Friday, February 11, 2005

Tribute records are always pointless
Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson got his hands on the original master tapes of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everybody Is A Star,” which his band, The Roots, sampled for the opening track of their recent album, The Tipping Point. Excerpt below from a great interview with the drummer/producer in latest issue of Modern Drummer magazine. Save the drummer jokes, this guy is incredibly talented.

"Sliding faders up and down, Thompson goes through vocal tracks until the only thing you hear is Sly Stone, front and center, crooning for all his life. This is a truly spooky and wonderful experience, like being in a time machine with Ahmir Thompson as your commander. He pulls up more faders: brass and bass kick in, Larry Graham’s thunderous voice booms from the speakers. This is not simply for fun—Thompson is also working on a Sly Stone tribute album.

“Tribute records are always pointless,” Thompson asserts. “And when someone asked me to do the Sly thing, I knew it could be a disaster. But I was so curious about the drum sound; I really did it because I knew they would send me the masters. They even sent me the original engineer’s notes for the session.” Modern Drummer interview here.

Another ?uestlove interview over here.

Via Working for the Clampdown... "It's that time again. It's time for Guardian/Observer Rap Editorial Policy Watch! (Okay, you think of a catchier title.)

I'm pretty sure that Kitty Empire is not stupid. So what on earth possessed her to write, when reviewing the new Roots Manuva album, the following?

Disgust, weariness, self-loathing and the fear of God are not the usual themes taken up by hip hop.

As my partner pointed out, "Even I know that those are all really, really common themes in hip hop, and I know very little about it!" Moreover, they're particularly common themes in the kind of hip hop not normally credited with much intelligence or artistic value by broadsheet music critics. Mobb Deep much?
But it gets worse:

In a genre best known for its posturing and violence, Roots can rap 'Pray for me, Mummy' without worrying about saving face.

Um... It's almost compulsory for those rappers supposedly "best known" for "posturing and violence" (yeah, whatever) to have a song about how their mothers should pray for them. 'Dear Mama' much?

I don't think this can be entirely Kitty Empire's fault. There can only be one explanation. Guardian/Observer Rap Editorial Policy has struck again!

The Beastie Boys last album may have been mediocre crap, but they still got it going on... Rolling Stone reports that "The BEASTIE BOYS have joined Al Sharpton in a PETA campaign to boycott Kentucky Fried Chicken for the chicken chain's alleged cruelty to animals. The group's open letter of protest to the KFC CEO is posted at" KFC - its Kiwi for Chunder.

ADDED The buzz about M.I.A. hits new highs/lows... "Coolfer has read and heard a lot of great things about M.I.A.'s show at NYC's Knitting Factory, but nothing compared to this blurb over at More in the Monitor:
"On the subway ride home, this guy Tony told me that he had been standing next to an overweight middle-aged couple near the front of the stage, and the woman gave the man a blow job in the middle of the concert. I think that is a bigger and better endorsement of M.I.A. than anything anybody could ever write about her."
M.I.A.s album is getting a local release (YAY!), out April 4 (unless they have trouble with a few uncleared samples).

I was watching C4 last night, and on Homegrown Late, host Clarke Gayford intro'd the show, noting he had lots of giveaways, including the new issue of Real Groove with Pluto on the cover, and told viewers to remember that bit of info for later, then he blathered a bit more, and said they also had a brand new Apple iPod Shuffle to give away, and they had loaded it up with Pluto's new album Pipelines Under The Ocean.

Now, who had the bright idea to load up Pluto's album on the Shuffle? Was it C4? The band? The band's record company? Surely these people know that copying a CD to another format is illegal in New Zealand. Quick, somebody tell RIANZ. Still, I got to watch Clarke announce the new Mint Chicks video, Fuck the Golden Youth; he took particular delight in saying the f-word, he even said the song title twice. Such a rebel.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"The excellent free peer-reviewed net-journal First Monday has published an exhaustive survey of the earnings made by British and German musicians. Their conclusion? Copyright doesn't give creators a living, and in many cases (such as clearing samples) it costs them more than they can afford.
According to a GEMA (German collecting society) insider, only about 1,200 German composers can live from their creative output. Only a small minority of artists reaches ordinary living standards from copyright income... If an artist wants to include a sample from another record, major rights holders often insist on a controlling interest of 50 to 100 percent of the rights in the new track."

