Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Moments

Amanda Palmer in Vienna; photo by Val PhoenixWhile I am still not keen on lists, I do have a few memories to share from 2010.

Favourite film: The Arbor. Clio Barnard's experimental documentary may have attracted attention for its miming technique, but what stuck with me was the raw emotion extracted from the audio interviews.

Favourite exhibit: Gender Check at MuMok, Vienna. So huge, so expansive, it was almost draining, but this survey exhibit of gender expression in Eastern European art was awesome to behold.

Favourite song: "Found Love in a Graveyard", by Veronica Falls. It came out at the start of the year, but kept coming back. And it still sounds great.

Favourite album: City Splits #1: Berlin. A slight cheat, as it presents two bands--Jasmina Maschina and Golden Diskó Ship--from one city on one record, but this was one of my favourite spins of the year. A delightful rainy Sunday afternoon record.

Favourite gig: Amanda Palmer at Arena, Vienna. One woman, one keyboard, one ukulele. Mind-blowing.

Favourite random moment: AGF singing "Bau Auf Bau Auf" to me over Skype.

And it only remains for me to wish all eine bessere Zukunft.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mounting frustration

Was hoping to wrap up the year with some work on my various unfinished film projects, which live on an external hard drive that I carry with me to various public access sites, as I don't own a Mac.

Alas, last week the hard drive disconnected itself from its partner and steadfastly refuses to show its face or mount, as it's known. Cue visits to the shadowy world of the internet forum to check on this phenomenon and discover it is, sadly, quite common for this particular brand of external hard drive. And the company is not actually that helpful, to boot.

I am not giving up on my external hard drive, yet, but as I do not actually own the requisite computer to connect it to, it will have to wait some weeks to make another visit and get, I hope, reacquainted. The tension mounts (or doesn't, yet).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Yvonne Rainer Project

Detail from After Many a Summer...; photo by Val PhoenixHopped on down to the Southbank Centre on Sunday to visit the ongoing Yvonne Rainer exhibit and specifically see some films that were only on show over the weekend. What I thought were her films turned out to be "Yvonne Rainer + artists' films". Hence, over an 80-minute period I only caught about 30 seconds of one of her films and it was one I'd seen before. Doh! Ah, well. Some of them were interesting, one was brilliant and quite a few were way too lo-o-ong. Ah, artists' films. Gotta love 'em. Sadly, can't really review them properly as most had no titles and I could not match up the films viewed to the descriptions in the programme. Ah, artists' films. Gotta love 'em x2.

So, to the ongoing exhibit. Well, there are three installations on view in the Gallery. Of these, I had a whale of a time at the circular work, After Many a Summer DIes the Swan: Hybrid, 2002. In this, a raised projector rotates 360 degrees, and the viewer follows the action by sitting in the centre. But, here's the fun part. The seat is a kind of Space hopper on wheels! Such fun. I was spinning all over the shop. If a group went, it would be like bumper cars. Awesome. The actual projections are quite enjoyable, as Rainer muses on the early 20th century avant-garde in Vienna.

The other two pieces in the Gallery were of less interest to me, being videos of some dance pieces she produced. Quite the multi-skiller is Ms. Rainer: filmmaker, choreographer, et al. I am not intimately familiar with her work, but her name crops up all over discussions of feminist cinema and art, and I found her role as the roller-skating artist in Madame X - an absolute ruler quite amusing.

Some of Rainer's own films, including Journeys from Berlin and The Man Who Envied Women, are on show at the BFI throughout December while an excerpt from Lives of Performers is on show in the Atrium.

The Yvonne Rainer Project continues at the Southbank Centre through 23 January 2011.
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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

This Sunday: Growing Pains

Poster for Growing PainsLe Cinema des Femmes presents GROWING PAINS: a celebration of teenage angst, American-style.

Relive those high school memories of heartbreak, hormones, fitting in, and coming out… as we bring you two classic movies featuring implausibly white-toothed teens experiencing the
agony of adolescence:

BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER [1999]
A girl sent to a sexuality re-programming camp gains unexpected insights. Directed by Jamie Babbit.

+

SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL [1987]
An age-old tale of unrequited love, teenage longing and questionable outfits, directed by the late John Hughes.

Bring your steady squeeze and snuggle into the back row for some heavy petting!

Plus:
Popcorn!
Cakes!
Zines!

And a very special DJ set from The Girls Are's Annette Barlow, who'll be spinning teen angst anthems til late.

Dress code: High school archetypes
(Think: freaks vs geeks, jocks vs goths, cheerleaders vs do-gooders)

£4 entry

Sunday 12th December - from 5pm
The Horatia
98-102 Holloway Road
London N7 8JE
(Nearest tubes: Highbury & Islington, Holloway Road)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Snowfall

Oregano covered in snow; photo by Val PhoenixHow surprised was I to awake this morning to find snow falling! Though I knew Scotland has been deluged since the weekend, I didn't think it would make it this far south. Cue frantic scrabbling for winter boots. Perhaps it is time to put the bulbs out for their ever-so-brief yearly appearance.

Some things never change: while the roads were perfectly clear, the pavements were slippy and slushy. Last winter I took to walking down the middle of the road to avoid ice. Once I was even called upon to rescue an elderly woman. No sign of snow-bound pedestrians yet. But, it's only November.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

UnderWire Festival

The inaugural UnderWire festival of women's short film work is in full swing and concludes tomorrow with an awards ceremony.

Visiting the third day of the festival, I caught the Editing and Directing categories, preceded by a lecture by screenwriter Linda Aronson. Speaking in rather non-linear fashion, she offered some anecdotes from her career and then moved on to a suitably convoluted explanation of parallel narrative structure. This was, unfortunately, rushed, owing to time constraints, but she has some books out that would shed some more light on a fascinating topic. Her message: don't be afraid of flashbacks!

Next up was the the Directing category of five films, the standout of which was The Storymaker. An atmospheric and increasingly creepy set-up finds a bedridden woman delivering unintelligible thoughts to a group of Expressionist-looking scribes. At first I thought it was a wry commentary on artistic inspiration. But, then I decided it was a metaphor for Alzheimer's or some other degenerative illness. Visually striking and gripping, it lingered in the memory. Marigolds was also memorable for its cringe-making mother-son relationship. The climactic scene had audience members gasping and laughing in discomfort.

In the Editing category, I was impressed by Skateistan, a doc on a skate park in Kabul and also liked Dear Mummy, a clever mix of live action and animation.

The awards ceremony for the various categories is tomorrow evening .

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ladyfest Ten: day three

Viv Albertine; photo: Val PhoenixSo, finally, the thrilling conclusion of a three-day epic. A not so early start didn't really help me catch up on sleep, but I was ready to go for the afternoon start of the film programme, which started with a workshop on DIY film-making, courtesy of Kanchi Wichmann, who shared clips from her forthcoming feature, Break My Fall.

I had to run up to the Resource Centre to check on the other film-making workshop, which was actually due to start later, so I wasn't around for the whole slot, but returned in time to deal with some DVD burning drama, which meant we had to switch around our second programme, running the feature Too Much Pussy before the three shorts that accompanied it. I kept expecting someone from the library to walk in during what was a very sexually explicit, very queer doc on a performance troupe's tour. Very funny to screen that in a public library.

