The War Against Intelligence

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Phil Alvin on the music/ furniture industry


True Colours

Lest anyone was in any doubt as to the political leanings of the UK music industries and their trade journal: look here!


“It’s almost like we have come full circle,” says Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, as he reflects on his band’s 2008 activities, which combine the re-issue of their Chemikal Underground debut from 1997, Mogwai Young Team, with the release of their new album, ‘The Hawk Is Howling,’ which comes out in September.

Both have seen them back in collusion with the Glasgow based label, the former project instigated by them, the latter recorded primarily at their recently upgraded Chem 19 studios in deepest Lanarkshire.

It also makes for an appropriate moment to reflect on the band’s past, their durability and the endless possibilities that their singular path has allowed them to pursue in between their six ‘official’ albums – the remixes, the soundtracks and the general flexibility of use afforded to their largely instrumental music.

In addition, it has provided a platform for some consistently amazing live shows – the prop on which their recorded output has remained consistently viable at a time when many of their nineties’ contemporaries have long since vanished from view.

For a band which has always seemed relentlessly focused on the future and pushing various boundaries, it is, nevertheless, slightly surprising to find Braithwaite embracing the repackaging of their earliest work with such enthusiasm, especially as he admits that ‘Mogwai Young Team’  was possibly the least pleasurable to make of their records.

“I think with that record it was a one-off experience,” he says. It’s generally pretty easy making records – as a band we are really good friends, probably more so now than we were , so it has never really been a problem. But with that record, for various reasons, recording wasn’t a lot of fun.

“I cannot really remember why – probably a mixture of doing it on a budget and having a deadline. Again, I am not sure why – we had already put a compilation of singles that year, so if I had been managing the band I’d have told us to go on holiday for a few months. I think it was self-imposed, there was a lot of attention on Glasgow at that time, and maybe, in hindsight, we just realised it was our moment.”

Now able to ‘separate the music from the experience of recording it,’ he stands up for the songs on the album, many of which have been central to their live shows and the process behind the reissue.

“The original idea was suggested by Paul (Savage), who recorded the album,” he explains.  He didn’t think it was mastered that well, and we thought that if we were going to remaster it would be good to add something to it as well. I’m not very technical, but do know the new one sounds better – a bit bigger.

“That’s why it took a little while, we had to go through a lot of old things – there were a couple of old, unreleased things, some bootlegs, some live recordings. We wanted to find a good live version of Mogwai Fear Satan from around the same time, but discovered that we didn’t manage to play one of those until 2000!”

His wider recollections of the period are ones of the type of music that were driving the band forward as they gained momentum, and their constant surprise at their ever increasing popularity.

“Much of what I remember was just traveling, playing and listening to music.  Although the recording of the album wasn’t particularly fun, the touring and the playing at the festivals for the first time was great. We’d grown up on the Nirvana film ‘The year Punk Broke’ and I remember buying a Best of Black Sabbath cassette at a service station on the M6 and listening to it more or less non-stop for six months – so from where we were standing the album was a great success.

“It made the top 75 and sold 10 000 copies. At that time, we couldn’t get our heads round that, that was the equivalent of filling the SECC or something. It was good for us because it gave us a platform to go on and make more records.”

Another album (‘Come On Die Young’) on Chemikal Underground elevated their status still further, and brought with it the inevitable interest from larger companies, with the band joining PIAS, with the larger recording budgets and longer term security that came with it. Ironically, their a&r man of the time, John Niven, has recently fictionalised his experiences in the nineties’ recording industry in the excellent ‘Kill Your Friends’ – begging the question if any of it was a bit close to home for Mogwai?

“Oh yes,” acknowledges Braithwaite. “There was one particular part, that I dug him up about – where he says that you can convince any indie muppet that you are a great guy by telling them how much you love ‘Marquee Moon.’ He tried that one on us, but I know John loves music and it was probably true, but he probably had a list of ten albums, which he would use depending on what type of person he was trying to impress!”

