Friday, January 28, 2011

Ferry Peculiar

I love the names of tribute bands. I don't rate tribute bands themselves but I love their names. No Way Sis, Pink Fraud, Lez Zeppelin, AC/DShe.... the best name on the circuit is undoubtedly the Pretend Pretenders. I remember a radio feature a few years ago (possibly on Radcliffe and Maconie) where listeners had to come up with names of invented tribute bands. The winner, and possibly the ne plus ultra of tribute band names, though they don't exist, was (Not) Was (Not Was).

I thought I might have trumped it the other day when I was idly musing about further possible band names for theoretical tribute bands. Serendipity, and thinking about internet proxy servers, led me to theorising my own tribute band. I'd call them Proxy Music. You see what I did there? Proxy Music. Ha! I'm a genius.

Well, bugger me, a quick Google search tells me that Proxy Music already exist, doing covers of Ladytron, Remake/Remodel and In Every Dream Home a Heartache to crowds of baying middle managers and wedding parties up and down the south-east of England. Good luck to them. Dammit.

Anyway, I still have other stage names up for grabs. If any butch female comedians with a penchant for tinned steak pies wants to call themselves Faye Bentos, please speak to my agent.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Girls Allowed

A quick perusal of the excellent Black Melody site this morning alerted me to the fact that it's ten years this month since the pseudonymous Richard X (or Girls on Top as he was even-more-pseudonymously known at the time) released a hard-to-find and completely unsanctioned seven inch single that, IMHO, became the most influential sound of the noughties. Being Scrubbed and its b-side I Wanna Dance With Numbers took the now-familiar but then novel trope of combining the vocals from one track with the melody from an entirely different track, usually from a different genre, to produce a new track that, in some instances, transcends its constituent ingredients.

This, of course, led to a further single by Girls on Top (Warm Bitch/We Don't Give a Damn About our Friends), legitimate production work by Richard X for artists including hits from Liberty X and the Sugababes, Kylie's Blue Monday performance at the Brits and a whole slew of artists, producers and DJs (step forward Eddy Temple-Morris, the Freelance Hellraiser, Osymyso and hundreds more) jumping on the mash-up bandwagon. While the mash-up industry is still going (notably in the guise of one Mark Vidler, aka Go Home Productions- two recent productions are below), its apotheosis/nadir arguably arrived in 2004 with DJ Food's 40-minute masterpiece Raiding the 20th Century, to which I'll return in February.

I mentioned transcendence. For me, the B-side of Being Scrubbed (I Wanna Dance With Numbers) manages to achieve this, somehow finding a seam of melancholy in Whitney Houston's original by marrying it the insistent, minor key melody of Kraftwerk's Numbers. In doing so, Richard X managed to change the song's subtext entirely, from a joyous shout of euphoria to a lonely plea of desperation. You can hear for y'self below.

Download Girls on Top- I Wanna Dance With Numbers (mp3) (deleted Dec 11)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Taking the Mick

Sad news that ex-Japan and Dali's Car bassist Mick Karn died this week aged 52. It's almost as sad that Japan's critical stock is pretty low, and that they tend to get lumped in with their contemporaries Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran and the Thompson Twins. In fact they were far better and far more serious than any of the above, though this fact tends to get obscured by discussion of make-up and hairspray.

For a start, has there ever been (with the possible exception of O Superman) a stranger top 5 hit than Ghosts? Minimal and disturbing, it sounds like it was written by a 70-year old man. That the resigned and world-weary lyrics were written and sung by a guy barely into his twenties just adds to the group's astonishing achievement. Listen closely and you can hear a group disillusioned with the success they'd struggled for seven years to achieve.

Similarly incredibly, they're one of the few bands that started off commercial and then got less listenable, more obscure and more interesting as they went along, both as a group and as solo artistes. They started off on the cover of Smash Hits and have ended up (individually at least) on the cover of The Wire. It's a long way from their neo-glam beginnings to appearing on Top of the Pops to collaborating with David Torn, Holger Czukay, Derek Bailey, Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz and others. Most groups do it the other way round. Their career trajectory was and is akin to Westlife being asked to curate Meltdown 20 years in the future, right after recording with DJ Spooky and Matmos.

A couple of tracks to remember them by? OK, since you asked so nicely. All of them showcase Karn's supple, liquid bass-playing, incidentally. How about their cover of Marvin Gaye's Ain't That Peculiar from their 4th LP, Gentlemen Take Polaroids? And Talking Drum from their swansong as Japan, Tin Drum? And, as a bonus, here's Pocketful of Change from their pseudonymous Rain Tree Crow reunion LP from 1991, on which they were joined by Michael Brook and Bill Nelson.

Download Ain't That Peculiar by Japan (mp3)

Download Talking Drum by Japan (mp3)

Download Pocketful of Change by Rain Tree Crow (mp3) (all deleted Dec 11)