Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bali Bali Hey!

It's easy to be complacent about our position at the hub of the punk rock universe here in the Anglophile West. We Brits and them Americans constantly bicker over who invented it and who has the ideological ownership of it, while our near neighbours in Northern Europe actually do all the hard work in keeping it going - out side of it at least. So we might all be surprised to discover that probably the biggest and most vibrant punk rock scene on the whole planet is bubbling away quite nicely all of its own accord on the other side of the globe in the world's fourth most populous country - Indonesia.

And the true kings of that scene - and hence one of the biggest, most popular punk bands on the planet - are a trio of big-quiffed, tattoo-stained rock'n'roll kids called Superman Is Dead. Looking for every bit like a flick-knife wielding street gang from some unhinged South Pacific swingtime gangster flick, S.I.D. are one of those bands that make the cool girls swoon and the slick boys get their names carved into their skin. And heck do they rock.

Formed back in 1995 in the seaside town of Kuta in the south of Bali, the music blasting out of the stereos of the hipster tourists tweaked some primal punk button in three young lads called Boby Kool, Eka Rock and Jrx (although those may not be their birth names) who pretty soon melded what they heard into their own high octane, top fuel version of transatlantic punk, working very much to the post-Clash/Rancid blueprint, via NoFX and Social Distortion, while keeping their own intangiable Eastern feel permeating the proceedings.

After a couple of cracking lo-fi albums on a local inide label, they nudged the attention of the local wing of Sony-BMG, who swiftly signed them to a mutli-album deal, starting with the blistering Kuta Rock City in 2003. Each subsequent release has been a massive international hit right around South-East Asia. They've just started to make a first foray into the Western world of rock with a hefty and extraordinarily well-recieved tour of Australia, so who knows, if they keep up their rollercoaster momentum we could soon see them zig-zagging over towards the supposed family seat of punk rock'n'roll. Or maybe now their scene is so big that it's us who have to go out to pay them a visit.

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Mule music

Those of you who have taken rather a shine to the boy Joe McElderry's new career-defining single Ambitions may be surprised that it's already had a considerable track record long before last year's X-Factor winner got his tonsils around it. Indeed, before he'd even made his first nervous steps out of the house and onto his first auditions, it was well on its way to becoming one of the most popular songs in Norwegian chart history.

Its performers, Donkeyboy, had already been plugging their uplifting and sparkling brand of Scandi-pop around for a good four years before they were picked up by the label Warner Music - reputedly after an A&R man liked what he heard after he stumbled across them on MySpace. Their original take on Ambitions was released on 26 March 2009, and became an instant radio hit across the country. But despite a slow and gradual climb up the chart, by the time it finally made number one some 13 weeks later, it was selling by the trainload.

And there it stayed for the next 12 weeks, only replaced by the band's follow up Sometimes, making them the first act in Norwegian history to hold the top two chart slots. A number one album, Caught In A Life, soon followed, as did a European tour with A-Ha. Out of nowhere this unassuming little band from Drammen had become their nation's new pop darlings.

Their music is almost uncatagorisable - an amalgam of classic Scandinavian pop, eighties jangly guitar rock and an extraordinarily likeable while still slightly edgy contemporary feel. There's an almost evangelical joy to their live shows, and their wide-eyed innocence, married to their delicate but incredibly catchy tunes has been known to creep up on all but the most hardened music fans and sweep them off their feet. But take a look at their slightly odd videos and you'll see that there's some kind of substance behind the saccharin.

No wonder then that Simon Cowell knew he was on to a good thing and grabbed an option on the tune for his new young charge in a rare foray outside of his usual BMG back catalogue, giving the song a whole new lease of life. So perfect was the original that McElderry's version is a near note-for-note remake. Caught In A Life has just been released in the UK, possibly to quickly cash in on the smiling Geordie boy's almost certain success. Let's hope it ups their profile on these shores and they have a hit in their own right soon.

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Moldovan turbo folk bonkersness

There are those who claim that the root of rock'n'roll lay in the African songs and spirituals sung mournfully every day in the fields and on the ships to keep the spirits up. And while this may be true to some extent, another equally important musical root is frequently overlooked when it comes to chronicling the history of contemporary Western sounds - one that rises from the mountains and villages of central  and South Eastern Europe - and that music is polka.

It's not fashionable to say it, but the simple boom-chit two-beat beloved of accordian-handed folkies and riotous Balkan weddings is surely every bit as much to blame for punk rock as any amount of delta blues. The speed, rhythm and pure bonkersness of the genre is infused through contemporary pop, but it's those out East who still do it the best, and Moldova's Doinita Gherman is about as bonkers as it comes.

Hailing from the capital Chisinau, she started life as a more traditional ethno-pop act before she saw the light and began to pile on the rock, while still staying true to her folky roots. The result is a 150mph punky stomp, that sees her breathlessly below out the words while jumping about like someone desperately trying to put out a carpet fire.

