their top 5 depending on the publication, even when it's unbiased - metacritic summarised Coldplay as the best album in 2008 and it's not even in our list neither is Bon Iver.

Hopefully what our list will do is remind some of us of those albums we never got round to getting - I finally bought Neon Neon after weeks of drifting in and out of Sister Ray Records - and convince us to give some time to those we cast aside - I will give Fleet Foxes a chance, I promise.

Thank you so much to everyone who dedicated 5 minutes of their time.

Peter Gabriel ft. Hot Chip 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa'

Never thought it would happen?

Wondered what it would sound like if it did?

Been to this link yet at

Peter Gabriel covers Vampire Weekend


Friday, 12 December 2008

Jay Reatard – Matador Singles 08

Although not on the same level as Dylans electric Judaic betrayal, Jay Reatards musical progression on Matador Singles 08 has been met with a din of discontent by a selection of fans still content with him smashing out his manic Memphis spazzed-out punk. You know, that same spazzed-out punk Reatards relentlessly fired out since the age of 15.

Now 28, Lyndsey (real surname), has used ‘Matador Singles 08’ to showcase his new direction of musical evolution and venture into the shiny world of pop. Presumably staking a claim as the long lost protégé of Berlin Bowie as he does it.

In some quarters it’s been described as wimpish-twee and a sacrilegious act against the punk ethics of which Reatard has abided to for many years. In others it’s been hailed as Jay Reatard’s coming of age and a record that’s both brave and entirely inspiring.

The album is, in itself, a brave concept that from beginning to end is devoid of all convention. Comprised of six singles, B-sides in tow, and a cover of Deerhunter’s ‘Fluorescent Grey’, ‘Singles 08’ not once follows the conventional path of a purposely made album.

Instead of a subject matter unravelling as each song passes, it unequivocally documents the rise and growth of an artist in transition. All the singles featured are the six released in the short space of 6 months by Matador and feature on the album in the same order they featured in your local record shop. Or, in true Jay Reatard fashion, on Ebay for extortionate sums.

Much in the same vein as ‘Singles 06’, ‘See Saw’ and ‘Screaming Hand’ explode out the traps and ensures ‘Singles 08’ comes on like an extension of its older, more dangerous brother .As does, rather disappointingly, ‘An Ugly Death’. A track only memorable for its nerve shredding repetitive lyrical delivery ‘For you, for me, for all to seeeee’. Shudder.
Its heartening then that ‘Always Wanting More’ shows the first sign of Reatard rearing his pop head before next track ‘You mean nothing to me’ indicates said evolution with a bewildering blend of pure pop sensibility that rides a wave of punk undertones, ultimately providing the record with its foundation to manoeuvre it’s way between the genres; punk, pop-punk, pop and twee-pop. Phew.

Portrayed with a pinch of paranoia and teeming with tribal, trance-like drums ‘Fluorescent Grey’ marks the albums middle ground and acts as somewhat of an interlude. Written by Reatard’s buddies and fellow compatriots Deerhunter, the fourth single of six, serves as a departure from the first three by clocking in at 4 minutes and 40 seconds. A mere marathon compared to previous efforts, and an expedition compared to ‘Trapped Here’, ‘Hiding Hole’ and ‘DOA’ (Dead on Arrival). The blistering salvo to the second half of '08 Singles’.

At just over five minutes combined and complete with fuzzy, fraught and unrelenting venomous riffs the trio come on like the Reatard of old and allow for a moment to reminisce of a time when bashing out Ramone style punk-nuggets was all we expected from the man from Memphis. Now of course its nuggets of a pop variety we want and right on cue they’re perfectly formed in what’s arguably the strongest indication of Reatard’s growth as a pop-star in the making.

Heartbreaking, intimate and painfully revealing, ‘No Time’ unravels the hardship of being on the road and out of love. “It seems I never have the time to make my mind feel fine. Just locked inside this glass box looking out the window for you”. Set to the backdrop of an acoustic guitar it’s a heart on the sleeve moment that, while taking time to adjust too, will melt the hearts of new and old fans alike.

