At the end of this month I will escape financial journalism, my professional home for the last six years – four covering pensions and asset management for Institutional Investor Euromoney and two writing about the financial adviser side for the Financial Times.
I’m still not entirely sure how I got into the industry in the first place – recession employment desperation mostly – but the wages allowed me to keep on living in London, the perks kept me sweet and the subject matter got more interesting the deeper I got.
But as much as I can’t complain about this period in my career, I did develop some coping strategies to deal with the inevitable boredom that creeps in while regurgitating endless product launch press releases, or sitting through conference speeches on the outlook for structured bonds.
One of my most prized possessions after all these years is a scrap of paper containing the best names I’ve come across during my time in the financial markets. So as a final farewell to this sector that’s treated me so well, I’d like to pay tribute to these men and women with a wee list:
[Obviously there are even sillier names out there in other professions – the Olympics have once again thrown up a few beauties – but these really tickled me]
Trevor Panther, director at FG Watts Financial Advisers
Mike Fullalove – global head of funds at Barclays Wealth and Investment Management
Leyland Otter – chief investment officer at the Merseyside Pension Fund
Richard Bongo – managing director at BNP Paribas
Jonathan Zoob – pensions and benefits manager at Societe Generale
Curt Custard – head of investment solutions at UBS Global Asset Management
Nigel Bottom – UK pensions manager at Motorola
Randall ‘Randy’ Outlaw – director at Deutsche Bank Securities
Rocky Fishman – director at Deutsche Bank
Ayo Salami – chief investment officer at Duet Asset Management
Algernon Percy – managing director at Waverton Investment Management
Jo Kitcat – managing director at BNY Mellon
Kevin Snowball – chief executive at Vietnam Asset Management
Tom Morrow – managing director at Alix Partners
Ilonka Waterdrinker – director at Well PR
Hugh Titcomb – chief executive at Thomas Miller Investment
Gabriel Surprise – regulatory data analyst at New York Stock Exchange
Tizzy Vigilante – managing director for wealth management Australia and NZ for IRESS
Please feel free to regale me with the greatest names you’ve come across in your profession.
I started writing this post on Saturday, in the knowledge Radiohead had an album in the works, but not that promotion of it was going to start this weekend. They somewhat fortuitously started teasing things on Sunday, so I held off publishing what I’d written until there was actually something solid to say.
‘Burn the Witch‘ sounds alright on first inspection – an old bootleg updated with Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral touches and Thom Yorke’s Atoms For Peace electronics – and the Wicker Man in Trumpton video is great.
As there’s nothing much else to go on at this point, here’s the rest of the post I was writing:
Spring appears to have finally sprung and summer’s just round the corner, so you’re going to need some music to crank in the car, stick on during a barbecue or simply liven up a sunny commute.
After a fairly slow start to the year, it feels like there’s a tonne of excellent new stuff around to pick from, so here’s a rough run-through of what’s been entertaining my ears recently:
Starting with hip hop, news broke on Friday for those backing De La Soul’s album Kickstarter that while said LP is now delayed until August 26th, there’s a teaser EP out for all to hear.
As you may remember, back in November Posdnuos, Trugoy and Maseo promised ‘And The Anonymous Nobody’ would arrive at the end of April, but an update on their crowdfunding page explained that dealing with their own distribution since going label free has been harder than anticipated.
As a token to their fans, they instead posted the aptly-titled ‘For Your Pain & Suffering’ four track:
In the last few weeks we’ve also had the announcement of a new record from DJ Shadow. To be honest, I’d all but given up on Josh Davis’ career after successive disappointments in the form of 2011’s ‘The Less You Know The Better’ and the ‘Liquid Amber’ release in 2014, but early details of collaborations with Nils Frahm and Run the Jewels got my hopes up again.
Entitled ‘Mountain Will Fall’ and out on June 24th via Mass Appeal, it is indeed the track with El-P and Killer Mike that’s going some way to restoring my faith in the Bay Area’s finest beat maker.