With our work as the film group done by 5:15, we were free to enjoy what remained of the festival, and I spent a very enjoyable hour listening in on a beatboxing workshop run by Gracious B, who had performed on Friday night and blown me away with her vocal percussion prowess.

After a brief rest, it was on to the Garage for what was billed as lo-fi day, which I found amusing. For me it was more like post-punk day, with a bill featuring Viv Albertine, Tender Trap, Wet Dog and Trash Kit. For me, Viv Albertine was the undoubted highlight, offering more connection with the audience and some very personal songs, delivered in spiky and forceful style. The closer was a slow-burning indictment of married life, from one who knows. Wow. After that, the kids just couldn't compete, though I enjoyed the racket they made.

After a quick group photo, our film group scattered to the four winds. Life just won't be the same without Ladyfest.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ladyfest Ten: day two

JD Samson of MEN; photo: Val PhoenixWow. Wow. Wow. So tired I can barely type, but will do a quick recap of Saturday, which started at 10 with me not taking the Victoria line to Highbury, because of engineering works. Instead negotiated a replacement bus (or Ersatzbus as we have taken to calling it) and a tube, so was a bit late.

Had a brief chat with Gabriella Apicella of UnderWire film festival on the paucity of decent women characters onscreen, then took a DVD up to the Holloway Resource Centre and crashed a Queer Health workshop, but not before I sptted a familiar face and had a reunion with Lena, formerly of Ilsebill, but now studying in Loughborough and down in London for the weekend. Then it was back to the library screening room for Tina Gharavi's narrative screenwriting workshop, where we learned to make cliches our friend, so that we can subvert them.

After a super-quick turnaround, it was time for the headline act: JD Samson introducing Le Tigre: On Tour. This had taken awhile to arrange and we were all relieved when she strode in, accompanied by Ginger from MEN and other friends. It fell to me to do the introduction and run the Q & A as my colleagues were too shy. Aside from one ill-fated mention of Christina Aguilera, I think it went OK. And I also grabbed a quick interview with JD for my radio show. Amazingly, we finished early and were able to exit the library, without being shoved out by security.

Thereafter, I watched the excellent bill at the Garage, consisting of Veronica Falls; Vile, Vile Creatures (who lent MEN a guitar when a string broke); Battant; Nicky Click; and headliners MEN (JD's other band), which left me quite energised, although security there were needlessly brusque. MEN proved a revelation, as the two songs I'd heard had left me underwhelmed. But, live it worked really well, the throbby bass lines and beats lifting the energy, while frontwoman JD proved equally adept at working her computer and the crowd. She also wished Ladyfest a happy tenth birthday, which went down, not surprisingly, quite well.

One more day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ladyfest Ten: day one

Patricia Panther; photo: Val PhoenixJust back from a buzzing evening at the Horatia, watching some fantastic UK hip-hop as part of Ladyfest Ten. I only caught a few acts, but I was really impressed by Patricia Panther and Lykez, two acts who couldn't be more different in presentation but are marvellously entertaining to watch. Whereas Lykez is all streetwise teenaged cockney attitude, Patricia Panther offers a soulful Glaswegian take on beats and rhymes. I was positively energised.

Which is saying something, as I had a heavy dose of Ladystress when I turned up at the film venue for our opening programme. We had a few last-minute hicccups and were not entirely prepared when we opened our doors. But, we had an awesome bill of films, and Kim Longinotto turned in a mighty fine introduction to her film, Divorce Iranian Style. I imagine she must've introed this film hundreds of times since its production in 1998, and the Islington Central Library is not the most glamourous locale for a screening. But, she was very thoughtful and entertaining in providing some context for it and got everyone well warmed up to see it. Hurrah.

I mostly stayed at the library during the day but did pop over to the Horatia briefly to see the Big Debate panel, as I was keen to see Viv Albertine. It was pretty much winding up, but I did catch a few comments by her to the effect that she feels like girls are more clued up than they are given credit for, and pop culture isn't necessarily detrimental to their development.

Back to the library for some more screenings and we just made it out the door at 5pm, having discovered very late that one of our filmmakers had been sitting there all day without introducing herself! Most unlike a filmmaker, not to shout from the rooftops. Verv sweet.

My proudest moment came watching the Ten Years of Grrrls Creating Culture doc that our group curated from past Ladyfests. Seeing some of my lo-res footage and stills mixed in was very pleasing. I finally feel part of Ladyfest and it makes me think I must have been doing something right these last 20 years.

Two days to go.

Ladyfest Ten this weekend in London

Ladyfest Ten flyer with pumpkin; photo by Val PhoenixSo, it's finally, finally here. I have been immersed over the last couple of months in the film group for Ladyfest Ten, which is on this weekend in London.

Things I have experienced in the organisation of Ladyfest Ten:
  • unravelled the mysteries of the Ning
  • created spreadsheets
  • uploaded Google Docs
  • applied zombie make-up
  • baked chocolate cakes
  • accosted a filmmaker at the London Film Festival
  • encouraged a colleague to accost a musician at a club
  • got locked in a house
  • scoured my archive for film, photos and audio
  • discussed codecs, at length

Ah, the magic of Ladyfest.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Femme Fatalities

Poster for Femme FatalitiesLadyfest Ten presents... Le Cinema des Femmes: FEMME FATALITIES Halloween Horror Movie Double Feature!

Indulge in some HANGOVER HORROR this Halloween Sunday and join us for a film double bill featuring our favourite fiendish femmes and grotesque grrls!

Ginger Snaps + Jennifer's Body

Get zombied up, neck down some Bloody Marys and get ready to hide behind the sofa cushions!

Plus:
Popcorn!
Cakes!
Zines!
Raffle!

And a very special DJ set from the gruesome GIRL GERMS!

Sunday 31st October
From 4pm
The Victoria Inn, Mile End
£4 suggested donation – all proceeds go to Ladyfest Ten

Thursday, October 28, 2010

LFF: Power, Lies and Corruption

Still from CaranchoMy final instalment from this year's London Film Festival focusses on two very different films that highlight the dangers of the abuse of power.

Sabina Guzzanti's excoriating documentary, Draquila, Italy Trembles, takes as its starting point the devastating 2009 earthquake that led to the abandonment of the Italian town of Aquila. But, as the film makes clear, much of the devastation was due to the incompetence or possibly abuse of power of the country's Civil Protection Service, under the direct control of controversial prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Guzzanti's disaffection with Berlusconi is well-known, and she has satirised him on numerous occasions. This film, though a polemic, is well-made and forceful in its criticism of his government's actions or, rather, inaction, in warning the town's residents of impending disaster and then effectively requisitioning the town for development, using emergency powers. The film then delves deeper into Berlusconi's construction background and unsavoury connections. Reminiscent of Michael Moore's salvos at ex-president Bush, the film is by turns funny and very, very sad. Clearly, Guzzanti feels Berlusconi is destroying the fabric of Italian society and her conclusion is not optimistic.