With the release of ‘Rock Action’ and the launch of their label of the same name, Mogwai secured both their musical legacy and short term financial needs, but the rush to spend the new found cash is one of Braithwaite’s few regrets.

“It was the first time we had money,” he says, “and not just to spend on ourselves but we had money to make records. What we ended up doing, which was a catastrophically stupid thing to do, was spend a fortune making our third album. Even around that time there people around us who kept telling us how big we were going to be – how we would be playing arenas and all that – but I think we were always quite self-contained, we knew our limits. In our heads playing the same places that Sonic Youth play was a massive success.”

Although only seven years ago, it was on the cusp of huge changes in the recording industry and ones which have changed both the band’s expectations and the way in which they run their own label, Rock Action, which has new albums pending from James Orr Complex and Remember Remember.

“I think record labels just now are running scared and they don’t quite know what to do,” he says. “In a weird way, with established bands like us, it seems to be that everyone is making money except the labels. It is usually their own fault. I think smaller labels, like Drag City, are doing things that are more interesting and friendlier to punters”

“Our accountant has asked us why we run a record label in the past. We never set out with any massive goal of making any money, which is good, because we haven’t. Sometimes you get a wee surprise -the last Part Chimp album did really well. We have also had a bit of help: Errors got some money for recording and we got some money from the Music Futures’ Fund.”

The technological changes, both in terms of recording and releasing music, in the years between ‘Mogwai Young Team’ and ‘The Hawk Is Howling’ are manifold, but Braithwaite can still joke at the attempts to prevent advance leaking of the record.

“I think the main difference is that you cannot give all your friends a copy of the album before it comes out any more,” he says, “but it is weird when you think back and consider all the technology stuff, it all seems so quaint, even the having to find a phone box to phone your mum and dad when we first went on tour. It’s bizarre.”

“Having said that, It’s still pretty exciting. Musicians are easily amused though. I still remember when we got he vinyl back for MYT and what a big event for us that was. I’m still amazed that I can take such amazing pleasure from picking things up and looking at them from every angle. Its a real privilege to be in that position.”
Originally in the Herald, 2nd August 2008

Hercules and Love Affair

Classic Grand, Glasgow

Andrew Butler has seen his collective drawn from the New York club, art and fashion scenes mushroom in both popularity and acclaim since the release of their debut album in March, yet aside from a few hometown warm-ups, this British tour is their introduction to playing live.

With a four piece rhythm section, 2 brass players and 2 vocalists, it would seem to have all the right ingredients to take the best parts of the album, which is a soaring collision of seventies’ disco, eighties’ electro-pop and early house music, to the stage.
The broad church of the music also makes for a diverse audience, but though the response is enthusiastic, band and crowd never really connect. It may be because of the one missing ingredient, the voice of Antony, which plays a major part on the record. It is setting any singer a demanding task to substitute his voice, but neither Nomi or Kim Ann Foxman are close to filling the void.
As a result of the vocals being (perhaps intentionally) low in the mix, the real anthems, ‘Blind’ and ‘Hercules Theme’ are slightly blunted, and while both vocalists are lively enough, there is a rigidity to the performance that is perhaps as much down to the retiring and slightly functional feel of the rhythm section.
Only the brass players seem to be truly enjoying the experience, and a really great disco outfit would surely be stronger either vocally or rhythmically.
Strangely an encore of soft-rock classic, ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper,’ allows them to loosen up and hint at the possibilities for Hercules and Love Affair as a great live band. Until then, the recorded version is the more convincing.

Monorail 50

for 2007 – observe distinct Scottish bias. . .

