Monday, 26 December 2011

Quote of the Yule

"I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is"
Albert Camus
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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Quote of the week

"Do not waste your time on social questions. What is the matter with the poor is poverty, what is the matter with the rich is uselessness"
George Bernard Shaw.

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Friday, 16 December 2011

Eclecticism 03: Diversity Sounds

This is the third and final mix completed for the art show in Salisbury 2011. Again, Krautrock plays a large part, but this time there are all sorts of styles and genres present.

Delia Derbyshire

This mix begins with some lovely looping radiophonic noises from Delia Derbyshire. The Guardian called her 'the unsung heroine of British electronic music', she was a pioneer working at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 1960's and her influence on electronic music should not be underestimated. This is just a snippet, taken from her website: www.delia-derbyshire.org

Next another favourite of mine from Cluster & Eno. "Die Bunge" is from the album simply titled "Cluster & Eno" which has one of my most loved cover photographs.

This is followed by a track from Stereolab who have been a big musical part of Nicky's house for many years (Nicky was the hostess of the art show). "Young Lungs" is a beautiful mellow piece with Stereolab's typical wondrous synths and wonderful arrangements courtesy of Sean O'Hagan. The track was originally released on the Cybele's Reverie EP in 1996 that preceeded the brilliant "Emperor Tomato Ketchup" album that Nicky & I played to death when it came out.

Stereolab have always embraced retro sounds and often evoke half-remembered soundtracks of my childhood in the 1960's & 1970's. The same can be said for Broadcast & The Focus Group. I already had some albums and EPs by Broadcast before Andi discovered the album with the Focus Group callled "Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age". He insisted I get a copy. Quite right too, I now consider the album a masterpiece. It won The Wire best album of the year in 2009. Its a dense album full of psychedelia and effected cut-up soundscapes with the voice of the (very sadly) late Trish Keenan who died earlier this year. It is well worth exploring other works by both Broadcast and the Focus Group. There is a blog website for Broadcast here: http://futurecrayon.blogspot.com/ and information regarding the Focus Group can be found on the beautifully designed Ghost Box site, where you can also discover wonders such as The Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle amongst others.

I discovered the strange world of The Endless House foundation this year. Apparently material from this collective body comes from a time in the 1970's when a "superclub" was built in a forest in Eastern Europe. They say: "An obelisk of noise that rose rudely above the treetops of the Bialowieska Forest, the Endless House project shone for a mere six weeks in the spring of 1973. The outlandish brainchild of wealthy audiophile/maniac Jiri Kantor, its stated mission was "to become the cradle of a new European sonic community... a multimedia discotheque" that should "surprise and delight" artists and dancers alike. For all the wide-eyed optimism of its manifesto, however, the enterprise was never unknowing in its flirtation with disaster and self-destruction. The brilliant Czech may have made his millions as the midas-touched entrepreneur/taste-maker behind Paris-based magazine Otium International, but Endless House was always a vanity project as irredeemably vain as its maker...". 

There is an LP and an EP of material allegedly from this era from a variety of artists. I bought the "Endless House" album and it is a wonderful package. As well as the CD, you get a series of postcards with descriptions and portraits of each artist on plus some slightly confusing photos of the club itself. The story goes that the club had five pneumatic dancefloors and cyber-baroque decor. Some people call it a "fictitious reality", whatever it is, its a lovely mad world which is supported by some wonderful tracks. The Dazman and I loved its link with Krautrock and for a while were completely taken in with the fictitious reality. I have included tracks 3 here. One by Johannus Arpensium and two by Rasmus Folke. "Coupé" is my favourite: "speeding alone in my coupé, sixteen miles from San Tropez", you get this lovely visual image in your head. Look out on the net for some great DJ mixes from The Endless House Foundation too, one of my personal favourites is this one from Jiri Kantor himself: Jiri Kantor mix

For more info and record releases check out Dramatic Records. They also have some footage of an interview with Walter Shnaffs apparently from 1977:

After the first of the Endless House tracks in the mix it made sense to return to Krautrock. Two masterworks, Can's "One More Night" (listen to Holger Czukay's bass on this..wow!) and Harmonia's "Deluxe (Immer Wieder)". The lyrics to the Harmonia track go: "Immer wieder rauf und runter, einmal drauf und einmal drunter, immer wieder hin und her, kreuz und quer, mal leicht, mal schwer. Immer wieder rauf und runter,
einmal drauf und einmal drunter." Beautiful stuff, it means: "Up and down again and again, Once on top and once underneath, Back and forth again and again, crisscross, once easy, once hard. Up and down again and again, once on top and once underneath", something like that. That makes sense now doesn't it?

