Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Benjamin vs The Age of Disposability


A link from a friend. A tour announcement. Two new movie trailers. A long form article. An album stream. A film review. A breaking news story. An interview. A viral video. A new podcast. A book recommendation. A ‘best of’ list. Competitions! Sales! Fuuuuuck!
It's just hit seven am, and even before my first sip of cheap instant coffee I am dangerously at risk of my brain melting out through my ear holes, and not just because of how great the new Julian Casablancas album I am midway through streaming sounds. A majority of the blame goes to the various social media feeds flinging content my way at ludicrously unbearable levels. And It never stops.

So why exactly do I put myself through it, then? Can I not just choose to look away? Do I have some kind of sick addiction? Is it time for a good ole' fashioned 'social media intervention'? Maybe. But I also think there is something far more important going on here.
Only recently, I woke up to the fact that online content, in its many forms, had officially taken the place of the morning newspaper. Now, however, instead of walking out through the front door, half-dressed and bare foot, stumbling zombie-like across the lawn to retrieve the daily addition of the City News, I can simply roll over, tap the screen of my smart phone and scroll through the hundreds of new developments that have occurred the world over since my head last hit the pillows. Usually, it's a whole helluva lot to take in through my foggy - occasionally groggy - early morning daze.
One news item may appear multiple times over across various news feeds, with each featuring links to numerous sites offering up the very same story, though often from extremely different viewpoints. This is most definitely a positive. We are insanely spoilt for choice when it comes to the information we receive. And so we should be. I mean, why settle for the Fox News version of any given story when there are so many other - saner - options?
As the avenues for choice regarding online news content continue to expand, however, so too have the avenues for almost everything else. This is where, along with the pros, the cons begin to show their ugly faces. The most glaring downside is the really most obvious, at least for me - stuff no longer sticks in the mind like it used to. And it's because of this sad truth that many are now referring to our modern information age as 'the age of disposability'.
One area close to my heart that appears to be suffering in this regard is the world of Cinema. To illustrate, allow me to take you back to a great year for film: 1994. If you were to ask me what my favourites during that rather impressive twelve month period were, there would be little hesitation to my answer:  Just off the top of my head, there was Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers and Ed Wood (I still think Shawshank Redemption is overrated - sue me).

Now, if you were  to ask me the same question relating to any recent year, I would honestly struggle to conjure up any kind answer. But why? Do I think the quality of cinematic fare has dipped of late? No, not really. It's just that twenty, hell, even ten years ago, there was a build-up and anticipation that would keep a film somewhere in the front of one’s mind, not only leading up to its initial release, but also long after viewing the finished product. Simply put, there wasn't an avalanche of content diluting the experience - or helping to erase the films from the mind completely.
Things are very different now. There is so much out there now that I often struggle to remember when the recent films I liked/loved even arrived on our screens... Was Drive 2012 or 2011? The Master was only released a year ago, right? And what of the masterpieces I may have somehow missed? Will I ever find the time for them?

Honestly, who the fuck knows… The only thing I am really sure of any more is that films are now but a small component of an overcrowded wave of information and entertainment that's damn near impossible to keep up. For a borderline-crazy cinefile like myself, this is proving to be increasingly problematic.
A quick search through the occasionally reliable IMDB reveals that in 1994, 3165 films were released theatrically. Alternatively, in 2013, 8769 films were released, via a variety of platforms: DVD, bluray, iTunes, and VOD among them. Because of the substantial increase in numbers, films that at one time may have been on people's radars, either because of their quality (Cold in July, Blue Ruin, Listen Up, Philip) or controversy (Cheap Thrills, God Bless America), no longer are. In fact, if a movie like Bobcat Goldthwait’s brilliant God Bless America were released at an earlier point in time, there is no way it could have managed to keep such a low profile, given the uproar it would likely have caused with the more sensitive and/or right leaning members of the American public. 

Music, sadly, sits in a similar boat. There are so many bands out there releasing new or re-issued work that a large chunk of it can't help but fall by the way side. I mean, with the exception of Arcade Fire, has any band from the last five years built up a large enough profile to command a headlining spot at a major music festival? Probably not, and the reasons are much the same - it's harder to standout in such a content-heavy world. From a listeners perspective, it is nigh on impossible to find the time to see and hear it all... and to not forget about it when the next shiny thing inevitably comes along.
Last year, I attempted to post quarterly lists of the music I had recently heard and loved. Challenging doesn't begin to cover it - after making the lists I would, without fail, discover around ten or so other albums/bands I had somehow missed out on along the way. Like films, great music is constantly at risk of being lost amongst the massive, soon-to-be-forgotten herd.

I am not alone when it comes to (over)thinking about all this, either. On a recent episode of his podcast, author Bret Easton Ellis broached the subject, making mention of a recent article by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott. In the article, Scott posed the question "What does it even mean to be a cinefile anymore in such a disposable culture?"  Ellis, quite the film buff himself, admitted to initially felling "kind of shitty" upon reading the article, actually going as far as giving serious consideration to the idea that perhaps A.O. may just  have a point. Thankfully, he just as quickly snapped out of this negative mind-frame, realising that it is now more important than ever to be a supporter of film, given the present state of things. 

I couldn't agree more.

Look, I will always hate the idea that great films - along with great music and literature, for that matter - could ever possibly be considered only short term distractions. I don't want any form of worthy art to be diluted, or worse, forgotten. I want fans to remain passionate. I want interest to be sustained.  I am not ready to surrender to the idea that cinema is dying, that new bands are doomed, that novels no longer have a place.  And it is because of this that I will continue watching, reading and hearing all that I possibly can, no matter how colossal the wave of content ultimately becomes.

Either that, or I'll drown in the process.


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Return To Big Sound


There are many reasons I love attending gigs and festivals, but positioned firmly at the top of that list is the whole "discovery" aspect of it all. Very few things get me wetter than randomly stumbling across a band I had no idea existed, only to be transformed into a salivating, borderline-psychotic fan over the course of their set.
I often repeat to friends, ad nauseam, the story of how I once came across a tent located on the outer edges of some now long-forgotten music festival. Stopping in for what I only planned to be a brief gander, I was met with the sight of three noisy unknowns putting on a show so intense it almost made everyone else playing that day seem unquestionably lame in comparison. I was won over immediately, and in the weeks and months to follow I made every effort to keep track of these inspiring young fellows, utterly convinced that they somehow were going to be the next big thing.

