Thursday, 31 July 2014

Guide: Madrid's arts and crafts shops

Delicate prints and clever handmade oddities dominate Madrid's thriving independent crafty stores. An eagerly consumed tour of the trendy Malasaña area's cute selection of outlets on my honeymoon quickly reveals this is something special.

Malasaña has all the hallmarks of areas dubbed trendy - dirty streets, plenty of graffiti (some great, some dire) and with a disturbing number of prostitutes. The area is well known as Madrid's hipster hive, rammed full of colourful cocktail bars and more burger joints than there are cows in Spain. But the style and number of great stores is remarkable. Here are a few:

La Antigua, Corredera Baja de San Pablo
A narrow shop stacked with delights, from handmade cards and patterned paper to clever DIY kits to make books and kitchenwares. The artwork of Lady Desidia, who pops up all over town, features heavily, most remarkably in her incredible light boxes, which showcase the carefully drawn Manga-style women of her pieces. A must visit.

Rughara, Corredera Alta de San Pablo
Despite describing itself as a 'concept store', this little shop decked out in neon string is unpretentious and fun to browse. Dominated by clothing, there's plenty of clever designs and Anna quickly snares a tortoiseshell necklace and a handmade leather purse and returns later for a hand painted plate. It hosts great tunes too, with Emiliana Torrini's catchy Jungle Drum getting me dancing.

La Intrusa, Corredera Alta de San Pablo
Specialising in clothes and bizarrely, jewellery featuring Playmobil characters, this light, airy store sucks away time as you browse its wares. Lady Desidia's light boxes make another appearance, as well as jars with lights within them shining through images of trees and plenty of other great ideas to inspire. Anna snaffles some earrings with lightening bolts on.

La Integral, Calle León
Away from Malasaña, this tiny record store and book shop is a must visit. It features an excellent selection of new vinyl from US alt country to a small but incisive collection of African compilations (an Afrobeat Airwaves LP could not be left in the shop). The store is a bit of a nerd's supermarket - everything from fanzines, lomography cameras, comics, and items with pictures of lomography cameras on complement the music. But it's well presented and does not feel like the standard issue quirky gift store evident elsewhere in Madrid and in London.

Despite La Integral, and a few other small record stores including enchanting funk, soul and r'n'b specialist Upbeat Records, I couldn't find a big independent music store to get my teeth into (albeit high street chain Fnac hosts a huge store). 

But Madrid is well worth a visit for its independent stores alone, and that's before you get to its world famous galleries, great bars, the buzzy San Miguel food market and grand opera house, in which Antony & the Johnsons put on a mesmerising performance while we were in town. Have I missed any? Feel free to comment below.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Video: How fanzines are thriving in a digital age

The thriving zine scene typified by new zines and more zine fairs has surprised even the most ardent zinesters in an internet age dominated by blogging and social media. Having previewed the event for The Independent here, I popped down to the DIY Cultures fair at the Rich Mix, Bethnal Green to chat to some of the ace fanzine makers in attendance for the capital's TV channel, London Live.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The rise of the 'by request' set list

Joy Division legend Peter Hook is taking requests
It's incredible something with as dreadful a name as Napster had such a revolutionary impact on music consumption. The peer-to-peer file-sharing site, arguably the most mainstream one of its kind, gave music fans an unprecedented power over artists which the latter has been struggling to regain balance from ever since its launch in 1999. 

In retrospect, the developments that followed feel inevitable - the rise of paid-for downloading via iTunes, then streaming through, Youtube and Spotify and the move towards big bucks large gigs and insanely pricey festivals becoming the main money spinner. They have been accompanied by a torrent of other changes to music consumption from on demand radio to using social media. 

The prevalence of a new phenomenon - the 'by request' set - has been exemplified by this year's festival line ups. Metal giants Metallica are putting their set at Sonisphere, which takes place at Knebworth in July, to a public vote. The democratic gig will see fans polled on which songs they wanted to hear by getting an online code when they buy a ticket. The festival will also see Metallica joint-headline with Iron Maiden for the first time in the UK, quite a coup for the metal fest.

