New Music – Arctic Monkeys and Chateau Laut (Again)

I’m so behind the times. Mucking around on the web last night, I found the video for the new Arctic Monkeys1 song. And I thought, “Oooh, a new song, I’ll bung it on the site in the next couple of days. Nice to have something new and fresh”. This morning, getting more info from the ever-reliable Wikipedia, I discover that it’s been out a month.

A month.

So whenever I say that I’m not very good at being up to date, you can refer back to this article. A month for the new Arctic Munkehs song. Sheesh. Still, the song isn’t released in physical form until August 17th, which gives me a bit of an excuse.

An Arctic Monkey Relaxing With A Nice Cup Of Tea

An Arctic Monkey Relaxing With A Nice Cup Of Tea

“So, dreadfully slow blog type person, what’s the song like then?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s not quite as brutal as “Brianstorm”, not quite as frenetic as “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”; in comparison it’s almost relaxed. Or at least as relaxed as anything to do with über-rock god Josh Homme is ever going to be. If anything I’d call it mid-tempo oompah-inflected stomper. Sort of. I like it though.

On another note, I posted something by Berliners2 Chateau Laut last night, but the ID tagging went a bit odd so it appears in Hype Machine as “Chteau Laut”. So here it is again, so people should be able to find their unique brand of bonkers noisiness far more easily (and I hope they do, they’re fab). If you’re forming a band, don’t use umlauts or circumflexes or any other type of accent because the brave new world of music aggregators will just ignore you3



Oh, and you can buy the Chateau Laut album here or here. Go on, do it.

1 Is it just me that always thinks of them of the Arctic Munkehs?

2 Yes, yes, I know Berliners aren’t really called Berliners, but I was reminded of that classic Simpsons moment when Mayor Quimby steps up to the microphone and says “I am a jelly donut”. Sadly, I can’t find a clip on YouTube. Stupid Fox.

3 If you’re bored, go to Hype Machine and do a search for “Hsker D”. At least it’s not just me. I do love Hype Machine (and, but I wish ‘puters were better at dealing with the intricacies of European languages. I’ve spent enough time living in Germany and Switzerland to know how to get umlauts – I just wish file formats were better at handling them. Sigh.4

4 I do, of course, realise that these footnotes are longer than the blog post itself. It’s my tribute to David Foster Wallace.

MP3: Crying Lightning by Arctic Monkeys

MP3: Song for Ape Sue – Chateau Laut

Pre-Order “Humbug” (CD/MP3)

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The Pitchfork 500 The Old Skool Revolution – Flash to Flash

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel
Funky 4+1 – That’s The Joint
Kraftwerk – Numbers/Computer World 2
Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – The Message

1981 saw the release of one of those landmark records, without which modern music could potentially have been very different. The idea was simple – use the cut-up techniques that had previously been explored by people such as Cabaret Voltaire and Buchanan and Goodman, and apply them to hip-hop. The result was mind-blowing.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” (praise the Lord for copy & paste) was that record. Listen to it today, nearly 30 years after its release, and you’re first struck by how modern it sounds. Like some other revolutionary records (like “Marquee Moon” or “This Charming Man”), it hasn’t dated one little bit. It kicks off with a sample of Blondie’s “Rapture” – a song by a New York band released in 1980, which was influenced by the house parties and clubs in the Bronx in 1979. This record was released in 1981. That’s how fresh it was. Then the bassline from “Good Times” and “Another One Bites The Dust” kick in, alternately, and then the scratching starts.

I wonder how many people in 1981, when they first heard this played, thought the record was skipping. John Peel must have had a heart attack1. Nothing like it had really been heard before on a commercial record – you could argue that some of Throbbing Gristle’s music was pretty shocking, but it certainly wasn’t out there to be liked. The rest of the song continues in the same way; constantly shifting, cutting bits of records in and out, with samples of old radio and movies, and all sorts of bits and bobs, with each new part introduced with some furious scratching. Four minutes in, he even throws in Sugarhill Gang’s “8th Wonder”.

