2014 – my year in music

A lot changed for me in 2014 in the way I find new music. I gave up my radio show on BCB in the spring.  For 10 years doing that radio programme meant a lot of music landed on my doorstep, literally. Since the spring I’ve heard nowhere near as new music as I used to.   Seeing end of year lists, such as Sarah Lay’s favourite 100 albums of 2014, and Bleep’s top 100 tracks, made me realise just how much I didn’t hear in 2014.

Having said that, BCB invited me back for a one off show over Christmas, and I used that to air some of the tunes that did impress me during 2014. You can hear 17 of my favourites from 2014 now via Mixcloud:

I feel sure I’ve probably not yet heard some of my favourite albums of 2014. So, although I have done the obligatory top 10, I’ve only included 9, leaving space for that amazing LP I haven’t yet heard.

Favourite LPs of 2014 (alphabetical order)

A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos
Aphex Twin – Syro
Goat – Commune
Grouper – Ruins
Mogwai – Rave Tapes
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
The Twilight Sad – Everybody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Rhythm
? – ?

Favourite gig of 2014

Continue reading 2014 – my year in music


The sound of Wikipedia breathing

I recently found out what the internet sounds like, and it’s amazing.  Have a listen to the music made by live Wikipedia edits and I’m sure you will agree.

Hatnote - listen to Wikipedia
Hatnote – listen to Wikipedia as it is edited

I find this absolutely extraordinary, so very now in every way. This is surely the ultimate music of the digital age. It’s a concerto of knowledge.

Everyone with internet access can, and might, contribute to the performance at any one time.  Every listener’s experience will be unique, as is your own experience every time you go back to it. I have Comms2Point0 and Stevie Benton to thank for finding out about this, after seeing this Tweet back in February:

Ever since first hearing it, I wanted to play an extract on my radio show. Sadly I never got round to it, and was kicking myself for forgetting to include it in my final show.  However, I now realise I wasn’t meant to play it on air.  Had I done so, both me and my listener would have heard the same performance.  And that would have defeated the object.

Live sessions at BCB Radio

During my 10 years presenting Eclectic Mainline on BCB I had the pleasure of recording live (largely) acoustic sessions with some wonderful artists.

BCB Sessions

After I decided to give up the programme, I wanted to re-broadcast some of my favourite session tracks before leaving.  So, in my penultimate show on BCB I played 16 session tracks from  my archives.  You can hear the full programme on my Mixcloud page:

My method of recording a live session evolved over time until I ended up with a process that got the best out of the available resources. The microphones at BCB are only really suited for speech broadcasting, and the studios are not equipped for multitrack recording. But I managed to work round these restrictions. The microphones issue was easy to overcome, as I would borrow some from Wilful Missing.

I was restriced to recording in stereo, but I would hard pan the inputs, recording the lead vocal in the left channel, and all other instruments in the right channel. This effectively created a 2-track recording that I could later mix to ensure a good level on the lead vocal. But I needed to get a good live mix of all the instruments, and this wasn’t always easy because I was in the same room as the musicians. I couldn’t monitor what was being recorded without also hearing the ambient noise of the musicians in the room. Continue reading Live sessions at BCB Radio

10 Years on the Radio

It is now 10 years since I started presenting Eclectic Mainline on BCB Radio, and what a 10 years it has been.

10 Years on BCB Radio

While preparing for my anniversary show I looked back over what I have achieved, and thought to myself…

“S**t, did I really do all that?!”

Eclectic Mainline has evolved a fair bit over my decade at BCB.  From starting to get a healthy number of new releases coming my way through 2004, I then had a frequent flow of interviewees on the programme in 2005.  The December 2005 edition of The Big Issue In The North ran an article under the title of “The Spirit of John Peel lives“.  This cited my own programme as one of several on community radio stations that had a similar ethos to that of the late Peel. Discovering that article on Boxing Day was by far the best Christmas present I got that year.