Arthur Russell
After a track from Rasmus Folke, there is a shift in gear. I said recently that I would drop in an Arthur Russell track whenever I could and here we go. This track is a remix, but it stays faithful to Arthur's feel, and as it often does with Mr. Russell, his cello leads the way over some simple, yet beautiful lyrics and of course, a disco beat.

Next is Daphni. Daphni is Caribou is Dan Snaith. This track is a remix/edit of Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited's "Shumba". I must admit there have been some of Dan Snaith's re-edits that I am not so keen on, but this one is fabulous with disintegrating drum beats and analogue-style effects similar to the effects used on Caribou's remix of Virgo Four, which is one of my absolute favourites of 2011. However, most of the greatness of this track you have to admit, is down to Thomas Mapfumo's original work, with the most beautiful bouncing guitar rhythms.

The end of this track overlaps with a track from Pantha Du Prince called "Lay In A Shimmer" from his acclaimed 2010 album "Black Noise", another album worth a look. Although considered German techno, I feel this has more of an affinity with Indonesian Gamelan, with the harmonic and rhythmic bells and gongs.

After a gorgeous track from Flying Lotus' magnificent Los Angeles album and the aforementioned "Coupé" from Rasmus Folke, the mix finishes with a couple of tracks from the Ghost Box label. "Spiders Web" is pure 1970's theme music and "Hey Let Loose Your Love" is a great retro sample over mad Focus Group instrumentation. I couldn't resist a bit of effects warping at the end to finish.

I hope that you have enjoyed these mixes, I know I have. Exhibitions or not, I reckon I shall put some more together like this.

Love.. Simon x

PS: the mix artwork photo was taken on a footbridge in Longfield, Kent.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Eclecticism 02: Beats and Pieces

This is the second collection in the 3 part "Eclecticism" series done for the art show in Salisbury. It is a blend of all kinds of different material, much of which has been on my iPod this year, and consequently helped inspire many of the pictures in the show, in an abstract sense I suppose, by providing the moods and atmospheres that get me thinking, reflecting and creating. It made sense to compile a chilled mix for the show using these tunes.

The mix begins and ends with two tracks from the Boards Of Canada's "Trans Canada Highway" EP which, released back in 2006 (original release date was 6th of June - 06/06/06.. they love their numbers), is sadly the most recent release by them. I have been waiting all that time for a new release (along with all other BoC fans). I love this band, something about the beautiful perfectly constructed synth and sonic decay, combined with retro sounds that take me back to the actual National Film Board of Canada reels shown in my beloved physics classes at school in the 70s, ripple tanks, Van der Graaf generators, plus artwork with Spirograph, Super-8, Polaroids and.. well you get where I am going.

Joy Orbison
The mix moves on with a track by Burial, Four Tet and Thom Yorke, which I first heard on the fantastic Rinse FM DJ set by Four Tet and Floating Points. I am really enjoying this kind of vibe. Its followed by a Joy Orbison track in a similar dubstep/grime (is it still called that?) vein. Hugely inspiring to me at the moment, our new X-Amount jams are getting it (watch this space).

An album I have enjoyed immensely since it got the top album of the year award in The Wire in 2010 is Actress' "Splazsh". The Wire review of it said: "Submarine sonar blips and aquatic frequencies sit strangely but comfortably next to ultra-deep synths and kick drum depth charges…such creative use of the basic tools of production is subtly emotive and quietly startling". Agreed.

This naturally flows into a Flying Lotus track which is one of Andi's favourites. Both of us have listened to most of his stuff this year, at first I didn't get it at all. "Where is the groove?", but I got there in the end, there is a groove, just remove your preconceptions. This is an easier track than most, but I could recommend almost anything by him. If you are not yet familiar with his work, check out his "Los Angeles" album and also "Cosmogramma". He is based in L.A. and his auntie (I think) was Alice Coltrane, and there is certainly a distant link with John Coltrane which has flowed down through the blood. There are influences of Sun Ra alongside film scores, dub and electronic. Sumptuous stuff worth perseverance if, like me, you don't "get it" right away. If you end up hooked, check out Brainfeeder and Tokimonsta too.

