Friday, 26 July 2013

"Was the music too loud?"

I've had a week for doing things I haven't done in a while.

The first is going to the cinema. This is because over the last year, I've turned into a grumpy old man who can't stand the idea of the sacrosanct cinema being despoiled by texters, smartphone users, talkers, crunchers, whatever.

(The solution is, apparently, to go in the middle of the day, when no-one in gainful employment is around.)

However, the second thing is what's of more interest both to me and to this blog, because, well, music.

Back in the day, I used to be kind of obsessed with soundtracks. For a while there, films and music occupied equal but conflicting parts of my love, and the soundtrack was the relatively peaceful demilitarized zone between the two of them.

Over time, film became more important than music. (I can actually trace this to a relatively exact date, but that's for another time.) Even as film became the focus of my attention and passion, though, the soundtrack was still very, very important.

Soundtracks do something very interesting; they take music, which, for most people, relies on being heard at their convenience, and relocate it by tying it to something specific, which can be pinned down. In the current era, the pre-eminent name in this would, of course, be Quentin Tarantino; his habit of taking lesser-known songs and using them in interesting contexts is the ne plus ultra of relocation in musical terms.

This is also a discussion for another time, although given my takeup rate in revisiting ideas from previous articles on this blog, let's be honest, you might be waiting a while yet.

Anyway. Last Friday I made a point of going to see The World's End.

This is obviously at best cross-pollination and at worst a little gauche, but you can read my review here should you like, and a spoilery analysis of the ending here.

I'm still conflicted as to what I feel about the film, because if you're a townie slowly approaching middle-age, it's shockingly accurate in some ways. I want to use the phrase 'laser-guided', that's how accurate it feels. (Then again, I'm only twenty minutes from my home town. So...)

In the past, the thing I liked to do was - if the soundtrack was quote-unquote arbitrary judgement 'good' - to go to the local HMV and see if they had it on CD. This feels hilariously anachronistic now, given that we haven't had an HMV here for about a year.

(Then again, technology is perhaps not all it should be, as Spotify is determined not to let me embed the link to the soundtrack here. Som's even had a look for it, and between us, we cannot present it here. You might be able to find it, though.) 

Instead of going to a local music emporium - ha - to buy the soundtrack, then, I resorted to purchasing it online. I'm outmoded like that. Buying music. I know, right? 

Now, I'm torn about the soundtrack, to be honest. 

If you grew up in an amazingly specific context, i.e. hit your late teenage years on or around 1990 / 1991, then it's probably just an instant nostalgia bomb. 

I can't help but feel that I was born just five years too late to really get it. It's unique, in that movie soundtracks tend to veer away from songs that are massively popular, because they carry with them connotations that might change the way moviegoers watch a film. One of the weirder examples, for instance, would be how X-Men First Class used Run by Gnarls Barkley to underscore a montage - using a 2008 song to play over a montage set in the 1960s, because it worked. Sure, there might have been contemporary music that could have fulfilled the same function, but if it works, why not use it? 

Now, of the 21 music tracks on The World's End soundtrack, I already knew eight. Several others I knew but hadn't listened to in full, if you know what I mean - they were probably around when I was listening to the radio at the time. So right there and then there's a grab-bag of context I was taking to the film. This is interesting because it feels like it locates me halfway between an audience that would just 'get' it - i.e. people born on or around 1972, as the main characters were turning eighteen in 1990... 

... My maths doesn't really hold up here, as I'm not sure if they were turning 16 or 18 when they first attempted the pub crawl in 1990. This is a lapse in fact-finding - or, well, memory - that I'll trust you'll forgive. 

The key word here, though, really, is invocation. The songs are designed to invoke very specific metaphors. This is the academic in me showing, and I'll put it away shortly, but there's several songs in the soundtrack that are very, very specific to what the film itself is trying to invoke outside of the narrative (and, arguably, pre-alien presence reveal). These songs are, in my humblest opinion: 

So Young (Suede) 
Come Home (James)
Do You Remember The First Time (Pulp)

Other songs from the soundtrack are used to invoke a very specific time and place (which, to be honest, I'm intrigued to know how they'll be interpreted by, say, and American audience). But these three are frighteningly specific to the narrative of the film, hooks and grapnels fired from a pirate ship in 1990 trying to drag the present back twenty-three years kicking and screaming. 

