Something big is coming to the music industry. The smart ones have already worked it out, and it scares the crap out of them. The really smart ones are getting ready.
When I was young, my parents owned a radio station in Bega. It was great for us kids because all we had to do to listen to music was head down to the station and hang about in the record library. We could take a few records home and tape them too if we wanted.
I discovered some pretty incredible music for a country radio station. Kraftwerk, Devo, Run DMC and more poppy stuff like Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Culture Club.
This is probably how I got into weird music--by having the opportunity to listen to anything I wanted without having to pay for the privelege. When my parents sold the station, I had to buy music and much of the new music I discovered was coming from radio. I went through a pretty dire patch of crap music.
Later in life I was dragged to a rave by some friends. It changed my life. Once again I discovered that weird, pulsing, electronic sound I'd glimpsed in my youth.
Now the problem became how to find the music. Fortunately, the record stores selling this style of music anticipated the need to listen and had banks of headphones to listen before you buy.
Still, there's only so much time you want to spend standing in a record shop trying every weird and wonderful piece of music you can lay your hands looking for "the one".
You don't own music
The thing that's about to completely change the music industry isn't really a technology. It's a mindset. Sure it's driven by stuff like mp3, cable internet access and the like, but it's really a mindset.
In the very near future, the concept of owning a piece of music is going to disappear. Buying a piece of vinyl, magnetic tape or CD as the storage medium of music is going to disappear.
Why bother buying a record when you have every piece of music every made available through a high speed network connection? Particularly when all you pay for that connection is a flat monthly fee?
Now consider the changes that brings to the way we listen to music. Instead of being generally restricted to just the music we "own", we're free to explore the entire cornucopia that is music. Occasionally I feel like listening to schmaltzy classical music, but I don't own any Strauss CDs. I'd love to give everything Laibach have ever made at least one run through, but I'm not sure I'd want to pay big money for it.
The empire strikes back?
Now the smart ones amongst you have just started thinking about where this leaves record companies. The role of the record company, outside marketing, is as a venture capitalist of music.
Record companies put up the bucks to get the physical pieces of music made and distributed. Without that barrier to entry, who needs a record company? Well the Spice Girls and Brittney Spears, certainly need them. But artists creating funky music for the love of it? Established artists like Prince or Public Enemy? I don't think so.
The smart ones, and I think Sony are there about now, saw this coming a long way off. The way they're hoping to reintermediate themselves is to be the network software or hardware supplier for this new form of music distribution. Witness how Sony Music has supported SDMA and bagged out mp3 while Sony Electronics has produced a portable mp3 player. Some of them get it.
Of course the dumb ones aren't going to like it one bit. They'll go out kicking and screaming: lobbying governments to prosecute people making mp3 players and make copyright laws even more favourable to them, telling people they're harming artists by getting their music directly from them and so on. Should be fun to watch!
So where do you think it's headed? How are we going to do this?
On Saturday we went to the All Tomorrow's Parties festival on Cockatoo Island, curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seas. Loads of fun and it was certainly nice, for grumpy old man, to be at a festival with adults. As Bernard Zuel puts it, Not one on-drugs-for-the-first-time-ooh-yeah!! teenager is seen.
The highlight of the day was, of course, Nick Cave. He's one of the world's best performers, with one of the world's best bands. One of those artists you can never tire of seeing.
Afrirampo were, as expected, mad girls from Osaka. Crazy weird stuff starting with a crowd singalong of "I want to have party at Nick-o Cave's house in Melbourne, with family". Strange weirdness.
Harmonia were surprising. With members from Neu! and Kraftwerk, I expected more gutteral teutonic screaming with angle grinder accompaniment. Instead it was more Tangerine Dream meets The Orb.
After Nicks's set, we wandered over to catch the start of Fuck Buttons. Like the album, their set started harmonious and haunting, and gradually became much noiser. Then we wandered over to the Turbine Hall, which goes from interesting to amazingly industrial with darkness and appropriate lighting. Silver Apples seemed to be an old guy making wacky electronic music with home made instruments. Really bloody good, actually!
Fantastic festival. The weather was perfect: not too hot, not too cold. Crowd felt exactly right, kind of Newtown decamps to the Harbour for the day. The music was awesome. Quite interested to see who they pick next year, and I hope they are successful battling the whingers of Hunters Hill and can have the festival on the island again next year.
We went along to the Sydney Festival First Night last night, along with a few hundred thousand other Sydneysiders. I don't think it was quite designed to cater for the numbers they got, as moving around and actually getting in to see anything wasn't easy.
