The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'gigs'


Late last year, the indie-music world was surprised by the announcement that Lush, one of the better-known lost bands of the 1990s shoegaze/ethereal/dreampop zeitgeist, were reuniting, and were not only planning to play gigs but were working on an EP of new material. On one hand, it made sense; with My Bloody Valentine having played sold-out gigs and finally released the Shoegaze Chinese Democracy, The Jesus and Mary Chain having played successful reunion gigs for a few years and talking about recording again, and Slowdive's expectation-bustingly successful comeback (and, again, an album in the works), if ever the time was right, it is now; though on the other hand, the fact that the end of Lush came after the suicide of their original drummer, Chris Acland, always seemed to rule out a reunion. Yet, after almost two decades, it was officially on the cards. A gig was announced at the Roundhouse in Camden for May; it sold out rapidly, and another was arranged for the following night.

I managed to pick up tickets to one of the May gigs, and have been looking forward to finally seeing Lush play live, even if doing so was from a distance in a large venue. So imagine my surprise when, flicking through upcoming gigs on Songkick just over a week ago, I found a new Lush gig on Monday week at Oslo Hackney, a much smaller venue, and that, even more mysteriously, it was not sold out.

I, of course, grabbed a ticket to this gig. Tonight, I went to it, and I must say it was great. The band went on a little after 20:30 (“No red hair, get over it”, said the now-brunette Miki, before they launched into their first song), and were in fine form, playing tightly and with energy for an hour and a half, doing mostly songs from between Gala and Split, with a cursory nod to their final Britpop-tinged album Lovelife. Above the driving bass lines, propulsive drums and the swirl and crunch of interlocking guitars (each through its own array of pedals), Miki and Emma's voices floated, as melodic and forceful as a quarter-century earlier. Anyway, the audience loved it, applauding rapturously; the band came on not just for the standard scheduled encore (3 songs, including Desire Lines), but for another subsequent unscheduled one.

There was, of course, a merch table, and alongside the usual T-shirts and a zine (Thoughtforms, glossier than the indie fanzines of old but the same concept) containing interviews, there was the new Lush EP, Blind Spot; a flat, oversized card package designed by V23 designer Chris Bigg, containing a semitransparent CD. I bought a copy and listened to it upon getting home, and it is very good indeed. Some are calling it a more mature version of Lush (which it is), though to me, it sounds most like a timeslip; an anomalous artefact from a parallel timeline, which somehow mysteriously appeared in this one. In its home timeline, Lovelife and the foray onto the Britpop bandwagon never happened; instead, Lush kept honing and refining their ethereal/dreampop sound, with Blind Spot, or something very much like it, coming out a few years down the track. That timeline is, of course, a very different world to the one we know.

In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing them again in a month or so, and hoping that this is the start of the second chapter of the Lush story.

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Tonight, I went to Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, for a gig celebrating the tenth birthday of local shoegaze night/label Sonic Cathedral (who formed a few months before I moved to the UK). The lineup consisted of Mark Gardiner (of Ride), Ulrich Schnauss and a mystery headliner. It was rumoured, and soon after that a pretty much open secret, who the headliner was: the gig was one night before the publicly announced (and quickly sold out) Slowdive show at the much larger Village Underground, and word started getting around that the returning shoegaze legends would be playing a warm-up gig the night before. The rumours turned out to be true, and the resulting gig even better than already high expectations.

Mark Gardiner played first; it was just him with a 12-string acoustic guitar and loop pedal, playing a few Ride songs and some more recent material. He got an enthusiastic reception. Afterward, the lights went down and Ulrich Schnauss and another musician took to the stage, controlling a table of synthesisers and mixers, accompanied by video projections of crystals, nighttime journeys, modern architecture and very large machinery in motion. Schnauss played some new material from an upcoming album, and this material seems to have a more electronic sound, for want of a better word.

Finally, after a few roadies placed the boards of guitar pedals on the stage, Slowdive went on, and started their set with their eponymous song, which was followed up Avalyn. Most of the set was comprised of songs from their EPs and Souvlaki, with one track (Catch The Breeze) from their debut album and two (Blue Skied An' Clear and Crazy For You) from Pygmalion. Their take on Crazy For You was one of the big surprises of the set; the original is a languid, evanescent number, drifting in and out as if made of gossamer. Their live version was a faster and more intense version, propelled by waves of processed guitars and driving percussion. It was, in a sense, as if Souvlaki-era Slowdive were playing a cover of Pygmalion-era Slowdive and adding their own interpretation to it. (And, in a sense, they were; Pygmalion was, in some ways, a work in progress; the band were fatally dropped by their label before they could play it live. Now, two decades on, they've seamlessly picked up where they left off.)

The other surprise was their cover of Syd Barrett's Golden Hair, which they had never played live. Their rendition developed on the version they recorded but was considerably richer, seeming to build on where the bands that have come along in the two decades since (such as Mogwai, iLiKETRAiNS and Explosions In The Sky, to name three) have taken the loosely defined genre; the dynamics seemed that much more glorious.


Slowdive were impressive. Not just impressive in the sense of competently playing some old favourites and hitting that sweet spot of nostalgia (though the show certainly did achieve that), or good for a band who reformed after some 19 years, but impressive by the standards one might judge any band. If one didn't know that this was their first gig since 1995, one would never have guessed; there was a freshness and vitality to the performance. (As one who spent much of 1998 or so listening to Souvlaki on repeat and then scouring the internet for MP3s of out-of-print early EPs (then deleted and generally disdained, not fitting into the grunge/Britpop narrative), I of course cannot hear Slowdive with the ears of one unfamiliar with their work, but can speculate that my younger self, from the moment before he heard their recordings, would have been blown away.) In any case, this will undoubtedly rank highly in my gigs of 2014.

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I am back in Reykjavík, Iceland; this time, I came here on occasion of Kraftwerk playing a gig at the Harpa concert hall. Having missed out on tickets to see them in New York (when they played tantalisingly close to the Chickfactor 20th anniversary gigs) and London and also having enjoyed visiting Iceland before, when the Reykjavík gig was announced, I jumped at the opportunity.

Harpa is the new concert hall built recently in Reykjavík; it was part of a grand project started at the height of Iceland's finance bubble; when the economic crisis hit, construction was suspended, but then the government decided to finance the concert hall, which ended up opening in 2011. It is a spectacular-looking building, and a great place to see concerts in.

On the way into the hall, we were handed a pair of 3D glasses each; these were not the red/blue ones, but some other type, with sheets of slightly tinted transparent plastic (possibly polarising filters?). Soon, a vocoded/synthesised voice announced “Damen und Herren, Ladies and Gentlemen...”, and the curtain fell slowly to the ground revealing the four members (Ralf and the three “new” guys, who've only been in the band for some 20 years), in grid-patterned body suits, standing in position behind black consoles whose edges were lit like vector graphics; behind them, a screen showed video projections. They started the first song: “The Robots”; the consoles' vector edges glowed red, and the screen was filled with Kraftwerk's computer-rendered doppelgängers, moving robotically, their extending arms projecting out of the screen. Then they went into “Metropolis”, with the consoles highlighted in white, and the screen filled with a geometric, monochromatic metropolis, a city of high buildings through which the camera glided, like a Bauhaus/Le Corbusier ideal of modernity.

P1330668 The rest of the set followed, with the visuals working spectacularly well; undulating three-dimensional sheets of green pixelised digits (Numbers), the vaguely Russian Constructivist-inspired 3D forms in The Man-Machine, Volkswagens and 1970s-vintage Mercedes motoring through green landscapes in a somewhat abbreviated Autobahn (the video of which seemed to be set in the era when it was written; other than the cars on the roads, these days, a road trip through Germany without seeing a single wind turbine would be unlikely), text and graphics floating above Tour de France footage, 3D-rendered musical notes gliding from the screen into the faces of the audience and more. Several songs (like The Model/Das Modell, Neon Lights/Neonlicht and Die Mensch-Maschine) were performed with both English and German verses. Some of the songs were updated for today; Radioactivity mentioned Fukushima, and the Spacelab video zoomed in on Iceland, to applause from the audience, before ending with a flying saucer landing somewhere near Düsseldorf. Computer World had a particular resonance in the wake of recent events, but has not, to date, been rewritten to mention the NSA.

It was the first time I had seen Kraftwerk since their Melbourne show in 2003 (which didn't have 3D graphics, though otherwise was spectacular), and was well worth the trip. say what you will, Kraftwerk know how to create a spectacle, a multi-sensory celebration of a (slightly obsolescent) modernity. (There are some photos here, though of course the 3D effects just show up as noise in them.)

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This weekend, I went to Indietracks, which, as previous years, was ace. Highlights were:

  • Bis, who headlined on the first night, playing an energetic set (even with Manda being in the late stages of pregnancy). I saw them the night before at the Lexington, but preferred the Indietracks set, as the crowd at the Lexington had a macho, aggressive vibe (a big chunk of the front of the audience seemed to be muscle-shirted Rollins-wannabe meatheads looking for some action), which the twee pop kids, bless them, didn't have.
  • P1320636The Secret History, the New York cult heroes (mostly) formerly known as My Favorite, playing on the main stage; they did two My Favorite songs (Absolute Beginners Again and The Suburbs Are Killing Us), which was great, along with songs from their current incarnation's two albums.
  • Haiku Salut, doing a set in the intimate setting of the church, accompanied by an assortment of MIDI-controlled lamps, which waxed, waned and blinked in synchronisation with the music. The effect was quite spectacular.
  • Flowers, a promising young band, playing on the main stage on Sunday. They're well worth seeing; I'm looking forward to their album.
  • Factory/Sarah veterans The Wake were amazing. Probably the oldest band there (I imagine they could claim a modicum of seniority over The Pastels), who made a return last year after a 17-year hiatus; their 2012 album was in my list of favourites of that year. They played some songs from this album, but mostly older material from their Factory years (which, if you liked Joy Division and the first New Order album, you'll probably like as well); and it sounded every bit as stark as on the record only far more vivid. Meanwhile, the bassist kept stealing the show with his moves; one cool cat.
  • Still Corners closed the festival as the sun went down over the stage.
  • Sets on the trains: London ukulele-pop combo Owl And Mouse did a great set on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvey Williams of Another Sunny Day played on the train, though there were a lot of people who didn't manage to squeeze into the parcel van it was in. Harvey did manage to do a second set in the workshop tent later.
I didn't get to see everything, of course; I missed, among others, Monnone Alone (whom I did manage to catch in London recently, though) and most of the Pastels' set, among innumerable others.

I have posted photos here; I'm also uploading some videos I took here.

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This past weekend, I went to the London edition of the Chickfactor indiepop zine's 20th anniversary gigs. The zine was founded in 1992 by two American girls, Pam Berry and Gail O'Hara, and whilst its printed output has tapered off somewhat (though issue #17, now funded through Kickstarter, is coming out soon), has continued as a website. Consequently, they've been organising commemorative gigs throughout this year. Earlier this year, I had flown to New York to attend the Brooklyn gigs they organised, largely because it was quite possibly my only chance to ever see The Softies play live (and it was worth it and then some, but that's another post). Anyway, Chickfactor had for a long time had a connection to London; having been founded by American indiepop kids, a subculture with an inherent Anglophilic streak (often coloured by a stylised, mildly anachronistic swinging-60s aesthetic; witness the summer dresses and severe Mary Quant bobs favoured by girls in the scene). One of the founders, Pam Berry (also of Black Tambourine) married an Englishman and ended up in London, while the other, Gail O'Hara, spent some time living in London in the early 2000s, and had a weekend festival, Mon Gala Papillons, at Bush Hall in 2004 (one of whose nights I ended up attending). So a London festival was only a matter of time.

I didn't go to the film screening (of Take Three Girls, the documentary about post-punk girl band Dolly Mixture, which I had seen before) on Friday, largely because I had already bought a ticket to the Rodriguez gig at the Roundhouse (which was great, incidentally). I went to the Saturday evening gig (back at Bush Hall, around the corner from where I used to live, but inconveniently far from everywhere else), and to the Sunday afternoon/evening gig, which was held at that haunt of London indiekids of a certain age, the Lexington.

Saturday's gig started off with Amor de Días, Lupe from Pipas' new project with her partner, Alasdair from The Clientele. It was as one might imagine; more languid and dreamy than the indiepop of Pipas, and redolent of the psychedelic folk of the Sixeventies in its languor. They were followed by the Would-Be-Goods, a band started by the teenaged Jessica Griffin in 1987, launched with a mildly saucy song about modelling for the photographer Cecil Beaton, which they followed with some highly literate pop songs. The Would-Be-Goods have kept to the jangly indiepop formula for the most part, though have matured somewhat in their themes; whilst some songs are set in the language of youthful friendships and crushes that is the idiom of indiepop (Temporary Best Friend, for example), others anticipate old age and its miseries (Too Old, for example, a song which sits next to Platinum by their fellow él Records alumnus Momus in the canon of starkly, heartrendingly beautiful meditations on the passing of time and all of its crimes). Shortly after the Would-Be-Goods' set finished, the room started to pack out in anticipation of The Aislers Set. They did not disappoint; they tore the roof off the place, much as they had done in Brooklyn. The evening was rounded off nicely with The Pastels, who played a mostly mellow set.

Sunday started with The Starfolk, a husband and wife duo from the US, who played a guitar-driven pop. They were followed by Harvey Williams and Josh Gennet (who had been in a band named Holiday in the US), who played a selection of songs (mostly Harvey's, with some of Josh's and some covers of female singer-songwriters; their version of Broadcast's “Colour Me In” was lovely). Harvey hadn't been busy at work on new material, though had one recent song (“Quiet Domesticity”, a paean to staying at home) and had updated The Girl From The East Tower with a verse about the aforementioned girl losing her job (which turned out to have been at the BBC, where Harvey also works) due to not willing to relocate to Salford. The Real Tuesday Weld played a set a bit later, and had morphed into a more swing style in the years between their initial dealings with Chickfactor and now. They were followed by Pipas; it was great to see them. They had a new song, The Occasion, which they débuted at the Chickfactor 2012 US dates, though it has evolved slightly since. img_1138 The night was rounded off with Tender Trap, Amelia Fletcher's band, who rocked harder than I expected; stand-up drums, skronky guitars and female vocal harmonies, backing vocals themed with the old youthful themes of boyfriends and girlfriends and such; Amelia seems to do such pop better than the more grown-up themes and mellow sounds of her previous Tender Trap albums.

One thing that was inescapable at the Chickfactor gig was a sense of the passage of time. It was the 20th anniversary of a zine from the golden age of zines (after desktop publishing made them cheap and quick, but before the internet made them redundant as a means of communication) and arguably of a certain type of indiepop, and many of those who were involved back in the day are approaching or well into middle age, often with children. (The drink coasters printed for the US dates read “doing it in spite of the kids”.) It was interesting to see how the indie kids of yesteryear squared their love of and identification with an intrinsically youthful genre with their age and adult roles in life. Harvey Williams wrote a song, with the dry wit familiar to those who remember Another Sunny Day and his solo album on Shinkansen, about the mild joys of not going out (a contrarian stance which parallels the anti-machismo of his youthful work, along with that of his Sarah Records peers). Jessica Griffin, who (whilst presumably still in her 30s) wrote a sad song about the ravages of aging, doesn't expect to be still doing this sort of thing in ten years' time, while Amelia Fletcher has taken the opposite route, embracing the formalism of indiepop as ballads of youth in the vinyl record age (her band's previous album was titled Dansette Dansette, after a 1960s-vintage record player), can see herself singing songs about boyfriends and girlfriends (and, presumably, the ideal boyfriend's record collection) when she's 80.

Anyway, photos are being posted to the usual place. I managed to get some video with my iPhone, which has been collected here. Check back here in some 10 years' time for reportage from the Chickfactor 30th.

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Tonight, I went to the Forum to a gig in tribute of someone named Nick Sanderson (the frontman of a band named Earl Brutus, apparently, whom I only know from the Gary Numan tribute compilation they appeared on around 1997). Playing were The Jesus and Mary Chain (headlining), British Sea Power and Black Box Recorder.

Black Box Recorder started just after I came in, and were great. They played almost entirely songs from their first album and B-sides thereof, which was good as those were the good ones IMHO. They did England Made Me, Child Psychology, Girl Singing In The Wreckage and a somewhat more dubby take on IC One Female. And Sarah Nixey's vocals were as archly breathy as ever.

When I heard British Sea Power a few years ago, I came away underwhelmed; tonight's gig has reaffirmed that assessment. Their music strikes me as rather dull; competent though uninspiring stadium-filling wall-of-noise workouts in the U2/Coldplay mould, with a bit of Magic Joy Division Dust sprinkled over them to give them some edge.

The Mary Chain, though, were great; they sounded just like the records they made two decades ago, and got the crowd moving. They played mostly more recent tracks, though did get in a few from Darklands and Psychocandy, and they also played one new song. Could there be a new album on the way?

One thing that left me wondering: why was there a huge tinsel rendition of the British Rail logo (you know, the one with the arrows) behind the stage? Is this the RAF Bullseye of 2008 or somesuch?

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One thing you can do more easily in Britain than in Australia is hop on a train to see a band in another town later that evening; partly because Britain has trains which run at more or less reasonable frequencies and partly because there are other cities with interesting music scenes within two hours' travelling time. While in Australia, everything tends to coalesce in the inner parts of capital cities, and all roads lead to inner northern Melbourne, in Britain, things are more distributed; while London is a global centre of commercial music and the media, there are thriving grass-roots music scenes in other areas, such as Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and the East Midlands. In particular, the area around Derby and Nottingham has become an epicentre of indiepop. And so it was to Derby that I caught a train last night to see the last-for-a-long-time gig by The Deirdres.

I caught the 18:45 train towards Carlisle, getting off at Tamworth station (a small two-level station, where the line from London towards Carlisle crosses the one from Birmingham to Derby), climbing the stairs to the upper platforms and catching a train to Derby, arriving at about 20:30. After checking into a B&B, I made my way to the venue, a pub/bar named Vines.

The Deirdres gig, being their last one for at least five months (and possibly forever), was themed around things that hibernate; on entry, one had to name something that hibernates, which was then drawn on one's wrist in lieu of a stamp. The Deirdres themselves were in fancy dress as hibernating animals; there was a caterpillar/butterfly, a turtle, a bear and a hedgehog among others. (One member, Keir, was not in costume; his costume was meant to be a computer, but apparently broke; he said it was because it was a Windows PC and not a Mac.)

Anyway, they put on a great show, playing with their usual exuberantly playful enthusiasm. (A Deirdres show feels a little like an I'm From Barcelona show, only smaller and without the confetti.) Much like the other shows of theirs I've seen, it looked chaotic and ramshackle on the surface, but was held together with impressively tight and well-rehearsed musicianship, not to mention some quality songs. IMHO, The Deirdres are perhaps the most exciting indiepop band in the UK today.

Before their set, they also screened, for the first time, the new video they and some friends made for their song Milk Is Politics. The video's theme has little to do with the song title or its lyrics, instead being a somewhat twee, slightly silly adventure concerning eggs. It's pretty much what you'd expect a Deirdres video to look like, and is rather ace. Anyway, it has now been uploaded to YouTube, and you can see it here:

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Last night, Your Humble Correspondent made his way out to deepest darkest Richmond to see Momus' performance at the Richmond Lending Library. (This was the second ever performance in a public library I had seen; the previous one was also by Momus, only somewhere around Balham or Tooting, in the southernmost reaches of the Northern Line.)

img_8989 This performance, which I only found out about yesterday, was ostensibly about the restless spirits trapped inside books. Momus (attired all in black, including a hood) played the role of a spirit medium specialising in spirit media, as it were, or more precisely in the spirits of dead people trapped in books. He invited attendees (of whom there were perhaps 10, presumably because those attending only had a day's notice of the event) to choose books at random and read a sentence from them, which he then would spin into a tangent, philosophical reflection or evidence of eldritch and unholy things beyond the veil between worlds. (In the first example, a cheerily banal line in colloquial English turned out to really be in "Ukrainian", and a portent of grim things indeed. Later, a book of knitting patterns revealed the battle between Jesus Christ and the tamagotchi—perhaps an echo of Momus' writings about the dualism between the Judaeochristian sex-death-guilt culture and the Shinto fertility religion, though he didn't labour that point.) In between the entertainment, he performed a few songs, including Beowulf (which he did from under a blanket) and Robin Hood (with a dig at Thatcher Blair Brown's devil-take-the-hindmost Britain), singing over an iPod playing through PC speakers, and playing the odd stylophone solo. He also played one of the songs from the new album he's working on with one of the chaps from Gay Against You; it was built up from a Magazine sample (and thus, he said, possessed by Howard Devoto's restless spirit), and sounded quite good, in a glitchy breakcore sort of way; not too unlike Kid606 or Talkshow Boy.

Anyway, Momus' own account of the gig, with more details, is here.

Momus will be back in London in late June, when he will be wandering the south bank of the Thames and telling tourists that they're in Tokyo or something like that. Which should be worth going along to.

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This blog has been quiet recently, as your humble correspondent spent the past few days off the grid, attending the ATP vs. Pitchfork festival at Camber Sands (site of the famous Bowlie Weekender).

The festival was great. Being set in a holiday camp (where, presumably, working-class families went to spend their holidays in the days after the 1950s consumer boom but before cheap flights), camping in mud and queueing to relieve oneself into a pit did not enter into the equation; instead, the attendees stayed in chalets (which, despite the name, aren't wooden cabins of Alpine design, but blocks of somewhat minimal one-bedroom flats; my one reminded me of the first flat I ever rented). While the facilities were mass-market, the music wasn't; the bands themselves were chosen by ATP and Pitchfork, hence the standards were quite reasonable, if perhaps a bit hipsterish in places. As well as bands, there were DJs in various venues, and in the chalets, the TVs carried two extra stations of cult films, documentaries and shorts, one programmed by ATP and the other by Pitchfork.