Link (via Boingboing)

and here's the flipside...

"This may come as a complete shock to the people who forget that entertainment is a business, but writers, like musicians, get an advance and then have to pay back that advance with royalties from book sales. What is the average advance? One small, non-scientific survey put it at less than US$6,000 (not adjusted for inflation)." Via Coolfer.

Neal Stephenson interview here.

Deal to ban 'homophobic' reggae. "The reggae industry is to refuse to release or stage concerts featuring homophobic songs under a global deal struck with gay rights groups." BBC.

Also from the BBC's site... "homophobia in Jamaica goes far beyond songs lyrics, with gay men and women "beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality", according to Amnesty International. It says while no official statistics are available, according to published reports at least 30 gay men are believed to have been murdered in Jamaica since 1997. And at least five Jamaicans have been granted asylum in the UK in the last two years because their lives had been threatened as a result of their sexual identity."

Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll out now. Kanye tops it - no surprises there, he's one of two hiphop CDs most critics bothered to listen to last year - that and the Grey Album.

Via O-Dub - "Lizz Mendez Berry's Vibe story on how hip-hop silences the issue of domestic violence is an important, important piece - one of the few examples of real investigative, issue-oriented reporting you'll find in today's urban culture mags.

Alas, what I think will be the ultimate fall-out is a much public hand-wringing but business as usual otherwise. As Lizz points out: that's not on hip-hop alone, but it's fascinating to see how fast people circle up the wagons to defend a batterer. If you're talking the talk, i.e. "kick in the door/wavin' the 44/all you heard was 'Poppa don't hit me no more'" at least be man enough to own up to it."

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

'Are you lesbian?' 'No, I'm making music.'
From Aaron Wherry... "Here's a little tip for the kids. If you're going to be interviewing Miss M.I.A., be sure to tell your editor you're going to need at least a half dozen pages to squeeze in all the good stuff. If your editor finds this unreasonable, get a blog and just reprint everything there. That way, everybody wins.

So. Today we talked to the delightful Maya Arulpragasam. The 800 word version of our encounter appears in tomorrow's National Post. [Read it here] If you'd rather just read a couple thousand of her words without ours getting in the way, this post is for you. Laughs have been edited out. But they were frequent. And wonderful." Read it all here.

UPDATE XL Recordings (MIA's label) list her album as coming out April 4 in the UK, but will be out February 22 in USA/Canada. Check for audio previews, cover art etc.

And have a look at Whinin' Simon, examining the notion of Kiwi music failing to churn out any 'standards'.
"it occurred to me [while he was drinking Belgian beer and eating mussels, bless him] that New Zealand, as a songwriting nation, for all the classic performances (and there have been countless) hasn’t yet matured sufficiently to produce standards as Australia, for example has. Perhaps it’s the result of a largely moribund recording industry for many years and the lack of any airplay...." Go on Simon, drink yourself more bliss, forget about the old songs, sing yourself a new one...
what about that Michael Murphy tune? Hang on, some Yank wrote that... (Just kidding about the whining thing, okay Simon?)

ADDED Simon suggests that there are plenty of Kiwi classic songs, but how do you define classics as different from standards? The two seem so closely interlinked. The term 'classic' is one that is so overused on relation to Kiwi music - as Simon notes, "
we might have a recording history going back fifty years but we’ve only really had a mature recording industry for a decade or so." thats' not nearly enough time to generate standards.
Even worse are the music reviewers who label a new release an 'instant classic' (and no, I have never done that). I guess you could argue that a standard is something deeply ingrained in the national psyche, a tune that everybody knows. The one tune Simon missed out in his list was the Ka Mate haka, as used by the All Blacks. I think you'd call that a standard, yeah?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

There's this godawful album floating round called Dub Side of the Moon, someones wack idea of doing reggae versions of that crap Pink Floyd album. You should avoid it at all costs. Trust me on this. Instead, try this for size - dub versions of Joy Division songs. I first heard about this via the knowledgable Southerners at The Joint, and now you can grab a slice for yourself via Suburbs Are Killing Us.... Love Will Tear Us Apart, dub style. Tee hee.