You think I'm exaggerating? The video for her song Batuta sees her dancing up trees, on motorway central reservations, footbridges and anywhere her feet will take her. One gets the feeling that this girl never stops, and gawd bless her for it!

But she hasn't forgotten the old days, and still dresses in a stylised and somewhat raunchy version of the traditional Moldovan farmgirl dress, and crowbars traditional rhythms and dances into the high speed insanity. Whether we'll ever get to see or hear the girl on these shoresis unclear, and indeed unlikely. She is perhaps a little too obscure, and indeed hardcore for even the keenest world music enthusiast, but she's all over the internet, so make a point of trying to track her down - it's what the world wide web is for, after all!

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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The purest rock'n'roll from Gothenburg

It's often the case that the biggest innovators, or even just the smartest, purest bands in their fields tend to get criminally overlooked. In some ways that's a good thing for we connoisseurs of the rock'n'roll, as we get to keep it sharp and unsullied by the taint of stardom. But on the other hand I'm quite sure that the bands themselves would like to be able to pay the rent without having to resort to a dreary day job.

But for all those briefly hip acts who forge a couple of quick hits before being consigned to the dustbin of uncoolness, there are a dozen who even crash and burn before they raise a murmor. And then there's those who plough on regardless, turning out disc after disc of fabulous stuff. Gothenburg's Sillverbullit are just that kind of band.

Formed in 1995, they were originally called Sillverbullet, until someone who already had a similar name went and had a moan. Indeed, they're known as Citizen Bird in America to cut down on potential lawsuits. But whatever name they happen to go by on any given day, they've consistently been chucking out three great albums and touring furiously, but to little commercial success - although they did manage to bag a gong for the best Swedish album of 2004 with their Arclight CD.

Unusually they've stuck with the same line-up right through their career, bound together by their howling dervish of a lead singer Simon Ohlsson. So fractious and unhinged can he get that he was once thrown out of a venue by security while the rest of the band played on.

But what do they sound like? A fantastically atmospheric high octane, ambient rock and roll onslaught, yet still capable of some devistatingly tender moments. Every song sounding like an extended intro, they hurl out the chunkiest riffs like they were playing the last song on Earth, sounding a little like the sixties would have if punk had happened in 1959. Or like Joy Division borrowed Can's metronome and upped sticks to Scandinavia. Swirling clouds of organ lap around the guitars like a filthy cloud of lust, while Ohlsson slurs out poems to human politics, smiting all the numbskulls and thoughtless haters as he goes.

They don't get out that often these days, but when they do it's incendiary. So if you spot the name when you trawl the listings make sure you get out and see them. Fellow Swedes like The Hives, The Hellacopters and Backyard Babies may have stolen some of their commercial thunder, but this Silverbullit can duke it out with the best of them, and would win a live play off hands down.

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Ukraine's Housewife Superstar

For those among you who enjoy a quick flutter I'd advise a tasty yet unlikely ante-post bet. The race isn't on until the second week in May, but if you get your money on early you may be on for some tasty returns. Oh yes pop fans, bet all you can afford on a Ukrainian win, because Verka Serdushka is having a go at Eurovision again.

You may remember her previous attempt back in Helsinki in 2007. A vision in silver, the song Dancing Lasha Tumbai came in a close second to Serbia's Harry Potter-alike balladeer Marija Šerifović. She may not have won, but the following Monday the watercoolers of Europe were alive nothing but talk of this bonkers tin-foil clad trannie with a big star on her head, like some turbofolk Edna Everage from space. And like her antipodean cousin she's become an enormous star in her home country and  its associated empire.

The story goes back some 20 years when a teenaged performer called Andriy Danylko created the character of a larger-than-life middle aged railway ticket inspector from the sticks for a local comedy talent contest. His creation became an instant hit, and it wasn't long before Danylko had created a host of other characters and took the whole lot out on tour around the former Soviet republics, creating a massive stir.

Along the way he has put together nine albums of high octane East European oompah disco, plus the occasional collection of more laid back ambient tunes under his own name, but somewhere along the line it became clear that Eurovision was the logical international conclusion for his character's insanely bouncing storyline. It was feared that the character may be too much of a Ukrainian in joke, but those who didn't necessarily get the gag still enjoyed three manic minutes that turned the living rooms of Europe into a carnival of insane thrashing about.

But it nearly never happened. Questions were asked in the Ukranian parliament as to whether such a "grotesque and vulgar" artist should represent the country on an international stage. And their old grumpy uncles across the border were convinced the words 'Lasha Tumbai' - reputedly Mongolian for 'Whipped Cream' were actually the thinly veilled political dig 'Russia Goodbye'. Danylko claimed otherwise, but it was still enough to cause such a stir across that half of the continent that the song was already a massive international hit before that performance in the Finnish capital.