Gold Panda
From L.A. to Peckham/Essex and Gold Panda. I always mix up Gold Panda with Panda Bear (from Animal Collective), their music is quite different, but part of this confusion means I am always surprised by what they bring out next! Eejit. Gold Panda signed to Ghostly International and I have become interested in their output, another one of their artists is Tycho, who appears later in the mix, providing some Californian sunshine. Check out Shigeto too.

Oh and while I mention Tycho briefly, if you are into design, particularly of the retro variety (and also the sounds of Ghostly International), have a look at his excellent ISO50 blog.

Keiran Hebden: Four Tet
After a current favourite track by Four Tet "Pinnacles", (which was given away free earlier this year..I love his recent output), tracks by Casino versus Japan and Baths. Casino versus Japan I discovered in my frustration of not having more BoC material, the same can be said for Freescha (later in the mix). Both outfits produce chilled intelligent electronica, though (for me) not quite in the same stratosphere as BoC, enjoyable none the less in their own right.

An artist I have enjoyed for some years now is Ellen Allien. She produces lush minimal techno/electronica, and her varied output has always been worthy of a good listen. "My Tree" (obviously an apt choice for the show) is from the "Dust" album. Her records are consistently ground-breaking and her DJ mixes are well worth checking out too. You can find them in plenty of places on the net. (Try here for example). She also runs the BPitch Control record label, a good source of quality techno.

Quality techno has oozed from the Warp label too, and apart from BoC, they also recently put out Bibio's "Mind Bokeh" album, from which the "Excuses" track is taken. I wouldn't label this as techno of course, its like broken electronica, I suppose. Why do we feel the need to label everything and put it in a box? I shall stop doing that, music is music. Noise is noise. Noise is music sometimes.

In Flagranti
Prior to that is a track that stumbles into the mix from In Flagranti, who appear in many of my DJ sets, but usually in a disco environment. I mentioned my love for 70s retro earlier, and that extends well and truly into disco. In Flagranti can get this spot on, they say: “We use everything we liked when we were growing up in the 70s, images, sounds, movies. In Flagranti is like lived memories mixed in a giant blender and re-assembled into a fantastic conundrum.” As well as that have produced some absolute dance-floor killers, and I am sure that any of you who have been to my DJ sets will testify to that.

Pete Fowler by Pete Fowler
I managed to sneak a track in by another favourite band of mine, Super Furry Animals. If they ever play again, go and see them live. I can remember when they brought their fantastic "Phantom Power" tour to Salisbury, complete with Pink Floyd's quad rig, Pete Fowler artwork and projections, my friend Clare and I got so frustrated with the Salisbury audience's lack of appreciation that she ended up yelling "come on you f*ckrs!!" at people. Ah yes, that was a special night. The Dazman, Re-Wright and I also loved their live online gig they did when they brought out the brilliant "Dark Days/Light Years" album. We sat gob-smacked, squashed into my front room with it blasting out on my studio monitors. This particular track comes from the extra disc that came with initial copies of "Rings Around The World". Probably wrongly, it made me think of the current economic climate cobblers, and I hoped that apart from pleasing people's ears it might also subconsciously inspire them to open their wallets at the show. Ha! Ha! Don't know if it worked…

I could go on, but I reckon thats enough rabbit for now.. comments? "Come on you f*ckers!!"

Simon x 

PS: Mix cover artwork by myself.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Quote of the week

"Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night"
Philip K. Dick

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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Eclecticism 01: Krautrock, Eno & Cope

Here is the first of 3 DJ mixes done for the Art Show & Sale that I took part in at my friend Nicky's house last weekend.

The idea was to provide an interesting atmosphere to accompany the pictures in the show.

In this first part I focussed on Krautrock influences, as it has been a part of me for some months now. My good friend The Dazman (guitarist from Head To Head, Nicky's House and also involved in a new musical project with me in Salisbury) is a very knowledgeable fan of the genre, and I owe a debt to him for introducing me to more of these fascinating works.