Anyway. some highlights were:

  • The Clientele - As dreamy and ethereal as I remember them; music with the texture of honey-golden sunshine through gossamer. Their new songs may have more energetic drums or guitars, but that's still not enough to break away from the la-la land of Alistair's vocal languor. These guys most specifically don't rock.
  • Vampire Weekend - Yes, they're a scions of America's elite taking the music of the global downtrodden and using it to sing songs about their disgustingly privileged lives in Cape Cod and at expensive colleges, and liking them invalidates one's right-on credibility, but they are quite good at what they do (which is making danceable pop grooves) and entertaining to watch/listen to, even if one is aware of the inappropriateness of the juxtaposition between medium and message.
  • Fuck Buttons - Two guys in hipster attire making electronic drones with a laptop (Mac, of course) and circuit-bent toys, and then fashioning the noises into passable dance music. Not bad. One has to wonder who Buttons was/is, and how he/she/they feel about all this.
  • Glass Candy - Former hardcore punks who got really into 1980s Italo-disco and brought some of the hardcore punk energy with them. The floor was a mosh pit with crowd surfing and all. As for Glass Candy (i.e., DJ Johnny Jewell and singer Ida No), they were great. Afterward it was pointed out to me that they are influenced not only by Italian disco but also by the aesthetic of Italian horror films, in particular those of Dario Argento.
  • Even - Yes, the Australian indie-rock/power-pop outfit. They struck me as very Australian and very competent at what they do. The bloke looks like quite the part of the veteran Aussie rocker; a solid tradesman in that respected and established of entertainment trades. They've done the hard yards on the long way of rock'n'roll, though haven't reached the top; perhaps if they were 10 years younger, NME would pick them up and make them the next Jet, though right now, they're more like a dependable brand of a traditional product than the Next Big Thing.
  • Yeasayer - They seemed epic and prog-rocky; one to look into.
  • Los Campesinos! - They were ace. When introducing Knee Deep At ATP, Gareth told the audience that this was their equivalent of playing Wembley, and he's not going to say too much in case he starts crying. They played with terrific enthusiasm and were lots of fun to watch, not to mention musically really good. One of the highlights of the festival.
  • Hot Chip - They got the crowd dancing, though people didn't dance as immediately as in Hay-on-Wye last year. Perhaps those Guardian readers really know how to get down? A more likely cause would have been the lack of working air conditioning in the room on that night, though despite that, people did get down.
  • Jens Lekman - He opened on Sunday. He had a backing band comprised mostly of cute Swedish girls in colour-coordinated outfits. Everyone wore a brass key around their neck, whose significance is apparently a secret. As he played, Jens instructed the sound engineer, one Steffan, on what to think about when mixing songs: for I'm Leaving You Because I Don't Love You, it was about his last breakup, for Black Cab, about being a teenager and catching public transport, and for Sipping On That Sweet Nectar, about his first kiss. Anyway, Jens' set was really good; the man is an adroit entertainer.
  • A Place To Bury Strangers - very loud, and a bit Mary Chain-esque. Not bad.
  • Of Montreal - They were brilliant as before. They had the psychedelic costumes, the dancers/psychodramatic performers and the visuals, and played an hour's worth of songs, mostly from their past 2 albums. I also saw the mirrorball ninja guy wandering around the festival site in full costume a few hours earlier, playing on the adventure playground.
  • Harmonia were very impressive; three older German men (the oldest of whom is in his 70s, apparently), seated behind tables covered with electronics, and producing immersive ambient soundscapes, of the sort that all the ambient artists who followed took off, only usually not as well. I stayed for the whole thing, which unfortunately clashed with Caribou. I did manage to see the end of Caribou's encore, and that was quite impressive too; droney electronics with mad percussion.
I greatly enjoyed it, and will definitely consider going to a future ATP. (Next weekend's one at Minehead's out of the question, though, being somewhat too soon. I probably won't make it to the New York one in September either.)

Anyway, there are photos here.

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And here are the top 12 gigs of 2007:

  • The Motifs, Light Music Club @ Spoon, 12/1/2007

    I caught this the day before I was due to leave Melbourne. Not only did the Motifs play, in band form (and managed to translate from the bedroom-pop format really well), but Light Music Club (now a club of one, consisting only of the amazing singer-songwriter Zoë Jackson) played as well.

  • I'm From Barcelona, Adventure Kid @ Koko, 27/3/2007

    One of several I'm From Barcelona gigs I saw this year. I listed this one despite it being at Koko (a venue I'm not fond of), because this one featured Adventure Kid, the electronica artist who did the cover of We're From Barcelona they play at the end of their gigs. He was pretty good.

  • Bis @ Islington Academy, 7/4/2007

    They're back; older and wiser, and the boys lacking somewhat in hair, but rocking just as hard. Data Panik may be no more, but Bis can still tear the roof off a venue, which they did.

  • The Blow @ The Luminaire, 30/4/2007

    Not so much a rock concert as an observational comedy routine punctuated by sharp electropop numbers with equally sharp dance routines. Khaela Maricich is an amazingly charismatic and entertaining performer.

  • Of Montreal @ Cargo, 29/5/2007

    The first of three of their gigs I saw this year; it was like a Sid & Marty Krofft TV show on (even more) drugs. One of the grandest musical spectacles of the year (well, this and the other two I saw).

  • Momus, Kumisolo, Laila France @ La Flèche d'Or, Paris, 29/6/2007

    I missed Momus' gig at Tate Modern in January, as I was in Australia then, so when he announced a Paris gig, I booked my Eurostar ticket. The gig itself was excellent, featuring a lot of classic songs, including some Kahimi Karie numbers with Laila France (who, I believe, organised the gig) helping out on vocals, and was generally a very engaging performer. The support was the kind of kawaii J-pop band you might imagine on a bill with Momus.

  • Baseball @ The Windmill, Brixton, 11/7/2007

    Cameron Potts' berzerk violin-driven punk project did a few London gigs at the end of their European tour. They rocked pretty hard.

  • Pikelet @ The Enterprise, 15/7/2007

    Pikelet is Evelyn Morris, the drummer from Baseball, doing a softer solo project, creating songs with an accordion, various percussion and (crucially) a loop pedal. When I heard that Baseball were going to be in London, I took it upon myself to organise a solo gig for Pikelet (with the help of some friends). It was a very impressive gig.

  • Rose Melberg, Harvey Williams @ the Luminaire, 10/8/2007

    An amazing bill; Harvey Williams (of Another Sunny Day and The Field Mice) coming out of musical retirement to play his hits (including a stripped-down version of You Should All Be Murdered, and Rose Melberg (of The Softies) doing a set. The highlight was undoubtedly Rose's cover of The Field Mice's The Last Letter. She said she felt uncertain about covering such a revered song, but the crowd loved it.

  • Architecture In Helsinki @ Concorde, Brighton, 16/9/2007

    One of the best AIH gigs I have ever seen. They played so tightly and with so much energy; they virtually tore the roof off the Concorde2. The encore consisted of a cover of Mental As Anything's "Live It Up". The supports were Fanfarlo, who appear to be struggling between being a Labrador indie-pop band and being Coldplay; alas, Coldplay is winning.

  • Misty Roses @ the Enterprise, 18/11/2007

    Another gig I was involved in organising; this one's for transatlantic lounge-core duo Misty Roses. They were great; the frontman, Robert, has an amazing voice and a lot of charisma, and the music itself was quite lush, like Morricone or Bacharach only with new-wave and trip-hop influences, and with lyrics about old B-grade/genre movies. The supports (Hong Kong In The 60s and Sunny Intervals) were great too.

  • Jens Lekman @ the Luminaire, 11/12/2007

    This time, Jens didn't have a backing band, but instead had a girl playing bongos and an iPod he switched in towards the end; nonetheless, he put on a brilliant show. The audience got into the spirit of it, and the entire room ended up singing a duet with him on Pocketful of Money in the encore, which was an amazing experience.

If I were to nominate a gig of the year, that would have to be Rose Melberg/Harvey Williams.

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A few videos from this weekend's Momus gig at La Flèche d'Or in Paris:

Pierrot Lunaire:

Nervous Heartbeat:

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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.

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Last night, I went to see I'm From Barcelona at ULU; it was the third I'm From Barcelona gig I've seen, and was excellent.

The first support was some geezer with an acoustic guitar, who varied from ordinary to passable. The second support was quite a bit more impressive; a Swedish indiepop band named Irene; they were somewhat smaller in scale than I'm From Barcelona (they had about 7 members, which seemed positively modest compared to IFB's 29 or so), though had much the same sort of joyous summery exuberance about their music. I suspect I'll have to get their CD.

img_7457 Then I'm From Barcelona made their entrance, with their usual grandeur and showmanship; the strains of that Queen song they use as an intro played and Emanuel and his friends filtered onto the stage, resplended in their usual slightly cartoonish hipster attire. (Aside: I'm told that all the cool kids in Stockholm are wearing oversized plastic glasses these days.) Giant balloons were inflated and thrown into the air above the audience, who proceeded to volley them around throughout the gig, and an industrial bubble-blowing machine was set up on stage. Then the intro ended and the band kicked off with a rousing rendition of "Treehouse", the audience singing along with the catchy chorus.

Audience participation was the order of the day; the audience were invited to join into the easy parts of various songs (the "Daaaamn!" in Oversleeping, and the second repetition of We're From Barcelona, with some prompting), and those who had kazoos (available at the merch stall) were invited onto the stage during Chicken Pox. The band seemed to be having fun with the music, taking it on mischievous detours (a chorus from a Madonna song in one song, an excursion into reggae towards the end of another). They also played a few new songs: one (with a severely reduced line-up; just Emanuel and two others) was about making friends with grizzly bears, inspired (somewhat mischievously) by Werner Herzog's The Grizzly Man, and another referenced Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

The gig was an exuberantly joyous experience; there was a really friendly mood in the venue, with everyone brought together by the music. By the end of the gig, the audience were (in Emanuel's words) the band's new best friends, and I'm sure that I'm From Barcelona were quite a few people's new favourite band.

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And now, here is my annual write-up of the past year in music:

Top 10 albums of 2006 (in alphabetical order, by artist):

  • The Blow - Paper Television

    Polished yet glitchy electropop, with just the right mix of slickness and roughness, with thoughtful lyrics. Pile Of Gold is perhaps the best pop song about the economics of sex ever recorded, The Big U talks about the universe as a romantic rival, and Babay (eat a critter, feel its wrath) is a rather clever use of meat-eating as a metaphor for unrequited love, from the point of view of the eaten creature/spurned lover. The melodies are pretty catchy too; this all works as pop music.

  • CSS - Cansei de Ser Sexy

    They came out of Sao Paolo, they look like American Apparel models, have songs with titles like Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above, Artbitch and Music Is My Hot Hot Sex, and their name means "tired of being sexy" in Portuguese. Which all sounds perhaps a bit too VICE Magazine, though their music is actually good; a bit like a more electro Shonen Knife.

  • Gersey - No Satellites

    The Melbourne group's third album, sees their guitarwork joined by more driving, angular grooves. It's all good.

  • I'm From Barcelona - Let Me Introduce My Friends

    A record so exuberantly joyous that it makes The Go! Team sound like The Smiths by comparison. A Swedish chap named Emanuel and 28 of his friends getting together to sing perfectly catchy pop songs about stamp collections, treehouses, and friendship, and once you hear them you'll be forgiven for wanting to join in and sing along. As the end of the booklet says, now you're from Barcelona too.

  • James Figurine - Mistake Mistake Mistake Mistake

    A new record by Jimmy Tamborello, better known as half of The Postal Service. Only with the smugly saccharine romantic-comedy feel of Give Up replaced with Kraftwerkesque cold feeling and sparse electronic buildups like winter landscapes scrolling past alongside an Autobahn. The choirs of robots are back, though they're less shiny, and their joy circuits have since burned out. One of the quiet triumphs of the year.

  • Mojave 3 - Puzzles Like You

    Once upon a time, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell were in a band named Slowdive, and crafted lush, intricate walls of gently intense emotive sound. Then they threw that all away, formed a band named Mojave 3 and started making stripped-down 2-chord country/folk busker tunes, refusing to even mention their previous incarnation. Now they got their groove back, and come back with an album of lush, layered pop songs. It's not shoegazing (though there are enough bands doing that for those who want it), but it is a return to form.

  • Momus - Ocky Milk

    The latest from self-styled tender pervert Momus, a mashup of influences from Canto-pop and synthpop to music-hall, ragtime, along with nods to hip genres such as glitch and freak-folk (though Momus, in his glorious eccentricity, is the sort who never quite fits into a scene or genre). There are numerous layers of subtlety and reference in this work, and analysing them could be a PhD thesis in itself. Having said that, it makes a more listenable (if still wilfully eccentric) pop record than Otto Spooky or Oskar Tennis Champion. My favourite track would probably be Zanzibar; one day, I want to go to Zanzibar and watch the sun set over the Atlantic whilst listening to this.

  • The Radio Dept. - Pet Grief

    The second album from the Swedish shoegazer/indie-pop band, and a very polished work, with lush yet wistful pop songs constructed from clunky 1980s drum machines, processed guitars and the odd keyboard, and a few Pet Shop Boys influences sneaking in amongst the Slowdive and Sarah Records.

  • Spearmint - Paris In A Bottle

    A concept album, based around an encounter between four young strangers in Paris a decade earlier and their wishes for the future, told in recollections from the imperfect present. Spearmint are in fine form, doing what they do well; catchy bossa-nova-influenced pop songs with themes of bittersweet complexity; their arrangements are more sophisticated than on earlier records. Highlights are the two tracks which bookend the CD, and the disco groove of Psycho Magnet; also listen out for the French accordion on Wednesday Night.

  • Wolf & Cub - Vessels

    Some kids from Adelaide with guitars, but don't let that put you off. This isn't the knuckle-dragging rockist primitivism of Jet or Eddy Current Suppression Ring but a quite effective blend of krautrock and psychedelic rock grooves, with perhaps a nod to the Stone Roses; it has driving motorik grooves, dubby basslines, fuzzy guitars, the odd psych-rock freak-out and creative use of pedals and studio effects, and it all hangs together rather nicely. I only discovered this album at the end of the year, though feel that it merits inclusion.

I haven't nominated an album of the year, though if pressed, I'd probably say it was Momus.

Other albums of note included: Beirut, Gulag Orkestar (which is rather good, though has been played to death now, thanks to everyone who reads Pitchfork; see also: The Arcade Fire), Hot Chip, The Warning (think 1980s Prince meets Aphex Twin; highlight: the title track, with its contradictory combination of gentle beauty and messages of aggression), and Small Sips, The Morning Ripples (a new project from members of Sodastream and The Paradise Motel, in a somewhat Mojave 3-ish direction), New Waver, Neuters (a compilation of covers of popular songs, reinforcing New Waver's Darwinian-pessimist ideology).

There were also new albums from Belle & Sebastian (which was OK, though I'm not sure I like the 1970s rock direction they're going in) and Camera Obscura (which sounds less like Belle & Sebastian than their previous album, and takes more cues from 1960s country and Motown). Ninetynine also released a new album, though it didn't grab me quite as much as The Process and Receiving The Sounds Of Science Fiction.

The gigs of 2006 were (in chronological order):

  • Belle & Sebastian, Brighton, 3 February, and Hammersmith Apollo, 10 February

    Part of the tour promoting their new album, and it was great. For a band who are trotted out as the stereotype of music for bookish introverts, they rock pretty hard. The live version of Electronic Renaissance, which has become a staple of their gigs, is pretty good too.

  • Jens Lekman, Bush Hall, 16 February

    He was brilliant; playing a lot of songs, some new and some old, and putting everything into it. And at the end he appeared in the corridor with an acoustic guitar and serenaded the crowd with two songs. Jens, you rock.

  • dataPanik, the Luminaire, 6 April

    They rocked. There was so much energy and intensity. It was the same feeling I had when I saw Ninetynine for the first time at the Punters Club all those years ago. Unfortunately, the rest of the world didn't feel the same way and dataPanik, after failing to get interest, disbanded. More's the pity; though I look forward to next year's Bis reunion gig.

  • Architecture In Helsinki, ULU, 13 May

    Another great AIH gig, with a tight performance and a 7-minute block-rocking extended version of Do The Whirlwind. They played a few new songs, which are in more of an electro-funk direction, and sound brilliant. I eagerly await their new album.

  • Os Mutantes, Barbican, London, 22 May

    The legendary Brazilian Tropicalia band, who influenced everyone from Talking Heads to Architecture In Helsinki, played their first gig in 34 years(!), at the Barbican. It was a momentous event. The audience seemed evenly divided between Brazilians and non-Brazilians. The gig didn't disappoint; they put on an impressive performance. When they did Bat Macumba, people were dancing in their seats.

  • François and the Atlas Mountains, supporting Camera Obscura, 11 June

    Don't get me wrong, Camera Obscura were good, but François and his friends stole the show. Playing (and swapping) a variety of instruments, from Casio keyboards to a harp, they performed some rather nice indiepop songs with a good deal of exuberant energy. They're one to watch for the UK people.

  • Spearmint, Bush Hall, 21 August

    One of three Spearmint gigs I saw this year, and the lads put on a good show each time.

  • CSS, Dingwalls, 10 September

    They were lots of fun to see. Their gig was more rock and less electro than their album sounded, and Luisa Lovefoxxx seemed to be having lots of fun on stage.

  • I'm From Barcelona, Hoxton Bar, 14 September, and Jamm, 15 September

    If I had a gig of the year, it would probably be this one. I went to see their first gig (on the right north side of the Thames), and liked it so much I went to the second one the following day. There were 22 people on stage, singing, clapping, playing instruments and fruit-shaped shakers, playing around and having a great time whilst making perfect pop music. It was like the best party ever, only in the form of a pop concert.

  • Ninetynine, Smekkleysa, Reykjavík, 21 October, and The Windmill, Brixton, 31 October

    It was a reduced touring line-up, consisting of only Laura, Cameron and a girl who was filling in for Amy, though the magic was there. The mighty juggernaut that is the Macfarlane/Potts partnership was out in full force, and they played lots of old songs, including all the favourites. I swear that Polar Angle rocks harder every time they play it.

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Scottish skronk-pop trio Bis have reformed, albeit for two gigs only. Bis will be playing at King Tut's in Glasgow on the 6th of April, and the NME/Carling/Xfm/VirginMobile Academy in Islington on the 7th.

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Ninetynine have just posted their upcoming European tour dates. They're playing Finland (13-15 October), Russia (17-19), Iceland (22nd), then a five-day tour of Spain (24th to 28th), and ending the tour with a London date on the 31st.

Their new album, Worlds Of Space, Worlds Of Population, Worlds Of Robots, has just been released in Australia. More details on that when my copy arrives.

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Camera Obscura at Cargo Tonight, I went to Cargo to see Camera Obscura, the Scottish indie-pop combo. They were pretty good; slightly retroish pop music, not a world away from Belle & Sebastian, though with a black-haired girl in Stuart's place. (I.e., if you like B&S, you'll probably like them.) They played some older songs ("Teenager", "Suspended From Class" and so on), and a few from their new album, which I'll have to get a copy of.

The support band, Frànçois and the Atlas Mountains, really impressed me. They're an indieish outfit from Bristol, fronted by a French chap who moved to Bristol for the music scene, and played both well and energetically, with a lot of instrument swapping, handclaps and general jumping around; not to mention some rather leftfield choices of instruments; in addition to the usual indie kit (guitars, Casios, tambourines, melodicas), they had a huge wooden recorder and a harp; all of which worked quite well. Not to mention that one of the band members had the k3wlest T-shirt: it read "I Really Like Electric Rock Music".

I happened to have a digital video camera on hand, and hence I filmed parts of the gig. I've uploaded one of François & co.'s songs, "Tracey Emin" (perhaps the standout piece of the set) to YouTube (with the appropriate permission, of course):

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Last night, I went to see Jens Lekman, the Swedish indie singer-songwriter, at Bush Hall. He was excellent.

There were two supports: the Bill Wells ensemble, and some chap named Richard Swift. The former (who are from Glasgow and have played with Belle & Sebastian) also doubled as Jens' backing band (and did a sterling job of it); in turn, Jens joined them on stage on various instruments during their set. They were quite good, in a jazzy sort of way. The Richard Swift outfit, however, seemed a bit too loud; their sound was distorted and harsh.

imga0031 Shortly before 10, Jens came on with an acoustic guitar, and performed an unplugged acoustic version of Happy Birthday, Dear Friend Lisa, segueing into an unrecorded older song titled Are Birthdays Happy? ("Are birthdays happy, or just a countdown to death?"), before being joined by the band (three women on brass, a drummer, and Bill Wells on piano). He played a few songs familiar to anyone who has his CDs, including good renditions of Black Cab, A Sweet Summer Night On Hammer Hill, You Are The Light By Which I Travel and a version of Maple Leaves with both English and Swedish lyrics, and a few other ones, which may have been newer, older or both; he sang and played bass, guitar and electric thumb piano, playing for about an hour.

Then, when the gig finished and everybody was turfed out of the hall by the management, he materialised behind the merchandise stall with an acoustic guitar and regaled the assembled punters with two songs, I Don't Know If She's Worth 900 Kronor and Tram #7 to Heaven.

This February so far has been a record-breaking month for gigs; in the past 2 weeks, I have seen what could well be three of the best gigs of 2006. Anyway, Jens Lekman is a class act in every sense, and those reading this in Melbourne should consider yourselves lucky to get to see him with Guy Blackman and part of Architecture In Helsinki as a backing band soon.

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This past Friday evening, I went to see Belle & Sebastian at the Hammersmith NME Carling Xfm Apollo or whatever it's called. Apparently (according to Stuart Murdoch), this was the very same historic venue at which David Bowie killed the Spiders from Mars.

Stuart playing guitar The Belle & Sebastian gig last night was brillant; as good as the Brighton gig a week earlier. They started off with The State I'm In, and then went on to play songs including Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie, Dog On Wheels and She's Losing It; it was good to see that both Electronic Renaissance and Your Cover's Blown got onto the playlist; both of these work really well live. Oh, and Stuart went on wearing a school jacket, which suited him.

There was no cover this time and no guest singers, though there was audience participation aplenty. Stevie After playing The Loneliness of the Middle-Distance Runner, Stuart paused and confided in the audience that he was wondering what 5,000 people whistling in unison would sound like; he then strummed the chords of the song whilst the assembled audience whistled its melody. (For the record, it sounded quite impressive.) At another time in the gig, Stuart noticed that some members of the audience had brought in tambourines and such and asked who else had brought in instruments. One audience member handed him a kazoo, which he proceeded to play, before throwing it back. At the end, they played Judy And The Dream Of Horses; Stuart didn't sing the first verse, but instead played guitar and let the audience do it; they rose to the occasion with gusto. Of course, it wasn't really the last song; there was an encore, in which one of the songs was Sleep The Clock Around, performed with a piano intro.

I managed to take some photos at the gig; they are here.

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Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood are doing a gig in London at Koko on the first of May. The gig will be part of Friends of the Earth's campaign to promote action on climate change; ticket details will be announced on the site.

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Last night, Your Humble Narrator saw Belle & Sebastian at the Dome in Brighton.

Belle & Sebastian on stage The gig was excellent; as impressive as the Melbourne one*. They played a mixture of old and new songs, starting off the gig with Stars Of Track And Field. Stuart was particularly animated; other than dancing energetically, during a performance of Electronic Renaissance, he took to the railing that encircles the general-admission area of the Dome and did a circuit of it, singing into a wireless microphone. The audience was divided between those who turned to follow him, and those who watched the rest of the band on stage, including Stevie also singing. The version of Your Cover's Blown was also very groovy, and they did an impromptu live version of The Strokes' Last Night, which, whilst lacking somewhat in accuracy, more than made up for it in spirit.

