Thursday, 25 September 2008

Feature: Branded

This week it’s been Levi’s ‘5 Night Revue’, showcasing the best in new and unsigned talent as deemed suitable for the Hoxton clique, by Levi’s (who obviously know exactly what they’re talking about, being jeans manufacturers…)

The line-ups for these nightly Shoreditch showcases have been fairly predictable, with those that made it down to the east end being treated to the raucous promise of recent school-finishers Bombay Bicycle Club, handsome electro duo Iglu and Hartley, and eclectic toy-pop illuminators Metronomy, to name but a few.

Levi’s have been putting on their ‘Ones To Watch’ for over four years now with some success – past winners have included The View (thank you, Levis), Kooks and The Fratellis. Oh, and The Natives. (The Natives who?!)

But it’s clear that not many in the LOTW alumni can lay claim to much more that flash-in-the-pan first album success, followed by a disproportionate trajectory into second album obscurity – so is it really worth their while?

When we asked the Bombay boys about their decision to get involved in the Levi’s sponsored event, their unanimous response was, “We get free jeans!”

The attractive Levi’s promoters, however, confessed that they’re already looking for new ideas of ways to get new music out to the kids, without the stigma of corporate sponsorship. “This has been done now,” one PR said, “we need to change the concept, find new ways to do the same thing.”

The Branding Stigma is a problem that Jack White’s also suffered from this week after his Bond-theme collaboration with Alicia Keys was pilfered by Coca Cola for prime time TV advertising. “Jack White was commissioned by Sony Pictures to write a theme song for the James Bond film 'Quantum Of Solace', not for Coca Cola,” his management proclaimed in a statement.

Begging the question, is it possible to gain and keep commercial success in the modern music industry without being tainted by the grubby-fingered, money-hungry lure of branding? Answers on a postcard…

All this talk of branding leads us nicely to the recent Converse ad campaign, in which lurid billboards flanking the main stages at major British music festivals and corporate-sponsored gigs proclaim: “Rebellion is the only thing that keeps you alive.”

Now, I understand that Converse have long been the footwear of choice for the subculturally preoccupied masses. From Kurt Cobain’s endorsement in the mid-nineties (and his posthumous Cobain Converse released earlier this year) to M.I.A and Karen O in the most recent ‘Connectivity’ ads, the colourful classics have carried a long-standing reputation for giving their owner a certain understated yet irrefutable veneer of ‘cool’. Even when they were uncool, Converse were cool. They’re the closest thing alterna-kids have to Chanel.

But just when did it become possible to convince the large majority of converse-sporting gig- and festival-goers that the star on their footwear means that they are, in fact, the unsuspecting vanguard of an impending cultural revolution?

Has everyone forgotten that Nike has owned Converse since they saved the brand from liquidation in 2003?

Comfy and colourful they might be, but nonconformist and original Converse certainly are not…

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Gig Review: Bombay Bicycle Club – Levi’s Ones To Watch @ Macbeth, Shoreditch 21/9/09

See original article here

There’s an art to fitting in in Hoxton, one that involves wearing silly clothes and looking disinterested, or mean, or both. Beyond this, the insatiable need for the musical new, unsigned and undiscovered hangs heavy over the vintage-clad vanguard of Shoreditch, as the marker of those who have it and those who don’t. For over four years now, Levi’s Ones To Watch have made it their job to sift through the up-and-coming in indie and present to the impressionable east end with their own special ‘fit for consumption’ seal of approval. Never one to be taken in by marketing tricks, Virtual Festivals went down to the first in their 2008 ‘Five Day Revue’ to see if the music stands up to the hype...

First up, Sky Larkin’s set contains a handful of fairly same-old fodder that has some kids dancing, and others looking especially disinterested, even for Hoxton. Frontwoman Katie, a little breathless behind dark hair, has perfected the slightly-off-key-at-all-times indie-girl vocal in the Los Campesinos/Jemina Pearl vein. One punter is overheard saying “she’s not even hot.” There are those that happily subscribe to the splashy generic indie-pop of their more recognisable singles, but on the basis of this performance, this Leeds-based trio have some way to go before they’re worth watching again any time soon.

This is especially apparent when Bombay Bicycle Club take to the tiny stage some moments later. Though barely out of school, their music belies their youth as both commercially astute and intelligently created, complementing the savvy verdure with which they execute their set. Two guitars allow them to embellish standard guitar progressions with alternately jangling and drifting riffs, adding a glinting playfulness and glossy texture to hook-friendly melodies, as in ‘How Are You’ and ‘Ghosts’. The latter of these encompasses dystopic guitar work and the ethereal shimmer of keyboard effects, that provides the ground from which wandering counter-melodies and splashy cymbals emerge.

