Sofar Sounds Live Review

Sofar Sounds is an international organisation set up by two east London lads a few years ago. The premise is simple, use peoples houses and flats as the venue and invite artists to perform for a small group of 40ish people who don’t know who the performers are until they start playing.

The mystery is undoubtedly part of the appeal as you really can get anything and I have plenty of friends who have come back with positive reviews.

On Friday, I went along to the newly opened Poplar Union, in the heart of East London, to find out if it was worth going to a gig without knowing if any of the acts would actually be any good…

The Union was comfortable and dressed appropriately for an intimate gig though the lack of seating meant that the audience had to sit on the hard wooden floor for the duration, something I avoided by grabbing a chair from which I could lord over everyone like a primary school teacher at school assembly.

Anyway, first up was LISKA an Irish vocalist accompanied by a keyboard player.

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The bleach blonde bobbed girl had a great voice and caught me off guard with how well she hit each note as her velvety songs, which sounded like they could have been heard from the back of a New Orleans blues bar in 1957, filled the room.

The only complaint I would have about LISKA is that it didn’t feel like she ever moved out of second gear and the songs she performed were restricting. It would have been nice to hear something quicker, something a little more upbeat than the 5-6 tunes about lost love and longing.

Next up was a London based poet named of Jack Miguel.

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Miguel addressed the small gathering and talked about the context of his work before launching into his performance.

Personally, I think this is a must for a poet delivering on stage. The trouble with poetry is that you need to fully understand the ideas, thoughts and motivations of the creator to really grasp what they are talking about, there is no music to enjoy if you don’t get the lyrics, all of the focus is on the meaning of what is being said so if you have no idea what that is, you miss out on the good stuff.

Miguel introduced his work as having a strong focus on masculinity and went on to deliver several thought provoking pieces which I could enjoy thanks to his intro.

Listening to poetry of this nature, with the incandescing lights of Canary Warf blazing in the windows behind the performer, was interesting to say the least as that particular part of London is inexorably linked to macho culture and masculinity which undoubtedly added an interesting slant of the whole scene.

Jacob and Goliath were the final performers of the night and the stinker that I had been afraid of finally arrived…

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Hailing from West London, one on acoustic guitar and one on a box (literally). The pair opened with a dead ringer for a Mumford and Sons song and I was immediately annoyed.

Another 5 country songs of this ilk followed and continued to irritate, as a sound which died a definite death 4 years ago, was forced into my objecting ears.

I’m all for giving it a go and chasing the dream, but seriously, if you don’t have an understanding of where music is right now and what the trends are, you’re not going to get far. Music evolves just like fashion, film, art, TV, business, social media, bloody everything, and if you don’t offer something new, you’re going nowhere. That isn’t me being harsh, it’s the truth.

As a whole though, I enjoyed the evening. The tickets were also free and I was allowed to bring my own beers to drink while the evening played out so I would definitely recommend going to a Sofar gig as long as you understand that you’ll probably get one bad egg in three….

Nick Mulvey Live Review

I was meant to meet with my brother, sister and a mutual friend for a couple of drinks and a meal. Instead, a couple of match going, battle-hardened Scousers joined me and the party for a sloshing 7-8 pints and a live performance from Nick Mulvey at Shepards Bush Empire. On a fucking Tuesday night.

I was just about to go home for a sensible night in when my brother asked me to come to the gig and despite the fact that Nick Mulvey isn’t the type of musician I would usually go and watch, he has a few solid tunes to his name and a gig is a gig at the end of the day.

Mulvey is a London lad himself but spent time in Cuba studying music and art before immersing himself in different West and Central African styles.

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There wasn’t a beat missed all night as fan favourites, ‘Unconditional’, ‘Myela’ and ‘Fever to the Form’ were joined by ‘Infinite Trees’, ‘Transform your Game’ and ‘Mountain to Move’, all solid crowd pleasers.

However, the best moment of the night didn’t actually come from the stage. It came from a lad standing about 3 people behind me…

After finishing a song, Mulvey looked into the audience, wearing his beanie and a puppy dog look on his face that hadn’t shifted from kick off….

