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Monthly Archives: August 2018

These music’s most outlandish

Rammstein’s fiery cauldron

German industrial metallers Rammstein have become world-infamous for their pyrotechnic-fuelled, provocative stage props. For their earliest shows, the band would just pour petrol around the stage and set it ablaze, but their budgets and prop quality had rocketed by the time of their 2004-5 Ahoi tour. Sharpest prop of this set was the onstage cooking pot, in which mic/knife-wielding frontman Til Lindemann appeared to flambé keyboardist Flake Lorenz with a flame-thrower – while singing their cannibal-themed ‘love song’ Mein Teil, naturally.

Pink Floyd’s flying pig

Pink Floyd arguably set the benchmark for theatrical stage props; their helium-filled porcine icon was originally created in 1976 (with the help of artist-designers Jeffrey Shaw and Hipgnosis) for the band’s Animals album cover art. Since 1977, the flying pig prop has been a staple of Floyd live shows, and it continues to appear in various incarnations (and scrawled with different slogans) at modern gigs by both the David Gilmour-fronted Pink Floyd and estranged former bandmate Roger Waters. The giant flying piggy has made a break for freedom on more than one occasion – in 2008, it floated into the Cali desert during Waters’s Coachella set and festival organisers offered a $10,000 reward for its safe return.

The P-Funk Mothership

Way-out funk/soul/rock pioneer George Clinton and his legendary collective Parliament-Funkadelic first launched their full-scale UFO prop during concerts to promote their 1975 album, Mothership Connection. The lavish live Mothership, replete with flashing lights and sci-fi sounds, would land on stage to deliver Dr Funkenstein, aka Clinton, to the masses. Soaring costs meant that the original P-Funk Mothership was retired from service (apparently it was dumped in a Maryland junkyard) but in 2011, a 1,200lb aluminium replica was acquired for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

Madonna’s levitating hobby horse

By the 21st century, Madonna had sealed her rep as a show-stopping performer, but she could still spring some surprises. Her 2006 Confessions tour featured a massive discoball pod, parkour dancers and a mirrored crucifix – but perhaps the most impressive prop of all was Madge’s one-woman carousel/hobby horse, which she rode while singing Like a Virgin and performing yoga and pole-dancing moves above the crowd. Good going for anyone, especially a star approaching her 50th year.

U2’s lemon

Bono’s stadium rockers paid homage to the P-Funk Mothership while creating their own consumer satire for the Popmart world tour in 1997-8. Its elaborate stage set, created with Willie Williams and Mark Fisher, included a 40ft mirrorball lemon (with a nod to their track of the same title), designed to split open and reveal the band for their encore. Unfortunately this occasionally malfunctioned, trapping the quartet inside the giant fruit while the baffled crowds waited – less of a grand finale, more of a sour note.

Mötley Crüe’s drum rollercoaster

The future of music that were completely wrong

Groups of guitars are on the way out

[LISTEN] The Beatles talk to Brian Matthew about being famous
This is perhaps the most famous quote about the early years of The Beatles, and while it’s definitely based on real events, it has perhaps been distorted by what happened next to such an extent that it looks far worse than it was intended to be.

The source of the quote is Beatles manager Brian Epstein, relaying the message he was given by Dick Rowe, head of Decca Records, on why they were not interested in signing the band in 1962. In Hunter Davies’ authorised biography, The Beatles, Epstein remembered: “He told me they didn’t like the sound. Groups of guitars were on the way out. I told him I was completely confident that these boys were going to be bigger than Elvis Presley.”

To be fair to Mr Rowe, in 1962’s pop charts “groups of guitars” meant The Shadows. No record label was interested in signing The Beatles at that time. The fact that his was the sole quote attributed to this fairly enormous misjudgment of the band’s commercial potential by all the major London labels seems unfair. Then again, he did turn down the biggest group of all time.
No one will ever buy your stuff on CD

Not that EMI, the company that did eventually secure The Beatles’ signatures, has anything to crow about. In 1982, as the music industry was about receive a colossal shot in the arm from the development and delivery of the compact disc, EMI, who hadn’t exactly been spry off the mark with the arrival of the 12″ long-playing album in 1949, decided that these digital discs were not the way forward. They reasoned that the three-cent royalty per disc payable to Philips, who developed the format, was unacceptable. A Guardian feature on the CD’s early days even has an unnamed EMI executive telling Frank Zappa not to bother reissuing his work on the new format because, “No one will ever buy your stuff on CD.”

The scale to which they were wrong about that dwarfs Decca’s decision not to sign The Beatles by several decimal points. Music fans not only bought new albums as they came out, they went out and replaced their old vinyl albums with CD copies. EMI, being the largest British record company of the time, stood to reap a colossal fortune, and of course eventually they did, but not before everyone else got there first.
Kids in Beijing will listen to futura-rock”

[WATCH] Robot band rocks Hong Kong arts festival, 2016
In 1988, the Los Angeles Times magazine imagined what family life would look like in the year 2013. Writer Nicole Yorkin’s predictions said more about life in the late-80s than the early-10s, but some are eerily close, given this pre-dates the internet: “The Morrows entertain their company in the rec room by calling up the local digital music cable company and asking to sample a few classical collections. Music pours out of the speakers attached to the side of an ultra-thin, high-resolution video screen hanging on the wall.”

However, other elements miss the mark, either by underestimating the rate of technological change by 2013 – “Ito likes one symphony so much that Bill records the whole piece onto a laser disc,” which feels more like 2003 – or simply guessing at where music will go, using 1988 reference points. There’s a robot butler that sings Your Cheatin’ Heart by Hank Williams, and the family’s young son Zach is still sketching guitars on his schoolbooks: “Zach hurriedly signs off without hearing the answer to whether kids in Beijing listen to futura-rock too.”

