A bad musical feminist?

*Whilst I’ve had releases from Sleater-Kinney and Girlpool on repeat of late, I’ve been teetering between riot grrrl and girly girl for as long as I can remember. The top comment on a new SK track on Youtube (“welcome back ladies… save us from beyonce, j-lo, nicki minaj, taylor swift, and the rest of these pop ho-bags.”) got me thinking about whether it’s possible to embrace seemingly opposing cultural output. (Clue: it is) This is also the question at the centre of Roxane Gay’s half-memoir/essay collection ‘Bad Feminist’, which I highly recommend.

Am I a bad musical feminist? A little bit of context: at 11, I had convinced myself that I was a half-decent songwriter. Every echoey middle eight, however, betrayed a love of the bubblegum pop of Britney, Xtina et al. Even when I was ploughing through visceral chords – stripy rayon tie and twelve Claire’s Accessories crucifixes around my neck – my lyrics were all based on my maths class crush, the Aaron Samuels to my Cady Heron (minus the Lohan looks and plus a little caustic acne). I was effectively a one-woman Xenomania.

Somewhere between 13 and 14, I started listening to the kind of XFM-endorsed Noughties indie which makes me highly nostalgic nowadays. I had a nu rave phase along with half of the free world, followed by the obligatory Converse-and-Nirvana era, followed by a few months spent lurking around Camden Market chowing down lukewarm curry. Somewhere along the way I even got into Joan Jett. I had a guitar, an amp…and neighbours who probably wanted me dead.

(I looked like a bit of a wee rebel didn’t I?)

And YET, I couldn’t quite shake off my frivolous, whimsical, girly self, nor my acute awareness of my love/hate relationship with my gender. My MySpace page was a homage to Donnie Darko and Oscar Wilde (cool) but also featured copious paragraphs on my love for miniature Japanese toys (not so cool). And then it happened: I stumbled upon (via MTV2 maybe?) the duality of the riot grrrl sound, the not-so-latent anger that came with a side order of heartbreaking harmonies. Plus, ripping to iTunes was all the rage, so you could pick up a lot of quality cast offs at charity shops and the second hand section of HMV.

I wanted to be like the L7 girls, Veruca Salt, Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney, even Courtney Love (my first blog was, of course, written anonymously by a Miss Love-Cobain), but even when I saw the subversive femininity of these artists at work, I struggled to reconcile this with the part of my being that unironically owned a dance mat.

In the end, I grew up, started writing this blog, listened to everything going and somehow avoided making a proper decision about it all. Oh, and the great postmodern vortex that is the internet continued to mess with the idea of “high” and “low” culture. Latter obsessions with Elliott Smith, Suede and Aztec Camera coincided with an interest in following every two-bit talent contest going, obvs.

I do sometimes still look at myself in the mirror, however – head-to-toe Topshop, a couple of unrebellious piercings – and feel as though I could have made a choice. I could’ve got better at the guitar instead of spending my late teenage years listening to Pitbull remixes in sweaty West End clubs. I could’ve embraced the “unnatural” hair.

But hey. “DO I REALLY GIVE A FLYING FUCK???”, I think, downloading the new Taylor Swift album, and giving female peace a chance. Being a full time Riot Grrrl would be too contrived and maybe a little exhausting. You’ll find the real me reading books with titles like ‘Bad Feminist’, teetering precariously between Joanna Gruesome and Little Mix, and having occasional existential crises on the internet. I wouldn’t – and probably won’t ever – have it any other way.

Full Time Hobby at 10

It’s been a good little period for the record label anthology. Hot on the heels of XL’s two-disc 25 year anniversary release “Pay Close Attention” which dropped at the end of August and artfully segued from Tyler The Creator to Adele, comes Full Time Hobby’s 10th year compilation, another two-disc effort featuring the likes of Tuung, White Denim, School of Seven Bells and The Hold Steady. “What The Hell Are You Doing?” – a question which co-founder Nigel Adams encountered when he and fellow Mushroom Records compadre Wez channelled Creation, Elektra et al. and set up the label back in 2004 – is an ideal introduction to the label or an ace companion for the already initiated.

Full Time Hobby’s new compilation “What The Hell Are You Doing?” is released today. 