And now she's having another pop. She's only one of the 25 approved finalists as this point, but if the good people north of the Black Sea are still in on the joke and the ironics Eurovision fans of the West are out in force come May 15th, we could well be all back in Kiev come the spring of 2012 - and that would hardly be a bad thing, would it!

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Monday, 30 August 2010

The Authentic Decadents

Whenever I find myself in a new country I always try to pick up some local sounds, and only having a brief time in Buenos Aires and not having the chance to either hear much radio or see anyone live, I had to resort to the suprisingly reliable method of picking a handful of albums based on the covers alone. So I was digging my way through the shelves in a little record store called The Cave in the pedestrianised shopping neighbourhood downtown when I spied a marvel - a dog in slick sportswear and killer shades mixing a couple of records on a pair of glittery decks. But it wasn't, as you may be thinking, a cartoon - it was a photo. So slightly cruel as it appeared, this was still an album that needed to be bought for the cover alone.

The disc was called Club Atletico Decadente by a massively populated act called Los Auténticos Decadentes. A quick flick to the back of the album displayed a rag tag gaggle of a dozen geezers, all in their thirties and upwards, and every one of them wearing the same kit as the poor pooch on the front of the cover. It didn't need to be any good with livery as cool as this, but what a treat it turned out to be.

The sounds on this collection were as lively as the picture of its creators suggested. A bonkers mix up of traditional Argentinian dance rhythms, pounding rock and roll with a little bit of sk punk thrown in for good measure, this would be what The Mighty Mighty Bosstones might have sounded like of they were all Boca Juniors fans with Diego Maradona tattoos - only with considerably more fluid hips.

There were slices of slinky Latino sounds that your mum could dance to, followed by pokey little punk tunes your little brother wouldn't be afraid to mosh to in public, and a bunch of other mutant hybrids that covered their local traditional musics like cumbia, merengue, canzonetta, murga and a whole bundle more that I'm not entirely sure how to spell.

They guy in The Cave insisted I ought to get their following album, Somos (El Vivo), as he reckoned it was much better - and I rather wish I did now, because these boys have got quite the track record.

It turns out that I'm stumbled across one of the country's most popular live acts. Formed right back in 1986, their first album came three years later, and featured their first hit Veni Raquel. As I was to later find out, their tunes have become ubiquitous on an Argentine night out, and have turned up in the background of practically every contemporary Argentinian movie that I've seen since I first picked up their album. They regularly sell out stadiums across Latin America, being perhaps surprisingly most popular in Mexico, where their anarchic dance tunes sit well within their own unhinged underground music scene.

I've since discovered that they've released ten albums in total, so I'm going to have to start picking my way through them all one by one. But which end should I start at? Now there hangs the dilemma! To my knowledge they've never made it over this side of the pond, which is a shame, because I reckon they're lively enough to clear up. They've fill that Ozomatli/Gogol Bordello/ Manu Chao-sized slot at the more worldsy tinged festivals a treat, and they've been going for so long now that it can only be a matter of time before we see them out this way - so keep 'em peeled for the Decadents!

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Friday, 27 August 2010

The Blue House

We followers of Eurovision have to plough through a lot of dubious ballads and lowest common denominator pop in order to drege out one or two pure glistening gems every year. Now I'm sure that most of you will be saying "why even bother?" or "it's all different shades of the same kak!". But when those gems do come along, they're usually pretty special.

Rewind to Spain in 2008. We've mentioned their ground-breaking open application process that debut that year elsewhere in this blog. But one of the acts it uncovered to we strange few Europop fiends was very special indeed. In fact it only just missed out on making it to Belgrade by a few small percentage points. Let me introduce you to La Casa Azul.

Having a quick click and flick through the untold hapless flamenco pop tunes and wrist-slitting ballads, a song called La Revolucion Sexual exploded from the line up like a glass of sparkling pop juice on a hot day. One part Japanese club pop in the style of Pizzicato 5, one part knowing indie pop and a half dozen parts the spaces inbetween the greatest disco pop songs you ever heard, this thing stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Surely it was too good to even make the final selection - I couldn't be that lucky.

But it gathered a head of steam, and in a neck and neck battle came in a close third to a mawkish sailor ballad and a novelty reggaeton song about the recent Spanish elections. And when I finally saw the video I was blown sideways by the pure pop joy of it all.

The conceit of the act is that it's staffed by five beautiful androids from space. That had been the gag all along, from their first album, El Sonido Efervescente de La Casa Azul back in 2000. But as potential international fame drew nearer, the whole thing was finally revealed to be the work of just one man - a prematurely balding and unassuming producer chap called Guille Milkyway.

