Blue Dot Festival 2017

Spent last weekend in magical, tropical Cheshire at Blue Dot Festival. Got sunburned, super drunk, listened to loads of music, missed all the science talks, and operated the third largest telescope in the world. It was amazing.

Stayed at a Travelodge near Crewe the night before to break up the journey. I can confirm, no one ran through this field of wheat.

The whole festival site is based around the amazing Lovell Telescope. It dominates, like some weird 50s sci-fi prop. At the time it was built, it was the biggest telescope in the world. It’s currently third biggest.

My favourite thing bar none was the interactive sound and vision experience with the telescope after dark. There was a control panel that allowed you to change the projections going onto the telescope and the sounds accompanying them. The AV show was created by artists based on radio frequencies received by the telescope from pulsars (dying stars out in space). This was data that had been received over long periods of time, but there was also a LIVE FEED INTO SPACE that you could choose.

It was absolutely mind blowing.

Me by the scope, being super impressed with it.

Preece and Natalie CONTROLLING SPACE.

The view from the campsite, Lovell glowing eerie off in the distance.

The next best thing we did was explore the Luminarium. This is a giant inflatable structure made of rubber. It’s got multiple rooms and you can walk around inside it endlessly. I went in with a couple of people that had smashed some mushrooms and some acid. It was so hot in there I came out after about 20 minutes. I think they were in there considerably longer.

 Back out in the festival itself, it was a baking hot weekend. We spent most of it outside, listening to music and enjoying the general atmosphere. It was a lot cleaner and less sketchy than most festivals I tend to frequent (no weird krusty hippies causing chaos), which double edged for me: nice to be in such a safe, comforting place – but at the same time, I always like a bit of chaos …

This was one of the best things I saw all weekend: Nightmares on Wax DJ set. It had been a long, hot day – we’d just been in to see Max Cooper do Emergence which was INCREDIBLY INTENSE – me and a couple of others bailed, and ended up listening to this wonderful two hour journey through disco, funk, electro and housey house. It was upbeat and uplifting and very fun.

Other great things of note that we saw through the weekend:

FRIDAY – Leftfield (pumping tunes – shame they were on at 6pm and the crowd was full of parents with very upset looking children ramming their fingers in their ears, trying to leave, being forced to stay … darkside); Jane Weaver (amazing space pop kween); Pixies (who I saw at Glastonbury and bored the balls off me – but I loved them here!); Vitalic, who did THE BEST TECHNO EVER.

SATURDAY – Goldfrapp; Orbital; Factory Floor.

SUNDAY – Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band; Rival Consoles (he was AMAZING); Warpaint (which I left because they were SO BORING);  but then I went to Shobaleader One (MUCH BETTER – Squarepusher LIVE!); Alt-J (really, really boring … I left after about five seconds and went and found a cocktail bar by the telescope that was rinsing out really loud, funky old school drum and bass and breaks classics. BEST TIME EVER, full of really friendly and lovely people from Manchester. Big love, MCR).

Loved Blue Dot. Would definitely recommend for parents – lots to for babies, with kids, and for adults with an interest in the world around them. Loved it, would definitely go again.

Blue Dot Festival

 

 

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Music writings

amps

I’ve been a professional journalist writing mostly about music for far longer than I’d actually care to remember (since 2001, if you must know…). I’ve written for Rolling Stone, NME, CRACK magazine, as well as various titles that have come and gone in that time (Sound Nation, Plan B, Kruger). I also wrote the first unofficial biography about Lady Gaga, published by Orion in 2010.

For examples of my music writing, click here.

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

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

Music writing

It’s been a while since I’ve done any “proper” music writing that wasn’t for a book. I think I had to go a bit cold turkey after Kruger Magazine folded – I had been writing for Kruger and editing its Reviews section for years, so when the mag shut down I felt a bit of a recoil from writing. I didn’t want to write reviews anymore. I barely wanted to listen to music anymore. I guess it was a bit like a bad breakup… but now, hooray, I’m over it! And thus the music writing can begin again. I’ve just started writing music news for the Shazam website. If you’re a music geek like me, it’s quite possible you’ve probably used Shazam in the past – when you’ve been out at a club or pub and a tune comes on that you’re desperate to know the name of, but no-one you ask seems to know …. you call Shazam, play some of the song down the phone and they give you the name and artist. I remember one very (very) hazy night at Glade Festival a few years ago when a friend and I must have called Shazam about 20 times…

Anyway, bringing it back up to date – today Shazam has 150 million users across 200 countries worldwide and their numbers are on the up. And rather than calling up, these days most people are using their fairly swanky mobile app (there’s just been a big update to their Android app). As part of that, they’re creating more written music content for their blog. Which will now be even more awesome than it was already, as it will also feature me!

Check out the Shazam blog, and my posts on there…

In other news, I’ve also co-written an article about how music is changing to become a totally personalise experience with the rise of technology like Bronze Format and also Bjork’s new album, Biophilia. My writer-in-crime is Adam Corner, electro-whore-house-pioneer and newly reformed say-yes-to-everything-and-worry-about-it-later-man. You can see the article in the next issue of Crack magazine.

Late night inspiration – and an Autumn Mixtape

I may have mentioned before that I’m part of a community art group here in Cardiff called hackflash. Yesterday Adam and I went out and did two photoshoots – one for our We Are Cardiff web project and one for the hackflash website.

I did a post last night on the hackflash blog– go over there to check it out

I’ve written up some background on We Are Cardiff for the Guardian, who are publishing it on Wednesday. I’ll link to that when it’s up rather than boring you with all the same guff twice.

In the meantime, here’s a wee mixtape I’ve made for autumn. Enjoy! Click the picture, or if that doesn’t work, click here to download.

autumn mixtape