The mix begins with "Ruckzuck", which Andi introduced me to via this incredible YouTube video:

Next up is a mad track from Julian Cope's "Rite 2" album. Mr. Cope is a well known Krautrock enthusiast, and you can hear it's influence clearly on "Ver". He produced a wonderful book called "Krautrocksampler", saying "I wrote this short history because of the way I feel about the music, that its supreme Magic & Power has lain Unrecognised for too long." It's out of print at the moment I think, and may never be updated/re-printed, because Cope says it contains some factual errors, and that he has since met others he says are better informed, he remains an expert on the music itself though. Here is a list of the top 50 Krautrock albums according to Cope: 50 top albums

Krautrock as a genre is itself a matter of debate in terms of what it actually is. On the Faust website, Rene Layne intelligently argues its origins from the viewpoint of a spectator, saying "I think that there was no real scene back then. There did not appear to be much unity with the different groups and I think most of them had no idea of the size of the German rockscene". She argues some of Cope's observations, and then is criticised herself with a response afterwards. You can read the article here: Faust Pages

Another person with great respect for, and some involvement with these German artists is Brian Eno, and the following track "R.A.F." is here, not because of the Krautrock theme, but just because I thought it fitted what I was after for the art show. I had been listening to DJ Food's brilliant Eno mix, which you can check out here:

More Volts: The Funky Eno by DJ Food

"R.A.F." was released by Eno as a b-side to the 1978 "Kings Lead Hat" single, and it also appears on his "Vocals" box set.

Klaus Dinger & Michael Rother
After that, back to Krautrock with tracks by Neu!, Harmonia and Cluster. These bands are inextricably linked, not only by their sounds, but by the personnel involved. Neu! consisted of Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. Harmonia is Michael Rother again, but with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius who, working together as a duo are Cluster.


I do not need to say much about these tracks as the knowledge is all in the listening.. (I am sure The Dazman would agree with me)..

When I recently bought a copy of Cluster's "Sowiesoso", the Dazman said it was "class of the highest order", and, yes, he was right.

I love the covers to Cluster's albums as well as the beautiful music. In the excellent BBC4 documentary on Krautrock, Cluster spoke of their studio, saying that it was in a perfect space in the country where you could see nothing but nature from the windows, many of the album covers celebrate this.
"Base & Apex" is a track I have known for many years, and for me, this (combined with an early interest in Eno's work) is where my interest in this kind of music began. It comes from an album by Cluster & Eno together called "After The Heat" by Eno-Moebius-Roedelius. When I was working as a groundsman for my tree-worker friend Richard (a.k.a. "Slippery Dick" of Glastonbury "Love Shack" fame), we would return after a days hard graft to his place, and stick this, or the "Cluster & Eno" album on and chill out with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a big smoke in front of his wood fire. Bliss.

This is followed by another Eno track, simply called "untitled", which also appears in the DJ Food mix, and on the Eno box set "Instrumentals".

Lastly is another thing of great beauty, the title track from an album called "Evening Star" by Brian Eno & Robert Fripp. I must admit, I am not keen on all of Fripp's work, some of it has dated rather badly, but there are things of wonder to find like this track.

I hope you enjoy this mix, it has become one of my personal favourites. I find it very listenable and good to put on whilst working.

The artists who were involved in the Krautrock movement (and many are still at it today)are some of the most influential and yet underrated artists of our times. Laura Kaye who was on the film crew for the BBC4 documentary sums it up nicely: "As we left, now quite tired from two weeks of relentless driving and filming, we pondered again of the ingenuity and tenacity of this generation of artists who built up a new vision of Germany from a cultural wasteland. Their contribution to the development of music in subsequent years, especially electronic music, is unquantifiable and yet they remain relatively unheard of in many circles, not least in their own country. Without exception they are all still committed to pushing boundaries in music today".

This is by no means intended to be a definitive mix of Krautrock, far from it. I have just chosen a small selection of my favourites that suited the mood for the art show and mixed it with some other stuff that seemed to fit too. There is far more out there to discover that is labelled Krautrock, of all sorts of moods and textures, all experimental and enlightening.

Eclecticism parts 2 and 3 are already there on my MixCloud page, and I shall post them here soon. Thanks.

