Midyear New Music (Part Five) – Marco Mahler

One of the recurring themes of this blog is the future revenue generation and monetisation of musical product in the post-BitTorrent world. Or, in non-bullshit speak, “Holy Fuck How Are We Going To Make A Living When Everyone Can Download This Shit For Free”.

Because, dear Reader, I want the people who make the music that I love to be able to make a living out of it1. This is, as you might have heard, apparently getting harder and harder. Penniless musicians are forced out onto the street to make a living selling pegs and doing little, humiliating dances to beg for coins from reluctant passers-by. They are, you know. I saw that Bono at Green Park tube the other day, doing a jig whilst dressed as a leprachaun. At least, I think it was Bono.

We’re in the middle of one of the biggest changes in a creative industry since some German bloke went “Oi! You monks! Put down your quills, I’ve invented this clever contraption that can do your job for you in a hundredth of the time and for a thousandth of the cost!”. And the monks went “You git, that’s our livelihood gone. Right, we’re off to invent Buckfast, thereby giving Scottish tramps something to drink that isn’t meths”. All the fuss around music blogs getting shut down centres around one issue – how to make money now the cat’s out of the bag.

All of which brings me long-windedly to Marco Mahler. Another Folktronica type fellow, he’s struck upon the idea of asking people to sign up to his club, where he’ll send you a new track every week2. This might be a demo, a live version, or a whole new song. This kind of thing doesn’t cost much to set up and it’s a great way of growing a fan base and making you feel part of a community. It helps too that he’s a talented musician with a good new album out (“Laptop Campfire Speed” – reviewed here by My Old Kentucky Blog). Marco’s songs, as you’d expect from the title, are put together on a laptop with little licks on an acoustic laid on top, with his laconic, often spoken-word singing glueing everything together with a charming, late-night sitting around the campfire feel.

You Need To Get That Screen Seen To, Mate

Now I really don’t like the phrase “chillout music” as it brings up the horrible spectre of nasty, pseudo-trendy bars playing bloody Groove Armada, but this ranks alongside this year’s The Radio Dept and last year’s Bibio as just the kind of thing to listen to when you don’t fancy having to sit through some challenging tunes in 13/9 time. The word nice is usually sneered at, but frankly, this album is damned nice. Trust me on this, a 45 minute journey in a steaming hot Tube train is made much more pleasant with this record.

The other point to make about all this is how easy (and cheap) it is to go and make your own music, and make it sound great. You can do it with the cheapest Mac out there, which comes with Garageband, or you can go the PC route. Either way, for less than a grand (pounds, dollars, or Euros, takes yer pick), you can have a setup that’ll let your record 24-track near-pro quality tunes, add all the effects under the sun, mix them, burn them to CD or bung them up on your website. Which you can design and build using the same kit. You don’t need an expensive studio. You don’t need expensive marketing. Just do it. Yes, people have been saying it for years, but now it’s got so damn cheap anyone with a modicum of skill can make music.

Whether you can make music as good as Marco Mahler here, well, that’s not so easy.

1 I also, and this doesn’t come across quite so often, want the people who provide the ancillary services to make money too, but as I’ve never had my heart and soul transported to heaven by a particularly deft piece of music publishing, I generally don’t find it as interesting to talk about.

2 There’s been similar things done by other artists, such as Iron And Wine releasing acoustic versions of his songs for free on the web, and Marillion getting people to pay for them recording their new album. I’ll leave the obvious gag well alone.

MP3: I’ll Just Find A Million Other Things To Do by Marco Mahler

You can buy the album direct from Marco Mahler’s website.

Midyear New Music (Part Four) – Meursault

I’ve been meaning to write about Meursault for ages. Partly because they are, you know, really dead good and that; partly because they’ve released an album which I’ve been very much enjoyed this past few months (All Creatures Will Make Merry), and partly because their records are released by a reasonably well-known Scottish music blog, Song, by Toad. Old Toady’s one of my favourite reads out there, because, well, he’s a sweary fucker and has a good taste in music. What more can you ask for, eh?