At Alt-Fest, Peter Hook & the Light will follow their set playing the entirety of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures (another recently revived trend in performing whole records) with an encore picked by the fans. They will be able to vote from a selection of Joy Division tracks on Facebook for the six-song encore at the festival in Northamptonshire in August. 

Hook said: "Having played some 200 gigs with The Light now, I've found that the fans all have their own particular favourite tracks which they want to hear live. It's a great idea to throw some of the set list over to the people at Alt-Fest to see what they most want to hear us play." 

Hook's decision flies in the face of many musicians who - through fatigue at playing the same songs repeatedly or simply stubbornness - deliberately shun fan favourites. Neil Young assured crowds on his 1973 English tour of Tonight's the Night that they would hear some 'old stuff you've heard before' after he'd played his new record live in full, then promptly played the whole album in full again claiming the audience knew it by then - class. 
Back in the present, ShadowPlay favourite Buck 65 is among a raft of artists who regularly use Twitter to ask their audiences what they'd like to hear during that evening's gig. 

As social media brings fans and artists closer together than they've ever been, and gives artists more instantaneous feedback on which songs fans love, it's natural musicians are more mindful in composing sets. To my mind, there's no problem with it - it's just a more organised variation on calling out for a favourite tune live. But artists may need to take care they do not simply become karaoke acts, playing to fans' demands at every turn.

The balance of power has clearly well and truly shifted but musicians need to be given licence to have control over their performance. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Record Store Day 2014: London in photos

Record Store Day is a slightly different beast in the capital. There's plenty of queues, exclusive releases and in-store gigs but Soho provides an interesting, um, spin on the day. The streets were closed off on Berwick Street and Broadwick Street, the soundsystems and stages were out and there was even a smattering of sunshine.

Record Store Day has caused some controversy with over-worked pressing plants and fans who miss out on exclusives irritated by the constraints of the day. Personally, there were plenty of releases I would've loved to get my hands on but am happy to enjoy seeing my favourite shops rammed full of customers, wander round with a beer and nip in another day on one of my regular trips. I've written more on the subject for The Independent here. Here's a few pics, there's plenty more on Twitter here.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Podcasting: An intriguing medium

As podcasting marks its tenth anniversary, it's a useful time to reflect on the unique spoken word episodic medium. A self-confessed addict as well as a podcaster myself, I've always enjoyed the freedom they can bring to offer specialist radio shows on niche subjects. 

Podcasts like Answer Me This, The Football Ramble and Richard Herring's various offerings have allowed presenters to carve out a distinct voice for a dedicated audience. They also allows fans to build up an archive of shows to enjoy at their leisure. 

However, their long term future - with streaming speeds stepping up and little momentum behind promoting new 'casts from dominant technology giant Apple - is in doubt. I've written more on the subject for The Independent here.

And speaking of podcasts, it's a pleasure to welcome one of my oldest friends and music obsessive Mr James Lambert to my aural adventure, Desert Isolation Discs. You can hear which eight tunes he picked to take with him to survive in a desert by streaming it here or below or downloading the podcast here

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Desert Isolation Discs: Hello Thor co-founder Anders Knight

Barcelona-based record label head honcho and talented marketer Anders Knight is my latest guest over at sister blog Desert Isolation Discs. He became the lynchpin in the arts and culture scene of Nottingham when based there through his excellent stewardship of craft night Jumpers for Goalposts (my former charge), promoting gigs with Super Night, as co-host of the Pretty Dandy Flea markets or enticing us to watch great films at the Broadway cinema. 