Indeed, this was perhaps to be the end of the android schtick, as in his very next video, a bizarre clip for the song Esta Noche Solo Cantan Para Mi, he apeared to kill them all off, leaving their lifeless bodies beneath a bush as an array of girls did some nice ice skating on white vinyl records. I told you it was an odd one, but a gem indeed.

He's been known to make to odd appearance on an English shore - the last time at an indie festival in a railway station in Derbyshire last summer - so keep an eye out for him, cos he's supposed to be a pure cracker live. Get some pop in your life and move on in to the blue house!

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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Like a bullet from Milan

Once in a while you stumble across a gig that leaves you struggling to remember the last time you had anywhere near as much fun. I had one of those nights a couple of May's ago in a little back room in Moscow, watching a delightfully positive and insanely danceable bunch of Italian squat urchins called Kalashnikov.

I suppose their name was apt enough for the city - even more so as the preparations for the big military parade were going on all around town - and I'm sure the idea for this gig started out as some kind of crazy pipedream for the band. But a couple of flyers scattered around town led us check them out on the web, and we reckoned there might be a half decent night to be had. But it was one of those rare nights where all the ingredients gelled into one heck of a night.

The venue was a tiny little club called Vse Svoi, around the back of the city zoo. As we walked down the dark side street that harboured the venue, the yelps of excitable punk kids mixed in with the squeaks, barks and growls from the other side of the wall to make an exotic runway to the evening's entertainment. But we weren't expecting the place to be quite so tiny. Not much bigger than your granny's front room, and sporting a similar decor, the Vse Svoi was rammed from front to back with wide-eyed 19-year olds nodding their heads to some earnest local screamo band. Every time my other half bought a booze flavoured drink, a gaggle of nippers flocked around her asking if they could have a sip. This wasn't going to be like a normal gig, we could sense it.

And when the headliners from Milan finally took to the stage, we were proved correct. In keeping with their name, Kalashnikov imediately belted into some turbo-fuelled Russian-style jigs, sending the place universally bonkers. Singer Milena had every last one of them (and us) in the palm of her hand from the outset. Despite being the oldest people in the building by some 20 years, we were compelled to dance to their punchy romantic punk and skittish high-speed ska retreads - partly because the place was pakced like sardines and we had no option, but partly because our feet commanded it.

Kalashnikov@Moscow 2 May 09

Kalashnikov collective | MySpace Music Videos

But the the real lunacy began. A young lad down the front had falled totally for Milena's charms, guarding her from all other invaders, and seemingly offering to marry her on a song-by-song basis. Puj the guitarist was being passed above the heads of the now-steaming crowd, walking his feet along the ceiling, while Don's keyboards were falling off their plinth and knocking the PA into the crowd at the stroke of each minute. By now the crowd and band had become one pulsating entity, and the only way it was ever going to end was by exhaution, invasion or explosion. It turned out to be the latter, as the bass amp finally gave up after being at the brunt of its operator Nino's constant flinging of water into the crowd. It was an apt end to the amplified noise, but the crowd just kept on whooping and hollering for a good twenty minutes.

Rarely do you see a show where every last person in the room is going absolutely batchy dance-o. There wasn't even the little enclave of cool kids at the back of the room nodding with their arms folded - which is perhaps what we were expecting of a city like Moscow. Before leaving we shared our love of the night with Puj, who seemed like he'd just had the best night of his life. It wasn't far off for us either.
Kalashnikov @ Moscow (RUSSIA) May '09

Kalashnikov collective | MySpace Music Videos

It's always then a worry when you track such a band down in the real world. You fear that the energy of the night has addled your judgement of the quality of the actual music. But there's no such fear with Kalashnikov. When I finally found their site, I found each of their tunes to be throbbing with the same scratchy power and all-round loveliness as we witnessed in that tiny backroom in Moscow. Go find out for yourself, 'cos every last one of their songs is free to download. A top, top band that Kalashnikov!

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Da Arabian MCs

If any place on earth has earned a politically motivated rap act it's Palestine. And in DAM, Palestine have one of the finest examples on the planet. They've been going since 1998, when Tamer Nafer and his younger brother Suhell used to rap around the slums of Lod - a mixed town of Arabs and Jews around 15 miles outside of Jerusalem. The heard that a fella called Mahmoud Jreri had been writing rhymes, so they banded together and DAM was born.

Their tunes are a genius blend of classic western hip hop and Arabic melodies and percussion. But as laid back as that can sometimes sound their words are an entirely different matter. Steeped in the daily difficulties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for once this really is music from the frontline, and their songs reflect their daily experiences. But they don't just rap about issues surrounding Palestinian freedom, but many of the other knock-on effects, like terrorism, drugs and women's rights.

Their debut collection of songs, the apt and emotive Stop Selling Drugs, was an instant local hit in 1998, but they first came to wider attention when the title song of their next collection, Min Irhabi? (Who's The Terrorist?) was downloaded over a million times globally from their website. the song's lyric dealt with the after effects of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and Israel's heavy-handed response in dealing with it.