Dear oh dear

Dear oh dear

That’s not to say that DJ’s at parties all over the Bronx hadn’t been scratching and mixing together records for years – they had. But none of them had used their prodigious skills to create a masterpiece, so Grandmaster Flash had the field to himself. Ironically, he wasn’t really a party DJ, more of a bedroom geek, by his own admission his friends thought he was a “dork”. And rather than spending hours on his own in his bedroom with his guitar, like so many other musically obsessed youngsters, he did it with some decks – the titular wheels of steel. Even now he’s obsessed with needles, the torque of the drive motor, and the weight of the platter. He was the inspiration for a whole new breed of musicians; those that instead of playing other people’s music and using them to build their own music, using guitar, or bass, or keyboards; no, they’d just take that music direct from the record and cut it together, sometimes using a rudimentary drum machine to provide the rhythm section. This record spoke to you, and it said, all you need are some decks, a good musical intuition and imagination. That’s it. Go and do it yourself.

It was a more revolutionary record than “God Save The Queen” 5 years earlier, and it changed music for ever. And what’s more, this was a big, shiny, pop song, and it was a massive hit. Hip-hop, and popular music, would never be the same again.

If you want to hear the sound of a Bronx party of the late ’70’s, then Funky 4+1’s “That’s The Joint” is the one. Unlike Grandmaster Flash or Sugarhill Gang, this lot were the real deal – proper party rappers, making a proper party hip-hop record. And as you’d expect, it’s a party tune, full of shout-outs and exhortations to just go and enjoy yourself. Made after their move to Sugar Hill Records, Funky 4+1 (the +1 being female rapper Sha Rock) never followed up their success with this record; amazing, given their obvious talent on this record.

Kraftwerk, meanwhile, were starting to sound dated. The initial shock of their astonishing ’70’s albums had given way to familiarity, and with it, a sense that they’d lost their edge. But they hit back with “Computer World”, which was about, er, computers. Home computers, pocket calculators, and how much fun it was to use computers. And pocket calculators. These crazy Germans, eh?

The two tracks on offer here2 both feature Kraftwerk intoning numbers 1 to 8 in a variety of foreign languages, over the classic Kraftwerk electronic beats and keyboards. As I’ve talked quite a bit about Kraftwerk before and their influence on modern music, so I won’t go on at length again. But I will share another funny story, after this fantastic live version:

Kraftwerk were, and still are for that matter, notoriously secretive. Their studio location in Dusseldorf was a closely guarded secret. They would not meet journalists in person, so getting an interview was very tough. One journo was given a phone number and an instruction to call at 10am, on the dot – not one minute later or earlier. He rang the number and it was answered after one ring by a member of the band, who then went on to explain that the phone did not have a ring tone, so the band would not be disturbed. If he’d called late they wouldn’t have known the phone was ringing.

Within a couple of seconds of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” you can hear Kraftwerk’s influence. The track kicks off after the initial (hugely-sampled) “Yeeeah!” with a sped-up, cut-up version of “Trans-Europe Express”, which underpins the whole track. Whilst “Adventures…” continually cut between songs, “Planet Rock” sticks to the same tune, adding layers on top, with rappers Soulsonic Force telling you to “Rock it, don’t stop it”. Again, it’s pure party music, but this time it’s reaching out to the whole wide world, and it’s using electronic beats to pass on its message. Another absolutely revolutionary song.

And finally, yet another revolution. Hip-hop, until Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message”, had largely concerned itself with partying and saying how great they were, and nothing wrong with that. But Melle Mel wanted to tell the world about the real life they lived in – the deprivation, the violence, and the squalor. So he and Ed Fletcher (otherwise known as “Duke Bootee”) wrote “The Message”, which the rest of the band, Grandmaster Flash included, wanted nothing to do with3.

“The Message” is a sad, desperate social commentary. With its chorus of “Don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge\I’m trying not to loose my head\It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder\How I keep from goin’ under”, followed by a strange, mad grunting laugh, Melle Mel leaves you with no illusions about what party songs like “Planet Rock” and “That’s The Joint” were trying to make people forget. Over Fletcher’s slowly funky beats, with their incipient paranoia, he talks about “Rats in the front room, roaches in the back\Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat” and “People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care”. And that’s just the first verse. Cheery stuff.

