Sunday, 18 November 2012

Buck 65 talks horny blues

Buck 65 is horny. In fact Nova Scotian hip-hop's most prestigious export is practically a walking copy of Nuts with carefully crafted tunes in place of some bird from Big Brother's tits. 

Canadian rapper, storyteller and gentle comedian Richard Terfry's appearance on stage at The Garage in Islington is a welcome sight after a number of years of intermittent appearances in the UK. For the uninitiated, Buck is a storyteller who has associations with Anticon records and has spent two decades creating some of the most interesting, innovative and genre-defining hip-hop of his generation. He's also a rather funny, charming fella. 

Buck structures his set like a reverse romcom, beginning by telling of his long distance relationship with his wife-to-be, then their move to Paris together before exhaling heavily and saying the last year and a half has been difficult as he got divorced. This story translates into a scintillating set featuring a duo with support act Laura J Martin playing his wife [see video] before Buck performs a tune which repeatedly states "I wish we could start again". It's a painful and surprisingly stark moment for an artist who often morphs into different characters and is surprisingly chipper. "You don't know how hard it was to perform that," he breathes at the end of the song.

But he's got the Pot Noodle horn, apparently, so his midset is dominated by the theme of heavy penetration and fledgling encounters. He bookends his classic tribute to an oversized lover - Centaur - with a rap made form the titles of spam emails about sperm and a poem-cum-rap about his overly amorous chat up lines. He attempts to give off the air of an awkward first timer attempting to find his way, in fact a more eloquent wordsmith able to handle himself in any situation you'll rarely find.

But the gig is not just Buck's catharsis. He plays Superstars Don't Love from latest album 20 Odd Years as well as previewing material from his forthcoming record expected next April. He also cranks out classics including 463 and Wicked and Weird from Talkin Honky Blues which being back many memories including rapping the entirety of the latter on the motorway with my friend Daniel, fucking up my A Level English exams after going to a Buck gig the night before and interview Mr Tefry at the Rescue Rooms in Anton's office. 

He also cranks out a slightly bizarre 'Friday night' dance tune which may or may not appear on the new record which is quite fun if a little odd. The set runs a little long and it would've been nice to see the beautiful steel guitar of a full band to enjoy his full range rather than just two turntables and a microphone. 

His last couple of records have been a little pedestrian by his very high standards but anyone who's even glanced at ShadowPlay ever will understand why his status as my personal favourite artist ever remains firmly assured. With the prospect of a new heartbreak album moving into view, there's a distinct possibility that this could be Buck's Blood on the Tracks-style defining moment. 

Buck 65, Laura J Martin - The Garage, 16/11/12

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Glory of the Domino Rally

Picture the scene: the last Domino is placed down, you're one tap of an index finger away from unleashing a cascade of small rectangular soldiers across the battleground of your auntie's kitchen table when bang, Uncle Terry walks in, bangs a pork pie on the corner of the table and bang goes 35 minutes  of painstaking work.

The effort and reward of a Domino rally is one that is often overlooked in the modern life of X Boxes and Jamiroquai, however this simple pleasure is one to be savoured. I decided to have a little hunt round the internet for some interesting examples. 

Personally, my favourite rallies as a kid would involve substituting the Dominos for, say, hardback copies of Goosebumps books, tapes of football matches off the radio or videos of shoddy performances in school plays. After time and again knocking over the entire run just as I was about to start, I learnt to build in fail safes, taking Dominos out halfway through to stop it ruining the whole track if I did nudge one over by accident. 

The Domino rally, a classic art which hopefully will never die, or becoming confused with a pizza chain. 

The original 1980s advert
A impressive multicoloured adventure
World record for human dominos at 850 people
A great way to hype the 2010 World Cup in South Africa

Sunday, 4 November 2012

How the perfect shop became a tragic waste

The Dream: Working with a cat in a zine shop

An average indie band once said: modern life is rubbish. And, in a case of rare agreement between Damon Albarn and I, I tend to agree. Much that previously demanded care and attention - conversation, publishing, slagging people off using clever similes - has been undermined by a simultaneously callous and over-calculated age.

So outposts where these outlooks have been shunned are few and far between and should be cherished. Last week, I discovered one such place. Wandering in Amsterdam's famous Nine Streets on holiday last week on a day even David-Blane-mid-ice-block may have described as 'a bit chilly', the discovery of the dubiously named Boekie Woekie was a revelation.

On entering the small bookshop from the cold, you're met with a plethora of vibrant coloured zines, books, pamphlets and postcards. Run by Dutch, German and Icelandic artists, the shop, which first opened in 1986 and carries around 7,000 titles, was founded on the principles of carrying literature regardless of its author's fame. The small shop, located on Berenstraat in the Dutch capital, has two mid-sized rooms wall to wall with self-published books; there's a photocopier for people to re-produce their own work and shelves and shelves of well-merchandised zines. 

In the UK, zines, contrary to popular opinion, are not extinct. The onslaught of blogs (including this one, which runs alongside the paper zine) has definitely impacted the number of zines about but a cursory glance at Brighton zine fest or today's Leeds Zine Fair shows that there are plenty still about. However, aside from a handful of shops - including Sister Ray in London, the Punker Bunker in Brighton and Jumbo Records in Leeds - zines are rarely given much space in shops. Zines get little attention, not least because the passion, creativity, time and effort that goes in for little reward is, understandably, hard for many to relate to.

So to stumble on such a dedicated and extensive collection was, in short, astonishing. Not least because the place had a very friendly live-in cat. I was putting my name on the lease before opening a single book. 

But then came the problem. I'd be astounded if a bigger collection of pretentious, pseudo-political/philosophical babble existed in one place. The stock was completely inaccessible, from publications with a single unexplained word on each page to unclear streams of consciousness seemingly filling pages to justify the amazing cover on the front. And that's what's so frustrating - so many of the works are beautifully created with handmade covers stitched onto each leaf or folded in new ways I'd never seen before. While some higher thinkers than I would doubtless have enjoyed much on display, I think more would be interested in the funny, heartfelt, personal, creative and downright silly offerings that much of self-publishing has to offer.

And the pricing was ridiculous. The cheapest zine - about 10 sheets of ludicrousness - clocked in at about €6 and the standard price seemed to be around €15. I wanted to buy something but could see nothing of even vaguely decent value for money. Even allowing for a decent sale or return margin for the zine's creators, the prices were excessive. Over-pricing of zines is something that really irritates me. The number of times I've been at a zine fair with someone just looking to buy one or two cheaply to see if they can get into them but a bog standard one is £3 is still too much.

The majority of zinesters do not make zines to make money or even cover costs. The most important element is that people read the work so why, when they're on prime display, is there a prohibitive price tag on them? What's more, surly and shy zinesters, combined with, in Boekie Woekie's case, grumpy service (an unassuming tourist asks about an incongruous Obama lollipop to much sighing) give a passionate pastime an unfair image.

In my day job, I write about retail and constantly see large retail chains attempting to battle the forces of low cost online competition. In the zine world, those forces are even stronger and if zines are to survive long term then disappointing experiences like this should be left behind. Boekie Woekie, while outwardly bearing little resemblance of the near-named Russell Brand opus, was arrogant, over-priced and couldn't see past its own shadow. An opportunity wasted.