Peter Kennard exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London

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I visited the Peter Kennard exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London yesterday and was knocked out by his work. I’d seen pieces before but never put them together with a name and when my wife suggested we go because it was ending soon and we still hadn’t checked out the new, refurbished IWM it was a no-brainer. The new museum layout is very good, although they’ve crammed a lot in, the different levels take you from the first World War up to the present day with some chilling artifacts (the twisted wreckage of one of the Twin Towers’ windows is included).

Kennard’s exhibition is a treasure trove of posters, books, magazines and original art – tons of it. Seeing it all together you realise what an impact he had in the media and how much of his work pre-dates so many that came after him. Most fascinating for me is the original collage work with photos manipulated by hand rather than computer for the most part. The final room has an installation of many of his pieces, layered like fly posters but interspersed with business cards from various different companies which make for a chilling juxtaposition, “We never forget who we’re working for”Lockheed Martin. It’s only on for one more week so try and find time to go, it’s free or you can donate to the museum as you go in.

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More ‘Art Pop’ and the record store in the basement

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I made time to actually visit the Keith Haynes ‘Art Pop’ show at Gallery Different in London last week after posting photos friends had taken on the opening night. I really wanted to see the cut up Bowie and Beatles sleeves and I wasn’t disappointed, they are beautifully executed and what becomes apparent when you view them up close is that Keith has selected covers with differing print qualities so as to make the contrast between the same sections more apparent. The same covers printed 20 years apart can be quite noticeable, especially in this digital age where the original films or photos might have been lost and an inferior scan used in their place. This is especially noticeable on the ‘Hunky Dory’ image below, try and check them out before the show ends on May 30th and there’s another surprise in the basement of the gallery that I knew nothing about.

Roger Miles has installed his version of a 70’s record shop underneath the gallery entitled, ‘Resonate – Generate’, complete with vinyl, 8-Track machines, vintage posters and more. Having just read Roger Perry’s ‘The Writing On The Wall’ it was a timely coincidence that evoked memories of the same era. His jogroglog blog is full of fascinating artifacts and information on his various art projects (one was in a local dump where he could use anything that was bought in – including a speed boat on a trailer!). Anything one best viewed in the flesh.

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‘Art Pop’ show by Keith Haynes

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The ‘Art’ Pop  show by Keith Haynes just opened at Gallery Different, 14 Percy Street, W1, just off Tottenham Court Road. The North American map above, entitled ‘Hitsville USA’, in made up of vinyl records, all laser cut and named after each of the states. Likewise the ‘Going Undeground’ maps all have relevant records associated with the stops they represent, a simple idea presented immaculately. In a subtle touch Haynes has used various colours from Factory Road’s extensive 45 adapter range to compliment the 7″ centres. I predict we’ll be seeing this ripped off for years to come.

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Musical icons such as the smiley and the target are rendered in coloured badges that remind me of the work of Ian Wright or Jimmy Cauty. ‘Cover Versions’ of Bowie & Beatles sleeves are cut up and modified, looking like physical manifestations of Photoshop filters. The mutated sleeves work well (the ‘Heroes’ one above is even preferable to Jonathon Barnbrook‘s reworking of same for Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ last year) because he’s remixing the original physical media to form a new work, in the same way Christian Marclay has in the past. Where I find it less successful is when he’s recreated existing designs in vinyl – the Sex Pistols, Velvets (not shown) and Dylan covers for example. They’re beautifully done but they’re Reid, Warhol and Glaser designs, not Haynes’ and it irks me when I see artists reappropriating the iconic work of others. I feel the same way about the portraits of singers like Amy Winehouse, Blondie, Bolan and more in used copies of their old vinyl records.

It renders him as more craftsman than artist, reproducing and recontextualising the work of others, relying on the audience’s familiarity and love of the original subject matter to sell ‘his’ work. The same could be said for the smiley and underground map of course but these are now accepted cultural icons, as part of the public visual consciousness as Coca Cola or Apple. I love the look of his show but I’m conflicted because of some of its artistic origins. It’s on until May 30th, so still a month to check it out and make your own mind up. Photos courtesy of Leigh Adams

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Jason De Haan ‘Nowhere Bodily Is Everywhere Ghostly’ exhibition

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Details and excerpts from Jason De Haan‘s ‘Nowhere Bodily Is Everywhere Ghostly’ exhibition at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in 2010 – incredible collage work. Above and below: ‘New Jerusalem’, 2010 (detail) “A floating city/landscape collaged from the deconstructed covers of over 1000 1950’s-80’s science-fiction paperbacks.”

Spotted by Imaginary Cities on Twitterfollow them for daily image dumps of, well… imaginary cities.

