Great Escape Festival in no words but these

Posted in Uncategorized on May 17, 2009 by James Osborn
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The future of sound

Posted in Music with tags , on February 1, 2009 by James Osborn

The future of sound

The last five years has seen such a colossal transformation in the way music is purchased and listened to that the traditional record industry model has been left all broken and sad – a bit like France gets every hundred years or so.  The greatest moment in the revolution was, no doubt, when the Arctic Monkeys became one of the most talked about bands in Britain without any record company involvement whatsoever.  But no sector of the industry has been left more shell-shocked than the retail outlets, which have struggled – and are struggling still – to adjust to a world in which people can browse through a warehouse-sized record shop at the click of a button whilst snuggled up in bed.

Various and, in retrospect, slightly inane ideas have been tried and tested by the traditional record shops in order stem the flow of customers out their doors and on to the internet.  Most of them reveal just how apprUtterly uselessehensive the industry is when it comes to tackling its massive problem.  Like the brief phase of installing in-store music download portals (no point – still have to leave bed), or putting Apple Macs in the shop in order to provide potential customers with free internet usage (might get them in the store – but still won’t buy a CD if more expensive than Amazon.)  These failed initiatives have been embraced almost exclusively by the large chain stores, whilst the once ubiquitous independent record shop – typically owned by a sole trader and operating one or two shops – has become almost extinct, having neither the floor space or the capital to stray far from what it has always known to be profitable.

 

However, in the last few months, two distinct patterns have emerged; the first being exclusively related to the major chains, and the second being led by the independents.

 

HMV’s decision to expand into music venues is long overdue, and the company’s rich music heritage makes the idea easier to swallow than corporate sponsorship in the vein of Carling’s pillage of almost every small venue in the country (although even that was preferable to the unstoppable town planners’ bulldozing of the London Astoria.)  His Master's VoiceThe venture will allow it to tap directly into the UK’s live music market, which in total is worth a staggering £1bn annually.  Not only will it encourage people to visit the existing stores to buy gig tickets, it will allow the company to promote the shop via merchandise stall-style units in venues; basically, taking the shop to the potential customers, rather than the other way round. 

 

Music fans like the ‘feel’ of being at gigs – a sensation that will eventually be paralleled in atmosphere by visiting a once-standard HMV store; a branding trick that is likely to rejuvenate the music chain and its original stores.  DSPAdditionally, and perhaps most importantly, direct association with HMV and popular venues at which the nation’s pocket money-wielding teens hang out will have a positive effect on the historic music store’s reputation: Cool HMV gig = HMV cool place to buy a record.

 

But what of the independents?  Sponsorship at anything more than a local level is beyond the realms of possibility, and it’s now firmly established that there is no use in creating downloading zones on the high street.  Instead, they are staying true to the idea of the physical shop.  The original concept alone offers something that online stores cannot touch, but, when expanded and realised in the form of a gorgeous environment in which to browse, all of a sudden record buying becomes an ‘experience’ that can widen its customer base (only the hardcore music fan had a positive experience trying to find rarities in the junkshop style record shop.)

 

Imagine the scent of the chiselled oak, still present on your purchase when you get it home; a reminder of quality and individuality – everything that the brutal efficiency of play.com cannot touch.  A recommendation from friendly shop staff, or words on the screen from a stranger?  Sipping complimentary Earl Grey in a comfy armchair whilst listening to a potential purchase, or gasping from the glass of stale water on your bedside cabinet?  All of sudden, a couple of pounds mark up in price begins to seem worth it.  Okay, you have to leave your bed, but, once converted, it’s difficult to go back the ‘new way’.  And this isn’t about the gentrification of music buying; simply a more enjoyable, satisfying version of what we already have.

 

A lovely cup of Earl

 

This change is being compounded by the resurgence of vinyl and a shift to listening to records, instead of CDs, at home and converting them to MP3s for listening when out and about.  Music was very heavy in the olden daysThe CD won’t necessarily go the way of the cassette tape, but its role as the dominant format is already waning – people like to see the music ‘being made’ on the turntable, but love the convenience of carrying their whole collection in their pocket.  But the emphasis is on that initial purchase: Give me delicious hard copy, selected by my own hands in an actual, physical shop.

 

The only catch is that there are still very few of these glorious stores in existence, although one  starting to come close is Resident in Brighton.  Let’s hope the idea is replicated and the physical, independent record shop, this time better than ever, becomes as an unshakable an institution as the music venue which – thankfully – will continue to survive always, with or without big business sponsorship.  Unless, of course, the government starts taxing airwaves to pay for banks.  Then we’ll all have to stay in bed anyway. 

 

 

Also published at Choon Online

 

Poor old Mrs Woolie

Posted in Observations with tags on December 7, 2008 by James Osborn

Click to check if she's still breathing

So now you care, do you?  About the elderly neighbour who would let you play in her garden when you where little, and give you humbugs when you were playing out on your bike.  But who you came to gradually ignore – a nod if she was lucky when you passed her in the street – as she became ever more frail and increasingly… obsolete.

