Breaking Barriers

So let’s assume that Collapse Board is right, and that there are a slew of people out there who want to write about music but just aren’t getting the breaks. Maybe the Australian music press really is incredibly sexist – but in a country famed for its, uh, less progressive views, that’s not so incredible. It still doesn’t excuse people who want to write about music from doing so.

In the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz pretty much defines success as reaching a level of proficiency where you are able to achieve a goal. As Peter Bregman explains, “in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses star violinists, the good performers, and the ones who would become teachers but not performers […] Those who were categorized as stars? Every single one of them had practiced at least 10,000 hours. And here’s the compelling part: There wasn’t a single violinist who had practiced 10,000 hours who wasn’t a star.”

What’s 10,000 hours? It’s the equivalent of doing a full time job for five years, or practising four hours a day for a decade. I never became a “star”, but I got a job in my desired field and a few freelance jobs on the side. Before I got paid a penny by anyone, I’d already spent five years making it happen.

I just deleted a bunch of posts from Facebook because I was oversharing, and worse: perhaps I was misleading. You might have ended up with the impression that I grew up in a progressive city (I did), had supportive parents (I did), good teachers (I did) and walked straight out of sixth form and into a full-time music job while writing freelance on the side (again, broadly true).

I might have missed out a few steps along the way:

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#musicmonday: Ministry – Scarecrow

There used to be a stand in the Camden Market that sold bootleg cassette tapes and videos of industrial gigs. One of my many purchases was a Ministry tape of a concert from about 1990, and I played it to death. Scarecrow was by far my favourite song. Its slow heavy rhythm was somewhere between languid and oppressive; its barely audible vocals dripping with snarling sarcasm. The bit missing from the live version I had was the harmonica line in the middle, which was more vibrant in that take. No matter – almost any version of this song is one you’ll want to hear over and over, and as Him Indoors notes, it hasn’t aged a day.

Fan video: KMFDM – Dogma

Cute fan-made video to accompany what I regard as the best lyrics I’ve ever heard.

All we want is a headrush
All we want is to get out of our skin for a while
We have nothing to lose because we don’t have anything
Anything we want anyway…
We used to hate people
Now we just make fun of them
It’s more effective that way
We don’t live
We just scratch on day to day
With nothing but matchbooks and sarcasm in our pockets
And all we are waiting for is for something worth waiting for
Let’s admit America gets the celebrities we deserve
Let’s stop saying “Don’t quote me” because if no one quotes you
You probably haven’t said a thing worth saying

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First Impressions: Janelle Monáe – The Chase Suite (Special Edition)

After deciding to take sandwiches for a day or two instead of buying them in order to cover the £3 cost of this download, I wondered why I don’t just put myself on a couple of PR agency books so that I can get review copies for free. Then I reminded myself: I have to spend a couple of hours (at least) with a record to hear it properly, and if it’s rubbish, that’s two hours wasted. If I get sent 10 crappy albums a week, that’s my entire free time wasted on bilge. Much better just to actively seek out the great music and appreciate it all the more. Yes, all the proper critics fell in love with The ArchAndroid, but The Chase Suite is the one that wowed me.

The Chase Suite is a seven-track EP that owes as much to Fritz Lang and Philip K Dick as it does to Funkadelic and James Brown. It’s orchestral rhythm-and-blues in the classic Motown sense, but at the same time contemporary, pulling threads from a diverse range of influences.

Violet Stars Happy Hunting! features The Skunks, whoever they may be. It sounds a lot like Hey Ya by Outkast, which given Monáe’s Big Boi connection is not surprising (she even sang on Idlewild).

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Stravinsky Song of the Day: John Williams – Main Title (Theme from Jaws)

This is an absolutely phenomenal piece of music. It’s obviously iconic – you only ever have to mention the word “shark” and it springs to mind – but it’s also f***ing brilliant as a work in its own Rite.

The “sample” (more like copy) – from the very beginning of The Augers of Spring (Dances of the Young Girls) – appears at around the 0’40” mark, but the whole thing smacks of Stravinsky. It has the same trick of being grating and lovely at the same time. Hearing this, it’s almost a shame that the tune’s been so overshadowed by the unforgettable film it belongs to.