1 The Royal We – The Royal We (Geographic)
2 Alasdair Roberts – The Amber Gatherers (Drag City)
3 Panda Bear – Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
4 Malcolm Middleton – A Brighter Beat (Full Time Hobby)
5 Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity (ATP)
6 Tenniscoats – Tan Tan Therapy (Hapna)
7 Thurston Moore – Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace)
8 1990s – Cookies (Rough Trade)
9 LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver (DFA)
10 Bonnie Prince Billy – The Letting Go (Domino)
11 Magik Markers – Boss (Ecstatic Peace)
12 Bill Callahan – Woke On a Whaleheart (Drag City)
13 Battles – Mirrored (Warp)
14 Grinderman – Grinderman (Mute)
15 Various Artists – Ballads of the Book (Chemikal Underground)
16 Shellac – Excellent Italian Greyhound (Touch & Go)
17 Robert Wyatt – Comicopera (Domino)
18 Dinosaur Jr – Beyond (Pias)
19 PJ Harvey – White Chalk (Island)
20 Burial – Untrue (Hyperdub)
21 Various Artists – Trunk, Now We Are Ten (Trunk)
22 Emma Pollock – Watch The Fireworks (4AD)
23 Taken By Trees – Open Field (Rough Trade)
24 Tarwater – Spider Smile (Morr Music)
25 Various Artists – Don’t Fudge With The Fence Made (Fence)
26 King Creosote – Bombshell (679)
27 Von Sudenfed – Tromatic Reflexxions (Domino)
28 Terry Riley – Les Yeux Fermes / Lifespan ( Elision Fields)
29 Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth (Domino)
30 White Stripes – Icky Thump (XL Recordings)
31 Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters (Fat Cat)
32 Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls (Too Pure)
33 Edwyn Collins – Home Again (Heavenly)
34 Beirut – The Flying Club Cup (4AD)
35 Wolves In The Throne Room -Two Hunters (Southern Lord)
36 Maher Shalal Hash Baz – L’Autre Cap (K)
37 Tape & Minamo – Birds Of A Feather (Headz)
38 The Parsonage – The Parsonage (OSCarr)
39 Vashti Bunyan – Somethings Just Stick in Your Mind (4AD)
40 Angels Of Light – We Are Him (Young God)
41 Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala (Secretly Canadian)
42 Scout Nibblett – This Fool Can Die Now (Too Pure)
43 David Shrigley – Worried Noodles (Tomlab)
44 Life Without Buildings – Live At The Annandale Hotel (Garageblast)
45 Boris with Michio Kurihara – Rainbow (Pedal)
46 Directorsound – Leaving The Moors (Rusted Rail)
47 Foxface – This Is What Makes Us (Garageblast)
48 BMX Bandits – Bee Stings (Poppydisc)
49 Amiina – Kurr (Ever)
50 Richard Youngs – Autumn Response (Secretly Canadian) 

Sonic Youth


Not so much a review as an impression: Sonic Youth play ‘Daydream Nation’ in Glasgow to an audience that seems like a mix of those who were there (Rooftops, 46 West, Glasgow College of Technology and other such indie-disco pits) at the time and those who have bought into the legend subsequently.

I have swayed between hating, loving and hating Sonic Youth again at various points over the intervening period, but their continued evolution and existence is something to admire, if not always love. But here the format clearly doesn’t suit them. It is tight, but largely unengaged.

The two real highlights – ‘Teenage Riot’ and ‘Kissability’ are almost an hour apart. They are the only great tunes on ‘Daydream Nation.’ The rest, which seemed  so visceral and out of synch at the time, now sounds strangely plodding, as if it has been overtaken by events. The sequential playing of the album takes away the element of surprise on which the band has traded so well for so long. Only by the encore does it start to make sense again, but this seems more homage on the part of the fans and hard labour on behalf of the band. Whether it is their failure or that of the format is more difficult to establish.