This opened the international doors for them, and since then they have toured extensively in America and right across Europe, principally on the back of their stunning album Dedication, a laid-back, low-slung selection of songs with biting rhymes, dark, intelligent humour and a brutally positive outlook, despite the privations them and their people might be suffering. 

This month has seen them blow away the staid world music event WOMAD festival, and with any luck it's their breakthrough performance to garnering a wider audience in the UK. Dedication isn't an easy album to get a hold of, but it's certainly worth the effort of tracking it down. Here is a rap band who aren't bragging about girls and guns and ostentatious wealth, they're keeping it real in a way that most of the hip hop world could never even begin to understand. In their world the sinple act of speaking out or filming a video could get them into the kind of trouble that us in the regular West don't even have the capacity to understand. And for that alone they're one of the greatest bands on the planet.

What a stroke of luck that they sound fantastic too!

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Saturday, 24 July 2010

Deepest, darkest electro from Peru

I just got a MySpace friend request from some girl from Peru. She didn't send a note, but it looked like she was part of a band. So I clicked about her profile and discovered that she's the new singer of a fantastic electro-techno band from Lima called SonoRadio, and I was hooked in seconds. Their squelchy, bouncy take on the European electroclash beats that are currently littering the lower regions of the charts were complimented perfectly by Amanda Veneno's breathlessly reedy and naive voice. It sounded familiar, yet completely from another planet.

I had to know more. Turns out SonoRadio formed back in 2004 as a slightly more traditional four-piece alt-pop act. They had guitars and regular song shapes, but were also instilled with a healthy slice of utter bonkersness that made them look a good prospect even back then. They played their first show two years later at the Bear Bar in Lima's up-and-coming Miraflores neighbourhood, causing an instant stir. The following year they were voted breakthrough band of 2007 by the local newspaper El Commercio, and their debut EP sold out immediately, earning them slots on both local TV and South American MTV.

Around this time they started to take a more electro turn and ditched the guitars and a couple of members to embark on a much more beatsy outlook. Now manned by singer Joy and sound demon Danny eM, although the VJ Xomatok joined the fold this year to make some cracking dynamic visuals to back up the pulsating uber-pop sounds.But then just as it was all about to take off, Joy left to see the world on a cruise, and Amanda Veneno was drafted in to add a whole new sultry flavour to the SonoRadio sound.

Anyone who's been to Peru will know that there's a lot more to their music scene than the endless panpipe bands that get sent over here to busk in the shopping centres of Europe. They've got an enormous fluro-techno scene - indeed I've been to some fabulous lung-draining raves up in the oxygen-lite heights of the Andes - and their metal scene is dark, violent and intense. But this is the first bit of pure and pounding pop that I've heard from this mountainous and exciting country - and I'm sure I've only just scratched the surface with SonoRadio.

So you see, when you get those random MySpace add requests from folks you've never heard of, at least give them the benefit of a quick look, because you never know what joys that may uncover.

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Thursday, 15 July 2010

South-East European funk

Whenever I spend any time abroad I always make sure I try and find the local punk scene and catch a show. However Oslo, despite its eighties heritage as one of the world capitals of gnarl, proved a tricky nut to crack on the underground scene. Gigs were few and far between over the two weeks we were there, and those that were featured major international touring bands asking for a minimum of 20 quid to get in. Not very punk rock at all.

So thank heavens we got to hear about a show by the a fabulously politicised bunch of new wave funkers from Macedonia called Bernays Propaganda at the historic Blitz squat on Pilestredet. But this being Oslo, it wasn't simply a case of just turning up and watching the band.

Blitz has long been on the European squat circuit, and I've seen many evocative pictures from down the years of a reassuringly crumbling building covered in grafitti and surrounded by baracades. Well it would appear that since those days someone has decorated, at it was the cleanest, most well kept squat that I've ever seen. Not that there's anything wrong with cleanliness of course, it's just not what we were expecting. Then there was the timing issues. Now I'm used to shows running on punk time, but this bordered on the silly. After arriving at 9pm, we were told to come back in an hour, and then when we did there was clearly no one but us and the residents there, so got asked to try a bit later. A little after eleven we returned, concerned that we'd miss the last tram if things dragged on any longer, and bless if Bernays themselves didn't see our plight, get up and go in to play - despite there being little more than three dozen people in the building.


But despite the sparse attendance and the cavernous backroom we were led to, it was quite a show. I was aware of drummer Dzanno and guitarist Vasko's previous band, the speedy hardcore thrashers FxPxOx, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this new outfit was an entirely different beast.