Anyway, Meursault have finally been getting the press they and their dramatic “Folktronica getting duffed up in an alley by assorted members of The Twilight Sad” music deserves. I’ve been wanting to write all sorts of things about them; about how music blogs can not only help promote bands like Meursault, but it can even release their records; how this could be a fantastic new model for new bands, avoiding the contractual handcuffs and horrendous business practices of the mainstream music industry; the way that bloggers chatting to each other on their special secret forums can bypass the white noise of incessant publicist emails1; and how there’s some great music coming from Scotland right now.

And then I thought, “Oh for fuck’s sake, it’s been three fucking months with you thinking about what to write, trying to do it justice and all, just post the fucking thing and get on with writing a fucking Pitchfork post”. So here it is. Buy it direct from Song, By Toad Records here. If this record isn’t worth a tenner, I don’t know what is.

1 Not that I mind incessant publicist emails; I quite enjoy them, and I’ve had some brilliant music sent to me. It’s just hard to find the time to go through them all.

MP3: Crank Resolutions by Meursault


I’ve been reading quite a bit lately (as opposed to writing, heh). In amongst the books on the politics of modern Country music (Rednecks and Bluenecks) and 1000 page histories of the 30 Years War (yes, really, and I’ve had a great idea on an article comparing the Spanish empire of the early 17th Century with the current Barcelona team. Yes, really), I’ve been getting through the mountain of magazines lying around the house.

Yesterday, I read an article in The Atlantic magazine about how “freeloaders” were killing the music industry (see here). Today, in Word magazine, I read an amusing interview with Louise Wener, the winsome singer of mid-90’s almost-rans Sleeper1. In said interview, she made the statement that although they sold more than half a million records, they never made a penny from record sales.

So, here’s a little question to Megan McArdle. What’s so great about an industry which, when one of the producers makes you the best part of £5m from record sales alone (let alone merchandising, gigs etc), you don’t pay them a penny? And this is an industry which anyone thinks should be saved in its current form? Whilst some of the revenue is of course spent on making videos, pressing and distributing the records etc, a huge chunk goes into a massive black hole comprising of executive’s salaries and bonuses. You think banking is bad? They’ve got nothing on this lot. And I know, I’ve worked in banking for years (as an IT guy, before you get any ideas about me being some multi-millionaire).

The business is full of bands who sold tons of records and were household names, at least for a time, being chewed up and spat out with nothing to show for it but a huge debt, alcoholism and a particularly unpleasant collection of STD’s. It’s an industry that doesn’t pay the people who matter – the artists. Maybe it’s good to be reminded of what we’re trying to do here, with this blogging thing – bringing some of the control of music back to those who make it. Aren’t we?

1 And the inspiration of the term “Sleeperbloke”, as in, the blokes who play drums and bass and sometimes guitar, behind a charismatic, usually female, singer. Ironically enough, Sleeper guitarist Jon Stewart has been a successful session musician, lectures at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music and writes an entertaining column for Guitarist magazine, making him rather more visible than the bloke that played bass in Echobelly and the drummer of Elastica.

MP3: Inbetweener by Sleeper

Buy Sleeper’s Greatest Hits (CD/MP3)

Midyear New Music (Part Three) – Dissociates

I’ve been busy. And, if truth be told, I’ve got a bit of writers block. Much as I love doing this blog, the bit of my brain that gets the rest of me moving and writing and thinking of interesting things to say has been staring out of the window listlessly for the past week. And I’ve got tons to write about too – two Pitchfork articles, an article about Pavement and Supergrass, and all sorts of other stuff.