Gigs I went to and liked*

*Not quite gig reviews, not quite blog posts

Sinkane album launch party, Shacklewell Arms, September 12th

Around a week before I go to see Sinkane at the Shacklewell Arms, I sum up his latest release “Mean Love” as “”groovy pop-rock”, if groovy didn’t conjure up images of Austin Powers and bell bottoms”. Thankfully Sinkane (born Ahmed Gallab), is the antithesis to this poor description: nonchalant, the UK born, US raised one-time Caribou and Of Montreal collaborator leans against the merch table watching support band Swim Mountain (recently praised by 6Music) just moments before he’s due on stage. His Soulja Boy-esque Twitter handle (Sinkane Tell Em!) oozes swagger, but standing on stage he has a calm class to match his sound, which – over the course of his past two releases – has grown in range. Gallab’s role as musical director of “ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor’” – a supergroup honouring the music of the Nigerian synth legend – seems telling of his current guise. With “Mean Love”, he too has painted futuristic strokes onto a Pan African canvas. Joined by guitarist Jonny Lam, bassist Ish Montgomery and drummer jaytram for tracks from “Mean Love” as well as 2012’s “Mars”, he takes the crowd of his first sold out London show on a soulful voyage, from the breathy vocals and reggae beat of “Young Trouble” to the East African-inspired pulse of “New Name”, which on record comes complete with the coolest horns since St Vincent’s Digital Witness. There are ethereal moments, like the hypnosis-inducing synth line of “Young Trouble” (Gallab’s also commanding keyboards). The Sinkane live experience is varied and uplifting, a United Nations of groove which – thankfully – comes minus the bell bottoms.

Sinkane tours Europe before returning to the UK for a show at Hackney venue du jour Oslo on December 1st.

Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Bristol Exchange, September 4th

“It’s Lennon!” squeals my friend, pointing to a fellow with a headband and circular specs and doing her best impression of a Cavern Club reveller. As it turns out this is not John and Yoko’s son Sean – rather it is one of the troupe who accompany him and partner Charlotte Muhl on tour. He’s a slightly taller, more imposing version of his bandmate, although the glasses. Powering through tracks from Midnight Sun, which was released back in April, they refuse to falter even when Lennon’s wah pedal gives up the erm, goastt. From mafia-themed Seventies throwback “Poor Paul Getty” to the sprawling psychedelia of “Too Deep”, it’s wall to wall rock, full of screeching guitars and choral harmonies. Cutting and pasting the best parts of the 70s but remaining distinctly modern and self-consciously East Coast, there’s no chance you’ll confuse “Animals” with “All You Need Is Love”.

 

 

Animals In The Wall exhibition

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Last Thursday, I went for a sneak peak of the Animals In The Wall exhibition, which is on until September 7th at Shoreditch’s Londonewcastle Project Space. Alongside 40 pieces of art by Beat icon William S Burroughs (1914-1997), there are original new works by contemporary artists which engage with the – still pertinent – areas of counterculture/rebellion, anti-consumerism and skepticism of political intrigue. It’s an intriguing mix of visual works including film and two installation rooms, one of which houses a dreamachine (a zoetrope-type device created by Burroughs’ contemporary Brion Gysin).

Other notable pieces come from Bolivian “enfant terrible” Gastón Ugalde, pithy Brit graffiti artist Mobstr and Australia’s Ben Frost, who once faked his own death in the name of art.

Here are some bits by Burroughs himself (copyright of his estate):

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And here is my favourite piece he inspired (by Ben Frost):

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Animals In The Wall is a free exhibition, curated by James Elphick (Guerrilla Zoo) and Yuri Zupančič (William Burroughs Communications), and you can find it at 28 Redchurch Street, E2 7DP.

…parce que je ne sais pas mes chers

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 I am now in NW Spain to get better at Spanish and breaking my selfie ban. The skirt cost five euros on sale at Zara which – aside from surviving absinthe – is my biggest achievement of the year so far.

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Here’s the first bit of graffiti I found in Spain, on the back of the toilet door in the bus station. After no sleep for a full twenty four hours it seemed intensely poetic. “We’re the Eiffel Tower lit up on the 14th of February”. Oh, it was a little piece of Paris, I thought, as I finally got to have a wee after my near three-hour coach journey. Alas, it turned out to be a lyric from a song by some sub-Jonas Brothers Spanish boyband called Melocos (and here I was thinking it was a 17th century poet). Will be interesting to see what other musical offerings I can find out here, preferably not scrawled in the bog.

Anyhow, here’s what I did in the latter part of 2013 whilst living in Montmartre/Pigalle and finding out about life under various guises (student, journo, translator , professional hide and seek champion, actual twenty-one year old human being etc).