The band I saw that fateful day was a pre-lightshow, pre-theatrical, pre-crap version of Muse. And while I could give two shits about the Muse of today, the feeling I had upon first seeing them all those many moons ago is the very feeling I continue to chase at any festival I am lucky enough to attend. And this, in essence, goes a long way in explaining the over-the-top feelings of pure, undiluted love I have for Big Sound, the annual festival/showcase that plays out very much like a little brother version of Austin’s  SXSW Festival - that awesome sense of discovery.
Last year, I attended Big Sound for the very first time... hey, better late than never, right? There were countless glowing reports from many of my like-minded, live-music-loving friends and acquaintances over the years, but somehow the stories were still not enough to push me into actually showing up. Well, at least until 2012. After many failed attempts and empty promises, I finally got around to making my way into the belly of the dirty two-day musical beast, located right in the heart of the always welcoming, family-friendly Fortitude Valley.
What transpired was a fun, lively and inspiring experience.... though it could hardly be called perfect.  It is never advisable to attend two nights at Big Sound - or any festival, for that matter - without first getting time off work, which is already painful enough without the addition of a relentless hangover.

So, with that in mind, I decided early on that this year I would not be rushing home midway through the last set of the night, or worse, passing up the after parties in a misguided attempt to make the last train home. This time, I would be attending Big Sound as it was meant to be attended  - with a complete disregard for time, day or personal health and safety. If I want to be drunk and deranged at Alhambra Lounge at three o'clock on a Thursday morning, then so fucking be it!

When the first day of this years event finally rolled around, I stumbled out of the office with an unfamiliar sense of optimism. For the first time since, well, the last Big Sound, I was actually looking forward to the rest of the week, for once not feeling paralysed by the horrific thought of having to survive two more days in my air-conditioned nightmare. My working week was over.

Over a few post-work,  pre-Big Sound drinks, I began to look over this year's program, making attempts to recall the bands I had seen the previous year. I reached for my iPhone, vaguely remembering taking notes during the previous year's shenanigans for inclusion in a blog post that never came to be.

Oddly, the drunken notes I soon found listing the venues visited on each of the two days, but absolutely nothing about the actual bands I saw. If I could give you any kind of explanation as to why I did this, then believe me, I would...

I promised myself that this year would be different: I would take actual, detailed notes relating to the bands I saw, regardless of how many beers I ended up consuming. In a move very out of character for me, I actually ended up sticking to my promise. Listed below are the resulting entries from night one of Big Sound. Some of it actually makes sense. And the rest? Eh...
Night One

Fabian, Kelly and myself,  probably the most pathetically indecisive group in existence, take a little over half an hour to decide where we are going to start. After an extended period of procrastination, we collectively decide  to move over and catch Billy Bragg at Baker Lane.

Upon arriving, we are met with the line up from hell and a fifteen minute wait to get in. Eventually, we are let into the venue, where we quickly endeavour to move ourselves into a position where we are lucky enough to get a great view... of Billy's arm, and occasionally the top of his head.

It matters not, though, because the songs are loud and clear, and they're amazing. One of the great things about events like Big Sound is that the crowd is actually here to watch the music. The Billy Bragg crowd hang off every line, every note. But really, how could you not? Every person in attendance is completely transfixed... even those of us who can only see his goddamn arm.

09:20 pm
Post-Bragg, we head down the road a little to Electric Playground in order to catch the rest of the Dune Rats set.
Because I have seen Dune Rats multiple times before, it doesn't really bother me that the place packed to the gills, and that any chance of seeing anything at all is an impossible dream.

Defeated, I grab a beer and settle for simply listening to what sounds like another great set. Sometimes being a little vertically challenged can be a real fucking bummer.

Yes, queue the violins...

10:00 pm
Somewhat reluctantly, we head over to Rics to catch Bad//Dreems. I say "reluctantly" not because of the venue or the band, but rather due to how insanely crowded the front bar/stage area can get during Big Sound sets.
Luckily, we time our arrival perfectly. For one, the front bar is empty, which allows us to grab some awesomely positioned seats to the left of the stage. Of course, when the band get going, the last thing I want to do is sit... 
The area in front of the stage predictably grows more and more crowded, so much so that being inappropriately rubbed up against by one hundred sweaty strangers simply becomes unavoidable. While I wouldn't go as far a comparing it to catching public transport at peak hour, it's still pretty fucking crammed.

I emerge from the crowd around half an hour later, drenched in sweat and booze and God knows what else. I would have been disappointed if my first time seeing Bad//Dreems ended any other way.

10:50 pm
We decide to head back to Electric Playground to catch Bleeding Knees Club. This plays out very much the same way as the Dune Rats experience from earlier in the evening (in other words, I see nothing). Frustrated, I head off for  a long overdue toilet break.

While standing at the urinals, I somehow find myself in a random conversation with a complete stranger about, among other things, our shared artistic aspirations, being at the age we are without having achieved our goals (I don't mention the fact that I'm likely ten years older and thus, twice as fucking bummed out about my lack of advancement in the area) and last but not least, death. Yes - all very uplifting stuff.

Ten minutes and another Canadian Club later, I grow impatient with the crowds and choose to make a break for it, taking off in the direction of Alhambra Lounge for the I Oh You after party.

11:50 pm

In my Canadian Club-induced haze, I mistakenly turn up waaay too early for the after party.

This turns out to be for the best, though, because Gay Paris are on, and they're the very definition of fun. They put on such an great show, in fact, that I forget for a brief moment that I'm here for the after party at all.

The time for the after party finally arrives, with Philadelphia Grand Jury  kicking it all off with a set that I am only able to see snippets of in the brief moments I am not either a) lined up for the bar or b) struggling through the intimidatingly attractive crowd in a desperate dash for the bathroom.

