26 August 2014

Billy Corgan - AEGEA

AEGEA by Billy Corgan

AEGEA is a private press release from Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan. The version that I have is the third pressing, which is a lavender coloured 12 inch record with music on both sides of the vinyl. The third pressing is a one disc release as opposed to the a two-disc set that the previous versions where. The first two pressings where on aqua and red coloured vinyl, respectively. My third pressing of AEGEA is numbered 680 out of 1000. 

Interest in the record could be registered via the Smashing Pumpkins website, and then an email was sent to those who had registered containing a link to a webpage where the record could be ordered from. The record was sold and distributed via Billy Corgan's teashop in Chicago called Madame Zuzu's Tea House. 

AEGEA by Billy Corgan

This release really has been a DIY effort and may be a direction Billy Corgan will want to pursue for releasing music in the future - keeping the production and distribution in-house and delivering it directly to fans without the need to go through record labels. 

After placing my order I had to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive as it was being posted to the UK. 

The music was recorded by Billy Corgan in 2007 during a period of recording that took place just before the reunited Smashing Pumpkins made their first live appearance (22 May in Paris) after they originally split in December 2000. 

AEGEA by Billy Corgan

Consisting of pieces of experimental electronic music, the focus of the tracks is on creating textures and moods rather than actual melodies or what could be called 'proper songs'. It is ambient and ghostly, with notes drifting, shifting shape, before evaporating in to nothingness. There's a meditative quality running throughout and it feels like the music is moving along organically and not being forced in to any particular direction. 

Is it indulgent? Of course it is, this is Billy Corgan we are talking about. I'm not really sure who this will appeal to apart from Billy Corgan/Smashing Pumpkins fans who want to collect everything that he puts out. This is a very niche sounding record and is far removed from his work with Smashing Pumpkins (and Zwan) as you can imagine. But I admire him for releasing something (however limited) in to the wider world that is so uncharacteristic of the music that he is more commonly known to make. 

AEGEA by Billy Corgan

Apologies for the quality of the photographs that I have uploaded here. I've posted them for reference and my iPhone lense is shamefully dirty. 

If you wanted to listen to the music of AEGEA without trying to get your hands on a copy of the record, it has been uploaded to YouTube accompanied by some appropriately murky visuals. You can view/listen below:

Billy Corgan Facebook
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25 August 2014

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany
My own introduction to Krautrock probably came via listening to Kraftwerk. Like The Beatles, Kraftwerk's music has always felt like it has always just been around, as if it has always existed and appeared fully formed not attached to any kind of time or place; their robotic tentacles have infiltrated and shaped so much modern music, that it's hard to escape their influence. 

It's Kraftwerk whose presence looms large over this book as one of the very few Krautrock bands from 1970s Germany to break out of the scene and make it internationally during their hey-day. Many of the other bands at the time didn't really gain any kind of recognition, aside from a few music press types, until 20 or 30 years later. 

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs charts the the rise of a certain type of experimental band that cropped-up throughout Germany in the late 1960s and early 70s who became tagged as 'Krautrock' by the Western music press. 

Stubbs attempts to frame the movement within a social and historical context, and although this does make for some meandering narrative at times (the overwhelming length of the prologue is enough to put you off from reading the rest of the book), the book does make a worthy effort to try and understand just how these bands came about and why it too so long for their influence to take hold. 

The book is divided into chapters that focus on individual bands or scenes. Therefore we get sections that focus on Can, Kraftwerk, Amon Duul 2, Faust, Neu!, Cluster, the bands of the Berlin scene such as Tangerine Dream, plus David Bowie's involvement and interest in much of this experimental German music at the tail end of the 70's, with Stubbs explaining in a very enthused way how these bands came about and just how different and exciting their music was. 

The music that became known as Krautrock was unlike anything else that came before it and was unique to Germany - which that was the point. As Future Days goes in to great detail explaining, all of these bands came about because the musicians wanted to create a new culture, a fresh-identity for a post-war Germany, one that didn't take from the West, specifically America. 