Amy MacDonald


A feature from The Herald a few weeks ago:

Amy MacDonald has spent much of 2007 on the promotional trail, and the week ahead of the release of her single, ‘Mr.Rock’n’Roll,’ seems more stressful than usual.
Stuck in a people carrier in Shepherd’s Bush, she is between radio stations where she is recording ‘idents’ and interviews and filling time by doing press interviews and record store appearances. By night, there are gigs to play. Clearly, sleep is at a premium.
“It is the most stressful week of my life,” she laughs, “and we have all been arguing all the time. We have these huge five minute long arguments where we all hate each other and are shouting at the top of our voices, but it is always soon forgotten. We all know it is a stressful situation, and the other side of it is that it is extremely exciting as well.”
The 19 year old Glaswegian seems to be coping – maybe just – not only with the oppressive schedule of the last couple of weeks, when she has also played T in the Park and supported Elton John, but with the whirlwind couple of years that have taken her from school leaver to chart bothering songwriter.
MacDonald’s ascent seems like a particularly old-school, almost out-moded version of pop stardom, especially in the light of a wave of recent female acts who have found their success driven by internet (Lily Allen, Kate Nash and their ilk) or by years of treading the live boards in unsuccessful bands (KT Tunstall) or making their debut releases on small, independent labels like Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes.
Indeed, in citing Travis as her inspiration and producing a similar kind of memorable, melodious  and mainstream pop, MacDonald’s cards are on the table. She is in a win or bust scenario: signed to the world’s biggest record label and with their hopes invested in her songs, a low-key approach is hardly an option. It may not be subtle, but it appears to work and is the result of two years of careful preparation. She takes up the story:
“I finished school at the end of fifth year and was accepted for Glasgow and Strathclyde University, but me and some of my friends decided to take a year off before going. It wasn’t really anything to do with my music, it was more about being fed up learning and being lazy, but having the time and being in the house did help. I could spend more time on the songs, go to see more gig and perform more often.”
Tentative live appearances were as an under-age performer in open mic sessions in Glasgow pubs and the more sedate environs of coffee shops and book stores, playing acoustically. Her break also seems like a throwback to a bygone era of the recording industry.
“I saw an advert in the NME,” she says, “which was along the lines of ‘production company seeking new artists.’ I sent off some music, they loved it and got back to me.”
This established the first of the key relationships in MacDonald’s career with Pete Wilkinson of Melodramatic Records. With a small (and at that point unproven roster), Wilkinson set to work with MacDonald on transforming the tentative recordings into something of interest to the major publishers and record labels.
“We spent the best part of a year working on the demos and getting them to a good standard, but at the start of last year we still didn’t feel that they were quite ready. However, somebody from one of the labels heard it and the was when the interest began.”
With offers from all the major labels on the table and a publishing deal in the pipeline with Warner-Chappell, it would appear that Wilkinson took on the bulk of the responsibility with MacDonald only just of an age to be legally allowed to sign the paperwork.
“It was a hectic period,” she recalls, “and I was quite lucky in that I always had Pete with me, so I was never thrown in at the deep end when it came to dealing with the record companies. There was a fair amount of wining and dining, but I noticed that all stopped once we had signed!”
The label in question was Vertigo, part of Universal, and hot off the back of huge success with The Killers and Razorlight, and the deal of sufficient magnitude that she has been able to buy her first home earlier this year. With Wilkinson and his wife Sarah also taking on managerial and logistic duties, it also introduced new key players in Vertigo’s head of a&r, Paul Adam, and project manager, Naomi Beresford-Webb. Tellingly, MacDonald sees much of the last year’s success in terms of the graft of the key participants.
“There has been nothing really bad happen so far,” she says, “and lots of great things, like meeting Elton John and Fran Healy. Of course there is pressure involved because everyone has put so much into it, but that should mean that everything works out o.k.. We are all ecstatic at how far it has come so far, and while we are all keen for the single to do well, it is more important that the album does well, almost as a pat on the back for everyone involved.”
Although the huge billboards announcing the album, ‘This Is The Life,’ indicate the seriousness of the record company’s intent, they also put such an untried artist under a degree of pressure to succeed that would not be the case were a more incremental approach applied. Typically, she remains pragmatic and self-effacing about the situation.
“At first it was a bit weird seeing these posters,” she says, “but when I went to T in the Park a couple of weeks, I saw this huge display about the size of 8 normal posters, advertising my album. Unfortunately, there was a guy standing urinating on it – so you cannot take these things too seriously, there are downsides to it as well!”
The marketing of the record has not been solely down to the machine at Vertigo, and MacDonald’s My Space blogs give a good insight to her thoughts on both her career and the more mundane parts of her life.
“I don’t do the blogs as a marketing thing,” she says, “no-one has ever bought a record because of a blog. It is just for people who are interested, and it is a great way of bridging the gap between artists and fans. When I was a member of one of the Travis messageboards, I remember what it felt like when members of the band contributed – that is what I hope comes out of it.”
In spite of healthy signs of cynicism evident online about the industrial nature of the sales process, MacDonald has a balanced and down to earth approach to both her situation and remains proud of the songs on the album, suggesting that she had little choice but to take her chance.
“I have had two years to live with the album,” she says, “as that is effectively how long I have been working on it, even though it is new to everyone else. I am really comfortable with it, even though there are a few parts we now hate and wonder what if we had done something else, but I guess that is natural.”
“My parents said that I would probably never get a chance like this again, and if it all goes belly up in the future, then I can look back on it and view it as a case of ‘well, I had to go for it.’ I am glad everything is going well at the moment, but who knows what will happen in the future. There is plenty of time to go to university and get a degree – I think I would like to do that sometime in the future.”
More immediately MacDonald’s life seems to be more of the same – touring and promoting the record day and night. It may be demanding and at times deflating, but MacDonald is determined to capture her moment, and the reward of a top twenty single is obvious payback for her industry.
“At the moment the shows vary from sold out arenas and festivals to playing for ten men in suits at some kind of corporate event,” she says, “but the excitement of it all keeps me going. I have no specific aims other than to sell enough to keep doing this and make another record. ”

