Archive | July, 2011

Voyage to the bottom of the road

31 Jul

When people move to London, so the cliché goes, they struggle to get to grips with the geography. The city is, obviously, too enormous to compress onto a practical map, and all the recently-arrived out of towner has to find their way around is Harry Beck’s gloriously inaccurate modernist masterpiece, the London Underground station plan.

Without experience, it’s almost impossible to place oneself in the galactic intra-emmtwenny5 cluster. I remember my own disorientation upon returning here as a teenager as both scary and wonderful- gazing at these far-off, oddly named notches on the brightly coloured circuit map was every bit as fascinating and daunting as looking at a map of Central Asia. These impossible destinations- Manor House, Colliers Wood, Archway- might as well have been Kishinev, Ashkebad or Bulawayo. The Saint Etienne song Girl VII sums up the wonder of the tube map pretty nicely- Sarah Cracknell reels off a list of place names, casually mixing districts of London (Clerkenwell, Portobello, Maida Vale, Old Ford) with further flung, but no less exotic locations (Massif Central, Baffin Island, Hyderabad).

My favourite metaphor for tube travel, itself pretty well-worn, is as a teleportation device- one disappears down a hole in Hammersmith and re-emerges from another half an hour later in Hampstead. Admittedly, it’s probably a bit sweatier and more prone to industrial action than a Tardis, but to me as a sixteen year old, this was exactly how it was.

I was, at first, completely reliant on the Underground. I once had to get from my parents’ flat in Fulham to my Aunt’s house in Hammersmith for Sunday Lunch. TFL had suspended westbound services on the Piccadilly and District Lines at Earls Court that weekend, and I was forced to bumble my way around SW5 in search of a replacement bus service. I got there in the end, but the journey had taken me over an hour and a half. I had no idea of this at the time, but the walk from door to door would have been less than twenty minutes.

It was pretty obvious I needed to get my bearings if I were ever to get anywhere in this town. My pocket money didn’t quite stretch to buying an A-Z, and knowing nothing of that mysterious zodiac known to the masses as Googlemaps, I figured the only way to work out London would be to walk it.

And so, feeling like a latterday Speke, I set out in search of the source of the Talgarth Road.

It was a blazing early summer’s day, and the passage not always favourable- pedestrian crossings seemed to take forever to clear, and the natives, impervious to the immensity of my voyage, barged past, hurrying back and forth between office and fast-food outlet (is there anything else on the M4 between Hammersmith and Gloucester Road?). At various points, my strength began to sap- I must have eaten about 12 KitKats that day for vital sustenance- what, indeed, was the point of this self-imposed long march, I often found myself asking. Despite these nagging doubts, I kept my pace steady. Surely, I kept mentally chanting, surely Livingstone, Brazza and Shackleton must have questioned their aims after they slipped off the contours of the ordnance survey map? But did they give up? No!

So on I trudged, past Gloucester Road, Brompton Cross, Harrods, and the fast-food stall next to Hyde Park Corner, where I was hit by an horrific inner debate over whether to buy a Flake 99, a sudden caprice made all the more strange by the fact that I didn’t actually like ice-cream very much. Verily, the quandaries faced by history’s great navigators could not have been more tortuous.

A satisfactory compromise reached (namely an astonishingly overpriced can of coke), I continued down the HPC subway, re-emerging onto Picadilly. I had no idea of where I was going to end up- I guess part of me hoped that I’d be led to the sort of nightmare inner-city no-go zone dreamed up by the subeditors of the Daily Mail to frighten provincial aunties, or at least a part of town I’d never been to before. It was, then, with a certain sense of disappointment that I reached Picadilly Circus, the de facto source of the westbound M4. I gave a sigh and headed up to Berwick Street to buy some records, a nice bit of self-indulgence to reward my gruelling trek.

However prosaic the end result of my adventure was, the sense of trepidation as I headed further east was something I quickly became addicted to. Trips down all the major thoroughfares followed in quick succession- Shepherds Bush Roundabout to Hackney Wick, Kensington High Street to Richmond, Hammersmith to Harlesden.

A couple of years later, when I took a six-month sabbatical from University (ie, dropped out), I embarked on what was to become my very own Long March.

The project was to visit every tube station in Greater London, and to get the photos to prove it. It was a decidedly pointless exercise, but as an occupation for an unemployed bloke with next to no imagination, it beat sitting around smoking weed, as was the habit of most of my other dropout chums. It was also the best possible way of conquering Harry Beck’s gorgeously bogus topography- even though I only ever got 60 per cent of the way to finishing this monumentally useless labour (a girl dropped my camera into a carafe of wine in Paris that summer), I did once and for all slay the sense of living on an electric circuit board. For better or for worse, I transformed my adolescent sense of wonder into a tedious adult obsession- the sort of thing that I’m sure qualifies as a “hobby”. Yuck.