What was also unique about Krautrock was that it wasn't a scene based around particular city, venue or sound. Many of these bands formed independently from one another, but everyone involved happened to have similar mindset and goals - To create something new. 

Stubbs explains how these disparate groups created their unique music, fitting the groups in to the culture of the times, while drawing a line to much of the popular modern music we listen to today and how it has been shaped by the gradually percolating influence of Krautrock. If this does make the text and narrative somewhat cumbersome at times, you do feel that there is too much attempting to contextualise at points, the book does a rewarding job of explaining where this music fits in to modern musical culture. 

This is a well researched book, Stubbs getting time to speak to many of the people who are involved in this music first hand, and his passion for the music is obvious throughout. From a personal point of view, the chapter on Kraftwerk is some of the best writing about Kraftwerk I've ever read, and he eloquently states just how much their music changed the music landscape creating the foundation for modern pop and hip hop. 

The text and narrative may feel sprawling in places, but David Stubbs makes a good effort of a difficult task - explaining the rise of these various groups who were very different from each other. For a good overview and introduction to a scene whose influence wouldn't break through in to the mainstream conscious until 30 years after it came and went, it feels like an essential read and will no doubt become a standard text for people wanting to learn more about Krautrock alongside Julian Cope's influential Krautrocksampler. 

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs is out via Faber & Faber. 

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22 August 2014

LeftLion Kickstarter Campaign

I have been involved with LeftLion since 2005 when I started penning gig reviews and interviews as something to do when I returned back to Nottingham after university. It was a great way off re-introducing myself to what the city has to offer, as well a good way to continue writing since I had been involved in my uni magazine and wanted to continue to do something similar. LeftLion gave me that opportunity. I eventually got more involved and ended up as Music Editor, a role that I have held with the magazine since roughly October 2008 (I think) - dates are a little bit blurry and I think there was a gradual 'easing in' process. 

LeftLion does a remarkable job of promoting Nottingham culture to a wider audience, and myself, along with loads of other much more talented contributors, have worked our balls-off for nothing and often working around full-time jobs to put it together.

The magazine is distributed for free around the city and up until this point has been published every two months. But from the next issue (which will be issue #61) onwards we plan to take it monthly. To go monthly LeftLion needs a helping hand. 

To mark 10 years as a magazine (LeftLion was founded in 2003 and the website has been going since then, with the magazine coming a year later) we have launched a Kickstarter campaign to give us a helping hand in going monthly. 

We are looking to raise £10,000 to help with the costs of producing an extra five magazines over the next year. Not a penny will be going to anyone involved in the mag, it'll all be going towards the printing and distribution. 

You don't need to give loads of money. If everyone who read the magazine simply gave a quid to the campaign it would easily make its target. 

There are loads of rewards available, from a simple mention on LeftLion's social networks through to loads of signed goods, a band playing in your living room, being on the cover and even becoming honourary 'LeftLion President' if you stump up the big figures. 

As I type this, there has been 135 backers and £4,629 raised with 29 days to go. 

Please take a look at the LeftLion Kickstarter page.


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Quoted By The Fish Police

This is exciting and very rarely happens. One of my gig reviews have been used as a quote by the band I was writing about. Currently, The Fish Police are using a banner on their website that uses a quote pulled from my review of their show at Nottingham Contemporary on 4 April this year

The Fish Police are a hugely entertaining band and were touring thanks to an organisation called Constant Flux who work with and create opportunities for learning disabled musicians on the UK's DIY music scene. 
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20 July 2014

Live Review of Remember Remember and Kogumaza / Recent Album Reviews For LeftLion

Remember Remember are signed to Mogwai's Rock Action record label and have just released their wonderful third album titled Forgetting The Present. Graeme, who the band revolves around, has recently moved to Nottingham and they played a gig in the city at The Chameleon with Kogumaza. You can read my review of the show on the LeftLion website

Also up on the LeftLion website are the Nottingham Music Reviews from issue #59 of the magazine. I reviewed recent releases from Grey Hairs, Sleaford Mods, Kundalini, and Timothy J Simpson.

