Blog Posts you were bound to read some day no.2: Daft Punk v. The Sun

20 Apr

Can buy a thrill. Or a bottle, even (sorry)

Having little to do at the moment (and less money to do it with), the recent sunshine has been making me do a lot of  thinking. One of my main preoccupations has been a typically pointless measure of short-term happiness. If that sounds, like, profound (man), don’t be fooled-  my “investigtion” has so far progressed no further than asking myself whether I prefer waking up to nice weather or,uh, buying stuff. Sadly for my soul (but happily for the second-hand shopkeepers of West London), my muted responses seem to suggest the latter. In a way, I suppose, this is quite fortunate- the weather’s nearly always shit here and, for all its negative connotations, material acquisition can give you satisfaction even in the murkiest fathoms of February. Depressing though this may sound, even a very minor thrill is still a thrill, and contrary to the philosophy of Steely Dan, you can buy one pretty much anywhere. So far, so Warhol-lite, but stay with me- this is going somewhere, I promise. I picked up a pack of pickled onion Monster Munch in a Clerkenwell pub last night, and ripping open the packet launched forth a blast of fragrance a million times more evocative than any literary madeleine or perfect Summer’s afternoon on Hampstead Heath could ever be. While you’d have trouble comparing my pack of crisps with daffodils and verdant lawns in terms of freshness, the near-maniacal joy with which I savoured each of the notoriously malodorous potato snacks was happiness itself- in a foil bag.

This, in a roundabout way, leads me to Get Lucky, the new single by the gratifyingly weird French duo Daft Punk. Like most housebound losers of my generation, I’d been in a state of suspense ever since they uploaded the “trailer” for the song, an infectiously high-church Disco loop of rhythm guitar and bass that sounded exactly like Chic circa Rebels are We. My excitement was inflated yet further by hearing that not only did it sound precisely like Chic, it was Chic! For secular music geeks, the image of Nile Rodgers being coaxed out of bed by two men dressed as robots is basically the Second Coming, but with more flashing lights and a better soundtrack. Every morning, I checked for further news of the record, but bar a couple of characteristically look-at-us statements about unveiling the album at an Australian agricultural fair (no, seriously), none was forthcoming.

I read about it over my toast and Marmite yesterday morning, and practically snorted yeast extract from my ears. This was an event, and no mistake. I swallowed my anti-digital pride and immediately downloaded the track on iTunes. And then? Well…

For some people, purchase-power paradise is the crack and hiss of a freshly popped can of Coke or the rough/smooth cardboard surface of an Amazon package; for others, it’s that unmistakeable tang of new-car smell hitting the nasal passages. For me, though, there is nothing that can quite compare to the experience of walking really fast through Central London with a brand-new pop record blaring through my headphones on repeat. This was pure bliss. I marched from Earl’s Court to Soho grinning like a Happy Shopper logo on MDMA, bursting into song whenever I felt I could no longer keep the euphoria to myself.

If this makes me sound somewhat… unsound, allow me to qualify my testament; I’m a dedicated listener. I determine to wrench every ounce of satisfaction from an obvious future hit before it is robbed of its dignity by the sound editors of Changing Rooms and in-store supermarket radio. Few great pop songs can survive proper, genuine popularity- can anyone who’s ever suffered the Saturday night TV shitestorm of Paddy McGuiness’s Take Me Out ever listen to the once-bulletproof Franz Ferdinand single of the same name again? Or what about The Universal by Blur? Can anybody honestly claim it reminds you of anything other than those creepy British Gas adverts? Not I, my dears, not I.

But Daft Punk are different. Their singles- from Da Funk to Robot Rock via the certifiable perfection of One More Time and Aerodynamic- have a longevity and resistance to outside interference that is almost completely unique in modern pop music. They can withstand any amount of repeated listening, and if anything only reveal new depths with each play. If my demented walk through London yesterday is anything to go by, then Get Lucky– with its rare, non rape-y (and winningly banal) vocal contribution from Pharrell, its spacehopper bassline, its subtle but dominating drums and wonderfully stupid android backing vocals- isn’t going to break the continuity. Come on, oh arbiters of muzak mediocrity- do your worst. 

