Green Man 2012 – festival review for Plastik Magazine

I wrote a review of Green Man 2012 for Plastik Magazine. You can read the full review here (with embedded videos/images) or see below for text.

 

Green Man 2012 – festival review

Disclaimer. You’ll see by the photographs, this was a fairly muddy festival. It didn’t rain all weekend long (in fact Saturday and Sunday afternoons were blazing hot). But there was enough rain to make it pretty squishy underfoot. I’ll try and keep the mud and rain descriptions to a minimum and concentrate on the “festival experience”. Mkay?

You all know how the weeks leading up to any UK festival go these days. Every morning, you check the weather. Before you go to bed, you check the weather. The week before, you check the weather at least three times a day, and usually on at least three different websites before assuring yourself – no, it’s not going to be a mudbath this year…

FRIDAY

In the week leading up to Green Man, there were no such happy thoughts. I’m a 100 per cent fair weather festival fan – I’ve never relished the idea of wading around through mud soup for three days. So it was with some trepidation that I arrived at the festival site on Friday afternoon, right in the middle of a three hour downpour, to go and fetch tickets and then park my campervan in the live in vehicle field. (See? Told you I was a fair weather festival goer. No tent for me).

After managing to dodge various caravans and horse boxes that had got stuck in the mud around the live in vehicle area, my companion and I parked up next to some friends, who were having their first weekend away from their two young kids since before the first one was born (around four years ago). (Their family situation will become relevant later, so read on).

They had already put away the best part of a bottle of rum by the time we got there, so we hurried on with the wellies and ponchos, packed away some bladders of cider in a rucksack and headed into the festival.

For those of you who’ve never been before, Green Man festival is situated in the beautiful Black Mountains near the River Usk. The site is in the middle of beautiful rolling countryside, mountains and hills. Even with a touch of light drizzle, it’s blimming beautiful.

Friday was spent doing that first exciting ‘let’s explore the festival!’ for a couple of hours. This consisted of hiding from the rain in every bar tent we came across, before making it up the slippery hill to the Far Out! tent, where the Friday night line up was a breathy, electronic indiepop affair, with Errors, Lower Dens, Cass McCombs and Junior Boys providing the warm up for psychedelic rock headliners, The Bees. Highlight of this tent was definitely Glasgow band Errors – a pleasingly noisy start to Friday night.

We then headed to Chai Wallahs for some of New York’s finest, rapper and beatboxer Joe Driscoll.

After we’d got a bit funky to that, we thought we’d investigate some comedy, as Robin Ince was on in the Comedy Stage. Unfortunately, due to usual amounts of ‘buying drinks/buying food/need to roll a fag/need to buy some chewing gum/can I just eat a pie’ faffing, we got to the stage just as the throngs were leaving as Robin Ince had just finished.

We made the journey back up the hill to Chai Wallahs to see Bristol funk band Yes Sir Boss. I had so many plans – going to see main stage headliners Mogwai, going to listen to the sweet sweet voice of Cate le Bon. But no. Without the responsibility of their children for the weekend, my friends (remember them?) went a bit nuts. They drank their cider, downed a bottle of rum, drank every warm drink on offer in Chai Wallahs (chai brandy, whiskey coffee, rum hot chocolate … mmm …). They wanted beats, dammit! So the sludgy ground and orange candle glow of Chai Wallahs became our home for the next six hours.

I’ll run you briefly through the excellent acts we saw: after Yes Sir Boss was Solid Steel new school talent, DJ Cheeba, who played an excellent DJ/AV set. All your standard big party tunes with accompanying visuals and effects. After Cheeba was Hackney live hip hop band, Lazy Habits, followed by a dark and bass heavy set from DJ Switch – electro, house, classic hip hop, dubstep – it was all there, plus a tent full of friendly people who were fairly mud free – apart from one girl who was trying to do some rock and roll dancing with a guy she’d just pulled, and ended up instead doing a face plant into the mud. Ouch.

At five am, we dragged ourselves round the entire perimeter of the festival trying to find our way back to where we were camped, to try and sleep and get ready for round two.

SATURDAY

There aren’t many mornings where you can lie in bed and listen to the sounds of Cardiff’s Sweet Baboo playing his first set with a full live band as the songs waft up the hill towards you. Saturday was one of those mornings. Sweet Baboo must have been the busiest musician on the Green Man roster for 2012, with five appearances in total (by himself and also in other bands). When he plays solo, his tunes are quirky and intimate. With a full band behind him, they’re warm and inviting, and wrap themselves around you like an off kilter cuddle at 3am. In short, it was very good. If you get the chance to see him play like that, I’d recommend it.

