Hooligan Superstar by Lairds of Scunthorpe

This latest from Lairds of Scunthorpe started when I was trying out my new LPD8 drum pads and wanted to see whether I could come up with anything useful using just the 8 pads and a sampler. That’s how I got all the rhythms and the bassline, but I was forced to add the melody using a keyboard. Then played around with the arrangement in Logic.

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Aunt Julia and the Surreal Nature of The West Wing

There’s a moment in Mario Vargas Llosa’s excellent Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter where your whole notion of the boundaries between the world, the book and its various fictional realities starts to go to pieces. Where the Scriptwriter’s various soap operas, which interspersed the main story of the novel, start to intertwine and characters start appearing, albeit peripherally, in the wrong stories. It’s as if the cement certainties you had when you started reading have been dissolved and are rotting away, leaving bits and pieces of the various spaces the characters (and you) occupy to bleed into one another.

Terrifyingly, these are the people who you want to run the government rather than the people who do

I mention this only because I’ve been getting into The West Wing – all seven series of it – and it’s been an interesting ride. It seems to start off almost as if the original pitch meeting was “it’s like Friends, but in the White House and with fewer laughs” only for it to develop into a Runyonesque political commentary. So there’s the spunky, irritating John Hughes chick who’s a little bit kooky, but somehow endearing and lovable (not lovable or interesting enough to make it to Season 2 though); the President who initially comes off like a cartoon Dubya Bush, but ends up redefining American politics, getting things done and achieving stellar approval points; the various policy makers who amazingly also manage to get things done and who seem to shed their initial personality quirks (like inadvertently sleeping with hookers for instance) as the seasons progress and somehow manage to make the country better; the ‘comedy couple’ who initially start as a parody of husband and wife and end up representing the humanity of the series; and the Press Secretary, who starts off all spin and flippancy, but ends up Chief of Staff, thereby defining the show’s move from spin parody to political seriousness.  By the end of Series 7 you’re left with a profound sense of the importance and gravitas of American politics. So much so that the entire final season, way the best of the bunch, is devoted to the campaign to replace the President. And it’s so enthralling, that you’re happy that one entire episode is a televised debate between the two candidates and that two are devoted to the election day itself.

But the moment that cracked it for me, the moment I saw through the glass and into the disturbing, reality blurring space beyond, was when characters from The Wire began to bleed through into individual or multiple episodes. Cedric Daniels, in a moment of pre-Wire policing, is a detective who is supervising a death scene. His wife (or possibly ex-wife by then) Marla is apparently moonlighting as the principal of an elementary school (could this explain her frigid relationship with Cedric during the early series of The Wire?). Assistant State’s Attorney Rhonda Pearlman obviously cut her teeth working for the Republicans up on the Hill, doing deals to secure appropriate legislation and judicial appointments prior to banging McNulty and then Cedric Daniels. Maurice Levy puts in a pre-corrupt lawyer appearance as a harassed White House adviser (obviously showing that eventually the profits of crime do entice individuals away from the honest legal system). Not even the Barksdales are immune from a little moonlighting from the running of their drugs empire. In case anyone was concerned about Brianna’s exact role in the Barksdale’s ever-expanding criminal empire and what she spent her time doing, it’s clear that she spends most of her non-crime minutes organising secret polling for political parties – the political equivalent of  highly deniable black ops missions.  I was relieved that the likes of McNulty, Bunk, Snoop and Omar didn’t make appearances otherwise I really would have been confused (or the plot of The West Wing would have taken a seriously violent turn).

It’s not that the appearance of characters from one series in another is that disturbing, after all Marcie from Alias and Commander Adama from Battlestar Galactica also make appearances (and we don’t really think it is Commander Adama), it’s just that you could believe that the rarefied world of Washingtonian politics and the crack-fuelled underbelly of Balitmorian law enforcement could collide in just such a surreal way. After all, if Major ‘Bunny’ Colvin can almost get a job running the security at Johns Hopkins (before incinerating his career prospects by attempting to legalise drugs) and President Bartlett’s daughter Ellie can study there, it’s not a great leap of faith to imagine that the two narratives could somehow link and intertwine.

Long Time Coming

So yeah, I had the birthday, which was very enjoyable thanks for asking.

The Roundhouse playing piana

The Roundhouse playing piana

We went off to see the David Byrne ‘Playing The Building’ installation at the Roundhouse during one of its ‘bring your own tambourine’ evenings, which had the potential for both awesome spectacle and truly painful knitted raffia music. The reality was a bit half and half. I felt a little let down by the installation. While it’s a great idea – a kind of artistic Einsteurzende Neubauten (go google them) without the full on destruction – I thought it veered too far in the direction of installation rather than an actual functional experience. You can see that the single piano-cadavered instrument sitting in the middle of the Roundhouse makes a fantastic image, stark, empty and a fusion of ancient and modern, but it would have been far more interesting to have more instruments controlling the sounds made by the building. Certainly more people would have been able to interact with it than were allowed for by the single piano and you’d have had a much more exciting, cacophonic experience.