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Ninja Tune 25 Expo, Charleville-Mezieres, France

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I keep forgetting to post this – there’s a Ninja Tune 25 Year retrospective currently showing at the Médiathèque Voyelles, 2 Place Jacques Félix, 08000 Charleville-Mézières in France. It’s been curated by Jais Elalouf aka DJ Oof (that’s him below, at the opening night) from his own personal collection and some of my archive. It features many record sleeves, promo posters, proofs and some original artwork and finishes on April 30th so if you’re in the area check it out.

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Record Store Day 2015

WNBARB_RSD2015I didn’t go into town for RSD, instead I stayed south of the river, went to smaller, local stores like Rat Records in Camberwell, Casbah and The Music & Video Exchange in Greenwich and The Book & Record Bar in West Norwood (above). Much calmer atmosphere, no crush or crazy queuing, no crowds. I saw some scenes in the centre of London on the day and it looked like Carnival was on. Read what happened to Mr Thing at his set on Berwick St. in the middle of Soho… not cool.

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I went to West Norwood first, got there at 10am, walked in and pulled one record straight away from my list (the Amorphous Androgynous ‘Wizards of Oz’ comp above). No fuss, no crush, no queuing. They also still had records from RSD 2014 in the racks. I will go to Rough Trade at some point in the next few weeks to see what they have but I joined a queue there on RSD about 3 years ago and never again. It’s not for me, I don’t enjoy buying records that way. If people are all looking in one place I want to be somewhere in the opposite direction.
In all on Saturday I did four records shops, only two of which had RSD records, but I got plenty of vinyl, both old and new (plus books, magazines and a CD).

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Also had time to see an exhibition (Snub 23, see previous post) and meet up with friends and family in the park. A relaxing day that involved going to record stores/shops and helping support them plus the artists and labels. No fretting about whether a record I wanted was going for stupid money on eBay, there’s plenty of time to hunt the one that got away down, I don’t need anything so badly that I have to pay those kind of prices. I should probably also add here, that this is pretty much the same as any number of other days in the year when I go shopping for records rather than making it a one-off.

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‘Short Fuse’ – Snub23 at the Ben Oakley Gallery, London

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Currently starring in his first solo show at the Ben Oakley Gallery in Greenwich is Snub23, a Brighton artist I’ve featured a few times on here and who I’ve collaborated with before on the last Herbaliser album.
One of the most dedicated stencil artists I’ve ever come across, he’s always moving his style forward and several are on display in the show. His signature 23 piece and Mongrol character preside over the back wall with new 3D heads appearing for the first time of the robot.
His Isometric Op-Art designs multiply across distressed metal drawers and more characters grace found signage, a skate deck and circuit boards. Subtler line drawings of female faces in a number of expressions adorn one wall and delicately stenciled feathers are free to viewers.

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He also has these T-shirts for sale plus prints of the same at the gallery, the show ends on May 3rd so be quick, the gallery in a little side passage off the main market square in Greenwich.

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RIP Gong’s Daevid Allen

News update from the Allen family in Australia: Daevid Allen has passed on. He left today, this Friday the Thirteenth, at 1:05pm.”

The RIP list for 2015 is already stacking up (Terry Pratchett passed away yesterday) and it’s only March. Sad to see so many innovators leaving this mortal coil, breaking out the Camembert and making a pot of tea in his memory. RIP Daevid.

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Matt Johnson ‘Hyena’ release and ‘Soul Food’ interview

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A new The The album is always a cause for celebration and today is such a day. As usual with Matt Johnson, you think he’s disappeared and then there’s a flurry of activity that confirms that he’s been very busy indeed. His brother, Gerard’s new film, ‘Hyena’, is out on general release in cinemas today after showings at selected film festivals and already winning a couple of European awards. The Brothers Johnson, as they are fast becoming known (call the lawyers!), are appearing at the Watershed in Bristol on Sunday March 8th for a Q&A with Mark Cosgrove about ‘Hyena’ and the power of the score in cinema.

the_the_CINEOLASERIESMatt’s own Cineola label is releasing the soundtrack on CD in the usual hardback book format which is slowly forming a beautiful series of releases. The 20 track album comes with an 84 page photo book and is available now from the The The shop. A vinyl version will follow shortly on Death Waltz Recordings.

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Last summer I interviewed Matt at Rough Trade East about his classic album, ‘Soul Mining’, and today you can get a free download of ‘Soul Food’, our one hour chat, newly edited by myself with added instrumental accompaniment. Also check out the previous installments of Matt’s Radio Cineola series which contain all sorts of rare and unreleased moments from The The‘s back catalogue as well as interviews with his collaborators.

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The photos above and below were taken by Gerald Jenkins, during the interview and on Brick Lane shortly after.

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Trevor Jackson ‘F O R M A T’ launch

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Thursday night saw the launch of Trevor Jackson‘s first release in 14 years, ‘F O R M A T’, hosted at the Vinyl Factory space under Brewer St. car park on the heart of Soho. The release consists of 12 tracks and is initially being made available on 12 different kinds of media with 1 track per format.