I keep coming back to So Young, too, for no reason I can think of, as I'd not heard it before. 

This is what I'm having trouble putting together; there's some intangible quality to both film and soundtrack that, because I was around and, approximately, in the same (townie) situation as the 1990s version of the film's characters (although, like I say, a few years later, but then again in small towns that's not too much of a difference, really) that's really bugging me. It's like both film and soundtrack manage to perfectly articulate something about growing up in a shitty small town, except that I'm just outside of the target zone, so I'm getting hit with the ripples of the intended target; I know about it, I can sympathise, but I wasn't quite there. 

It's a nagging feeling that I can't put into words properly, although given how long this post is, hey, I tried. I think I just need to talk to someone about half a decade older than me. 

As a final aside, it's worth noting that I find Alabama Song hilariously creepy. At least, from about 1:45 onwards. Seriously

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Technology is a wonderful thing

Just when you think you've got a handle on something, something else pops up. 

I'd like to take a moment to applaud Amazon's new Autorip feature. It sounds like a genuinely nice thing to do, somehow; bought a CD? Then you've licensed the music to be accessed from your cloud. No, don't worry about ripping it manually, you can download it now. Yes, yes, wave of the future, all that. 

(As a sidebar, I like to think that music enthusiasts in places without internet connections - and I'm assured these do exist, somewhere - are steadily building up licenses to a cloud player they'll never use because they only get to order from Amazon when they trek towards the wi-fi. Okay, this sidebar kind of broke down halfway through... But I still like to think that When The Internet Comes to Backchoke, Missouri, that people will suddenly find themselves in the possession of clouds of material for CDs long-lost.) 

So today I received an email telling me that Autorip has actually broken the space-time barrier and allows me to access previous purchases via the Cloud. 

This is... Epic. There's not really another word for it. I don't think it's covering every CD, because not every CD is digitised and available and ready for 24-7 - again, internet-dependent - consumption. We reserve the right to refuse service to you by Kinky Friedman, for instance, hasn't popped up. 

It's not the things that haven't popped up that are the problems, though. 

It's the things that were bought as gifts for other people that, sadly, I didn't mark as such. Because I don't think there was a way to mark them as such. 

The Great Machine at Amazon simply looked at my purchase history and said YES, HE SHALL HAVE AS MANY CLOUD CD MP3 ALBUMS AS I MAY GIVE HIM, waved a giant digital magic wand, and lo...

... I now have access to I Dreamed A Dream, by Susan Boyle. 

Katharine Jenkins, by... Well... Katharine Jenkins

Those are the two that stick out. Well, that and On Every Street by Dire Straits, but as that contains the amazing My Parties, that's a difficult one. 

To get something clear; there's nothing wrong with Susan Boyle or Katharine Jenkins. Nothing at all, if you happen to be into that sort of thing, and if you are, enjoy! Go for it. Go nuts. I just don't happen to have a hankering for either. Plus, because of the world we live in, I'm worried about the potential for peer-shaming if I accidentally click on a button somewhere and everyone on Facebook assumes I'm listening to Cry Me A River out of love. 

There's a flip-side to this, as well - there are five or so albums that are real blasts from the past, that this cloud business might prompt a new-found love for after all this time. I mentioned Run in the last post about Glastonbury; now I have access to the special edition of Final Straw whenever I have internet access and a working cloud player. Ditto Franz Ferdinand by... Franz Ferdinand. I haven't heard Take Me Out in years

Plus Jem's 'difficult second album' and KT Tunstall and Crystal Castles... And Dave Greenslade's From the Discworld, which is, apparently, just how I roll. 

I have to be honest; I'm not planning on purchasing CDs unless no other option is available. And for Autorip to be viable, there has to be an MP3 version in the first place. So unless there's some weird economics behind the situation where buying a CD plus postage works out as less than buying the MP3 album - which is a possibility - I'm not sure I'll get epic usage out of Autorip. 

But it seems like a genuinely nice thing to do, somehow. It probably costs Amazon not very much to administrate - I can see the automatic coding behind it, really, trawling purchase histories and comparing them against available albums and sending little internet electronic gremlins to tie a knot between them - but still, it's something that, maybe, should have happened a while ago. 