But my brain keeps going “Meh. Go and play Uncharted 2 instead. Or watch the World Cup.”. So here we are. Saying all that, I did hear a marvellous bit of angry, angsty, messed up rawk the other day and feel compelled to share. Hailing from London, Engerland, The Dissociates chuck At The Drive-In, Mission Of Burma, and tons of other stuff, mix it in a big vat, and out comes this. It’s all over the place, in a good way.

Check out their EP, “Waiting For The Backlash”, here. You can download it for free. Isn’t the Internet great?

MP3: Left Of Centre by The Dissociates

Totally Wire-d

Music, in case you hadn’t read the memo, is as much about tribalism as anything else. Some music – like gospel, Welsh close-harmony singing – brings people together. Others, such as the massed choirs of football fans, or genres like Emo and Oi, are as much about separating a group of people from their peers. The reunions of The Pixies and Pavement brought a tribe of people together that had been busy getting on in life as middle managers and thrust them back to their sweaty, confused adolescence and made them rejoice in their lost youth; and unambigous pleasure in these brittle days.

So where does that leave a band like Wire? A band who, in the late seventies, did as much to change modern music as anyone you could care to mention? A band who took punk and twisted it, adding odd little tunes and a bloodyminded cleverness that’s been the template for middle-class rebellion ever since? A band who showed the way out of the straitjacket of three-chord thrashes and anger and guided everyone, however unwillingly, toward post-punk? In a half-empty Garage, that’s where.

I've Forgotten The Words!

The tribe here is balding, greying, and largely a-paunched. I feel young, which is a rare experience for me these days. And this is a band that’s setting up their own rig. Whether this is part of their infamous curmudgeonness or the aged’s way of never spending a penny1 when it can be avoided, but you must wonder if they think to themselves “Shit, I never thought I’d still be doing this after 34 years. Still, at least the crowd aren’t spitting at us these days”. Only because if we tried we’d run the risk of losing our dentures.

And the band are on marvellously belligerent mood. Aside from a number of disparaging comments about our “Mojo” (the night being sponsored by Mojo magazine, who quite frankly would have run a mile from this lot back in the late ’70’s, clutching their Rush albums), the general atmosphere is that the band started out being sarcastic fuckers, and they aren’t going to stop now they’ve grown up a bit. Or a lot. Frankly, it’s refreshing. So many of our heroes have reformed and are gushing with pleasure at the whole affair that there is a certain amount of joy to be had when a band comes along that looks like they’d rather take us up the nearest alley, do unspeakably nasty things to us then give us a good shoeing.

Two Page Setlist

The crowd are more than happy to heckle. On introducing their rather young and hirsute replacement guitarist, Matt, someone yells “He’s nicked all your hair!”. The rest of the band pretend to ignore this. Requests are met with shakes of the head and the occasional sarcastic comment, ending in “These requests? It’s just general British blokes shouting. “OI OI OI””. After opening with a new song, the response from the crowd is positive, and met with “Your reward is another new song”. Charmed, I’m sure.

Of course there’s a huge amount of pantomine to this. You can tell they are loving being up there, and the fact that their set features a healthy number of tracks from their initial triumvate of records shows that. This is, of course, the band that took a covers band as support on a tour in the 80’s, so they wouldn’t have to play any of their old material themselves. You don’t see Oasis doing that (not that you’d notice, but hey ho). Age certainly hasn’t calmed the early tracks either; they tear through “106 Beats That” and “12XU” like they were at the 100 Club; only the sight of Graham Lewis wearing glasses with those stringy bits brings you back to the present.

Crowd-pleasing came in the form of “Kidney Bingos”, prompting something of a singalong, but didn’t extend to “Outdoor Miner” (boo!), despite a number of increasingly desperate pleas. “Map Ref. 41N 93W” does feature, thankfully, and we should be thankful there’s some old songs thrown in amongst the new material.

