Monthly Archives: October 2009

Let’s Get Cynical About Something Vaguely Serious For Once: The BNP

Yeah, I know this is supposed to be a music blog, but I thought I’d try my hand at a semi-serious comment piece for once. Consider it an experiment – and if no-one cares or likes it I guess I’ll just go back to being cynical about awards shows and slagging off Lady Gaga.

I must admit that, after the BNP gained a seat in Yorkshire in this year’s European Elections, I felt some guilt for not voting. Not because my one puny vote would have made all the difference, but because I hadn’t even bothered to go out and make my own personal stand against them. For the first time the danger of political apathy was illuminated in stark detail – perhaps, I realised, even if you don’t care about who wins, you should at least care about who shouldn’t be winning. And The BNP should definitely NOT be winning. (Yes, you could argue that I should have learned that in History lessons, but never mind…)

However, without the BNP’s perceived increase in credibility, we wouldn’t have had the entertaining spectacle of their leader, one Mr. Nick Griffin, appearing on this week’s Question Time. Even before the event it had divided opinion – Welsh Secretary Peter Hain was particularly up in arms about it, mewling weakly to an incredulous Jeremy Paxman that the BBC could face legal action for allowing them on the program despite the legality of their constitution having been called into question. (An aside, but it’s not quite accurate to say that no-one ever voted for Will Young – did you not quite grasp how the whole Pop Idol thing worked, Paxman?) And while the BBC itself waved the flag of impartiality around, and Mr. Griffin scoffed at his political peers’ stupidity for kicking up a fuss about it, I’m sure what most people were hoping is that he would make an absolute tit of himself.

So, did he? It’s not a question with a straightforward answer. In the aftermath, petty victories were claimed by Griffin’s fellow panalists (and others besides), while Griffin himself bawled about how he was essentially subject to a lynch mob – in particular, he felt aggrieved at the fact that the questioning was overly focused on him and his party. To which my reply would be “what did you expect, dipshit?” Granted, he almost has a point that he wasn’t really allowed to discuss the ‘issues of the day’ (citing the postal strike as an example) – except for the fact that, like it or not, he was the issue of the day.

However, he still managed to make himself look like a bigot even when the BNP wasn’t being directly discussed – ok, discussing Jan Moir‘s cretinous article about Stephen Gately was almost setting Griffin up to make a homophobic comment, but it’s testament to his sheer bloody-minded belief in his own intolerance that he walked right into it with only the most cursory attempt to come across as non-homophobic. And that’s to say nothing of some of his other choice quotes, from his concept of a ‘non-violent’ Ku Klux Klan, to his sickening attempt to align himself with Christianity – which former Archbishop Lord Carey has described as “chilling”. Also of note was his attempt to squirm out of a question on Holocaust denial by essentially asserting that France or Germany might arrest him for it – you’d have thought that both countries had police officers waiting outside the studio, waiting to drag him away as soon as the program had finished.

Mr Griffin also moaned that the program shouldn’t have taken place in London, displaying his usual profound racial sensitivity by claiming that levels of immigration now mean that it is “no longer a British city”. Clearly, he’s not got a leg to stand on here – he knew well in advance that the program was to take place in London, and could surely have requested to appear on a different edition of the show. But he was obviously so desperate for the publicity that he’d happily take whatever the BBC were offering – indeed, I half wonder if it was a calculated move, a prime opportunity to play the ‘victim’ and ‘underdog’ cards that the BNP seem so fond of.

Even after the event, Peter Hain hasn’t given up whining about it, claiming that recent Telegraph/YouGov poll results show that “The BBC has handed the BNP the gift of the century on a plate” –  a massively hyperbolic statement when you consider that we haven’t even got through ten percent of said century yet. That aside, the headline result does indeed seem quite shocking at first – nearly 1 in 4 say they’d vote for the BNP! OMG! But when you get down to the exact details, it’s not quite as drastic as it sounds – only 4% of people said they would ‘definitely’ vote for the the BNP, and a full two-thirds said they wouldn’t vote for them under any circumstances. However, while the poll indicates that a BNP majority is still a pipe-dream for the party, it also suggests that the mainstream parties need to start addressing voter concerns when it comes to immigration, as over half the respondents conceded that the BNP ‘had a point’ on these issues.

Personally, I think Nick Griffin proved himself to be a blithering idiot on Question Time, unable to properly defend himself when his foul views were exposed and called into question. There is, however, the argument that he got such a kicking that people might just start feeling sorry for him – indeed, The BNP claims that it gained 3000 members during the transmission of this week’s Question Time program. We only have their word for it, of course – but I would hope that the message that Nick Griffin gave to the majority of viewers sounded more like this:

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Let’s NOT Get Cynical About: Editors

If there’s a case to be made for being cynical about Editors, then I certainly don’t need to be the one to make it –  they’ve seen enough of that over their career already, from the sneering ‘Boy Division’ jibes to dismissive comparisons to Interpol (and yes, there is enough room for both bands to exist). Indeed, some critics have been quick to snobbishly deride third album In This Light And On This Evening as the moment when the band stopped aping Unknown Pleasures and started copying Closer and/or New Order instead. However, if you’re expecting more cynicism here then turn away now – I love Editors, and shamelessly so. I couldn’t have been more pleased for them when the slow-burning success of The Back Room set them up to go huge with follow-up An End Has A Start. I loved the former so much that when my brother managed to ‘lose’ my copy of the special edition after he lent it to a friend, I felt compelled to search the internet for another copy, no matter that I ended up paying £19 for it. The latter threw me at first – or specifically, discovering that ‘Bones’ was basically a massive red herring threw me. But after taking another couple of listens, it all fell into place, and I adored it almost as much as the first. And let’s not forget that the band are even better live than on record – and their live sound is something that they’ve openly said they wanted to capture on their third album.