From Draquila to "tranquilo", the much-repeated interjection in Carancho, the latest drama from the Pablo Trapero-Martina Gusman team, he directing, she producing and starring. While I very much enjoyed Lion's Den, another collaboration by the couple, Carancho fell short of my expectations. Starting out as a tense character study of Gusman's ambulance worker and Ricardo Darin's "vulture" (ambulance-chasing lawyer), the film degenerated in the last quarter into an absurd bloodbath, with gun battles and multiple car crashes that defied credulity. A shame. But, it also made clear the insidious influence of crime bosses on the burgeoning compensation free-for-all in Buenos Aires, in which poor people are pushed into staging accidents in return for paltry sums. The Trapero-Gusman message in this film seems to be that inhumanity is only a step away for even the most superficially honest.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

LFF: The Kids Aren't All Right

Still from Release the Flying Monkeys
No, I didn't attend last night's Gala Premiere of Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, sadly, but I have viewed several films that detail complicated teenaged lives.

Spork (dir JB Ghuman Jr.) is a quirky US slacker-ish comedy, curiously '90s in feel, with an outsider heroine, bullied at school for being dorky and intersex. Her tormentors include a group of Britney-alikes (very Heathers), while her few allies number the fat Asian kid and the sassy black chick. A bit pat, that, but there is some originality to be had, as Spork (the name cruelly bestowed by the bullies) tries to regain some self respect via the unlikely medium of krumping. An utterly implausible ending doesn't quite spoil the film's charms, grotesque humour chief among them.

Elisa K is much more sombre in tone, its heroine burying memories of a childhood rape by a family friend, until she reaches adulthood and suddenly remembers. Her breakdown quickly descends into bathos, and the ending is left unresolved.

Pretty Girls Make Graves, a shorts programme featuring convention-defying girls, was disappointingly uneven, but, for me, the clear standout was the comedy Release the Flying Monkeys, in which two Albanian girls perform exorcisms among the sinners of London, hoping to bring them closer to Jesus. Laugh-out-loud funny and irreverent, the film punctures religious posturing in engaging style. Most of the other films I found a bit too self-consciously arty to be fathomable, but That Thing You Drew also drew laughs, as an uncomprehending girl causes havoc in her school with her choice of artistic subject. Kids, eh?

Friday, October 22, 2010

LFF: Female Empowerment

Still from PuzzleA spate of films has focussed on the put-upon woman, the wife or mother who is taken for granted, the servile worker or the discarded woman. Interesting.

Among these is the Argentine drama, Puzzle, in which Maria spends her 50th birthday party picking up after her nearest and dearest. It is only the next morning that she gets around to opening her presents, among them a jigsaw puzzle that catches her attention, with its image of Nefertiti. Perhaps seeking a bit of the queen's power, she immerses herself in the world of puzzles, eventually hooking up with (in multiple senses) another puzzle aficionado. Beautifully shot in rich sepia tones and with a subtle performance by Maria Onetto as Maria, this is a quiet film to savour.

Not so the knockabout French farce, Copacabana, featuring Isabelle Huppert as a boho out-of-work mother beset with an ungrateful snob of a daughter (Huppert's daughter Lolita Chammah) and seeking to make amends by taking work in unlovely Ostend flogging timeshares. The mother-daughter relationship is fraught with perils and Huppert is clearly enjoying throwing herself into various undignified scenarios that mortify her priggish offspring.

Sawako Decides is an odd film, ostensibly a comedy but for the first two-thirds a rather grim depiction of the life of a Japanese slacker, Sawako, who leaves an unfulfilling life in big-city Tokyo to move back to her small village to salvage the family clam-packing business. In tow are her unbelievably dull boyfriend and his semi-mute daughter. The early scenes of Sawako behaving much as a doormat are rather excruciating and one waits and waits for the promised "female empowerment" of the press notes. But.... two scenes very late on are worth the wait. One, in which Sawako rewrites the company song for the female workers to sing, is a moment of cinematic genius and should be excerpted as a music video. The other, the denouement, features much scenery chewing and unorthodox distribution of human remains. Grotesque humour, female rivalry and a rather twee central performance from Hikari Mitsushima make this a tough but rewarding journey.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

RIP Ari Up

I was quite shocked to check my emails this morning and learn of the passing of Ari Up, singer with The Slits. Legendary band, legendary singer and so full of life, it seems incredible to think she could be gone at only 48. I only saw her perform once, but she was an extraordinary character, following her muse and her dreams all over the globe. Not many can say that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

LFF: The Arbor

Still from The ArborJust back from amazing film sort of based on the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her writings. The Arbor combines real-life interviews with her friends and family, with readings from her play The Arbor. But it is done in such an artful and moving way, that it is completely gripping. And the story of her eldest child, Lorraine, is heartbreaking. I almost didn't see the film, but am still pondering it several hours later.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

London Film Festival: weekend one

Detail from The Taqwacores
Five days into the festival, I can't yet say how it is shaping up. But the standout for me so far is definitely The Taqwacores. Adapted from Michael Muhammad Knight's novel about a group of punky Muslims living in a shabby group house in Buffalo, the film is a multifaceted look at how people negotiate "mismatching disenfranchised subcultures", as Mohawked punk visionary Jehangir (Dominic Rains in an astonishing performance) puts it. As naive student Yusuf moves into this house, he encounters many stripes of Islam, from strict adherents to the rather startling character of Rabeya, a burqa-clad Riot Grrl-ish character. Quite the eye opener for him and the audience. What is most interesting is that an actual taqwacore scene has emerged as a result of Knight's imaginings, and some of the bands that appear in this work of fiction are actually real performers.

Somewhat less rebellious is the doc on Creation Records, Upside Down. While I was quite looking forward to seeing the now-dead indie label recounted, I was not really looking forward to seeing footage of Oasis. Or Boo Radleys. Or indeed 18 Wheeler or Arnold. And, actually, there was no mention of either of the latter two bands touted by label co-founder Alan McGee, long since mythologised as a tastemaker of the highest order. Even though he signed Oasis. The film is largely a hagiography of McGee, featuring endless shots of him sporting a ridiculous fedora, the most ill-advised piece of baldness-hiding headgear since The Edge discovered his beanie. While truly visionary bands such as My Bloody Valentine are given short shrift, McGee's chum Bobby Gillespie is lionised as some kind of genius. Nonsense.

Also viewed were Howl, the rather limp docudrama on Allen Ginsberg's groundbreaking poem. The film can't decide if it's a courtroom drama depicting an obscenity case or a stream of consciousness riff on artistic inspiration. And it works as neither, despite the striking animation that backdrops the rather dull recitations of Ginsberg's poem by actor James Franco. Most disappointing.

Considerably upping the nailbiting stakes is The Orion, a tense guerrilla-shot drama depicting the consequences of a sexual encounter between two unmarried people in modern Iran. As the couple struggle to "undo" the damage to their reputations via backroom surgery, they come up against the very restrictive law at work in the country. Truly disturbing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Recycled Words

Just back from a brief road trip on the boneshaker, testing out if I can still ride the thing. I picked a good day--sunny, mild, a gentle breeze and very impressive foliage changes taking place. I also diced with death, ducking under the 5 foot head railway bridge on Coppermill Lane. Definitely this should be entered as an Olympic sport. Imminent decapitation would add an element of thrill-seeking to the cycling events. Now weak at the knees and in need of a soak.