I managed to get a camera into the venue, and took some photos. Alas, my batteries soon ran out (a pox on Canon's battery life indicator, which has only two settings: "everything's OK" and "about to die"). I took the remainder of the photos with my cameraphone, which turned out better than one would expect from a phone, though nowhere near proper camera quality. The photos are/will be here.

* except that the girl they got on stage for the encore didn't know the words to any songs, and stood there like a somewhat inebriated deer caught in headlights, singing the few fragments of The State I'm In she could remember. It was alright, though; the audience joined in to help her.

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And here are my records of 2005, in no particular order:

  • Machine Translations, Wolf on a String*. Six tracks, subtle and impeccably produced, layering guitars, electronics and understated vocals, and with a great deal of thought in the arrangements and compositions. The title track is hauntingly lovely, and Miss China and Paris Road are low-key pop gems. The other three tracks are good too.
  • Broadcast, Tender Buttons. Their last album was a bit bland compared to The Noise Made By People; this one is a return to form. It's like early Stereolab playing on a Game Boy, all sparse, motorik grooves, gloriously dirty aliased waveforms and Trish's dreamy vocals.
  • Sambassadeur, Between The Lines EP. A four track EP, released in Sweden last year but the UK only this year, from another good Swedish indie band. They also released a quite decent album later this year, but for some reason, this grabbed me more. The title track of the EP is a joyous piece of upbeat indie-pop; the other tracks are fitting B-sides, pop songs with guitar, trumpet, melodica, and a bit of shoegazing feedback and Mary Chain-style fuzz.
  • Holidays On Ice, Playing Boyfriends and Girlfriends* Classy, polished indie-pop from various established Australian musicians, including Angie Hart of Frenté/Splendid; has echoes of Yo La Tengo. Even though the idea of a group of thirtysomething Australian band veterans releasing a record with an unbelievably fey title and a naïve picture of kids playing in the snow (presumably somewhere in Northern Europe or North America) on the cover does seem a tad contrived, the product is eminently listenable. Highlights include the upbeat pop of Sailor Girl, Speak-n-Spell-driven semi-instrumental Spell Happiness, the board-game-referencing (though not AIH-referencing) glock-pop of Fingers crossed and some of the instrumentals.
  • Minimum Chips, Kitchen Tea Thankyou* This one took me by surprise. After getting used to the Chips putting out one EP every few years, I did not expect them to drop an entire album one year after their last EP. But they did, and we get almost 50 minutes of Minimum Chips goodness: modular organ grooves, jagged guitar jangle, sophisticated Continental pop sounds filtered through Melbourne/Brisbane indie-rock, and Nicole's floating vocals, more "aaah" than "ba ba ba". ("Lady Grey", in particular, could be descibed as "Golden Brown", had it been written by Stereolab about tea rather than The Stranglers about heroin.) A few of the tracks were familiar from Minimum Chips gigs two years ago, and had only made it onto record now.
  • Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd, the Mysterious Skin film score Possibly the best thing Guthrie has put out since Victorialand. Ethereal and moody, like golden sunlight in a dream. The film was quite good too (though somewhat more disturbing).
  • The Winter Ship, Teardrops EP*. Four tracks of shoegazing post-rock goodness, with rather nice string arrangements, from the Melbourne instrumental outfit. Swimming Through A Narrow Space sounds not unlike Mogwai's Helicon 1 only with words. The other tracks are no less lovely.

* these are Australian releases with no overseas releases; you can buy them from here or here.

Honourable mentions go to Architecture In Helsinki, In Case We Die, Broken Social Scene's self-titled album (which I received only in the last days of the year, too late to fully get into, though I get the feeling it may be a grower), LCD Soundsystem's self-titled album, The Magic Numbers' self-titled debut (which has some strong guitar-pop tracks, though is a bit bland in places, and may not be a proper CD in all territories), Momus, Otto Spooky, Francis Plagne, Idle Bones (which has a few good songs and a lot of meandering ambient field recordings; were the ratio reversed, it'd be quite impressive), and Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, #3.

It was also a good year for rereleases, with the entire Field Mice back-catalogue seeing the light of day again, in the form of new releases of Snowball, Skywriting and For Keeps, all extended with non-album tracks, and all three Slowdive albums (Just For A Day, Souvlaki and the exquisite Pygmalion) being rereleased—the first two with bonus discs full of EP and live tracks—through Sanctuary; meanwhile, neo-shoegazer Ulrich Schnauss's first album, Far Away Trains Passing By, is seeing the light of day again (good to see that Domino are using their NMECarlingnuwaveartrock windfall for good).

My gigs of 2005:

  • Belle & Sebastian playing If You're Feeling Sinister at the Barbican. They brought their second album to life really well, and played a few other favourites before and after it.
  • My Favorite, playing at Underbelly, 17 June. The last ever gig they did in the UK before breaking up. Their brand of immaculate, upbeat, New Order/OMD-influenced pop with lyrics of suburban alienation and existential angst really appealed to me.
  • One of the three Architecture In Helsinki gigs I caught on their two UK tours; let's say, for the sake of argument, the one at the Dublin Castle in Camden. Their live performances seemed a lot tighter and more energetic than they were when I saw them back in Melbourne.
  • Broadcast at Koko. They brought their new album to life quite well, and played some of their old tracks too.

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Belle & Sebastian have announced their next UK tour, in January and February of 2006. Tickets go on sale on Thursday at 9am.

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Tonight, I saw Belle & Sebastian at the Barbican. The performance was one of several in the ATP Don't Look Back series, in which bands perform live renditions of their classic albums. For their turn, Belle & Sebastian did If You're Feeling Sinister.

The support band for this gig was Broadcast, who were excellent. They played a combination of new material and old (including Come On Let's Go), and played like a tight, finely-tuned groove machine. One got an impression of retrofuturism, as if their music (with its analogue fuzz, live drum grooves and clunky bass) was something out of a 1960s-vintage view of a shining, stylish future. Anyway, they're doing a gig at Koko in Camden on Wednesday as well.

Then Belle & Sebastian went on. They had 12 musicians on stage and an astonishing array of kit (including a xylophone or similar, an electric piano and a PowerBook they seemed to play software instruments on); one can see why they might need their own trucking company just to get all their stuff to gigs. They started off playing a few random songs (mostly from EPs, though including a rare live version of Electronic Renaissance, with two drummers), then went into If You're Feeling Sinister. There was a rather fitting muted trumpet solo at the end of Like Dylan In The Movies, and after The Fox In The Snow, Stuart recounted a dream he had about Isobel agreeing to play this gig if they kept a taxi running for her outside throughout the gig, before confessing to missing her, to the audience's sympathy. For Judy and the Dream Of Horses, the band got a number of people who had been dancing in the audience to dance on stage; afterward, they proceeded to play about half a dozen other songs, including a rousing version of The Boy With The Arab Strap. In total, they played for almost two hours.

It wasn't too unlike their Melbourne gig; at first it started with people sitting quietly in the seats and watching them, but ended up with people dancing in their seats and the aisles, clapping and singing along. Towards the end (in the middle of If You Find Yourself Caught In Love, Stuart paused the song and revealed that he could see many familiar faces in the crowd; he compared this to the end of episodes of The Simpsons. And, towards the end of The Boy With The Arab Strap, the line about "the cool set in London" was followed by applause.

Anyway, it was a brilliant gig. They were in fine form and put on an excellent show.

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Last night, Your Humble Narrator went to Bush Hall to see Pipas and The Clientele.

Pipas were lovely as usual; it was mostly a guitar-based set (with two guitars), though with a few canned backings on an iPod. They did old and new songs, including some from their Bitter Club EP. (For those who haven't seen them, they're a melodious indie-pop duo, are signed to US twee/indiepop label Matinee, have played in Scandinavia a fair bit and Lupe is going out with one of the Lucksmiths, which should give you an idea of where they're coming from.)

The Clientele played, appropriately, in a darkened room, with video projected over them (several iterations of an art film they did the music for, with lots of footage of sunlight in water, English countryside and such, as well as Chris Marker's La Jetée). They mostly did songs from their new album which has just been released; they sounded much like their previous two albums, if perhaps a bit more animated in places. And Alasdair's vocals sound every bit as floaty live as they do on record. At one stage, Lupe joined them on stage and read out a spoken-word piece about a photograph from 1982, as they played.

As one would expect, where was a good number of international-indiepop-underground coolsie types in the audience, with their bowl haircuts, black-framed glasses and button badges; in their late 20s and 30s, the audience for these sorts of gigs is half a generation older than today's post-post-ironic electro/new-new-wave/kill-the-whiteness-inside/disco-rock kids, and the milieu around this sort of scene seems, in some ways, to hearken back to an earlier age of indiepop, when one was more likely to encounter the adjective "summery" than "angular" in record reviews, understated pop songs with wet lyrics were an authentic reaction against the macho rockism of the "alternative" mainstream rather than part of the Coldplay/Keane AOR mainstream, the kids hadn't yet gotten into hip-hop, cocaine or trucker hats, and if you wanted to make music in your bedroom, you used guitars, Casio keyboards and a four-track, rather than a laptop. Or something.

That world seems to have since superseded by punk disco, ironic chav, the New Rockism, the NME garage rock revival, the Carling New Wave, spending hundreds on brand-name fashion, and relying on one's hipster knowingness as a free get-out-of-jail card, good for all crimes of unenlightenment from casual racism to meretricious consumerism. Or not quite; the mercenary mainstream was always there, and there is also always an underground; it's just easier to see yesterday's underground than today's. Partly because yesterday's underground gets recycled into, or referenced by, today's mainstream: the UK indie explosion of the 1980s gave us Britpop gave us Robbie Williams, XTC begat the Kaiser Chiefs, The Little Band scene gave us JJJ grunge gave us Killing Heidi, and such. Meanwhile, something new is always forming on the margins; and when the margins are strip-mined to death by corporate cool-hunters, something new forms off the map.

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Your Humble Narrator went to see Sigur Rós last night at Somerset House.

The support band was one Amina Strings, who are also from Iceland and have played and collaborated with Sigur Rós quite a bit (I recall seeing a flyer for a gig they did up in Scotland some years ago). Four women who seem to be a string quartet who picked up other instruments. Their set involved them playing various sorts of string instruments (including violin/viola/cello and some sort of harp/koto-like ones), plinking away in synchrony on chromatic percussion, playing a saw with a bow (think Delicatessen; it makes one wonder whether it was an ordinary hardware-shop saw or whether there's a place somewhere that sells special tuned saws for musical use), doing various things on an iBook, and bringing out a Casio VL-1 at some stage, set to Rock 2 (that's the Wöekenender loop). They weren't all that far from Múm territory.

Next up there was half an hour of weird, glacial drones played through the PA as people went to buy overpriced Carling lager in plastic cups. (Aside: Carling is rubbish; it's not so much a generic beer like Carlton Draught, as a homogenised, heavily carbonated piss; probably a similar concept to the US Budweiser, which I've so far managed to avoid. Carling, however, own the live music scene in Britain, and are harder to avoid.) Then Sigur Rós came on. The first thing I noticed was the frontman playing his guitar with a bow. Not one of those E-Bow magnetic devices, but an actual cello bow. The guitar in question looked very traditional, redolent of the blues/rock heritage of the American south; the juxtaposition of it being played with a bow seemed rather postmodern. That's not the only weird thing he did with his guitar; at one point, he held it to his face and sang into the strings.

Sigur Rós played for about an hour and a half, including two encores. They were accompanied by Amina Strings during some of the songs. They played some old favourites (including Svefn-g-Englar and the first two tracks of ()) and what seemed to be some new tracks. One of them sounded a lot more approachable, and almost like a Doves track; perhaps it's a consequence of them having signed to EMI? Anyway, the light show was pretty good too, with the colours (deep golden greens and icy blues) and visual projections (ghostly processed images of moving people and jerky video of electric pylons) going quite well with the music. More photos here.

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The past week has been unusually rich in worthwhile gigs in London, and Your Humble Narrator spent much of it going to such, often with camera in hand:

  • Monday night was Suzerain at the infamous Hope and Anchor in Islington. I've seen them before; they're not so much an indie band as tomorrow's chart-toppers who haven't been signed yet. They sound somewhere between David Bowie and Duran Duran, with elements of Icehouse, the Scissor Sisters and early Nine Inch Nails, look not too unlike Interpol or Franz Ferdinand and play a rather tight, catchy glam-pop. They'll probably go far.
  • On Tuesday, I went to Club AC30 to see Sambassadeur, a Swedish indiepop band on the Labrador label (also home to the likes of Acid House Kings, Club 8 and The Radio Dept.). They were pretty good; somewhere between various Sarah Records bands, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and other recent Swedish bands including The Radio Dept; two guitars, bass, harmonium, boy/girl vocals and an iPod providing the drum tracks. There are some photos here.
  • On Thursday, I went to see Mirah, the K Records singer-songwriter and her band, at the Purple Turtle in Camden. They were quite good; the eponymous singer/guitarist was quite animated, and was accompanied by the usual bass and drums, as well as violin and accordion. Meanwhile, the bass player proved that Justin Timberlake and Von Dutch have not yet managed to kill off the trucker hat among US indie-rock hipsters; either that or we are witnessing a second wave of ironic appropriation of mainstream fashion's adoption of an earlier ironic hipster style. Anyway, there are photos here.

    I ended up picking up a copy of Mirah's second album, Advisory Committee, at the gig. There seems to be an interesting lo-fi experimental-electronic thing happening on some of the tracks, amidst the (sometimes stereo-doubled) breathy vocals, indiekid guitar strumming, layers of fuzzy sound and the odd glockenspiel and such. It's a bit more adventurous sonically than You Think It's Like This... (if perhaps not quite as innocently playful), and has a sort of spiky quirkiness that seemed to be absent in C'mon Miracle, which (from memory) seemed more like a straight alt-country record.

  • On Friday night, I went to see a band named My Favorite play in Hoxton. They're an electropoppy outfit from New York; bouncy upbeat songs sounding like OMD or 1980s New Order at their poppiest, with pleasant-enough boy-girl vocals; upon closer listening, though, the songs turn out to be quite dark, about the ghosts of dead teenagers and such. I picked up their album, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives; the booklet looks more like something one would expect from a lugubrious Montréal post-rock collective than a New York electropop band, and betrays a morbid obsession with Joan of Arc. Photos here.

    Incidentally, Hoxton Square on a Friday night is a rather interesting experience; upon entering the square, the noise of hundreds of people talking is the first thing one notices. The crowds outside the clubs and swanky bars are to be expected; the large numbers of people sitting on the grass in the centre of the square, as if waiting for a band to come on at an outdoor concert, seemed a bit more unusual. Were they there just to bask in the ambient coolness that is Hoxton? Is this what the cool set in London do when they become too old to get their teenage kicks by walking slowly up and down Camden High St. in orange "PSYCHO WARD" shirts, hardcore band patches and cutesy-goth-cartoon-character bags or something?

In other news, I am playing a DJ set this Wednesday at Lounge AC30, which is at Leonard's EC1, 42 Northampton Rd., Clerkenwell, EC1R 0HU, from about 9:30. Expect to hear a mixture of art-pop, indiepop, shoegazer, electronica and such.

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Last night, Your Humble Narrator made it down to Bush Hall to see folktronica artist, cultural theorist and fabulous British eccentric Momus, HitBACK guitar-pop band The Free French and an outfit named Stars In Battledress.

First up were Stars In Battledress, a duo with one chap playing guitar and singing and the other playing piano. Their music was somewhat avant-garde, like a roiling sea of chords, notes and words, shifting and changing structure. Not really my cup of tea.

Momus was next, and took to the stage with his iBook. He basically sang over backing tracks played from iTunes, stopping from time to time to play sounds on a Flash-based microtonal instrument on the iBook. Other than that, there was no live music, though Momus put on an entertaining performance, moving around a lot and putting on quite a dramatic act as he sang his songs. (I guess that the important thing about a performance is not what proportion of notes played is live and triggered by musicians on stage, but the energy and charisma of the performer; the reason why most live-electronica acts suck is not because the artists are sitting behind a rack of synths twiddling knobs rather than playing a guitar, but because they fall into the backroom-geek trap, just sitting there rather than engaging the audience. Punters generally don't pay to see mild-mannered geeks controlling synthesizers, which is why the dance-music fad of the 90s had wide-boy "superstar DJs" to act as frontmen. But I digress; Momus certainly did not suck.)

Finally, there were The Free French; they're labelmates of Spearmint, and not too far away in the stylistic universe; indie guitar-pop with a touch of blue-eyed soul (the frontman is apparently a huge Hall & Oates fan). They played a decent set from their past three albums, and a new, as yet unrecorded song. They were enjoyable; I'll probably see them again.

There are photos here.

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For those reading this in Melbourne: the mighty FourPlay String Quartet are playing at the Espy on the 7th of April, and Brunswick Street's Bar Open on the 9th (with not one but two sets). If you've seen them, you'll know that they rock; if not, go and see them. You won't regret having done so.

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Your Humble Narrator went to see (a reconstituted version of) 1980s new-romantics Visage play in Soho.

The first support band was Suzerain, already mentioned on these pages. Suffice it to say that they were very good; somewhere between Duran Duran and David Bowie, only with more guitar solos. They have the pop sensibility down pat and the rock-star stage presence, and should go far. It's somewhat surprising that they haven't been signed yet.

Trademark were amusing; three spoddy-looking chaps in raincoats (and later fairy-light-festooned lab coats) playing a warm and somewhat geeky electropop (think something like Barcelona without the guitars, or perhaps Baxendale meets Casionova). The front man looked ever so much like Jack Morgan from Look Around You, and they did a love song with the words "simple harmonic motion" in the lyrics, so where can you go wrong?

Visage (or, more accurately, Visage Mk. II) came on and did a ~20-minute set, a preview of their main gig this Saturday. Steve Strange had hair like a less flamboyant Robert Smith and was wearing something that looked like a torn, paint-splattered military uniform of some sort, and his mascara seemed somewhat smeared. In performance, he wasn't quite the ice queen I expected; he danced around with a slightly goofy grin, and interacted with the audience, laying on hands. At one stage, he took a glow stick from a gaggle of goths near the stage and made their day. Anyway, Visage Mk. II did all old songs (The Damned Don't Cry, Love Glove, We Move, The Anvil and, of course, their genre-defining classic of existentialist disco, Fade To Grey). The songs sounded somewhat different than the old records, being played on modern digital-modelling synths. (Most of the songs had a standard post-90s 4/4 dance beat, for one).

The music played by the DJ between sets was a mix of 80s synthpop/electronic pop (Human League, A-Ha, Dead Or Alive, Bananarama), with small amounts of glam (Transvision Vamp and Electric Six both got a play) and a few goth-club crowd-pleasers (some Depeche Mode, NIN, and an EBM/darkwave/futurepop/power-electronics/whatever they call it version of Purcell's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, a.k.a. the theme from A Clockwork Orange). Your Humble Narrator left sometime before the DJ got around to playing Headhunter (which he surely must have; it seems to be the "Gotta Be Startin' Something" of people who wear a lot of black).

Anyway, there are photos here. My camera battery ran down towards the end, requiring me to shoot without the screen, which is why quality and quantity drop off a bit.

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This evening, Your Humble Narrator went to the Hope & Anchor in Islington to see The Smyths, who are, as you may expect, a Smiths cover band. They were quite enjoyable.

The band came on after another band, and the first thing I noticed was that they were a five-piece with two guitarists, as if no one mortal man born of woman could possibly be the match of Johnny Marr. Anyway, they played for over an hour, starting off with The Queen Is Dead (with lyrics changed to "dressed in Camilla's bridal veil"), and playing most of the Smiths favourites (This Charming Man, Shoplifters Of The World Unite, Sheila Take A Bow, William, It Was Really Nothing and Ask were just five), and a few Morrissey tracks. The front man, a chap with a quiff and glasses, played the part mostly well, singing much like Morrissey, and doing the mannerisms, albeit somewhat exaggerated (at the start, it looked a bit as if he were taking the piss, but then he started channeling the spirit of Moz in earnest), and gradually trying to wriggle out of his shirt. He didn't wear a hearing aid, though, and while there was a bunch of flowers on stage, he didn't put them in his back pocket. The audience treated the songs as singalongs, and the singer at times stopped singing to give them a chance; I believe many of them were regulars at Smyths gigs.

Anyway, it was an entertaining night, and about as close as one is going to get to seeing a Smiths gig (with the possible exception of Morrissey's solo gigs, which come pretty close too). They're certainly worth seeing if you're a Smiths fan from way back looking for a fun night out.

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The Scottish tsunami benefit concert looks pretty good, with Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub and Franz Ferdinand, among others.

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Live band of the moment: Suzerain. I saw them play in Soho last night, and was quite impressed. They're somewhere between Duran Duran, David Bowie and early Nine Inch Nails (with perhaps a bit of Icehouse or similar in the mix), and have a firm grasp of the pop sensibility. Anyway, there are MP3s here. I'll be surprised if someone doesn't sign these guys soon.

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Tonight, Your Humble Narrator went back to the Water Rats, to see three bands.

First up was Lifestyle. Basically electropop, with some live synths, live bass (played by a hipster in a rather flash hat), and vocals by a chap in a long pinstripe jacket. The elements were promising, though the singer's vocal style didn't seem to suit the music; at times he sounded reminiscent of Jimmy Barnes as he strained and belted out the notes.

The second band, Schmoof, were awesome. An electropop duo with great stage presence; the guy (dressed all in white, and looking just a bit Eurovision) started off playing two synths, while the girl sang and danced around; then they strapped on two SH-101s and moved and played. They were a little like a more pop Mink Engine. They did songs about the Northern Line, choosing between chocolate and boyfriends, and backseat drivers, and an electropop cover of Guns'n'Roses' Sweet Child O'Mine, which absolutely rocked. Oh, and did I mention that projected on the rear of the stage were visuals generated by a Sinclair Spectrum? I.e., the guy in white had spent ages writing BASIC programs to do blocky animations in time to the music. Which all was cooler than cool.

Finally up came Freezepop, a US synthpop act. They sounded somewhere between Ladytron and Barcelona. One of their number moved around the stage playing a Yamaha QY-70 (that's a handheld synth/sequencer). They had somewhat of a hard act to follow with Schmoof, IMHO, though they were fun, especially their last song (with its synthesised/sampled rock/metal riffs and posturing to match).

Between sets, the DJ played tracks like The Postal Service and The Flaming Lips (a Japanese version of Yoshimi). Then, between the next two sets, the "DJ" turned out to be a preprepared mix CD.