Midway through the PGD set, my body starts to ache, telling me in a not-so-subtle way that it might be time to call it a night. My response - more Canadian Club! (Thursday will not be pretty).

I manage to soldier on until around 2:30 am, when I finally decide to chuck it in for the evening/morning. There is, after all, a whole other night to go, and I highly it's possible to consume any more booze than I already have.

With that, I head on home for some much needed shut-eye, already preparing myself for round two in around about twelve hours from now...*

* So, the original plan was to have a "to be continued..." at this point, with a follow-up post focusing on the Thursday night to come soon after. However, my memories of night #2 are vague at best, and any report on the events of that evening would only be pieced together, with minimal accuracy, from photos, (more) unintelligible notes on my phone, and equally foggy recollections from friends I was in attendance with. Given that, I have decided to skip that entry all together and simply say with the utmost confidence that it was a great end to a great festival. Or so the photos on my phone tell me...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Your Local Multiplex: The Ultimate Experience In Gruelling Terror

There is a scene midway through the film God Bless America that I probably shouldn't admit to finding as hysterically funny as I do, given the events of the past year. But to hell with it, it is only a movie, and if one can't laugh along with a work of fiction simply because it happens to mirror recent real life tragedy, then surely the bad guys have won... or something... right??

The scene in question involves the films protagonists, Frank (Joel Murray, brother of Bill) and Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), taking a break from their cross country, reality-television-celebrity-murder-spree to kick back and enjoy a film within a seemingly quiet multiplex. What eventuates within those cinema walls - rude, ignorant, inconsiderate asshole patrons being violently dispatched of one by one, is darkly funny, especially to those of us who have ever had to sit smack-bang in the middle of a cinema overflowing with groups of loud, obnoxious bastards fucking up the experience for the rest of us.

Now this is certainly not to say I would ever think of disposing of these jerks in such a grisly manner - a more realistic and relatable example of where my mind drifts to in these unpleasant moments can be found within the pilot episode of Californication, where, during a solo-trip to the cinema struggling writer Hank Moody (David Duchovny) angrily removes a phone from the hands of the obnoxious douche-bag cinema parton talking loudly in front of him, eventually hurling the offending handset across the room and smashing it into a million pieces. As a grand finale, he then wrestles the owner of said phone to the ground, much to the delight of the audience in attendance. Classic stuff.

Now, I count myself as a fairly serious movie goer/buff/nerd, with my visits to catch a flick on the big screen being on the upper-end of regular. Yet, no matter how many times I've been made to sit next to some ghastly cretin intent on destroying my afternoon, I  still naively continue to hand over my hard earned cash in exchange for a cinema ticket, deliriously optimistic that the experience will turn out to be a positive one.

Unfortunately, more often than not, there will be all manner of horrors waiting for me beyond those cinema doors.

It can all be a bit of a bummer at times, given the fact I love nothing more than experiencing a great film by a great director on a massive screen, backed up by an absolutely kick ass sound system, just the way the filmmaker intended. Sadly, it's starting to feel as if the days of sitting down with an audience displaying any level of respect for the entire cinema-going experience are quickly disappearing into the ether, and that once-obeyed message played in cinemas all over the globe advising those in attendance to "please turn off their motherfucking mobile phones" is now as ignored as anti-drug warnings at a Summer music festival, or Paul Shore at an Academy Awards Ceremony.

So, who or what is to blame for the alarming increase in horrible patrons? I mean, obviously, people have always been dicks, and dicks enjoy movies as much as anyone else. It just seems that lately, the dick/non-dick ratio has shifted, with a higher percentage now positioned firmly over on the dick side of the fence.

The most blatantly obvious reason for all this, to my mind at least, appears to be the shortening of attention spans the world over. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, sitting down to watch a great film on a big screen while consuming bucket loads of buttered popcorn simply isn't enough. Things have been steadily tumbling downhill, and fast, to the point where now, a great deal of the population can no longer so much as take a dump without tweeting about it (or heaven forbid Instagramming it).

Even those who are able to manage a little social-media self-control during a films runtime can still be both visibly and audibly restless.  A large of the modern movie going public, it seems, have grown so accustomed to watered down, lifeless, CGI-crammed crap, that anything produced with a little heart or originality is usually dismissed out of hand.

I still remember one particularly painful Sunday afternoon back in 2011. I had decided to make my way to the nearby moron-magnet of a multiplex to catch Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, a film I had been looking forward to for quite sometime. Twenty or so minutes into the film, I began to notice awkward shuffling throughout the crowd. It soon got to the point where any scene in the film not involving a fast car was met with either sighing, whispering, or flat-out conversations about the lack of fast cars.

The only time the audience actually shut the fuck up and sat still was during the sudden bursts of brutal violence scattered throughout the film. I guess there's nothing like the sight of Ryan Gosling crushing in some dude's skull with his boot to force an audience to behave.

A couple of days after the screening, I stumbled across an article about a useless waste of space from Michigan who was suing the distributors of Drive for what she claimed was a "misleading trailer". The preview in question had, according to this zombie, presented the film as a "Fast and the Furious" style action piece, not the stylish cinematic triumph it actually turned out to be.

My reaction to the story was neither surprise, nor amusement, nor anger. It was acceptance. This is the headspace a great many members of today’s cinema-going audiences now reside in.

Another recent, similarly asinine example is a story involving some senseless dumb-fuck who thought it only fair to file a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority against Hollywood Studio Paramount Pictures because... wait for it... an explosion that made a split second appearance in the trailer for the film Jack Reacher did not find its way into the final 130 minute cut of the film. A COMPLAINT. FILED. FOR A MISSING EXPLOSION. Yes. This. Actually. Happened.

If the above stories serve any purpose at all (besides providing fleeting amusement), it is to help to make sense of why certain people or groups act the way they do within the cosy confines of the local multiplex. It's because of the very same reason shows like The Biggest Loser remain ratings mammoths, why Justin Bieber continues to sell millions upon millions of albums, and why planking was once "a thing": Simply put, a great percentage of the human race are insufferable morons. Nothing new, really. The late, great George Carlin said it best decades ago: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realise half of them are stupider than that". Disturbing, depressing, true.