Meanwhile, the most obvious pretender to Shadow’s throne, RJD2, also has a new record out. ‘Dame Fortune’ is Ramble Jon Krohn’s sixth album and sees him treading similar ground to previous works, with lots of soulful instrumental numbers and a few funky foundations for friends like Phonte Coleman and Jordan Brown work over.
I’ll finish this section with a couple of the most unique voices in rap, and old favourites of mine from back when Definitive Jux reigned supreme.
First up, white-boy weirdo Aesop Rock returns with ‘The Impossible Kid’, just out on Rhymesayers, marking his first proper solo work since 2012’s ‘Skelethon’.
As per usual, its a mix of the dark and light production, complex rhymes and dick jokes. According to the blurb on his Bandcamp page, it was created during a “turbulent handful of years that culminated in leaving his adopted home of San Francisco to live in a barn out in the woods”. Whatever the process, the end product sounds great.
The other voice I always loved is that of Mr Lif, who also makes a long overdue return with ‘Don’t Look Down‘; his first work in seven years. It features a few more old favourites in the form of Edan and Del that Funky Hompsapien, the latter’s contribution being an early posted here for your delectation:
Ditching the MCs, but staying downtempo, there’s a new one from Gold Panda due to drop on the 27th of May. It’s called ‘Good Luck and Do Your Best’, which were apparently parting words from a taxi driver the Peckham producer met whilst traveling around Japan.
Along with obvious far eastern influences, he recently told The Ransom Note that “I wanted to make a bunch of tracks that I could play in the car”; hence my pick of the tracks he’s so far debuted from the album:
Someone he often gets compared to is Bibio, another slightly leftfield British producer quietly making lovely music off on the fringes of the scene. There’s is the sound track of the subliminal, in that you’ll probably have unconcisouly bobbed your head to it while in a trendy clothes shop or cafe. While that may sound like a dig, it couldn’t be further from my feelings.
Stephen Wilkinson’s latest, ‘A Mineral Love‘, is full of warm, natural notes to lull you into a happy place. His songs have that same hazy reminiscence thing as fellow Warp label mates Boards of Canada, but without the sinister undertones.
Moving back across the pond, it’s almost time to hear the long-awaited debut album from Haitian-Canadian Louis Kevin Celestin, AKA Kaytranada. Early EPs and remix work caught the ear of XL, which signed him at the end of 2014 and in the last month or so started drip feeding bits and bobs about ‘99.9%’.
It’s out next Friday and features guest spots from Anderson.Paak, AlunaGeorge, Little Dragon and somewhat implausibly, Craig David. This instrumental job with horns and strings by River Tiber and drums from Karriem Riggins has been getting me excited for the last couple of weeks:
Staying stateside, it’s also worth noting Com Truise released a new EP at the start of April. I feel like I’ve written this before, but while ‘Silicon Tare’ isn’t exactly breaking Seth Haley’s mould, it’s such a lovely mould, he could probably still get quite a few more pleasing productions out of it before the fun fades.
The same cannot be said for another artist mercilessly mining 80s nostalgia for inspiration. Anthony Gonzalez nailed it with the 2011 double album ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming’ and ubiquitous single ‘Midnight City’, but it really feels like the game is up with his new one ‘Junk‘.
The press pack quotes him as saying: “I wanted to make what I call an ‘organized mess’, a collection of songs that aren’t made to live with each other, yet somehow work together”. Whether he’s succeeded is subjective I suppose, but for my money it’s a lot of the mess and not quite enough of the magic.
A more welcome return comes in the form of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris’ side project Beyond the Wizards Sleeve. The new record is called ‘The Soft Bounce’ and is out at the beginning of July, preceded by this delightful single; ‘Diagram Girl’.
Given I haven’t written anything like this since the end of year round-ups, it’s probably worth just mentioning a few crackers that fell in the months between then and now. Firstly, Massive Attack came back at the end of January with a four-tracker featuring collaborations with Tricky, Young Fathers, Roots Manuva, and Azekel, along with promises of a second EP in the spring and a full album to follow later this year.