At the beginning of the night, there seemed to be a lot of goths about; almost half the room seemed to be of that persuasion. Perhaps they misread the flyer as "Futurepop"? They either filtered out or were diluted by new arrivals by the end of the night.

Anyway, there are photos here.

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The shoegazer movement may have died out in the mid-1990s in most places, but in London, it's alive and well every month at Club AC30. Your Humble Narrator went along to this month's one.

Club AC30 is held at a pub named The Water Rats (presumably after the Australian police soap; I heard that the Poms love Australian TV, but didn't think they'd take it quite this far), not far from King's Cross, and features bands and a DJ.

First up was a Clairecords shoegazer outfit named Air Formation; they took to the stage and proceeded to make a wall of noise not unlike My Bloody Valentine or someone. The sound in the venue, or possibly the mixing, wasn't the best, though, so at times it was hard to tell whether, in fact, the keyboard (a Yamaha CS-1X) was plugged in. Anyway, they were quite good, though I'm not sure if I'll get their CD.

Next up was a Swedish band named Douglas Heart (not to be confused with Douglas Hart, formerly of the Jesus and Mary Chain). They were basically minor-key pop with some shoegazing elements; two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, a Roland D-50 keyboard (wasn't that the one all the gothic-rock bands used in the 1980s or something?), and a female vocalist, who also played melodica and trumpet. Except that the microphones didn't seem to work very well, and half of the time the audience couldn't hear her. Anyway, they sounded a bit like the Cranes or the Sundays or someone; most of their set didn't grab me, but the last song (a stomping number with a great big fuzzy monster bass line) changed my mind.

The third act was Rachel Goswell, someone who gets invited to these things largely on the strength of what she was doing 10 years ago. Her act these days is basically acoustic-guitar folk, much of the sort you could find at any acoustic open-mike night in Fitzroy. For some of the songs of this gig, she had a band with guitar and bass, though her set still contained no shoegazing action whatsoever. She does, though, have a lovely voice. The audience hushed respectfully as she came on (shushing those still talking amongst them), applauded after each song, and called for an encore, which she obliged them with.

Between sets, Ulrich Schnauss DJed, playing a lot of ambient tracks, ranging from shoegazer to electronica; there were some really nice tracks in the mix he played.

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This evening, Your Humble Narrator went to the first night of Mon Gala Papillons, a two-day indie-pop festival organised by Chickfactor, at a rather plush music hall in Shepherd's Bush named, appropriately enough, Bush Hall.

First up was Amy Linton, of Aislers Set fame; she strummed an electric guitar and played/sang a few songs, and was quite good. Seeing her brought back some memories; the last time I saw her play was in a backyard in Clifton Hill, when Stewart and Jen were honeymooning/holidaying/touring in Australia.

Next up were a female duo from New York named Mascott. Their set started with one of them (Margaret) on stage, playing violin, as the other played a grand piano (located in front of the stage) and sang. The first song was lovely; it reminded me a bit of another New York resident, Greta Gertler. Afterward, the pianist took the stage and picked up a guitar. Some of the other songs were quite nice, though I thought that the first one stood above them all.

Third on was a solo set from Stevie Jackson, of Belle & Sebastian. He went up on stage, smartly dressed in a suit and tie, and started off playing Ode To Joy on the harmonica, before launching into his own numbers. He didn't play any Belle & Sebastian songs that I recognised; mostly his own songs, and mostly ones about girls (because, as he explained, he likes girls). The songs included "Portland, Oregon", "Phone In My Head" (which was particularly nice), and "Lonely Pop Star", as well as a Belle & Sebastian-style rendition of Frosty the Snowman (which someone requested), and a song he said he learned from Alex Chilton toward the end.

Then on came electro-pop duo Pipas, a girl with shortish brown hair in a stripy top and a guy with a bowlie haircut and glasses in a chequered shirt. They had a PowerBook on stage, which they mostly used to play backing tracks (and a bit of keyboards), over which they played guitar and bass and sang, performing songs off their recent EP and past albums. They were a little shambolic, but generally pretty good.

Finally, the Television Personalities came on. I was expecting them to be like XTC or Wire or The Fall or someone, but they were more Mod-revivalist, right down to the bassist having a Royal Air Force roundel and Vespa logo on his bass.

(Apologies for the crappy photos; I left my PowerShot G2 at home, and had only my futurephone to take photos with. I really need to get a decent camera that fits comfortably in a pocket and gives me no excuse to not take it to gigs.)

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Tonight, Your Humble Narrator went briefly to the 4AD showcase at the Institute of Contemporary Art, seeing Cass McCombs; he was nothing like what I expected (I was expecting a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar; I got a band who sounded more like the Jesus and Mary Chain, with bits of Yo La Tengo, Slowdive and The Cure's floatier moments thrown in). Not that I'm complaining, of course.

I didn't hang around for the other bands, though, instead departing for the Barfly in Camden to see Swedish indiepopsters The Radio Dept.. And they were excellent: four members, with guitars, bass, keyboards (a synth with a "THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS" sticker and a toy electronic piano), a laptop and a conspicuously unused drum kit. They did a briefish set, playing mostly tracks off their album, and one new track soon to be released on a single in Sweden. For those who haven't heard them, they're a combination of sweet, jangly indiepop, shoegazer (with judicious use of reverb, skronky guitar feedback and vaguely Slowdive-esque basslines) and subtly distorted vintage drum loops.

Anyway, photos of the Cass McCombs gig are here, and of the Radio Dept. here.

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Last night, I went to the ICA to see a performance by Rachel Goswell, who was doing a support set for the Cranes. She did pretty much the acoustic guitar-folk singer-songwriter thing, accompanied by a bloke with a guitar. Rachel started off singing as her accompanist played guitar, and later ended up picking up a guitar (and, towards the end, a small squeezebox). A few songs into the set, one fan called out requesting Catch The Breeze, which Rachel politely declined, saying that it was 12 years too late for that.

Anyway, it was pleasant enough (Rachel, as Slowdive fans will know, has a lovely voice, and the guitar parts were quite good too), though I couldn't help but think that it would have benefitted from a few more layers; perhaps some strings or even some low-key electronics.

I caught a few songs by the Cranes (by when the albedo of the crowd had darkened considerably); they were basically a goth take on early-90s shoegazer, much as I remembered. And the vocalist sounds as if her voice was being played back at slightly too high a speed.

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Last night, I went to see Mink Engine. They were pretty good; two people with laptops doing music and visuals. The music seemed to be largely prerecorded, though the visuals made the whole thing: there were definite Japanese influences there (bizarre anthropomorphised foodstuffs, cartoonish graphics, and photographs of teenage fashion victims in Harajuku or someplace like that, with amusing speech balloons superimposed over them), as well as a bit of early-80s-style high-tech lettering and some video of the two members of the group in action. What was the music like? Probably somewhere between Daft Punk and Felix Da Housecat; a very 80s-synthpop-referencing electrohouse sort of thing. It was all mixed in one mix, meaning that people could have danced to it had they not been transfixed and watching the visuals.

Afterward, Casionova played. This time he had visuals (on a VCD player; could these be the new MiniDisc backing tracks?). However, his show was beset with technical glitches; devices weren't plugged in properly or didn't work, and sometimes he spent a minute or two fiddling with gear. By the time the show got back on track, the video had run one song ahead of the show, and he seemed to have lost his confidence, and to be trying too conspicuously hard to please his audience (perhaps lest they start throwing cocktail limes at him or something), and cracking self-deprecating jokes about not having a girlfriend and risqué puns on "knob". The stage presence he had at Kent St. last week seemed to have largely evaporated. Though the visuals were good (in a geeky sort of way); had the rest of the show gone better, it would have been impressive.

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I finally got around to seeing CasioNova, a local musician who plays songs on 80s Casiotone keyboards, 8-bit computers and such. He played at the Kent St. Café in Smith St., getting up on stage attired in white shirt, knee-length pants and knee-high socks, and proceeding to sing and play a number of pop ditties and throw shapes as he played his keyboards. The kit he used consisted of a bunch of Casiotone and Yamaha home keyboards, as well as a Commodore 64 with the Music Machine cartridge and keyboard overlay, and, at one stage, a GameBoy.

So what was the music like? Somewhere between electropop and outsider music. Parts of it were a bit like electroclash, only without the distressed denim and designer trucker caps, perhaps sounding like The Emergency with lyrics, or a more 1980s-retro Talkshow Boy. There was a definite geeky quality to it; you could tell that this is someone who would rather stay at home and tinker with his gadgets than do cocaine with the coolsies on Chapel St. There was something sincere, improvised and passionately unhip in CasioNova's act, and that's a good thing.

CasioNova's going to an electronic art conference in Helsinki soon (and is raising funds to do so); he announced that he has made a pact to not return if John Howard wins the next election, and if he doesn't get a girlfriend. Before he leaves, he is playing again next week, at the Pink Spunk electro night at Loop, along with some folks named Mink Engine.

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I went to the Belle & Sebastian show at the Palais Theatre tonight. They tore the roof off the place. Seriously.

There were 12 musicians on stage: the band plus additional musicians playing strings; they had a wide array of instruments, including 3 guitars (sometimes at once), a Hammond organ and a vibraphone/xylophone. Stuart Murdoch cut a dapper figure in his white T-shirt and vintage hat (think the sort ska rudeboys wear), danced animatedly and exchanged banter with the audience. Oh, and they still can't throw; I counted two missed tambourine catches in one song. But they can get a place moving; when the opening bars of The Boy With The Arab Strap sounded, people got out of their seats and into the aisles. The atmosphere was charged; it was, I imagine, like one of those black gospel church services in the US South.

They opened with Fuck This Shit (off the Storytelling score) and played for a bit over one and a half hours, playing most of the favourites; much of their most recent album, of course (the version of Stay Loose was well hard!), quite a few older tracks, and a slightly shambolic Rolling Stones cover. (Some wag in the audience suggested that they play Khe Sanh; Stuart didn't know it, but reckoned it sounded violent.) They changed the lyrics a bit in places (the version of If You Find Yourself Caught In Love exhorted the lovelorn to go into the desert and visit Ayers' Rock), and did a rather funky segue, with lots of wah guitar, from The Wrong Girl to Legal Man. At various stages, they invited audience members onto the stage: first, a group of fans with a banner requesting I Don't Love Anyone got to dance on stage with the banner as the band played the song, and, during the encore, a lot of people got on, including one girl from the audience who sung the female parts from Lazy Line Painter Jane, and did a bang-up job of them; she knew all the words and sounded really good in the part. I bet she'll get many singing gigs from now on.

It was easily the best gig I've seen all year.

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A taxonomy of obnoxious fuckwits at rock concerts (via rocknerd):

The Reckless Smoker -- A cigarette is a dangerous weapon around people packed together tight. At a Guided by Voices show in New York -- before that glorious smoking ban went into effect -- fans were so jammed one night at a club called Tramps that you had to applaud with your hands above your head. This didn't stop a guy behind me from lighting up -- and then singeing some unlucky fan standing in front of him. "Sorry, man," the Smoker said. No doubt this made the burn victim feel a whole lot better.
The Angler -- They arrived late, and they don't want to stand in the back. So the Anglers connive to get close to the stage, which is tricky -- and rude -- at a show that's sold out. The most inventive Angler I've seen waited till right before the first song and pretended to be on the verge of vomiting as he waded toward the lip of the stage. People leapt out of his way. When he got to the front, he just smiled.
The most stupefying Talker I've seen was at a Melissa Etheridge show at the Warner Theatre, a woman who called a friend on her cell phone just as Etheridge hit the stage. "I'm at the show! Yeah, Melissa just came on! Yeah! Can you hear me? What? Can you hear her? What?" There were murderous stares from everyone in her vicinity -- and then verbal threats -- but it didn't matter. The dedicated Talker doesn't care.

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Someone has put up an online petition to get Talkshow Boy as a support for the upcoming Belle & Sebastian show. Hmmm... it'd be a tad more interesting than one of the more obvious candidates, like, say, the Lucksmiths or Architecture In Helsinki. Whether the organisers would take notice, of course, is another matter (after all, just a year or so ago, the organisers of the Interpol gig chose to fly some band over from Perth rather than give the support slot to Love Of Diagrams; tour organisers work in mysterious ways).

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I went to the Four Tet/Manitoba show at the Corner tonight. I arrived as Qua was playing; his stuff struck me as being much as it has always been: technically polished and layered, and yet melodically almost completely random; i.e., I'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between most Qua tracks.

Four Tet was interesting. One guy with a laptop and a box of knobs of some sort (either an analogue mixer or a MIDI controller), rocking back and forth to the music as he controls the laptop. Not really much in the way of theatre, though after a while one got used to mentally coordinating his actions with the changes in the music. Anyway, his music tended towards chopped-up granular loops and glitches; not quite as hardcore as Kid 606 or someone. At the start of one piece, it sounded rather like Neu! or Faust or someone.

(Live laptop acts like Four Tet raise an interesting question: what is it exactly that we're watching? We're not watching him compose the music; it's pre-composed. We're not watching hin play it either; the computer is doing that, and he is controlling it. Chances are, as he put it together, he did so in Cubase or Logic or somesuch, assembling something that, when activated, would produce a sample-perfect copy of the recording, with no interaction required. Only that's not much fun to watch, so he'd have had to have dismantled that and put it into a performance system (like, say, Ableton Live), giving him the ability to control the playing mechanism in real time. So, in one sense, the performance is the ritual of producing an imperfect approximation of something more deterministically constructed. Strange, no?)

Then Manitoba came on. They were three guys in animal masks (though, thankfully, not full-body fur suits), and had two drum kits, guitars, some keyboards and a glockenspiel. They completely rocked out; drumming frenziedly, moving around the stage with guitars or playing keyboards. (Nobody was playing a laptop or anything quite as un-rock as that.) Mind you, a lot of the sound obviously came from a tape (the vocals, for one; nobody had a microphone), but the fact that the musicians were playing part of it and doing so well made the show. They played predominantly tracks off Up In Flames, though did an encore of sorts with a sampled rap vocal.

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I have it on good authority that Belle & Sebastian are coming to Australia, playing on 24 July at the Palais. I wonder who the supports will be; the obvious choice would be Architecture In Helsinki, though Tugboat were angling for this when it last came up. The Tranquilizers could also work. And I'll nominate Talkshow Boy as an outsider candidate.

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I went to the Radiohead show at the Rod Laver Arena tonight. Originally I was thinking of giving it a miss (spending 2 hours staring at The Cure through binoculars from half a kilometre or so away turned me against huge venues), though I ended up going; and I'm glad I did.

First up were the night's "special guests"; some JJJ alternative band neither I nor the indie kids next to me recognised. Rather energetic, punky and syncopated, though not impressive enough to make me hunt down their details and start following them around.

Then they stopped, having played for maybe half an hour (assuming that they started at 8; they were playing when I took my seat). While the stage was being set up, someone had decided to put a reggae CD on the PA; an odd choice, though pleasant enough.

Then Radiohead went on, and launched into There There. They did most of Hail To The Thief, a few older songs (Paranoid Android, No Surprises, Pyramid Song and Kid A were there, along with some from The Bends; one thing they didn't play, which would have been nice, was their piano-driven live version of Like Spinning Plates, though one can't have everything). It was quite an impressive set. Thom sang, danced around, played guitar, and played a grand piano which the roadies kept moving back and forth between songs; the other members did guitar, bass, Mellotron and glockenspiel, as well as providing harmony vocals. (I think it's the harmony vocals that really make Radiohead's sound. That and half a dozen other things, anyway.) They did an encore with about 3 songs in it, and finished up with a version of Kid A Everything In Its Right Place with Thom singing, then another member looping his voice through effects pedals or similar and chopping it up; then Thom walked off, while his digitally mangled vocals were playing; it was like a Blue Monday for the 21st century. Oh, and the light show wasn't bad either.

This time I got a slightly better seat than at the Cure gig; it was a few rows closer to the front (not that that made a huge dent in the distance), and was right in the middle. I discovered that my PowerShot G2's 11x digital zoom wasn't quite enough (I didn't manage to get any good close-ups of band members, save what was on the giant video screens beside the stage).

(Gig photography tip: Be sure to manually set the exposure time when taking photos. Digital cameras' automatic modes tend to err on the side of overexposure, leading to washed-out, blurry pictures. 1/100 to 1/160 was a good range for the pictures above.)

And I was not the only one taking photos, by the look of it. Below, the sea of heads that was the general admission area was dotted with the telltale glowing white rectangles of digital camera screens. In the row in front of me, one cheeky bugger was even telecasting it on his 3G phone to a mate.

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I went to see Tripod at the Comedy Festival tonight. The show was OK; it wasn't bad, though wasn't as brilliant as I was expecting from what I heard about them. The songs were a bit like something the Doug Anthony Allstars might have done, only not quite as edgy or surreal (there was a bluegrass number about Britney Spears, and the song about not letting a dead body ruin one's romantic memories worked well); though the arguments between band members seemed more annoying than amusing. Though the encore, a cover of Radiohead's Paranoid Android, for three voices and one guitar, was worth the ticket price by itself.

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Last night, I went to Pony to see a few bands. First up were Ahkmed, a 3-piece who were somewhere between Neu! and Metallica. Well, mostly Metallica; they had a few moments of post-rock and krautrock-influenced grooves, but most of their set was a fairly adolescent grunge/metal, with a bit too many plateaux to grab me. Maybe, in time, they will become more interesting.

Next up were BAM BAM, who were really good; they played a sort of punky psychobilly power-pop with very tight musicianship and a lot of energy; the vocalist (who looks a bit like a punk version of a 1950s pinup girl) put on an over-the-top performance with a good deal of hair-flipping, eye-rolling, and shimmying around the stage, whilst playing guitar and delivering her vocals. All in all, the band powered through their set like a juggernaut.

Keep an eye on BAM BAM; they look like they're going places.

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I went to the Make Mixtapes Not War benefit at the corner this evening, which was quite good.

I walked in halfway through the Jihad Against America set. They were loud; they're basically hardcore punk/metal played by people some 10 or so years older than the usual hardcore punk/metal band (hi Ben!), and with a sense of irony. They were rather loud, and played fairly tightly, though some of their material (especially the bits with the growly metal vocals) is a bit too close to Filthy Maggoty Cunt territory for my taste. Still, to each his own; the kids in the studded bracelets seemed to like them.

Keith's Yard were fairly good; they were very much in a post-punk vein (think the Melbourne little-band scene), with droning guitars (two or three in each song), bass and drums, and the odd repetitive vocals delivered with a sneer; I imagine that that's the sort of thing one could have seen at the Seaview Ballroom in 1978 or so. (Ben Butler compared them to the Happy Mondays, in their combination of strong rhythm and nonsensical lyric fragments and getting the crowd dancing; though the key difference would be that the Mondays combined indie rock and house/dance music, whereas Keith's Yard are pure post-punk classicism. Still, in the age of punk-flavoured house music, is there really so much of a distinction?)

The Bird Blobs couldn't make it, on account of Ian Wadley being overseas with another project, and so were replaced by an outfit named SNAP! CRAKK!. They were also in a new-wave/post-punk vein, only this time with drum machines and synth keyboards (as well as chaotic guitarwork and random lyrics). The vintage Korg keyboard they used was, amusingly enough, plastered with Burzum stickers.

Love of Diagrams played their classics from The Target Is You, as well as some new songs, some of which have vocals. Other than that, they're doing much the same sort of thing; guitar/bass/drums and lots of energy.

The Bites were OK, and had some good songs. Sinking Citizenship, however, didn't grab me; they sounded like fairly rote post-grunge rock.

The Ninetynine set was interesting; Amy is still in Berlin, so they made do without her (and without her songs, of course; there was no Great Escapes or Highway Delights in the set); however, they had three guest musicians, including a bloke in a pinstripe suit playing cello and an accordionist. They played two new songs, both by Laura; one (called something like Bridge) was in a similar vein to Mesopotamia or Kinetic Factory, with a vibraphone and vocals, gradually building up, and the other (Red Card Yellow Card) being a bit more upbeat. They finished with a rocking rendition of Wöekenender, one of their classic crowd-pleasers. Oh, and Iain had since cut his hair really short, with a slight quiff at the front, which, with his glasses and anorak, gave him a slightly Morrisseyish air. This was the first Ninetynine gig in something like seven months, and (from what I heard) may well be the last one for equally long.

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Formerly local electropop outfit Cartwheel, now based in Manchester (arguably Ground Zero of the entire phenomenon of rock/drugmusic fusion) have released two MP3s, which sound suspiciously like the last bit of their brilliant, never-to-be-repeated performance at their going-away party last year. Anyway, here they are: Fall Apart To Stay Together, and Man, In Love With Machine. And did I mention how good they are?

Update: the files appear to have exceeded their AtroCities bandwidth limit, so they've been mirrored here.

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Your Humble Narrator spent this New Year's Eve at the Cue Bar, seeing Dandelion Wine and The Beautiful Few (who combine sardonic social commentary with an Australian New Wave aesthetic, like some cross between Pulp and The Models). All in all, a fairly typical NYE.

On the way back, walking up Brunswick St., I realised that Fitzroy has turned into Prahran; everywhere I went, I could hear the muscular thump of house music. Mind you, we're probably behind the curve here; in Prahran, they're probably into more fashionable things than house music, like NME '70s-Revival Rock or daggy 1980s top-40 hits or cunnilingus-themed rap songs or something.

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Some photos from last night's FourPlay gig at Bar Open:

The gig itself was excellent. They played two sets, each of a bit under an hour, to a packed venue, with the usual virtuosity and energy, doing all the old favourites (The Sweetest Perfection, Meshugganah, Gypsy Scream) and some great new (well, newish; a few of them were around when they played Apollo Bay last year) songs, with really intricate arrangements. And they'll be back next year, with a new album. I look forward to it.

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Apparently FourPlay are finally able to make it down to Melbourne to do a gig; they will be playing at Bar Open on Sunday the 30th of November. They're very impressive live and well worth seeing.

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It's official: Radiohead are touring Australia next year. They're playing the Rod Laver Arena on April 26, with tickets going on sale in about a week. I'm not sure I'll go; I went to see The Cure (yes, I know) at the Rod Laver Arena some years back, and needed to rent a pair of binoculars to actually see the band; had they been booked into, say, the Metro (where I saw New Order and Kraftwerk) or the Forum (where Moz tore the roof off the place), I'd buy a ticket in a flash.

In other rumours, a certain Scottish band may be touring Australia next year; they'll probably play at the Corner or the Prince or somesuch, undoubtedly supported by Architecture In Helsinki or The Lucksmiths or someone like that.

And speaking of touring bands, FourPlay are coming down to play the Queenscliff festival. So Melbourne fans will be able to see them slightly more conveniently than by travelling up to Sydney.

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Rumour of the day: Radiohead may be coming to Australia around April of next year. Start saving, and keep those binoculars handy...