This took urban American music back to the social commentary of Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott-Heron, but with much of the soul replaced with a hard-edged anger, reflecting the violence and ugliness of everyday ghetto existence. Everything from Public Enemy and NWA, to 50 Cent would stem from here. Rap was now a force for reporting the bad times, not just selling the good times. It’s a battle that’s still going on today.

1 Yes, I know. But I’d bet you Peely would agree with me, and he probably did when he played it. I grew up with the sound of him putting records on at the wrong speed, or with fluff on the needle so the record skipped, or the time the needle slid all the way to the middle whilst he was in the loo, so we were treated to three minutes of a faint scuffling sound. I miss John Peel very, very much. *sniff*

2 And no, I don’t know why Pitchfork suddenly decided to allow two tracks on here and treat them as one. Yes, the seque into one another, but that doesn’t make them one track. They are two separate tracks on the album. But they’d often play them live together. Hmm. I’m confused.

3 Which does beg the question – why didn’t Melle Mel and Ed Fletcher just release it separately?

MP3: The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels Of Steel by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

MP3: Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa

Buy “The Essential Grandmaster Flash” Here (CD)

Buy Funky 4+1’s “Back To The Old School 2 – That’s The Joint” (CD Box Set)

Buy Kraftwerk’s “Computer World” (MP3)

Buy Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” (MP3)

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Pitchfork 500 – Bowie to Smith

So, here goes, the first proper part of me listening to The Pitchfork 500 so hardly anyone can read it.

As a quick precis, Pitchfork (highly regarded and influential yet somewhat snobby music website), released a book toward the end of last year, detailing the greatest 500 songs from 1977 to 2007. And I’m going to listen to them all and comment on some of them.

This is also a rather long post – over 1200 words. Sorry. But there are some gags at the bottom.

First off, David Bowie’s Heroes. When I was a kid, David Bowie was a hugely popular yet deeply odd pop star. The “Ashes To Ashes” video is still burned into my retina, especially the bit where they walk in front of the digger:

And so, first track in, I’ve got two points to make. Firstly, Heroes is the wrong song. Yes, it’s good and everything; I can understand that’s a link between the Beach Boys and Krautrock; the production is amazing – with so much happening at once it’s impossible to take in for the first, ooh, ten listens – but it’s the wrong song. Ashes To Ashes is a far finer song, infinitely creepy, lyrically superb, marvellously evocative of a man on the edge, and I’ll bet if you walked up to the man in the street* and asked him to sing a Bowie song, it’d be Ashes To Ashes. I’ll be coming back to this point throughout the list.

Which leads me onto the second point. Whilst I can’t argue with the list as a whole – there will always be omissions, changes, etc – I’ll bet you that anyone can hum the tune to at least two or three of the first five songs on the list:

David Bowie – Heroes
Iggy Pop – The Passenger
Lou Reed – Street Hassle
Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
Brian Eno – 1/1

But I’ll bet you $10m that hardly anyone, even someone working in Rough Trade, wouldn’t be able to hum two or three out of five of the last songs on the list:

Hot Chip – Boy from School
Animal Collective – Grass
Black Dice – Cone Toaster
Liars – The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack
Panda Bear – Bros

I mean, I’ve got a pretty reasonable grasp of modern alternative music (or I wouldn’t be doing this) but I haven’t got a clue how two of these songs go. I doubt I’ve even heard them.

Now maybe this is thanks to the atomisation, Balkanisation, whatever of modern music. There are so few shared experiences in music any more – just about the last UK No. 1 that everyone can sing along to was a charity song by Peter Kay (“Show Me The Way To Amarillo”). And that’s going back a couple of years. But ask anyone in their mid-30’s or above to sing David Bowie, or Iggy Pop, or Lou Reed, or Talking Heads, and you’ll get a pretty decent response. And these, even thirty years later, are challenging, brave, fascinating songs. And they all seriously bothered the charts. Now? Nada. Ok, so Girls Aloud do some bonkers things in their songs – how many songs in one? – but they are the exception in modern, pop, high-selling music.