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Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Pika Pika Fantajin

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Pika Pika Fantajin

Pika Pika Fantajin is the third album from Japan's J-pop megastar Kyary Pamyu Pamyu following 2013's reputation cementing Nanda Collection. Famous for her twisted, satirical take on Japan's Kawaii culture, as well as her visually stunning and elaborate music videos; in my opinion she is also one of the world's most entertaining and interesting pop performers.  

Pika Pika Fantajin (ピカピカふぁんたじん)     
The album's title track and nothing more than a musical intro that acts to build-up anticipation for what is about to come.  

Kira Kira Killer (きらきらキラー   
Here we have Kyary Pamyu Pamyu the cheerleader, gleefully shouting and chanting her way through this hyperactive opener and well and truly high-kicking the album open. It's another pop banger that is relentless in its energy. The bleepy synths have been pushed in to overdrive, everyone involved sounds like they've overdosed on E-numbers and Red Bull, while Kyary frantically shouts and sings with irresistible enthusiasm.   
Yume no Hajima Ring Ring (ゆめのはじまりんりん -album mix-)   
My thoughts on this utterly delightful song can be found elsewhere on this blog. Still very much my favourite Kyary Pamyu Pamyu track and proves that she can perform songs with depth and meaning, a route I would be interested to see her explore more as she matures as a performer. What I do want to say is that this is the album mix and adds more lush synth sounds to the original while also slightly changing the structure. I'm really not sure that it suits the delicate, thoughtful nature of the song to be honest and much prefer the original's more organic sound. I presume this has been re-mixed to be in keeping with the rest of the album's more electronic textures, but every time I listen to it it I think what have they done to this song? If you have both versions of Yume no Hajima Ring Ring I would suggest swapping out the album version for the much more rewarding single version. 
Mottai Night Land (もったいないとらんど)    
It feels like this song has been around for ages now; and it has, being originally released back in November of last year. The reasons for this is that, as with many J-pop songs, it was commissioned for an advert; which sounds wrong to many Western music fans because we are used to it being the other way round - adverts using pre-existing songs rather than commissioning artists to write a track specifically for an advert. This is classic Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - irresistibly catchy chorus that you will be unable to shake from your head, twinkling and playful pianos and glockenspiels, an overwhelming sense of hyperactivity as if the song is chasing its own tail, and with a bizarre dream-like quality to it all. An all-round, punch-the-air, great pop song. 

Serious Hitomi (シリアスひとみ)   
Blimey, where did this come from? Seemingly out of nowhere we've got Kyary Pamyu Pamyu channeling the B52s and making them sound like they were from the future. This is a monster of a chiptune powered new-wave pop song. That fuzzed-up guitar riff hits you from the off, it's completely unexpected, and pins you back for what is a rollercoaster of delight that screeches by pumped-up on its own adrenalin. She is dragging that classic 1960s girl group sound, via early 80s new wave, very much in to the 21st century.  Surfy, garage rock guitars, wailing synths, and classic pop melodies all collide to make what is undoubtedly one of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's best songs. It's stretched out to over 5 minutes, but the song just whizzes by it is that frantic; and by the time it's over, all you want to do is give it another spin. You can read an English translation of the lyrics on the Super Happy Awesome blog.
do do pi do (Capsule cover)       
A cover of a song by her producer, Capsule. There's a lot going on here, but at the same time there isn't. Pretty one paced, but nevertheless a tight sounding modern dance song. Against a backdrop of 'housey' sounding pianos we hear Kyary gently singing, her vocals flowing in and out of the music, adding texture rather than being pushed up front as they would be on a more straight forward 'pop song'. This sounds like festival time in the robot factory. At first I pegged it as filler, but the more I've listened to it the more it has grown on me, and it's the relative simplicity and subtlety of the repetitive pianos and drifting vocals that make it work and turn it in to one of the best songs on Pika Pika Fantajin. You can listen to original here if you want to compare