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Unlike some people, I didn't get to go to Iceland, but I did get to see a small piece of Iceland tonight at the Corner; namely, Múm. They were supported by Minimum Chips (my second favourite local band at the moment) and Architecture In Helsinki.

The Chips played two sets on the side stage: one shortly after 9, when the doors opened, and one after AIH finished while Múm were setting up. For the first set and half of the second, they played without Ian, with the drum kit standing empty and an old analogue drum machine carefully programmed with all their drum patterns. They played all the tracks off Gardenesque, a few old songs from around the time of Swish and a few from various compilations, which was good.

Between their two sets, local twee indie-pop orchestra Architecture In Helsinki took to the main stage and played for about 45 minutes. They played some tracks off Fingers Crossed (some in extended versions) and a few new tracks; their new material is somewhat less sugary than the album tracks, and perhaps a bit reggae/dub/ska inspired in places. (Which makes sense; they have enough personnel to form a ska band, for one.)

And Múm were pretty good. Their music was rather sparse, drifting between pieces. It is probably a dreadful cliché to say that it evokes the sparse Icelandic landscapes, but it did. They played a number of pieces, including some new ones, melding from piece to piece. I was expecting them to be standing behind laptops and controlling some mysterious process that made plinking noises, but most of the music was live, played on melodica, violin, keyboards (including a vintage Wurlitzer and a Moog), guitar, drums and xylophone; oh, and the obligatory PowerBook. They finished up with an encore of I'm 9 Today. And the Guns'n'Roses T-shirt one of the band was wearing was quite amusing.

And someone kept blowing soap bubbles over the audience during their set. Probably an AIH fan.

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Tonight's Bidston Moss gig was fun. They played a set of almost 1 hour, and played some new songs and some old ones, with the one who isn't Beth whose name escapes me climbing the foldback and rocking out. And they put in (a very gentle version of) the first verse from the Pixies' Debaser in one of their songs (along with the New Order reference in Armadillo), which was cool. And the free bag of lollies at the door was a nice touch.

I only saw them and Mrs. Pinkwhistle, who seemed to have had too much to drink. They horsed around on stage, cracked dick jokes which didn't even make sense, and at one stage couldn't decide which key a song was in. Maybe they're usually better, but I wasn't impressed.

(Funny how some people can drunkenly clown around on stage and pull it off but others can't. Stewart Anderson (of Boyracer and 555 Recordings fame) can (like that gig last year, when he ended up spontaneously helping the drummer out on the kit), but Mrs. Pinkwhistle fell flat. Maybe lay off the free drinks next time, lads.)

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I just came back from the Heligoland CD launch, which was pretty good. The DJ (Electric Sound of Jim) actually played some Field Mice (Missing The Moon, actually) which made my day. Too few of us Mice fans in Australia.

I also got a look at a copy of the newly-pressed new Sir album, titled Trapped In A World Of Make-Believe, that Jesse had with him. It looks quite promising; the artwork looks very crisp, and the track listing has various songs they've been playing since The Night I Met My Second Wife. I look forward to hearing it, and probably spinning it in a DJ set or three.

(And speaking of DJ sets, hopefully there'll be some good news about those in the not-too-distant future. Watch this space for details.)

Oh, and Ninetynine have a new 4-track EP coming out. (Yay!) Unfortunately, it's only coming out in the US and UK; Cameron says it's because nobody's interested in putting them out in Australia. I wonder why that is; whether it's scene politics rearing its ugly head, the local market being too conservative to accept casiopunk as a valid genre, or collateral damage from the Back-To-Basics Rock Revival. Anyway, time to keep checking Twee Kitten, I think.

And the Heligoland gig was good. They played some new tracks and some older ones, in their usual æthereal style, and as an encore did their cover of Kraftwerk's Neon Lights.

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I just came back from the Interpol gig, which was great (if a bit on the crowded side).

First up was a support band called the Tucker Bs (presumably of no relation to Tucker B and the MGs). They were from Perth, and played a sort of crunchy, angular guitar rock. They were OK, though I don't see why the promoters flew them all the way over from Perth when local outfit Love of Diagrams wanted the support slot.

Then, some time after 11:30, Interpol came on; they were five young men in neatly buttoned-up shirts (some with thin ties) and equally meticulous hairstyles, looking very New Wave, like some cross between Joy Division and Kraftwerk. That wasn't the only Joy Division influence; the singer's stage manner seemed studiedly Ian Curtislike, only not quite as manic; I suppose that goes with his vocal style. The bass player (the chap in the very sharp red tie) stole the show, punctuating his workmanlike bass playing with rock-star stage antics, slinging his instrument around and raising it into the air. (He didn't play it at ankle-level à la Peter Hook though; or at least I didn't see him doing so.)

Oh, and the songs. They played pretty much all of Turn On The Bright Lights and one other; I'm not sure if that was a new one or something off an earlier EP. The sound was really good, filling the packed venue with a wall of layered guitars and thunderous drums, which made up for the fact that people who didn't stake out the front of the stage had a hard time seeing what was going on. Anyway, if you ever get a chance to see Interpol, do so.

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I went along to the Minimum Chips EP launch at the Rob Roy tonight. Other than the tracks from Gardenesque, they played a lot of new material. No, really. And it was quite impressive. Now they've got even less of an excuse for not recording a new album.

Between songs, Nicole entertained the audience with her dialogues with various hecklers, on topics such as Evan Dando's drug habits (apparently he's into something called Crackstasy), the Brisbane Gothic Scene (apparently it's huge), and whether Minimum Chips are electroclash (apparently they are, even though none of their songs are about snorting cocaine with movie stars or anything like that).

Oh, and they're playing on the Wednesday after this coming one at the First Floor (i.e., Chapel St.'s beachhead on Brunswick St., a haunt of the Beautiful People best known for its house music, overpriced drinks and tabletop Galaga machine). Apparently the First Floor people are booking more bands, including rockers Registered Nurse, which strikes me as rather odd.

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Tonight I saw Yo La Tengo at the Corner Hotel. First up were the supports, Decoder Ring, who also played at the Mogwai gig last year; this time they seemed to have more electronics and sequenced synths in the mix, sounding somewhere between (post-)rock instrumentals and some kind of post-Kraftwerk electro; they were pretty good.

Then, after a DJ break, Yo La Tengo came on, and played for some two hours (including two encores), starting off with their cover of Sun Ra's Nuclear War, and going on to Let's Save Tony Orlando's House (one of my favourite YLT songs). They swapped instruments a fair bit, playing four keyboards, two drum kits (plus bongos!) and numerous guitars (which were handed to them by a guitar tech/valet offstage), not to mention some 2- and 3-part vocal harmonies. Ira (the guy in the striped short) stole the show in places with his antics, rocking out on the guitar, thrashing it about, and pretending to be about to throw it, though carefully not letting go. (Perhaps he was only thrashing it about in an ironic sense?)

Anyway, they played a few quieter, country-tinged numbers (Today Is The Day, Tears Are In Your Eyes and Take Care near the end), some of their more upbeat pieces (Season Of The Shark, a great rendition of How To Make A Baby Elephant Float (dig those chords!), Moonrock Mambo, and Georgia vs. Yo La Tengo at the very end), and a few rock numbers (including one off their Christmas EP -- the one with the artwork by Daniel Clowes). During the second encore, whilst taking a request, they said that they didn't like to repeat songs from the previous night; given that they played most of their new album tonight, I wonder exactly which ones last night's audiences were treated to.

Anyway, next week it's Interpol, which should also be good.

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The street finds its own uses for audio recording hardware, it seems. Miniaturised audio recorders and hidden microphones designed for naturalists and anthropologists are being adopted by music fans to surreptitiously record live gigs. (via TechDirt)

The equipment has legitimate purposes too, being used by naturalists to tape the sounds of tree frogs or researchers to record indigenous rituals without calling attention to themselves, but it has been embraced by tapers who see a band's "no taping" policy as a challenge.

"The fan community sees no-taping policies as damage and routes around it", to paraphrase a Grateful Dead lyricist. Meanwhile, some tapers are devising their own tricks of the trade.

Some who secretly tape frequently have special "taping clothes." One taper in the upholstery business "made himself a fancy-looking vest," said Oade. He sewed the cables and the microphone into it, and put the DAT recorder in a fanny pack.

Surreptitiously taping a gig isn't hard; doing so and getting decent sound is the tricky thing. (I've got a rather dodgy-sounding minidisc of last year's Morrissey gig to vouch for that.)

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I wonder who will be supporting Interpol when they play here in August. I bet it won't be Architecture in Helsinki.

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Notonova is a site in Germany which has a lot of pictures of recent Melbourne indie band gigs; including a few of which I've been at. (I see someone else has followed Ninetynine halfway around the world with a camera.)

Apparently he'll have videos up soon too; hopefully they'll be longer than the 30-second clips my Canon Powershot makes. (What the world needs is a good Ninetynine live DVD or three.) (via Rocknerd)

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Tonight, I followed BeTh's advice and went to see The Brunettes, a New Zealand indie-pop band who were playing at the Rob Roy. They were pretty good, playing a sort of '60s-retro bubble-gum pop, and doing it very well. Lots of jangly guitars and bongos and xylophones and doo-wop/shoobie-doobie-doo vocals and handclaps and harmony vocals and vintage keyboards (they had a Nord Electro on stage), and playing very tightly. They sounded somewhere between Spearmint and Birdie, and with a definite Phil Spector influence too.

The Smallgoods were also good, in a power-pop sort of vein. I didn't hang around to see Architecture In Helsinki, though, having other things to do.

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On Saturday night, I went to the Corner to see Kid 606 and supports. The first band up was Ponyloaf; aka three lunatics with an array of MIDI modules, keyboards and laptops (including an IBM PC-type keyboard with missing keys attached to a strap; no idea whether it did anything though). They were quite good; a bit on the glitch side, though with melodies and evolving textures, rather than the academic obscurantism that infects a lot of laptop music ("if you don't get it, you're not l33t enough; now go back to your Britney Spears CDs"). They also looked like absolute nutters whilst playing, with one of them grimacing, covering his head and beating the air as if fighting hallucinatory demons.

Other than that: Curse Ov Dialect were OK, if a bit heavy-handed with the political correctness. (Aside: why is it that if an artist goes up and holds up the Macedonian flag, it's considered multicultural, whereas if they held up the Cross of St. George or something, it'd be considered racist?) Smallcock did his best to clear out the venue after that by making painful noises on a microphone attached to a distortion pedal, just like he did at What Is Music? some years back. Then Kid 606 went on, with his 3 PowerBooks, and proceeded to play all sorts of crunchy, chopped up beats and distorted digital noises, while a projector displayed visuals behind him. (Aside: laptop electronica is like grunge typography. Discuss.) Though I didn't see the whole show, as I decided it wasn't worth the taxi fare back, and went off to catch the last bus just after he had finished with Missy Elliott and was playing with a synthesized version of the Anarchy in the UK riff.

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Some pictures from this evening's Bidston Moss gig:

The show was pretty good; sweet yet spiky power-pop, with catchy lyrics and hooks. And they are doing another one sometime in the next few weeks.

I also managed to catch up with BeTh, who sings/plays bass in the band, after their set. She's pretty cool, and has an enviable memory for faces. And, it turns out, she works practically just down the corridor from me. It's one of those ironies that I find this out about a week before she emigrates to warmer climes.

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I just came back from the Ninetynine gig at the Rob Roy. There's some good news: they're playing again in late June before Laura moves back to Perth. Oh, and they're touring Europe (again) in October.

The gig was brilliant, btw. The Ninetynine set included the 3 new songs they have been playing the last few gigs, and rocked. The Grey Daturas were also pretty cool, in a Mogwaiesque sort of way. Though I must admit I'm not a huge fan of the Bird Blobs; they're a bit too pub/blues-rock for my taste.

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Tonight's Ninetynine gig was fun. The Process sounds interesting with the Polar Angle drum loop. Their new material is also quite good (the sort of New Order/Stone Roses/Blur-sounding song which keeps changing its name (it was called something like "Look Out For Trams" tonight) is very cool, as is Red Weed (i.e., the one in 15/16 time).)

(The support, Royalchord, were entertaining, in a slightly retro-kitschy tex-mex way, too. If they release an album, they should try to get it out in 8-track format. Even though most people won't have a means of playing 8-tracks, it'd be a pretty doovy collectible/conversation piece.)

Btw, next Friday at the Rob Roy is Ninetynine's last gig in Melbourne before Laura moves (temporarily) back to Perth. By coincidence, the next night at the Tote is the last local gig for local all-girl power popsters Bidston Moss before BeTh moves to her newly-acquired dream home in Queensland.

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My DJ set at Grand Music for Tiny Souls went quite well. I didn't play for very long (from a bit after 4 until around 8ish, in between bands; then a guy calling himself Tepid took over and brought his collection of laptop glitch electronica and such; he seemed like a pretty nice chap, and he does a weekly glitch/noise/drill'n'bass night at Pony on Tuesday nights; may have to show up to that). Also, this time the organisers provided the setup, and so I had access to a Denon DN-X800 mixer, much better mixer than the $125 Smack Converters special I usually use, and a DJ-oriented double CD deck. Ah, luxury.

(What did I play? A bit of UK indie-pop (The Field Mice, It's Jo and Danny, The Lollies, The Charm Offensive, Spearmint, Black Box Recorder and Belle & Sebastian all got a look in), a bit of shoegazer/dreampop/ethereal-type stuff (Lush, Slowdive, Parsley Sound), some antipodean acts (Architecture in Helsinki, Ninetynine, The Hummingbirds (the ones from the early 90s), The Chills, Ash Wednesday), a few old-sk00l acts (Joy Division, Pixies, Smiths), a few new things (the Interpol disc got a spin) and a few oddities (Dsico's Smells Like Electro, John Trubee's Blind Man's Penis Song, Denki Groove's Shangri-La).)

Some of the bands I saw there were quite good too; in particular, I Want A Hovercraft and Season (who are sounding a bit like Mogwai in places, in a good way). Unfortunately, I didn't get to stick around to see International Karate or Seascapes of the Interior, as the Love of Diagrams album launch was on the same night. Sometimes it'd be good to be in two places at once.

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This afternoon, I went along to the Museum to see Architecture in Helsinki and their new video. They performed in one of the galleries (a room full of contemporary Australian objects, lit dimly in various contemporary Australian colours), playing in front of a large video screen, and doing various of their songs, as well as a cover of The Cure's Close To Me, before putting on and playing along to the videos. Firstly they played a video they had made that day in the museum, full of stop-motion video of band members and various kids moving around in the museum (which was quite amusing, and very impressive given the timeframe in which it was made); and then, their video for Like A Call, which had apparently been aired on Rage. The latter video was, as you'd expect from them, exceedingly twee. Two little kids (a little boy and girl) and a puppy go for a ride in a borrowed car, and end up jumping off a cliff. All very cute, in a South-Park-meets-Czech-animation sort of way.

(One thing I noticed: the little boy in the video looked like a baseball cap-clad homie, unlike the twee characters seen elsewhere. (You wouldn't expect to see Boy in Cat and Girl wearing Fubu thugwear, would you?) Perhaps AIH, drawing on post-hiphop kidlore, are being up-to-date in their twee iconography, with all the other twee popsters being retro?)

Anyway, with any luck they'll end up releasing their animations, perhaps on a DVD.

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Ah yes; I will be DJing this Friday night at the Dandelion Wine benefit gig, at the Cue Bar on Brunswick St. What to expect: indie, shoegazer, post-punk, a bit of electronica and a few weird things thrown in for good measure. Anyway, it's for a good cause (Dandelion Wine's airfare to some music festival or other in Romania).

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The Strange Tenants gig was quite good. The crowd was quite diverse, from grey-haired middle-aged couples (who may well have met at a Tenants gig in the early 80s) to young skinhead types (whilst waiting in the queue outside, I overheard one short-cropped geezer talking to his mates about some guy he beat up), punks and rudeboys. (I've never seen so many guys wearing hats at the Corner.) The band themselves were dressed in a very 1980s way (wearing a lot of black, sunglasses and (in one case) a natty-looking leather jacket), and they rocked quite a bit. They even had a new song, all about nostalgia for the old days of ska, though it wasn't quite as sharp as their old numbers. Given the left-wing, anti-militarist and sometimes anti-US tone of some of their songs, and their dedications (to Bush and to the children of Iraq, in two cases), I wonder how much of their decision to come out of retirement was influenced by the political situation. (Good to know that they haven't turned into Tories with time.)

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I picked up the new Seascapes of the Interior album, All Safe, All Well today. (I won it from 3RRR's Local and/or General show last night.) It's pretty impressive; six tracks, ranging from just under 2 to 20 minutes, lots of lush, multi-instrumental textures with piano melodies, guitars, synths, violins, chromatic percussion and sampled voice fragments; very atmospheric and textured. And that applies to the packaging too; the disc came in a two-part sleeve of very rough recycled paper (mine still has pieces of newspaper classified ads visible; your mileage will doubtlessly vary), printed in monochrome and with a window cut in the outer sleeve.

Seascapes are launching this CD at the Great Britain Hotel this Friday; I probably won't be able to make it, as the once-off Strange Tenants reunion is on that night. Oh well.

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For those reading this up in Sydney, I just heard that the mighty Ninetynine will be in town tomorrow (Saturday) night, playing at some place called the Spanish Club. No idea where that is, I'm afraid. Though if you can't make it, word is they're doing a gig at the Hopetoun in a month's time or so.

Apparently they'll also have a new website up and running in a few weeks, run by some guy in England. Hopefully this one will actually be up to date.

(I went to their gig at the Tote tonight, which was quite doovy (despite a minor sound problem during The Cleaner); they played a rocking rendition of Wöekenender as an encore. Though it seems they're not any closer to giving the new song a proper name. And DJ Low Sperm Count's DJ set wasn't too bad, in an electro-hiphop-meets-trashy-pop sort of way. Oh, and Tatu don't sound as dire as I feared. (I suppose having Trevor Horn on board made the difference.))

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I finally went to see Dirty Three tonight, and I don't see what the fuss is about. Yes, there is dionysiac energy in his violin playing, but the arrangements seemed fairly bland, and a bit on the random side; not as emotive as, say, the Bad Seeds, or as intense as someone like, say, Mogwai. IMHO, as far as string-based live acts go, FourPlay do a better job. (I'll probably get death threats over this, I know...)

One thing I noticed: Warren Ellis the violinist has a lot more hair on his head than Warren Ellis the sequential-art writer.

Oh yes, and Black Heart Procession were quite good too; they started with a prerecorded video with some English-accented Nick Cave lookalike announcing that Black Heart Procession are dead, having all been gruesomely murdered, and that the musicians playing tonight are merely their restless spirits in borrowed bodies. As the two musicians played (guitar, keyboards and theremin), videos of the band were projected behind them (some of them looked a bit Lynchian, and others had that surreal, and vaguely macabre, quality favoured by certain San Franciso hipster types; the Lomo-style split screen on the first one was kind of doovy though).

(And apparently the new Ninetynine song is titled "My Hobby Is Better Than Your Hobby". I wonder if this title will stick, though.)

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Ah yes; the Architecture in Helsinki gig last night was good. They played most of the songs off Fingers Crossed, including a longer version of One Heavy February with actual vocals. (That song will undoubtedly be an enigma to those who haven't seen them live.) They also had an assortment of hand-made merchandise, including a surfeit of button badges. (For AUP10, you could get a set of badges of Macintosh icon renderings of all the band's members; though I just got the two "Fingers Crossed" badges.)

(The support set by Ninetynine rocked hard, but you knew I was going to say that. And the dance number by those two birds with funny wigs and party poppers was somewhat amusing, in an art-schoolish post-ironic-hipster-kitsch sort of way; well, what I could make out of it over the heads of the crowd from the front of the other stage.)

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I saw Not Drowning Waving tonight at the West Papua Freedom Concert. Their performance was excellent; probably the highlight of the evening. Very percussive (one song had 8 drummers playing at once); the thunderous percussion and sparse bits of synth, piano and heavily delayed guitar coming together to form epic soundscapes, as vast and wild as the landscapes of this southern corner of the world.

The rest of the night wasn't bad either; Lisa Gerrard came out with a chap named Patrick Cassidy and sang while he accompanied her on an electronic keyboard. The Black Brothers played some reggae-tinged versions of West Papuan songs, and the Dili Allstars' set was also a bit reggaeish. West Papuan outfit Black Paradise, in grass skirts, did traditional songs with just voices and guitars. Then there were the comedians; Dave O'Neill badmouthed his current employer Nova FM ("like FOX-FM", "it's the same six songs"), getting applause from the RRR-listener types in the audience. John Safran explained how a 1960s pidgin broadcast of the Three Little Pigs story to Papua serves as an allegory to the political situation there, and Andrew Denton offered to buy BHP shares for 20 people willing to raid the shareholders' meeting with him.

One thing I noticed, though, was how a lot of the backing tracks (for various indigenous dances and some semi-live musical performances) were heavy on the new-agey synth pad sounds, à la Enigma/Deep Forest. Perhaps such synth sounds are a sort of sonic flavour enhancer, making "world music" more palatable to bourgeous tastes or something?

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This afternoon, I made my way down to the Fitzroy swimming pool. Why, you ask? No, not to do a few invigorating laps of the pool, nor because of any sort of aesthetic liking of the smell of chlorine and the sounds of children running around and splashing, but because today was Rockpool, the annual daytime-concert-at-the-pool event. No major international artists, but local acts (like B(if)tek and Architecture in Helsinki) came along to give something back to the community.

In particular, I showed up just in time to see the Ninetynine set; the first one of the year, I believe, and the first time I had seen them since London. The sounds wasn't ideal, but the energy was there and it rocked. (Incidentally, they seemed to rely on a MiniDisc for a lot of the rhythm loops; perhaps they're running out of Casiotone keyboards or something?) They did a new song, with Amy singing; it sounded a little New Orderesque, at least to my ears. (Occasionally I wonder just how much they were influenced by New Order/Joy Division; that and the guitarwork on Woekenender and Laura's lyrics sounding just a tad Barneyesque in places.) Anyway, they rocked.

The audience was full of pale indie types who don't usually go in the sun; some were looking a tad awkward in bathing costumes, others came wearing band T-shirts and shorts and such. (I was the guy in the Gentle Waves T-shirt and brown cords, looking rather out of place in the sun.)

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On the weekend, I heard a track by a band named Sneeze on the Empress Hotel's PA. (They were a sort of jangle-pop band signed to Half a Cow sometime in the 1990s, and sounded a bit like the Hummingbirds or Even As We Speak or somesuch.) I did a search for them on SoulSeek, but didn't find anything that looked like them. The search did, however, turn up a lot of sound effect files, with names like SNEEZE.WAV and sneezes male 02.mp3. Oh dear, I seem to have stumbled across some sort of parasexual fetish.