It was, however, a genius idea to allow people to come in on certain evenings with their own instruments. Again, this could have been a recipe for disaster. Instead it was somehow incredibly touching and polite as bunches of people with guitars, tubas, those mouthy blow organ things that the guy in Gang of Four had, toy instruments and a variety of other wind and percussive things strolled around the space playing their own things, while trying not to overwhelm anyone else. And while it could have gone all Glastonbury porridge field, it somehow didn’t. Not my usual thing, but really good.

View from Arundel Castle

View from Arundel Castle

Meanwhile in my search for the perfect iPhone app, I’ve discovered two really sweet ones. The first is the carefully hidden tilt-shift filter in Photo FX (find it in Lens fx /depth of field). Tilt-shift being the effect that makes everything look like it’s a teeny weeny little model as exemplified by my favourite Monster Truck videos (see this post). While hardly perfect, it’s pretty good as you can see from these images. I would like to be able to alter the blur areas but that’s just being picky.

The other great app is iDrum Underworld. A bunch of Underworld tunes, including Cowgirl, Born Slippy and King of Snake, which you can mix up and use to create your own stuff. Really compelling and pretty addictive. As one review said, ‘This steals your life’.

I’ve also started to get back into running using my favourite social media site (or at least the one I’ve been most active on), Nike+. I’m using their now-working-pretty-well Coach facility, which has me doing very simple daily runs, although that will ramp up as the weeks progress. You can follow my attempts to get one leg in front of the other on Twitter.


Very, very blue. Roger Hiorns' Seizure.

Very, very blue. Roger Hiorns' Seizure.

Having managed to be nominated for a Turner Prize, or at least being responsible for having its creator Roger Hiorns nominated, it’s no surprise that the council who wanted to demolish this old council house block somehow haven’t quite got around to breaking it up. In fact you get the feeling that if they could only find a way to levy a charge on this it would cover the building of a few new decent homes.

Still, Hiorns’ Seizure, a copper sulphate encrusted house that’s well worth seeing, has been reopened (until October 18 2009). It does make you wonder what they’ve been doing with it since they closed it at the tail end of last year. Anyway, it’s great and you all should go and stand in line to get your feet into the now probably very scabby festival gumboots you have to wear to get inside. You won’t be disappointed (foot infections aside). More info on Shapeandcolour and here, oh and here too.

Frankly if Hiorns doesn’t win the Turner Prize, then the art people need their heads examined.

Squire Jules in his new headgear

Squire Jules in his new headgear

Went out to see the medieval jousting at Arundel Castle, where the Boon were able to equip themselves in a style they could only previously have dreamed about – real swords, super-vicious gauntlets and some quality headgear such as this forward thinking child encasing unit – simply place the unit on child and watch them bimble about merrily for the next ten minutes heroically bumping into stuff left right and center. For double amusement equip child with a finely made longsword and back off quickly. We thought the Boon would be enthralled by the fine exhibition of olde worlde sword fighting and jousting, but it turns out they really raved over the castle, which was “A proper castle just like I wanted”. Best bit obviously being the Tower Guards’ outdoor toilet.

Meanwhile, the Lairds of Scunthorpe album has been developing at a pace over the summer. Currently there are 10 – 12 tracks being worked on, from material developed solely on the fantastic Beatmaker on the iPhone, to fully Logiced up songs with some neat beats. I want to get it to about double that before I start working out which ones to focus on.

As if this wasn’t enough I’ve been rewatching The Wire (like anything else is worth rewatching alright). Only this time I’ve added a new twist. I’m watching it in French with English subtitles. That way when I go over to France I’ll be able to talk in authentic Baltimore French, which I guess is a bit like McNulty’s genuine English. Spot On eh.

Digging the Ninja

Daedelus and his magic box thing

Daedelus and his magic box thing

Off to the ICA in Pall Mall to enjoy a night of Ninja Kicking madness with VanCam and Marie. When I bought the tickets for Marie’s birthday, I really didn’t know what it was going to be like other than it was a Ninja Tune evening and it was at the ICA. The latter is obviously a big plus point as it was here that I saw Einsteurzende Neubauten doing their now-infamous concert for machinery way, way, way back in the old days (like 1984 or something). They filled the stage with lots of plant machinery (cement mixers and the like) and proceeded to throw milk bottles into the concrete and tried to drill through the ICA floor with a pneumatic drill. When they finished after about 20 minutes, the audience were so excited they attacked the stage, destroying half of it and then escaped and went mad running up and down The Mall for the rest of the evening. It was brilliant and the nearest thing to a beautiful riot you’ll ever see.