Oh, tomorrow is the 82nd anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf's novel, Orlando, which I celebrated in my radio show this week. In the course of my research, I found some archive audio of her speaking about words. I might not chosen some of her Victorian-era language, but her thoughts are fascinating.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Callout for films for Ladyfest Ten

Ladyfest Ten has issued two callouts for film. One is a general callout for short films.

The other is for archive footage from previous Ladyfests.

Celebrating the tenth anniversary of Ladyfest, Ladyfest Ten takes place 12-14 November in London.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Deptford X

Mitch McEwen at the Old Police Station; photo by Val PhoenixDeptford X, which declares itself "London's foremost contemporary visual arts festival", returns tonight for a ten-day run in sunny south London. The full programme is online, but last night I interrupted artist-unlicensed architect Mitch McEwen as she wired up her installation Black Site #2 at the Old Police Station before the opening tonight.

Based in New York, McEwen works with spaces and how people think about them. For this work, she has re-created a full size representation of a black site used by the CIA for interrogating prisoners. We had a bit of a chat, will go out next week on Odd Girl Out, but McEwen explained her starting point was imagining that the CIA asked her to design such a site. Basing her construction on legal depositions given to the ACLU, McEwen used plywood to construct a cell draped with transducers, used to pump music in to induce sleep deprivation. With a laugh, she acknowledged that visitors to the installation will not experience anything like the discomfort of the real thing, but the work questions the relationship between military and civilian society.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Surround Sound

This week I have been immersed in archive tape, sorting through various interviews to use to mark my 20th anniversary in journalism. I wanted to share a selection of clips from my encounters with amazing women in a range of creative pursuits--mostly music, but also writing, film and other, uncategorisable, fields.

It's pretty daunting: how to choose? How to edit? How to present? I am looking at doing a series of short clips for my show and then putting them up online.

This week I tried out a five-channel option on Soundtrack Pro. It's designed for a five-speaker surround sound effect, but I just listened on headphones and rather liked the panning, albeit with several tracks competing for attention.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with someone who does video interviews and she said she always found audio a bit uncomfortable, a bit too intimate. "That's what I like about it," I replied. I find audio a delightful medium. I like the immediacy, the closeness and the mystery of the unseen. Conducting a one-to-one conversation is one of life's great joys. A pity so many regard audio as the unwanted stepchild of video.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Flying Squirrel

Back in London on a busy Saturday afternoon, catching up on errands, I spot a rather panicked squirrel dodging traffic in a busy high street. Concerned, I watch its progress until it disappears behind a wall. "Mum! A squirrel!" pipes up a small boy ahead of me. The squirrel has now raced up the cement railing of a staircase of a block of flats.

Realising it is no closer to safety, it turns 90 degrees and, before my wondering eyes, makes a flying leap off the staircase, landing on the concrete of the front yard. It must be 3m high and a distance of 4m. Ouch. More to-ing and fro-ing before it returns to the relative shelter of the small shrublike tree of a side road.

Looking about, I realise how few tall trees are in this street. But, another five minutes' (human) walk takes me to a beautiful expansive tree, bursting with branches and shade. Squirrel Paradise.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Dual Action

Golden Disko Ship at West Germany; photo by Val PhoenixAnother double dose, as I took in two gigs in one evening, albeit just around the corner from one another. Missy magazine's relaunch was held at the ever-so-secretive West Germany, a venue which displays the abundant charm of a distressed dentist's waiting room, but books some fantastic acts. I was there to see opener Golden Disko Ship, having missed her gigs in London some months back. Time was of the essence as I wanted to check out Ich bin ein Berliner at SO36 later that night.

As it happened, GDS took the stage just after 11pm, slipping into her gigwear of poker cap and sparkly top, as she addressed her computer keyboard. Not sure of the significance of this look, but perhaps it gets her in the mood. The performance was a marvel of multi-tasking as she worked in guitar, violin, squeezebox and assorted other musical paraphernalia. I thought the images projected on the screen behind her really worked, adding to the ambience. Or maybe it was the sparkly top.

Then it was on to the fabled SO36, which I had never, ever visited. I found it surprisingly posy, as if one had wandered onto the set of the Blitz Club, ca 1983. Great sound and lights, though. I needn't have worried about time, because I was there early enough to see the opening acts, but I was keen to see Mona Mur and En Esch, who absolutely rocked. The live show very much lets the album off its leash, even if a lot of the music comes from a computer. They also had a live drummer, which helps. Mur is the quintessential show-woman, all aggression and blood lust, while guitarist Esch is an unusual mixture of menace and knock-kneed geekiness. Set-closer "Die Ballade vom Ertrunkenen Mädchen" was the icing on the cake.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Family Gatherings

Flyer for Queer Punk Thingy; photo by Val PhoenixTwo gatherings in a space of 15 hours in extremely chilly Berlin: the Queer Punk Thingy in Kreuzberg and Suppe und Mucke in Friedrichshain. The first was at the long-standing Köpi project and featured an array of bands, performance artists and a film programme catering to the queer punkerati.

First stop was a showing of Taxi zum Klo, viewed from extremely uncomfortable benches in freezing conditions. It's December in September! Then off to see a coprophilic performance duo, then some electro pop with glitter. All in all, a fine evening's entertainment, even if now I find myself flagging where once I got a second wind. Am I still a night person?
Soup bowl at Suppe und Mucke; photo by Val Phoenix

The next day was a blur of strollers, face-painting and long queues for soup at the Kiez event Suppe und Mucke. I don't know whose idea it was to mix soup and music, but, hey, why not? Didn't actually sample much of either, but for mere minutes the sun shone and it almost seemed like summer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The art of eccentricity

Jude Cowan at the 12-Bar Club; photo by Val PhoenixAs I write this, I am listening to Jude Cowan's CD, Doodlebug Alley, handed to me by the artist as I left last night's 12-Bar Club gig, part of the London Fringe. It was an enjoyable evening, full of poets and musicians and plenty of amusing audience-performer interaction (some unwanted).

In all the years I have lived in London, I've never actually set foot in the club, and I was fascinated to see a forge dated 1635 form part of the back wall of the main stage. The sound engineer informed me it was used to make horseshoes. I am impressed to think it must have survived the Great Fire. But, I digress...

Cowan performed in the front room, a quirky, pigtailed figure adopting a knock-kneed stance usually seen by rockabilly guitarists, but here matched with a concert ukulele, face scrunched up, the better to add a melodramatic visual element to her idiosyncratic songs. I would have termed her style "English eccentric", had I not been warned via a pre-gig comment by fellow performer Helen McCookerybook, that they are neither English nor singer-songwriters. So, perhaps "British eccentric" is more accurate. Cowan's is quite a melodramatic style, full of dramatic pauses, knowing intonations and clever wordplay. "The Lure of Paris" made repeated mention of a "boring banker" in such a barbed way as to suggest it was cockney rhyming slang. Another number very amusingly riffed on "red Berlin" and the narrator's various romantic escapades.


