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Culture

‘How we made Now That’s What I Call Music 100’

BBC News discovers how the 100th edition of Now That’s What I Call Music was compiled. Amazingly, the whole process seems to involve just three people, and takes only a day.

Like many people, Now That’s What I Call Music was a key gateway into music for me when I was young. I bought two of them.

The first was Now 30, which was released in April 1995. I don’t really remember why I bought it. I probably liked a handful of the songs, and I figured out that this was cheaper than buying all the singles.

Interestingly, it contains at least two tracks that I didn’t fully appreciate until I was much older — Protection by Massive Attack and Glory Box by Portishead. That they are hammocked between Eternal and Oasis speaks to the eclectic nature — and variable quality — of a Now album.

I had Now 30 on cassette, so I never digitised it. As such, the tracklist is less familiar to me than the other Now I bought.

That was Now 32, which came out in time for Christmas 1995, when I got a CD player. There are some seriously strong tracks on that album — but perhaps that’s my rose-tinted glasses.

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The England v Colombia World Cup reports you were never meant to see

The Independent provides a peek behind the curtain of football match reporting with a tight deadline. Here are two unused match reports written for completely different outcomes of the England v Colombia match.

It’s interesting how both examples almost completely fizzle out after what is deemed to be the pivotal moment of the match is dealt with:

…a scoreline they saw out comfortably over the rest of the second half.

That was the moment that England lost this game and were knocked out of the World Cup…

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How come I end up where I started?

Adriaan Pels ran the popular Radiohead fan site At Ease for 20 years. The costs of running the website got out of control before his web host unexpectedly pulled the plug last year.

I used to be a very active participant on the At Ease forums, but that probably ended when I became a more active blogger / studies took over / I got a proper job / whatever. I stopped reading the website at some point as well. I still looked in occasionally, but I could tell that Adriaan didn’t seem to have as much time as he needed to look after it properly.

I didn’t even realise that At Ease had disappeared off the internet. It’s so long since I’ve tried to visit.

But it was good to see this update from Adriaan, although I’m sorry he’s lost the whole website.

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Six Lions

Nick Barlow reflects on the meaning of “football’s coming home”, and the differences between the original version of the song Three Lions and the 1998 version. I enjoyed reading this because I had found myself getting annoyed about the way people were saying “football’s coming home”, completely forgetting that there was a second version with a different meaning.

When Three Lions came out the first time, I was already a fan of the Lightning Seeds, and I think I had been a viewer of Fantasy Football League. I thought Three Lions was a good song. Which it obviously is, because everyone is still singing it 22 years on. So despite being Scottish, I was determined to buy a copy of the single — to my dad’s great disappointment.

I barely remember the 1998 version. As Nick reflects, it seems to be inherently different, and more dislikeable.

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✨🎧 tenori-off

I really love this take on the Tenori-on synthesiser, built in Javascript and very webby. I especially like how you can simply share the URL to send your music to someone else. 5/5 would Tenori-off again.

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Phylactery — John Callaghan

This wonderful reinterpretation of Tilapia by Autechre appeared on Warp20, a box set celebrating the 20th anniversary of Warp Records. (Rather scarily, that occasion was itself almost 10 years ago.)

There were two CDs of Warp artists covering classic Warp tracks, and a lot of them are really good. But John Callaghan’s effort towers above everything else on it.

It probably takes a lot of guts to attempt to cover Autechre, never mind a track as strong as Tilapia. But Phylactery boldly reinvents it, and possibly ends up being even better than the original (although as John Callaghan says in the comments to this YouTube video, both have their place, for different reasons).

In case you’re not aware of the original, here you go:

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Canada 2005: A record-breaking race that won’t be matched behind a paywall

I didn’t know that this was the most-watched Formula 1 race in history. As this article points out, it seems unlikely at this stage that this record will ever be beaten.

I was struck that this happened the very year before CVC Capital Partners bought their stake in F1. 🤔

They made it their business not to invest in the sport (quite the opposite, in fact). F1’s slow decline began then.

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Childish Gambino’s This is America and how the internet killed the cultural critic

How considered criticism has been replaced by mindless churnalism collating stuff an under-pressure journalism has hurriedly gathered up on Twitter.

Floating to the top of my feed was an article in the Guardian: “This is America: theories behind Childish Gambino’s satirical masterpiece”. This video is popular, it said, then asked: “But what does it mean?”. Yes, I thought, that’s exactly what I’m here to find out. But instead of an answer, I got a summary of tweets and notes from Genius. No interpretations were drawn, no conclusions reached. Was it a masterpiece? The headline said so, but the piece just linked to tweets by Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu.

I grew tired long ago of news stories that are basically just lists of other people’s tweets. I have even noticed BBC News doing this. Yet again, I’m left wondering if most of the media’s problems are with their own unwillingness to pursue quality.