Time passed, and it didn’t occur to you that you might pop round, check if she was okay, enquire as to whether she needed anything.  Oh, except that time you needed to borrow a screwdriver.  And that time you lost your front door keys and, as a last resort, thought she might still have the spare set.

But then, one evening, a knock at the door.  It’s a doctor.  “She hasn’t long left, you know”, he revealed solemnly.  “She said she knew you and I wanted to see if you were around this week, perhaps check in on heGone but not forgottenr if you can?”

“Of course doctor, I didn’t even know she was ill.” 
“When did you last pop round?”
“Oh, let me see.. now you mention it, probably not since a couple of years ago – when I needed some Sellotape in an emergency.”

The next day you jump over the garden wall, just like old times, to visit her.  And there she is, stoic but slumped in an armchair and breathing laboriously.  She looks pleased to see you – and you’re glad to see her; an old friend from another time. 

But it’s too late.  You wish you’d come earlier, more frequently.  There’s nothing you can do now, and think only that if you’d realised sooner then it wouldn’t have had to be like this.  You say goodbye and, on your way out, pick up a couple of brooches from the sideboard by the door.  Slip them into your pocket.  Wish you’d visited sooner.  Oh well, nothing you can do now.

To the Future!

Posted in Music with tags , on December 1, 2008 by James Osborn

The Futureheads, London Astoria, 29 November 2008

The Futureheads, London Astoria, 29 November 2008

Effectively back from the dead following the misery of their second album poor sales/record label drop, the Futureheads have spent 2008 reclaiming their spot as one of the Britain’s finest alt-punk-pop outfits. Third album This Is Not The World, released earlier this year, was an absolute return to form for the band and demonstrated to anyone who cared to listen (including Radio 1’s controller, for the first couple of singles) that the Sunderland four-piece had decided to play very good songs very fast again.

With almost an excess of breakneck new tunes, this collection of shows in fact marks the release – already – of a brand new single. And when they launched into it, mid-set, it was clear why it warranted a tour all of its own. I wouldn’t be like this if you were here it a 2.5 minute kidney punch from the band, basically to say, If you haven’t already noticed, we’re back and we fucking mean it.The Futureheads

But the ‘problem’ faced by the Futureheads became immediately clear upon arrival at the Astoria: At least fifty percent of the crowd was made up of fans in their mid-to-late twenties, and this was confirmed the next day, when a quick visit to the band’s Myspace revealed only one fan comment about the show.

In this new bottom-up music industry model, a band requires a hardcore of 15-18 year old fans in order to start selling out shows, start playing bigger ones, and start surviving. They need people who don’t have to get up for work the next morning to jump on Myspace/Facebook/Twitter/Etc, sweaty and excited, the moment they get home from the gig, to tell their friends and the world about how great the band they’ve just seen actually are.

This is less of an issue for bands of a strictly alternative genre, who are competing for airtime/music press column inches with other bands that will, like them, never be played on the Chris Moyles show. But a band like the Futureheads perform music that should be appealing to this age group and who, when it comes to a play on Zane Lowe’s show, or a slot at Reading Festival, are competing directly with outfits like You Me At Six – a band who spend as much time trying to look pretty to their burgeoning (predominantly female) audience as they do writing songs.

Yet if the Futureheads can keep going like this – keep releasing killer records and building continual momentum on the strength of the songs alone – then it will be a victory for every band in the country that puts substance over style. As they returned to the stage for a four-song encore, which included the irrepressible Area and an even-faster-than-usual rendition of Broke Up The Time, it became obvious: Great music, passionately performed, will always trump haircuts.

Bond moment

Posted in Film with tags on November 5, 2008 by James Osborn

bond-with-gun

Quantum of Solace broke UK box office records on it’s opening weekend.  It is testament to the renewed strength of the 007 brand that, in the cinema on Sunday, I had three 15-year old girls sitting behind me.  This is an occurrence that the film studio could only have dreamt about in the dying days of Brosnan’s Bond, when the appeal of the agent had waned to a point lower than a hoof.ga2

Casino Royale, with its fresh, realistic approach and a man under 40 in his pants (plus some clever marketing), captured a new audience for the franchise.  This latest instalment doesn’t disappoint, delivering some breathtaking fight scenes and a glance at Gemma Arterton’s back. 

However, unlike in Casino Royale, Bond’s brutality is not tempered by a fully developed romantic thread to the story and there is none of the agent’s trademark comic relief.  Although the final Brosnan instalment was bloated beyond comprehension, with overused catchphrases and gadgets that would have fitted better into a Harry Potter film (that invisible Aston…), I think Quantum of Solace may have gone a step too far in the other direction.

