Monday, 17 January 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed, Get Freakier

For regular students of the early stages of the Eurovision Song Contest qualification period, there's one moment above any other that fills them with rapt anticipation - what the hell is Sasha Bognibov going to send in this year?! Every year this willowy gothic popster with a camp walk and a killer pout sends in a couple of songs to the Moldovan application process in the hope of finally being selected, but every year he sadly misses out... although when you hear his songs you might be able to understand why. (And be warned if you do venture to click on the links here, because some of them make uncomfortable listening!)

His first attempt back in 2008, the title of which we'll abreviate just so that we don't end up on any kind of register or internet watchlist, caused an immediate stir. In fact it was one of the most breathtaking debuts in Eurovision history. I Love The Girls... was a staggeringly dangerous love song to the female youth of Moldova. A wobbily, funereal techno ballad, punctuated by Sasha's ghostly falsetto, it instantly drew howls of derision from around the continent. But it's understated swing proved to be a proper earworm, and you only needed to hear it the once to have it tattooed permanantly on your internal jukebox. You just didn't want to be singing it absent-mindedly down the local Safeways.

Funnily enough it wasn't selected for the televised stages.

But that didn't put Sasha off, and the following year he had another stab with a couple more songs - the most interesting being Knocking On Julie's Heart. He even got a German friend to make a video of him strutting around the sights of Chisinau and moodily air-grabbing in ruined buildings while daubed in enough eyeliner to make The Cure blush. Julie was a slightly less controversial choice than his previous effort. A more traditional ballad with a proper arrangement and lots of angst, the boy Bognibov kept his now trademark high voice and over-annunciated English, but occasionally slipped into moments of growly goth-metal rap and even strayed occasionally into soprano territory. It was a curious oddity, but strangely likable - and certainly more accessable than his other entry that year, the more trancy but somewhat unsettling and eccentrically autotuned Fuck Me Once

Funnily enough neither were selected for the televised stages.

For 2010's effort he went down a more sophisticated route, tapping a kind of piano bar goth swing groove with Do You Like My Sexy Lips. But despite having a hook nearly as infectious as his debut, its lyrical matter still managed to creep out music fans across the continent without them really even knowing why. While it was probably his most accessible stab at a slot on the big one, it still wasn't selected for the televised stages.


But as unsuccessful as his frequent attempts had been, he was beginning to gather a cult following. UK gossip site Popbitch has deemed him their favourite Moldovan and publish news of his every move, and the slightly more leftfield ESC fans (and yes, there is such a thing) have elevated him to almost godlike status. So the news that his relentless annual march to Eurovision ignominy had continued on to 2011 was met with much glee, and the song that he hoped would finally get him to experience his big day in the sun was strangely to revisit the themes that first brought him to our attention, albeit in a far beefier wrapper. Do You Know I Love A Girl? features for the first time some beefed up Rammstein-esque guitars and a full on band arrangement, only this time the girl in question is a year older.

Again there has been much indignation outside of Moldova about the song's subject matter, but strangely very little of the same hoo-haa back home. It could be that the customs and social politics of the country are so far removed from ours that his songs barely raise an eyebrow of dissent. Or perhaps he is too far down the musical foodchain for his countrymen to even notice he exists. But he doesn't seem to be having his windows bricked in the same way that anyone attempting such lyrics would over here. Indeed, despite some of the more unhinged sounding subject matter, there is an innocence and naivity running through his songs that make you want to grudgingly like him, despite your better judgement. He seems an intensly serious young man, so perhaps there's something in it that we just don't understand? Maybe it's intellectual beyond our ken? The product of a dark, superior humour. Or perhaps he's is just weird after all?

But this year the wider continent might just get the chance to experience his dubious concoctions. Rumour has it that the take up for this year's Moldovan Song For Europe competition is pretty low, and they're struggling to get enough half decent songs to fill up their semi-finals. So could we finally see our unlikely anti-hero on an international stage? It would certainly kick up a bit of a fuss now, wouldn't it!

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

System Addict

When I was doing a little spot of freelancing the other week I had the pleasure of sharing an office with a young chap who is obsessed with collecting old prog and glam rock records on vinyl and playing them at open deck nights. He's travelled around the world looking for rare slabs of black plastic, and likes to share his wares to his fellow workers. Obviously the quality is variable, and not to everyone's tastes, but it's always an interesting listen at the very least.

But there was one song that really struck a chord with me and I had to find out more. That song was called Carmen Brasilia, and the band was called Anarchic System. Now ordinarily you'd expect a band by that name to be some crusty Latin American anarcho punk band, but instead they were a moustachioed French glam rock band from the early 1970s. And what a dash they cut in their satin loons and fluffy feathered hairdos.


But despite their foppish period looks, they were more than just a comedy pop act. Indeed, they were among the earliest pioneers of the electronic music scene, being one of the first bands to popularise the Moog in mainland Europe. Indeed, their debut single was a curious vocal cover version of Popcorn, the instrumental Gershon Kingsley tune made famous by Hot Butter in 1972. Indeed, despite the latter version going on to be the 191st best selling French single of all time, and there being a huge dusting of similar sounding covers for the next few years, Anarchic System's version still shifted a respectable 700,000 copies across Europe, and attracted the attention of major labels the world over.

Their follow up was the tune that lured me to their singular sound, Carmen Brasilia. Dubbed The New Popcorn, it was clearly an attempt to cash in on the popularity of their first release, and shared similar themetic elements, but it had a unique edge all if its own. Based losely on the main theme from Bizet's opera Carmen, it was a marvel of descending plinky-plonk pop, and is a lost gem of the early glam era.

But despite their success in the field, they had heavier aspirations, and cited Uriah Heep, Warhorse and even Black Sabbath among their influences. Their rockier output never quite hit the public nerve in the same way that their earliest singles did, but they still soldiered on for six years until 1978, releasing three great albums, Pussycat C'est La Vie, Generation and the fabulously titled Sugar Baby Mission Space Recording and a string of fine singles. And while they may be remembered more for their slightly cheesy looks than their top tunes, they've got a body of work that is worth further investigation. And if you ever see any of their discs in an antiquarian record shop, snap 'em up quick. I know a young chap who will be forever in your debt if you do.

All photos © lays with the owners
Videos from YouTube. Underlying © lays with the owners of the clips.