Helen McCookerybook at the 12-Bar Club; photo by Val PhoenixLater, Helen McCookerybook took to the main stage for her soundcheck and was immediately engaged by a grizzled eccentric-in-residence who questioned her as to whether they had met before. Barefoot, she then carried on a running dialogue with the folk in the balcony, flashing a steely smile to go with her deceptively gentle tunes. Speak softly and carry a big Gretsch, I think. I recognised a few songs, as she was my first live performing guest on Odd Girl Out, but this was the first time I saw her play electric guitar. Seeking the sympathy vote for her sore thumb, she showed off her jazz chords, and played a brisk, engaging set, selected from the luggage tag she had tied to her guitar neck. She was very proud of this innovation and predicted it will sweep the folkerati circuit.

Among the audience was Cowan's and McCookerybook's colleague Kath Tait, the third member of their tongue-in-cheek group the Desperado Housewives ("on the run from husbands and housework"). Their next themed gig, on the subject of cowboys, is on 9 September at the Montague Arms in New Cross.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sound in Vision

Still from War With Love by Val PhoenixI just found out my film War With Love is screening next Saturday as part of the Sound in Vision Festival at the Clapham Picturehouse in South London.

Although it's been online, it's only the second screening of
War With Love, my lo-fi-black-and-white-super-imposed-melancholic epic, shot in wintry Berlin.

As I quite like mixing visuals with music, it's a pleasure to be part of this bill. There doesn't seem to be a line-up online yet, but I have received details.


Sound in Vision Festival, 28 August:

2pm – The Henry Brothers

3pm – Short Films – The Best from Local Film makers

4pm – Marta Fontanals-Simmons

4.30pm – Short Films – The Best from Local Film makers

5pm – Benjamin Folk Thomas & Jack Day - Country Folk Duo

6pm – Short Films – The Best from Local Film makers

7pm – Amaziah

8pm – The Stepsons

There is no admission fee, but, as it's a benefit for PLAN International, donations are welcome.

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Odd Girl Out Radio blog

I had been posting playlists for Odd Girl Out on MySpace, but I now have a dedicated site for my radio show, Odd Girl Out Radio.

The new site will feature playlists from the show, as well as other features, which will be introduced over time. I shall also be moving a few of my Blogroll sites over there. Keep checking back!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tonight at Old Police Station: Yuck house

Tonight is a benefit for Optical and pH7 radio stations at the Old Police Station in New Cross, London.

It features performances in the garden, live bands in the interview room and will be streamed live on the two stations. An exhibition, Yuck house, will be on in the cells. The bar opens at 5pm. £5 donation entry.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells live at Rough Trade East; photo by Val PhoenixRough Trade East, London
10 August

At last, a foray out of my contemplative, tree-hugging reverie and back into gigland! Well, an in-store at Rough Trade's hipster eastie offspring in Brick Lane. I used to live in this 'hood earlier in the century, just as it was becoming achingly trendified. I still enjoy the odd visit, mostly to pick up bagels, but also to wander the cobblestones and gaze in the windows of shops that probably wouldn't allow me to darken their doors.

But, this jaunt was prompted by the appearance of Brooklyn noise-beats duo Sleigh Bells, whom I have played a little bit on my show. I have yet to hear the debut album, Treats, which prompted this visit to ye olde record store. And, given that much of their recorded work is highly produced, I wondered how it would translate live. As indeed, perhaps did they, because before the show, I bumped into vocalist Alexis Krauss wandering the aisles of the shop and she commented approvingly that the sound was much better than she expected. Off-stage she and bandmate Derek Miller were the model of polite, well-mannered young people (said to be in short supply nowadays)--both of them shook hands with me and Krauss offered a 120-watt smile, to boot.

Onstage they turned into raging rock beasts, with Krauss the epitome of RAWK frontwoman, complemented by Miller's choppy guitar playing. But, RAWK in a very, very good way--high energy, loud enough for ear plugs and with charisma to burn. She has the full range of poses and dance moves, as well. The only drawback was the limited "liveness" of the show, as all of the music, save Miller's guitar, came from a laptop. And when he left the stage for two or three songs, Krauss was effectively performing karaoke. But.... it's hard in the digital age to truly be live and it was a very enjoyable 35 minutes.

Afterward, the two glowing performers wandered the shop, wondering what the heck was going on, until they were ushered behind the counter to sign merchandise. Not having a copy of the record, I made my way out, back into the rain of a grey, rainswept London, bagel in hand.
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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Walking is good for you...

Lea River; photo by Val PhoenixSpent a good three hours walking from Tottenham Hale to Lea Bridge Road along the Lea (or Lee) River, with a brief detour to Springfield Park for a cuppa (but the care was not yet open), back to the river, through marshes, past posing heron, following the trail of assorted geese and discarded footballs (an England one was going in circles, much like the team) and then had a cursory picnic at the standing stones of the Middlesex Filter Beds. Felt marvellously invigorated. Then slept for three hours. Now off to find something cultural to see, as this is an arts blog.

Early Riser

Up ridiculously today, owing to insomnia. Pottering about at 03:12, I took a peek toward the north, in hopes of spotting Aurora Borealis, visible because of solar storms. No such luck. Would have been a marvellous birthday present.

That's twice I have missed out. I actually visited Reykjavik a few years ago mainly to see the Northern Lights but fell foul of overcast conditions. This morning in London the stars were twinkling, the rain had moved off, but... no lights, except for human-made ones. Ah, well. Since I'm up, may as well start the day.
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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Making Berry

Freshly picked blackberries; photo by Val PhoenixI tried to think of a more clever pun for the title, honestly I did. Anyway, just back from a glorious hour in the forest picking blackberries. Surprisingly, it's still early in the season and most are not yet ripe. The gnats were out in force, thanks to yesterday's rain. Nevertheless, I persevered and returned with two yoghurt pots' full--that's 2 kg. More than enough for a week's worth of smoothies and a decent crumble. Unless I put one pot in the freezer for the winter.

It's only recently, rather late in life, that I have discovered the joy of berrying in the summer, having moved to a flat near a forest some four years ago. With nothing else to do in the area, I took to wandering the forest, glorying in nature and discovering that some of those things growing were actually edible! Imagine. At the time, I could jump up of a morning and, still in my pyjamas, dash out for a quick forage to get enough berries for a smoothie. A reminder that city life isn't all technology and hustle bustle. Lovely.

Now, living a bit farther away, it's more of an effort, but I do try to get out there once a week, sometimes combined with some softball or a kickabout. Today, though, it was all about the berries. Previous trips have involved quite a bit of bloodshed, as those thorns are hazardous, but today the toll was merely a few scratches. Now I just have to sort the b____rs.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Frontier Blues

Due out on 30 July in the UK, the indie film Frontier Blues is the debut feature from Babak Jalali. Set in his native Iran along the northern border with Turkmenistan, the film is an absurdist meditation on loss and getting on with life. Four male characters are the leads and the film often alludes to the absence of women from their lives without ever really explaining how this came to be.