Bombay Bicycle Club’s ability to goad the audience through changes in tempo, snapping back into percussion-led riffs with enviable precision, strikes of the infectious energy of early Maccabees gigs. Meanwhile their sound combines double-guitar effects suggestive of a very British take on The Strokes, or the synthetic keyboard textures of Tokyo Police Club. But it is the ethereal, quivering vocal of frontman Jack Steadman that distinguishes them, complementing hebetic lyrics that are endearingly innocuous rather than juvenile or ignorant. Yet to record or release an LP, the London four-piece rattle off a polished performance ending on ‘The Hill’ to a jubiliant hand-clap reception. And though they are bent double over their guitars as they dance around each other on stage, Bombay Bicycle Club cannot conceal their delight at the unexpected, word-perfect enthusiasm of their audience, who no longer look so apathetic. Ones to watch, indeed.

Monday, 22 September 2008

London Airwaves Festival - 19/9/08

Music festivals, as the mainstay of the revelrous masses, have come a long way in the last five years. The well-worn formula of a long weekend dedicated to rural rebelliousness of the most extreme and exhausting variety has become pummelled, condensed and morphed into newly enticing manifestations. One such variety, the urban one-day event, has become vastly popular, this year especially, as a way of getting some of the best in new and smaller acts onto a festival bill for just a fraction of typical prices for the punter.

Airwaves is but one example of the one-day festivals that have emerged in this climate of live music diversification. Planned to celebrate the ten year anniversary of Iceland’s veteran Airwaves Festival, which has featured a range of high-calibre headline acts including everyone from Klaxons to The Kills, Airwaves branded itself as ‘an all-day extravaganza of cutting-edge music and culture’. But the reality of the event was somewhat different. Plagued with entry queues, schedule-clashes and street-level congestion, most ticket-holders were left feeling more than a little frustrated at a line-up that promised top-end entertainment, without much regard for the practicalities involved.

Even for those who managed to rock up straight from work, the eight venues earmarked for the night stretched right across London’s trendy East End – from Hoxton to Brick Lane – a fair distance on foot. Gigwise spoke to one girl who, in a fix about to get from Metronomy’s 9.30pm set at Hoxton Bar and Grill to Young Knives at Vibe in Brick Lane by 11pm, jumped in a taxi, only to find herself paying an extortionate £18 fare at the end of the five minute drive. For newcomers to the East End the risk of getting lost in a back lane and missing nearly every act on the bill was a very real possibility.

As such, gig-goers found themselves pigeon-holed into one or two similarly-located venues. For Gigwise, this meant missing the illuminated electro-pop innovation of Metronomy and the entrancing sequenced electronica of A. Human so that we were in the right place to see Young Knives at 11pm, which rather unfortunately meant suffering the poker-faced pouting of These New Puritans for a good half a set. Their heavily punctuated art-rock was lost on the dingy confines of the upstairs at Vibe, where clean lines of sound blurred and fuzzed into the humid central space of the sparsely populated venue, rendering the set messy-sounding and underwhelming.

The same sound issues plagued Young Knives’ subsequent set. With a band like Young Knives, however, personality alone is enough to counter technical imperfections. The unlikely-looking trio, done up in an assortment of clownishly large trousers, oversized specs and handlebar moustaches, played a set of overdone enthusiasm and unpretentious, commercial hooks and harmonies that induced a sudden bout of joyous, if not slightly odd, dancing on the floor. Between songs, lead vocalist Harry Darthall spouted comedic one-liners of varying profanity, at one point declaring, “The only fucking reason we’re here is because we get to go to Iceland –we’ll send you a postcard!” But their live set belied their proclaimed apathy, characterised largely by monosyllabic staccato nonsense held together by impeccable rhythm. They ended on a cacophonous blend of vocal and distorted guitar that was somewhat lost on the Shoreditch audience, who, in various states of inebriation, was only vaguely listening.

Last minute line-up addition, Digitalism, raised the festival spirit of the evening with their DJ set opposite, at 93 Feet East. The venue was soon bulging at the exits as people squeezed their way onto the dancefloor, overspilling onto the main stage and infesting tables and chairs in a jubilant and unrestrained display of nocturnal festivity. Musically, though, Digitalism offered little by way of interest, instead choosing to utilise their undoubted talent to mix crowd-pleasing fodder like Run D.M.C. and Nirvana into more enticing digital dance-numbers. It went down well, but critically did little but cement Digitalism as the poor man’s Justice in the electro pecking order.