The whole "Drive" scenario has continued to happen countless times since that particular cinema outing, and while it is annoying, I have found ways to minimise the possibility of having another great film ruined, mainly by avoiding big-time modern multiplexes altogether. While smaller cinema chains and boutique art house theatres may be steadily decreasing in numbers, they are still out there, and are a refreshing alternative, especially considering that, more often than not, the audiences in attendance are there because they fucking well wanna be, not because they are just "killing time." It's hard to imagine finding a  tweeting teen sitting in the audience of an art house cinema watching Michael Haneke's Amour, correct?

If you pride yourself on being even a semi-serious cinema goer, isn't it best to give the film you're planning on seeing the respect it deserves, by watching it with an audience worthy of it's time? Where possible, why not leave the larger commercial multiplexes for the uncaring tweeters, tweekers, texters and talkers, happy to sit and barely watch the latest in a never ending line of crap-tastic crowd pleasers.

If, however, you're only choice is the multiplex, as is the case in many parts of the country, then you had better hope to high hell that you have your own Hank Moody in the audience, ready and willing to knock the problem patrons on their fat asses, and hopefully before the start of the Coming Attractions.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Keeping Inspired in the 9 to 5 World

That damn alarm first thing in the morning is absolutely my worst enemy on this planet. There is no birds-are-chirping-it’s-a-beautiful day-in-the-neighbourhood crap upon hearing that horrible fucking thing come to life in the early a.m. My hatred for it cannot be overstated.

I have made attempts to improve my “morning alarm experience" by setting songs that are alive with raw attitude, such as McClusky’s “To Hell with Good Intentions”, to play just as the time arrives for me to emerge from my dream state and re-enter the cold, shitty real world. Sadly, it does little to help. In fact, I have come to hate “To Hell with Good Intentions”, now forever associated with those rude, unwanted wake-ups.

For the first few hours after my alarm, my outlook usually remains dour, especially when it comes to the horrors I will inevitably be facing outside my apartment on any given weekday:  crammed buses, street-walking sales people, junkies attempting to bum change, and, most prominently, endless office drones, looking more like extras from The Walking Dead than actual living, breathing human beings, mournfully making their way to one of many office buildings spread out across the city - it’s all painful, soul-crushing stuff. Oh, and speaking of soul-crushing, let’s not forget about that little destination we're all hurriedly making our way towards - work. Ah yes, work - the glorious, time-killer/life-waster that for many of us, usually takes place between the hours of nine to five.

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying this whole "work" thing I just made reference to really only serves a single purpose: paying the bills (barely). That is where my interest begins and ends. Beyond that, it only keeps me from spending my days doing anything I actually enjoy.

The depressing daily grind can really get to you, especially if you're not really designed for the line of work in which you now find yourself. Many, like myself, no doubt stumbled into their respective jobs as a means to an end, a stepping stone, or a temporary source of income until something better and more promising came along. But time has a funny way of disappearing into the ether, and before you know it, you will have been sitting at the same desk, working in the same factory, or waiting the same tables, for more years than you care to remember (or admit to).

Worse, getting bogged down working a thankless job can lead to your real passion fading into the abyss, long before you even realise it. Then, one lonely night, sitting on your couch, watching Conan and enjoying a quiet nightcap, your mind will randomly flash back to a better time, a happier time, and for a brief, sad moment, you will remember that you were once a much more interesting person.
I have found myself in the very same position, on more than one occasion... It is a strange feeling to suddenly recall and miss something you hadn't realised had even gone away, until that painful moment when memories of the real you come rushing back.

Hopefully, this quick flashback to a better version of you will be enough to kick-start you into once again getting yourself back on the right path. If a little more motivation is required, trying thinking about what the eighteen year old version of yourself would think if he or she were ever unlucky enough to somehow look into the future and catch a glimpse of the present-day version. Would they be happy, or would they not think twice about taking a dive off the nearest roof and ending it all right then and there?

What also works, as I recently found out, is an honest, no-bullshit, just-the-hard-facts style talking to / lecture courtesy of a concerned - and understandably frustrated - friend. It may feel like a cold, hard slap to the face, but damn if it doesn't work. Bottom line, if you're not in a job that is your passion or your dream; one that fills you with an absolute joy for life, then at the very least try spending a few hours outside of said job doing something that is. It will make one helluva difference to your whole outlook.

All this is easier said than done, though. Whether your bag is painting, volunteer work, bondage nights, or writing a shitty blog that no one reads, keeping motivated enough to continue pursuing that special something you actually enjoy – the reason you feel you were put on this earth - while spending five days a week in an air-conditioned nightmare, can prove quite the challenge.

Let's take my typical working day, for example - Usually, it will take me until around about eleven
am to reach a point I would consider “fully awake” (again - not a morning person). Then, around one - post-coffee, post - lunch, when the blood is flowing and focus finally returns, inspiration will finally begin to kick in - not for anything actually work-related, mind you, just the post-work activities I actually give a shit about. The important stuff.

From here, the struggle will be to then hold onto this inspiration until the clock strikes five, and even after this, there will be further hurdles, the most glaring of which will be the strong desire to partake in a little post-office relaxation time. Avoiding the couch, in particular, is far from easy;  it's pretty damn tempting to head straight to a comfortable three-seater after eight straight hours of soul-crushing, mental ass-fuckery.

On the days where I am personally able to pass the "couch test", there are still further considerations – cooking dinner, washing those dishes that are now stacked all the way to the ceiling, doing something about that pile of clothing that has somehow grown into something resembling Everest.

After all those obstacles are out of the way, it will finally be time to focus on my passion profect. At this point, however, it will likely not be early, and by the time I am finally on some kind of a roll, the unwanted realisation will hit that it’s now about five hours until I have to get up and do the whole "work" thing all over again. This is the part I struggle with the most - cutting myself off to get a little shut eye before doing it all again the following day.

If I am motivated enough to stick to this schedule,  I will find myself growing more and more zombie-like as the week progresses until, on Friday, I will enter through my front door to collapse on my couch to catch up on the sleep missed over the course of the last four days.

