Kissy Sellout Vs. Stephen Fry

Now, it might look a little odd to be posting after such a long gap (ooh, Liam Finn!), but this piece doesn’t look like it’s going to be run by the publication that commissioned it, so it’s ending up here. It seemed like a waste to let the issue pass without discussion, especially seeing as those involved with the debate at the Cambridge Union Society was so interesting. So yes. Onward.

Tonight, we gather in the debating hall of the Cambridge Union Society to argue whether or not classical music is relevant to today’s youth. Now, being that this debate is to be adversely headed up by Radio 1 DJ Kissy Sellout and Wagner-phile Stephen Fry (arguing for and against the motion respectively) and that the make-up of the assembled crowd is largely atypical of whatever the ‘youth’ might be, it’s fair to say that most will have made up their minds before attending. An ideal spot for a spirited defence of the tired maxim that classical music is dead, haw-haw-haw. Tempting as it is to side with Fry’s eloquence rather than Kissy’s earthiness (who could’ve dressed up for the occasion) from the off, we hear first from two student debaters.

Because, unlike most of the other debaters here, they’ve taken it at least a tiny bit seriously, the students actually do a passable job at making it seem as if there’s an issue to talk about here. Hopelessly well-spoken they may be, even more noticeably when talking about the indefinable youth, but at least they’ve thought further ahead than “cor, this classical racket’s really got something!” Good points about the Venezuelan El Sistema project (an education system that entitles impoverished youths to interactive orchestral music lessons) bolster the opposition, while the rather staid argument of supposed elitism forms a foundation for the defence if nothing else.

Inevitably, though, Kissy Sellout’s turn approaches. He is The World’s Most Nervous Man, and with good reason. After a few good plugs of his album and some bizarre attempts at stand-up, he finally gets down to the nitty-gritty of flannelling his way through half-baked notions of classical music being only for the privileged, of the names of pieces being too long and, most ridiculously, that Bacardi Breezers aren’t usually on sale at classical concerts. It might enlighten Kissy to know that the majority of classical musicians throughout history and today are stinkingly impoverished, that the tracklisting of any given Ministry of Sound compilation takes up more wordage than your average symphonic disc and that one can liberally sup pint after pint of refreshing ale at the King’s Head in Islington’s pub-opera recitals. Not sure about Breezers, mind. Still, none of it deals with relevance.

Even more confusingly, Kissy intersperses his speech with electro vignettes that sample Boccherini, undermining his points completely. He re-iterates the elitism argument, rightly stating that much classical music was sponsored by and dedicated to the aristocracy. What he fails to mention is that the musicians who performed said music were mostly ill, poor or at brewing their own weissbier in order to forget about their crumpling lives. Kissy is terribly embarrassing, most of all when attempting to school Fry in the ways of turntablism (on a side note – one wonders if Kissy has heard Gabriel Prokofiev’s recent Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra. Surely this must merit at least investigation). Fry looks agitated and awkward as he jabs at knobs while Kissy moronically slaps him on the back.

Next up, more academics: one English, one American, one for, one against. That’s basically as much information as we can gather, aside from the fact that the American one sounds like a hybrid of Kermit the Frog and Yogi Bear. To be fair to Kermit/Yogi (in fact composer Greg Sandow), he at least approaches the point of relevancy. He argues that relevancy as a concept is redundant in this debate – if you are hungry, a ham sandwich becomes relevant, he suggests. A fair point, certainly. Sadly it’s a stray amongst a pack of silly ones.

Stephen Fry, like so many before him, misses the point totally, but is intellectually swoonsome nonetheless. You can almost hear the overbites of under-sexed undergrads hitting the floor in admiration. Preferring it to traditional argument engagement, Fry excels at making the past sound exciting, romantic and, yes, relevant, but it amounts to very little in the way of debate. He is the winner and was as soon as his name was announced. By not engaging with the argument (even though he clearly has the knowledge to do so) he still engenders electric warmth as a speaker. When he takes the stand, he addresses everyone in the room fondly before sneering upwards at us journalists, “Assorted media scum.” It’s all good-natured, of course, but it gets us absolutely nowhere, like the debate itself.

Abstention is the only logical conclusion here. However, the Fry-factor is more than enough to secure a landslide victory for the opposition. When it’s announced afterwards in the bar, the result causes a titter of interest at most. The students go back to their Speckled Hens, the celebs leave the building (Fry apparently has an appointment with Lady Gaga later tonight), and classical music remains under-examined. It’s not an issue of whether classical music is relevant to today’s youth. As with so many of these things, it’s a simple mistake in the way it’s communicated. This evening it’s communicated with no little humour, but far too little respect or ease.

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Liam Finn – Champagne In Seashells

Liam Finn – Champagne In Seashells (Transgressive)

liam finn

For an example of the varied guises and stylistic diversity that Melbourne-born wunderkind Liam Finn is now capable of, one need only listen to the closing track on this excellent mini-album. Captain Cat Is Crying begins as a severe and spooked sound collage complete with a brassily-intoned narration (remnants surely from some sick old children’s programming), gradually weaning from that source with gentle vocal samples, rhythms investigated and abandoned until the base ingredients of wonderful epic slope into view. Almost imperceptibly, Finn conjures pop majesty from the merest of beginnings in a truly brilliant finish.