Another one I haven’t been able to get out of my head since it broke back near the start of the year is the Boards of Canada rework of Nevermen‘s ‘Mister Mistake’. It starts fairly straight, but then dissolves into trademark BoC, plus that Tunde Adebimpe vocal is still looping through my brain three months later.
A brief sojourn now into indie rock, if you’ll allow it. Not a vintage year yet for guitar-weilders, but I did quite enjoy Josh Homme bringing Iggy Pop out of semi-retirement for ‘Post Pop Depression‘. How he outlived his made David Bowie I’ll never know.
It was also nice to see Primal Scream back making music, with their 11th album ‘Chaosmosis’ coming out in March. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, with trendy ladies Sky Ferreira and Haim recruited to bounce off Bobby Gillespie. Worth a listen through, for highlights like ‘I Can Change’ and ‘Feeling Like A Demon Again’.
Worth mentioning, but not wasting too many words on, are new albums from mid-noughties favourites of mine, Bloc Party and Wolfmother. Both bands have lost key members in recent years, probably due to rather overbearing lead singers. This means their latest work isn’t anywhere near past glories, but if you were a fan have a listen to ‘So Real‘ from Bloc Party’s ‘HYMNS’ and ‘The Love That You Give‘ from Wolfmother’s ‘Victorious’.
Hopefully better things will come from The Kills, who return at the start of June with ‘Ash & Ice’ on Domino. The cooler than you duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince appear to have lost none of their swagger, if recent release ‘Heart of a Dog‘ is anything to go by.
Less information is available on the return of Richard Fearless’ occasionally brilliant Death in Vegas project. All I can find is that the sixth album, ‘Transmission’, will be out on the 27th of this month and first single ‘You Disco Freak’ is presumably an indicator of what to expect.
In a similar sonic vein, but with none of the historical gravitas, are Britghton-based indie electro oddities Fujiya & Miyagi, who are set to release ‘EP 1’, the first of a new triptych, also on May 27th. Have a gander of ‘Serotonin Rushes’ right here.
Moving towards the dancefloor now and another triumphant return. Jeremy Greenspan and Matthew Didemus have been back in the studio as Junior Boys, coming up with a ‘Big Black Coat’ to warm people with in February. The whole album is great, but the one I keep on coming back to is euphoric opener ‘You Said That’.
From old favourites to something completely new, props to my mate Barry for putting me on to the Amsterdam-based Atomnation label and one of its finest members, Russian producer Koett.
In February he released ‘Thaw’, which his Bandcamp page explains was “recorded with a Polyvox (an old Sovjet replica of the Moog), Yahama DX-7, Blofeld Waldorf and the Roland TR-808”, adding “the album could work perfectly for a dark club setting or as a soundtrack for a late-night headphone session”. Agreed.
One of my favourite albums of 2012 was Justin Martin‘s ‘Ghettos & Gardens’. The Dirtybird alumni is back, releasing ‘Hello Clouds’ a fortnight ago and ploughing a similarly bassy furrow as last time, although perhaps with less clear cut winners this time round.
Similarly not quite as good as its predecessor is Leon Vynehall‘s new one ‘Rojus’. To be fair, 2014’s ‘Music For The Uninvited‘ was one of the records of that year, so this is no great disparagement. On the contrary, tracks like ‘Paradisea’ and ‘Blush’ have already established themselves as key musical accompaniments to any pre-club preparations in our house.
Continuing in that vein, here are a couple more “sun’s oot, taps aff” belters to have on standby.
Lindstrom’s return to cosmic disco with ‘Closing Shot’.
Lauer’s beezer run continues on ‘Killian’.
And Four Tet’s saccharine sweet remix of ‘Touch’ by Shura.
Sticking with fun-time dance music, let’s move to New York’s finest, DFA, for a couple of new releases. Firstly, the retro stylings of Holy Ghost, who return from the distinctly underwhelming 2013 full-length ‘Dynamics’ with a much leaner and meaner four-track ‘Crime Cutz’. Stick the title track on your summer playlist at once.
