Wednesday, 9 June 2010
Malcolm McLaren, the punk Svengali once described by Johnny Rotten as “the most evil person on earth” has died aged 64. Alongside Colonel Tom Parker and Brian Epstein, McLaren will go down in history as one of the few managers who became as well known as the acts he handled. He was the ultimate chancer, a shrewd publicist and businessman who had an eye for what was popular and how to make money from it. In this case the rising anger and restlessness of 1970’s youth, which he helped channel into punk, its near cousin new romanticism and later, hip-hop and rap.
His revolution began in a clothes shop on King’s Road, Chelsea. SEX had started life as a 1950’s memorabilia shop, but after a trip to the Big Apple and a spell promoting the New York Dolls, McLaren encouraged his then girlfriend Vivienne Westwood to design and stock bondage and fetish inspired fashion. His aim was clear; together the pair would tap into the emerging British punk market. The shop became the place to hang out for aspiring punk musicians with Siouxsie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde both working as Saturday girls. Also dropping by on a regular basis were members of the Sex Pistols. They just didn’t know it yet. It was McLaren who whipped the band into shape, replacing existing members with those that had the right look and attitude. Lead singer Johnny Rotten was drafted in because of his vacant stare (the result of childhood meningitis) and the fact he was wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt with the words “I hate” scrawled above the band’s name. Despite being unable to play a single note, Sid Vicious was selected as bassist because of his ability to snarl. As McLaren himself said “Rock n’ roll doesn’t necessarily mean a band, it doesn’t mean a singer, and it doesn’t mean a lyric, really. It’s that question of trying to be immortal” With the Pistols, Malcolm granted himself this immortality. It was his devilish direction that allowed one of the most important groups in musical history to take off. However, despite encouraging their rock and roll excesses he was initially squeamish about the group’s more extreme behaviour. Along with most of middle England, he was horrified by the Pistols sweary appearance on ‘Today’ in December 1976, believing that the broadcast had ruined the band’s career before it had even started. It was not until he opened the morning papers that he discovered the controversy had made the Pistols household names and had seen sales of their single Anarchy in the UK soar.
From that point on McLaren realised that no publicity was bad publicity and began organising a series of stunts for the band, influenced by his interest in the Situationist movement. For the release of their notorious single ‘God Save The Queen’, he hired a boat and got the group to perform as it sailed down the Thames, provoking outrage and eventually leading to arrests. Getting his spotty young protégés to sign their recording contracts outside Buckingham palace attracted further furore which only helped to send the single to number 2 in the chart. McLaren also had a hand in naming the band’s album ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’, savvy to the fact that it would be prosecuted under the Indecent Advertising Act. The ensuing court case and the publicity that surrounded it sent the album to number 1. Later on his stunts became more elaborate and more contrived. Flying the band to Brazil to meet Ronnie Biggs the great train robber was the final straw for Rotten who refused to participate. The band imploded not long after due to constant infighting and Vicious’s escalating heroin addiction. The years following the split saw the group locked in bitter dispute with their former manager about unpaid royalties, until he eventually settled with the surviving band members (and the estate of Sid Vicious) in 1986. Despite their messy end and their tiny back catalogue (one album and a handful of singles) the Sex Pistols are quite rightly heralded as legends, obliterating as they did the pretentious and bloated musical landscape that had come before them. It was McLaren that made them the successes they were/are, skillfully elevating them from talentless oiks to icons and trail blazers.
Whilst the Pistols were McLaren’s greatest achievement, they were far from the only pie he had his fingers in. After he had finished with punk, he spotted the potential in the emerging New Romantic scene and helped to style both Adam Ant and Boy George, later going on to manage Bow Wow Wow. Following their break up in the early eighties, he turned his attention to hip-hop which he saw as “black punk rock” His 1983 album ‘Duck Rock’ brought this hitherto marginalised music to a wider audience and spawned two top ten hits. The best known, ‘Buffalo Gals’, was sampled by Eminem on his 2002 single ‘Without Me’.
