Sunday, 19 October 2014

A breathy Scotsman is better than any melody

Arab Strap's Love Detective pleasantly re-emerged in my head from the blue this week, but is paranoia an underused musical emotion? A few obsessive re-listens attested what the internal stereo had suggested, that this slice of weirdness - from The Red Thread and released as a single in 2001 - is compelling listening. 

The short story of a man who discovers his partner's sex diary in a red cashbox is as unusual in its delivery as its dark content. Aidan Moffat is in fine form, sounding deliberately breathy and removed he carefully delivers each sentence over an incongruously jangly, upbeat backing. 

The combination of an intriguing story and its status as just-about-a-song works well. It also makes you wonder why - despite loads of great music being made on drugs - paranoia and jealously feel under-used (with notable exceptions like Jolene, suggestions welcome). This sits among Arab Strap's finest work of their 11-year career, a mixtape stalwart and a remarkable piece of musical innovation.

Arab Strap - Love Detective (lyrics)

We slept in this morning and she had to get ready in a hurry - no time for her usual attention to detail - and she ran out the door, slamming it behind her, leaving her keys swinging and jangling. I stayed in bed until I heard the downstairs door shut, then peeked through the blinds and as soon as she was out of sight, I went for the keys. She never tried to make a secret of the box or the fact it was locked or even where she kept it. But as I said at the time - "If you've nothing to hide, why hide it?" 

It's one of those wee red cashbox things and she keeps it in a drawer by the bed, under some pictures and books. Every key she has is on the same keyring - it took me a while to find the right one. I don't know, I suppose I've had my doubts for a while. There's been hushed phone-calls virtually every night, her friends stop talking when I come in the room and they look at each other, and I don't know, it's just a feeling. Anyway, I eventually found the right key and it fitted perfectly in. I put the box on top of the bed and opened it up... 

There were these pictures of friends and ex's, letters, postcards, doodles, nothing bad - and then I found some sort of sex diary and I went to the latest entry. It explicity detailed a recent adventure up the park with a boy she said she had forgotten about... 

And it got worse as it went on. The dates never made sense, there were people I had never even heard of. Eventually I had to stop reading it because I started to feel sick. So I put everything back the way I found it, shut the drawer and phoned you. See, I don't know what to do. I keep having fantasies about leaving her dictaphone under the pillow or following her when she goes to work. I've been lying about where I'm going, just in case I can bump into her. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Iggy Pop: Seven lessons for music labels, musicians and drug addicts

The ‘godfather of punk’ Iggy Pop was lauded this week for his beguiling and amusing delivery at the fourth annual John Peel lecture in Salford, discussing “free music in a capitalist society”.
In an event marking the tenth anniversary of the legendary Radio 1 DJ’s death, the colourful former Stooges frontman laid out his view on the machinations of the music industry to an audience of its executives. Iggy has always been someone I admired for doing what he wants and the manner that fits him, an attitude which appears to be seeping out of modern music as musicians fully understand marketing techniques and their perception from day one. 
His sage advice for his audience of music advice included these highlights:
Don’t force music on the public
Pop hit out at tech giant Apple, which he chuckled that he had bought cheap shares in in 1992, over its controversial U2 giveaway. He said: “The people who don’t want the free U2 download are trying to say, ‘Don’t try to force me,’ and they’ve got a point. Part of the process when you buy something from an artist, it’s kind of an anointing, you are giving that person love.
“It’s not the only point, these are not bad guys. But now everybody is a bootlegger and not so cute as before and there are people out there just stealing stuff and saying, ‘Don’t try to force me to pay,’ and that act of thieving will become a habit, and that’s bad for everybody.”
Stay away from the drugs
A surprise piece of advice from the man who has indulged a fair bit during his 67 years on earth, Pop warned music execs off the drugs. “Stay away from drugs … and [TV] talent judges,” he chuckled. He also recounted an encounter with Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson when the music label boss first tried to sign him up. “He was very softly spoken but I’d just smoked a joint and couldn’t make a decision,” he chuckled of Branson who “created a superior culture” at Virgin during his only full-served out record contract.
Don’t expect your customers to have any morals
The gravelly-voiced Pop warned that electronic devices had “estranged people from their morals, making it easier to steal music than to pay for it”. He said of the new, digitally empowered consumer: “We are exchanging the corporate rip-off for the public one, aided by power nerds, kind of ‘computer Putins’. They just want to get rich and powerful.
“Now the biggest bands are charging insane ticket prices or giving away music before it can flop in an effort to stay huge and there is something in this huge thing that kind of sucks.”
Don’t depend on music sales
“If I had to rely on what I get from sales I’d be tending bars between sets,” he said. “The biggest bands are charging insane ticket prices or giving away music before it can flop in an effort to stay huge. And there’s something in this huge thing that kind of sucks.”
Forget the devil is in the detail
Pop described money as a ‘detail’, warning that its importance should not be overstated in being creative. “I worked half of my life for free,” said Pop. “The masters of the record industry kept complaining that I wasn’t making them any money. When it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge unimportant detail.”
He said of the music industry that it was a “pond that is wide, but very shallow. Nobody cares about anything too deeply except money. Running out of it and getting it.”
Don’t resent the downloaders
Pop claimed those searching music out for free were merely “bored” and that, while stealing is wrong, he didn’t blame those who work hard searching out art for free. “There is a general atmosphere [in the music business] of resentment, pressure, kind of strange perpetual war, and I think prosecuting some college kid because she or he shared a file is a lot like sending somebody to Australia a couple of hundred years ago for poaching his lordship’s rabbit. That’s how it must seem to poor people who just want to watch a crappy movie for free,” he said.
Don’t be a music industry executive
Pop risked alienating his audience with a broadside against their type. He said of music industry execs: “You don’t want to know these guys. They usually come over from legal or accounting, they’re thinking of number one. Avoid them, if you’re an artist, they will make you feel good or suicidal.

"They can also make you really, really ubiquitous. When the company is your banker they will make you the Beverly Hill Hillbillies.”

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Column: The greatest musical transport stunts of all time

Few things are more enjoyable than trying to fit lots of colourful events into just 150 words, luckily this was what the Independent tasked me to do, with the below result:

Aphex Twin’s return after 13 years caused a buzz loud enough for Richard D James himself to sample. Not just because of the album Syro's musical content, but its marketing tactics. James floated a blimp featuring his logo over London and on a New York sidewalk. 

He joined an illustrious musical crowd in harnessing transport to exhilarate the masses. Pink Floyd flew a pig over Battersea Power Station in 2011 to emulate the cover of Animals (an original attempt in 1976 flew away) while Sony sailed a 10-metre-high Michael Jackson statue down the Thames in 1995. 
The Sex Pistols also took to the capital’s waterway to heighten the buzz around “God Save the Queen” in the Silver Jubilee summer, and their entourage were promptly arrested. Worth thinking carefully before that Hammond organ unicycle stunt, then.
Have I missed one? Please comment below or tweet me @alexshadowplay to let me know.

The column as it originally appeared in The Independent's Saturday magazine