Next Friday, Marcus Lambkin, or Shit Robot to his fans, will also have some new music out. ‘What Follows‘ is his third album for James Murphy’s label and features classic collaborators like Juan Maclean and Nancy Whang, along with fellow Dublin native New Jackson and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor. This all makes for another characteristically propulsive analogue, proto-disco mish mash.
A quick word on everyone’s favourite bassy Berlin trio Moderat, who released ‘III’ – their third album – at the start of April. For me, it’s the least inspiring of the lot, but still a solid piece of work by most standards. Lead single ‘Reminder‘ is the best thing on it, even if it borrows liberally from Skream’s remix of ‘In For The Kill‘ by La Roux.
Also, a quick note on something new from Floating Points, given he delivered one of last year’s finest long players. He’s back with a two-track release called Kuiper. If you’ve been lucky enough to see him live in the last few years, you might know this jam already, but if not, here’s a video of the 18-minute title song:
This post is already far too long, but if you’re still with me, just a few more house-y things to finish.
Two of my favourite labels have compilations out at the moment – DJ Koze presenting ‘Pampa Vol. 1‘ and Permanent Vacation making their ‘Selected Label Works 5‘ – both lots of secret weapons to be unearthed.
Meanwhile, Fabric have signed up a few more industry heavyweights to their mix cannon, with Eats Everything delivering Saturday night session number 86 and Groove Armada in the frame for FabricLive 87.
Two of the other surviving series’, Balance and DJ-Kicks, have also continued to justify their continued existence, bringing Patrice Bäumel and Moodyman to the party, respectively. Both are superbly selected sets, in very different ways: the former delivering a silky smooth tech-house masterclass, while Detroit’s finest goes properly eclectic with his effort (hat tip for introducing me to this track and artist).
That’ll do it for now. As ever, if there’s anything amazing I’ve overlooked, please let me know below.
FYI – I’d usually just make an 8tracks playlist for this kind of thing, but in February they decided anyone outside of North America would have their ‘mixes’ reduced to often incomplete YouTube playlists, so until I figure out Spotify like a normal person, you’ll have to just make your own.
I generally try to take the moral high ground when it comes to the Buzzfeed-ification of online journalism, but as the popularity of that site and its many imitators shows, everyone likes a nostalgic listicle every now and again.
So while I’m glad to say that churning out clickbait hasn’t yet become my day job, a wee blast from the past has inspired me to indulge in a quick and dirty dive into the editorial abyss.
I’d like to heap some praise on a long-defunct quango, the Health Education Board for Scotland, and more specifically, the run of memorable television adverts they produced at the turn of the millennium.
Whether they actually prevented any malleable young minds from drinking, smoking or taking drugs is questionable, but for a certain demographic of Scots, their choice quotes remain embedded in the subconscious.
Here’s my pick of the bunch:
Picture the scene, you’ve finally managed to convince the ‘bigger boys’ round your house, there’s some takeaway pizza in the lounge, then one of them asks “How about a wee toot?”
You reply: “What, heroin?” and he goes, “Aye, smack, but you’re only smokin’ it”.
The rest of the ad follows the two sides of the square/smackhead conundrum. While the sensible chap on the right goes about his normal life, the drug-addled degenerate on the left has to sell his Playstation – “pride and joy is it, twenty quid” – and chore some money from his dad’s coat – “I wasn’t stealin’, that’s exactly what you’re doing Stuart” – before the screens merge as one asks the other “any spare change pal?”.
Fade to blue and the HEBS tagline, Think About It.
This one sees our skinny wee protagonist working on his chat-up lines whilst getting ready, only to succumb to the scourge of alcohol once he’s actually at the party. Egged on by his pals and the pretend Prodigy blasting out the stereo, he finally plucks up the courage to approach the object of his affection.
What comes next is the timeless: “Sarah, I really fancy you, so, how about it eh?”
