Friday, September 26, 2008

Xposure Live: Those Dancing Days

Those Dancing Days at the Barfly Camden; photo by Val PhoenixBarfly Camden
25 September 2008

As the singer of Those Dancing Days, arriving last, clambered onstage, she pushed the guitarist out of the way before striding to the centre of the stage and striking a pose, fluffing her mop of hair.

Most off-putting, it rather set the tone for the gig. Much as I've enjoyed the clutch of singles I have heard by TDD, this performance was underwhelming.

The drummer, at least, was top-notch, her sticks creating a blur of action and some very impressive tribal rhythms which haven't been apparent on the records. But, aside from the singles, the songs were not very memorable.

Given that this Swedish band numbers five, one would expect a bit more charisma and engagement. But, aside from the whirling dervish keyboard player, there was precious little to enjoy.

Interestingly, the bassist, stuck behind the singer, kept giving her bandmate baleful looks. Working out the intra-band dynamic proved a diversion from the performance, which was not helped by THE WORST SOUND MIX heard since.... the last gig I attended at the Barfly. Sort it out.

But do check out the gig highlights next week on Xfm. They will probably sound ace.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Myra Davies

The Girl Suite EP/Girls and Cities
Moabit Musik

After three editions of Miasma, her collaboration with musician Gudrun Gut, spoken word artist Myra Davies steps out under her own name for a new full-length CD, Cities and Girls, and an online taster, The Girl Suite EP.

A gifted storyteller, Davies has a dry, knowing and stolidly North American delivery which contrasts sharply with her Europhile leanings. Whereas Miasma explored themes of nature and gender, Davies now turns her eye to the shared culture of girls, working with a range of musical collaborators, including Gut, drawn from Berlin's experimental margins.

On the EP's standout track, “Valkyrie”, Davies celebrates “nine sisters with old German names” over Gut's remix of the operatic classic, “Ride of the Valkyries”. But in this telling, the "horsey girls" become great rebels, riding off on their steeds as the music fades, a Wagnerian nursery rhyme for the 21st century.

Curiously, that piece is omitted from the album, much of which harks back to an uncomfortable past: in “Burroughs' Bunker” Davies makes a visit to the poet's New York dwelling which reminds her of “1956 middle America”, and on “Calgary”, she turns to early 20th century folk songs from the USA and her native Canada.

“My Friend Sherry” is a strange mélange of doo-wop pop, sampled speech and Davies's recitation of a botched abortion leading to a friend's death in the 1960s. It's an ambitious undertaking to turn social commentary into a pop song which is part Four Seasons, part Shangri-Las, but Davies's voice, usually so supple and confident in its delivery, sounds curiously stiff, as if shoehorned into the pop idiom.

In a nod to Miasma's quirky subject matter, “Worm” is a drawling, tongue-in-cheek consideration of the life cycle. Inspired by the sight of a worm stranded on a pavement, Davies draws the listener into her circular musings on Jean Genet and Italian sailors, before returning to the plight of the humble creature, offering it solidarity.

Berlin, so long a source of inspiration for the Davies-Gut partnership, is notable by its absence. Only one piece, the ambient tone poem “Rain”, refers to it, and then only in the press notes. The casual listener would have no idea which city was the subject.

Berlin at least provides fruitful collaborations for the album. In addition to Gut, Davies gets musical backing from Beate Bartel and the pairing of Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke, all of whom have connections with Einstürzende Neubauten.

Bartel, Gut's former bandmate in Mania D, Matador and Neubauten, provides the music for “Hanoi”, a gentle observational tale of sitting in a café enjoying Vietnamese coffee, while watching humanity pass by on bicycles.

Considering their industrial pedigree, de Picciotto/Hacke's contribution, “STUFF”, is remarkably placid -- a bit of paper rattling, some playful fairground melodies and a few lines pilfered from “My Favourite Things” delivered in a freaky high voice.

Here, Davies delivers her wittiest performance, a comic riff on the human tendency to accumulate STUFF, always taking too much with no place to put it. Her solution to the problem of STUFF is to take it to the landfill because it's the natural conclusion of the production cycle: “Property isn't theft. It's slavery.”

Equally unsentimental is the album closer, the startling “Goodbye Belfast”, in which she bids farewell to an ancestral home she never really knew. Recalling a visit to some Northern Irish great aunts in 1982, Davies repeatedly calls up their attempts at comforting words (“Have a wee cup of tea; you'll feel better”), contrasting this with their unshakeable sectarianism and using this as a metaphor for a place caught in the past.

“Not my place, not my time, not my pain”, she concludes, bidding the city good luck in its quest to move beyond this stagnation.

Girls and Cities is out 26 September.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Vienna: Queer Feminist Days

Flyer for Queer Feminist Days Vienna; photo by Val Phoenix10-14 September 2008

This week sees Vienna's inaugural Queer Feminist Days taking over the city for workshops, discussions and actions.

It's an opportunity for the city to shake off its slightly fusty image and put itself at the heart of queer feminist activism. It also provides a platform for the budding queeer feminist music scene to take centre-stage.

Since Vienna's first Ladyfest in 2004, there has been an upsurge in female bands and performers. Says Fiber magazine's Angela Tiefenthaler, "People are recognising we have a scene here, so there's something going on."