Family Party (ファミリーパーティー -album mix-)    
Written specifically for a Japanese anime film it has the feeling of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-by-numbers unfortunately. Although props must go to the epic sounding 8bit intro. She has performed and will go on to perform better songs. Family Party probably works better within the setting of the film, but as a track on an album that is full of well-crafted and intelligent pop songs, it just doesn't stand up.  
Ring a Bell    
Following Family Party another blip at the start of the second half of Pika Pika Fantajin. This is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's first ever song that she's performed entirely in English. And it's a pretty big disappointment. It's evident that her non-Japanese speaking fans don't mind that she doesn't sing in English. They buy her albums, watch her videos and and pack out her shows even though the majority of them can't understand what she is singing. I don't think they are crying out for English language Kyary Pamyu Pamyu songs. But they've been given one anyway, and it's full of simple lyrics about going to the studio and ringing a bell. A pretty pointless exercise that I'm hoping she won't repeat again and uses it as a learning experience.     
Tokyo Highway (トーキョーハイウェイ)    
A classic sounding Capsule produced song. Slick electronica that bounces along locked in to a mechanized rhythm, with Kyary's high, wistful vocals cutting through the mix and taking the song skywards. It doesn't do a lot, but does what it needs to do, the song has been left plenty of room to breath and move along organically. Euphoric house that shows that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is perfectly at home fronting slick, modern dance songs just as she is making frantic schizoid pop. 
Koi Koi Koi (こいこいこい)    
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu has a certain style or genre of novelty song that she does every now and again, and this is one of them. Over twinkling, playful, instrumentation, we essentially have her singing the song title over and over again. It has the feeling of a very eerie children's nursery rhyme. Far removed from her banging electro-pop tracks that she can do so well. Even if Koi Koi Koi doesn't exactly work, it's nice to see her putting her hand at something different and attempting to give the album texture and different styles of song. 
Sungoi Aura (すんごいオーラ -album mix-)    
Pika Pika Fantajin feels like an album of two halves. Whereas the first 6 songs are among some of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's best songs and really get the album off to a flying start, the second half is very hit-and-miss, feels patchy, and the album loses its momentum because of this. I wonder though if this was a deliberate ploy: top load the album with the grade-A pop material and then leave the second half to the more odd and peculiar songs for those who don't have the attention span to listen to full albums anymore? Anyway, those people who don't pick their way through the second half are going to miss out on wonderful, playful songs like Sungoi Aura. Parping drums, tin whistles, rolling piano, and another hooky melody. It's a classic Capsule and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu combination and one of their more organic sounding songs in a similar vein to Yume no Hajima Ring Ring. This song isn't immediate and doesn't go out of it's way to smash itself in to your ears, but its gradually unfolding charms eventually win you over. 
Explorer (エクスプローラー)
The final song ends on a hopeful sounding note. Against a military style backing, all marching band drums and whistles, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu sounds victorious and grateful. I have no idea what she is singing about, but it sounds like a thank you note to those of you who have listened to the album and have supported her career up to this point so far. It's elated, positive and poignant end to an album that will go some way to cementing her reputation as one of the world's finest pop stars. 

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13 July 2014

Photographs of Hong Kong (July 2014)

From a recent visit to Hong Kong. All taken between 4 - 9 July 2014. 