I also checked the Half a Cow website. Alas, Sneeze's 41 Songs In 47 Minutes is deleted. A rerelease is due in "late 2003", though. Interestingly enough, Swirl's The Last Unicorn, arguably the best Australian shoegazer album of all time, is still available (though the tracks are in a different order to my copy).

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Last year, I saw an amusing indie duo from London named Partition at the Empress. I recently found out that they were back in Melbourne and doing more gigs, so I went to see them tonight at Good Morning Captain.

It was a fairly good gig; about 2 parts indie-pop and 1 part comedy. They did a number of good songs, the one about fancying some bird for 10 years and then going out with her for 2 weeks that they did last year (apparently it's a true story, too); one titled Emigrating Next Week, about the perils of falling in love with someone when you're about to move overseas, a few mildly political numbers (about war being bad and bigotry against deinstitutionalised mental patients; don't expect bolshy agitprop on the level of Jihad Against America or Stereolab or someone), and some rather amusing and deliberately daft interludes, in between dancing around bozotically.

They were joined on cello by one Sheila B, who's in a band named Fosca (think sort of like Baxendale only not quite as zany); she did a good job accompanying them.

Anyway, it emerged that the guys from Partition were at the Ninetynine gig in London in October, but we didn't run into each other. Probably because darkened caverns with loud music and black-painted walls aren't the best place to recognise someone you spoke to half a year ago in a different country; unless you expect them to be likely to be there, that is.

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The Kraftwerk gig was excellent. I showed up and made my way to the balcony, finding a spot with a good view of the stage, as David Thrussell was playing all sorts of weird tunes. Then the DJ stopped, and things were quiet for some minutes, except for the crowd yelling and stamping.

Then the Metro was filled with the sound of an old-fashioned speech synthesizer uttering bits of German, and the curtain rose, revealing four middle-aged men standing behind consoles (and looking not unlike characters from some Star Trek-like TV show). They played Computerworld and the projection screen glowed cathode-ray green (older readers may remember this colour); they also did Pocket Calculator, with an animation of a calculator, their (quite topical) anti-nuclear protest song Radioactivity, a version of Neon Lights with a verse in German, and their one song about a pretty girl, The Model.

While they stayed at their workstations, playing keyboards and operating their laptops, visuals were projected on the screen behind them, ranging from the sorts of retrofuturistic computer graphics (lots of wireframes; remember when those were cool and shading was too expensive?) to old stock footage of the Tour de France, train and road travel across Europe and the like.

Their songs varied quite a bit from the recordings; the version of The Robots started with them transposing the main riff into different notes, and went on into some improvisation with new (yet quite fitting) synth lines.

(Oh yes, the consoles they were using looked pretty nifty, consisting of a keyboard of some sort, a foot pedal and a laptop. I wonder whether the keyboard part is an off-the-shelf instrument of some sort, or a box containing various controllers and such, and indeed whether the keyboard is not just a controller for software on the laptop, Kraftwerk being famed for their fondness for Cubase VST.)

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Well, the DJ set went quite well. I played for around two hours in total (I can't tell exactly, as it was too dark to see, and the three pints of Guinness I had on the drinks rider probably also contributed). I managed to play a bit of The Charm Offensive (Just Like Bob & Terry) and The Lollies (their hidden track, Happy), which was quite possibly the first time either act was played in Australia, and expose the good Seaworthy/Heligoland fans to my choice of music, getting a fairly positive response. (I played a bit of the sort of ethereal/shoegazer stuff that would go well at such a gig, like Slowdive, Lush, &c., a few other things that fit in reasonably well (The Field Mice, and various other indie bands), a few tracks by local bands, and some odd things which people found amusing (including the cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit recently mentioned here).)

The only major hitch is that I suspect my old Sony Discman finally gave up the ghost towards the end of the set; at least it was considerate enough to not do so at the start, though.

The bands, btw, were quite good. Seaworthy reminded me a bit of the first Mojave 3 album in places, and Heligoland's new material is sounding quite impressive. (Their cover of Kraftwerk's Neon Lights was also quite inspired.)

Anyway, I'll be DJing again sometime in the near future. Watch this space for details.

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According to Beat, there's a new New Buffalo gig coming up at the Empress soon. Unfortunately, it's on the same night as Kraftwerk, so I'll miss it.

The piece goes on to say something about her new album. EMI did fly her over to LA to work on it, and did put her in a studio with a producer who worked with Madonna and William Orbit (though he also worked with Björk, so it may not be too bad). More encouragingly, the album will have contributions from Jim White (of Dirty Three) and Laura Macfarlane, which suggests it won't be too MOR, formulaic or manufactured. Though time will tell.

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I went to the Neil Halstead gig at the Evelyn. First up was a local band named I Panic, whom I hadn't seen before. I caught only their last song, but was impressed. They consisted of a girl singing through reverb and delays, and two guys playing guitars (one strumming an acoustic and one playing an electric), and sounded a bit like Love Spirals Downwards before they went drum'n'bass. I'll have to look out for them.

Next up was Sodastream; I missed most of their set, running home to get a Slowdive CD for Neil to autograph. Then Neil came on; he sat on a chair, playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica and singing softly into the microphone. One song into the show, he snapped a string on his guitar and had to borrow one from Sodastream. He did mostly his recent repertoire, in acoustic folk style, and was joined by the bassist from Sodastream and a violinist named Kelly for two songs.

And no, he didn't play any Slowdive-era tunes; which was a little disappointing (after all, where would we be if Morrissey didn't play any Smiths songs in his sets?), but on reflection, understandable. Most Slowdive songs would not translate very easily to solo acoustic-guitar performance, and the ones which would tend to be like cruder versions of Mojave 3 numbers. People in the audience kept calling out requests ("Alison", "Catch The Breeze", "Dagger"), but Neil politely turned them down. Well, it shows that he's not doing this to cash in.

I got to speak briefly with Neil (I bought the Seasons EP from him, and only found out later that the chap behind the table who looked like a young surfer-dude Kenny Rogers and was somewhat unfamiliar with Australian banknotes was him), and he seems like a very friendly, approachable person, with a disarming humility and warmth about him.

(Alas, it also turns out that the rumours about Pygmalion being rereleased are untrue; Sony still own the rights, it's too small fry for them to release, and neither 4AD nor any other more suitable label has managed to acquire it (or necessarily attempted to). Pity; in my opinion, it is a classic and more people should be able to hear it than can afford the extortionate eBay prices.)

(Aside: I must confess that I don't like the Evelyn as a venue much. For one, you'd think that the overpriced drinks (A$7.50 for a can of Guinness? No thanks) would allow them to put hand dryers in the toilets, but you'd be wrong. And then there's the high wank factor of the Beautiful People(tm) who make it their home.)

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A piece about Neil Halstead's gig tomorrow night. The rumours of him playing material from all seven albums of his career (which would include the 3 Slowdive albums) certainly sound exciting. Hope it's not just Dagger (the only Slowdive song Mojave 3 do live). (ta, Cos)

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The Architecture in Helsinki CD launch was rather fun (in places). The first set (by Qua) was the usual obtuse laptop music, though not too bad. Jeremy Dower's support set, however, had a cheesy 80s-lounge-music (think Kenny G meets some cop show theme or other) feel to it; he's apparently abandoning the laptop-glitch side of things, though I'm not sure I like where he's going. And annoyingly enough, the music between sets was all booty R&B and commercial hiphop from the 90s (they had MC Hammer there, for "Bob"'s sake); not the sort of music that you'd expect the crowd, in their op-shop shirts and pastel jumpers, to get into, and there was too much of it for it to be ironic.

Architecture in Helsinki were good though (despite the place being so packed that it was hard to see them). In their usual so-twee-it-hurts vein, as soon as they got on stage, an accomplice opened a door releasing dozens of red balloons (one of which had a feather tied to it, and a prize for whoever got it). The performance was good too, in the usual xylophones-and-brass-and-reed-instruments vein. Most of the time they didn't quite rock, but played some very nice and somewhat quirky quiet pop. They ended the gig with a rocking rendition of The Cure's Close To Me, complete with heavy-metal-style guitar solo, and for an encore, one of the guys sang over an electronic backing track while the three girls busted some synchronised dance moves.

Oh, and their new single, like a call, is pretty good; especially some of the remixes. Apparently the limited-edition 10" vinyl version has an extended version of one of them too. I eagerly await their album, Fingers Crossed, which is due early next year.

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I'm half-wishing I was in London tomorrow night; because the Bowlie Nite Christmas special is on, and promises to be a lot of fun. Mind you, if I was, I'd miss the Architecture in Helsinki single launch on Friday night.

Meanwhile, it looks like Kraftwerk are doing a solo gig at the Metro in late January. Wonder how quickly tickets will disappear for that one.

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2/3 of The Charm Offensive Last night, I went up to a small pub/venue named the Betsey Trotwood, in Farringdon Rd., EC1R, to see a band named The Charm Offensive. I found out about them a week ago, when Nicola (the vocalist) was handing out flyers at Bowlie Nite, and decided to go and see them. I was quite impressed. The band consisted of two guys with guitars (one acoustic and one electric), a female vocalist and a minidisc player with the obligatory drum tracks. Their sound was sort of sweet Sarah Records-esque indie-pop, of the sort you don't hear much of these days; jangly acoustic chords and quiet boy-girl harmonies and such. They sounded a little like Blueboy, or perhaps Even As We Speak. I hope we hear more from The Charm Offensive.

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Finding myself in Glasgow last night, I decided to go to see whoever was playing at the 13th Note. First up was an outfit calling themselves Blind Dug, who were described as "rock with progressive leanings", and pretty surely disproved the assertion that the difference between prog-rock and post-rock is capes. None of them wore a cape, and they were definitely prog- and not post-; their songs had relatively complex chord progressions, 1970s-style guitar riffs (think some of the musical interludes from The Goodies), odd time signatures, florid embellishments, false endings and lots of different sections. At one stage they announced that they only had time for one more song, and proceeded to play for some 20 minutes, changing keys and tempos quite a few times. They seem to enjoy wallowing in the excesses of the 1970s, but they do it fairly well.

Next up was an outfit named Cat Kills Six, who were a sort of grungy alternative band, though with some quite original moments. At one stage, the vocalist started doing a human beatbox, upon which the bassist went into the bassline from The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight, of which they did the first verse and then went off on a tangent.

Finally there was a band named Frayed, who were fairly textbook metal, with a heavy Metallica influence. (They covered Harvester of Sorrow as one of their songs, obviously wearing their influences on their sleeve.) Technically they were quite competent and tight, right down to the obligatory guitar solos, though they didn't diverge from the metal genre or do much else original, and ultimately ended up as Just Another Metal Band. Then again, I'm told that the singer is only 15 (which brings up comparisons with a certain Australian Seattle-sound band from the '90s). Perhaps few years they'll go on to do more interesting things.

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As promised, here are a few photos from the Ninetynine gig at the Metro Club, a black-painted, mirror-lined cavern beneath Soho:

The first support band, The Projects:

A few photos of The Lollies (whose album, incidentally, rocks):

And a few of Ninetynine:
yes, that's Amy

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I went along to the Ninetynine gig in Soho this afternoon, partly to see them and partly for the supports (it's always interesting to see what supports a band has in a different city).

The first band was meant to be a C86-ish outfit named Kicker; but they pulled out, and so were replaced by a band called The Projects. They were fairly typical indie-pop; guitars, keyboards (a Casio and, adding that particularly English touch, a Novation analogue synth), and punchy short songs with indie-pop sensibility. They were OK; pleasant enough, though they didn't stand out much.

Next up was a punky outfit named The Lollies. Comprised of two Canadians and an American who met up whilst in London, the band consisted of a punk rocker girl with pigtails, fishnets and a Powerpuff Girls T-shirt playing guitar (with lots of jagged chords), another girl in a white singlet playing bass (quite nimbly and melodically), and a guy with sideburns and black-framed glasses behind the drums. They were sort of power-pop, alternating between punk numbers and wry pop ballads (such as Office Romance); think something not far from Bidston Moss, perhaps. Anyway, I ended up shelling out the ten quid and getting their CD.

Then Ninetynine came on. They played with a 3-member lineup, without Iain (that's the anarchist hipster guitarist). They had a few technical glitches early on, and the PA/mixing was a bit muddy in places, but they rocked and the audience picked up on that, applauding wildly after each song. (Mind you, Laura said at the end of the show that about half the audience were from Melbourne.)

I did manage to get some photos (my camera sort of works), but this laptop's rather slow at editing them and it'd take me all night to get some thumbnails ready, and I'm too tired. Maybe later.

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Another review of last week's Mogwai gig. That quiet flute bit certainly did lull one into a false sense of security.

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I just came back from seeing Mogwai, and my ears are still ringing.

They played at the Prince of Wales in St Kilda; the last time I set foot at this venue was to see FourPlay, and back then the PA was appalling. Though this time, the problem had apparently been fixed; either that, or with all the amps Mogwai had on stage, the Prince's PA was irrelevant. Either could equally be the case.

First up were a Sydney band named Decoder Ring. Somewhat Tortoise-ish, or perhaps like Prop with guitars instead of chromatic percussion. They were OK; quite agreeable in places, though they didn't excite me all that much.

Then Mogwai came on, picked up their instruments and made a lot of noise. Two basses, 3 guitars, a Rhodes piano, a flute, a sampler, a Titanium PowerBook and a lot of amplifiers, pedals and miscellaneous kit. They started with You Don't Know Jesus, then went into Mogwai Fear Satan, with the quiet flute bit suddenly going into a tidal wave of distorted guitar. They also played Helicon 1, making some quite lovely shoegazer textures, and then went into 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong, with vocoded vocals and a processed drum loop of some sort (though no banjo). For the encore they did Secret Pint (which I thought was one of the less interesting parts of Rock Action, though they fleshed it out a bit with the Rhodes), and then into an intense, headbanging version of the Jewish hymn My Father My King, rocking for a good 10-20 minutes and culminating with the bald guy tearing most of the strings out of his guitar, and leaving it to feedback, turning his attention to cranking all the amps up to 11 and doing things with pedals, treating the audience to several minutes of fucked-up noise. It goes without saying that they totally rocked.

the set list

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Morrissey I just came back from the Morrissey show, and it rocked.

First up were the support band, for whom I didn't care much. Pretty much back-to-basics '70s rock, with a few glam elements. I think they were called The Anyones or something.

Then Morrissey came on. A recording poem (by John Betjeman, I believe) was played, then Moz came on, launching into I Want The One I Can't Have, to riotous applause. He went on stage wearing a simple black shirt, and his trademark short back and sides; a middle-aged man, somewhat paunchy, but unmistakably Morrissey. The crowd (many of whom undoubtedly grew up listening to The Smiths) loved him. He sang a number of old songs (Suedehead, Hairdresser On Fire (with the words changed subtly), a heartfelt rendition of Meat is Murder, Everyday is Like Sunday (with a banjo)), November Spawned A Monster (with some funk guitar, and a clarinet) and some new numbers (more on those later).

Anyway, Morrissey put on a great show; singing with gusto and passion, his voice as clear, emotive and vulnerable as ever, and dancing around the stage, with the sorts of stylised gestures of awkwardness and ungainliness that were so Morrissey. In between sets, he engaged the audience with banter (at one stage announcing that he had nothing with the company named Morrissey which sold see-through underwear, and getting stuck into the media and the meat industry); his speaking voice is a lot deeper than his singing voice.

Morrissey And Morrissey's new songs are quite good; The First Of The Gang To Die is a classic Morrissey ballad crooned over guitar rock, written in Morrissey's new Los Angeles home. The World Is Full Of Crushing Bores was the sort of thing you could expect from Morrissey; disdain for the vulgar world we live in, with a touch of that famous smothering self-pity. Irish Blood, English Heart is a meditation on England past and present ("I'm dreaming of a time when the English are sick to death of Labour and the Tories..."). It's clear that, as a songwriter, Morrissey is in fine form. I for one will probably buy his next album on the day it comes out.

The show ended with Morrissey removing his shirt and throwing it into the audience, where it was undoubtedly torn to tiny pieces, each of which will be cherished by whoever got it, and leaving the stage, telling us that God, Oscar Wilde and someone else whose name escapes me were with us. Shortly later he came back on, in a plain white shirt, and performed There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, to riotous applause; people were singing along with it in the audience. He thanked the audience and left the stage, leaving the band to finish the song.

(Security was notionally tight, with bags being half-heartedly checked for cameras and recording devices. However, I managed to sneak a camera and a minidisc recorder in in my pockets. I got some photos, but as far as recording goes only succeeded in finding out what an effective low-pass filter a coat pocket makes, and why one should always monitor with headphones when recording a gig. I doubt much could be salvaged of the recording. Time to invest in a good-quality lapel mike for next time, I think; either that or not take photos and record at the same time.)

Morrissey Morrissey Morrissey Morrissey Morrissey Morrissey Morrissey Morrissey

Update: Photographs of this gig now reside in this gallery.

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Luke just came back from the Morrissey gig, and it sounds like it was a good gig, at least judging by the old songs he played (including There Is A Light That Never Goes Out). And the fact that Luke left the show feeling down suggests that Morrissey has still got it.

As for me, I'm rather looking forward to this Tuesday's show. (Hmmm.. must make space on camera CF card...)

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This evening I went to Good Morning Captain to see some bands; first up was a woman named Dimitra, who picked an electric guitar (and later electronic keyboard) and sang. She sounded uncannily like Merida Sussex, both in her voice and languid, breathy mode of delivery, and should be an artist to keep an eye on. Next up was Simpático, aka Jason Sweeney's vocal/guitar project. He played all new songs (well, newer than The Difference Between Alone And Lonely, anyway), strumming a guitar and singing in a half-falsetto. The Field Mice/C86 influence was quite noticeable.

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And a big hello to all my readers in the international indie-pop underground; in particular, to the Japanese indie kids coming here via this bulletin board. I don't know Japanese, but it appears to be some sort of indie-pop-related web BBS, with a rather twee colour scheme, some very kawaii-looking cat cartoons and some intriguing fragments of English text

The show starts at 8 p.m. MINISKIRT will play roughly 12 songs including their classics "Blue Contact Lenses" and "No Jesus No Coffee No Coffee No Jesus" and some new songs which they never played live before.

(I'm wondering whether "win a sheep free" is the name of a band, and if so, what they sound like).

The Babelfish translation sheds slightly more light on it, not to mention a few particularly doovy turns of phrase, such as "super luxurious gorgeousness".

Btw, if you came here looking for the photos from last weekend's Ninetynine CD launch, they're here.

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As promised, the video clip from the Love of Diagrams set at the Ninetynine CD launch on Saturday is online (6.5Mb AVI format; 30 seconds). It'll stay up for at least a week. (I can only keep 1 video clip up at a time in my Alphalink account, so the Ninetynine clip I put up earlier is gone.)

Hmmm.. perhaps it's time to expand this into a proper live-gig-video-of-the-week page?

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Tonight I went to the Corner Hotel to the Ninetynine album launch. First up was Max, a local singer/songwriter/accordionist whom some describe as "Björk meets Tom Waits. I got in as she was playing her soprano-klezmer number; she did a few more songs after that, mostly with her Little Ensemble.

Next up were another local band, Love of Diagrams. This outfit have been around for maybe a year or so; they played with Ninetynine and Sir at the Punters Club on Valentine's Day, and have played around town a few times since then. Anyway, they're a band worth keeping an eye on; guitar, bass, drums, and they can certainly fill a space with sound and get the crowd moving. I'll probably put the video I got of them online in the next few days.

Finally, Ninetynine came on, and put on a terrific show, even by their standards. They played for about an hour, doing pretty much all the songs from The Process, and a few older ones too. Cameron was in particularly high spirits, playing like a demoniac, interacting with the crowd and throwing himself into the show. (At one point he announced that Synthetic was about the Pepsi commercial in which Michael Jackson's hair caught fire and the experiments that continued from that; though that doesn't sound much less plausible than the official line about it being about the Assyrian empire.) Towards the end of the set, a guest (Hi Ben!) joined them, adding some extra guitar riffs to The Specialist (their Northern Soul number). The set ended with The Process; the audience went wild calling for an encore, and the band obliged, coming back on stage and launching into Polar Angle, playing until Cameron collapsed. Now that's showmanship.

(I also liked their new merchandise; in particular, the fluffy llama logo adorning it looks quite doovy.)

Max and the Little Ensemble Love of Diagrams the bass player from Love of Diagrams Cameron drumming like a maniac Laura singing/playing keyboards Cameron playing violin

(Update: photo links now go to images from the photo gallery page for this gig, which also has other images.)

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Just heard this on Far And Wide: Neil Halstead is coming to Melbourne, and playing a gig at the Evelyn in early December. I'll probably go to see that, even though it's infinitesimally unlikely to go into the sort of luscious, immersive wall of noise that was Slowdive, instead staying firmly in AM-radio easy-listening territory.

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This evening I crossed the Yarra and went to Revolver to see Kevin Blechdom and supports; meeting up with Cos there. First up was the obligatory DJ (given that it's in Prahran, I believe there are council zoning requirements mandating DJs in all venues there), playing various electro, including some new Death In Vegas, some Takako Minekawa, a Kraftwerk remix and such. Curse ov Dialect (detail) Next up, local Dadaistic hip-hop collective Curse ov Dialect went up, attired in various costumes (as in robes, face paint and a jester hat; no gangsta bling-bling here), running around the stage, rapping and talking over prerecorded beats, in between running into the audience and grabbing glasses off tables. They were quite good; conceptually more original and innovative than most Australian hip-hop (which tends to consist of knockoffs of Afro-American urban culture, down to the beats and samples, with the token Australian accent and slang terms thrown in).

The Sailors (detail) Next up were The Sailors, who appear to be three post-ironic inner-city hipsters doing Detroit-style rock (with a bit of Beastie Boys thrown in for good measure); either that or one of those New-Saviours-of-Rock bands whose names all start with The. Stylistically not in the same bag as Kevin Blechdom, but similarly fond of innuendo (only of a more homoerotic nature, cf. their Stooges-style opus "Y.C.M.A.", which has nothing to do with the Village People). Perhaps one could classify them as an indie-rock Down Town Brown.

Finally, Kevin Blechdom came on. (For those who aren't aware of this, she is female, and Kevin is not her real name.) She started off by playing banjo, solo or over loops from a Macintosh laptop behind her. Kevin Blechdom (detail) Later she picked up a home-computer MIDI keyboard (adapted into stage gear by the clever expedient of gluing a strap onto it) and started playing that, triggering some Casio-like buzzy warbles whilst singing. She finished with her exquisitely bootywhangular chair-dance to her electropop cover of Tina Turner's Private Dancer, at one stage falling off the chair but soldiering on. Alas, my digital camera ran out of batteries at the time; had it not, I'd have a video file to show for it.