indian summer


A review of the Indian Summer festival in Victoria Park, Glasgow. Not as strong as a line up as last year, but a great, convivial event nonetheless:

As the festival market has become increasingly saturated (in both senses) this summer, it is surely time to consider both the aesthetic and environmental impact of the huge events that dominate and then clutter t.v. schedules for the remainder of the summer with different angles of Kasabian and the Fratellis.

As a consequence, Indian Summer and its like would appear to have many advantages. No w
asted campers fueled by fortified wine, no fourteen mile traffic jams, no attempts to sell lifestyle products every few metres and very little in the way of festival tourism with the majority of the audience from within a forty mile radius of the site.

There is also a unique feel to the line up, with the majority of the acts in questions not hawking themselves around every festival that will take them, and the potential to cover a reasonable variety of genres, even if white, male guitar bands dominate the main arena and 6 Music Hub tent this year.
Of Saturday’s main stage acts, it takes Midlak
e, with their pristine melodic rock that seems to draw on seventies’ acts like Bread and Fleetwood Mac, to raise both the quality threshold and interest level from the attentive but subdued audience. If ‘Roscoe’ and ‘Van Occupanther’ are the songs of the day, then credit also to The Rapture for being one of the few outdoor acts of the weekend to get feet moving thanks to ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ and ‘Olio.’

Between the two, Idlewild appear incongruously bombastic, a problem of context rather than content, while the often concurrent running times mean only snatches of activity in the tents can be caught. Andrew Bird and Au Revoir Simone would have graced the larger arena, while Daniel Johnston clashed with headliners, Wilco.

The latter are far from typical festival headliner fare, but their low-key excellence seems p
erfect for Indian Summer. With songs of the calibre of ‘Shot in the Arm,’ ‘Via Chicago’ and ‘Impossible Germany’ their career has been one of quiet investigation, and though sometimes meandering, they always seem to return to the point – Jeff Tweedy’s excellent writing.

Sunday’s headliner, The Flaming Lips, could hardly be more of a contrast. Extroverted and theatrical compared to Wilco’s inward, non-flamboyant
approach. There are troops of dancers in Santa outfits, lasers, balloons and ticker tape to augment what is effectively a crowd-pleasing revisiting of their best known songs.