To be fair, I’ve people get lucky with a lot worse; she clearly wasny worth it mate.
Another cautionary tale of drinking too much at hoose pertys, as the wee lassie (Lisa from Grange Hill to be exact) keeps on getting flashbacks from the weekend whilst walking towards the guy she fancies.
Finally, as they pass one another in the school corridor and her memory has revealed the full horror of her session, the smirking berk turns to his pal and goes: “Should have seen the state of her on Saturday night”.
A cautionary tale for the ages.
This is a bit older (1996 apparently) and officially Scotland Against Drugs rather than HEBS, but is worthy of inclusion as it contains another classic catchphrase.
It sees some gadgy taking great delight in explaining how he’s bumped all these punters by selling them vitamin pills and dog worming tablets instead of swedgers, before more alarmingly informing the viewer: “See her, I sold her acid, she thought she was getting an eccie, she didn’t even know the difference man, look at her, it’s turned her into a pure space cadet”.
The message from the authorities, if you hadn’t worked it out already; You’d be off you’re head to trust a dealer.
Given this was the same year Trainspotting shone a light on the country’s drug abuse problem, it’s hardly surprising they ran a follow-up campaign in 1997 reminding the general populous that everyone’s got a drugs problem.
Back to HEBS again and state-sanctioned drugs. The blue sticks campaign featured a brightly coloured cartoon world where our narrator – who sounds like Baz Luhrmann from the previous year’s ‘Wear Sunscreen’ song – tells us some really cool beings live.
However, they have a strange habit of chewing on blue sticks, which make their breath smell, poision their bodies and taste disgusting; yet nobody’s willing to admit any of this. Can you tell what it is yet?
Finally, one courageous young alien, upon trying her first blue stick, utters the then infamous phrase: “This tastes boggin”. Cue mass realisation.
There was a follow-on ad with an actual alien pointing out what’s wrong with fags, but it was rubbish, so I’m not going to waste any more time writing about it.
The last one I can remember was where the whole HEBS thing kind of jumped the shark. To really hammer home the anti-smoking message, they created a fictitious girl band, Stinx, and made them a no-expenses-spared music video, which looked like the Spice Girls and sounded like Britney Spears.
‘Why Do You Keep On Runnin’ Boy?’ – sample lyric “so whatcha say boy, fancy getting jiggy, what’s the problem boy, the smell of my ciggy?” – got very annoying, very quickly. But like so many pop songs before and after it, also became inexplicably popular.
Teenage girl demand meant it was eventually released as a single, selling over 10,000 copies and reaching number eight in the Scottish charts. So despite reportedly costing the government £340,000 it went a long way to making that back and even saw the agency behind it, The Bridge, being asked by Serbian officials to roll it out there.
A year or so later HEBS was merged with the Public Health Institute of Scotland to become NHS Health Scotland, with the marketing budget being diverted to boring things like doctor’s wages and MRI scanners.
Shame really, as I’ve never seen a run of telly spots since then that captured colloquialisms so keenly and nailed the pitfalls of being a Scottish teenager so well.
Of course YouTube is awash with similarly entertaining public information films, but these were the only ones I could find of that era. If you can think of any I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments; I love a good reminisce.
Just a top 10 for the long players this year. Not sure if it was because I had other things on and consequently didn’t listen to as much music, or that there were genuinely less great albums made during the last 12 months. Either way, these are the ones I kept coming back to:
10. Herbert – The Shakes
Matthew Herbet follows a proud British tradition of musical eccentrics, gaining his credentials via ‘challenging’ albums created using the various parts of a pig or a snippet of sound from a war. Crucially, for the experimental stuff he uses the full name, while for more conventional records like this, it’s just the surname. Tracks like ‘Middle’ and ‘Strong’ are in fact really strong and eminently radio-playlist-able R&B, yet again proving his versatility and skill as a producer.