“Listen guys” he started, “There is some really bad stuff going on in the world right now and we just need to look after each other, we need to care, we need to love. Peace is what we need and that is what this next song is all about, I want you to feel that.”

The crowd went silent for the briefest of moments when, clear as a fog horn, a hero shrouded in darkness, projected across the whole room;

“I don’t know anything about that type of thing, I just work in the Asda and like beer.”

The none-stop Instagram Live streaming crowd didn’t like that, but I think they got even more wound up as I was almost screaming in laughter.

I literally got told to “Shut up” by some dead-eyed 20-year-old girl which only made it funnier…

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Anyway, I enjoyed the music and we kept drinking for another hour or so before I decided to head home for the night, tired, drunk and in no shape for the rest of the week.

 

Blade Runner 2049: Review and Analysis

Visually stunning and with reliably powerful performances from Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto and Harrison Ford, Blade Runner 2049 is easily one of the best films of 2017 so far.

But first, a little exposition…

10 years ago, on my 15th birthday, I was given the newly released Final Cut version of Blade Runner and from that day on, it became my favourite film. I didn’t necessarily know why but I was hooked. Like every kid on the planet, I had grown up watching Star Wars, so seeing Harrison Ford play Rick Deckard in the nightmarish dystopian landscape of 2019 LA, hit me hard.

There wasn’t a blonde kid with magic powers hopping around with a lightsabre and the robots in Blade Runner were a long way from R2D2 and C-3PO. They were murderous, philosophical, attractive, terrifying, tragic…

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This was a universe which was dark, dangerous and provocative.

Six years after seeing the film for the first time, I wrote my dissertation on how the novel, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, was adapted into the 1982 film.

So you can imagine my anxiety, excitement, fear and dread when a sequel was announced a few years ago. They don’t have the best track record.

Fortunately for me and everyone else who feared the worst, the decision to bring Denis Villeneuve on as director has proven to be a masterstroke.

The visuals and sound design are stunning as the mix of special effects and real life were inseparable. There was one intimate scene between Gosling and two women, which proved this point with immaculate detail. When you see the film, you will know what I am talking about.

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The beauty of the film aside, questions about identity, memory, creation and the creator are all raised. Allegorical references and nods to fairytales are aplenty as echoes of Pinocchio whistle through the dialogue, “I always knew you were special, now you are a real boy…”

This is the perfect universe for Villeneuve to play with an audience. His pervious film, Arrival, is a stunning piece of work and is easily one of the best films from the past few years. He toys with the audiences preconceptions and ideas of what memory really is, flipping it around and showing us just how unreliable it is. 

Blade Runner 2049 is no different as the story highlights our reliance upon memory for defining our actions and the people we are. 

The visual focus on eyes is carried over from the first film as 2049 begins with an extreme close up of a bright green eye opening. It fills the entire screen and is distinctly unnatural in how brilliant the colour of the iris is.

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(One of the opening shots of Blade Runner 2049)

I personally believe that the decision to open with an identical shot in both films is a direct reference to the ‘Watchmaker Analogy’, which cites the human eye as proof of a grand designer in the shape of God.

The argument from creationists goes; ‘How can something as complex and perfect as the human eye, come from evolution? If you were walking along in a field and stumbled upon a pocket watch and opened it up to look at all of the tiny mechanisms, then you would know that somebody had built and designed it as it was so much more complex than rocks and trees dirt.’

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(One of the opening shots from the original Blade Runner)

This is where the term ‘Intelligent design’ comes from and the continuous focus on the windows to the soul in both Blade Runner films, highlights the relationship between man, machine and God.

I could write another 500 words on this film but I would be surprised if anyone has made it this far so I will leave it at this.

Blade Runner 2049 is a film which has succeeded in doing what most thought was impossible by improving on the original film. It is majestically mesmeric and is rightly being lauded critically. Go and watch it, you won’t be sorry.

The National Live Review

Ditching the usual arena size venue for the intimate and perfectly tight Hammersmith Apollo, The National raised the roof in West London last night and closed out their three-night extravaganza in style.