Cranking out the disco drumming and a deeply funking groove from the fresh-faced bassist Nenad, this was more reminiscent of old time British post new wave bands like Gang of Four, The Slits and The Pop Group. But that wasn't the best of it. Singer Kristina was an unsettling beast, prowling the front of the stage like a cadged cat, part vulnerable, part confrontational, looking every bit like a hollowed out Uma Thurman with a grudge. You were wary of catching her eye, just in case she caught you with a steely gaze and you melted in some kind of frightened rapture.

But this is not just unabashed turn-your-brain-off dancing. This is a band infused with anarchist ideals and deep human politics. Named after Freud's nephew, andinventor of modern propaganda Edward L Bernays, every beat means something. The labrynthine rhythms driving vital messages under your skin with every funky lick. This lot means business, winning your heart and your brain by moving your feet first.

With each new tune the dance notches cranked up, and before we knew it, every last person was dipping and diving in a hotch potch of difficult dancing styles, our feet infected by the chunking groove. It didn't really matter that we were crowded into the corner of what looked like a massive gym - that corner was the funkiest corner in the city, we were there to dance whether we liked it or not.

And we liked.

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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Heroes of Eurovision 2010: maNga

Turkey have got a funny old track record in Eurovision. For years it seemed like they never quite got it - that their traditional rhythms sat poorly when pressed up against the pop of Western Europe. Of course at first it was mainly because our ears weren't yet accustomed to such exotic sounds. But in time they tried and failed with a brutal amalgam of the most obvious chunks of each continent's pop traditions without ever really getting a proper feel for what the contest was about.

But one day they stopped bothering what everyone else thought and just sent stuff that they liked - and that was when they started doing rather well. At first it was with the kind of Eastern turbo pop that peppered their home chart. But then after Sertab Erener's Everyway That I Can finally won the contest in 2003, they really started showing the rest of Europe what they were capable of.

No longer burdened with the perceived shame of being one of the oldest Eurovision stagers to never to win the thing, for their home contest they sent along a bunch of Rancid inspired ska punkers called Athena to grace the Istanbul stage. Despite being far from a traditional Eurovision song, they managed to come fourth.

Five contests later, after a fistful of moderately successful Turkish dance tunes, they sent along a band called Mor ve Ötesi, a cool power pop outfit whose song Deli rolled in at a very respectable seventh spot.

Someone obviously figured that the pop rock schtick was a good plan, as this year Turkish telly invited the recent winners of the Best European Act from the 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards, maNga.

Despite being cursed by a name whose lettering format probably seemed like a good idea when they started out, their powerful blend of Linkin Park style nu metal and more traditional Anatolian melodies seemed likie an odd choice for Eurovision. However, as experienced and consumate stadium performers they would surely be no strangers to performing on massive stage, so surely should be worth keeping an eye on.

As it turned out their tune, We Could Be The Same, turned out to be a belter - an easily singalongable chunk of a tune, with enough power to lure in the cool mums of Europe to the voting phone, but enough melody and easy pomp to win over the less rockist viewers. The boys clearly hit a nerve, and the song stormed its way into an unlikely, but highly welcome second place.

But they are no flash in the pan sensation - they've got a legacy of three cracking albums behind them as their nation's musical standard bearers.

Starting out playing covers of popular metal tunes in 2001, they first gained major public attention when they won a musical talent contest. This success attracted the attention of Sony Records who promptly signed them up and released their debut and self-titled album in 2004. Its raw, edgy fusion of rap rock and the earliest nu metal sounds proved an instant hit, and almost immediately went gold, selling upwards of 100,000 copies. The follow-up, maNga+, while not being as commercially successful, helped forge a more mature sound that paved the way for their third and most recent album, Şehr-i Hüzün.

Despite at first sounding like a regulation pop metal third-album workout, you'll soon get lost in its underlaying Eastern beats and underlying exoticism. What they lose in the raw snotty snarl of their debut, they more than make up for with a controlled power in this entirely Turkish-language collection.

If you liked their Eurovision tune, give some of their other stuff a go, as it's a pretty unusual slant on what can often be a very conservative musical genre. All three discs are crackers for sure!

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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Heroes of Eurovision 2010: Jessy Matador

After years of sending a parade of willowy chanteuses warbling out much the same song each year to diminishing returns, the French suddenly shifted gear four years back and started actually thinking about who they sent to Eurovision. They finally twigged that as they were always going to be in the final, they could take a risk and start sending stuff that would show off some of the massive range of music that regularly litters their charts - some of the most cosmopolitan in Europe - rather than a succession of casting show runners up that the rest of the West has been sending of late.

Four years back they held one of the most unhinged finals in years and selected the fabulous Les Fatals Picards. 2008 saw the sublime Sebastian Tellier, singing one of the coolest (and some would say strangest) songs the contest has ever seen - and one of the few from the last few years of the show that you'll still hear in the outside world today. And last year, of course, saw the spinetingling chanson by the veteran torcher Patricia Kaas. But 2010 saw them surpass all of that and parade the explosively fantastic ball of fun that was Jessy Matador in front of the Saturday night TV viewers of Europe. And what a performance he gave.