In later years his bad boy reputation was blunted somewhat and the public increasingly viewed him as a daft uncle. This may partly have been to some less than quality TV appearances (Anyone remember ITV’s The Baron?) However, Mclaren could still unleash some bite when he needed to. He briefly considered running for London Mayor and produced his plans for the city, which included selling alcohol in libraries and legalizing brothels. In 2008 he turned the Big Brother house upside down when he was allowed to take control as one of the celebrity hi-jackers. In his typically subversive manner he encouraged the contestants to strip naked, cover themselves in paint and create artwork using only their bodies and a bicycle.
Whilst attending art college in the 1960’s, McLaren produced a manifesto which read: “Be childish. Be irresponsible. Be disrespectful. Be everything that society hates.” This was the mantra by which he lived his life. Although he didn’t always succeed in making the right choices for his career, he never took the easy ones. As the journalist Julie Burchill once wrote “We are all children of Thatcher and McLaren”
The Kabeedies- Norwich’s answer to the question “So what popular music have you ever produced then?” Sort of. The success of these Norfolk dwelling lads (and one lady) is as easy as Sunday morning to fathom. They are simply the kind of band you cannot fail to like. Even if you’re a musical purist who will only listen to rare The Fall B-sides, you can’t escape the deliciously moreish fun and frolics of this band. It’s a bit like enjoying ABBA. You can’t help yourself. You think you’re immune and then you hear the “Aaaaah Aaaaaaah dun dun da dun dun” of Dancing Queen and you’re like OMG! Get me on the dancefloor!
The Kabeedies have jangly guitars, four part harmonies, and that brilliant boy-girl-call-response-shouty thing that always makes people smile. They have a song called Fuzzy Felt. They’re just fun, jaunty pop and they make you want to eat jelly and bounce up and down on a bouncy castle (though not straight afterwards because you might be sick) Their live shows are more frantic than a tasmanian devil at a roller disco and thus, quite rightly, they are hailed as Norwich legends.
What makes less sense is that the rest of the UK, nay the world, haven’t caught up. After all they have that whole Bombay Bicycle Club-Mystery Jets-Los Campesinos thing going on and they sound like that hazy feeling between sober and drunk when everything is bloody brilliant. And people really like all of those things. Despite notching up some excellent BBC Introducing performances and a whole heap of festival dates, the band have only managed to make a gentle dent in the nation's music scene. Now is their time to smash it completely into a million jingly jangly pieces. Every year is tipped as the year of the Kabeedies but maybe 2010/11 really will be. Those in the know are going to be keeping our fingers, toes and eyes crossed for them as, like proud mother geese, we watch them fly the nest towards mainstream musical acceptance. It’s only fair of us to share them after all.
Look up "cult band" in the dictionary and you will probably find a picture of Dan Le Sac and his mate Scroobius Pip. Despite releasing indie disco favourite "Thou Shalt Always Kill" and even appearing on Newsnight, very few people would be able to pick them out in a police line up.
Those in the know, showing their love tonight at the Waterfront, are the privileged few. The ones that have cottoned onto the fact that Scroobius can write songs that change your life. Songs not about guns, bitches and hoes, but about Tommy Cooper, self respect and the periodic table. And if it all sounds a little bit too QI, don't fret, it isn't.
Obviously this isn't your typical hip hop gig. Some people in the crowd have ponytails for crying out loud. Despite the importance of the lyrics, it never becomes so wordy that it turns into a sermon. First and foremost Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip are about entertaining, and entertain they do. The beats being thrown around by Dan are big enough to knock someone out and certainly carry the band's ideas, and the crowd, along with them.
Opener "The Beat My Heart Skipped" and its follower "Sick Tonight" confirm Pip's idea that "It's all about the beats". Their Prodigy-style lazer sounds have the crowd moving from the get-go. The new album has only been out for a day, but already everyone is singing along to every word, which is more than you can say for Scroobius who has to refer to his lyric book on several tracks, much to the amusement of Le Sac.