Answer: they don’t. They’re all listening to ultra-neo-futura-rock now, grandad.
Copyright will no longer exist

[LISTEN] David Bowie interviewed in 2002
David Bowie has a reputation for being good at spotting where music was headed. And his conversion to the cyberworld happened long before many of his peers had even considered the possibilities that the internet may hold. But he wasn’t right about everything. Take the New York Times interview he gave in 2002 where he essentially foretold the arrival of music streaming services three years before even YouTube had launched. This bit is good: “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”

But he also said this: “I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.”

Leaving aside the thorny question of revenue streams for artists from streaming media, 15 years since that interview, copyright is still being firmly administered across the internet, which is one of the reasons streaming sites for music grew in popularity, as an alternative to the illegal peer-to-peer sharing of songs and albums. So the second prediction being wrong is part of the reason the first one is right.

A Composer Who Made The Everyday Extraordinary

Born Dec. 9, 1927 in Paris, Pierre Henry was enchanted by everything he heard. He entered the Paris Conservatory when he was just 10 years old. There, he studied with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger, whose students eventually included everyone from Aaron Copland to Quincy Jones. It was an auspicious start to an audacious career.

In his early 20s, he helped usher in a musical revolution with a style called musique concrète — “concrete music” — collages of prerecorded and manipulated sounds from both electronic and acoustic sources.

In The Art Of Sounds, Henry spoke about how deliberately he created those collages. “Musique concrète is the art of decision,” he said. “It’s the art of choice. You select one sound over others and that’s where composing begins.”

Musique concrète was born just after World War II — as France rebuilt, the government established a public radio and television channel, RTF. The project included an experimental studio where composers could create new work.

It was in that studio that Henry and his then-mentor Pierre Schaeffer, wrote a groundbreaking piece, their Symphonie pour un homme seul (Symphony For A Lone Man). It became a legend among musicians. Of this composition, Schaeffer wrote:

“The lone man should find his symphony in himself, and not just solely in conceiving music abstractly, but in being his own instrument. A lone man possesses much more than the 12 notes of the voice [in an octave]. He cries, he whistles, he walks, he pounds his fist, he laughs, he moans. His heart beats, his breathing accelerates, he utters words, he calls out and others respond.”

And Pierre Henry’s own compositions found a home in pop culture. In 1967, along with Michel Colombier, Henry wrote the score for a ballet by choreographer Maurice Béjart called Messe pour le temps present (Mass For The Present Time). That ballet included some music, in a section called “Psyche Rock,” that became a touchstone for generations of DJs and producers who followed Henry.

Its clanging chimes and wailing, fuzzy electric guitar have turned up in decades of movie and TV scores, both credited — and not.

You hear it in the score of Costa-Gavras’ 1969 Oscar-winning film, Z. Henry and Colombier’s original music appears in the screen version, but composer Mikis Theodorakis penned a very similarly styled piece for the soundtrack.

The weirdest excuses for gig cancellations

Pigeon strike

A large venue, of the sort that plays host to rock concerts, is apparently a haven for pigeons, who will often roost in the upper scaffolding, and then fly around while the band performs. And where there are pigeons, there will undoubtedly be pigeon droppings. Often venues will bring in specialist pest controllers to deal with their infestation, but clearly this was not the case in St Louis in 2010, when Kings of Leonbassist Jared Followill found himself the target of a particular flock of feathered menaces.

After a couple of splatters landed on his clothes during the first two songs, he was hit on the face, close to his mouth, and the band elected to call a halt to their set for health and hygiene reasons.

 Getting bored of your own music

Highlights of Iggy Azalea’s set at 1Xtra Live 2013

There must come a point for any performer when it feels like they need to change gear a bit, take a break, refresh their sound and absorb a few different influences. Perhaps the worst time to make that decision is just before a major US tour, as Iggy Azalea did in 2015, cancelling the entire jaunt and claiming she wanted to stop “singing the same songs”.

After apologising to fans on social media, she later gave an interview with Seventeen magazine, saying: “I feel like I’m at the end of an era now. To go on a tour in late September and to stay in that mindset of what I’d envisioned for that tour, I feel like that would stifle me…

“It’s not easy to decide that the best thing to do is cancel a tour, but that’s the best thing for me. I don’t want to disappoint my fans. I feel really bad. It was a tough decision to make, but it was the best thing.”

 Kissing Alex Jones

Lionel Richie on surviving the music industry

There’s a cautionary tale here for all celebrities who push their luck. The One Show’s Alex Jones recalled how a meeting with Lionel Richie ended badly for him, thanks to a bug she’d picked up shortly before his arrival. She explained to the Sun: “I’m not ill very often but I remember the norovirus was rife at the time and I started to feel very dodgy.

“I had a day off but then I probably went back into work a day too early so I was still infectious. After Lionel and I had just finished our chat on the show, I went to give him a kiss on the cheek and he went in for the lips. He caught the norovirus off me and had to cancel two of his tour dates. I did feel a bit guilty but, essentially, don’t be so forward Lionel! If he’d gone for the cheek, he would have been fine.”

Wishing the Dalai Lama a happy birthday

Maroon 5 had been booked to play two shows in Shanghai and Beijing in 2015, but found that both concerts had been cancelled suddenly, with no clear reason as to why. On further investigation, a (since deleted) tweet by the band’s keyboard player Jesse Carmichael appears to have angered both Chinese fans and the authorities, after he said that he “sang happy birthday to his holiness” the Dalai Lama.

This was interpreted as a political act, as the religious leader has been exiled from his native Tibet since 1959. And it’s not the first time musicians have found their invites to perform in China rescinded on similar grounds. Noel Gallagher and Linkin Parkboth had prospective Chinese concerts cancelled after showing their support for the Free Tibet movement.