They arguably come closest with the record’s first single ‘Papillon’ – a song that I first heard played live at a festival in Switzerland, and the track that wiped away any doubts I may have had about Editors new, more electronic sound. Monolithic, Depeche Mode synths permeate the track, along with a drumbeat that pounds and skitters in equal measure – the song simply doesn’t let up, and should surely sit alongside the band’s early singles as a staple floor-filler. ‘Bricks And Mortar’ also makes a strong case for capturing the band’s live sound, with its incessant pulse and slow, layered build-up replicated almost perfectly. In fact, certain aspects of the song are improved on record – the almost comedic tyre-skidding samples that jarred when I heard the song played live sound more like aggressive bursts of feedback on record, which seems more fitting with the overall feel of the song.

Elsewhere, opener ‘In This Light And On This Evening’ sets the tone for the album with sinister, looping sci-fi electronics and Smith’s haunting baritone declaring “I swear to God/In this light and on this evening/London’s become the most beautiful thing I’ve seen” before the song bursts into distorted guitar and what sounds like a panicked Morse-code transmission – from start to finish, it’s completely captivating. They definitely haven’t lost their knack for a lyrical hook either – ‘Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool’ contrasts the creepy imagery of the title and verses with the biggest pop chorus on the album, while the dark, queasy instrumentation ‘The Big Exit’ still eventually gives way to not one, but two emotive hooks.

But for those who are put off by the bands new-found synth obsession, it’s important to realise that Editors are basically making the same music as they did before – they’re just using different instruments. ‘You Don’t Know Love’ and ‘Like Treasure’, for example, are tracks that would happily have sat on previous album An End Has A Start if you played some of the synth lines on guitars instead (or, arguably, even if you didn’t). The album even ends in a similar way to The Back Room, with the reflective, almost ethereal shimmer of ‘Walk The Fleet Road’. The point is, that Editors haven’t changed the most key aspect of their sound – the juxtaposition of dark and light, of gloom and hope. The fact that they’re using synthesisers this time round is almost irrelevant in some respects – and yet, it is undoubtedly a progression for the band, and demonstrates a willingness to experiment, to make something different rather than just sitting on their laurels.

It’s also worth mentioning the ‘bonus disc’ that comes with the special edition of the album – titled Cuttings II, in another nod to The Back Room. But these are no mere castoffs – much like the original Cuttings, these are all tracks that would have been worthy of inclusion on the album itself. Indeed, the only obstacle to their inclusion is likely the fact that the album seems complete as it is, even at only nine tracks long. ‘For The Money’ is a sinister highlight, taking the “One for the money, two for the show…” intro to Elvis’ ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and bleakly updating it to “One for the money, two for the money, three for the money…” – a cynical dig at the modern music industry, perhaps? ‘A Life As A Ghost’ is also impressive, with Smith sneering “Dance, fucker, dance, you were born to entertain,” over oppressive, almost industrial beats, while ‘This House Is Full Of Noise’ also makes a strong case for inclusion on the album proper, starting with sparse instrumentation and ominous drumbeats before suddenly exploding into a wall of guitar noise. Overall, the five tracks on the bonus disc compliment the album extremely well.

As a fan of the band, I can only hope that In This Light And On This Evening will at least cause Editors’ detractors to re-consider their prejudices against the band. At any rate, it doesn’t seem to have put their existing fanbase off – the album went straight in at number one in the UK charts this week. Perhaps that means I’m just preaching to the converted?

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Let’s Get Cynical About: Tribute Bands

Having worked at York venue The Duchess for a little over a year now, I already feel like I’ve seen enough tribute bands to last a lifetime – and I find it sad, almost depressing even, that these shows are generally better attended than the majority of other gigs than we put on. Are people’s musical horizons are so shrouded in the fog of nostalgia that, instead of watching a new or established artist play their own material, they’d rather watch a bunch of grown men live out their rockstar fantasies? If so, it’s a disheartening fact – but unfortunately, in such trying economic times, tribute acts are bread and butter shows. For example, The Complete Stone Roses -making a living by ruining any appreciation you may have had for the band and their music, but consistently pulling 300+ punters a show. Or UK Guns ‘N’ Roses, who proved quite adequately that G’n’R’s back catalogue consists of chugging, neuron-deficient rock and flaccid ballads, interspersed with the kind of guitar solos that sound like the futile wanking of an impotent man – and even with somewhere between 150 and 200 attendees, it was easily more populous than any of that week’s preceding gigs. And don’t get me started on the prog-rock bands…

For tributes to now-defunct bands, there is at least the justification that people aren’t going to be able to see the actual band play live any more – but to be honest, I’d wager that half the time you’d be better off listening to the CDs. However, tributes to bands that are still currently in existence have no such justification. Who needs a shit Green Day or Foo Fighters tribute? Those bands are going to tour again soon enough, why listen to some chancers murder their songs? You can argue that it’s a cheaper and easier alternative to the real thing, especially in the case of the U2 tribute we had in recently – but if you like the band that much then surely it’s worth forking out for their shows, rather than watching some twat in a cowboy hat and shades prance around pretending to be Bono? I’ll admit that there are rare cases when a tribute band can add a little extra to the source material – for example, Japanese Beatles tribute band The Parrots were entertaining, if only for the fact that they kept mis-pronouncing words. And The Hamsters at least interject their tribute to Hendrix and ZZ Top with interesting facts and anecdotes.

But overall, I find that tribute bands only serve to tarnish my opinion of their source material – which is why I’m somewhat relieved that I’m planning to be out of the country when a Joy Division tribute act hits The Duchess. Sometimes, the best tribute that these bands could pay to their heroes would be to shut the fuck up.

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