We arrived fairly early and grabbed a bite to eat, then went in search of a drink. The typical Sydney wowserism when it comes to alcohol was in play. We'd been told not to bring alcohol, yet all the kiddies from the suburbs seemed to have plenty. Those of us who'd obeyed the rules were confined to drinking in defined, fenced-off bar areas nowhere near the music. Sydney really needs to get over itself with alcohol. At a festival anywhere else in the world there would be a wide range of bars with a wide range of drinks, scattered throughout the festival.
Anyway, so we wandered along Macquarie Street to see what was happening. Not a lot really, though I bumped into Stevie K who I worked with at Pilat Media in London. Then we went in search of some takeaway booze so we could have a drink, but every bottle shop in the CBD had ridiculous queues out the door.
Next we wanted to see Santogold, the only act I really wanted to see that night. We couldn't even get close to the entrance to the College Street stage, unfortunately. Though I heard wafts of her singing, and a glimpse of her on a big screen.
At this point we beat a strategic retreat back to the People's Republic of Newtown. Less people, and more pointedly less suburban drunk kids. Ahh, must be getting old!
Not sure what they can do to improve circulation of people for next year's first night. I imagine the logistics of all those people in the city streets wouldn't be easy. Still, it was a fun night of wandering around town, then a few drinks with the droogs back in the safety of our home turf.
Last night Holly, Todd, Pete and I went to see Canadian band Holy Fuck at The Annandale. Quite an incredible gig. For many many years, bands have been trying to do electronic music completely live, and have almost all completely failed. Some ambient bands manage to get away with it, because if you put enough delay on anything it'll sound alright if the tempo is low. This was the first time I've seen fully-live banging techno work. Brilliant!
There's few things finer than a review that slams an album, and none could be more deserving than the long-unawaited album from Axl Rose's Guns N' Roses cover band. Ever since waiting forty minutes at Roskilde for him to emerge, before giving up and going to see another band on the packed programme, I've had little patience for this self-important little turd. Apparently the gig I made the right decision going to see someone else, as apparently Rose spent most of the gig off-stage while his session musicians tried to fill the space with Jazz Odyssey.
So Chinese Democracy has finally been released. And it sounds like it's everything we all expected. Shite.
It would perhaps be unfair to call the album's lyrics — big on concepts like pullin' through, takin' your time and knowin' you ain't crazy no matter what they say — wildly solipsistic: plainly any listening multimillionare 80s hair metal frontmen struggling to complete a massively overdue, over-budget album are bound to feel a warm, inclusive tingle of identification.
Alexis Petridis' review hits the mark.
In the democracy of the market I suspect everyone, including the Chinese, will vote the same way on this one.
I discovered a really great French radio station recently, France Inter Paris (FIP). It's got a quite unique format, playing blocks of themed music grouped roughly into styles. You tend to hear a half hour or so of music within a style, and the range of styles is incredibly eclectic.
Between 07:00 and 23:00 French time, a short news bulletin is run at ten minutes to the hour, and a dulcet-toned French woman will give a short background to the music. Otherwise it's pretty much advert and long talk free.
My only criticism is that outside the live announcer hours, you can't find out what music they're playing on the web site. Even when the music is listed, the stream is quite a bit out of sync with what's listed on the site.
Anyway, give FIP a go. It streams in high quality mp3 online.
Also an interesting read is the Wikipedia article, including details of the long-running pirate transmitter in Brighton, England.
Holly and I saw The Grates last night. What an amazing live band! Full of energy and brilliant renditions of their infectious pop tunes.
The support band, The John Steel Singers were fun too. It's clear they share the ability to craft fun pop tunes with The Grates. The other support band, The Vasco Era, were lousy. Clearly they idolise dodgy, talentless junkie Pete Doherty and his overrated Libertines.
I love Metacritic's summaries of reviews. This one summarises reviews of an album by The Little Ones. As usual, NME is incoherently raving. For the NME, a band is either the greatest band ever, or an overhyped pile of crap (which is what their great band ever bands often are).
The funny review comes from The Guardian:
By the end of the album, your face will hurt and you'll be desperate for some Napalm Death.
This sounds like previously unaccomplished levels of saccharine! I'll have to check them out.
On a related note, I've always thought that if you worked in a new age shop, with all that whale fart ambient music playing all day, surely you'd have to have some death metal or speed thrash once you got home. To help you relax.