9. Floating Points – Elaenia
Much like his mate Kieran Hebden, Sam Shepherd is not far off genius level in terms of his productions and DJ sets, with both owing a great deal to formative sessions at the sadly defunct Plastic People nightclub. But while Four Tet has gotten more and more house-y this year, Floating Points has moved back towards the intricate and introspective with his latest release. From stunning opener ‘Nespole’, to the raw power of abruptly closing track ‘Peroration Six’, via 11 minute odysseys like the ‘Silhouette’ trilogy; this is electronic music at its most exquisite.
8. Django Django – Born Under Saturn
A second albums go, this is a return with some amount of swagger. Picking up where they left off, the Djangos build on their indie/electro platform with a whole bunch of new ideas, instruments and inspirations. Much to my delight, the eclectic tastes of band leader Dave Maclean – there for all to see on their Twitter feed or Late Night Tales entry – are all over this record, with all number of different synth sounds to be heard among the guitars on highlights such as ‘Reflections’ and ‘High Moon’.
7. Lauer – Borndom
The fantastic Frankfurter Phillip Lauer is at it again, this time making the move to Permanent Vacation for his second album. It’s one full of unashamedly retro themes – the hazy vocoders of ‘Crewners’ to open, followed by the sugary synth pop of ‘Carpet’ and marimba-laden beach house of ‘Gammelan’. He doesn’t stop there though, early electro is pillaged for ‘Msndrstndng’ and kraut rock referenced on ‘ESC’. Thing is, no offence is taken, because he nails it every time.
6. !!! – As If
Nic Offer’s team have got their groove back after the frankly disappointing Thr!!!er, embracing more electronic elements than ever in order to reinvigorate their vibe. Cuts like ‘All U Writers’ and ‘I Feel So Free’ are proper club bangers, while there’s still room for some trademark funky flexin’ on the likes of ‘Freedom 15’ and ‘All the Way’.
5. Kelpe – The Curved Line
I never quite understood why Kel McKeown didn’t sign with Ninja Tune, where his music would fit so well and he’d get the promotion an artist of his talent deserves. That aside, if he keeps on making records this good, his fledgling Drut label might just make it. His fifth album is the most accessible yet, with early tracks like ‘Doubles of Everything’ and ‘Chirpsichord’ capturing that halfway between house and hip hop sound that has propelled guys like Bonobo to the top of the Ninja roster.
4. New Order – Music Complete
A few of my favourite albums this year have seen bands successfully dabble with synths and drum machines. In doing so of course, they all owe a debt to the original indie/dance cross over group, who’s triumphant return this September showed that they’re still the daddies. Tracks like ‘Singularity’ or ‘People On The High Line’ could easily fit into most good DJ’s sets, proving that even without Hooky, Bernard Sumner and co. have still got it.
3. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love
The internet tells me this is in fact the third album by Ruban Nielson’s Kiwi/Yankee quartet, but I’m embarrassed to say it took a recommendation from a friend to make me aware of their brilliance. It’s a truly weird and wonderful hodge-podge of jazz, soul, funk and indie rock which in the wrong hands could be a complete mess, but is instead a collection of incredibly catchy songs for any occasion. Think Prince and Fat Freddy’s Drop in a studio together and you’re some of the way there.
2. Fort Romeau – Insides
I’ve been banging on about how good a DJ and producer Mike Greene is for a few years now, so it’s fair to say I had high expectations for his second LP. Thankfully for my fragile reputation as knowing a bit about dance music, he really delivered on this first record with the mighty Ghostly label. Their press release sums up the appeal perfectly: “Fort Romeau guides us down misty corridors lined with supple synth pads, quietly thumping kicks and elastic low-end sequences reinforced by an emotive confidence.”
1. Tame Impala – Currents
They’ve gone and done it again – a best album and track clean sweep. Currents was quite a departure from 2012’s Lonerism, with woozy pyschedelic rock replaced by sleek synths and 80s overtones. From the epic opener ‘Let It Happen’ to seductive first single ‘Cause I’m A Man’, via proper power ballads like ‘Eventually’, this record just flows over you like a warm wave of nostalgia. I genuinely can’t wait to hear Kevin Parker and his merry bunch of men come up with next.