WhatsApp Image 2017-09-29 at 15.54.44The Ohio based band, formed in 1999, have been on the road for a very long time and were in fact the very first band I watched live in London in 2013. The group delivered an outstanding performance at Alexandra Palace four years ago, however, last night demonstrated that The National are still getting better after 18 years in the game and have added even more to their performance since I was first introduced to them on stage.

 

Utilising a dazzling array of visuals to accompany the set, a trance fell upon the crowd as ‘Nobody Else Will Be There’ kicked off proceedings.

WhatsApp Image 2017-09-29 at 15.54.43Filled with longing, regret, want and a hell of a lot of melancholy, you would think a sombre mood would perpetuate the atmosphere of a live National show, but nothing could be further from the truth.

‘You said we’re not so tied together, what did you mean? Meet me in the stairwell in a second, for a glass of gin…..’

The first words arrived and I was instantly plugged in. For me, A huge part of The National’s success is due to the resonance of their music, because somehow, everyone knows what it feels like for somebody they care about, to say they just don’t care as much.

WhatsApp Image 2017-09-29 at 15.54.42Every song is full of little moments like this and it is hard not to relate to what front man, Matt Berninger, recites in his deep velvet voice.

‘Guilty Party’ paints a painful picture but it is the very fact that Berninger is able to articulate such a scene with deference that provides an almost cathartic release for anyone who knows what he is talking about.

‘I say your name, I say I’m sorry, I know it’s not working, I’m no holiday, It’s nobody’s fault, no guilty party, we just got nothing, nothing left to say.’

WhatsApp Image 2017-09-29 at 15.54.42 (1)‘England’, ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, ‘Day I Die’ and ‘I Need My Girl’ were all soaked up and sung along to with gusto. ‘Fake Empire’ was the 19th song played and the band said their goodbyes but that was never going to be it.

After a few minutes of howling, clapping and whistling, the Cincinnati six reappeared and delivered the encore that everyone wanted, though it began with something entirely new and specifically prepared for the London show, A cover of Queen’s ‘I Want To Break Fee’.

WhatsApp Image 2017-09-29 at 15.54.39 (1)Personally, I value a band making that kind of effort to make one specific show different from another. The National are in the middle of a wold wide tour and the temptation would be to play the exact same playlist every night, however, based off their previous two shows in London in the two evening before, each set was different, meaning everyone got their own individual experience.

‘Mr November’ and ‘Terrible Love’ are brilliantly hard and loud songs which still contain powerful sentiments but it was the final song of the night which got hairs standing.

The opening notes of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ began but the microphone was turned out, immediately towards the crowd and so began the song.

Leave your home
Change your name
Live alone
Eat your cake

Vanderlyle, crybaby, cry
Though the waters are risin’
Still no surprisin’ you
Vanderlyle, crybaby, cry
Man its all been forgiven
Swans are a swimmin’
I’ll explain everything to the geeks

After the full rendition and several repeats of the chorus, it was all over.

A brilliant performance with the perfect ending, what more could you want.

LCD Soundsystem Live Review

Throw; Talking Heads, Bowie, a couple of members of Kraftwerke, U2, New Order, Vangelis and a healthy dollop of disco and you might get something close to LCD Soundsystem, who delivered one of the most; complete, awe inspiring, jaw dropping, dance infused performances I have ever seen at Alexandra Palace on Saturday night.

The New York group are veterans of stunning performances as their show at Madison Square Gardens, meant to be the last ever, had people in tears in 2013. 

Despite releasing their excellent new album a few weeks ago, only a couple of songs were played as a set of their best songs from across the LCD discography.

It is hard to find a group which is so strong lyrically, has riffs to die for and hooks which could catch killer whales, but that is why Soundsystem are revered so highly.

‘I Can Change’ came after ‘Us v Them’ opened proceedings and immediately, the 7,000 or so were plugged directly into the LCD mainframe. ‘You Wanted a Hit’ is the type of song every artist wished they could write and ‘Tonight’, one of the new songs, is impossible not to move to.