It had been rumoured for a while that the French were going to go for something a little more uptempo this time round. Indeed, acts like big-name David Guetta and Christophe Willem had been mentioned under a few Gallic breaths for a while. But when Matador's name was announced, all but the most sussed shouted "Who?"  They clearly hadn't heard his huge summer hit of 2008, Décalé Gwada - a gloriously shouty fusion of African, Carribean and urban French grooves - and something entirely new to Eurovision.


If his Eurotune was even half as good as that he'd either sail gloriously or crash spectacularly in the contest - but either way he'd be remembered.

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early eighties, Jessy Kimbangi began his career as a dancer, before joining the group Les Cœurs Brisés (The Broken Hearts), and later starting up his own mob, La Sélésao. After getting signed to Wagram Records in early 2008, their album Afrikan New Style harboured three hits - all of the massive club faves, and every one blending as vast array of styles and flavours, from Zouk to Dancehall via Reggaeton and Hip-Hop to Coupé Décalé, while still forging out a very recognisable groove of their own.

Of course, when the song was announced, the traditionally rabidly conservative Eurovision fans were up in arms. Rumours that the song, Allez Ola Olé, was also to be the anthem for the French World Cup coverage insensed some even further, and after early rehearsals the odds on it coming last came in massively, as old-time fan boys who simply didn't get it bet the farm on it propping the table.

But how wrong could they be. It was never going to win the contest, as voters to the east of Poland and the south of Austria are famously uneager to vote for a singers of a darker hue. But enough people around the rest of Europe tapped into the happy-go-lucky insane aerobics of the performance to vote it into a respectable 12th place - a position the UK would be glad of in this day and age.

Furthermore, it subsequently went on to become an instant download hit across Europe and had hopefully set the Matador up for futher big things in the future. Take my advice - buy Jessy's tunes, bung them in the car, wind the windows down and play them at full volume as you cruise down your regional high street. You will get admiring glances for sure!

Now what the heck are the French going to send next year?

Tout Le Monde!

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

Heroes of Eurovision 2010: Peter Nalitch

The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual carnival of all that's great and not so great in the world of pop from all corners of of the continent. But every year there's a small handful of songs by acts who don't look like they should really be there. Acts that you'd listen to in the real world, who sneak into your consciousness and end up becoming firm favourites for many years to come. The 2010 incarnation of the contest was no exception, with a small clump of crackers hidden among more deliberate Europop.

But no one had a rougher ride of it this year than Russia's sublime song contest candidate Peter Nalitch.

I first came across the man at this year's Russian national final. The show itself was a splendid confection, full of dark ballads, intense Slavic pop and of course those fabulous Babushkas. But smack in the middle of a thoroughly entertaining 25 song battle came Nalitch's morbid bamboozler Lost & Forgotten.

Instantly darkening the tone with its understated bar room, almost jazz tinged folk, I almost dashed to the loo, thinking it to be a handy mid-contest wee break. But suddenly, from out of nowhere as the chorus kicked in, burst a joyful hound's howl of a backing vocal, and I abated my trip to see where this curiosity was going.

Then came the middle bit - a weird call and response interlude between the guitarist (spoken) and the fella out front (sung in a plaintive falsetto) as he stared into an unseen photograph. And it was brilliant. By the time the song had built up to its last few bars of over-emotive plod-and-roll bombast I was hooked - standing on the sofa and singing along. That's the last we'll see of that, I thought. But I was so glad that we'd been given the chance to share it.

But then, at the climax of the voting came to pass, something weird happened. It won. By a street. And the crowd were going absolutely bonkers for it. There was more to this Nalitch fella than met the eye, and I had to find it out.

It turns out that the lad himself was something of a phenomenon in his home country. The nation's first true internet celebrity, his home made clip for his song Gitar - filmed by him and a few of his mates and sung in a quaintly clunky pigeon English - had gone absolutely bonkers on YouTube, propelling him to an unexpected fame. He was also something of an all round good guy, giving away any new songs to his fans via his website long before he released them commercially. He's also broadcast live gigs onto the net from his Moscow flat via Russia's RuTube broadcasting site.

So, the kind of interesting and thoughtful act that Eurovision fans would take to their hearts, you would think. Not on your nelly. A huge swathe of them just didn't get the wry, dark humour. Rather than seeing it as an intelligent and deadpan post-modern ballad, performed in the style of a late sixties degenerate intellectual student band, they just thought it was dull. "It must be a fix!", some bleated, assuming that it was some localised version of My Lovely Horse, chosen because the Russians didn't want to hold the contest again. "It's boring and depressing!" yet more chimed - and went on to boo their every performance on the big Oslo stage - especially when it was announced that it got through to the final.