View from the train somewhere between the airport and Kowloon

Gloucester Road, Wan Chai

Hopewell Centre

Hay Hay Restaurant, Wan Chai

Lockhart Road, Wan Chai

Nathan Road, Kowloon

Seafood Restaurant on Nathan Road

Seafood Restaurant on Nathan Road

Avenue of Comic Stars, Kowloon

Avenue of Comic Stars, Kowloon

Victoria Harbour looking towards Hong Kong Island

Victoria Harbour looking towards Hong Kong Island

Star Ferry Terminal, Kowloon

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from IFC Mall

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

View from International Finance Centre

And Batman was there too

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19 June 2014

Kogumaza Interview for LeftLion

Kogumaza Interview LeftLion Thom Stone Photography

Click the above image to read the online version of my recent interview with Kogumaza that originally featured in LeftLion Magazine #59.

Sludgy, heavy, spacey; whatever you want to call them, Kogumaza are one of those bands where no amount of attempting to describe their sound or pigeonholing will do them justice. The only way to get what they are about is to listen to their records, or even better, experience their sonic onslaught live and feel the full-force of their sound. 

A truly remarkable band, and it was a pleasure to not only do this piece, but to finally feature them in the magazine. For a band who are so hard to nail-down in terms of sound, I think this interview gives a good idea of what they are trying to achieve. It's also rare to speak to a band (in Nottingham anyhow) who are clued-up on what they are trying to do, the way they want to sound, and how they want to put that across to the audience.  

Give them a listen on the Kogumaza Bandcamp.

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13 June 2014

Live Review of Supersonic Festival 2014 for LeftLion


Click on the image of Sleaford Mods to read my review for LeftLion of Supersonic Festival 2014

Two weeks ago today I was in Birmingham for the weekend attending the Supersonic Festival, which is held at the Custard Factory in the Digbeth area of the city. 

The festival is now in its 11th year and prides itself on having an eccentric and eclectic line-up. It was my first time attending and It certainly didn't disappoint, it was the most fun I've had at a festival for a long time and I will definitely be trying to attend future events.

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Live Review of Flaming Lips and Young Knives for LeftLion


Click the image of Wayne Coyne to go to my recent review for LeftLion of Flaming Lips and Young Knives at Rock City in Nottingham. 

The recent Flaming Lips show in Nottingham was downsized from the Arena to Rock City, which still holds 2000 people so it is not exactly tiny. I did think it was a little optimistic to be booking Nottingham Arena for a band who are little more than a very big cult band. 

As with a lot of these things, I managed to wrangle tickets via the support act, Young Knives, in exchange for agreeing to review their set. I wasn't too enamored with Young Knives, I couldn't get on with their attitude and 'kookiness'. Flaming Lips on the other hand were an enormous amount of fun.
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5 Must-Watch Kyary Pamyu Pamyu Videos

Partly to accompany this post I recently wrote explaining my love of Yume No Hajima Ring Ring, and partly inspired by this recent i-D Magazine website piece looking at her most weird and wonderful videos and thinking that I could do something similar, I thought that I would put something together highlighting five must-watch videos by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the kawaii J-Pop megastar.  

PonPonPon (Moshi Moshi Harajuku, 2011)

Her debut song is still more insanely catchy than any song ever deserves to be. I dare you to listen to it and not have that chorus stuck in your head for the following days - no, scrap that - weeks. While the video is a hyperactive bombardment of the weird and wonderful, laying out the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu style from the start. Look out for when she farts out a rainbow. 

Fashion Monster (Nanda Collection, 2012)

I imagine that this Halloween inspired video is what family gatherings at Tim Burton's gaff are like. We see Kyary wearing a Beetjuice inspired costume as she jams with a band of ghouls. At one point an old Samurai master is summoned, the moon grows a body, and she makes a phone call using her guitar. Much like her songs, her videos always have so much going on in them it can be overwhelming trying to take it all in, and this is no exception. There's even some naughty bits pixeled out.

Re Ninja Bang Bang (Nanda Collection, 2013)

Another song with an ear-worm of a chorus. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu rides a fish while singing through a megaphone, cartoon robots have a dance-off, and there's a fair bit of jumping around in this chiptune inspired ode to a Ninja (I presume).