Surely there's a better way to pay the rent and follow your dreams right? Perhaps that is a better questions for Anthony Robins. As far as I'm concerned, there's really only two choices: 1) Quit your job, live like a true artist (poor and starving) and commit full time to your life’s dream, or 2) Stick with your job and learn to live with a complete lack of sleep, happy in the knowledge that you are not wasting the moments that truly count, the hours outside of 9am - 5pm.

For me, it will need to remain option two, at least for the time being, because livin’ ain’t cheap, and fuck it, sleep in overrated anyhow.

Besides, no matter how sleep deprived you ultimately are, or how much of a struggle it can all prove to be at times, it's a hell of a lot better than the alternative - finding yourself sitting alone on your couch late one night, well rested but desperately unhappy, reminiscing of a time long since passed, a time when you actually gave a damn about yourself.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The World Is a Better Place With The Replacements Around

I was late to The Replacements. Very late. Eighteen years after the fact, to be exact.

Sure, I was aware of their existence due to, among other things, occasional viewings of the black and white "Bastards of Young" video on late night television, or the fairly regular mentions and shout-outs from various artists I admired regarding the band’s massive influence. There were also countless articles and stories on this debauched group of young, drunken scallywags. For whatever reason, though, they did not actually have my full attention until the day I received an unlikely wakeup call courtesy of a guy by the name of Greg Mottola...

In 2009, two years after directing Superbad (a film that single handily reinvigorated my love of the teen comedy genre), Mottola unleashed his next cinematic gem onto the movie-going public, a little film called Adventureland.

Adventureland was more personal a film than Superbad; you could tell Mottola knew these characters: the employees of the theme park, in which a majority of the film takes place, were, no doubt at one time, his co-workers, the experiences were his experiences, the music these character's enjoyed was the music he enjoyed.

Ah, yes. The music.

Look, I'm just gonna come out and say it - Adventureland has, without a doubt, one of the best goddamn soundtracks I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Not only did I fall immediately for the characters and the movie in which they are contained, I was also hopelessly in love with the great collection of tunes featured throughout, which included (among others) Husker Du, Lou Reed, and of course, The Replacements, whose unbeatable "Bastards of Young" opens the film.

I recognised the song immediately, though at that point my familiarity with it may have had more to do with seeing Against Me! performing a killer version on their Live At The Key Club DVD, than with seeing the original black and white clip in my youth.

A little further into the film, Jessie Eisenberg's character James compliments Kristen Stewart's "Em" on her record collection ("Replacements, cool”). That brief throwaway line stuck in my mind, as did a scene toward the end of the film featuring Eisenberg staring out through the rainy windows of a bus destined for New York, while another Replacements tune, "Unsatisfied", plays over the visuals.

Immediately after my first viewing of the film, I took off to rabidly hunt down the very awesome soundtrack. Sadly, my long, persistent search through the city's many music stores did not prove successful. However, during my last stop at the usually reliably Rocking Horse Records, I came across a name that caught my attention: The Replacements. The CD in question was their greatest hits collection, Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? (which could not have been a better entry point to the band). And for under ten bucks! Jackpot!

A couple of hours later, I hit play while reading though the CD booklet, which contained not only a brief history of the band, (including their early days as Dogbreath), but also insightful details on each of the albums, stories of the notorious drinking, and references to shows (both good and bad), all of which painted a vivid picture of a band truly like no other.

The remarkable thing for me about this collection of amazing tunes was that there didn't appear to be any significant drop off in quality as I made my way through the chronologically sequenced tracks (unlike many other career-spanning greatest hits compilations). To my ears, from the first song to the last, it was perfection. There were certainly changes, sound-wise, but it was all good, positive progression. The compilation was even topped off with two new tracks, specifically recorded for inclusion on the set, both of which remarkably kept the quality levels as high as what had come before. One listen in, I was dedicated, devoted, and obsessed. I needed every single thing this great band had ever put to tape, and I needed it yesterday!

While it was somewhat maddening to me that I had taken so long to catch on to the complete and utter awesomeness that is The Replacements (or The ‘Mats, as they are affectionately known to their die hard fans)  I guess  I was meant to find them at the point in my life that I did. Given the reissues that were released around the same time, it wasn’t exactly the worst timing in the world.

The first albums I got my hands on (based purely on availability) were Tim (the highly-praised, Tommy Ramone-produced 4th LP) and Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (their mighty debut). I listened in that order, effectively starting Mid-career, then heading right back to the beginning.

Next I rounded up Let It Be (the 3rd LP and quite possibly the BEST.ALBUM.EVER.), followed by Stink (EP), and Pleased to Meet Me. Soon enough, the collection was complete.

Midway through all this, I knew I had found my new (old) favourite band.  There was a magical combination of music, attitude and personality within the music like no other. They were, by all accounts, a completely unpredictable quartet who were, on any given night, too drunk to play a note, or, alternatively, sober enough to pull off a completely life-changing show.

Luckily for late-starters like myself, this stuff has been well documented, whether it be from Michael Azerrad's This Band Could Be Your Life, Jim Walsh’s All Over But The Shouting, or Gorman Bechard's great documentary Color Me Obsessed, which, like the band itself, stands out from the crowd due to being defiantly different (in this particular case, containing no band member interviews or music, just first-hand accounts from fans, critics and admirers).

In the time since my first proper exposure to the band, rumours have surfaced here and there regarding potential reunions (including a possible Coachella performance in 2011 that, of course, never eventuated). However, the band have always played coy regarding such claims. Members have either been too focused on Solo Material (Paul & Tommy) busy playing in a lesser band (Tommy again) or have moved on from the music industry completely (Chris – now an amazing artist). Then there’s Bob, who sadly shuffled off this mortal coil back in '95.

Flashing forward to 2012, and through not very ideal circumstances, rumours slowly became reality, and, almost out of the blue, a reunion of sorts finally came to be, though not under ideal circumstances: Slim Dunlap (The Replacements post-Bob guitarist) sadly suffered a debilitating stroke that resulted in ongoing medical expenses.  It was decided that, in order to raise the money needed to cover these costs, the guys would reform (at least in the studio) to record an EP of covers, with all proceeds to go toward helping out their former band mate. Thus, the Songs For Slim project was born...