The lads are clearly extremely close and the good natured banter between them enlivens proceedings, especially after songs about self harm and the breakdown of relationships "Bloody hell," laughs Scroobius, "that got dark quickly." The set list, dominated as it is by new songs, shows a band who are comfortable with their sound. Their desire to forge ahead musically is such that they throw away "Thou Shalt Always Kill" before the encore. Clearly Mr Le Sac and Mr Pip have realised that they're much bigger than their biggest song. The rest of the world just needs to catch up.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
Folk is big right now. Not folk in its traditional sense you understand, but a bastardised version of it. The kind of folk that isn’t really folk at all but is just indie music with more mandolins. This is the sort of folk that no one would have been able to make if Dylan hadn’t gone electric. The sort of folk that would have Pete Seeger spinning in his grave. Gone are songs about ferry disasters and polo neck jumpers. The new wave of ‘indie folk’ is all about plimsolls, wet lips and heartbreak. Mumford and Sons are the latest group to join the scene, hopping into bed with such sensitive souls as Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling and Fleet Foxes.
‘Sigh No More’ is their debut album and very pleasant it is too. On first listen it doesn’t sound like it’s going to break away from the old school folk template. The four part harmonies and track names like ‘Thistle and Weeds’ make this sound like the perfect album to listen to in a cottage on a snowy day.
Listen closely though and it is far from twee. There is a real darkness that runs through Marcus Mumford’s lyrics. Second track ‘The Cave’, for example, features the line “I wont let you choke on the noose around your neck” This isn’t traditional folk imagery. If you separated the lyrics from ‘Winter Winds’ from the folk instrumentation you would never be able to tell that it was a folk song. The refrain “And my head told my heart let love grow, but my heart told my head this time no” is a plain and simple tale of urban heartbreak. It could be sung by any indie band out there. The instrumentation is often aggressive and animal like, furthering separating the band from the old school folkers.
Observe the pounding drums on ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ or Country Winston’s frantic banjo playing and gutteral howling on ‘Dustbowl Dance’ and just for a second you can convince yourself that you’re listening to something far more rock and roll. It’s official; folk is sexy and Mumford and Sons are the proof.
If, as Malcolm Mclaren once said, rap music is "black punk rock", then Tempa T is surely Johnny Rotten. His style of rap, or grime as the kids are calling it, is stripping the genre back to its roots, and while he's not alone in his field, he's certainly one of the best scarecrows on the farm.
In a world where even warbling foetus Justin Beiber is befriending once respected rapper Ludacris, there's something to be said for returning to rap's original premise - angry young men telling it like it is. Tempa T is really angry. Really, really angry. So angry that he sounds like salt being rubbed into a wound. He's also genuinely terrifying. Just wait until The Daily Mail get wind of him. He'll be blamed for global warming, swine flu, terrorism and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
Take a look at that Fresh Prince straight across the top like a boiled egg haircut. That alone should be enough to make you take yourself off to YouTube and check out the video for 'Next Hype'. Ignore the first minute, which features a more grating than a cheese grater appearance from Westwood. Just skip to the raw, angry, blistering power of the song. The most exciting part is you're never sure if Tempz is joking.
Throughout the video he wears a cheeky smile as we watch him smash up a flat, slap people in the street and turn over a mattress looking for cash and drugs. Is he really this hard or is just messing? You won't want to hang around to find out. Especially after listening to 'Swing', a song about beating someone to death with a baseball bat. It's chainsaw to the brain stuff. It sounds like the kind of thing the US military would use as a form of torture, and yet, it's amazingly exciting.
One half of you (the half that lays out clothes for the following day before going to sleep) wants to run screaming. The other half (the half that when standing on a bridge briefly considers what it would be like to jump off it) revels in the madness and wants to take to the streets and DESTROY EVERYTHING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. You might not like Tempa T, but he's exactly the kind of person planet music desperately needs - someone with enough courage in his convictions to not give a flying one about what you think. What could be more punk than that?