These range from 12″, 10″ and 7″ vinyl, CD and mini CD, DAT, VHS, Cassette, USB card, Minidisc, 8-track cartridge and 1/4″ tape reel. The numbers of the edition drop as the format gets more obscure so while the 12″ is pressed up at 500 copies the 1/4″ reel is in an edition of only 10 available with the complete box set of all 12 formats. Prices start at £10 and slowly creep up as the numbers get more limited until you get to the full box set at an eye-watering £850. There is also a poster of all 12 formats available in an edition of 100 with each piece signed and numbered. See, hear and buy the full line up at www.formatvf.com

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At the opening last Thursday guests were directed into the car park and downstairs to a space with a free bar at one end and a table selling the various formats that make up the album at the other. A second dark, enclosed space housed a wall of 12 huge screens opposite corresponding plinths with two sets of headphones. Each format and track was represented by a different film of it being played on the corresponding equipment, not a one shot YouTube-style video but varying close ups of the act of loading the format as well as associated graphics such as time displays, VU meters, rotating spools and platters etc.

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What’s different about how this album came to be is that Trevor had over 100 tracks that he’d worked on over the past 14 years but only finished last year. This isn’t an album in the conventional sense, none of the tracks were intended to work together, they’ve been cherry-picked from the archive and exist in isolation from each other at the exhibition, preview-able via the headphones. Likewise (at the moment) each track exists in isolation if you buy it physically. Even the spaced letters of the ‘F O R M A T’ title suggest a disengagement from each other or maybe that’s just the graphic designer in me reading more into it. There was no playback of the full record and it will be interesting to see how the tracks hang together when the collection is released in two months time.

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About the music, as it’s not been mentioned as much as the packaging and concept yet: everything I heard was instrumental, electronic, stark, minimal and very brittle sounding. Knowing Trevor’s methods and tastes I’d guess that a lot of this has been made using original kit rather than samples and his ‘Metal Dance’ compilations point the way to the sonic palette he’s using. Baring in mind I’ve only heard approximately two thirds of the record (it was a very busy night with only two heaphone sets per track) my description above may be a little skewed.
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The 7″ track, ‘They Came From NY’ for instance, features an unidentified voice intoning a few lines and the ending disintegrates into random background sounds that slowly coalesce into a mutant jazz ensemble before being abruptly cut off. ‘In Your Hands’ – the VHS format that also includes the video – was my favourite from what I heard, an edit of a 7 minute plus ambient piece with a film of a dancing form that had been forced through some sort of video distortion technique.

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My friend Frode Heieren pointed out that if you added up the 11 separate formats they would cost over £300 and yes, the pricing is crazy if you look at it like that. It aligns the work with the art and fashion worlds rather than the music industry, way out of proportion to the majority of similar objects sold elsewhere. The way each piece is sold is in the same manner as the art world too, these won’t be available in shops, only at the show and online, and each piece comes with a signed, numbered card that states which number you have and there’s the difference.

You’re buying part of an edition and the art world dictates that the lower the edition the higher the price. If you want to get into that side of things then you’ll spend the money – personally I bought a 7″ and cassette as well as a poster, certainly the most I’ve ever spent on either of those formats new. You’re getting 1 track per format and I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that that’s a good deal but you’re buying an artifact here on a format of your choice and it’s more about your preferred media than the track it contains.
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If you don’t want to get into that then the whole album will be released in 2 months on vinyl, CD and download. Realistically very few people are going to be able to play a DAT, tape reel or 8 track cartridge so the editions are low and the prices high. That’s going to frustrate the completists but it’s also a very clever way to stop the album leaking in full as it’s unlikely that anyone is going to buy the box set and stick it online.

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The full box set is inordinately expensive though, I thought it would be £2-300 tops and that’s the only bit where the pricing seemed out of whack to me. It puts it into the realms of the 1% and that’s something I’m personally not a fan of. But then again I have no idea how much it all cost to make, source and produce and the Vinyl Factory have never been known to be cheap which is why they’re one of the best at what they do. Trevor has said that there is no way he’s making a penny from it unless the box sets sell as sourcing things like 1/4″ reels and 8-Track cartridges aren’t exactly cheap or easy. Anyone who has experience of pressing records will also know that the lower the pressing, the higher the cost per item. From my own experience, I made 30 playable postcard records for the launch of the ‘Search Engine’ album exhibition in 2012 and, even selling them at £8 each, I only just broke even. But let’s not get into the crass subject of money and costings…

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Most of all, the whole concept and execution is excellent and has had me thinking about music packaging from a different perspective in the same way that a good exhibition or film leaves you questioning things. I found the most successful presentation of the set was actually a framed version hanging on the wall, displaying each format rather than hiding them away in a box. I’d wager that those who bought items on the night probably acquired them more as artifacts of the show and, after a cursory listen, are more likely to display them than play them, certainly with the limited numbered formats. This has been happening for a while now if you speak to record shop owners who quiz their customers on their buying habits with many physical releases.