That brings us to right now, the eve of the EP's release. I can only imagine what the wait has been like for those who were with them from the beginning...

If you require any proof at all that a covers EP from The 'Mats makes for an exciting proposition, feel free to check out any number of cover versions from the back catalogue and listen first-hand to what it sounds like when a band completely fucking owns a song  originally written by another group (Kiss’s "Black Diamond" and The Only One's "Another Girl, Another Planet" among them) .

I am as excited, hell, more excited , to hear this EP than any other full length release this year. And there are A LOT of great albums coming out in 2013, trust me.

Anyway, you'll need to be excusing me now, as I’ve got some new Replacements to prepare myself for, and, come Monday, listen to. I suggest you do the same. You can thank me later.
Tommy Stinson (twitter): @tommy_stinson

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Albums Still Matter, Dammit!

I still buy albums.

That's right, you heard me! I am still a member of the ever-decreasing group of law-abiding music purchasing peeps who will gladly part ways with hard-earned cash in order to obtain an album of their choosing.

Now, let's get one thing straight - I'm not trying to talk myself up here. I simply feel the need to clarify this fact before diving directly into why I love the album format as much as I do. It would mean far less for me to sit here and profess my undying dedication to long players while simultaneously downloading the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album from Pirate Bay, would it not?

Now, If I'm being completely honest, the choice to not download really has S.F.A to do with the illegality of it all. At the end of the day, comes down to one thing, and one thing only -  to my personal preference to own the whole, complete package. A CD or Record full of great tunes simply feels incomplete without the booklet, artwork, linear notes, production credits, lyrics, etc etc etc. I'm a hopeless geek for the stuff.

Exceptions do, however, need to be made from time to time, with the main and most glaring example being those all too regular occurrences where no store in this crummy city has the good sense to stock the album I'm after. When these circumstances do arise, my impatience will often get the better of me, with itunes inevitably being my next port of call.

So, why am I still such a spaz for LP's ? It's simple, really - because I respect any band or artist who can, with the right selection of songs and sequencing, create a piece of work that flows, thrills, confronts, entertains, astounds, stuns and, in some cases, changes the listener. An album can take you on amazing journey; through a diverse array of moods, sounds and feelings.

Taking this into consideration, the gross argument that albums are a dated, dying format is one I'm more than willing to fight against.

My total and utter devotion to music began early(ish), even though, initially, a lot of the stuff I heard coming through the tiny, crackling speakers of my brother's double cassette player was... well, bad. In addition to the  crappy compilation tapes, I was also subjected to far more Bon Jovi than any mere mortal should ever have to endure. It wasn't all dire, though - there was also quite a bit of Springsteen floating around in the mix as well. I guess sometimes, you've just gotta take the good New Jersey artists with the really, really bad....

Once I hit my teens, as if right on cue, the musical landscape began to transform, and the long-overdue death of over-blown, ego-fueled hair metal cleared the way for another wave of music that turned the industry on it's big, fat, ugly head. With this welcome change, I was finally able to begin experiencing a different world; a world beyond the "Young Guns 2" soundtrack.

My own musical leanings came into sharp focus soon after, when a friend, whose tastes were developing at a slightly more accelerated rate than my own, lent me an album that had been released the previous year by a band with one of the oddest fucking names I had ever heard -  Smashing Pumpkins. The back cover of what I soon learnt was their second album, Siamese Dream, also revealed a wealth of oddly titled songs: "Geek USA", "Mayonnaise" and "Silverfuck" among them.

Placing the disk in the tray and turning the volume up to a level that I prayed would be acceptable to my death-metal obsessed younger brother living in the room next to mine, I waited with mild curiosity as the first track kicked off.

First came the drums...

Next, a brief, almost misleadingly gentle guitar part...

And then, finally -  loud, glorious, distortion!

And that was that. Barely a minute into "Cherub Rock", I was changed for good. For the next 62 minutes and 17 seconds, I experienced what could be best described as a musical awakening. The flood gates had opened, and what was up to that point a moderate enjoyment / passing interest in music suddenly transformed into total obsession.

Given the timing of this "awakening" (early - mid nineties), the avenues for discovering bands and seeking out their discographies were way-the-fuck limited in comparison to this glorious day and age in which we all now live. Usually, finding music was either through a) recommendations from friends; b) hearing a song on one of the two decent radio stations in existence at that time, or c) catching a film clip on "Rage" (once I saw Weezer playing at Arnold's Drive-in Chicken Stand under the amazing direction of Spike Jonze, they had a fan in me for life).

Back in my day (sadly, I think I have now reached the age where I can genuinely say that straight-faced), whenever a new album by a great band was unleashed on the world, it was something of an event. Perhaps it was because one had to try harder, travel longer, and put in way more goddamn effort to seek out the music. There was a helluva lot more involved than simply clicking a button on a mouse or touching the screen of your goddamn smart phone. You actually had to leave your house! Sometimes, you had to pre-order shit! You may have even had to drive to another goddamn City, because the shitty local stores for some reason failed to ever have the album you desired on the shelves come release day.

The situation was so horrendous that I would occasionally suggest to my girlfriend at the time that that we take a random trip out of town for a "romantic days out in the city". Except they weren't really random at all.... It was no coincidence that these city trips always fell on days when hard-to-get new albums were due to hit the shelves (she never did cotton on to the fact that these "random" trips always fell on a Monday, which at that point in time was the traditional record release day in Australia).

Now, it's a different world. Everything is immediate. There are no delays. No waiting. Hell, you can get stuff before release day, and not pay for it either. Due to this, a certain appreciation has been lost when to comes to the long player, or music in general.

You only have to turn on the radio to see what really matters to the general public nowadays -  compare, if you will, the popularity of the two main annual Triple J listener polls - the Hottest 100 and the Top 10 Albums of the Year. It goes without saying how popular both voting in and listening to the Hottest 100 has become in this country over the last ten years; It's a nation-wide tradition at this point. In comparison, how much is mentioned about the year-end album poll?  I don't know, but I'm sure if presented with the question, many would answer with "what album poll?"