So, nothing for the Ninja Tune team to live up to then. And plenty for it to live down because it could have been another two turntables and a cello catastravaganza like the last time.

First up, DJ Food. Pretty fucking awesome. That great mix of really kick ass beats and killer sounds, like the best bits of Pulp Fiction. A melange (and I don’t use the word lightly) of great sounds and rhythms. Sounds to cut shapes to. I was on the floor dancing for the whole hour.

Where to start with Daedelus? Well first off he’s got this box that is reminiscent of my favourite maschine (see past grazillion posts on the desireability of said Maschine), only his looks as though it’s a 16 x16 box, which is kind of like Maschine squared. Fuck knows how it works, but I’m guessing that it’s the same kind of sampler trigger/display thing. Anyway, this is what he plays. And it’s killer. Remember when Chemical Brothers just started and block rocking beats were new and exciting. That’s like child’s play compared to this. This is like bullish, ferocious, beat love. It’s half DJ, half performance, only there are no turntables, no records, only samples and this one guy. He’s like the Johnny Depp of music, half caricature, half genius and completely unlike anything else. I mean remember all those great sampler/synth bands and then remember how rubbish they were live, plinky plonking themselves through their tracks trying to be live bands (Depressed Toad) or DJs (Orbital). This guy is like a maestro in comparison. It’s samples, and beats and live and it fucking rocks.

Bus stop for Ninjas

Bus stop for Ninjas

So, phew. Ninja Tune pull it out of the bag and totally make up for poncing bloody cello woman and her rubbish DJ friend. There was a load of weird synchronicity going round too, something to do with the Plinth in Trafalgar Square or the like. London had gone into one of its collective periods of municipal madness. It reminded me of late nights after gigs when all the real people had gone home and the streets belonged to strange people (and that’s strange in every sense of the word). That kind of magic, this isn’t really a normal city feeling you only get on really special occasions. I got off the bus on the way home and saw this. I stood in the middle of the road taking pictures as the night busses tried to kill me. Never seen it before in my life. Next morning it was gone. I shit you not.

For one night there we were all Ninjas.

Updated for the Summer

Large copper sulphate crystal from Roger Hiorns Seizure installation

Large copper sulphate crystal from Roger Hiorns Seizure installation

The Kids Who Do Art were obviously very, very clever. Having had the contents of last year’s Turner Prize substantially dissed, they decided to ensure that this year’s nominations at least produced some interesting, albeit highly exclusive, art, rather than tedious monologues of string and manikins.

This time instead of nominating some oververbal, cliche ridden artphags, the Turner Prize people have nominated personal favourite Roger Hiorns (along with three other lucky losers). Hiorns, who poured anything between 60,000 and 90,000 gallons/litres/bathtubs of copper sulphate into a council flat to ‘see what happened‘, is everything the Turner people need after the tedium and torpor of last year. Most essentially he gets noticed outside the patronisingly oblique little artworld that the Turner people inhabit. Seizure, the copper sulphate council house, is fantastically compelling and emphasises that the most extraordinary, most relevant art today is taking place outside the confines of the galleries and museums the Turner people live in. The demand for spectaculars, whether it be Seizure or the recent grafitti under Waterloo station, far outweighs that for most retrospective showpeice exhibitions. Admittedly, at least one of the other nominees, Richard Wright, is interesting, but for my money it’s Hiorns’ to lose. I particularly look forward to seeing the Little Artists’ lego version.

Meanwhile, I’ve been adding to my overbearing web presence. In particular I’ve been forced (forced you understand) to upgrade my Flickr account. You can see all my pics from the copper sulphate house, along with a whole load of other stuff, most of which has been taken by and manipulated within my iPhone. I can’t wait for Apple to put together a halfway decent camera lens for it in the next release.

I was super happy to find out that after what seemed like three or four lifetimes worth of waiting, Powers volume 12 is out. I had worried that, as with many comics, I might have got bored during the interval and it would be a hideous disappointment, but I needn’t have wasted the worry. Powers 12 is the best volume yet, finalising the Deena Pilgrim story arc along with a bunch of in-the-wings characters. Overall it feels as bittersweet as the final episode of The Wire series 3, it’s hugely satisfying, but I’ve no idea where they’re going to take the series now. Pilgrim sitting on a beach somewhere feels very reminiscent of McNulty swinging a baton as he’s returned to the beat. Still in Bendis we trust. Like David Simon, he seems to have his finger on the pubic bone of the police procedural and is capable of playing it about at will.