It will be interesting to see how much makes its way to the secondary market and how they appreciate in value over time, something I don’t think we can discount in this age of investment buying and flipping. A quick web search shows nothing on eBay or Discogs which is refreshing but will these prices seem like chicken feed in years to come? I know that Trevor’s intention couldn’t have been further from any thoughts of long term fiscal appreciation and would have been focused on the concept and presentation and ‘F O R M A T’ is a love letter to the physical in a time when more and more people are interested in owning a tangible manifestation of what they’re paying for again. In terms of innovative ways to present an album Trevor has broken new ground here and, despite the elitist pricing, I think that makes it a success.

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RIP Leonard Nimoy

Spocks Music From outer SpaceI was sad to hear of Leonard Nimoy‘s death over the weekend. Although I’ve never been a Trekkie his appeal for me was always his voice and I’ve dug out three records from the collection that feature him. The classic is ‘Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space’ album, a direct cash-in LP from the TV show that made him famous. As well as a groovey version of the theme from ‘Star Trek’ it also bizarrely features covers of themes from ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Oliver’ but the gold is in the spacey spoken word tracks were Nimoy shines, especially ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Earth’ and ‘A Visit To A Sad Planet’.

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The second album is a 1987 release entitled ‘Whales Alive’ by Paul‘s Winter and Halley with narration by Nimoy. This is essentially a New Age record with voices of Humpback Whales accompanied by Leonard reading relevant spoken word passages. In the early 90’s I used to play selections from this over my ambient sets, one track in particular, ‘Queequeg and I’ extracted from ‘Moby Dick’, was a favourite. Unfortunately the record obtained a scratch at some point and you can hear it during one of my first ever Solid Steel sets from 1993. Near the end of the piece, just as it builds to a crescendo, Nimoy reads, “as he stood…” and the record jumps back to a perfect loop of the line, as I realised what was happening in the middle of the live mix you can hear me quietly fading the line out.

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Probably the best known use of Leonard in one of the mixes I’ve been involved with though is the Ray Bradbury ‘Marionettes, Inc.’ story used during the ‘Taking of Pelham 123′ section of ‘Now, Listen’. I can’t lay claim to this as it was 100% PC‘s inclusion and arrangement but it stands as one of the most memorable moments of the mix. Someone has uploaded it to the web and it starts at around the 10 minute mark. I can’t recommend this 1976 Caedmon LP enough being that it contains Nimoy reading two other classic Bradbury sci-fi stories. RIP Leonard.

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RIP Rod McKuen

McKuen_SFHippieTripIt’s been a bad week for deaths in the music world, first it was Tangerine Dream-founder Edgar Froese, then Demis Roussos and now Rod McKuen, the spoken word poet dubbed ‘the King of Kitsch’. He wrote over a thousand songs, several books and released hundreds of records in his lifetime and there’s sample gold in that silky voice.

McKuen_TheEarth Listen to one of my favouties by Rod, ‘The Mud Kids’ from ‘The Earth’ LP and tell me it’s not genius, transports me back to a time I never knew but can imagine existed. Keen-earned listeners might also recognise the opening strings from a certain mix I did with PC and DK way back.

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Guilty pleasure, ‘Seasons In The Sun’, the 70’s hit by Terry Jacks, was an adaptation of a McKuen piece which was itself taken from a Jacques Brel song that he translated. He jumped on many bandwagons, aligning himself with the Beat Poets on ‘Beatsville’ and the Hippies on ‘Rod McKuen Takes A San Franciso Hippie Trip’ but the results were never convincing.
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The Rod McKuen disco LP? Sure, ‘Amor, Amor, Slide… Easy In’ has at least one decent break on it and was also as used by Christian Marclay in one of his album sleeve assemblages (the hot pants side).

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RIP Edgar Froese

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I’ll never forget hearing this track on a tape at school aged 13 or 14. Nick Canning played it to me, swearing blind that his uncle made it and that it was called ‘Flight Through Metamorphic Rocks’. I loved it and only later found out who really made it and the actual title (the track before is called ‘Cloudburst Flight’).
Funnily enough, the tape started the track at about the same place, the first half of the song is pretty average but then it breaks down and comes back with this pre-techno monster, not bad for 1979.


Of course, come the early 90’s and the resurgence of ambient music I was hoovering up LPs like the classic ‘Phaedra’, ‘Zeit’ and ‘Stratosfear’, even ‘Electronic Meditation’ but I lost track around the mid 80’s soundtrack period. And then there was this album where the truth was revealed… RIP Edgar