For sure, I miss teleportation- but, to be honest, I’ve discovered I much prefer taking the bus anyway.

POPTONES 1*

13 Jul

*The first in an occasional series of reviews

This week-

SOFT CELL- NON-STOP EROTIC CABARET

THE HEAD AND THE HEART- THE HEAD AND THE HEART

THE HORRORS, SKYING

I had a funny old time last week. I met my ex-girlfriend for a possession-swap, I went back to my old school for a day, and then spent Sunday in Hyde Park waiting to see Pulp**, almost a full decade since the first time in Newcastle on the We Love Life tour.

This should by all rights have been traumatic and thrilling in equal measure, but everything came and went without much incident- which, enfin, I’m rather happy about.

In a week of happily fuckalling around town, watching movies and cooking inedible “asian-inspired” food for my flatmate, I’ve had but one obligation, a simple task that plunged me into the rather less-than-epic saga which follows;

My father, who henceforth shall be known to these pages as Big Jim, was down in town last weekend, and, as is customary on his occasional visits, he dropped into Rough Trade.

Big Jim has been a regular at RT since the Kensington Park Road shop opened in 1976. He’s on good terms with Nigel, the guy who runs the show, which is great for me- prereleases, free stuff, even the occasional loyalty discount (crucial if one is to become a regular shopper at Talbot Road). Nigel’s recommendations usually wash down pretty well, and with this in mind, Big Jim was talked into buying a record by a Seattle group called the Head and the Heart.

Big Jim went back up North on Monday, and two days later I received a parcel containing the aforementioned CD and a note-

DIG, RETURN THIS SHIT TO ROUGH TRADE, IT’S UNLISTENABLE. GET ME SOMETHING GOOD.

He wasn’t wrong, either. I burned the offending disc onto my computer, and listened to it as I made my way up to W11. Rarely have I been so utterly, disarmingly violated by a record’s awfulness. To say the Head and the Heart are twee just doesn’t come close to the novelty-jumperism of their CD. It’s ghastly, cloyingly cute, like Barney the Dinosaur having a caffeine-free tea party with Zooey Deschanel and the Hello Kitty logo. It’s music for the kind of people who describe Terrence Mallick’s recent shitestorm The Tree of Life as “moving”, which in itself is rather like calling a tumour a physical embellishment.

I can’t actually bring myself to listen to it again, and thus an objective review is completely out of the question. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not risking what remains of my sanity for the sake of psuedo-journalism.

Anyway, the record on its own shouldn’t be a cause for concern- what is is that it’s symptomatic of the grievous polarisation of American indie rock. The new bands are either overly precious and icky-sicky or, on the Brooklyn side of things, exasperatingly clever-clever, lacking in any sort of warmth whatsoever. Ugh.

The middle ground, otherwise known as sex appeal, seems to have been obliterated. Sure, EMA‘s album fell just the right side of wankerdom, and Girls transcended their cutesiness with tunes and arrogance, but otherwise, what else is there?

It’s catching on over here, too.

As I walked back down Westbourne Grove, the sonic fetor of Bumford and Sons floated from the open windows of a gastro pub. I felt suffocated by these most mild beasts of ersatz authenticity, and ran up to the nearest bus stop to untangle my headphones. There was only one thing for it…

SEX DWARF!

Phew. Soft Cell’s debut is still the touchstone of sleazy listening. I’m a relative newcomer to its questionable pleasures, and while there’s a definite mid-album lull, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret is the definitive antidote belt-and-braces borefest that is nu-folk. What’s more, the songs hit the perfect balance between gutter filth, and, yes, genuine empathy. I’m as profoundly touched by Say Hello, Wave Goodbye as I am nauseated by Bumford’s Little Lion Man. It’s compassion itself in a gimp suit.

While at Rough Trade that afternoon, I did manage to swap the Head and the Fart for two Bowie records (both of which Big Jim rather confusingly already owns, and I have yet to post to him), and also got my hands on an advance copy of the Horrors’ new one, Skying.

After an appropriately sweaty, Soft Cell-soundtracked tube journey back to Vauxhall (in the course of which I forgot about the Northern Line closure at Tottenham Court Road, and thus had to endure the hell of changing at Oxford Circus at rush hour), I charged Skying onto my iPod, sunk down a tension-killing gin, and rushed off to Stockwell station to meet a friend, headphones blazing.

Still giddy from the initial wash of the gin hit, Skying grabbed me by the frontal lobes and dragged me down the Clapham Road at something approaching 20km/h, which is pretty quick for a pedestrian.