His record label Hello Thor - co-founded with fellow friends of the blog Tom Whalley and Nick Lawford in 2008 - is host to a raft of exhilarating acts including Fists, We Show Up on Radar and Anxieteam. You can listen to the interview with Anders below.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Desert Isolation Discs: Designer and mother Heather Lawson

Over at our sister sister site Desert Isolation Discs we have a very special guest… my mother! She was part of the reason I set up the blog and our mutual love of hearing everyone's favourite eight tunes meant I couldn't not interview here for it.

Head over the blog for full more detail and full songs or listen to the interview below.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Hastings: A south coast snapshot

A trip to Hastings for a January pick-me-up proved just what the fun-doctor ordered at the weekend. I first visited the small town on the Sussex coast a couple of years ago to the incredulity of those from nearby who hadn't seen its charm underneath the multitude of pound shops and dilapidated seaside amusements. 

On my previous visit, we had to cut short our stay as our vintage mini looked in danger of being snowed in and on this occasion heavy wind and rain did their best to attack our bobble hats but not before enjoying the friendly locals and interesting sights. I mean, you even get to pass a bar named the 'Route 1066' en route! 

Hasting's charm is in the Old Town, effectively two roads - the High Street and George Street - in which antiques shops stuffed with great records and odd finds, book shops with stacks higher than their owners and plenty of great pubs can be found. I stayed at The Old Rectory, the sister bed and breakfast to Swan House, both of which are highly recommended, stylish and comfortable.

The Jerwood Gallery, a box-y shaped building which stands on the seafront, had opened since my last visit and the works contained within, taken from businessman and philanthropist John Jerwood's own collection were interesting if slightly patchy. The gallery was also a tad pricey and I was interested to spot signs outside for an amateurish but passionate protest site - The highlight was John Piper's The Churchyard which I found a fascinating mix of colour and movement. Here's a few snaps from my trip to the town where battle once commenced.

The AG Hendy and Co Home Store, which dates back to the 19th century, is a fascinating combination of incredibly well put together stylish products and an amazing rickety building. Just being within its wonky walls makes you feel happy.

AG Hendy and Co Home Store

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Julianna Barwick: Six reasons to love Brooklyn's finest

Brooklyn-based soundscape artist Julianna Barwick has been enchanting listeners with her abstract sound for four years. ShadowPlay takes a look at what's caught the ear of a global audience. 

1. Barwick's music is a combination of classic ethereal sounds which melt away like candy floss to the tongue and a more uncomfortable, mournful tone. Whether it's slowly shredding a violin or carefully introducing her piano, Barwick builds up incredible loops which prove mesmeric. 

2. Barwick first released a mini-album, Florine, in 2009 featuring more conventional song structures and built on it for her 2010 release, The Magic Place, which honed her reverb heavy sound. Her latest album, Nepenthe, gave her worldwide recognition and featured in plenty of end of year lists. Highlights included Labyrinthine and The Harbinger. 

3. She grew up in rural Louisiana and a farm in Missouri and, as the daughter of a preacher, allowed the choirs in her church to influence her music later in life. As a kid, she harmonised with random sounds like the echo emanating from a giant tree.

4. She translates her sound well live to leave audiences in her thrall. He she is playing Offing.

5. Barwick has worked with a fistful of musical royalty. From members of múm and string quartet Amiina to Sigur Rós collaborator Alex Somers, she's made a name for herself among the upper echelons of the aural establishment. Oh, and got to record in Sigur Ros' swimming pool studio, Sundlaugin.

6. Barwick has also worked with Radiohead, remixing their tune Reckoner in 2010. In turn, her work has been remixed by the likes of Diplo and Prince Rama.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Desert Isolation Discs: Betty in the Sky

Over at our sister site Desert Isolation Discs I've been lucky enough to host renowned podcaster Betty Thesky as she selects her favourite tunes of all time.

Betty has featured in USA Today, The New Yorker and even hosted her own BBC World Service documentary since hitting the air and the airwaves with her unique podcast. She is a flight attendant for a major US airline and recounts tales of her escapades in her addictive podcast Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase.

Head over to Desert Isolation discs to hear her selections.