I'm not sure what to make of Kevin Blechdom. On one hand, some of her lyrics are a bit daft (some choice examples: "use your heart as a telephone, and you'll never ever be alone, you see, you'll be with me", "I don't think you understand, bad music is grand -- like a piano!", and a song about breasts exploding in flames which had a schoolyardish puerility about it), and she overacts more than a little, giving the impression of watching an enthusiastic amateur in a talent show. Though judging by her content, I suspect that that may be a deliberate aesthetic choice. OTOH, she's more entertaining than watching some bloke making burbling noises with a PowerBook, or the sort of dull, pretentious twaddle that makes up a lot of "experimental electronica".

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It looks like tickets to the Morrissey show, which go on sale tomorrow, are $61.50. I'm in...

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Yes! Morrissey is playing a solo show at the Forum on October the 15th. The show will apparently feature songs from both his solo career and the Smiths back-catalogue.

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I went to the Empress tonight, to see a few bands. I only saw The Steinbecks' last two or so songs, but they seemed quite good, in a Sarah Records-esque jangle-pop sort of way. Lacto-Ovo played mostly new material, and sounded rather early-80s (as they do); in one of their songs, the guitar was somewhat reminiscent of The Cure circa A Forest. With any luck they'll have a new EP out sometime soon.

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I went to see Season tonight at the Empress; they were pretty good, in a cinematic, soundscapey sort of way. The processed guitar/bass alternated between indie post-rock, shoegazer and even went metal for a few bars. They brought in a cellist (a woman named Kaz) towards the end for their song Russia, which added a lot to it; it ended up somewhere in the vicinity of New Order meets Black Tape For A Blue Girl; not a bad thing at all.

Anyway, they won't be doing any gigs for a while, but hopefully will have another CD out by the end of the year.

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Tonight I went up to Good Morning Captain to see Qua, a local electropop act. It turned out that Qua is one guy with an iBook and that he was doing more of a DJ set sort of thing, playing and mixing tracks from his album and unreleased works. Nonetheless, it was quite good; in places like some of the German/Austrian laptop music you find at Synæsthesia, though not as sterile as some. He played a new track of his, which featured acoustic guitars and a vocal from Jason Sweeney (of Other People's Children, Simpático et al.), which sounded like the laptop equivalent of Northern Picture Library or something. (Given Sweeney's Bobby Wrattenesque delivery and Field Mice fandom, that's hardly surprising.)

There were a number of people from the local indie electro-pop scene; I ran into Cailan from PBXO, and ended up talking with him about the cultural significance of Slowdive. And thus I found out that Other People's Children may be releasing their own Slowdive cover (I think they're doing Catch The Breeze or somesuch.

Anyway, Qua is playing on Thursday at the Rob Roy, I believe. If I'm not dead tired, I may well rock up.

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Tonight I caught part of the Chapter Music show at the Rob Roy. This was sort of the last hurrah of Chapter; the founder, Guy Blackman (who also plays bass in Minimum Chips, and cohosted Untune The Sky on 3RRR) leaves for Japan on Monday, and is winding the label down, at least for the time being.

Jeremy Dower did a set of his combination of experimental glitch electronica and Casiotone boudoir jazz (be very afraid!); much of his set seemed to be prerecorded on a MiniDisc or somesuch (in time-honoured indie/electropop fashion), though over that he played synths, tweaked knobs and at one stage got out a saxophone and played that. Towards the end, he played what sounded like a Casio-driven twee-electro version of Wham's Last Christmas, with jazzy improvisations; which was amusing, in a silly sort of way. After him, Minimum Chips came on and played a set of their groovy, krautrock-meets-lounge-pop brand of music. (If you haven't seen Minimum Chips, imagine what Stereolab would be like if they came from Fortitude Valley, had played at the Punters Club for years and had an aversion to going inside a studio and recording, and you might have some idea of what they're like.) Which was good, as they played a number of the songs they haven't gotten around to recording.

(Aside: I always find that Minimum Chips are the sort of band who sound better on recordings than live. Perhaps this is because they're such perfectionists in the studio that recordings come out highly polished and impeccable; one of the reasons why they don't have much released output. They're sort of like the opposite of Ninetynine (who sound better live than on recordings) in this way.)

I left shortly after Minimum Chips finished (the Wagons, the next act, are a bit too country'n'Preston for my liking), but I went away with the Chapter retrospective compilation Double Figures, as well as the recent Chapter rerelease of Essendon Airport's Sonic Investigations of the Trivial.

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Rumour has it that Morrissey is coming out of retirement to play at Australian teenage mookfest Livid. And this is just after I bought my ticket for the separate Mogwai show. Wonder if there's any chance of Moz doing a separate gig.

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As the last entry suggested, I went to the RMIT film department stolen-gear fund-raising show at the Corner tonight; or at least to part of it. First up I saw part of The Night Terrors' set; they didn't have the trademark fluoro lights, but did do a set of their usual unrelenting onslaught of grinding bass guitar, buzzsaw synths and theremin, like some mutant gothic hot-rodders from hell. Or about as metal as you can get without being Metal (or using guitars), as the case may be. (Though the frontman could probably pass for a Scandinavian metalhead.) Ninetynine played a set with lots of energy, doing many old songs (starting with Wöekenender and ending with Polar Angle), and a few newer numbers (though the triptych they started their other shows with was there only in part). Then came La Scimmia, who played various brooding minor-key things (mostly instrumentals, apart from one anti-US rant at the start). The Grey Daturas then played a half-hour set consisting of sheets of guitar feedback, with drums kicking in in the middle. I left shortly after George W. Bush started playing as they seemed like fairly uninteresting pounding-drums-guitar-riffs-and-screaming hardcore punk.

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Some photos from tonight's Ninetynine performance, courtesy of my new(ish) digital camera:

Ah yes; I've started working on a proper photo content system. Not quite up to Cos's level yet, but give it time...

(Note that the photo URLs will probably change from returning an image/jpeg to sending back a HTML page for the image in question.)

Update: the photo URLs have now been changed to point to images in the more recently uploaded photo gallery for this gig.

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Yes! Mogwai are playing in Melbourne on the 17th of October. It's at the Prince of Wales, though; I just hope that the PA there isn't as abysmal as it was when FourPlay last played (I was right in front of the stage and the chatter of the people in the room drowned out the band).

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Apparently Glaswegian post-rockers Mogwai are coming to Melbourne in October. They're playing a set at alternateen rock fest Livid. I wonder if they're doing a solo gig as well; I don't really fancy paying some huge sum of money to see a short set by them and get a bunch of extreme-sports demos and skate-metal shows as a bonus.

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I went to the Rob Roy tonight to see some bands. First up were La Scimmia, who were a sort of cinematic jazz instrumental thing; perhaps a little similar to Dirty Three. They were followed by Ninetynine, whom it appears most of the people came to see. The crowd got really packed. And the band rocked, playing all new songs and doing a great job of them.

(Aside: I can't remember ever seeing a Ninetynine show that didn't rock. I remember seeing them once many years ago and not paying much attention, other than "hmmm, vibraphones and toy keyboards.. interesting", but that's because I went there to see The Paradise Motel (IMHO, perhaps the greatest Melbourne band ever), and because I didn't really "get" the indie/garage-band/casiopunk aesthetic back then. And/or because their style has evolved a lot since then.)

Then the Night Terrors, whose CD launch this was, came on. A screen was set up behind the stage, and films were projected onto it (one of the first was Un Chien Andalou, and a lot of the audience weren't expecting the eye-slicing scene at the start). Fluorescent lights were placed against the back walls of the stage, and switched on and off during the performance, adding an eerie, backlit effect to the guy playing the theremin. In one word, the performance was electric.

Afterwards, Cameron Ninetynine took on DJing duties and entertained the remaining people with his rather odd record collection. (He seems to have a thing for that Star Wars disco theme piece.)

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In live music news, Ninetynine have completed recording, mixing and mastering their new album. It'll be titled The Process and should be out in 3-4 weeks.

(I dragged myself along, doped up on pseudoephedrine, to see them tonight. They put on an intense show; more so than you'd expect from a group of people who had been up for 48 hours putting the finishing touches on an album. And they're playing in about 2 weeks' time at the Rob Roy.)

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Tonight, I finally got out again to the Empress, getting a much needed dose of live music and Guinness. Seascapes of the Interior were brilliant, playing three 10-15-minute atmospheric pieces, with guitars, violin, piano, analogue synth and plenty of effects; a bit like Mogwai in some ways, only not. And Heligoland were quite lovely too, and very atmospheric. Makes me wish I had a turntable, so I could buy the 7" single they were launching.

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Today I saw a guy named Gary Wiseman (who has interesting CD packaging), the always lovely Jen Turrell, local guitar/double-bass act Sodastream and Amy Linton of the Aislers Set play, in a backyard in inner Melbourne. Which was fun, if a bit chilly at times.

Jen and Stewart play Clifton Hill, 23/6/2002 Amy Linton and friends, Clifton Hill, 23/6/2002

Every band venue should have a Hills hoist in the middle... And every backyard should have a PA setup and a combination mixing console/compost bin.

And that was probably the last time I will see Stewart and Jen (two genuinely lovely people and very talented musicians) for some time, as they leave Australia this week, not to return for some years. The next time will probably require me to visit the US or something like that.

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Live bands: This evening's live music at the Tote was quite good; first up was Steward (aka Stewart Anderson), doing the very final gig of his recent Australian tours. It was a solo gig, with just a guitar, some crunchy noise pedals and a MiniDisc of drum loops (some of which sounded like an 808 being run through various distortion pedals). He didn't bring any Hello Kitty toys or other similar noisemakers, but rocked out nonetheless. If Stewart plays in your town, either solo or in Boyracer, go and see him and be reminded what rock is.

Next up were Sister Cities, a minimal side project of Architecture in Helsinki. Guitar, clarinet, ba-ba-ba harmony vocals, a toy piano and some very lovely, sweet pop. At one point they did what I think may have been a Bruce Springsteen cover (though not that he'd recognise it). Anyway, they're playing again on the 4th at the Town Hall Hotel.

Then came Origami; a slightly punky two-girl indie-pop band (founded by a former member of a certain casiopunk outfit I keep going on about); mostly jangly indie guitars, with a few surprises (some banshee-like screams, and at one stage an 8-bar funk breakdown). Stewart joined them on drums and played really well (though he didn't think so).

Finally, Sarah Dougher came on and played a set, in a singer-songwriter sort of vein; fellow Oregonian Amy Linton of the Aislers Set joined her on drums.

Towards the end of their set, Origami did a short (and rather doovy) guitar/Casio instrumental named Nancy Drew; which got me thinking about the connections between a certain type of indie-pop and retro/childhood references. Whether it's retro-hipster irony, indiekid neoteny, subversive punk culture-jamming, or some combination of all three.

Anyway, it was quite a good night.

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I had a fairly busy evening tonight (in a good way). Readers of my blog may remember my dilemma from a few days ago. To whit; two shows worth seeing, both unlikely to be repeated, on the same night. Firstly, American indie singer/songwriter Jen Turrell was playing at the Empress, in her last tour of Australia before she and Stewart have to stay in the USA for two years (it's a permanent residency requirement, I believe); secondly, the ever-rocking Ninetynine were set to play at the Tote, in possibly their last gig before their world tour. If I missed them, my next chance to see them would probably be in Reykjavík in November.

And then I realised that (a) Jen was playing a support set, while Ninetynine were headlining, and so if I went to see Jen, and then rushed down to the Tote, I had a good chance of catching them. Which is exactly what I did.

Jen Turrell with guitar I got to the Empress shortly after 9. Jen was the first act on, and went on stage at 9:30, playing about a dozen short, sweet jangly-pop songs, accompanied by Stewart on bass and their TR-808 on Minidisc. It was a very nice set, with a lot of lovely harmonies and classic chord progressions, and a bit more than a touch of fey sensitivity.

Then I made my way to the Tote. I got there halfway through the second band's set. The band room was quite full, and I recognised a number of the people there (Jesse from Sir, Sarah-Jane from I Want a Hovercraft, a girl who followed Ninetynine all the way from Sweden, and a guy who collects Casio keyboards were some of the people I ran into.)

Anyway, Ninetynine came on, and they rocked hard. They had a lot of kit with them (vibraphone, glockenspiel and three Casios), swapped instruments a lot, played with great energy, doing a lot of new songs and finishing with an intense version of Polar Angle. Their new material is very strong; sophisticated and layered, and yet with a spiky edge and punk energy, and their next album (due in 3 or 4 months) should be something to look forward to.

It was a good night.

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I just realised that this Thursday night, Jen Turrell is playing at the Empress (on tour from the US for the last time for a few years, most probably), at the same time that Ninetynine are playing at the Tote. It's things like this that make me wish I could be in two places at once.

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This coming Saturday at Pony looks like being another great electro-pop night, with quite an impressive lineup. New Buffalo, Letraset and Laura McFarlane of Ninetynine are all playing on the night.

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Tonight I went down to the Empress Hotel, to see Letraset, Sister Cities and Jeremy Dower. It was quite a good night, in an electro-pop/ambient sort of way (and connected, promisingly enough, to the Chapter Music label). When I got there, the room was quite full, with people sitting on the floor. Letraset were doing their set with a bunch of modular synths, a Casio keyboard (run through one of them), an old Yamaha organ (also seen in Minimum Chips sets) and a trombone, and played much the same sort of music as on their Snowy Room CD.

Next up were Sister Cities, who were very good. They started with some ambient noodling on an iBook (apparently mostly applying effects/mixing in ProTools), and then went on to play some quite pretty pop with toy keyboards, jangly guitar chords and ba-ba-ba vocals. Apparently they're recording now, and I look forward to their CD when it does come out.

Finally, Jeremy Dower went on, playing some synths and a mixing deck, launching his CD "Music For Retirement Villages circa 2050". It was much as the title sounded like; glitchy easy-listening ambience with fragments of recorded birdsong and the occasional slightly familiar-sounding riff. Needless to say, I picked up the CD.

It's interesting to see the convergence of electronica and garage/indie pop, with computer music software and cheap synths lowering the entry barrier, and electronics having lost the stigma of MOR overproduction that led the yoof into the arms of three-chord grunge. It's about time someone took electronic music away from the twin realms of pill-popping, mindlessly muscular dance music and more-obtuse-than-thou experimentalism, defetishised it and reclaimed it as an equally organic approach to making music. Not that that's a new idea, mind you.

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The Ninetynine show tonight rocked. They played mostly new material. Their first song was in three parts, with an instrument swap in the middle of the song. Kind of like Stereolab, only without the pretentiousness. Other new pieces showed a more layered, textured sound, though with no lack of punk-rock energy. (During one of Cameron's intense, violin-based pieces, I was reminded of Fourplay's Gypsy Scream.) And they successfully managed to make Casiotone keyboards sound unironic, which is quite a feat. It looks like the next Ninetynine album (hopefully out before they set off for their tour in October) is set to be quite doovy.

Oh, and Preston School of Industry weren't bad either. They played a tight wall-of-noise rock/pop, with driving basslines and jangling guitars, and the odd My Bloody Valentine moment or two. Since this was at the Tote, Collingwood's premier hardcore/metal venue, someone in the audience kept calling out "PLAY SOME SLAYER" and such.

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Tonight I went to night 2 of the 555/Red Square/&c popfest at the Empress. It was perhaps even better than night 1; for one, the music was a bit more diverse. There were also fewer people there, perhaps because something else was on.

First up, Guy Blackman and Mia Schoen played a set (of which I missed the start); with Guy (who also co-hosts Untune The Sky and runs local indie label Chapter Music) singing and playing guitar, and Mia playing piano. a MiniDisc player on the stage floor; a common sight these days Then Fog and Ocean came on; they consisted of people from various bands (including Stuart and Jen, and Kellie from Sleepy Township) singing, and noodling (or miming) on toy instruments over a MiniDisc of prerecorded electropop. They had a lot of fun doing it, and pulled it off with style. (At one stage, Kellie pretended to play a Casiotone keyboard (which had "WE DON'T ROCK" written on the back in black marker) with a piece of paper on the keys.) Julian Teakle played overdriven electric guitar riffs and sang about timeless themes such as parties being over; his style sounded very pub-rawk.

Mary of Even As We Speak and another guitarist

Even As We Speak, Sydney's contribution to the Sarah Records fey-indie-pop sound of the early 90s, were scheduled to play next, and did, with a drastically reduced lineup. (Only Mary, the vocalist, made it down to Melbourne.) She had a go at playing the guitar lines and singing, and then enlisted another guy to help her on acoustic guitar. Her set was very lovely indeed; nice chords and melodies and touchingly sincere lyrics delivered in a mellifluous voice. It's good to know that Even As We Speak are still around; apparently, they're working on new material; their Peel Sessions CD is about to be released, and they're negotiating with the Sarah Records people to rerelease their back catalogue. I look forward to hearing more from them.

They were followed by Minimum Chips, who played a very tight and groovy set of their brand of retro-styled pop. They played mostly new, as yet unrecorded, songs (though one does appear on the souvenir CD that was given away at the door). It was then that the crowd started gathering in earnest. When they finished, they lent their Yamaha organ to Huon.

Finally, Boyracer came on (this time consisting of Stewart and Jen, with the guy from Bend Over Boyfriend on drums) and tore the roof off the house; seriously rocking out with some frantic power-pop. As usual, Stewart (who, in his Lambretta shirt and red-and-blue-target-logo boots was more Mod than Damon Albarn and both Gallagher brothers put together) jumped around like a maniac and thrashed the hell out of his guitar.

(Once again I ended up buying too many CDs, as one does at these sorts of events. Tonight I picked up the retrospectives from Boyracer and Minimum Chips, a rather nice guitars-and-bleeps pop record from an outfit called The Love Letter Band and the new Tracey Read album. I've spent a ridiculous amount on CDs this weekend. Though, upon listening to some of them, I'd say it was money well spent.)

Anyway, it was a great night. For those who missed it but wish you hadn't, Boyracer, Mary of Even As We Speak and Ashtrayboy are playing at Pony tomorrow (Sunday) night.

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I just came back from the 555 Recordings/Red Square Records (i.e., Stewart and Jen's respective labels) popfest at the Empress. Some 7 acts played there tonight, playing everything from jangle-pop to electro-pop, with a definite indie slant. (I.e., none of the dross that passes for "pop" in the wasteland of commercial radio.)

First up was Jen Turrell's act; accompanied by husband and co-organiser Stewart on bass, and a TR-606 drum machine on a MiniDisc, she played guitar and sang some rather nice jangly indie-pop, including a cute little number based on the old Twinkle Twinkle Little Star melody. Ashtrayboy were guitar-pop with trumpet and melodica (that's that keyboard thing that you blow into), and Driving Past were similar, only with an old electronic organ. Then came Bend Over Boyfriend, a gender-bending Mod/power-pop act from Washington DC, playing all three of his songs, including an encore of "The Kids Are All Gay", accompanied by Stewart and Jen. They played a tight, punchy set, and were quite impressive. Other People's Children sounded a little synthpoppy only more abstract, with electronic backing tracks, guitars, Casio keyboards and vocals. Origami were a mostly female post-punk pop with alternately sung/shouted vocals and a fair bit of jumping about. Then finally The Lucksmiths went on; they played a somewhat stripped down set, as one of the members had his arm in a sling. There was little percussion, and mostly understated vocals and folk guitar strumming, though complemented with a xylophone in places, to good effect.

Oh yes, and needless to say I spent too much money at the CD table they had there; though, to be fair, Jen gave me a discount given how many I was taking home.

Tomorrow night, the second and final night of Popfest, promises to be just as good, with Boyracer, Minimum Chips and Even As We Speak just three of the acts involved.

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There were too many things on last night; at least two gigs worth seeing. It was a tough decision, but in the end I decided to go to Pony to see Steward's last solo gig in Australia, along with Tugboat and Simpatico. I got in a bit late (due to work and such), and thus only saw the last part of the Tugboat set; they had a reduced lineup and played a sort of slowcore set, ending with a Mojave 3 cover. Then Steward went on, with a MiniDisc player, a guitar and a Hello Kitty toy of some sort. His material can be described as jangly pop meets drill & bass; during the set, he strummed a guitar, with a variety of distortion pedals, over some crunchy electronic beats, and generally jumped around like a maniac. Simpatico, meanwhile, was a guy with an acoustic guitar and a MiniDisc player with some backings, who sang a sort of slightly twee jangly pop, rather reminiscent of The Field Mice (and perhaps The Smiths in places as well). I ended up getting his CD, titled The Difference Between Alone & Lonely.

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Last night I went to the band night at Pony. It was organised by the Eaze people, but was a change from the usual poets, video makers, interpretive fire-twirlers and miscellaneous beatnik types one associates with Eaze, instead being more of an indiekid crowd. You know the sort; black-framed glasses and striped sweaters and canvas sneakers and checkered shirts and dark blue work shirts and ironic T-shirts and kiddie paraphernalia and fur-lined parkas and anti-haircuts and girls with short hair and boys with oversized sideburns and such; mostly clustered three-deep around the bar talking with people they know from either bands or sharehouses they were in.

Anyway, the music: By Ferry Or Steamer played some nice instrumentals, as did Chinless Kings (in a rather minimalistic sort of way). Ruby's Arms were a bit too country-&-western for my liking (what is it with country music and inner city indie types; is it something ironic, like wearing vintage summer-camp T-shirts?) At Sea consisted of two blokes with an acoustic guitar and an acoustic bass guitar, the latter of whom ranted into a microphone whilst playing. Towards their last piece (a lengthy number), they began to sound like an acoustic Mogwai (not a bad thing, IMHO). Finally, Midstate Orange came on. Their sound is a combination of power-pop, wall-of-noise shoegazer endings, false endings, and 1960s retro-kitsch (in places they sounded like The Monkees or The Banana Splits or someone).

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Tonight I went to see Down Town Brown's show, The Future of Rock'n'Roll in the comedy festival. It was quite entertaining, as DtB shows usually are. It didn't differ much from a regular DtB show, save for some interludes, some extra costume changes, and the emergence of the anti-DtB, three highly dodgy geezers with suspenders and bad haircuts/teeth who wowed the audience with a harmonica/guitar/washboard performance and some enthusiastically daggy tap dancing. Anyway, Down Town Brown said that they're extending their season for an extra week (i.e., next Thursday to Saturday), so if you missed them, you can catch them then.

three dodgy geezers

(And it's about time someone brought back the washboard as a deliberately daggy musical instrument, used more for its ironically self-deprecating semiotics than its expressive qualities. Perhaps that would make it a more rootsy/alt-country answer to the Casio keyboard...)