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For once, Ally Pally seemed too small to contain the crackling energy erupting from the stage all night. Instead it bulged as the Victorian venue pulsated with pure energy and light beams reflected from the mirrored ball, cutting through darkness and into the minds of the baying mass.

The lighting alone was a thing of beauty as the electronic orchestra, made up of three drum kits and a whole host of equipment I have never seen before, got covered with soft pink and blue as if a different coloured sunrise was bringing up the rear.

‘New York I Love You’ is the type of song anybody who has lived in a megacity can relate to as the conflict between being infatuated with inner city life and being ground down by the invisible forces at play, are borne out. It was one of the final songs but the volume was only getting louder until ‘All My Friends’ triggered an all-out assault on the senses of those lucky enough to be present.

As front man, James Murphey, blasted out the final chorus ‘Where are your friends tonight’ I thought that, despit the fact that I had literally lost my friends, it was alright because strangers starting grabbing each other and absolute joy broke out in North London. Space seems to open up in the crowd and bouncing on feet turned into full dance routines as the question; ‘Where are my friends Tonight?’ was answered. They were everywhere for everyone.

World on Fire – Amy Chua

‘How exporting free market democracy breeds ethnic hatred & global instability’

Amy Chua’s book puts forward a compelling case to support the statement above and cites a huge number of examples, throughout history, to demonstrate how democracy and free markets have been to blame for genocides, war and ethnic hatred all over the world.

Before picking up ‘World on Fire’, I had an opinion, which I believe is shared by most of those living in the Western world, when it comes to how a society should be run economically and politically.

Before I get into what that is exactly, I will say this, I am no scholar and I have never studied any form of political theory academically, but I share that in common with the majority, which is why it is important to demonstrate how radically my views have shifted, because if mine have, then so can everybody’s.

When it comes to less developed countries, I used to believe that holding elections, opening said nations up to international business and encouraging competitiveness, would improve the economic stability of a nation and its people, without issue.

Here, in the UK, we have one of the most developed economies, societies and political systems in the world. Yes, it has its huge problems, however, the majority of people live much richer lives than those living in 2nd and 3rd world countries.

So naturally, transplanting our system into countries like Afghanistan, Myanmar, Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela and Rwanda would have an incredibly transformative effect and alleviate such nations from the clutches of poverty.

How wrong I was….

Amy Chua highlights this problem in western attitudes and demonstrates what happens when democracy and free markets are implemented without planning and regulation.

The results of doing so have caused mass genocide, civil war and entrenched racial hatred.

The complexities of her case are argued clearly and backed up with hard evidence from across history, so you should not expect such a compelling and complete summary from a clueless 24-year-old.

The main jist of her point is as follows;

Nations which have been under the rule of a dictator or controlled by a one party state for many  years suffer greatly when democratic elections and free markets are suddenly implemented, whether that is by an outside force (always the bloody USA) or the remnants of an old regime.

Chua states that the following pattern appears every time this happens.

  • The old system comes down
  • Democratic elections are instantly organised in order to give the people the opportunity to decide on a new ruling party.
  • One particular party or individual chooses to run their entire political campaign on a ethnically driven message in order to gain the support of the majority of one specific ‘race’.

The most famous example being Adolf Hitler – Remember, the Nazi Party was democratically elected by the German people. Hitler couldn’t murder his way to the top because he could never get into power, but what he could do was blame the Jewish people for the downfall of the German economy and signing of the Treaty of Versailles which brought about the end of the first world war and defeat for Germany. Hitler used an ethnically driven message to gain the support of the majority by blaming an ethnic minority for the struggles of the ordinary German person. The rest, is history…

  • Once the leader or party has gained control of the government, the promises that they made to the majority must be fulfilled otherwise their hold on power would not last long.
  • The ethnic majority and government make it their mission to destroy an ethnic minority which is believed to be economically dominant while also to blame for the poverty and suffering of the majority. (I told you this wouldn’t be so clear)
  • The rhetoric used by the ruling party is always based on the same general message – ‘The foreigner/outsider has come into our country and sucked it dry. They hold all of the money and power, we must take it back’

A clear example of this is South Africa, where a tiny population of white people, descended from Europeans, hold a disproportionate amount of power and wealth, compared the majority of black natives.