Invader Invader (Nanda Collection, 2013)

Hyperactive electro-pop with a dubsteppy breakdown that sounds like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu flying a spaceship powered by a dying NES before crash landing it on an alien planet and proceeding to hold the most insane E-numbers fuelled party with the extra-terrestrial inhabitants. Again, features a chorus that buries itself deep within your ears where it refuses to budge. The video has a vaguely sci-fi theme, but doesn't go out of it's way to make much sense.

Mottai Nightland (Pikapika Fantasian, 2013)

The first single from her very-soon-to-be-released forthcoming new album and where we get invited in to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's dreams, and they're just as bizarre and surreal as you would have hoped for; over-sized hands, dancing ghouls, gyrating bikini-clad ghouls, an anime section, a bit where she turns in to a dog and lays a strawberry coloured turd, and just the general next-level insanity we have come to expect from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu music videos. The music is less bombastic than usual, with bright, tinkling pianos and glockenspiels adding to the light-hearted feel. 

This recent Vice Magazine interview with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is worth a read too.

Read my track-by-track review of Pika Pika Fantajin. 

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12 June 2014

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - Yume No Hajima Ring Ring

I have been fortunate enough to travel to Tokyo twice this year for work reasons. The first trip was at the end of February and the second at the end of March. It was during that second visit to Japan when I was introduced to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the Empress of J-Pop

After being told to check her out, back in my hotel room later that evening I typed her name in to YouTube and with it being her most recent song at the time, I played Yume No Hajima Ring Ring. It wasn't what I was expecting at all. 

Anticipating some dreary ballad or an EDM nightmare, I was pleasantly surprised that this song wasn't anything like that - It was considered, playful, oddly dreamlike, with that nagging piano motif keeping me locked in. 

Yume No Hajima Ring Ring has this weird sense of longing and melancholy to it, but it isn't depressing; it feels hopeful and bittersweet. I was hooked and have been quietly obsessed with this song ever since.

Of course, not being able to speak Japanese I was unable to work out what Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was singing and what the song was about. I was just drawn to this exotic and strangely catchy pop song.

Going online when I returned to the UK I fortunately stumbled upon this post on the blog Super Happy Awesome that helpfully analysed the song and translated the lyrics in to English. It's where I discovered that it's a 'graduation' song about moving on to the next stage in your life or coming of age, a theme popular in Japanese culture especially amongst young people. The blog I have linked to explains more. 

Yume No Hajima Ring Ring is a song dealing with the sadness of growing-up and moving on to the next stage of your life and having to leave your old life behind. It is testament to the strength of the song that I was able to pick up on these themes without understanding the lyrics and being ignorant to the clues laid out in the video.

As the Super Happy Awesome blog explains, in the video we see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu 'graduating' through the different stages of her life so far. The video depicts her leaving versions of her old self behind, shedding a tear each time before moving on to the next phase. This video is almost meta in the fact that it cleverly references her career up to this point; from student to the breakthrough of her first song PonPonPon, through to Fashion Monster and eventually we see her in a hakama at the end for the graduation section. It's perfectly and beautifully executed. 

Something about this song has resonated with me, I can't stop listening to it even now a few months down the line. Part of the reason for writing this blog is to try and work out what it is about this song that makes me keep going back to it. It's definitely my song of the year so far. 

It was a welcome delight to discover that she makes absolutely bonkers pop music with equally delightful and surreal music videos. Although I know that I shouldn't look too much in to this, I am perturbed to find that the YouTube plays for Yume No Hajima Ring Ring lag far behind those of her other songs. Perhaps not everyone appreciates the subtleties as much as I do?

I have also put together this post on the 5 must-watch Kyary Pamyu Pamyu music videos.

Read my track-by-track review of Pika Pika Fantajin by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

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