To push the knife in just that little bit further, certain artists are now jumping on the "death of the album" bandwagon as well - the past couple of years alone have seen both Ian Astbury and Billy Corgan come out and proclaim the format dead. This is disappointing to say the least, especially considering Billy is one of the reasons I an ongoing passion for LP's in the first place!

Fuck all this noise, though. Fuck popularity, fuck trends, and fuck (some) artists - albums should be fought for and defended until the end of time, because a great album can stick with you for life: Anytime I hear Siamese Dream, I am taken back to the cold autumn day in which I first heard it. Listening to Foo Fighter's The Colour and The Shape, I'm instantly transported back to the Saturday afternoon I made the purchase, and to later that night, where, in my parents absence,  I was involved in a killer make out session in the family lounge room with my high school girlfriend, which lasted from the first track "Doll" all the way through to "New Way Home".

Albums - important ones, both new and old - can continue to resonate. Albums can conjure up feelings, both good and bad. Albums can transport you to important, pivotal moments from your past. Albums can define the present. Albums can push and motivate you to move forward, inspiring you face the future.

Albums still matter, dammit. Albums will always matter.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A Laneway Experience

I am borderline obsessed with live music. For me, there is almost no greater feeling on this planet than experiencing a live set by a group of artists who well and truly have their shit together musically. During these magical moments, life can seem infinitely more exciting; and it's usually when the band in question are playing their own headlining gig, as opposed to appearing as part of a festival line up.


Well, for starters, a band's own show pretty much guarantees that they will be playing to a crowd that, for the most part, is only there to see them. Festival crowds, on the other hand, can often be made up of directionless wanderers, making their way from stage to stage to casually check out whoever happens to be playing their hearts out at that particular moment. Often, if they discover that the band of the moment is not really doing it for them, they will refuse to move, instead staying put and chatting with their nearby friend about everything other than the band the rest of us are trying to watch. Believe me, I have mad many festivals ruined because of this alone.

Usually, as festival set will also not feature a full set from the bands and bands you are their to see, so you're really only getting half the experience in a lot of ways. But anyway, to cut a long rant short, I'll sum wrap up the last couple of paragraphs by simply saying that festivals can, at times, suck a massive one.

Thankfully, there are exceptions, with St Jerome’s Laneway Festival being one of them.

Now, allow me to get the minor quibbles out of the way first: Laneway is still, at the end of the day, a summer music festival. And yes, it still attracts thousands upon thousands of hipsters. As for those set times - yes, they will still not be as long as they would have been had they been  playing their own gig. Drink prices, on the other hand, remain exorbitant regardless of the venue you are seeing your band of choice in.
But at the end of the day, all of this is really kind of irrelevant -  Laneway is exciting, because it always feels fresh. There's always bucket loads of new talent to check out.  This is a music festival for true music fans; for those of us who don't buy into the bullshit idea that "new music sucks" or "decent music is sooooo hard to find ", or even the tried and true cop-out "they just don't make 'em like they used to."

Anyone who has ever dared venture even remotely outside the comfortable confines of commercial radio blandness knows all too well that music is just as good, if not better, than it has ever been. And there's a shit load more of it now as well. This point cannot be argued, it's simply fact. Take it or fuckin' leave it.

For those of us who are aware of this very simple and obvious truth, there is no better festival in this country at this particular moment in time than Laneway, a festival that has, for almost a decade now, endeavored to bring exciting, talented, fresh, amazing artists to these shores for our listening and viewing pleasure.

Given this massive endorsement, it almost shames me to admit that last year’s Brisbane leg of the Festival was actually my very first Laneway experience. On that particular instalment, despite less than ideal weather conditions and occasional technical issues, I was won over completely. The bands, the crowd, the whole fucking vibe left every other festival I had been to over the previous couple of years in the dust. It was pure fun, with minimal annoyance. What every festival should be, but most sadly aren't.

So, it goes without saying that a return trip was most definitely on the cards this year. When the day eventually arrived, it did not disappoint.

What follows is not exactly a review per se, but more a *fairly* accurate account of my second Laneway experience, written in the moment, as it was happening... Well, okay not really. I’ve just chosen to present it that way. Clever, eh? eh?? Whatever...

Anyways, here it is: Laneway 2013, from the somewhat hazy perspective of yours truly...

8:52 am

I wake up, feeling positive, happy and alive -  all very out of character. In this instance, it's for two very obvious reasons: 1) I will not be going to work today, and 2) It's Laneway day!

13:30 pm

En route to the Alexandria Street entrance, I am presented with a “courtesy condom” by a nice young lady (surely a great sign of the day to come, right?), before heading over to the nearby ticket booth to make my purchase (nothing like leaving it to the last minute).

Upon receiving my wristband, my friend Kelly and I make our way over toward the front gates in search of a place to sit while waiting for our other friend Sarah, who has just informed us via an angry text message that she had had a slight wardrobe malfunction (nothing on a Janet Jackson-level of seriousness, but something that still needs to be dealt with, regardless).

Within minutes, we are approached by an affable young dude who bears more than a passing resemblance to Carrot Top. Through glazed eyes, this friendly stranger informs us that he has just been evicted from the site, mumbling something about "getting too close to the gates." While the real reasons for his being shown the door can neither be confirmed nor denied, I can confidently say that whatever his drug of choice is this fine Friday afternoon, it seems to be  keeping him in a pleasant enough mind state (he also turns out to fairly accurately represent a large percentage of the crowd I encounter today: fucked up, yet friendly).

13:50 pm

Following the arrival of our wardrobe-malfunctioning comrade, we move over to take our positions in the lengthy wristband and hard-ticket lines.

As we stand patiently waiting to be let through the gates, I overhear the girl infront of me desperately pleading with her male companion to not  hook up with a mutual friend due to the fact that "She's, like, so old. She's like, 30, or something." Kelly, Sarah and I, all in our thirties and already feeling our age in this line up of impossibly pretty eighteen year olds, simply choose to ignore the comment and move on.

Just as the same girl starts to loudly announce her opinion of the new Strokes single ("they are pretty old school"), I am thankfully ushered through the gates, where I immediately direct my attention to the stage up ahead upon noticing The Men are already well into their set.