I wondered at the meaning myself: is the filmmaker commenting on the lack of visibility of women in Iran, or in his own life, or does it have some other meaning?

The characters are not especially sympathetic: one is an irascible minstrel who spends most of the film posing for an annoying photographer from Teheran keen to photograph the native population in situ, setting up one ridiculous, contrived pose after another; a second character is a frustrated factory worker in love with a woman who never speaks (the sole female character); a third is mentally and socially deficient and only really bonds with a donkey; and the fourth is the third character's uncle, running a failing clothes shop and given to long pauses staring into the middle distance.

This is a film long on atmosphere and short on plot. Many will find it annoying. I was impressed by the cinematography and the stylised way Jalali told his story, but was left a bit confused about the point he was making. And what happened to the women?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cool as a Uke: Amanda Palmer Plays Radiohead

Cover of Amanda Palmer recordOr to give it its full, splendidly retro title: Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele, in which the newly-liberated-from-major-label-hell Palmer tackles six songs by prog-indie mopesters Radiohead. Perhaps it is not such a stretch, as the Oxford band share Ms. Palmer's penchant for pay-as-you-like releases: this one is available for download at 84 cents and up, to pay for licencing and admin costs. Anything above the minimum goes to Palmer and the other musicians.

So, it's totally DIY, direct selling, which is a natural progression of Palmer's online adventuring, which includes active Tweeting, aggressive merchandising and irregular webcasting. This past week, for example, she delivered a marvellously ramshackle webcast to launch the record, highlights of which were a performance of her song "Gaga, Palmer, Madonna" in the bath, as well as two versions of "Creep", one tense and a bit detached, the other rather more intimate, if tinged with fatigue. It was a gripping, if chaotic, set.

So, what do you get for your 84 cents' worth? Well, for me, the first two cuts are the weakest. "Fake Plastic Trees" and "High and Dry" sound a bit detached, as if she is still warming up. "No Surprises" sounds as if she is too close to the mic, and her downward vocal swoops are a bit melodramatic for my taste. This is a performer steeped in the stage tradition, with charisma to burn. But, these recordings are not her finest work.

Things get much more interesting on "Idioteque". There is intriguing online footage of her recording this in Australia, and the live version on the webcast was also a standout, featuring her musician chums Cormac Bride and Molly on vocals and piano. Palmer (or AFP, as she prefers to be known) also contributed some discordant percussion by striking the piano strings. On record, this song works beautifully, emotionally, and technically (if you see what I mean), whereas the preceding ones seemed almost Palmer-by-rote.

Then there are two versions of "Creep" to contend with. Having seen her perform it on ukulele earlier this year in Vienna, I am well aware how brilliantly this song works in a live setting. The album contains a soundchecked version, as well as a live one, neither of them as good as in Vienna, but what can you do? Given that the soundcheck version is parenthesised as "hungover in Berlin", one might view it with suspicion, but it actually adds a great deal of pathos to hear Palmer's rather strained vocal on the high notes. She has impressive breath control, to say the least.

In between the two "Creep"s is a piano and strings version of "Exit Music (for a Film)", the dark, reflective song with which she closed the webcast in fine style.

It will be interesting to see how Palmer negotiates the post-record label digital future. As she explained in her blog: "This whole radiohead release is a GRAND EXPERIMENT. it’s my first self-release off the label. i have no idea how the hell it’s gonna go and i’m not claiming to know what the answers are. i’m figuring out how to do this as i go along, and you’re helping me do it."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Solitary Woman: the rise of the one-woman band

Lianne Hall at Slaughtered Lamb in London; photo by Val PhoenixI don't know if it's the allure of total control or simple economics, but I do notice a plethora of one-woman bands knocking about at the moment, laden with guitars, laptops and effects pedals.

I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of these acts recently and, indeed, next week's (22 July) Odd Girl Out features the session Golden Disko Ship did when she came in last month on a visit to the UK. She referred jokingly to her set-up as her "ego trip", albeit in a very self-deprecating way.

This week also saw the release of Girl In a Thunderbolt's album, Seven Sisters, recorded some time ago in Norway. She is already well underway with fresh material, but the tracks on here are well-produced, showcasing a distinctive vocal style keeping just this side of overly mannered and set to some moody, brooding tunes.

Also out is Lianne Hall's album, Crossing Wires. I first came across her when she was in the art-punk band Witchknot, who were mainstays of the DIY Bradford scene back in the '90s, but then lost touch with what she was doing once she moved to Brighton. I know she was in the band Pico and also playing solo, but then saw her playing last month in London. She is what I might call an amplified singer-songwriter. The songs seem to come from a foundation of acoustic guitar, but are then gussied up with electronics. Her voice, too, is made for confessional song-writing, with a plaintive, highly emotive quality. While the songs on Crossing Wires are a mixture of sparse ballads and up-tempo songs, I actually prefer the more produced ones, as they take the songs to new places.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

And then there were two...

A slight detour into sport, if I may. So, it's the World Cup final tomorrow, with the 3rd place playoff having been decided today. This means that Paul, the psychic octopus, has a perfect record of predictions going into tomorrow. Will he make it a clean sweep? The suspense is unbearable.

For me, Paul has truly been the find of the tournament, sneaking in under the radar, building up strength slowly and possibly peaking at just the right time. I have mixed feelings for tomorrow, as I would like the Netherlands to win. But, Paul has gone for Spain. And, as they say, the octopus knows best. I do think if Paul finishes with a 100% record, he should get the freedom of Oberhausen. Or perhaps, just freedom.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The joys of live webcasting....

Just spent a few frustrating minutes at Sofia Talvik's webcast, having logged in an hour early as the message on her site said it would be "Live at 8pm", without specifying a time zone. As it's in Sweden, I guessed two hours ahead of BST, but was wrong.

Then, having picked up the gig a few minutes late (as I wandered elsewhere on the web), I found an over-exposed, slightly wonky camera position, a few dropouts and, after two melodious, acoustic songs.... Nothing. The feed went dead. Oh, well. That's live. Ba-dum-bum.

Ah, but it's back now. And she's speaking Swedish. No subtitles, unfortunately. But something about "acoustic Florida" (her record). Despite that sunny title, the songs are quite wintry in feel, albeit delivered in summery, al fresco fashion--acoustic guitar in hand, before an audience that seems to be chatting away, rather obliviously.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stonewall Uprising

Still from Stonewall UprisingThose who have a vision of the 1960s as a rosy time of flower-bedraped hippies practising free love will have their eyes opened to another culture of "twilight people" slinking into Mafia-owned bars under the watchful eyes of armed police. As the doc Stonewall Uprising illustrates, even in New York City, the city's gay and lesbian population had a hard time of it. And given the criminalisation and pathologisation of alternate sexualities, it's not surprising that frustration bubbled up into violent rebellion, commonly known as the Stonewall Riots.