2006 was a turning point for Eclectic Mainline, as I dipped my toes into the world of live sessions, and I had several session guests a year for the next 5 years.  I would say that those sessions made the years from 2006 to 2010 my purple patch on BCB.  In 2011, Laura Rawlings and myself were up against the big boys and girls of the radio world, as our live sessions won us a Radio Academy Awards nomination. Continue reading 10 Years on the Radio

The evolution of the music video

One of the (numerous) highlights of the 2013 Bradford International Film Festival was Adam Buxton’s Best of BUG show. In the Pictureville cinema he screened music videos from recent years that he thinks are of particular merit.   I was familiar with heard several of the tunes, but had never seen the videos.  This is not uncommon as I don’t always get to see music videos.  It was a real eye-opener to see what amazing pieces of art have been created, such as recent videos by  Yeah Yeah YeahsBonobo and this by Shogu Tokumaru:

Adam Buxton didn’t discuss the evolution of the music video during his show, although I thought he might. This is something I think about quite a lot, and I don’t necessarily mean the evolution of the videos themselves, but more our relationship with them.

When I was about 15 I would eagerly await every third edition of The Chart Show on ITV on Saturday morning to see if I might catch a video by one of my favourite bands in the show’s Indie Top 10.  TV programmes like that were the only way for people like myself to see music videos.  I never had MTV, and there was no Internet.  So, unless something was a hit, and could have its video shown on Top Of The Pops, there were few opportunities for people like myself to see them.

Videos on demand – 1990s style

In the mid 1990s things started to change, although rather slowly at first.  I remember seeing the video to Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly‘ on a CD-ROM in 1995 and being totally blown away.  Not by the song or the video, I must admit, but by the concept and what it heralded. “A video…?!  On a CD…?!  WOW!” thought I.  It was one step away from a hovering skateboard as far as I was concerned.

In 1996, while at university in Salford, I did an assignment analysing music videos.  I wanted to base my project on 3 Radiohead videos: Fake Plastic TreesStreet Spirit and Just.  The trouble was, none of these videos were available in any way, unless you were able to tape them off the TV.  (It wasn’t until 1998, and the release of 7 Television Commercials that these Radiohead videos could be watched ‘on demand’).  So, I wrote to Parlophone in 1996 to entreat them for help. To my amazement, within a couple of weeks, they had posted me my very own Radiohead videotape.

#Radiohead #video compilation, 1996

The YouTube revolution

I use that Radiohead example to illustrate just how different things were not all that long ago.  The MTV era is now behind us, and in the digital age the YouTube revolution has taken us to a totally different level. Of course, any student undertaking a similar assignment now would have no problem with accessing music videos.

Not only is the Internet  where most music videos are now watched, but YouTube is even many a person’s first port of call for listening to music full stop. That’s quite incredible really and is worth pausing to reflect upon.  There are so many ways to listen to music now, both offline and online, yet millions of people use a website that wasn’t even intended for music.  As a consequence, every new song released really has to be on YouTube, whether it has a video or not, as with the new My Bloody Valentine album. I was shot down by the panel at the 2012 Live At Leeds Unconference for suggesting that bands should put all their new releases on YouTube.  I would be interested to know whether the same panel would still hold that view now 12 months on.

So, we now have (virtually) every song on YouTube, with or without a video.  Then we have artists’ other promotion videos; those which don’t accompany a song, and whose sole purpose seems to be to be viewed and shared online.  The seven videos Mute Records put on YouTube to promote Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! album in 2008 are the first example of such that I can recall.  I was struck at the time and saw this as a significant move.  This wasn’t simply a band making videos, and then ensuring that they went on YouTube.  These videos were, so far as I could tell, made specifically forYouTube.

The video and the single

The evolution of the single and the album is something I will write about another day.  But it is impossible to talk about music videos without discussing singles.

When I was a boy a good music video might persuade me to part with my pocket money for a 7″ single, and the purchase of the single might then lead to me buying the corresponding album (notable examples from my youth don’t come any more significant than A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me).  But now the distinction between a single and a video is far less well defined.  In fact, to say that the video is the single is not an absurd statement.    Continue reading The evolution of the music video