That’s not to decry the five songs that precede it, however, for they are imbued with wit, with honest sentiments and keening, weary pop, fuzzed to high heaven but somehow polished. The whirling organ bedding of Honest Face serves as a perfect balance to the squeaking guitar lines and stomping chorus, but it is the sound effects of waves crashing that tie the record together, remind us of the title and crystallise it as a complete work more than just a collection of songs. If these principles were applied to Finn’s next full-length release, we’d be in for a real treat.

This is out on the 21st September, and the review is in this month’s Artrocker. Which you should buy. Also, just so you know, there’s deliberately no references to Neil Finn in the review. I made the connection, but wanted to do a review that didn’t refer to it. He gets it all day I bet. More here.

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Congratulations Speech Debelle

Now, we may not have been right in our prediction, but boy are we pleased that Speech Debelle was selected to win this year’s Mercury Music Prize for her superb debut album, Speech Therapy. PM was at the launch of the album in Madame Jojo’s earlier in the year (thanks for the beer tokens, Big Dada records) and even as early as that it was clear that the record was unique at its inception.

Congratulations etc.

You can read PM’s review of the album here and here, and our initial (brief) predictions here. There will now, no doubt, be countless observations of how, in actual fact, this isn’t so challenging as an album and therefore not worthy of such a win. It’s not supposed to be challenging, it’s supposed to be good – and it is. You’d do well to find someone who tells their stories so sensitively and, more to the point, who quietly opposes the conventional notions of females in hip-hop. Her vulnerabilities, masked by bald cheek, are at the fore and make for a deeply satisfying album that, musically, is tremendous fun as well.  So, anyone with reactionary opinions that decry the record as merely being accessible hip-hop must consider exactly why that might be a good or a bad thing, and re-apply said opinion.

Juice Aleem for next year’s prize.

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Euros Childs – Like This? Then Try This

PM has been a long-time fan of the ramblings of Euros Childs, and this brand new album track from his FREE album (entitled, in a non-mistaken way, Son Of Euro’s Child) out TODAY is as a good a reason as any to think that PM is always right.

Anyway, you can get hold of the album at Euros’ website. Try it!

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Dieter Moebius – Kram

Dieter Moebius – Kram (Klangbad)

dieter moebius

Dieter Moebius, having been a part of Harmonia and collaborated with Brian Eno, here takes us on the kind of journey one would imagine taking with a slightly grizzled experimenter. There is gentle menace alongside the blueprints of some of his former works, but he is more than capable of creating sick unease and atmospheric sophistication that leaps into a bizarre dystopia. Not nightmarish in the traditional sense, Kram (translating as Stuff) is comfortable in its unrest, even encouraging us to conjure our own nightmares to accompany these slowly sprawling works. The pace of the record, though it is itself constantly mobile, is key to its success. 

It seems a little backwards to attempt this, but the opening track from Dieter Moebius’ Kram must be viewed as a whole. The listener must perceive the piece to be one complete segment. When it starts with jarring Vangelis-derived synthesizer and aimless toying, Start is not so different to its own ending. The tonality hints at the major, but never lets it overrule the atmosphere of ponderous movement. Clanks and industry voice their opinions on the material. That there is a five minute period where rhythms are introduced and gently squeezed into being is irrelevant – it is the widescreen view that must be adhered to.

The album itself benefits from similar abstraction in consideration. Suites come to pass, taking in motorik propulsion and the occasional unfulfilled melodic potential. Treated licks of electric instruments are tantalisingly close to expanding into full-blown tunefulness, but Moebius has his sights set purely on atmospherics. At times, like on the haunted Womit, time appears to stand still. Textures refuse to progress at any pace unwanted by its creator, and Moebius expertly keeps things ticking along with just enough interest to capture the ear. Those melodic fragments swirl and want to be explored, but the nature of the compositions means that they must be sacrificed so as not to cloy the kinetics.

Though at times difficult to penetrate, quiet and reflective listening to Kram will reward massively. It’s heartening that such a sonic technician still exists, and relieving to discover that his music has not aged, but definitely progressed. Indeed, viewed as an entity as of itself, Kram will totally envelope, test and invigorate.

This is out on the splendidly-named Klangbad records on September 14th TWOTHOUSANDANDNINE. Have a lil’ ear-gack.

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Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta Feeling

… means ‘I Have Got To Feeling’.

Nice one, Will.I’m.

Better.

Also, get a hyphen in your name. What’s an Eyed Pea?

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Sleeping States – In The Gardens Of The North

Sleeping States – In The Gardens Of The North (Bella Union)

sleeping states

Markland Starkie has taken his time with this Bella Union debut, and it’s been absolutely worth the wait. Rarely are listeners likely to hear a writer who gives such balance to the realms of pop and folk music and the trappings therein. It is at once atmospheric and direct. Rings Of Saturn creeps without menace but with luxuriating intensity. Starkie is not so much driven by his bookishness as he is by the musical ascents he cleverly creates. Showers In The Summer, for example, shimmers thanks to masterfully beaten toms and careful cymbal, his voice buoyant amongst it all along.

There is something of the spiritual about some of Starkie’s flightier works. Josh Pearson is evoked on the sweetly-cooed Breathing Space, a beautifully judged piece that implies deep consideration of its musical gestures – clearly, the nuance of performance is a trait heavily valued on In The Gardens Of The North. This makes it, above all, a naturalistic, instinctive record with wonder and seriousness equal players in its success.

This came out on Monday. PM DID REVIEW IT IN TIME, THOUGH, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP WORRYING. Proof? Buy Artrocker this month. Music (lovely, super music) here.

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