It's a story well told in the film, which premiered at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and is now playing in the USA. Based on a book by David Carter, the film posits that what is often termed a riot was actually an uprising and that the gay rights struggle is part of a larger civil rights movement. Carter's vision is for lesbian and gay history to be seen "as part of our common human story".

When Ed Koch's grim visage popped up on the screen, I had to stifle a bitter laugh. As a native New Yorker, I well remember the confirmed bachelor's tenure as mayor of the city. But, in the 1960s, as an ambitious city council member, Koch led the "clean-up" of the gay bars in the Village, lest the upstanding straights have to be confronted with the low-life dykes and fairies who patronised places like the Stonewall Inn, which was raided by police on 27 June 1969, providing the touch paper that lit the movement for gay liberation.

One wonders how many people who gather each year for Pride parades (often now with no LGBT or Q signifiers attached, I notice) actually realise that their knees-up commemorates a violent struggle for recognition of basic human rights.
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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Deptford's Dreaming

Visitor to Deptford's Dreaming; photo by Val PhoenixIt's all happening at the Old Police Station. Last night saw the opening of Ben Graville's photo exhibit, Deptford's Dreaming, in the Metropolitan Tea Rooms. The word "characters" was used a lot in the conversation of guests, as they pointed out local figures of renown or notoriety. Tea Rooms boss Jaine Laine, who presides over the yet-to-be realised Deptford Museum, which will eventually house Graville's photos, struck a sombre note as she lit a candle to honour one subject who was murdered. Graville's eye is drawn to the more marginal areas of life, the "before", rather than the "after" of local gentrification. Photos of security tags on clothes, drug paraphernalia and piles of rubbish probably aren't the face that the local authorities wish to showcase, but they reflect a scruffy defiance of homogenisation.

As guests mingled inside, perusing the pictures and quaffing wine, outside in the courtyard an array of "characters" was drawn to the window, through which the England game played on the tiniest of TVs. Rain fell, a vuvuzela was tooted and one man played guitar as a discordant accompaniment. Extraordinary.

Golden Disko Ship in session at Amersham Vale Studios; photo by Val PhoenixThe courtyard houses a collection of freight containers-turned-rehearsal spaces, one of which is now a recording studio, having been opened by royalty-in-residence Jaine Laine last week. The newly dubbed Amersham Vale Studios hosted its first session, as Berlin one-woman-band Golden Diskó Ship recorded five songs for my show on Optical Radio. The session will air next month. I could not be prouder, as it has been my aim to get more live music on the show, another step in our upward surge and, well, scruffy defiance of homogenisation.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Whirlygig Cinema this weekend

Whirlygig Cinema flyerOn Sunday I have two films showing in London at the Whirlygig Cinema screening. The theme is music and images and both of my films, one a doc and one a music video, were shot during my residency in Berlin last year. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

One more day...

Well, I took my own advice and checked out the Anne Lister doc, Revealing Anne Lister, on the BBC i-player. It's up until tomorrow night and well worth a watch. Where to start?

Well, presenter Sue Perkins, decked out in North Face jacket and a succession of hoodies (those budget cutbacks at the BBC must really be biting), cut a dashing dykey figure, wandering over the Yorkshire moors and meeting a gaggle of tweedy academics for insight into Lister's life. Perkins took to her task with relish, reading out saucy excerpts from Lister's diaries and offering her own critique of the diarist's life, noting acidly that there was no excuse for her to abandon her first girlfriend after she was committed to an asylum. She also wondered aloud, with some anger and incredulity, why she had never heard about Anne Lister when she was growing up.

The coda of what happened to the diaries offered some clues. Far from being lost for 150 years, the diaries were actively suppressed, owing to their explicit lesbian content, by an array of family members, townsfolk and researchers until Helena Whitbread re-discovered them and set about translating them again. That made me most angry--what a wasted effort when Lister had left behind an index and a friend of the family had already decoded them some 100 years before. And so one can see how unkind history can be to trailblazers. Odd to think society actually moved backward between the time of Lister's very open life and now.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Anne Lister tonight on BBC2

still from The Secret Diaries of Anne ListerSo, for all those who have been waiting since the LLGFF for this (and I have had visitors from Taiwan and South Korea checking in), The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister airs tonight on BBC2 at 21:00 BST. Starring Maxine Peake and Anna Madeley, it tells the story of 19th century Yorkshire industrialist Anne Lister and her lesbian love affairs, which she wrote about in code in her diary.

Also of interest is a doc on Anne Lister, her home at Shibden Hall and the de-coding of the diary, which airs immediately after the drama at 22:30. (Thanks to Tony for alerting me.) For those not in the viewing area (or without TVs), these programmes should also be on the BBC i-player for seven days afterward.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

One mystery solved....

Over the last few weeks I have been branching out my radio listening to encompass Absolute and its spinoff '80s-only station. Apart from hearing far too much White Snake (well, any White Snake is far too much), I have been puzzled by the heavy airplay for Fyfe Dangerfield's insipid cover of "She's Always a Woman". Why the heck would anyone cover that slice of tripe? I wondered. And why is anyone playing it? Have only just realised it's the soundtrack to a John Lewis ad. Not owning a TV, I had no idea. It's still crap, though.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Creatures of the Night

Wow! Where did that come from? London has seen some absolutely gorgeous weather over the last few days, or more specifically, nights. Where previously, the sun rather apologetically disappeared behind some clouds, now it holds out long into the evenings and then bows out gracefully, leaving behind balmy temperatures, a brilliant moon and a rather fetching shade of (gropes for colour wheel).... cornflower? Glaucous? Well, uncharacteristically colourful for night time.

This brings out strange, excitable behaviour in Londonders who have spent the lengthy winter huddling indoors. Peering blearily out of a bus late on Thursday after my goth show, I saw hordes of night owls spilling out of bars and clubs and cafes onto the pavement for al fresco socialising. And not just the smokers! The sky above the Thames was dotted with lights and I thought: What a beautiful city I live in. Sometimes one needs a reminder.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Twisting, Turning and Doubling Back

Well, what a strange week it's been--first The Clamerons merge their blue and yellow (but not green) forces (4 women out of 29 cabinet posts--so generous!) and then The Ash Cloud decides to pay a return visit to Blighty. Mmm.

Of more relevance to this parish is the double whammy in London this Thursday, the 20th, when The Raincoats take their turn as Don't Look Back artistes by performing their 1979 self-titled debut in full at The Scala.

Also, kicking off that night is Mother Festival, featuring an off-kilter bill including Wet Dog, Normal Love (ex-Rhythm King and Her Friends) and Molly Nilsson.

Sadly, I will miss both, as I am on air that night doing my radio show, which will feature a GOTH special of suitably scary and black-clad ladies. Grrr. And, indeed, Brrr.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Pack A.D.

Currently on tour in Europe and due to play two shows on 14 May in London and Brighton, the Vancouver rock duo The Pack A.D. are busy, busy supporting the release of third album We Kill Computers, a curious record the press notes insist is a move away from blues, but which I find is positively steeped in the stuff.