 Rock En Seine Festival. SEEN TRENT REZNOR LIVE ☑

Phoenix were amazing, although on home turf in France I suppose the crazy reaction was no surprise. They are France’s great indie hope and Bankrupt was amongst the best releases of the year. Likewise Laura Mvula, although she didn’t draw a large crowd :(

 MaMa Apero soiree

 Made In Chelsea s6 preview among other telly bits for The Guardian

 SPECTOR live review and Le Trianon venue guide (coming soon) for my friends at Gigs In Paris

 Benjamin Clementine  singles and new one from Sivu x Marika Hackman for The Line of Best Fit. Also contributed to the Best Fit end of the year rundown. 

 Bought my fave albums of the year (Shulamith by Poliça and Kurt Vile’s Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze) from a great record store called Balades Sonores in Paris’ 9th arrondissement – will 2014 be the year I properly get into vinyl?! Started shopping in a little vintage store with great music which made me appreciate the Stones more.

 Gained an obsession with bullet points and Boursin, and went to Disneyland where I realised that the golden age of Disney is definitely over.

- GIGS:

 

 Jake Bugg at L’Olympia, Paris, 21/11/13

I walk past an Elton John poster on our way into the Olympia. Now there’s an artist you can rely on to still be standing! (shitty pun very much intended) As for Jake Bugg…in ten years time will he just morph into a morose version of Frank Turner? Or will he age backwards, headlining Glastonbury 2024 as a five year old child? Whilst I jest, so much of THE BUGG FACTOR comes from his age (19). Weirdly, the French promoters have decided to almost fetishise this – three days after the release of his second album they’ve billed him as a “British Justin Bieber”, which as well as being hilariously inaccurate is quite offensive to pauvre Jake who is rather established in his own right. Once he starts playing, however, his age just isn’t relevant. A few things get a little loss with a French crowd, notably new track “Two Fingers”, which historically wasn’t really the Gaellic insult of choice. The crowd here flick their peace signs at Jake like wannabe harijuku girls in accidentally benign fashion.

Shangri La, that aforementioned second album, means lots of new material, with lead single “Lightening Bolt” getting a great reaction. Ultimately though it’s tracks from his debut album like “I Can Taste It” that get the best reception. Has he already peaked? Unlikely, but if he wants to hang onto fans the media and PR machine which surrounds him should start focusing on his pitch-perfect voice and quality songwriting, not the fact that he would definitely get ID-ed buying vodka at Sainsbury’s.

 Suede at La Cigale, Paris, 11/11/13 (part of Les Inrockuptibles Fest).

Ever drunk slightly warm Heineken in a room full of people double your age? When the room in question is La Cigale and Paris-loving Britpop pioneers Suede are playing and the cups have Debbie Harry’s face on them it’s quite enjoyable. Temples are support, not that their Seventies-inspired look/sound is given much attention. (Toy, moody band du jour and recently hyped on BBC 6 music by Brett Anderson himself, would have possibly been a better choice).

Suede kick off with Still Life from Dog Star Man – it’s weird hearing it without the strings but poignant nonetheless. Next up are two tracks from 2013 ‘comeback’  Bloodsports: Barriers and It Starts and Ends with You. Still unmistakably Suede, but nicely matured like good cheese or wine or Brett himself, who has the same magnetic quality but a little more wisened. Trash, from my favourite Suede album – Coming Up – is riotous as ever, the crowd joining a sweaty Bretty for anthemic chanting on the chorus. Animal Nitrate is next. This song encapsulates Suede – the band, the brand – at that crucial moment where everything grew from in 1993. It’s as dark and ambiguous as it must have been at time (I’m not too sure however, being in the new wave of Suede fans and having been born in 1992).

They dash from the old – We Are The Pigs – straight back to the new, but nothing ever feels jarring or outdated. The Drowners – one of my favourite Suede songs from their debut feels so powerful and hopeless, with Brett ensconced by fans in a rather surreal scene (see below) yet also detached from everything around him.

Back to the future for more Bloodsports before a few classics that no quality Suede set would be without: So Young and Beautiful Ones. The latter is my all-time Suede fave track and singing along, wildly off key, was the highlight of the night. A little encore ending in acoustic mode rounds off an amazing set from a band who somehow are both effortlessly nostalgic and always, erm, In Fashion.

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HJD