M.I.A. performed in LA and NY at the weekend, here's a few reviews...

Give Them What They Want but Keep It Sort of Cool
New York Times, Published: February 7, 2005

M.I.A. was raised in Sri Lanka and lives in London, and she has established herself as one of hip-hop's most exciting new voices, rapping and chanting and sometimes singing over hard-thwacking electronic beats. Sounds exotic, right?

Yet the thrill of her hugely anticipated sold-out concert at the Knitting Factory on Saturday night wasn't the thrill of the new - it was the thrill of the familiar. M.I.A. has a keen ear for the various mutations of hip-hop that fill clubs on both sides of the Atlantic, and she scrambles these styles in a way that sounds both fresh and inevitable. Some new acts take a while to sink in, but M.I.A. makes sense from the first time you hear her.And for 45 minutes on Saturday night, she made wildly entertaining sense, playfully calling out her playground-ready couplets ("Somewhere in the Amazon/They're holding me ransom"; "Pull up the people/Pull up the poor") while bouncing her slim limbs in time to the beat.

Backed by Diplo, her D.J., she rode tracks new and old, bringing together old-fashioned electro and futuristic dancehall reggae, London grime and Atlanta crunk. Maybe that's why her music sounds somehow inevitable: because sooner or later, these like-minded genres were bound to find one another.

Late last year M.I.A. and Diplo released "Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1," an excellent unlicensed mixtape that paired her vocals with a smartly curated set of beats, most of them from other people's songs. (That's why it's not available in stores.) The mixtape helped earn M.I.A. a fanatical cult of listeners, even though her debut album, "Arular" (XL), won't be released until Feb. 22.

It's great fun to watch M.I.A.'s cult expand, and it will only expand further once there's an actual album for people to buy. "Arular" has a loose, infectious energy, and it seems likely to appeal to the indie-rock fans who tend to ignore similarly adventurous beat-driven albums when they come from, say, dancehall reggae producers - indie bloggers didn't exactly flock to Stephen (Lenky) Marsden's sublime "Dreamweaver" compilation - or even foul-mouthed American rappers (Ms. Jade's ecstatic debut album, "Girl Interrupted," is currently languishing in a bargain bin near you).

Part of M.I.A.'s appeal is that she borrows from rough-and-tumble, slightly-out-of-control urban genres while leaving behind the parts that may make hip listeners feel uncomfortable: gunplay and crude sex jokes and drug-dealer boasts and all the rest of it. Not coincidentally, "Arular" is missing some of the rambunctious energy that gives those genres some of their power. Nothing about "Arular" feels at all out of control, and maybe that's the reason it sounds a bit slight: it's the work of a canny young performer who has learned to give her listeners nothing they don't want.

Still, M.I.A. has created a handful of devastatingly good singles, and she left no room for skepticism at the Knitting Factory. During her thunderous underground hit "Galang," the crowd sang along to the wordless refrain that comes near the end, bellowing as if it were some sort of mutated soccer chant. (Who knows? Perhaps it is.) And near the end came "Bucky Done Gun," which began with a clever bit of reverse psychology: she chanted, "Manhattan, quieten down, I need to make a sound! / Brooklyn, quieten down, I need to make a sound!" She didn't look surprised when, for the first time all night, no one followed her directions.

Another take on MIA...
"It would seem that once in a generation we get a musical figure that co-opts the best elements of the underground, injects them with a healthy dose of sexy, and turns popular music into something you've never heard before. Watching M.I.A. last night at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles was like seeing Madonna on American Bandstand. It was just bananas. You take one the hottest djs in America and pair him with a pint-sized ball of Sri Lankan sex appeal spitting fire and you've got yourself one hell of a show.

I fully expected to be disappointed. Seriously. But I wasn't let down. Not one bit. It lived up to the hype. There was a visual loop from her "Galang" video running in the background, one backup singer and Diplo on the tables. She played pretty much every track off the new album, but $10 was clearly the standout, and when Diplo mixed in some Eurythmics beats underneath the place went crazy. Such a great show. The soundsystem was fantastic and the beats sounded so good live."
From Music For Robots - they've got a MIA tune over there for you to have a listen to.