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Revealed: How Britain’s biggest local TV company has “gamed” the BBC for licence fee payers’ money

Jeremy Hunt’s scheme to create a network of low-budget local TV stations was absurd from the get-go. Seven years on, it is clear that the scheme is a complete flop, with many of the stations unable to make ends meet.

In Scotland, STV2 — which was made up of five local licenses — is being closed down. The licenses appear to have been sold to the largest local TV company, That’s TV.

This BuzzFeed article outlines exactly how delightful this operation appears to be.

In summary, this is a company that seems to have been set up with the intention of exploiting the local TV model to extract license fee payers’ cash from the BBC in exchange for unusable local news reports made by inexperienced and poorly-paid reporters.

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Chinese firms pile in to sponsor World Cup 2018 amid Fifa fallout

As Western firms have begun to desert Fifa due to the corruption scandal, Chinese firms have seized the opportunity to “to get their brands in front of billions of global eyeballs”.

It has been noted that companies are more willing these days to take a stand (see also ABC cancelling a sitcom because its star is racist). But this appears to be a western phenomenon.

Chinese firms seem to have no qualms around being associated with Fifa. Perhaps this is a dimension to keep an eye on as China becomes more and more important on the global stage.

This year’s Fifa World Cup provides a unique opportunity for little-known Chinese companies to get huge amounts of exposure to global consumers.

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Food: a class issue

Why Jamie Oliver’s stunts like trying to ban two-for-one pizza offers are counter-productive and damaging to the poor.

…there’s a deeper and nasty question here: if we can’t trust the poor to feed themselves properly, what can we trust them to do?…

The problem is capitalism, not the poor.

Some of you might have an inkling as to why the millionaire Jamie Oliver and old Etonian Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall don’t choose this route.

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This was England ’90

How the Stone Roses story was bastardised by the music media. I’m not a Stone Roses fan, so I don’t recognise this specific account. But you often do get the sense that at least half of what music journalists say about music is… well… made up?

It was around this time that I started to get the first stirrings of a nasty feeling that my past was being sold back to me…. Suspicious accounts were given of the Spike Island concert as some kind of harmonious pilgrimage to a utopian musical bliss, without a single mention of the smell, the dodgy sound system, the deep techno warmup acts, or the gangs of ne’er-do-wells who clearly weren’t there for the music (and, conversely, referring to the venue as a ‘derelict wasteland’ when it had actually been reclaimed as a ‘green space’ several years previously), almost as though they might not actually have been there.

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A conversational hierarchy

An attempt to rank ten different types of conversation.

I am always amazed by how much people are willing to divulge on public transport. They list what they’re having for dinner tonight, they explain their aches and pains in detail, or they slag off Jennifer from Accounts. Of course what I forget is that when I’m on the bus with a friend we’re usually having similar conversations, and so engrossed that we never notice those sitting nearby can hear every word.

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Good writing and analytics don’t mix

If you want to be a good writer then you can’t worry about the numbers. The stats, the dashboards, the faves, likes, hearts and yes, even the claps, they all lead to madness and, worst of all in my opinion, bad writing.

Recently I have been thinking a bit about what stats trackers I should be running on my blog, particularly in light of GDPR. I currently run three, and I wonder if I should cut this back.

Robin Rendle’s blog post has got me wondering further if it’s just a bad idea to worry about — or even be aware of — how many people are reading.

It’s always tempting to look at the stats. But I also know that the most-viewed posts are not the highest quality ones. So perhaps it’s better to focus on improving something other than the numbers.

See also: Escaping Twitter’s self-consciousness machine, on what happens when you remove all metrics from the Twitter interface.

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The national standard kilogram

Diamond Geezer reflects on a visit to see the national standard kilogram, the UK’s copy of the block of metal that officially defines how much a kilogram weighs. Highly interesting and informative — not least because I didn’t realise the definition of a kilogram is about to be updated, making the international prototype redundant.

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Cousin Chris — The Fiery Furnaces

It was a delight to listen to Adam Buxton’s recent podcast interview with Eleanor Friedberger, half of the Fiery Furnaces (with her brother Matthew) and now a solo artist.

The Fiery Furnaces are one of my favourite bands. Their quirky and decidedly different music was actually quite important to me as I struggled my way through university.

Despite that, I’m don’t think I have ever heard an interview with either of the Friedbergers. I don’t often seek out interviews with musicians because (with a few exceptions) it is often disappointing — a topic touched on in the podcast. So I found it quite strange to learn new things about the Fiery Furnaces, whose music I know so well to listen to, but whose story (I have suddenly realised) I don’t know too much about.