As will the twee tinged ‘You Were Sleeping’ a continuation of acoustic Reatard and as Bowie as we knew he could be. ‘I’m Watching You’ an ode to New Zealand songsmiths The Tall Dwarfs effortlessly rounds off the album in entwining, melodic style whilst slipping in the word “C***” to remind us all that yes he may have evolved into a pop star but he’s still a hooligan at heart. A sweet and tender one at that mind.

Daniel Wade

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Upset The Rhythm presents Abe Vigoda and Mika Miko, The Dome, London, 2/12/08

Apparently there is this youth club in Los Angeles where instead of playing ping-pong all the kids in flannel shirts dance to funky New York post-punk and instead of setting fire to bins they forge scene-defining bands. That would be 'The Smell' then. Substitute glamorous LA for winter in Tufnell Park, The Smell for The Dome and the kids in flannel shirts for, well, even more kids in flannel shirts and find yourself witnessing another stop on the, Upset The Rhythm promoted, 'Zeitgeist Bands From America You Wish You'd Heard Of First' tour.

If that sounds vitriolic, I apologise. Upset The Rhythm are just an amazing group of kids who over the years have developed a knack for coaxing some of the most amazing niche American artists across the pond to play gigs in some of the most interesting venues I'd never been to. Now they have brought over Abe Vigoda (see scatter-shot-spunk-tropic-aholics and other creative adjectives) and Mika Miko on the same bill. And I wish it had been me.

The three piece, Anavan, warmed up the church hall style venue with their odd brand of drummer/laptop led punk and gave the first and last offering of synth to the event.

Without ever looking like they were ready to play David Reichardt, Gerardo Guerrero, Michael Vidal and Juan Velazquez - the boys from Abe Vigoda - piped up. Crashing headlong into album opener 'Dead City/Waste Wilderness' it was clear that they've lovingly crafted a sound that bears no comparisons. Too uncontrollable to be compared to Vampire Weekend, too twee for No Age and, in fact, indefinable amongst their peers. Sadly something was lost at The Dome. The popping delayed guitar lost to the acoustics and all but drowning the stand out vocals of 'Bear Face' and 'The Garden'. Still the presence of Abe Vigoda's album, 'Skeleton', was clear and alive, laced together brilliantly by Guerrero's astonishing drumming and visually by the dexterity of Vidal, Reichardt and Velazquez. The performance was never going to be a verbatim reproduction of something so taught and precise, it pushed away the glistening jewel case to expose the pits and code of a band that perhaps had to reign in a ferocious beast to put on record. Vidal assumed the role of unleashing the beast back at the crowd until the climactic final throes of their set when Velazquez encouraged the feedback and delay crescendo we'd all hoped was coming.
It seemed fitting somehow that for the gig Velazquez had donned an Elastica t-shirt - the girl group with drummer boy Wire covers band who's lead singer, Justine Frischman, was part of the Britpop regency - before supporting Mika Miko. It would be a magic internet rumour if either of Mika Miko's lead singers, Jennifer Calvin or Jenna Thornhill, were dating No Age members - then fanzines could start referring to them as Jenna Miko and Randy No Age and music could become a soap opera again - but that said I don't know for sure they're not.

Anyway, Elastica wore their influences on their sleeve in much the same way as Mika Miko. A core diet of American hardcore bands manifested in an transatlantic new-wave punk (hold on, Elastica referred to themselves as the new-wave of new-wave, this is going too far) akin to the Bush Tetras and Au Pairs, often compared to the Slits - although the cod-reggae, dub housing of Ari Up's amazons is missing from Miko's bag. On stage the band are beautiful, full of awkward youthful posturing and androgynous charm. Michelle (guitar), Jessica (bass) and Seth (boy) provide a veteran turn as the backing band to ping-ponging vocalists who goad the fighting crowd and jerk through a collection of immaculate punk.

It can't be avoided mentioning that Jennifer's telephone microphone appears gimmicky but does add a characteristic layer to the girl's live performance. It could have been a melange of sloppy downtown LA via Hackney punk yet they slipped confident Ramones covers in with stand out songs like 'Business Cats' and as Jenna broke out the saxophone later on and exclaimed "45 minutes? This must be the longest gig we've ever done" it was obvious that Mika Miko are not a band to be cast aside by comparisons, derivatives and scenes. They really shone above a roster of apparently mature artists and might themselves mature into punk regency.