Given that The Men are one of many "must see" bands for me today,  we decide, at least for now, to hold off on visiting the bar and instead head over to we make our way over toward the "Eat Your Own Ears" stage. The girls wisely find a shady position close to the stage, while I opt against this, preferring a prime position directly in front of the stage (and directly under the blazing hot fucking sun).


14:45 pm

I wait patiently in the line leading to the bar, which does not seem to be moving in the slightest. Kelly walks past and, glancing around,  informs me she will try elsewhere.

15:00 pm

After successfully being served, I head back to find Kelly and Sarah relaxing at table in the shade, directly in front of a bar which currently has no line. Fuck.

15:10 pm

K & S head back in the direction of the "Eat Your Own Ears" stage to check out Snakadaktal. I have no idea who the fuck Snakadaktal are but I kinda dig the name so decide to follow.

While watching the band - who end up being quite fun - the girl in front of me begins shuffling around in her bag for what I already know will be a massive joint. After a short while, she recovers it, wasting absolutely no time in lighting that sucker up, before passing it along to the people directly to her left, some of whom appear to be complete strangers. I wait in giddy anticipation for the one of the care free hipsters to pass it along to be, but as per usual, the joint does not make it over.

15:45 pm

Even without the spliff, by the end of Snakadaktal's set I find myself with a serious case of the munchies. Making my way over to the food stands for a bite to eat, I idiotically decide to give the Spicy Spanish Meatballs a try, because, you know, I wasn't quite hot enough. Much sweating ensues...

16:20 pm

K & S head over to "The Car Park Stage" to check out Of Monsters and Men. I opt for El-P, who is already two or three songs into his set. It matters not though, because what I do catch is so great that it completely takes my mind off the heat stroke.


17:05 pm

I meet up with Kelly, who has now positioned herself in an awesome spot up front of the “EYOE” stage.

We look on as Dylan and Co. from Cloud Nothings tune their instruments, anticipating what will probably be a good, perhaps even great, set...

17:23 pm

I'm fairly certain my face has been completely blown off. I was not prepared for this.

Cloud fucking Nothings incinerate the entire crowd, before putting us back together piece by piece, only to then place every single last one of us into some kind of strange, hypnotic state.

There is now a growing craziness in the air, with a majority of the crowd now resembling a group of escaped criminals from Arkham Asylum. Some random guy in the crowd, apparently on better drugs than I have ever had in my entire life, places his large, Urkel-like glasses onto my face, before patting me on the back and taking off into the massive, bat-shit insane mosh, never to be seen or heard from again.

Somehow, during this crushing, psychotic set, I manage to look over toward the side of the stage to see the unmistakable Silhouette of Brian from Japandroids side of stage smoking a cigarette, reminding me that this day ain't anywhere close to being over yet…

Forty minutes and eight songs later, Cloud Nothings exit the stage, leaving every single soul in the crowd permanently fucked up in the best possible way.

19:05 pm

After a quick retreat to the bar, Kelly rejoins me to wait for a band that, without a doubt, I have been looking forward to seeing the most today: the almighty Japandroids (playing their first Australian show like, ever!).

These excellent motherfuckers are responsible for what is, to my mind at least, far and away the best album of last year. Seriously, listening to Japandroids will improve your shitty fucking life. FACT!

19:40 pm

It has only been minutes since Japandroids hit the stage, but I can now confirm that seeing these guys live will also improve your shitty fucking life! FACT!

With respect to The Black Keys, Sleigh Bells and any other two piece band currently doing the rounds, Japandroids are quite simply the best. I have no idea how two guys can make such glorious noise.  I have always had a soft spot for all things Canadian, and Japandroids are a prime fucking example of why!

While 99.999% of my focus is on the stage at all times, I also try and remember to keep a close eye on my new friend standing next to me, who moments earlier fell into the nearby bushes, only to struggle to his feet, making desperate attempts to keep his balance while appearing to be in serious danger of barfing all over the place at any moment. Aim over that way, buddy. Over that way…

Luckily, the vomit never arrives and as Brian and David bid us a fine farewell, I am grateful and amazed to have just witnessed another brilliant show, while also avoiding the vomit of strangers.

20:30 pm

After another quick trip to the bar, Sarah rejoins Kelly and myself for our final band of the evening - Divine Fits.

20:50 pm

This band that stands before me,  a band containing members from Spoon and Wolf Parade, among others, blow my fucking mind! What is most amazing is that they have only been playing as a band for the better part of a year, yet have the connection and familiarity of a band that have been together a decade.

Let's get one thing straight here: this band are not some whack “supergroup”, nor are they some uninspired "side project". These guys are the real fucking deal!  They are so good, in fact, that even the completely and utterly messed-up individual behind me, who has been standing uncomfortably close for the last ten or so minutes, and who I'm starting to think is preparing to either a) piss down the back of my leg at any moment, or b) attempt to anally violate me, cannot draw my attention from the stage. And that is saying something, because I’m fucking scared to death right now.

Regardless, a close to perfect cover of Rowland S. Howard's brilliant "Shivers" helps me forget my troubles. It’s a rare band that can pull this song off without making me run for the nearest bucket (I’m looking at you, Screaming Jets *shudder*), but Divine Fits easily pull it off.

After nearly an hour, Britt and Dan and Sam and Alex disappear into the night, which in turn signals for me to do the same, slowly making my way in the direction of the after party.

02:00 am

After enduring a club full of Neanderthals in order to catch DJ sets from Japandroids and Yeasayer, (still totally worth it despite the patrons in attendance) Kelly and I make our way from the confines of Alhambra Lounge, stepping into the early morning air as my lame body finally tells me it’s time to call it a night.

And with that, I do...

All that's left now are the rapidly fading memories of another amazing Laneway that will not be repeated in the exact same fashion  again, though hopefully next year will see a similarly great group of musicians hitting our shores. And if that turns out to be the case, than you can pretty much guarantee I will again endure the young, drug-fucked crowds to stand front of stage, anxiously awaiting the next wave of great bands to emerge and play some of the best goddamn fucking music released in 2013.