The sound, as with the album title, is strictly analogue and should sound awesome live, whereas on record it sounds a bit stodgy. The band were determined to reproduce their live sound in the studio, which leads me to ask: why? Surely, if you want a live record, you set up some mics at a venue and record the show. I don't understand this reverence for the "live sound" on record. Why not make use of the studio to add to the sound? Live is live and recorded is recorded.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Jasmina Maschina

Jasmina Maschina at Wilmington Arms; photo: Val Phoenix5 May
Wilmington Arms
London

The mean streets of Clerkenwell formed the backdrop for a visit by electroacoustic act Jasmina Maschina, the Berlin-based artiste swopping one grey metropolis for another (we had sun last week, honest). Slipping on-stage and shedding her shoes, the Australian expat fixed her gaze on her Mac, started strumming her guitar and began the gig as unassumedly as she continued. Bobbing her head gently, she sampled herself, allowing the computer to take large portions of the pieces, adding her soft vocals and delicate guitar patterns to the mix. It was a performance of understated intensity, if that's not a paradox.

Some of the pieces, such as "Ausland" and "City Fever", were taken from the new City Splits #1: Berlin record, featuring two artists from one city (the other half, Golden Disko Ship, visits the UK in June). One song, "Lisa's Opening", is, as yet, unrecorded.

This Maschina was slightly under-powered, as she acknowledged, owing to a bout of food poisoning, but she played very much within herself, barely acknowledging the audience. I was reminded of Kurt Cobain's description of listening to The Raincoats, as if he were hidden in the attic, eavesdropping on them and afraid of being discovered, lest it break the mood. At the end of her seven songs/tone poems, Jasmina Maschina thanked the audience and slipped her shoes back on. And I shuffled out onto the streets of Clerkenwell, feeling I'd borne witness to quite an intimate experience.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Service with a Grimace

A typical UK Bank Holiday Sunday. Rain. So much for all those plans to transplant the orgegano, paint the trim, etc.

Anyway, a wry smile creeps to my frowning lips on reading Helen McCookerybook's hilarious rant, The Kindness of Strangers, about the precarious state of the customer service ethic in the UK, something I have never quite gotten to grips with, even after 15-plus years.

We have an election this week. Oh, dear.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nobody's Daughter

Just listening to the stream on The Guardian of the new Hole album, Nobody's Daughter. After a 12-year lapse, it was always going to be difficult to go back to the old moniker for Courtney Love (or is it Courtney Michelle?). And, indeed, to my ears, the record sounds in places like a bad Hole tribute band. What has happened to Courtney's vocals? I don't mean the raspiness that characterises them. I like that.

But, what's with the Dylan impression on "Someone Else's Bed"? Or the Billy Corgan-esque gymnastics on the otherwise standout "Honey"? Perhaps this is some in-joke between the two (before they fell out on Twitter.... again).

In any case, it's a record long on clever lyrics and overly-mannered vocals and a bit short on tunes. Much of it sounds like Celebrity Skin, which I found over-produced and rather drab. Perhaps this isn't a surprise, considering collaborators this time include Corgan and Linda Perry, not exactly grounded minimalists.

Perhaps it's too much to ask for Love to rise to the brilliance of Live Through This, though there are a few moments that recall its breathless mix of self-laceration and cattiness. It's good to have her back, and perhaps, with this comeback out of the way, she will re-discover her creative spark.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ether10: Berlin Sounds

Queen Elizabeth Hall, 23 April

Thomas Fehlmann DJ set at Berlin Sounds, part of Ether10 in London; photo by Val PhoenixA funny ol' evening, this. It wasn't clear until a few hours beforehand whether everyone had made it over from various locales, including Finland, for this celebration of Berlin music, owing to our friend, The Ash Cloud. But, happily all were present and accounted for: Vladislav Delay, Thomas Fehlmann, To Rococo Rot, and, of most interest to me, Greie und Gut.

The latest collaborative effort by restless creative spirits Antye Greie and Gudrun Gut, Greie und Gut--or Greie Gut Fraktion, as they also style themselves--gave the UK premiere of their intriguing concept piece, Baustelle. Inspired by the building work they themselves were undertaking last year, the piece comprises some nine parts, each on a theme: concrete, stone, etc.

Amusingly, they arrived on-stage in character, wearing boots and coveralls and with their laptops draped in safety tape. Unlike Gut's early band, Einstürzende Neubauten, they didn't take any heavy machinery to the stage. But, the screen behind them did show some building work in practice, artfully rendered in black and white. And, at one point, they did don hard hats.

It's intriguing to speculate on just who contributed what to the works. Greie handled most of the singing, with Gut contributing some understated (and sometimes inaudible) vocalising into two mics, one presumably with effects. Some of the pieces were more like tone poems than songs, but others were downright funky and poppy. Imagine that! They also covered "Wir bauen eine neue Stadt", by Palais Schaumburg, Fehlmann's old band. He kept the crowds entertained with a laptop DJ set in The Front Room after the main gig (see pic).

Very much looking forward to hearing the Baustelle album, which Gudrun handed me afterward. I had hoped to speak with GGF, but, sadly for me, Greie slipped away, tired out from her long day.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Cloudy, with a chance of ash

As time passes and the temporary closure of UK air space stretches into days and, quite soon, a week, I find myself pondering the awesome power of the Icelandic ash cloud that is making a slow, meandering, high-flying tour of Europe. Since exploding onto the scene five days, The Ash Cloud has succeeded in doing what successive waves of environmental campaigners, terrorists and various air mishaps couldn't do: grounding entire fleets of air craft and forcing everyone backwards to a time when we thought nothing of, say, setting aside 24 hours to travel from London to Prague. Sea Cats? Hovercraft? Trains? What are those?

Not only that, but this Cloud is oh-so-modern and tech-savvy, with its own Twitter page, which offers handy tips, messages in Icelandic and even a smidgen of post-modern soul-searching. Yes, this Cloud has feelings. Ash Cloud, I salute you. Hvað er að í himninum? Það er aska ský.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Record Store Day

One day to go until the 3rd annual Record Store Day (i.e., April 17), celebrating that rarity, independent record stores. I think record stores still have a role to play in the digital world. I can recall many, many happy experiences searching bins in New York, San Francisco, Berlin and other places, digging out obscure pieces of vinyl or CDs, chatting to other customers and the often incredibly knowledgeable and passionate folk who run these shops.

A good record store is as much a place of community as a place of commerce, and they should be supported or they will die out. I am still in mourning for my favourite shop in London, Totem, which is now a baby clothes store. (Not to mention I lost my £20 credit there.)

Among the treats on show for Record Store Day are signings, performances and exclusive releases spanning the globe from Australia to Brazil to Greece, though concentrated in the USA. Amoeba Music, in the San Francisco Bay Area, is pulling out the stops, with appearances by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Holly Golightly in its two shops.

Exene Cervenka is touring record shops between Los Angeles and Seattle.

In London, Rough Trade has awesome bills at its two shops, with appearances by Jesca Hoop, Magic Numbers and Laurie Anderson (!!!).

There are also special releases by, among others: Breeders, Sharon Jones, Hole, Joan Baez, Coco Rosie, Goldfrapp and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Definitely worth getting out of bed for on a Saturday.


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