Those 15-year old girls were attracted by the complete package offered by Casino Royale and – unless Sony Pictures is responsible for permanently altering the female mind – they won’t stick around just to watch men blowing each other’s heads off.

So, the point’s been proven: Bond is back and he’s bloody mental.  But the next instalment needs to reintroduce some of the elements that made him so appealing in the first place.

Too big to be allowed

Posted in Observations with tags on September 12, 2008 by James Osborn

I don’t know what the weather is like outside; I’m not sure I even know what day it is. I am poised at an unnatural angle, with my head and neck craned to try and gasp clean air. But all the air is sweet and dusty and it makes me feel sick. Pressing against me from both sides are the foul bodies of men and women I have never seen before and will never see again.

I try to take my jumper off but my hands are held down against my thighs and I can’t lift them up. There is a bottle of water in my bag that no one else knows about. Even if I could reach it I don’t think I could tip my head far enough back to take a sip. Time seems to have slowed, and if I don’t escape soon I think I will die here; die here alone with these men and women who, it seems, are already only half-human.

Ah, I hate the tube. People only put up with the brutal conditions because, as a means of transport, the tube is so bloody brilliant. Imagine being whisked across the metropolis in a matter of minutes – underground! There must be a catch. Indeed, sir. The snag of every excursion is that you are required to rub your freshly flannelled face into the grotesque, sweaty breasts of the world’s most unclean man.

They should have showers at the exits, although any such sensible move to try and improve conditions of hygiene and comfort might make each tube station seem rather too much like a voluntary extermination chamber, used only by people who hoped they hadn’t survived the journey because now they have to go to the office.

London, on the whole, is rather ridiculous and if you think about it too hard it makes you laugh nervously. It’s like a weird experiment that’s gone on for too long and now it can’t be stopped. It and its people will just get bigger and dirtier until the whole corpulent mass finally implodes when everyone decides that, really, it would be better to live in a normal town and get home from work before 9pm.

But Shelley said that Hell is a city much like London and, 200 years on, everyone’s still here. Shelley must think we’re idiots. And Shelley didn’t even have to get the tube.

Wholesome consumerism

Posted in Observations with tags , on August 16, 2008 by James Osborn

 

People aren’t buying much at the moment.  All the shops have sales on in a last chance bid to entice the indebted, who gaze longingly at the window displays.  Newspaper supplements are filled with features on self-sufficiency and going ‘off-grid’.  I’ve started making my own sandwiches.  Credit crunch cuisine.  I don’t know if it’s because I have less money than this time last year – if I do it’s because I’m drinking too much overpriced beer – but I like to join in with the collective sense of penniless foreboding.

 

Hans Aarsman has dived in head first by deciding to detail his credit crunch cut-backs in an exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery, near Leicester Square.  Photography against consumerism is split in to two sections, one which captures in photograph several sentimental items owned but ‘got rid of’, and another which depicts items which the artist desired but did not purchase. 

 

On the basic level this is, as the photographer admits, an experiment in space saving –why let your grandmother’s figurine clutter up your house when it can exist quite easily in one-dimensional form on a memory stick.  This theory is less easily applied, however, to the exhibition’s second section; why bother to buy an espresso maker when you can make do with a picture of one in your kitchen instead.  Certainly space-saving, but he’ll soon get bored of water.  Perhaps he’s sold his taps too and is living off rain.

 

If this is, as the title suggests, an exhibition about (or against) consumerism, then it is problematic.  I can drink instant coffee, but I had no idea that in order to fight the capitalists I also had to throw out my dead grandfather’s binoculars. 

 

Aarsman did not include his camera in the exhibition, not even along with a guilty explanation about why he needed to keep it once he had finished creating the exhibition.  That would’ve been the ultimate; before putting it in the skip he would’ve had to take a photo of its sad face with a disposable.  Presumably he sees it as an extension of his own body, like a dog that paints with its paw.  But most likely it is because he, like many other people are not quite sure where the camera sits on the scale of relative frivolousness. 

 

Cameras are, to almost all of us, entirely nonessential.  But how many nonessential items can you think of that, say, a lawyer, a left-winger and your aunt would agree on as being a worthwhile purchase?  The camera is one of the few wholesome indulgences that even hippies can get away with, and disclosing one as a recent purchase receives a nod of approval from almost everyone, regardless of age or life outlook.

 

I’m sure that, as winter sets in, Mr Aarsman will wake up, a camera his only possession in the whole world, freezing cold and naked in a bin, down the road from where he last saw his parents as he ushered them into a disused garage, a rusty key clenched in his left fist, and wonder whether it was really all worth it just for a bit of space at the Photographer’s Gallery.  Anti-consumerism is a bit like drugs.  Fun for a bit, but when you see someone get really messed up it kind of puts you off.

 

I think I’ll start buying my sandwiches again.