Given the epic Friday night session we had had, Saturday was a much more relaxed affair. Highlights were beatboxer and guitarist Philip Henry with violin player Hannah Martin (truly amazing), experimental electro-rock duo Rocketnumbernine who scared the crap out of everyone with their stage show (that consisted of a young boy wearing a tiger mask and doing weird movements to the music), lovely American folk from Dark Dark Dark, and upbeat Senegalese rhythms from Nuru Kane.

I’m pretty ashamed to say that by about seven pm on the Saturday, my resolve to see everything on that night was starting to fade. We headed back to the campervan for some booze and food, but got distracted by the prospect of a warm, log fire-heated shower. We were, of course, absolutely stinking with mud by this point. So we fetched towels and headed to the Buddha Field where I enjoyed the best festival shower ever. Best two pounds I spent all weekend.

After getting back to the campervan and getting clean clothes on, I realised there was no way back out for me. So I got a cup of hot chocolate, got into bed, opened the windows and listened to Yann Tiersen and Metronomy as their sets rolled up the hill and into my van. It was most, most agreeable.

SUNDAY

One of my favourite parts of any festival is the festival radio. Lying around in your tent on a Sunday morning, trying to muster the energy to get up and eat a Mars Bar or at least drink some Lucozade. Unfortunately there was no festival radio at Green Man this year, so Sunday morning’s soundtrack was the plinky plonky folk of Seamus Fogarty followed by a walk around Einstein’s Garden.

Einstein’s Garden is one of my favourite parts of Green Man, where there are stalls and stands around with learning activities for kids. When I say ‘learning activity’, you think – ‘boring’. But actually there were stands called things like ‘The Egg and Sperm race’, and Cardiff and Bristol Universities teaching kids about the solar system and about how molecules in corn flour and water work. There were also enormous hula hoops to play with. It was awesome. My friend Matt compered at the solar stage there, and did some freestyle poetry about Higgs Boson. I’m not even kidding.

Einstein’s Garden was followed up by some time spent sitting on a wall listening to the wonderful rhythms of Ghostpoet and then some serious headnodding to Alt-J, Cardiff band Islet, and Three Trapped Tigers all up at the Far Out Tent (and it was, truly, far out).

This was my first festival experience with kids in tow, and although the line up for this year’s Green Man wasn’t as strong as previous years, it’s still for my money the best UK festival of its size, in no small part down to all the extra little bits that you can do if you’re there with family. We spent ages in the Future Generations area playing massive Hungry Hungry Hippos and listening to a samba drum workshop – but the festival is small enough to walk across in about ten minutes. A great time at Green Man, as expected – let’s just pray for less mud next year!

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April Fools… a mixtape for spring 2012

Been a while since I did one of these. A mixtape for the spring. Right click on the image or this link and save to download.

TRACKLISTING:
Ronny Jordan – The Jackal
Radiohead – Lotus Flower
Django Django – Hail Bop
Holy Fuck – Lovely Allen
Martha and the Vandellas – Nowhere to Run
The Jam – Town Called Malice
Azealia Banks – 212
Queens of the Stone Age – Go With The Flow
Talking Heads – Burning Down The House

High Contrast Interview, Catapult Records instore 3 March 2012

We have a load of stuff to catch up on… firstly, back in March, I went along to see my friend Lincoln do an in-store performance to promo his new album. Lincoln is a drum’n’bass DJ who goes by the name of High Contrast, and we used to work together in Catapult (ten years ago now!)

I made a little video of his performance, including an interview with him and also Hospital Records boss, the lovely Chris Goss.

Check it out below:

Stories With Music To Tell (Crack Magazine)

An article for Crack Magazine, October 2011 about mytholgy in modern music. Co-written by me and Adam Corner.

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STORIES WITH MUSIC TO TELL

Have you heard the one about Aphex Twin being Welsh/dead/responsible for every piece of unattributed electronic music for the past half a century? And what about the ‘real’ identity of two-steppin’ masked producer Sbtrkt? (Clue: it’s a bloke called Aaron Jerome, but don’t let that stop the rumour mill).