This is one of my favourite Fiery Furnaces songs. Unfortunately for some reason the music in this video is really glitchy, but the visuals are awesome.

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I don’t know how to waste time on the internet anymore

I did not know what to type into the address bar of my browser. I stared at the cursor. Eventually, I typed “nytimes.com” and hit enter. Like a freaking dad. The entire world of the internet, one that used to boast so many ways to waste time, and here I was, reading the news.

On the loss of the old culture of the internet, “made for dicking around”.

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Hand-coded digital artwork “Francine” is skewing your online reality

I never used to see the point in stunts like “I created Bart Simpson in pure HTML and CSS, look at me!” But I have to admit that the work of Diana Smith is seriously cool.

It is all the more awesome when you consider how viewing it on older browsers turns the work into wonderful, glitchy, accidental versions that look like they were inspired by De Stijl.

This is like a modern version of the Acid tests. I remember showing examples of the Acid II test during presentations some years ago to explain how different browsers could interpret the same code differently. But I think this example gets it across so much better.

It’s also a warning not to build our webpages for Chrome only.

In a cultural moment where reality distortion is rampant, and it’s hard to get a consistent version of facts from person to person, it’s critical to understand that something as basic as a browser update, or switching from one browser to another, can drastically change the way we perceive information.

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The gardens where ideas grow

We tend to think of musicians as architects, who fully control the sound they compose. But here, Austin Kleon outlines how it is in fact more like gardening. Top musicians like Prince, Ralf Hütter and Brian Eno appear to subscribe to this approach.

Brian Eno says:

One is carefully constructing seeds, or finding seeds, carefully planting them and then letting them have their life. And that life isn’t necessarily exactly what you’d envisaged for them.

The analogy certainly works well with Brian Eno’s generative music. I remember a radio interview where he described being the opposite of a control freak — a surrender freak. (This is the only reference I can find to it.)

It also reminds me of how Autechre appear to make music. In an Ask Autechre Anything session on WATMM in 2013, one person asked:

I would like you to tell me how you feel about “see on see”.

Sean Booth replied: “surprised”.

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The media vs tech battle that nobody can win

Yet again, Thomas Baekdal has a genuinely informative and enlightening take on the turf war the media is trying to wage against tech companies.

Essentially, traditional media and technology are trying to solve a similar problem — but from different directions.

We accept that newspapers can’t cover everything in exchange for a demand for higher quality reporting for the things they do pick. And we accept that, on channels such as YouTube, we will always be able to find the occasional piece of bad content, in exchange for the flexibility and the wealth of things that we can see.

It strikes me that we need to have both. We already knew that good journalism and high-quality media products will always exist. But they need to focus on making those high-quality products rather than constantly reacting in counter-productive ways to the perceived threat of technological change.

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The guide to getting into Autechre

That question when someone is trying to get into a band — “Where should I start?” — is perhaps especially difficult to answer in the case of Autechre. Their music is unique and uncompromising. You almost need to learn to read Autechre, because it is sonic world lives by itself. It is difficult to relate it to anything else.

That situation escalates when the artist has 13 albums over 25 years under their belt, the latest of which is eight hours long.

This article makes a good attempt at introducing Autechre to the uninitiated, by splitting their music into different types: club-friendly, austere, strangely beautiful, melting computer, endurance test.

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Support the DCA Cinema

Apparently there are plans afoot to build a multiplex cinema behind Groucho’s in Dundee. While there might be a case to build a cinema in central Dundee, it would be perverse to position it literally in the back yard of the DCA, a pivotal venue of Dundee’s creative scene.

I have written before about a certain contingent in Dundee that would rather not have the DCA Cinema, on the basis that a mainstream cinema would magically sprout up in its place.

I personally think that having a cultural hub that commits to showing independent films is much more valuable to Dundee than a cookie-cutter multiplex that you can find in any town.

A drop-in consultation on the proposed new multiplex is taking place on Tuesday 1 May at the Malmaison, from 3pm to 7pm.

As Creative Dundee summarises it:

…A multiplex so close to the DCA cinema would negatively impact its revenue, ability to show these films and still be around… This is the type of space that is needed in Dundee at the moment.

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The Rip — Portishead

They say a song is like a fart — if you have to force it out, it’s probably shit. So when a band leaves a gap of 11 years between albums, it means one of two things:

  • Option 1 — They have been enduring the worst form of musical constipation, and the album will be shit.
  • Option 2 — They have taken their time, let it come to them, and the album will be excellent.

When Portishead’s Third came out, there wasn’t much indication that option 2 would be on the table. In the words of Armando Iannucci, the second album by Portishead had nothing new to say.

Portishead were pioneers of trip-hop, but by 2008 it had become a cliched genre.