Acts associated with the queer feminist scene include: Bonanza Jellybean, First Fatal Kiss, Ilsebill, Norah Noizzze, Palslut, Freie Radikale, Dandies and Darlings, Clara Luzia, Petra und der Wolf, Spoenk, Gustav and Zum Beispiel. While not working in one musical style, they share a certain political and gender awareness, as well as a fanbase.

Iris Hajicsek, also known as Norah Noizzze, explains, "We don't want to have all these boys playing guitars and posing and singing in bands. We want to form different bands which work on a different basis."

As one of the Queer Feminist Days organisers, Hajicsek draws distinctions between QFD and earlier feminist events in the city, such as Ladyfest and RampenFiber. "Ladyfest is more around music and pop culture and Queer Feminist Days are more about thinking about academic contexts." This seems to translate as more discussion, less music.

But there is still a programme of cultural activities, including gigs and parties, in order to get people talking and interacting after the day's more intellectual activities. Among the acts are CHRA, Petra und der Wolf and Frei Radikale Reduced.

Vienna often takes the lead from Berlin, its trend-setting neighbour to the north, with both Ladyfest and QFD inspired by similar events in Germany. Many of the Vienna bands seem content to operate within the cosy confines of the city's small alternative spaces.

Queer Feminist Days provides an opportunity for the city to stretch its wings and show what it can offer in the way of radical politics and culture. Tiefenthaler goes so far as to claim: "Vienna is the next Berlin."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Vienna: Ilsebill

Ilsebill at the Kunstraum Niederösterreich; photo by Val Phoenix Art and music: always an intriguing mix. Where would the music world be without art students and their exciting concepts? And sometimes galleries like to invite the scruffy hoi polloi into their environs to give events that bit of je ne sais quoi.

I assume it was the latter that prompted the Kunstraum Niederösterreich to put on the bill that performed on the 4th. It was meant to accompany a performance by performance artist Christian Falsnaes but I am still not sure of the connection, despite the world's longest intro by a compere: she had about five pages of comments before the bands came on in the open-air courtyard.

Second on were Ilsebill, part of a burgeoning queer feminist scene in Vienna. A trio of drums, keyboards and guitar, they are lo-fi and quirky in a way that recalls Young Marble Giants, with a tunefulness that reminds one of Sigur Ros and a bit of attitude that calls up Heavens to Betsy. Not too bad for reference points.

Feeling quite out of place in the rather staid surroundings of a government office building (as part of the Palais Niederösterreich), Ilsebill reacted by rather disengaging from the audience, explaining later that they didn't really give a s**t, especially as they had been drafted in to fill some kind of female quota.

Indeed, the stage lighting and general atmosphere put one in mind of a prog-rock gig rather than the lo-fi punk that is more their home. They made sure to announce they were from Favoriten, a less salubrious part of Vienna than the posh first district of the gig. It was quite endearing and if they were a bit lacking in stage presence and craft, they were highly entertaining and brightened the occasion enormously.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Vienna: No One Is Innocent + Derek Jarman

Punk: No One is Innocent exhibit in Vienna; photo by Val PhoenixBack after a brief absence of 20 years in Vienna, I find I recognise nothing. But at least the weather´s good and there is plenty to see, starting with two exhibits at the Kunsthalle.

Punk: No One Is Innocent views punk through the eyes of three great metropolises dear to me: New York, London and Berlin. Entering the gallery, one sees first the offerings from London: portraits of urban wasteland and the dandies who frequented the Blitz club. These are supplemented by displays of the usual suspects: Sex Pistols/McLaren/Westwood.

But there is little to entice except for some intriguing work by Linder, who fronted the band Ludus and made some brilliant album covers. Her critiques of male and female magazines are still fresh.

New York is also on the grimy side, with Richard Kern`s exploitation film Fingered given an airing, as well as some installations by various musician/artist types such as Alan Vega. Still not really piquing my interest.

The Berlin section, however, is where things really pick up with exciting musical/artistic and political connections being made. After so much male-oriented art, it was a pleasure to see work made by women. Upstairs was a kind of Frauenecke peopled by visual art by Elvira Bach and the rest of the space taken up by art bands Mania D and Malaria!, springing from the Geniale Dilletanten scene of the late `70s.

There was a lot more on the GD across the room, also upstairs, with DVDs of concerts and books scattered about in a kind of punk rock reading room. Someone had even scrawled a very punk comment on the display. In response to the question: what was punk like in Vienna, this person had crossed out the past tense and rendered it in the present. Punk lives in Vienna, as elsewhere.

Also on at the Kunsthalle is Derek Jarman: Brutal Beauty, curated by Isaac Julien. Here one can relax into giant scatter cushions to watch Derek, Julien's oh-so-arty but affecting doc on his mentor Jarman, look at numerous TV screens showing clips from Jarman's films, gaze at the filmmaker's visual art, created at his Dungeness retreat or ponder Julien's own visual tributes.

A most peculiar and oddly sparse exhibit. But I quite enjoyed the doc, even if Tilda Swinton and Julien appear to wander rather cluelessly through it.

Punk: No One Is Innocent through 7 September.
Derek Jarman: Brutal Beauty through 5 October.

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