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Tonight, I went to the Old Bar in Fitzroy to see Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. They rocked. They played two sets, going for about two and a half hours in total, performing various songs on accordion, contrabass, violin, clarinet and a few other instruments. Most of their songs had an eastern-European feel, though some were rather Spanish, and there was even a spirited Irish jig in the set. Their performance was intense; the melodramatic lyrics (from a world where people are routinely beset by entire Hells of devils, it would appear) executed with fearsome intensity; it wasn't all brooding madness though; there was a good dose of humour (the performers' stage personas and affected accents; the instrumental solos, which whilst technically impeccable were perhaps a little too flamboyant in places to be entirely straight, and the song where the musicians, who had wandered into the audience, joined in with animal sound effects in appropriate places). Towards the end, they did a few earnest songs; just acoustic guitar and heartfelt lyrics, with no theatrics; there were tears in the audience. And then they launched into an encore of their signature number which was about either sex or cannibalism, depending on how you interpret it.

Anyway, they're playing tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the Old Bar again; I recommend seeing them.

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I've just returned from Apollo Bay, after spending about 3 days there at the Music Festival. It was great.

I got there on Friday afternoon, arriving on the coach, and checking into the Apollo Bay Hotel (that's the big flat pub with the sprawling beer garden); I then wandered around the township, which I hadn't seen for something like 10 years. I first came to Apollo Bay when I was 17, and have vivid memories of that summer; the sensation of the vast chasm of time between then and now (a lot changes in 11 years) was quite profound.

(Apollo Bay has changed, but not as much as I feared. It hasn't become the St Kilda by the Otways that some have said; and while there is a prominent tourist industry, it's not all chrome yuppie latté bars and bling-bling, at least not yet. (No, that'd be Lorne.) Apollo Bay is still a small township, with a lack of slickly branded consumer experiences, thank the Gods for that. (How long that will last I don't know; land prices are through the roof and the wealthy are buying up land, undoubtedly to knock down the modest houses and replace them with chrome-and-concrete lifestyle fortresses.) The changes I've noticed are that the old Post Office building is now a fruit shop (I think it was an arts shop in 1992, but I'm not sure), and the Mechanics' Hall is no longer a cinema. (I remember seeing a rather bad horror movie there in 1991.)

Anyway, the bands: the highlights from what I saw would be FourPlay (who rocked; the crowd went wild, even in the unenviable Sunday morning slot), Sarah-Jane Wentzki (who has a great voice, and played some melancholic almost trip-hop compositions on guitar, accompanied by Seth Rees' shoegazing guitarwork), and the all-star jam at the end (led by Melbourne reggae outfit Bomba, who obviously studied Bob Marley in great detail). Other acts I saw included the Mongolian Fishmongers (who weren't as punk as the blurb suggested, being more of a pub-style Celtic/country outfit, and none of them had bizarre hair or piercings), Ember Swift (who was quite good in a folky PC singer-songwriter sort of way) and Skazz (who played a mixture of 1960s-style ska and jazz, and did a good job of it). The opening night performance was quite cool too, with fireworks, fire twirling, and people in costumes, and various music (the second piece, with the flute and massed choir, was quite good).

Other than that, I bimbled around Apollo Bay, took a lot of photos (the ones which weren't obliterated when my camera crashed may be posted here soon), went to a few workshops (the TZU turntablism workshop (which was fun), and a blues guitar workshop (which was somewhat interesting)), and hung around with friends (Peter and the gang, and Seth and friends).

All in all, I had a great time. I'll probably go back next year.

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Tonight was a good night; I went to Pony, to see a number of bands play. First up was Midstate Orange (a project of Tim from Lacto-Ovo), who were good (perhaps a bit Cure-inspired in places, almost shoegazer in others, and they did one song which was best described as Northern Soul with Casios). Then Lacto-Ovo came on, and did a great set, playing various album and non-album tracks; people started dancing at this stage. Finally, an act named Winterville played; they consisted of 2 guitars, drums and a double bass, featured Michelle formerly of Ninetynine in their lineup, and sounded a bit Dirty Three-inspired.

I met a number of people I knew there; Peter from FourPlay was down from Sydney, and Nick and Naomi from Dandelion Wine also came along. A bit later, I ran into Cameron from Ninetynine, and talked with him a bit. Apparently, Ninetynine have signed a distribution deal with News Corp. "indie" subsidiary Trifekta (though retaining their own copyrights and creative control, so they won't end up being turned into the next George), and at the end of the month depart for some 3 months' touring overseas.

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Tonight I went to Pony to see Stuart from Boyracer/555 Recordings' solo act, Steward. He rocked. Most of the set featured backing tracks off a CD, but nonetheless, the live performance was inspiring. He started off by playing these toy drumsticks (you know, the ones with the speaker box on the belt which makes electronic drum sounds when you shake them) over a track, then went on to play guitar over a few others. Towards the middle of the show he went walkabout in the audience with a QuickShot toy four-track tape deck and a microphone, and at the end, he used one of those dashboard toys which makes ray-gun/explosion sounds to get weird sounds out of his guitar. The entire performance was done with an inspiring amount of spirit and energy; it made me want to pick up my guitar and start doing weird things to it.

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I went to the Empress this evening, to see a number of bands. First up were Tugboat, who were not bad. Then was English indie band Boyracer, or rather Stuart from Boyracer, his wife Jen (?) and someone else filling in on drums. It was an interesting show; Stuart played the guitar like a maniac, gurning and wibbling and jumping about, though it ended up sounding quite good (despite his guitar being a $120 one he picked up on Brunswick St. earlier; he didn't bring his famed Hello Kitty guitar this time). He also joined the Cannanes' lineup when they played afterward, doing various duties, though after breaking a maraca and a glass, he was relegated to playing the triangle. Towards the end he danced about on stage and then decided to help the drummer along, standing in front of him and hitting the drums.

Stuart is also the guy who runs 555 Recordings, formerly of Leeds and now based in the US, and they had a stall, where they sold various CDs for $10. I picked up two things from there: Soft Love: A Tribute to Soft Cell (which is interesting in places, consisting of various weird indie laptop electro-pop and such; New Waver's version of Numbers with the lyrics changed to be about office life is somewhat amusing), and Knowing We Was Right From Da Start, a label retrospective compilation (which I haven't heard all of yet). I also scored the Cannanes' album Communicating At An Unknown Rate.

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I went to see Lacto-Ovo tonight at the Empress; they rocked. They started off without their regular drummer, but improvised with one guy playing with the "scratch" sounds on his Yamaha keyboard, a guitarist playing thene-from-Shaft-style wah-wah licks, and them reciting lyrics from random songs over that. Then they did their proper songs, which were in a new-wave-meets-Casiotone-indie-meets-surf-rock kind of vein; the rendition of Bingo was inspiring.

Later I found out that one of the members lives just down the road from me. That's the cool thing about living in North Fitzroy: you may well be living next door to the people whose albums you have in your collection...

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Last drinks, everyone: Today was the end of a Melbourne institution, the Punters Club; the last day of the venerable pub/band venue's operation, and they chose to go out with a bang. The doors were open for free, and they had bands all day, from 3PM until late in the night. And many people rocked up to pay their respects to the Punters, to have one last pot (or several), tread the sticky carpet for the very last time and reminisce about all the great bands they have seen there, among them your humble narrator. As it was the last ever day at the Punters, and entry was free, the venue was packed soon after 3PM; after that, a long queue formed outside the door, with people being allowed in only when others left. Inside it was pretty tight.

I have seen many good shows at the Punters; I remember when I lived out in Ferntree Gully, driving down to Brunswick St. in my mum's car (I must have known the back streets of Fitzroy quite well then, or at least in terms of parking spots) to see The Paradise Motel there, and a number of bands after that. And now that era has come to an end. It's somewhat sad to have walked out that door for the last time, knowing that it's not a doorway I will pass through again in this lifetime.

To paraphrase one graffito in the Punters, Brunswick Street looks likely to die now that its heart has been ripped out. The street's cultural authenticity is in decline, and Brunswick St. is looking more like Chapel St. with each day that passes. (Even in the queue I noticed a difference between the people lining up to enter the Punters and the people walking down the street; the latter were wearing more designer-logo T-shirts, of the sort that sell for $70 in Prahran.) Oh well, now there's one fewer reason to get off the 112 tram on Brunswick St.

Oh yes, the bands. The first one I saw was some country outfit; then came Ruckrover (some of whose members worked at the Punters), who were very tight and energetic, with perhaps a slight Northern Soul feel to some of their numbers. Then came Disaster Plan, who played (as promised) quietly enough to be drowned out by the crowd, and ended with some rants about the inferiority of the other pubs (the Evelyn, for example), and then was Gaslight Radio, who were also quite good.

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The show at the Punters was OK. Love of Diagrams was a guitar/bass/drums outfit who played a really tight, energetic instrumental set. Then Sir came on, doing a number of songs (topically enough, they played Handsome first); they were good, though let down a bit by problems with the sound. Anyway, they played their new songs, which was good. Finally, on came Ninetynine, who rocked. They played various old and new songs (including the old one with the Casio VL-1 drum loop; a real touch of class, that), with tremendous energy (as usual, Cameron went berzerk on the drums), swapping instruments between songs as they usually do. They also mentioned that they're supporting Stereolab when they tour, though I think that's at the Prince of Wales show, not the Corner one (to which I'll probably be going).

Pity I couldn't be in two places at once, because Partition were doing a support set at the Dan O'Connell at the same time. I really wanted to hear what their Field Mice tribute song was like...

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Today is F14, the international day of protest against the oldest and most cutthroat form of Darwinian capitalism, the sexual marketplace. Today is a good day to listen to your Smiths records. (Even if you are happy wherever you are, you can surely remember a time when you weren't, perhaps in your distant youth; or in the immortal words "and when you're dancing and laughing and finally living, hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly". So spare a thought today for poor old Moz, sitting alone in his Los Angeles home with an album's worth of songs nobody will give him money to record.)

Tonight, however, I won't be spending the evening alone with my Smiths records; I'll be going to the Punters Club, to see Sir, Ninetynine and some outfit named Love Of Diagrams. (Sir and Ninetynine are not to be missed; both of them together, and at the fourth last ever gig at the Punters, even more so.) If that's not enough, the show is subtitled "Love in a Casio World". (What is it about the humble Casiotone keyboard?)

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It's good to run into people who appreciate brilliant, long-forgotten bands few others have heard of. I went to the Empress Hotel this evening to check out the bands. The first up was a touring English indie duo named Partition; two guys with a guitar and a drum machine singing slightly humorous indie numbers, with a subtle Sarah Records feel in places, only a bit more punk in others. (Among the songs they did was one about thinness obsession to the tune of Billy Bragg's New England, and a slightly punky yet touchingly heartfelt rant-over-guitar-strumming piece about having fancied some girl for 10 years and then finally going out with her for two disastrous weeks, which reminded me a bit of The Cure's So What), finally ending with a funny little dance to a drum machine pattern. Whilst on stage, they wore white T-shirts, reading "APART" and "APRAT".

Afterwards, I noticed that one of the members of the group (Martin) was wearing a T-shirt with the Field Mice soundbite "CHOCOLATE LOVE SEX" printed on it; I asked him whether it was a Field Mice reference, and it was. It turned out that he used to go and see many of their gigs when they were around (late 80s/early 90s), and was into the whole Sarah scene. Anyway, we ended up talking a bit about bands and such. He also mentioned that Partition have written one Field Mice-inspired song, but they didn't play it tonight, as it's not finished yet.

Anyway, Partition seem like a fairly interesting outfit; with any luck they'll record something soon.

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For readers in Sydney: Prop are playing at somewhere called The Basement, in Circular Quay, this Friday, along with post-rock outfit Ukiyo-E. Prop are a mind-blowingly good band, and well worth seeing.

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Tonight New Order played in Melbourne, and I went along with a friend to see them. We lined up outside the Metro (a former theatre, which is now a teeny-bopper nightclub of some sort) with other fans; one contingent had an English flag (that's the red-and-white Cross of St. George, not the Union Jack) with "NEW ORDER" inscribed upon it.

Once inside, we made it to one of the tables in the "corporate box" area above the dance floor. This afforded a good view of the stage (considerably better than my seat at the Cure concert in 2000); however, as I later found out, the sound in the glassed-off balcony was a bit muffled (not to mention people there talking through the set, as if it was background music in a shopping centre or something).

The support band was local outfit Underground Lovers, who played a set, mostly of rock numbers; they weren't bad. Then came a DJ set from Arthur Baker (who worked with New Order in the 80s).

Finally New Order came on. (Their line-up had changed slightly, with Gillian staying home to take care of a sick child, and some young bloke (either the guy from Smashing Pumpkins or the one from Primal Scream, I think) taking over her duties on guitar and keyboards. They played for just over an hour, and played mostly old songs (doing a spirited rendition of Temptation at one point). They played a number of Joy Division numbers, and quite well (though Barney did mix up the lyrics to Transmission a little), and various New Order classics (including True Faith, which they did with the true lyrics that don't appear on the recordings). Barney (who, strangely enough, looked like a middle-aged version of the Bernard Sumner in the old videos, his hair either bleached or greying) made comments between the songs, showing his sense of humour; at one stage, he said that he thought that the lyrics of Joy Division's Atmosphere were about golf.

And they played with much energy. Peter Hook almost stole the show with his bass-playing, crouching to play the instrument at ankle-level, and leaping onto a podium at various stages in a heroic pose. (If someday the city of Manchester commissions a statue of Peter Hook with bass in hand, it will probably look like he did during the show.) Barney played a guitar, mostly strumming chords, and sang; when he wasn't doing either he bounced around the stage, doing funny little dances.

(One thing to notice about the music of New Order: most of the melody comes from the bass; the guitars typically just play chords.)

Towards the end, they gave the audience a choice between one of the new songs and Joy Division's Isolation; everybody chose the latter, which they performed with a more dance/drum & bass-style beat; it was interesting to see them reinterpret the old standards as they did. And just after they finished and left the stage, just as people were asking themselves "where is Blue Monday?", they came back on, the lights turned blue, and they performed a version of their classic single. (Parts of it were pre-sequenced or prerecorded, of course, but the bass and various keyboard lines (not sure about the squelchy one at the start) were live, and so were various of the drum sounds, triggered from pads.) The crowd went wild.

All in all, it was a great show. Their recent songwriting may not be up there with the classics, but they can still rock and tear the roof off a venue.

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Tonight, I went to the Czech Club to see some bands: The Grey Daturas, Sir and The Bird Blobs. The Grey Daturas were a sort of wall-of-noise outfit, playing one very lengthy instrumental piece with lots of feedback, flanging, delays and such, and some drums kicking in towards the middle; a little What Is Music?, or perhaps like Mogwai only not quite so melodic. Sir were good as always, though played with a reduced lineup (as bass-player Matt Bailey was in Tasmania). The Bird Blobs were sort of drone-rock, like a post-Nirvana Joy Division or something.

Most impressive was the synchronicity between the bands and the movies being projected behind them, which was mostly accident. Sir played in front of Buñuel and Dali's Un chien andalou and Jean Cocteau's Le Sang d'un Poète playing behind them, which was most appropriate for their music; they should play more soundtracks to old silent films of fraught relationships and troubled lives.

Oh yes, and the beer wasn't too bad either. I had a bottle of a Czech lager named Kozel, which was quite flavoursome. I also was going to try another beer called Radegast, but they didn't have any. (I wonder whether Tolkien ripped off the name for one of his wizards, or vice versa.)

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Tonight I went to the Ninetynine CD launch at the Corner Hotel. It was excellent. The first support band was Baseball, a side project run by Ninetynine's drummer, the mad-haired Cameron Potts. It was an interesting set; with Cameron, another guy and a girl who looked a little like Laura from Ninetynine (but wasn't), playing an eccentric assortment of instruments, including an accordion, a small drum, a violin and various shakers, and performing a number of quirky songs and melodies. Baseball are certainly a band to look out for. Then came a punkish band named Flesh Vs. Venom, which apparently features members from defunct punk-popsters The Vivian Girls. They were OK (one of the songs they played sounded like Joy Division's Interzone, albeit with different lyrics, and in other places they sounded a bit like PIL or someone).

Finally, Ninetynine came on, and put on a characteristically brilliant show, swapping instruments in between shows, and playing with much energy. Not surprisingly, Cameron stole the show, flailing about behind the drums like a man possessed. The audience loved it, and at the end, called for more. (And Ninetynine obliged, playing one of their older songs (the one with the bleepy Casiotone drum loop that probably comes from a pencil-case-sized toy keyboard.)

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Tonight I went down to the Empress to see New Buffalo. The supports were various former bandmates of Sally's: one Lara M., who played keyboards and guitar, accompanied by a Roland PMA-5 and a sampler, and an outfit named Friendly Injun. The New Buffalo show was quite good, and probably the last one for a while, while they work on a full-length album.

I also ran into Libby from Sir there; she mentioned that Sir are going overseas (touring the US and Europe) soon, so their last show before they leave may be next Friday's, at the Czech Club in North Melbourne.

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Tonight I went to the Corner Hotel to see Scottish punk-pop combo Life Without Buildings, supported by New Buffalo and Ninetynine. I actually went mostly for the support acts, and wasn't disappointed.

First up, New Buffalo played a short set on the side stage; the lineup consisted of Sally Russell on vocals and keyboards (and occasionally guitar), backed up by a drummer and bass player. Unlike the show at Revolver, this time the sound guy got the mix right, and it sounded quite good.

Then Ninetynine came on the main stage and put in a characteristically frenetic performance. The members kept swapping instruments (two xylophones, a stack of Casiotone synths, guitar, bass and drums), and doing it with a lot of energy and a sense of humour. The drummer, in particular, stole the show, pounding at the drums frantically and generally jumping about like a maniac. (He's the guy with the vaguely Robert Smith-esque hairdo.)

Then New Buffalo played another set, which was also good, except for the two airheads behind me loudly catching up on the latest gossip, oblivious to the fact that there was a show on. (I'm Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate, it's idiots who talk loudly at band venues. If you want to catch up on the latest social chitchat, do so outside.)

Finally, LWB came on; at this stage, I was quite far from the stage, and could barely see them (the venue was packed, mostly with fresh-faced indie kids). They played an energetic show, with singer Sally Tompkins (a cute ickle punkette) bouncing around and singing/shouting her stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Not bad, though it only got really tight towards the very end, and all their songs sound rather the same.

Tomorrow night, I'm going to see Prop at Revolver; and on Saturday night I may be going to see Down Town Brown at the Dan O'Connell. (Hmmm; I should really set up an upcoming-events page of some sort to list all this stuff.)

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Tonight (well, last night), I went to the Black Cat Cabaret to see the New Buffalo performance. This time there was no backing band, just Sally with two keyboards, a drum machine (a Roland CR-68, for the trainspotters out there) and a guitar. She performed a number of songs, singing and playing keyboards quite deftly. It was arguably better than the Revolver show on Monday; the more minimal instrumentation worked better with the vocals, and also the smaller space (a café with a stage, rather than a cavernous nightclub-type venue) was probably more suited to the show.

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The FourPlay show last night was excellent. They played two sets, with both old and new songs (bringing back their cover of PWEI's Ich Bin Ein Auslander; a rather timely inclusion, given the recent political climate), with Peter DJing in between, and playing all sorts of weird, glitchy beats. They performed with great energy and enthusiasm, and the crowd loved it, spontaneously clapping along during Meshugganah and erupting into wild applause after songs.

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Tonight, I strolled down to the Empress Hotel to see Sydney postrockers Sealifepark, who were in town. They played a great show, tight and full of energy; playing some tracks off their recent album Wildlife Documentary and some older tracks, to rousing applause. Afterwards, cajoled into an encore by the audience, they launched into an energetic performance of what I think was a Clouds cover. At one stage (just before Straight Roads Return, I think), one of them said that they feel almost at home at the Empress as they do at the Hopetoun (one of Sydney's better-known interesting live music venues; incidentally, where I saw Prop, who are playing tomorrow night).

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Innovatively groovy Sydney band Prop are playing this Friday night at the Bennett's Lane venue. (Despite the venue, they are certainly not a by-the-books jazz band, featuring a marimba, vibraphone, analogue synths and bongos among their instrumentation.) They are launching their new album, Small Craft, Rough Sea, which should be really good.

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I'm Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate... it's people who go to band venues and talk loudly over the music, as if cognitively incapable of perceiving a distinction between a group of actual musicians playing for them and a radio tuned to FOX-FM*. I went to see Dandelion Wine tonight at SubTerrain; when the band started playing, a lot of the people kept talking loudly amongst themselves, oblivious to the music. One table, which seemed to be comprised of jocks and Barbie dolls, was the worst offender; Why can't people like that just go to a pub or something?

* FOX-FM is a commercial radio station in Melbourne which plays current and the past few years' Top 40 swill, and is typically heard in establishments frequented by people of no musical discernment. It is indistinguishable from MMM and TT-FM.

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I went to see Dandelion Wine's Eat Your Brain this evening. It was pretty impressive; the band improvised, jamming to elements chosen partly by the audience, and doing a great job of it. There were a number of guest artists who performed as the band played; two puppeteers in suits dug up a homunculus from under a pile of newspapers and animated it climbing about, comedians the Fake McCoys recited Poe's The Raven over an upbeat jazz number, and another chap danced like a maniac with a rubber glove over his head (inflated, no less). All in all, an entertaining evening.

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I went to the Cure Dreamtour concert this evening. It was pretty good; I must confess that their new songs aren't really my cup of tea, though they played a number of older songs. The highlighs (IMHO) included Disintegration, Fascination Street, Just Like Heaven and the version of A Forest which brought the house down at the end of the set. Hearing the band with its new lineup, and with Robert's older, more weary-sounding voice, doing some of the old songs was an interesting experience. The lightshow was also very impressive.

(I was the one not wearing black.)

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Backtracking a bit, on Saturday, I went to see Dandelion Wine, a local band, at the Continental. The show was the launch of their album, Tunguska Butterfly, and was pretty doovy, with Naomi's lovely æthereal vocals skilfully complemented by various guitar-like instruments. They're well worth seeing if you get the chance.

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I'm Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate... It's dance nazis. I went to see the Ku-Ling Brothers tonight. Not a bad show, with synths, turntables and live drums/guitars (if a bit confused and generic-breakbeat-dance in places; not quite as cutting-edge as I had hoped something featuring the founder of Cabaret Voltaire would be). At one stage, as I was watching the show, a girl behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, "excuse me, but you're standing in the middle of the dance floor." Well, excuse me, Ms. Dance Nazi , but I came here to see a band play. As it happens, I didn't feel like making the effort of going through socially-acceptable dancing motions throughout it; had I felt that way I'd have gone to one of the many nightclubs the kids go to to shake their booty to canned doof, as opposed to going to see a live fucking band.
Anyway, that's my story, so spread the hate. And praise "Bob".

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