Maybe it’s just that the Pitchfork team have got more and more snooty over time, and aren’t viewing the present with the same populist spectacles as they view the past. I mean, there’s no Girls Aloud.

Anyway, that’s Bowie over and done with.

Before we go any further, I’ll just say that I won’t talk that much about every single song, or I may as well start a book myself.

So the next few, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, yep, great songs, though I always thought Lou Reed was a bit of a cock. Then Kraftwerk. Fuck me, total genius. What more is there to say? Actually, quite a bit more, but I’ll come back to this later.

Brian Eno – baldy slaphead invents Ambient music and does it better than 99% of the people that follow him. Actually make that 99.9%.

The Ramones – wonderful. But possibly the wrong song. Beat on the Brat?

Talking Heads – wonderful, again. Big suit! Loon! Their best song (along with Once In A Lifetime)! Far too clever for pop music! What do you mean, there’s three more of their songs on this list? Jebus.

And then, it’s Television’s Marquee Moon.

Where to start? Well, I’ve no idea what it’s about (and it seems like no-one does). It goes on for 10 minutes, of which about five are a guitar solo, which to a child of the punk wars like me, is heresy. The song is sneered rather than sung. It’s bonkers. But I still can’t stop listening to it. Put simply, it’s fucking genius. Everyone from New Order, The Fall, Sonic Youth, The Smiths (you can really pick up Verlaine’s blend of precision and emotion in Johnny Marr’s playing), through to Radiohead and, well, any half-decent band of the last five years, has got this in their DNA.

Why? I told you, it’s fucking genius.

It mixes simplicity and complexity. It sounds fresh every time you hear it. The guitar lines interweave like the finest Persian carpet. There’s not an ounce of fat on it. The lyrics are bizarre, enigmatic, and draw you in, trying to decipher them (“Life in the hive puckered up my night/The kiss of death, the embrace of life/There I stand ‘neath the Marquee Moon” – dude, WTF?). The deftness of both Verlaine and Lloyd’s guitar playing – listen to the lead line between the verse and chorus, there’s a tiny bit of vibrato on the first ascending line then it’s played totally straight on the repeat, each time; a wonderful bit of texture, and exactly the kind of thing that makes me keep listening, and I can point out all sorts of bits like this, all the way through. Yes, it goes on, but it never once feels like it’s 10 minutes long. And it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

For me, and I strongly suspect the bands above, this is our Beatles, our Stones, our Dylan, our Led Zep. Much of the music you’ll find posted on the infinite set of music blogs stems from this one song, and Kraftwerk, and possibly a bit of Velvet Underground. Like Kraftwerk, it owes next to nothing from what preceded it. I once read somewhere that Marquee Moon was the first rock song that had nothing to do with the blues tradition and I think that’s nearly right (not that I’ve got anything against the blues tradition); in many ways it’s comes more from jazz and even classical music. It’s just bizarre. As are Kraftwerk. Speaking of whom, they once told an interviewer that they in fact were huge fans of Iggy Pop and were simply trying to make music, using electronics, that sounded like him. I suspect that’s an example of the famous German sense of humour**. In any case, like Marquee Moon, Trans Europe Express still sounds fresh and alive. Wonderful stuff.

And for both bands, probably their best song (though Venus and The Model respectively are very close).

As for Patti Smith, cor, she doesn’t half sound like that PJ Harvey.

Phew. I’ll try to keep the next one shorter. Which will be PUNK! And why I hate The Clash.

*I do rather like that John Lydon quote “I’ve met the man in the street and he’s a cunt”

**My favourite joke I heard in Germany was “What’s the definition of an Austrian? A German with no sense of humour”. It’s funny on so many levels.

Trans Europe Express by Kraftwerk

Marquee Moon by Television

The whole list is available here.