Simon x

PS: the artwork photo for the mix is a garage door in Salisbury.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Pictures from the Art Sale & Show at Nicky's

This weekend I have shared an art show and sale with my friend Nicky Masiello at her house in Salisbury. I had a selection of photographs on sale that were taken in woodland in Kent & Wiltshire over the last 8 months. Some of the pictures will be posted soon on my art website: www.simon-birch.co.uk Painting are by Nicky. Other pictures on show were by Finbar Conran and George Baggeley.

Simon Birch.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

London events for the month of action against Atos and the benefit cuts

London events for the month of action against Atos and the benefit cuts

Take action against Atos and the poverty pimps!  Please organise in your home town, blog, tweet, share and help promote all events.

1st December – 5.30pm-6.30pm
LSE Campus, Aldwych
Protest at Iain Duncan Smith's LSE Talk.  Millionaire Iain Duncan Smith wants you to join his army of unpaid workers. Come and expose his doublespeak!
3rd December – 2pm
Olympic Park, Stratford
Protest Against Atos Outside the Paralympic Test Event!
16th December – 2pm
Triton Square, London NW1
A Real Victorian Christmas Party and Picnic at Triton Square

Full details of these and all other events can be found on the Benefit Claimants Fightback website at: http://benefitclaimantsfightback.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/a-month-of-festive-action-against-atos-and-the-benefit-cuts/

Send details of events elsewhere to notowelfarecuts@yahoo.co.uk - or reply to this email and I'll make sure they get listed.

We'll also be at Triton Square on the morning of the November 30th from 8.30am where we'll be joining the PCS picket line outside Euston Tower and will no doubt be paying Atos a visit.  Keep an eye on the website or facebook page for more details: http://www.facebook.com/events/122853381158514/

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Quote of the week

"what is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?"
Bertolt Brecht.

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Sunday, 6 November 2011

Disco! A mix from 2004

This set was put together for a mix CD back in 2004. It contains some of my favourite vinyl of the time, mixed, as usual with some utter madness. The intro is by the Christian Astronauts who I discovered through the show and tell website (check it out if you haven't before). Listen out for the crap pretend rocket engines and a terrible robot voice. 

Also included are snippets from ‘How To Speak Hip’ by Del Close & John Brent. This is a 1959 comedy album that gets into the Beat Generation thing. I love it.

The voice over the top of the 'Good Times' instrumental is George Melly reciting a homage to Kurt Schwitters' 'Ur Sonata', which is a Dada sound poem. Its on the "Miniatures" album (put together by Morgan Fischer in 1980), which had 51 one minute avant-garde tracks by a host of interesting artists. Superb stuff. Mad, I did warn you. 

 The Ultrafunk track, "Kung Fu Man" has been in my sets since I began pretending to DJ back in the mid 1980s. I used to play it at Maximus in Leicester Square (for Mark Carter's "All Tomorrows Parties" nights which ended up at Madame JoJos in Soho). I still love the track, I only discovered recently that 'Mr.Superbad' (Freddie Mack) had been a radio DJ in Manchester for many years. He died fairly recently in 2009 (R.I.P.), I wish I had heard his show, by all accounts it was top notch. 

There is a scratchy version of Dexter Wansel's "My Favourite Disco", this the man who did the magnificent "Life On Mars". Superb production and musicianship. I often use one of Dexter's tracks as a reference point when setting up a PA as the balance and quality of sound is immaculate.

Although I have labelled the set as "classic disco" most of the tracks aren't that obvious. Granted, you have "A Fifth Of Beethoven" which appears in Saturday Night Fever, and a version of "Good Times", but tracks like "Why Leave Us Alone" and "Here We Go Again" are a little more unusual. I had found "Devil's Gun" by rummaging in jumble sales and second hand shops, and for a while it became a staple in my sets.

DJing this stuff in 2004 was not that trendy, and, where I was, I had to work hard to convince people of the merits of disco. Nowadays its a lot easier to get away with as disco has become more mainstream in clubs again. I still love the elements of this kind of disco, and it is (and probably always will be) an important part of all my creative musical activities.

This set finishes with "Free" by Denise Williams. Finish with a slow one, just like discos did back in the 70s. I love this song. If you play guitar or keys you should perhaps try playing the chords for this song, they are gorgeous.

I hope you enjoy it.

Simon x