Blog Posts you were bound to read some day no.1: The German Army v. Donnie Darko

5 Apr

Ever had an inkling that there might be a connection between early-noughties pseudo intellectual teen movies and the trenches of the Western Front circa 1914? Look no further- here, in a photo that my grandfather found (looted) in Germany at the end of World War II, is conclusive proof that, yes, that bunny from Donnie Darko really could travel through time…

IMG_0463… but seriously, what the fuck is going on here? Is this really an unprecedented schism in the popular culture space-time continuum? Or do Germans just like hanging out with creepy pig/rabbit effigies? And, crucially, where can I buy a hat like the jocular mustachio’d type in the foreground is wearing? Answers on a postcard, please; no-one ever sends me postcards these days.

Melbury Road, W14

9 Mar

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Located in the triangular vacuum created by the traffic vortex of Addison Road, the second-rate shopping of Kensington High Street and the splendid rococo weirdness of Holland Park,  Melbury Road might be the most discreet tourist attraction in London. There are more commemorative decorations here than living inhabitants, and even they look to be turned into blue plaques sooner rather than later; Michael Winner spent most of his life resident in the Norman Shaw-designed No.31, and not to suggest I have a death wish for Jimmy Page (who owns the Tower House, pictured above, itself once occupied by Aleister Crowley) or anything, but I really do hate Led Zeppelin. Of the dead, notable are painter Luke Fildes, William Hamo Thornycroft, Holman Hunt, Marcus Stone (who illustrated the serialisations of Dickens’s later works) and Michael Powell, a film director who was famous for, uh, making films rather than being rude to restaurant staff and appearing in viral insurance adverts.

Given its decidedly necropolitan character, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest there might be something a little stalkerish about those  few sightseers who do venture up the street, even if they are posing as connoisseurs of bravura Victorian architecture or as overspill from the nearby Leighton Museum. The pavements are more often than not deathly quiet, but since January distraught fans of the late Fat Pig Diet author have been holding a stubborn vigil outside his former residence. When last I happened to find myself traversing Melbury Road’s noble concourse (as a keen supporter of the Leighton Museum and, uh, connoisseur of bravura Victorian architecture myself), I couldn’t help but notice this sorry fellow:

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The Winner takes it all (forgive me).

TREMORS 2: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On

23 Feb

Stop what you’re doing and get your wallet out. The second issue of TREMORS magazine is now out in selected shops across London, most of which are fabulous, independent and well worth a visit should you find yourself at a loose end in their respective vicinities. I know it’s terribly unfashionable to, y’know, buy words printed on paper these days, but the new number really is a very fine-looking object- no artfully rumpled tote bag is quite complete without a copy.

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Helmed by the ever-stylish Maksymilian Fus Mickiewicz, TREMORS is an independently-published title that focusses on Architecture and Art. Highlights of the new number, which concentrates on “Outsider” forms and architectural teratology, include Maks’s interview with the indestructible Jonathan Meades, Hannah Newell’s analysis of Grayson Perry’s A House for Essex and my own article on Ferdinand Cheval, the eccentric postman who built a palace in his back yard. TREMORS 2 also takes in everything from rebarbative visionary 19th Century literature to post-ironic electronica- and if you’re wondering what either of those things are, buy the magazine, ‘cos I’m giving nothing away.

Fishcothèque, Waterloo

21 Feb

IMG_0260My friend Lily pointed this out to me a while ago; while I can’t say I’ve ever dared cross its threshold, any place that offers both fried fish and disco music must be worth the risk of food poisoning.

 

Paddington Bearings

20 Feb

I was born next door to Paddington station, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I’ve ended up arsing around its environs, stroking my chin and taking crap photographs. This post is basically a pun (which, I must say, I’m rather pleased with) in search of a point, but hopefully the buildings look nice enough to justify its existence.

Great Western Hotel, Praed Street: '...one of the earliest buildings in England with the marked influence of the French Renaissance and Baroque... a crushingly Victorian programme, in stucco (although stone was intended)' Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 3: North West

Great Western Hotel, Praed Street: ‘…one of the earliest buildings in England with the marked influence of the French Renaissance and Baroque… a crushingly Victorian programme, in stucco (although stone was intended)’ Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 3: North West

Paddington Station, I.K. Brunel & Matthew Digby Wyatt, 1850- '... this is no ordinary station... It is subtle, unexpectedly allusive, where St Pancras and King's Cross are grand and straightforward. The plan belongs to a cathedral, not a railway station... it has the same kind of lyric poetry as the best rooms in the Soane Museum; so the result has to be taken all at once and not broken into constituents. It makes the other lines look uncultured and obvious, and by all accounts this was the effect of the pre-War GWR. Buy this Keats sonnet for the price of a platform ticket or see it from the high-level footbridge up at the far end, which takes you almost up to the roof' Ian Nairn, Nairn's London