After catching a bit of their set at Hyde Park last Sunday, I’d expected great things from the new Horrors album, but the moment where the synths take flight twenty or so seconds into You Said is a pop memory I shall never, never forget hearing for the first time. These moments are, to quote Alex Turner, rare as a can of Dandelion and Burdock- and on Skying, they just keep on coming and coming and coming.

Changing the Rain, which opens Skying is not a showy first track. It’s nice enough, if no tour de force, but the Horrors have been clever here. For me, and a lot of other people who wanted to like Primary Colours a lot more than they actually did, that album peaked with its opener, Mirror’s Image, and never even approached its urgent gothic glory over the course of the next nine songs. On Skying, Changing the Rain doesn’t set such high expectations, and thus what follows is all the more joyous.

There’s the sheer euphoria of You Said, the epic aggression of I Can see through you, the assured grandeur of Still Life, and best of all, the 8-minute Moving Further Away. The latter is a sort of grown-up version of Sea within a sea, a canopy of elegant analogue synth with a titanic Klaus Dinger beat for an undercarriage.

For all the superlatives I could continue attaching to this record, there is one thing that baffles me- Skying is for nine tenths of its duration a near-perfect album, but on Monica Gems, the penultimate song, the Horrors make a claim for the ugliest song of 2011. There is no way that anyone in their right mind could have considered Monica Gems worthy even of B-Side material- it’s self-parodic, and not in the fun, campy sense that characterises their début album. My theory is that this is their record collection in-joke, a grim acknowledgement of the fact that every “classic” album has its Sloop John B– but perhaps I’m just reading too far into it. Whatever the case, Skying would’ve worked much better with nine songs. Or perhaps not- Monica Gems, for all its failures, gives the rest of the album a context to shine against, and illustrates pretty well just how far the Horrors have come since in the last five years.

The Horrors began as everything a cult rock’n’roll band should be- all that was missing was any hint of a tune. I loved them in principle, but couldn’t bring myself to sit through a single one of their sub-Birthday Party blasts of garage-rock conservatism. Their image, though, was as exciting and fun as every other bargain-basement indie band’s circa 2007 wasn’t.

Happily, the Horrors have kept their visual brand intact while separately developing a glorious musical style that for all its debt to the past is very much their own. It’s deathly dull to analyse the influences on Skying, but every music hack in London seems to have a theory about which combination of overcoat-rock bands the Horrors most resemble, so for what it’s worth, here’s mine:

The Horrors have become the band Suede could’ve been had they explored the fascinatingly crepuscular territory of their 1996 b-side Europe is our playground rather than the anthemic, simplistic (if still rather brilliant) comeback single Trash. If this doesn’t sound like praise, you need to get hold of the first couple of Suede albums sharpish.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. If this gets any more fanboyish, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look myself in the mirror again. See you next time for another load of over-intellectualised drivel…

**See link to some gig-ruining arsehole cameraphone-wielder’s video of the Do you Remember the first time

Shelf-censorship

8 Jul

At the risk of betraying myself as the pseud I so patently am, I’d like to begin this post by referring to a higher authority;

Shortly after fleeing Germany for Paris in the late 1930s, the Jewish writer and academic Walter Benjamin wrote an essay entitled (my affectations don’t quite reach as far as quoting the original German) Unpacking my library. In this engaging and, in hindsight*, tragic article, Benjamin examines his bookshelves as a way of summarising his identity. According to him, whatever the respective relationship between the library and its owner, the important thing is what he or she chooses to display; this tells us about how they desire to be interpreted as a text, and thus their aspirations in terms of being judged objectively betray more about their true character than they might specifically intend.

http://estafeta-gabrielpulecio.blogspot.com/2010/06/walter-benjamin-la-tarea-del-traductor.html

I am a pop music geek. I make no excuse for this. I am, as Alan Partridge might say, sad. While I admit that no pop music (with the possible, retrospective, exceptions of early Elvis, psychedelic-era Beatles and Straight outta Compton-vintage NWA) has had the same cerebral cultural impact as, say, Plato’s Republic or Benjamin’s own Passagenwerk (let’s forget what I said about affectations), I sincerely, utterly believe that an individual’s record collection is, in the latter author’s terms, as important, if not more so, in defining them both in terms of self-perception and in unmasking their delusions.

Take me, for example. My father has a record collection as comprehensive as that of anyone who has spent more than half an hour of their life in a music store. As a result of this, I never had an imperative to buy the classics– I grew up in the age of the CD burner. I spent my pocket money keeping bang up to date with the pop developments of the last decade, from Pete Doherty to Paris Hilton, shopping mainly at Soho’s Sister Ray and Reckless and Newcastle’s Steel Wheels, places where a teenage wannabe with time on his hands could find cheap promo copies of pretty much anything, often before it was actually released.