  • The ruling party and enraged ethnic majority (who believe the propaganda) embark on destroying the economically dominant minority in order to ‘take back’ what is ‘rightfully theirs’.

One of the most horrifying examples of this exact pattern being followed is in Rwanda, when in 1994, one of the most atrocious genocides in history took place.

The country had been under a dictatorship until it fell and democratic elections were held. One particular party chose to blame the suffering of the ‘native’ Hutu people on the ‘foreign’ Tutsi people.

Once the party got into power, it ordered the Hutu people to go out into the streets and massacre every single living Tutsi in the country.

What followed was reported across the world as entire cities descended into chaos.

Men, women and children were dragged into the streets and hacked to pieces my mobs of roaming Hutu’s.

As poor as that summery is, I hope you get the basic idea because this is literally going on right now, all over the world.

‘World on Fire’ is an incredibly rich and educational text which puts a fresh view on the rise and trouble with globalism.

Other tentative subjects are examined, such as why half of the world celebrated when the twin towers where destroyed on 9/11 yet live in hope of someday being able to live in ‘the land of the free’.

Anyway, if you want to understand how the world actually works outside of the bubble which we can’t help but live in, ‘World on Fire’ will certainly give you something to think about. The argument is clear and, though hard to read at times, makes complete sense, democracy and free markets are incredibly venerable to exploitation if not managed carefully.

What is so impressive about Chua’s work is that she actually offers a viable solution in the final chapters, but to try and deliver her proposals would do a lot of hard work and years of research a huge disservice.

Read the book, learn something new, see the world differently. Easy.

Warpaint Live Review

This is what live music is meant to be.

Warpaint, the four-piece group from LA, delivered a fiery performance in the heart of London last night and I’m still taking it in.

The air crackled with energy from the moment the band appeared on stage and, in the courtyard of Somerset House, their music reverberated around the inner walls of the arena to create sonic delirium for a mad 90-minute show.

On a belly full of rose and pimms, wearing my Sunday best, I had come straight from Wimbledon and was bouncing around with cream chinos and a completely unbuttoned shirt from the off, hardly punk rock, but I had no choice and I didn’t care if anyone thought I was a Tory.

Warpaint released their most recent album last year and it is a seriously powerful piece of work to have been produced by a band which has come so close to falling apart so many times.

There is a depth to the Warpaint sound which is hauntingly addictive yet impossible to quantify. Electric Punk? Fuck I don’t know, making up terms to describe a sound is what the professionals do, so I’ll leave it to them.

‘Love is to Die’ is soaked with pain and rage yet it is beautifully melodic and rhythmic  while ‘Whiteout’ questions the importance of truth with harmonies to die for.

After 16 songs, London was whipped into a balmy frenzy and by the time ‘New Song’ blasted into us, fever pitch was reached.

Arms stretched and twisted into the sky as smoke hurricaned around the stage, Warpaint looked like masters of the universe at that moment and everyone felt it.

This was a performance delivered by a band at the height of their powers and a band which is doing what nobody else is.

At no point would I dare say Warpaint are the best girl band around right now because that would not be true.

They are one of the best bands around right now, full stop.

I have seen far too many articles talking specifically about girl bands, comparing them, listing the top five groups around.

It’s far too simple to say Warpaint are a heavier version of Haim just because they are all women.

Fuck that.

They’re musicians first and that is all anybody should care about.

Being women isn’t important and stuffing a load of them together is pigeon-holing.

Warpaint are Warpaint, that’s it.

They’re not successful because of their sex, they can attract a crowd of thousands on a Monday night because they kill it on stage and in the studio.

The set was ripped through and nobody wanted to leave when things finally ended, despite my cries of ‘please god I need more’.

The set list was scrunched up and thrown to the crowd and, despite feeling like I was going to explode, the paper sailed into my hand unchallenged.

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A swell of beautiful women suddenly formed around me to get a photo of the paper, one of whom joined me in stumbling into London’s twilight, dreaming of Los Angeles and Warpaints return.

Next time I won’t look like such a posh bastard.