As a result, ‘Race for the Prize,’ ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,’ and ‘Free Radicals’ are as memorable for the spectacle as the tunes, yet Wayne Coyne seems to fully, and verbosely, embrace the concept of the festival. Such is their appeal that both Mouse on Mars and Wheat have to play to tiny audiences in the tents.

They also make for another welcome contrast with their immediate predecessors. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were also disappointingly underwhelming and Spiritualized make for the most tedious and unappealing hour of the weekend. With no audienc
e interaction, Jason Pierce’s accompanying strings and singers, drown the songs under the weight of their self-importance. Seriousness does not have to equate to joylessness, and along with the headliners, I’m From Barcelona and Loney, Dear both injected some welcome colour and levity to the proceedings.

It all leaves Indian Summer at something of a crossroads. With a fine location, an audience and infrastructure in place, it needs to both grow enough to increase the range and quality of what is on offer while retaining the local,friendly and considered dimensions so lacking in most of its competitors – but to have reached such a stage in two years is a sizeable achievement in itself.


The closure of the Fopp chain has been covered with varying degrees of accuracy by the press – and while the loss of what has consistently been one of the best and most forward looking music retailers is disappointing, it is hard to feel much sympathy for the management in the light of the over-zealous expansion, the outright lies (MD, Gordon Montgomery maintained a week ago that they were not going into administration) and the shoddy manner in which staff were made to (conveniently) work a full calendar month without pay before being told at 4.45p.m. the day before closure that the game was up.

It will be interesting to see if Ernst and Young manage to find any takers for the multitude of stores given the current climate for high street music retail (link – with Tower gone, Borders maybe going from the UK and HMV and Virgin struggling, it may require some very special selling indeed.

And while it may be borderline good taste to find humour in a situation that sees so many jobless, then this comment posted on the Herald website warrants a mention:

Not me mate I spent 12 years building and operating Arch Studios in Glasgow, recorded many thousands of various artistes for washers. Oasis, Primal Scream, The Wets, Travis, Texas, Public Enemy, Pat Kane, Edith and the Ladies, Capone and the Bullets, The Styng Rytes, The Bored Housewives, Abandon your Head, The Scottish Sex Pistols, Blind Alley, Tom Morton, Danny Thompson, The Soviet Tractors, Fractile Four, Shelley Blue, Drew Mulholland, The Hemingways, The Pastels, Fergus Manson, Cath, Ramsey McVicar, Stairheid Dynamite, The Electric Fits, John McCourt, Scheme, Vilidian, Torino Move, Stewart Simpson, The Bopsters, Mind Garden, High on Water, The Beulay Bros, Sudden Groove Machine, Robert Jones, Nighshift, Ten Tall Men, Colourframe, Four Past Midnight, Paradise Music, Cutting Edge, Eddie Baskeville, Basic Notes, Catos Cat, Ken, White Noise, Roche, Martin Keilte, Moroccan Coco, Anaconda, Slow to Anger, Fool Circle, Tarot, The Mixers, The Fear, Distorted Truth, Lunatic Fringe, Baby Lemonade, to name a few ( I no longer have my diaries from 1980-1990) so I’ve only mentioned a small percentage here. Sorry to all I’ve missed. I hope this doesn’t offend you expat but perhaps it was you in the pub for years and you missed it all. Where was your studios then? You could say we along with Berkeley St Studios, Centre City Sound, Park Lane, Cava, Paladium, Back Shop, Tower, Sing Sing, Castle Sound et al STARTED THE REVOLUTION and you MISSED IT cos YOU were perhaps in the pub wi’ your fellow bevi heads.

Apart from bringing back memories of bands and studios that most involved with had probably wished to forget (although I wonder what the Soviet Tractors sounded like. . ). . stand up Archie of Arch Studios, the man who single handedly started the revolution while the rest of us were in the pub.

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