The most important 6 seconds in music

This fascinating 18-minute documentary covers the history of the “Amen Break” – used even more than the “Funky Drummer” and “When the Levy Breaks” as ubiquitous samples in hip-hop, dance and rock for the past 30 years. I had no idea that sample dates back to 1969, nor that the performers never saw a penny despite its use on sample CDs such as Jungle Warfare. Before it goes all preachy trying to argue against what he views as excessive copyright protection (personally, I think it should depend on length and context, but I feel the author goes a little overboard trying to convert us to his views), it is a really interesting and informative listen.

Zs – New Slaves Part II: Essence Implosion

New York avant noise/rock group Zs haven’t really struck me yet on their own terms, but they’ve put together a mighty impressive remix collection. Indie culture blog BrooklynVegan have helpfully added some free-download tracks as well as some more info about the release, though if you want the remixes by heavy hitters like JG Thirlwell and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, you’ll have to grab it from somewhere like Amazon. My immediate favourite is the Acres remix by Gabe Andruzzi.

The overall impression is of hypnotic minimalist noise – whether it’s the Zs’ own rhythmic cacophony, or of the aforementioned Rapture-man’s zoned-out traditional-style 4am nightclub piece. Zs generally sound like Battles without the pop or if Buke and Gass fired the one that sounds like Tanya Donnelly and just banged about on empty milk bottles foregoing any sense of tunes, songs or sanity. I promise it’s not actually as bad as it sounds. It’s more like a piece of traditional Brazilian drum music I have lying around somewhere, as covered by a stoned New York busker.

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Stravinsky Song of the Day: Duran Duran – A View To A Kill

Remember how I said yesterday that Stravinsky wrote really good riffs? Turns out that I’m not the only one to think so. John Williams thought so, basing sections of Star Wars: Episode IV on Rite of Spring, which George Lucas had used as the temp soundtrack – then, for good measure, biting out chunks of it for his famous Jaws theme. Raymond Watts thought so, using the same sample in different tracks on The Swining. I’m not sure if Sufjan Stevens sampled it, but Foetus certainly did, and the Beastie Boys very definitely did.

The makers of the Fairlight CMI synthesizer certainly liked Stravinsky, since the preset “ORCH5” sample is from Firebird, and thus made its way into … oooh … all of the pop songs of the 1980s. I figured that I would actually run out of enthusiasm for the idea long before I could ever run out of tunes that sample Stravinsky, but thought it would be fun to start tonight at the more tenuous end, with a song by Duran Duran that makes heavy use of the Fairlight.

Stravinsky – Firebird/Rite of Spring

Let’s get something straight before we begin: I know f*** all about Stravinsky (riot at his second gig; invented modern music?) and less about classical music in general. I’m not a complete monster – I can take Beethoven’s Ninth, but given the choice I prefer Lady Gaga. I can’t offer any sort of informed opinion of whether the Philharmonia Orchestra’s version is better than any other rendition, provided it still has that neeneeneeneeneedihdahdidah bit in the middle that I love so much. I just bought it because I really f***ing love how it sounds. It’s got all the power and beauty of my favourite rock records, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest because half of them bloody sampled this in the first place.

I knew the pieces from Fantasia and enjoying them on YouTube – not really the best way to experience this sort of music! – and the first playing on CD is a revelation. Not bad for three quid.

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Everett True: The Accidental Interview

Everett True is a music critic at Collapse Board. He has written for both NME and Melody Maker, The Times and the Guardian, edited Vox, Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B magazines, and written several books. He contributes to Bust and Something Awful, and fronts bands The Deadnotes and The Thin Kids. He’s the most genuine fan of music I’ve ever met.

No interview was planned or requested: this is an anecdote, published with permission.

Everett True - photo from

Thirty minutes early, drenched and fearing stray mascara has damaged my new handbag, I nip into the toilets at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and reapply my face. I muse that Everett True would probably approve of the army-boots-and-dress combo I’ve worn for the past twenty years, inspired by the bands he wrote about. After fifteen minutes of staring at conceptual bulls*** (and one nice sculpture), I phone, unintentionally interrupting him. I read Wicked and wait. Ten minutes later, I recognise the unassuming middle-aged man looking for me. He looks less like Jim Broadbent than I remember.

“My friend told me that I’m the most self-obsessed and least self-aware person she’s ever met,” Everett tells me as we walk towards the South Bank, “And she’s dated lead singers.”
I bark a hysterical laugh. It’s funny because it’s not True.
“Having kids gives you perspective,” he says, “Makes you self-aware.”
I tell him it’s not so much lack of perspective, in my case, as an almost pathological lack of inhibition.
“Having children gives you inhibition. There are things I couldn’t say any more because … people would get upset.”

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