For those still standing at the witching hour, there was little to do but trek to Hewitt Street carpark for an organised rave. Organised being the operative word, as kids queued in their fancy outfits to get through the barriers, queued for drinks tokens, queued for drinks, and then sat huddled in corners by corrugated metal fences, looking fashionably bored. We took the safer option, and headed for home.

On paper Airwaves and its urban festival cousins look like the ideal way of getting new music out to the consuming masses in one dense evening line-up. But in practice, the implications of switching venues eight times in a night to see just a fraction of what’s on offer left most punters wishing they’d spent their twenty quid on a proper gig, instead. Unlike Young Knives, we didn’t even get a trip to Iceland for the trouble…

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Mercury Music Prize 2008: Exclusive Interviews

Colin Greenwood: “It would be embarrassing if Radiohead won the Mercury Prize”
In exclusive interview at the awards show...

Radiohead's Colin Greenwood told Gigwise in an exclusive interview last night that the band would be “embarrassed” to win the Mercury Prize.

“The music’s great, the line-up’s really strong and diverse, so just to be included is pretty special,” Colin said at the awards show. “But Radiohead are not new, so we're being involved in something we don’t feel we should be.”
Radiohead recently returned from a huge tour of the US and Canada, from which bassist Greenwood seemed a little groggy. “This is my big night out,” he said. “but I've got a head cold! I think I caught it from my kids.”

“I already miss touring.” Colin admitted. He said of their time away: “It was wonderful. We played a cricket match with the crew and everyone in Vancouver. And Thom and Johnny played a cover of a Neil Young song, ‘After The Gold Rush’, in LA two weeks ago, in front of Americans and they didn’t lynch us!”

Radiohead embark on a tour of Japan in the October.

Laura Marling Calls Mercury Prize “Weird”
In Gigwise exclusive at the awards show...

Elusive folk songstress Laura Marling confessed to Gigwise in a very special interview last night that she though the Mercury Prize was “weird”.

“I’ve no idea what this is all about,” Marling said from a balcony overlooking the ceremony, below, just moments before her performance.

“With your own gigs, you’re playing to people who’ve come to see you and want to listen to your songs and have a nice evening, where as this, it’s great, but it is a huge commercial deal. It’s not got as much soul as a gig, but it’s great…” she said, unconvincingly, before adding quietly, “it’s weird.”

When asked if she minded being nominated for the prize she replied: “Music isn’t all about music anymore. The only thing that keeps me going is the community of it, and this hasn’t got anything to do with that, but it’s part of it.”

Marling, alongside Adele and Estelle, was one of three solo female artists to be nominated for the prize, which was awarded to Elbow at last night's ceremony.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Gig Review: Laura Marling at the Star of Bethnal Green 3/9/08

Read the original here

“I've been here for two hours,” a smiling redhead confesses at the door of the Star of Bethnal Green. Inside, the tiny pub is brimming with the well-coiffed and music-savy. The doorman is arguing with the Scruffy Bird promoter, trying to get him to stop letting people in as the venue reached capacity some time ago. There is a queue of pretty indie kids that winds its way down the street for half a mile. Which is why the redhead is smiling: she's made it to the front; she might just get in.

The reason for such commotion? One diminutive eighteen-year old by the name of Laura Marling. With her pale elfin featues and boyish white-blonde crop, Marling has a voice that defies contemporary comparison and a strength of principle and direction that has revived the underground folk scene's anti-commercial, music-concentric resolve.

Just over a year ago, in a performance on Jools Holland, Laura was a rabbit in headlights: her blue eyes never left the ground, her fingers trembled through delicate bedroom compositions. The ethereal creature before us this evening, make-up-less as ever and shrouded in a large, nondescript shirt, has evolved from that early terror, garnering a steady, steely confidence over the course of two years of hard graft and steady gigging. Marling weaves her way through the crowd to take to the stage, she smiles, she chats amiably with her hushed and waiting audience, and finally, she sings.