But what do they know. Those of us who were lucky enough to get into the gig Nalitch and his chums played at the Russian party in Oslo witnessed a well-rounded band with a set load of intelligently funny songs, and some teary-eyed, sing-along Moscow ballads. Anyone who's visited Russia will have heard the older breed of this kind of stuff permanently pumping out of the collective radios in any market or shopping neighbourhood. It's fabulously, entertaining, brilliantly mawkish intellectual drinking songs, and you could do worse that to head off to his site and download anything you can find.

What do them fanboys know, eh?!

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Friday, 30 April 2010

Generation XYZ

I've just been rooting around my collection of vinyl albums to see if they were getting musty in a little visited corner of my from room. There I came across an album that at the time of buying was the greatest single musical artefact I'd ever owned. Actually I'd still rate it up in the top half dozen. That album was Get Action! by a little-known but majorly loved Japanese rock'n'roll band called Teengenerate. Prior to stepping into the late lamented Replay records back in the middle of 1995, in an underpass just off the Homeless Donut in the centre of Bristol, I didn't know the band even existed. But while flicking through the racks after some other band beginning with T who sadly elude me now, I was dazzled in my tracks by what I still reckon to be one the best record sleeves I've ever seen. That's it over to the right. Cracking, isn't it.

Four Japanese mop tops in tight jeans standing glued on front of a Yakuza movie poster? What isn't to like. 

I've got a bad habit of buying an album for its cover alone - but have a pretty good hit rate. I figured and disc with a cover this good must surely belong to a right doosie of a band, but I wasn't prepared for the fabulous racket that belted through the stylus of my cheap old Matsui when I placed it gently onto the black shiny plastic.A stunning seventeen slabs of pounding garage punk noise hurtled off the record at me at breakneck speed - and every one of them under the magic three minute mark. Indeed, so quick were they all that I'd scarcely settled in my chair before I had to leap up and turn the record over (these were the old days, folks). After that I stayed on my feet and leap about a bit and kept turning and turning until I forgot which side I was listening to.

The sounds on Get Action! were fabulous. It's one of the most rustically recorded albums you'll ever hear. Each song sounds like it was laid down on selotape and rubbed with a musty brillo pad. The vocals, drums and scratchy guitars all merge into one, and sometimes you're not sure which bit is what. And then there's the lyrics. For the first few plays I assumed they were in Japanese, but soon it dand on me that no, this was English - but like no English I'd ever heard before. Indeed, the version of Shake, Rattle & Roll that closes the selection was so unhinged that it took me a couple of listens before I even realised what it was.

That was it, I had a new obsession. I swiftly ran out and got their next platter - the compilation Smash Hits!! It didn't have the same fantastic production values as my new favourite album, but it was still a cracker. There was even news of them coming to play in England - but they were so underground, by the time I found out where, it had already happened.

The following year, Fifi, Fink, Sammy and Shoe folded the band. But I guess the perfect teenaged rock and roll bands should burn bright and die quick, but I'm still dead miffed I never got to see them. Mind you, they've recently reformed for a couple of quick tours. It might not be the same now that they're creeky twenty-somethings, but I'm sure it'll still be a marvellous thing to behold!

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Monday, 26 April 2010

Argentine Delights

Towards the end of last summer, the community arts centre up the end of my road put on what it billed as a punk night, with a Camden style market and a barrage of great bands. I figured that must be worth the small trot up the lane, but unfortunately it was a little disappointing. The market turned out to be one t-shirt stall and a couple of charity leaflet tables, while the bands were mainly a sorry collection of MySpace-source Busted alikes, headlined by the ace Bristol old skool punk band The Bolsheviks - who'd already played a free show earlier that eve, so quite understandably prove to be much of a punter draw.

But smack in the middle of this disappointment was a short half hour of absolute pop beauty. I can only assume that they were either booked by mistake, or as favour to a friend, but Las Kellies from Buenos Aires were an absolute delight.

Four girls dressed up as tubes of toothpaste singing songs about flying to their sister's weddings and sitting up trees in a smashing popped up blend of The Slits, The Raincoats and The Go-Gos, they held the few shuffling gig goers in their thrawl from start to finish.

I had a quick chat with them after their show and they were equally great fun to talk to. It turned out they had decided to play their way around Europe, and were smack in the middle of the tour - which seems like just about the best kind of holiday imaginable! I immediately grabbed a copy of their then most recent disc, Kalimera, which saw the girls as demon ninjas on the cover, and have been playing it most weeks ever since. Their simple, happy-go-luck charm is properly addictive, and I reckon you might enjoy it too.

So go pay them an internet visit, buy one of their three fabulous albums, and try and convince them to get back over. You'd just love it if they did!

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