The Null Device


Last night, I went to see I'm From Barcelona at Koko. Not my favourite venue, though the gig was amazing as always.

The supports were a mixed bag; first up was a band named Paris Motel, who were nothing like The Paradise Motel, but rather the sort of conservatorium-pop that could have been described as "radio-friendly" in the days when things that weren't based on R&B or "alternative rock" got airplay; perhaps the closest comparison would be George (the Australian band). All very polished adult-contemporary pop songs with strings and woodwinds played by good-looking people. Then there was a Swedish band named Samuraj Cities, who were OK though unexceptional, and another band whose name I forgot who featured a double bass and dulcimer.

Then on came I'm From Barcelona; entering the stage to the sounds of Queen's Barcelona, they kicked off with Treehouse, and went on to do their full set. They did their new songs (the Grizzly Man song and the Team Zissou song), and later did a cover of Bryan Adams' Can't Stop This Thing We've Started, which they managed to redeem quite well, turning it into a quite nice piece of brass-led Swedish indiepop. (For what it's worth, I detest Bryan Adams' musical output itself, in all its middle-aged rock blandness.) They played for longer this time, with an actual 3-song encore.

he encore led into the usual closing track, Adventure Kid's cover of We're From Barcelona. But then Adventure Kid (one of their friends from Jonkoping, I think) went on and continued playing, rocking out on a Korg monosynth over some electronic beats. His music was like a more dance-oriented I Am Robot And Proud or somesuch; there was one track which Emanuel joined in on. Most of I'm From Barcelona remained on the stage, dancing along with their fruit-shaped shakers and ukeleles and such (though one member threw a ukelele into the audience at one point; wonder if it's on eBay yet). The audience mostly stayed as well and danced along, applauding wildly at the end. Everyone had fun; forget NME New Rave™, this is what an indie-rave crossover should look like.

Anyway, Adventure Kid had a few unlabelled CD-Rs of his tunes for sale at the somewhat shambolic merch stall after the gig; I picked one up. The dilemma now: what to name the tracks when ripping it. I suspect that there are going to be a lot of hits for "Track 01" and so on soon.

gigs i'm from barcelona indiepop 0

book cover A few days ago, I was at Fopp near Covent Garden, where I found an interesting-looking book titled Lost Cosmonaut, by one Daniel Kalder. I picked up this book, along with a handful of others, and over the next few days, read it, finding it fascinating.

Lost Cosmonaut is a travelogue around various far-flung parts of Russia, with a difference. For one, in the spirit of what he calls "anti-tourism", the author eschews the exotic, beautiful or spectacular, instead seeking out the mundane, boring and depressing. The book starts with an anti-tourist manifesto, titled the "Shymkent Declarations", declaring the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China and Pyramids of Egypt to be "as banal as the face of a Cornflakes packet", and that the true unknown frontiers lie in the "wastelands, black holes and grim urban blackspots" of the world. The book itself follows in this vein, as the author (a somewhat sardonic Scotsman) visits four parts of Russia's ethnic republics where no tourists normally go, and describes them and the people with great wit and some embellishment. At times it verges on a sort of Borat-esque poverty porn, finding humour in the grimness of it all (and one of the people he talks to, an Udmurtian actress, actually accuses him of this), though the book transcends this, casting a more philosophical eye at the world: in many places, Kalder speculates on the myriad of small secrets in the various distant corners of the world, the minor triumphs and lesser geniuses whose works will be lost to obscurity, the languages and cultures dying out and falling out of living memory, and comes close to funding a sense of wonder in the mundane and bleak. Such flights are usually followed by wry illustrations of the general shittiness of the particular place he is currently visiting.

In the book, he visits four places, all of which are technically within the European part of Russia, though are, to varying extents, culturally alien to most Westerners' idea of Europe (glass buildings and Ikea furniture, as he puts it). He visits Kazan, once the glorious capital of the Tatars, since destroyed several times over and now rebuilt as a typically grim Soviet provincial city (and at the end speculates that perhaps the original Kazan is better off razed, because that way it can never decline into a tawdry tourist cliché), the Kalmykian republic (which is run by an eccentric despot who is obsessed with chess, and quite possibly murderously corrupt), Mari El (centre of the mail-order bride industry, in whose forests an ancient pagan faith still flourishes, or at least several half-complete reconstructions of one do), and finally Udmurtia, whose population has been so thoroughly assimilated into Russia that nobody knows exactly what the indigenous culture was like.

books culture humour reading russia travel 0