She is without her Mumford and Sons backing band tonight, and with the absence of musical support her songs - the earlier love-forlorn acoustic tracks and the more recent, fiddle-featuring folk-tales - are stripped of complications, sounding all the better for it, especially is such an intimate environment. 'Ghosts' and 'My Manic And I' are interspersed with a b-side, 'Blackberry Stone'. The latter, one of Marling's finest songs and rarely heard save from live, smoulders with a rhythmic and melodic ire that echos in the dim confines of the pub. The earlier part of the set is interrupted slightly by the sound technician fiddling with the levels, but in many ways this just adds to the personal feel of the gig, as tiny smiles and giggles slip through Marling's usual cold, fixated stage persona.

We are treated to some new material, two new songs to be precise. “It's terribly self indulgent to play new songs,” Marling apologises, before adding lightly, “so I will.” The first, 'Rambling Man', showcases a melodic line and vocal agility of uniqueness that strikes of Joni Mitchell. There are but glimpses of facile lyrics at moments in the new, unpolished tracks that remind how young Marling still is. The audience is awe-struck and respectfully still, until the 'Crawled Out Of The Sea' interlude, where an irrepresible sing-a-long begins accidentally, endorsed by a glimmer of a smile from onstage. "I wish more people would do that," Marling murmurs afterwards. "No one does that anymore: this is what music is all about." And as her voice winds its way through to the melodic reaches of her handstitched, humble folk songs, we can't help but agree.

Metallica 'Death Magnetic' released 12/9/08

This album review became the most read album review in Gigwise's history. It has had over 35,000 hits, and 111 people have commented on it.
You can read the original here

Metallica pretty much defined heavy metal with 1986's 'Master Of Puppets' and their self-titled 1991 album. Then they went a bit commercial in the nineties and suffered amid controversy over file-sharing this decade, and it seemed for a time like the glory days might be over. And now? With an average age of 45 and families to boot, you'd expect America's greatest metal export to be taking it steady a little. Not so, as Gigwise discovered at a very special preview of their ninth studio album...

'Death Magnetic' descends upon the thrash metal world on September 12th as one of the most seamless and ferocious Metallica albums to date. It's kind of a wonder that they can still hack it, but after 2003's 'St Anger' suggested that Metallica was tailing in the headlights of younger bands that cited them as a major influence, 'Death Magnetic' demonstrates a band back to reclaim their proverbial metal crown.

It's a headlong, balls-out, instrument-led eighty minutes long, something that newcomers might find pretty exhausting. A thudding heartbeat percussion introduction, overlaid with a haunting guitar-riff, lasts just seconds before Hammett smashes through without a smidgen of subtlety with leaden chords that set the tone for the rest of the album. 'Death Magnetic' is unmistakably a Metallica album, soaked in Hammett's guitar flourishes and Ulrich's propulsive percussion as it is, but it's one that shows a marked progression, especially musically. Several tracks hit the eight minute mark, but there isn't a structual component in any that lasts longer than ninety seconds or so before Ulrich switches tempo or Hammett slides effortlessly into another electric vein. The preoccupation here is in the transparent musical dexterity and thrash metal mastery that Metallica have managed to achieve.

There are middle-eastern overtones in the twisting guitar-solo opening of 'All Nightmare Long', while 'Cyanide' features a much cleaner, distortion-free 'bouncing' bass, evidence of Robert Trujillo's contribution in his first recorded album performance. What is most striking is the departure from vocal-led writing as on 'Load' and 'Reload', a hangover from 'St Anger', perhaps, and a welcome one at that. Nearly every track oscillates between distorted power chords of ferocious, if not generic, weightiness, into guitar solos that are both plaintive and beguiling, with vocals and lyrics very much the afterthought.

Notable exceptions to the above are evident in the lead single 'The Day That Never Comes'. A divergence from high-octane, heavier tracks that are vicious and lyrically empowering, this Metallica-ballad attempts political commentary with its dolorous anti-war vocal. Meanwhile, 'The Unforgiven III' features a full length orchestra and piano prelude, and is undoubtedly an album highlight.

Hetfield is back to singing about death and devilry, with themes of suicide, betrayal and torture, that sometimes seem slightly overdone, especially by a band aged in their mid-forties. There are moments, too, when co-ordination slightly slips and the overall effect is a little too contrived, perhaps most evident in 'The Judas Kiss'.

Nonetheless, Metallica have exceeded themselves in producing an album that is indelibly stamped with their eponymous sound, whilst allowing for breathing space that demonstrates musical deftness and innovation on a par with their best work. Each varying component of each track is as brief as it is carefully inserted into the wider cacophonous whole, so that choppy tempos, changes in sound and structure, and transitional keys dissolve seamlessly into the magnetic propulsion of their genre-dominating prowess.