I moved to London, taking only a select volume of CDs with me, and every Sunday bought something new; I was pretty sure it appeared casually cool; an Elvis Costello record or two, the first Strokes LP, and a dazzling array of trendy dance music. In truth, though, its screams of self-consciousness could be heard from as far away as the South Circular. It was a bunch of around 60 discs so studiously chosen that it could have propped up a window display in Rough Trade**.

To paraphrase Iggy Pop, it was in the summer of my twenty-second year that I suddenly realized I was alone, and there wasn’t a hell of a lot I could do about it.

I had been living in the same West London apartment for over three years, and was due to move to Paris within the month. For some reason, I became convinced that I was going to die before leaving. I began by making daily trips to Fopp Records at Cambridge Circus, buying up all the music I had hitherto plundered from Warde-Aldam snr’s alphabetically ordered shelves. Finally, I was in legitimate possession of the albums I’d grown up with- Leonard Cohen’s I’m your man, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Pulp’s His’n’Hers. My CD rack (not to mention my burgeoning identity crisis) swelled beyond its capacity, and despite the fact that Fopp was unloading these “classics” for £3 or less, even my budget for gin and fags began to contract.

Whatever the psychoanalytical implications of this consumer binge, my music shelf succeeded in communicating to a young Japanese photographer who passed by in my absence that I was a male in my early 20s, the spawn of tasteful parents, and rather too prone to faddishness. In short, my attempt to present the real me to my guests was an unqualified success.

 Individual pop cultural taste tells us a lot about a person; books have been around much longer than recorded music, and as such conform to a more universally accepted form of snobbery. For example, no self-respecting pseud would include the Da Vinci code on their bookshelf, even in the name of postmodern irony. Their record collection, however, might follow the Specials with the Spice Girls, or Wham with the White Stripes. Don’t get me wrong, the prejudices of pop are no less fervent than those of literature, but crucially, the canon is less concrete. There are metal snobs, soul snobs, techno snobs. Being a podgy thirtysomething hip-hop geek is now as acceptable as being a podgy thirtysomething film geek. This is the acid test; you might find yourself dancing to Mariah Carey without shame at a party, but would you ever accept the consequences of being seen reading a Geoffrey Archer novel on the bus?

I am perhaps not the best person to be writing about this; my top ten records of all time include the Fireman Sam theme tune, Aqua Marina off Stingray, and Whigfield’s Saturday Night. I have arrived at the last base camp of pop snobbery- not yet ready to accept Queen or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers as anything other than proof of evil, but willing to accommodate pretty much anything else as worthy of inclusion on a self-consciously “eclectic” mix CD.

Behold my record shelf, ye hipsters, and despair…

 *Benjamin was forced to flee Paris in 1940, perishing in mysterious circumstances close to the Spanish border. Whatever the cause of death, this was to be the last time he unpacked his books anywhere. Both the whereabouts of his library and his likely opinion of Cheryl Cole’s solo career remain unknown. 

**Where today I had the pleasure of purchasing the new Horrors LP four days early. Cool, no? No. Anyway, review to follow shortly…

Introducing the hardline according to Digby Warde-Aldam

6 Jul

Hello, and welcome to the monumental irrelevance that is tescoinferno. In the unlikely event that anyone actually ever reads this drivel, I feel I should give some sort of a précis as to what this blog is about. Unfortunately, I myself am not quite sure of this, but logically, it will probably end up covering the sort of stuff I’m interested in- London, cooking, pop music and… um… well, that’s about it, really.

My story is neither unique nor interesting, but I’ll bore you with it anyway. I was born in West London, and later moved to Northumberland with my family. I returned to London in 2005 aged 16, and until last year lived very happily in an apartment off the North End Road. I’m increasingly of the opinion that London is slightly wasted on those who’ve spent their whole lives here, and feel incredibly privileged to have both the native Londoner’s inherent metropolitan snobbery as well as the wide-eyed wonder of the provincial bumpkin. I’ve been obsessed with this city ever since I moved back here, and have thought about little else since. For four years I wrote a column for a local newspaper, a freesheet which in theory had over quarter of a million readers. The publication was cut by the government earlier this year, and with it disappeared any claim I might ever have had to success. Last September, I moved to Paris for ten months as part of my degree. It was, to put it mildly, a pretty depressing experience, of which the less said the better- not that I got up to much there.

I’m now, praises be, back in the smoke for good. I’m renting a room in the transient climes of SE11, from which I can see both the Houses of Parliament and the MI6 building. In the words of Gary Glitter, it’s good to be back.

I am completely unqualified to write about anything other than myself, and thus can make no claim to impartiality or authority. Naturally, you might now be asking yourself what the point is- and believe you me, I am too- but if you’ve got this far already, you’re probably actively trying to waste your time anyway.

Still with me? Good. I can tell we’re going to get on famously.

À la prochaine,

Digby