Getting Too Old For This

Live staple “Drill” was a well-drilled (sorry) motorik chug, “German Shepherds” was another well-chosed gem from their most tuneful period, and “One Of Us” showed they’ve lost nothing of their anger in their newer songs; like the other new tracks on display tonight, they definitely hark back to their 70’s period rather than to the mid-80’s records like “A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck”. Which is a shame for me, since that’s the era that I most like. Yes, I know that’s not the common wisdom, but what do I care?

Four encores later, off went the Wire tribe into the night, warmed through to their core with the shared memory of singing that immortal chorus to “Kidney Bingos”, “Money spines, paper lung\Kidney bingos organ fun”. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This lot don’t need new tricks; the old ones still blow the young kids away. Just a shame there weren’t more of them here to see how it’s properly done.

1 Stop sniggering at the back.

MP3: Kidney Bingos by Wire

MP3: Map Ref. 41N 93W by Wire

MP3: Outdoor Miner by Wire

Buy “Chairs Missing: Remastered” (CD)

Buy “154: Remastered” (CD/MP3)

Buy “A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck” (CD)

Midyear New Music (Part Two) – Club 8

“Right, here’s another chirpy indie-pop number from Sweden”
“Sweden? Again? All you ever bloody write about is bloody chirpy indie-pop from Sweden
“That’s not true. I write about plenty of other bands. Like Mew, for example”
“Mew? They are from Copen-bloody-hagen. If you go to the top of the Carlsberg building you can see bloody Sweden”
“Ok, Metric?”
“She looks a bit Swedish”
“That doesn’t count! Anyway, this lot, called Club 8, have made this lovely afro-beat tinged single called “Shape Up”. It’s great”
“Yes, it might be great, but it’s still bloody Swedish. Pack it in”
“No! I like Swedish music. It’s certainly better than the dross coming from Britain at the moment. It’s like they still haven’t got over The Bloody Libertines yet. Or it’s all annoying shouty electro-pop which sounds like some early-90’s Agit-prop band falling down the stairs.”
“Fair point. But no more Swedes, ok?”
“Oh…ok….” *hides the Sambassadeur record*

MP3: Shape Up! by Club 8

Buy “The People’s Record” (CD/MP3)

Midyear New Music (Part One) – Tonspender

Back in January, I did a series of posts of new music called, unoriginally, New Year New Music. As I’ve been ignoring both this blog and my inbox over the past month due to Crappy Real Life Issues, everything’s kind of backed up a bit, and as the Crappy Real Life Issues are now slowly getting resolved, I thought it’d be nice to post some new music.

First off, here’s a German chappie called Tonspender, who, as far as I can tell, makes lovely fuzzy electronic music not hugely dissimilar to that old Dutch fella, Speedy J, who I was a huge fan of back in the day. Have a listen to his track “Broken Boy” below, and check out more on his My Space page. Well worth ten minutes of your time, I’d say.

Tomorrow (or possibly Saturday), the next post will be Oh God Not More Bloody Swedish Bloody Music.

MP3: Broken Boy by Tonspender

Inappropriate Songs (Part 313 of an ongoing series)

Recently, my new iPhone was stolen and as a result, I’ve had to go back to my old one, which I’d previously given to my son. Unfortunately, I hadn’t removed my old songs from it and as a result, he’s been happily playing my music. Which, on the whole, is a lovely thing. We had a joyful moment walking down the road today with him holding the old black phone, blaring out The Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday In Cambodia”.

He’s four.

But whilst him listening to Motorhead and Bad Brains and the like is all well and good, there are a few albums that I’m not so sure he should really be listening to. One is Robyn’s new album, which opens with “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do”. More than once in the past few weeks I’ve wandered into a room to find him playing the opening to the next track, “Fembot” and singing along. Which usually means he’s already got bored with the preceding track having sung his little heart out to it.

“Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do” is no longer on my iPhone. “Fembot” might drop off soon too, as soon as I get round to listening to the words properly…

And the album? It’s alright, you know.

MP3: Fembot by Robyn

Pre-Order “Body Talk (Part 1)” by Robyn