It's still nice to have access to ... And All The Pieces Matter, though, long after the CD passed away and the digitisation corrupted. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

That Crazy Festival Atmosphere

At some point in the future, I would like to go to the Glastonbury Festival again. 

This is surprising, in a way, because out of the two previous experiences I've had of the festival, both were just... Awful, in their own little ways. 

It's easy to focus on the negative. If you were to do so about this blog, you could focus on the fact that this article should have been written at least a week ago. Or on the fact that there wasn't a Sundown Six last week, again. Choosy readers choose more regular blogs, I'm sure. 

But with Glastonbury, it's the two ends of the spectrum colliding that makes things so difficult. 

At one end, it's a sun-drenched (hopefully!) weekend in the countryside with thousands of like-minded people, lots of different fields and stages and lots of experiences to be had, plus all the big name bands, the different kinds of food and drink and, if you're into it, the illegal substances. 

In theory, it's what might be called by an academic an experience of 'sanctioned transgression' - i.e. you can do what you want, within limits. Want to sit in your tent all day taking mushrooms and drinking supermarket own-brand beer? Go for it. Drink too much and fall asleep in the main field, then wake up with half your body lobster-red and a hangover? Treat yourself! 

To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, the only rule is, basically, don't burn the locals - have a great time, as long as it doesn't impact on anyone else's great time. 

And isn't that a lovely idea? 

The first time I went to the festival was with a Parental Unit, back in... Wait, I'll actually have to go and check the T-shirt. Okay, it was apparently in 1999. The line-up - t-shirt, again - reads like a mildly schizophrenic who's who of the Britpop-is-crumbling era, as in half the bands on there are those that I now listen to for historical value rather than, say, actually enjoying them. Whistler, for instance - Acoustic Stage, fourth from bottom - had two albums and a three year career. 

The impossibly-named Donal Lunny's Coolfin were something that I didn't even notice at the time. There's this witchy mix of bands who survived and bands who didn't - but hey, nobody really misses Kula Shaker, at least not with a decent rifle - but it all kind of plays into the joke that anything sounds like a band Steve Lamacq would announce tonight at the Dublin castle, £7 before 9 pm, £8 after. 

I'm struggling to remember actually seeing any bands at the festival. I know it was fourteen years ago, and I have some photos somewhere, but as for actual proper memories of the festival, I remember buying the t-shirt and getting some graphic novels on the cheap from one of the book stalls. Those, I still have.

Other than that, sunny, annoyed at having to be around parental unit when, at the time, I just wanted to drink alcohol and look at girls I'd never have the courage to speak to, and maybe see Faithless in the Dance Tent. And Fatboy Slim, maybe. (I'd actually end up seeing the Fatboy Slim vs. Armand Van Helden DJ 'battle' later the same year at Brixton Academy, and I wish I still had the Date With Destiny t-shirt from that. Not that it would fit, in any way shape or form). 

In all seriousness, though, I'm struggling to think what bands I actually saw at 1999. Fun Lovin' Criminals, surely. Skunk Anansie, maybe. The Corrs, let's hope not. There was probably John Otway. The less said about that, the better; it probably involved a ladder. Years of therapy haven't quite sorted that out. 

Before this degenerates into why can't I remember seeing BAND NAME HERE, though, what I can remember about the '99 Festival devolves to: 

- Sunburn
- Long walks
- Overpriced food
- ... Bands
- Tents. 

This says less for the quality of the festival than for the quality of my memory, I'm sure. 

The second time I went to the festival was in 2004. I am reliably informed of this by googling Oasis at Glastonbury and picking the result that sounds right. 

This is a shame, because Oasis at Glastonbury in 2004 were problematic. I can only speak for how I found it - and that's a different story that we'll get to, shortly - but there was an over-abundance of swagger and an under-abundance of actually seeming like they wanted to be there. It seemed a little sad, in a way, because Oasis - at their prime, rib-smacking bombastic ego greatness - were difficult to compare to anything else around at the time. Hell, I'd even take The Importance Of Being Idle as an interesting late-game exhibition, especially given that Britpop had exploded - and then imploded, arguably causing more damage - a good review even now. 