Paddington Station, I.K. Brunel & Matthew Digby Wyatt, 1850- ‘… this is no ordinary station… It is subtle, unexpectedly allusive, where St Pancras and King’s Cross are grand and straightforward. The plan belongs to a cathedral, not a railway station… it has the same kind of lyric poetry as the best rooms in the Soane Museum; so the result has to be taken all at once and not broken into constituents. It makes the other lines look uncultured and obvious, and by all accounts this was the effect of the pre-War GWR. Buy this Keats sonnet for the price of a platform ticket or see it from the high-level footbridge up at the far end, which takes you almost up to the roof’ Ian Nairn, Nairn’s London

The station, from the Bishop's Bridge Road

The station, from the Bishop’s Bridge Road

The Hallfield Estate, Tecton, then Drake & Lasdun, 1947-1955:I've always thought this estate looked like a massive pile of Jenga blocks. '...(it was) deliberately at odds with the stuccoed streetscape of the neighbourhood. The estate was intended as a radical model for the borough of Paddington's post-war rehousing programme... it was one of the first post-war estates to include comprehensive communal amenities such as primary schools, shops, laundry etc... Hallfield also made a determined effort to break with the convention in other ways and show that working-class housing should not be merely utilitarian in appearance... the aesthetics of the ten and six-storey slabs are those of abstract art, one of the most confident and rigorous applications of such principles in Britain at the time'. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 3: North West

The Hallfield Estate, Tecton, then Drake & Lasdun, 1947-1955:
I’ve always thought this estate looked like a massive pile of Jenga blocks. ‘…(it was) deliberately at odds with the stuccoed streetscape of the neighbourhood. The estate was intended as a radical model for the borough of Paddington’s post-war rehousing programme… it was one of the first post-war estates to include comprehensive communal amenities such as primary schools, shops, laundry etc… Hallfield also made a determined effort to break with the convention in other ways and show that working-class housing should not be merely utilitarian in appearance… the aesthetics of the ten and six-storey slabs are those of abstract art, one of the most confident and rigorous applications of such principles in Britain at the time’. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 3: North West

Paddington Fire Station

Paddington Fire Station

The Battleship Building, Harrow Road. Built in 1969 as a railway maintenance depot, I will always remember it as the HQ of high street clothes chain Monsoon. Driving North out of London with my Mother, it was a first landmark that signified the end of the City as I then knew it. Built astride the Westway, it has become a topotrope of London-set film and TV, livening up countless in-car scenes in everything from Chris Petit's Radio On to BBC1's recent drama Sherlock.

The Battleship Building, Harrow Road. Built in 1969 as a railway maintenance depot, I will always remember it as the HQ of high street clothes chain Monsoon. Driving into London with my Mother, it was a first landmark that signified the beginning of the city as I then knew it. Built astride the Westway, it has become a topotrope of London-set film and TV, livening up countless in-car scenes in everything from Chris Petit’s Radio On to BBC1’s recent drama Sherlock.

Joe Strummer Subway, Edgware Road

19 Feb

P1040341When I was really young, my family lived next door to Joe Strummer. I don’t remember much about this period, but he was, by all accounts, a complete pain in the arse. Perhaps this is why despite quite liking some of their music, I’ve never been able to admit to liking The Clash- or maybe it’s just ‘cos, well, they were a bit fucking silly, weren’t they? Nice songs, shame about the moronically earnest boyscout “politics” and Action Man-meets- The Godfather dresscode. Not a good look.

Anyway, I rather like this slightly rubbish bit of retrospective commemoration. London doesn’t really go in for the whole culture-of-memory thing, which in my books is a bit of a shame. When I’m particularly bored, I like to plan my tube journeys on Simon Patterson’s iconic Great Bear. According to Patterson’s map, I make regular journeys from Vasari, Spinoza and, err, Gary Lineker back to my home station, Robert E Peary. Sounds a lot better than Brixton to West Brompton via Victoria, doesn’t it? In Paris, they name serene Boulevards, elegant Métro stations and triumphal Avenues after their cultural heroes; in London, we celebrate our notables by slapping their names onto dingy pedestrian subways. Whether or not the former John Mellor would’ve approved, we can but speculate…

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