Electronic music loves a good yarn – be it fact or fiction. And if it isn’t implausible myths and racy rumours doing the rounds, there’s plenty of elaborate characterisation to get your teeth into. By night, Drums of Death is a bizarre voodoo techno clown with a drum machine and a winning growl. By day, he’s an amiable, chubby Scottish guy. MF Doom has built a career on being a masked mystery (although having a suitcase full of killer rhymes has helped too).

Alter-egos and stage personas are nothing new – for bands or electronic acts. But electronic music has always seemed to lend itself more willingly to secrecy and anonymity. Why is it easier to hide behind pseudonyms, aliases, multiple recording names, masks and banks of equipment when playing with your computer than thrashing around with a guitar? Why do myths and elaborate, fictional back-stories have such an appeal in electronic music?

New label Dramatic Records shows just how far the blurring of fact and fiction can go – it only puts out music from fictional artists. All the releases come with elaborate, embellished and totally made-up back-stories, and whether or not the label even has different artists is questionable.

Endless House Foundation, for example, is supposedly an act dedicated to a club that only existed for a few weeks in a Czech forest. The fact that the club never existed in the first place for anything (let alone a further fictional creation) to be dedicated to, only adds to the fun. And in an age where a perma-avalanche of information is available around the clock – tweeting out at you from the blower in your grubby mitts, or seeping in by osmosis through the ether – a bit of made-up nonsense is a strangely refreshing antidote to the hyper-reality of the cold light of day.

The clean lines of a carefully constructed lie make the hodgepodge of truth look boring by comparison. You can clog your brain with the most tedious titbits about your favourite celeb: what they had for breakfast (Twitter); where they went out for lunch (FourSquare); what songs they listened to on their Ipod (Last.FM). With a bit of digging around on Google you can zoom in and peer through their window.

Some argue that this level of access to artists is a good thing for music fans. It means you get unprecedented access to people you admire and look up to. It means you can track them as they disappear from the ‘scene’ for recording sessions that can take years – follow their blogs, see how their work is progressing. You can listen to demos as they’re worked on, see artwork and behind the scenes shots of videos. You can send them messages on Facebook, and sometimes they’ll even reply. The distance between fan and artist has reduced to the click of a mouse button.

But is this empowering? Is it fuck. The banality of the hero under constant observation makes you long for a dose of make-believe, where nothing (and everything) happens. Artists have lost their intrigue. No longer are they mysterious, ethereal beings – connected to the creative source of the universe through their talents. There’s no space any more for us to create narratives around our favourite artists, or around the music they make. Everything is spelled out for us, letter by nauseating letter. And the closer you get to your favourite artist, the more you realise how very far apart you are.

There was a mystique that surrounded artists before the age of the internet. A mysterious fan club at the end of an anonymous PO Box address in Leamington Spa was the closest you could get to obtaining personalised news about your favourite band. But lest this sound like Luddite nostalgia for an age of badly tuned FM radios and a packet of salt n shake crisps, consider how much we seem to lust after the lure of the fictional, the fantasy information that can never be fully assimilated because it doesn’t actually exist. Part of art is appreciating the work without the overbearing influence of the artist. Without hearing about their moans and groans about public transport, wiring plugs, or various fungal infections. Leave us alone to love you from a distance: or at least make up some bullshit and let us roll around in that for a while.

The potential for getting lost in a fake Czech forest and stumbling across an imaginary club is more interesting than a 24 hour live feed from Bono’s beach pad. But what’s even more fascinating than the fictional biographies of the Dramatic characters is that like it or not, actual-factuality is gradually bleeding in. The press and blogosphere are actively developing the Dramatic storylines, blurring even further the boundary between fact and fiction. One blogger claims to have covered the opening of the fictional club that Endless House Foundation is ‘dedicated’ to: it is low-tech augmented reality, constantly evolving as people join in the conversation.

Intentionally or not, labels like Dramatic have stepped into the zone of unadulterated fan-dom, reacting against the banality of the overly familiar by removing entirely any sense of reality from their artists. And in ditching all the excess hyper-reality, fans can once again insert themselves into the narrative. As Dramatic Records put it, they’re stories with music to tell.