(Regarding Britpop; I tend to agree with Kieron Gillen in dating the true 'end' of it as the release of Kula Shaker's  Mystical Machine Gun. Then again, I didn't know Kula Shaker released an album in 2010. Is it any wonder pop culture's obsessed with Zombie films at the moment, given that bands just stopped dying at the turn of the century?)

As for (Sir) Paul McCartney, well... It felt bizarre, seeing him on stage. It felt calculated that he knocked out all the less-interesting standards for a while until the BBC announced they had started filming, at which point the fireworks came out and the singalongaheyjude made its' usual appearance. It felt cynical, even though it really probably wasn't. 

The biggest thing for me that year, though, was picking the wrong person to go with. Firstly, it was someone I had a crush on and who had, on and off, been teasing me about this in various ways for a little while. Secondly, I was a replacement for the person she was originally going with - who, I believe, was her partner at the time and then, thanks to the ID restrictions put sensibly in place to avoid ticket touting, I then had to pretend to be in order to get in (this involved presenting a bank statement with his name on, so... No biggie? Kind of? Anyway...) 

Once we were in the festival and set up the tent, we spent some time together, crashed out for the night, and then I didn't see her again for two days

Let's keep this short, because this article is going along and along; in brief, at the time, she was dance, I was indie. She was drugs, I was whiskey. She was, decidedly, not pro-John Otway. She also had a severe aversion to carrying a single tiny key to a single tiny padlock I wanted to put on the tent zip; it was a little bizarre. There was something in the literature that year that said, well, if someone's going to steal your stuff, a padlock's only going to make them think there's something worth stealing - this padlock was tiny. It was the opposite of buying a Ferrari to compensate for other shortcomings; it was the kind of padlock that you could probably pick with a paperclip. It was my one concession to security, it was invisible to the average person walking around it and, shit, if you wanted to, you could just cut into the tent and not worry about it. 

But she wasn't having it. So there you go. 

So I wandered around the festival for those two days, sampling various acts, eating crappy food, trying to avoid the toilets, and getting frustrated at the live acts. I remember Franz Ferdinand and a coming-off-the-high of Run Snow Patrol. I remember doughnuts, because, hey, they're a very binding food when using the facilities isn't a wonderful idea. 

On the Sunday night, we actually managed to occupy nearby spaces long enough to take down the tent and go to the car. She wanted to leave early, because, I'll be honest, she appeared to be coming down extremely hard from either stimulants or, I suspect, ecstasy. If I had been thinking at this point, I might have considered that getting into a car with a tired, emotional drug-bunny coming down as the driver (and I couldn't drive at this point) was a bad idea, but my feet were sore, blistered and bleeding and hey, there was another of her friends hitching back with us, so what could possibly go wrong? 

It was when our driver went to flick a cigarette out the window in the fast lane of the motorway at 104 mph - and I remember that speed very clearly - and the steering wheel veered with her, taking us for a heart-stopping ice-in-your-bowels few seconds onto the gravel track in the centre perilously close to the metal barrier, that I considered that there was the chance I'd made a mistake. 

As I'm writing this now, you can assume I survived - and hey, Turing Test me if you like to make sure - but not for want of trying. After all this, the person I was with dropped me at the arse-end of the Northern Line and asked me to pay for the privilege of travelling with her, slight near-death-experience and all. 

And I paid, because it seemed like the easiest way to get her out of my life at the point. 

I limped onto the train, and called a pair of extremely nice friends in Bow, who put me up for the night. Their charity and kindness was something I still think about warmly, even now. 

The next day, I took the train home - feet wrapped up in bandages and several pairs of socks - and a day later, I was back at my desk job. 

I did keep the wristband on for a few days, though. 

So as you can see, my experiences with the Glastonbury festival has been a mish-mash mix of a melange of experiences. Not all of them were good

And now I'd like to go back. At least once more. Because maybe, just maybe, fourteen years on from the first time I went, per-maybe-haps I might be ready for it. 

Maybe - but let's not go crazy - I might actually have a good time

That's if tickets for next year's festival don't sell out in fourteen point seven seconds, of course.