But Portishead avoided all those traps with their third album, which is actually probably their best. It conspicuously avoided the now-cheesy trip-hop tropes. It was a new sound, but still unmistakably Portishead.

The album was released 10 years ago today. There is no indication of when their fourth album will arrive. But we are still ahead of schedule by Portishead’s standards.

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Conversational solitude

On the Tuesday morning after Easter I waved goodbye to my brother and nephew at Norwich station and wandered off to catch a train back to London. Last night I walked over to BestMate’s in Plaistow and we had dinner and watched telly. Inbetween, I met and spoke to absolutely nobody I know. That’s 15 days, 9 hours and 12 minutes of conversational solitude. And I coped fine.

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Was there a civilisation on Earth before humans?

This is mind-blowing.

Perhaps, for example, some early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 million years ago. There are fossils, of course. But the fraction of life that gets fossilized is always minuscule and varies a lot depending on time and habitat. It would be easy, therefore, to miss an industrial civilization that only lasted 100,000 years—which would be 500 times longer than our industrial civilization has made it so far.

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Boards of Canada ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ turns 20

More on the 20th anniversary of Music Has the Right to Children.

The music imprints ideas in your head, subliminally or through uncanny association: opener “Wildlife Analysis” sounds like an old TV ident left to wander into the woods, the treated, wobbly synth harmonies of “Olson” could’ve come from a half-remembered Stevie Wonder or Gary Wright song heard as background music during some family car ride, and “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” sinks its minimalist, graceful melody in so deep through repetition that the realization you can hear indistinct voices in the background is almost startling. There’s something deeper in the music than just music…

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An Eagle in Your Mind — Boards of Canada

Music Has the Right to Children (cover detail)

It is 20 years to the day since Boards of Canada released Music Has the Right to Children.

Seminal is a word that is bandied around easily when talking about music. But it may be genuinely applicable in this case. Simon Reynolds in Pitchfork notes how the album seemed to kick-start a transformation in electronic music.

Before this point, electronic music was unashamedly futuristic. Boards of Canada set the template for a nostalgic yet dark genre known as hauntology, since explored further by the Ghost Box label among others.

The album’s cover, featuring a weathered, decades-old family photograph with each person’s facial features redacted, sets the scene. Following a short introductory track, Music Has the Right to Children introduces the listener to the Boards of Canada sound in uncompromising fashion, with An Eagle in Your Mind.

A wistful drone slowly evolves into a darker, brooding melody. Crunchy, syncopated beats and glitching speech samples then take precedence, while narration from a nature documentary subliminally slips beneath. Things get psychedelic, before an unpredictable abstract hip-hop vibe takes over. A childlike melody discordantly tinkles on top, hammering home the sense that something has gone horribly wrong.

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A year after United’s public-relations disaster

What happened after United violently removed a passenger against his will from an overbooked flight? What do you think…?

Flyers may have said in that survey that they’d avoid United, but they really kept choosing whichever airline offered the best price and itinerary. And often that was United. In the month that followed the Dao incident, United flew more passengers than a year earlier, posted its biggest gains in months in passenger-miles flown, and had its fewest cancellations in its history (and fewer than any of its main competitors). A month after the incident, United’s share price hit an all-time high.

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Rock On — Tortoise

Tortoise’s most recent original music may not be as good as their material from the 1990s. But they have developed a knack for producing some excellent cover versions. This cover of Rock On is the highlight of their most recent album, The Catastrophist.

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Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

More on the hypocrisy of media organisation going after Facebook (which I recently wrote about).

What will happen when the Times, the New Yorker and other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides “interest-based” advertising?

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Publishers haven’t realised just how big a deal GDPR is

With the media still consumed with scrutinising Facebook, Thomas Baekdal once again points out that it is the media who appear to be less prepared to deal with privacy trends and comply with new regulations like GDPR.

It’s interesting that Thomas Baekdal has emphasised that this is not only important for compliance. But because it is becoming a fundamental expectation.

He notes the clear changes that Google and Facebook have made in reaction to GDPR. In contrast to publishers.

I have yet to see any publisher who is actually changing what they are doing. Every single media site that I visit is still loading tons of 3rd party trackers. They are still not asking people for consent, in fact most seem to think they already have people’s consent…

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Why do we forget most of what we read and watch?

Not just what we read and watch. But also what we have written. And, if you were Johnny Carson, who you had just interviewed.

It’s an oddity peculiar to the live performer’s divided brain that needs exploring. It has to do with the fact that you — and the “you” that performs — are not identical.

I get the same thing all the time, whenever anyone asks me on a Monday morning what I did in the weekend.

Perhaps me and the “me” that was in the weekend are not identical. Certainly, my brain is in a totally different place — one that has difficulty piecing together an eventful yesterday.

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