Words: Helia Phoenix & Adam Corner

A September Wind – mixtape

A new mixtape, made a little while ago. I’ve not really been in the place/space to upload it and sort it out until now. But here we are. So now, enjoy! Right click on the picture to download, or left click to listen.

a september wind mixtape

Tracks:
Dodos – Good
Explosions In The Sky – Postcard from 1952
Clams Casino – Fakest Year Ever
The Knife – Heartbeats (Rex The Dog remix)
Death In Vegas – My Acid Your Loft
ZZT – Zzafrika (Julio Bashmore remix)

Also thanks to everyone who left a message about their must-do Cardiff activities. I’ve compiled them all and they’ll be a feature on the forthcoming Hack/Flash podcast, which will feature yours truly, alongside Lee Underpass (maker of wonderful music) and man about town Carl Morris (who has his fingers in so many pies it’s hard to pick just one to define him by. I think he’d appreciate the room to breathe, so I won’t pick one). The first podcast is going to be recorded over the next couple of weeks, and due to go live on October 1st. I’ll post the link as soon as it’s up.

Music Gets Personal (Crack Magazine)

An article co-written by me and Adam Corner for Crack Magazine, published July 2011

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MUSIC GETS PERSONAL

Imagine buying a song, but each time you listened to it, it was different. If you’ve got a Mac, you don’t need to imagine it – you can go to http://www.bronzeformat.com and listen to the first release on a pioneering new musical platform called Bronze Format (the track’s by Gwil Gold, who along with the producer Lexx created Bronze Format). There is no original – each time you listen to it, the pre-programmed parameters of the song gently morph so that every play is subtly different. It bears repeating: there is no original.

On its own, it would be easy to dismiss Bronze Format as a fun but ultimately self-defeating detour from the serious business of Listening To The Song. But other developments currently taking root in the musical landscape suggest that it might just be the first signs of a quiet revolution in the relationship between listener and artist.

Last month, the Kaiser Chiefs (of all people) released what they described as the world’s first ‘bespoke’ album – twenty songs were made available on the band’s website, and for the price of an album download, fans could choose the ten songs that they liked the best. Other than raising the amusing possibility of perhaps only a fifth of the audience singing along to any one song at Kaiser Chiefs gigs, the concept of listeners choosing their own musical adventure is a potentially powerful new development. It’s a transfer of power from the band to the listener – or more to the point, from the record company to the listener. When listeners start curating their own listening experiences, and the music comes straight from the band’s website to your portable listening device of choice, what is the function of a record company at all?

Perhaps sensing precisely this question floating on the winds of change, Bjork’s label One Little Indian have grabbed the interactive bull by its digital horns and are releasing each single from forthcoming album Biophilia with its own dedicated App, containing interactive games, so each person who listens to the song and buys the App will get a different post-purchase experience.

So is this just a desperate search for a way of monetising an industry that can no longer sell conventional products? Or is it the dawn of something fundamentally new – a level of personalisation that has never been seen before? The implications for ‘owning’ and ‘collecting’ music are potentially huge – if there is no longer an original version of a track, if you can curate your own album or get lost in your own app-song interaction, how will people share memories of ‘classic’ albums in years to come? There is no original.

In some ways, no one ever really hears a song in exactly the same way as everyone else – the myriad of memories (or otherwise) that contextualise the listening experience means that the sound in your head is never quite the same as the guy next door’s. Maybe all the new technology bundled up in Bronze Format and Biophilia are just making this subjective variability more tangible.

So how feasible is it that – someday – more music will be consumed this way? Some music is already a fleeting, one time experience. The Bays, for example, are a band who don’t release any recordings and only perform live improvisations that last an hour (or so). This idea of music as a transitory experience (rather than a commodity) has always set The Bays apart from other bands as a bit of a curio. The music industry made its millions on the assumption that music would always be packaged and sold. The Bays were a movement towards music that couldn’t be frozen in this way – they advertise themselves by stating ‘Performance is the Product’. Is Bronze Format the next step?

Inevitably, new technology will allow the experience of listening to music to develop in ways we can’t even imagine. Fighting the progress is like eating soup with a fork. But at the moment it is difficult to see how any movement towards transitory music could have much of an effect on the musical mainstream. Pop by definition depends on a song being recognisable for what it is.

So for the time being, the personalisation of music is something that will be explored by the auteurs – Bjork, Richie Hawtin or perhaps even the increasingly ADHD bass artist Zomby. But like any good boundary-pushing development, the exciting part is the potential. Where do we go from here?

Man, machine, music….repeat until no longer the same.

Words: Adam Corner & Helia Phoenix

Image: Adam Chard