As for the compilations and mixes released during 2015, there are many worthy of mention. Fabric had a pretty strong year, with Mathew Jonson’s superb live set from the club’s 15th birthday being a particular highlight, while Joris Voorn and Art Department‘s efforts were also well worth a spin.
The inimitable DJ Koze was a fine choice to mix the 50th installment of the lauded DJ-Kicks series, turning in a typically diverse set. Soul Clap‘s Watergate mix really made you feel part of the summertime party it was recorded at, just as Jon Hopkins‘ Late Night Tales entry took you deep inside his creative mind.
Boiler Room turned five this year and of course celebrated in style. I managed to make it along to one of their sessions and missed another in London which appeared to be pretty much the best thing ever:
They also captured RA’s three-time reigning champion Dixon at his mesmeric best:
And got the illusive DJ Harvey in front of a camera for 90 minutes:
The Essential Mix remained true to its name, hosting essential two hour mixes from the likes of boy wonder Floating Points, Paul Woolford’s junglist alter ego Special Request, my new best mate Damian Lazarus, everyone’s favourite sonic scientist Max Cooper and dynamic duo Four Tet and Jamie XX.
Resident Advisor had a few good podcasts here and there. Andy Weatherall laid down a surprisingly straight up house set which propelled a few parties this summer, while another veteran, Sasha, also proved why he’s still a perennial favourite.
Of course, there were also many a mix not hosted by any big brand. Of those, another old boy, Ralph Lawson, brought the goods with a fine summertime mix, my mate Steelo proved he’s not just a graphic designer, and Tycho demonstrated exactly why I need to be dancing on the Playa at sunrise next year:
Here we go again. Another year, another list. I’m struggling to be original with these intros by this point, so how about we just get on with the music?
Apologies to anyone trying to view this on a mobile device and/or with a less than reliable connection – there’s 50 YouTube videos below – which is enough to crash most browsers.
Hopefully the tracks make it worth the hassle…
50. Percussions – Digital Arpeggios
I wasn’t sure which Four Tet production to stick in the list – his ludicrous remix of Eric Prydz, one of the 20-minute tracks on his ‘Morning/Evening‘ record, or his two-step homage ‘Back2TheStart‘ – but in the end I’ll plump for this hypnotic number released under his Percussions moniker.
49. DJ Yoda and Breakfast of Champions – Pebble Beach
Commissioned by Wall of Sound, the Breakfast Of Champions project saw Yoda given a week to produce an album and live performance with a bunch of fledgling musicians. The results was understandably a bit rough around the edges. but this mish-mash of a track was bursting with good ideas.
48. Hubie Davison – Sanctified
A staple of Midland’s sets through the summer, he went on to sign it for the second release on his ReGraded label a month ago. Chopped up disco re-edit goodness for when the sun has got his hat on.
47. The Internet – Girl
I don’t tend to stray too far into R&B, but if more of it sounded like this, I might do so more often. Sydney Bennett‘s sultry vocals sound so smooth over Kaytranada’s sparse production.
46. Jets – Pink Beat / Pyrite Blue
The combination of Jimmy Edgar and Machinedrum is pretty much guaranteed to produce bangers. So it was then, that ‘The Chants’ EP did indeed contain a couple of slick and futuristic R&B instrumentals.
45. Jamie XX – Obvs / Loud Places (John Talabot mix)
Bar this track and 2014 favourite ‘Sleep Sound’, the debut Jamie XX album was a bit of a let down really. That Talabot remix is a cracker as well.
44. Kornel Kovacs – Pantalon
A lovely slice of proto-disco fun from the Numbers stable. Never have purple trousers been so cool.
43. Chemical Brothers – Reflexion / Sometimes I Feel So Deserted (C2 Trigger mix)
While the new record plumbed new lows, there were a few glimmers of hope from my favourite dance duo. Between them, this album cut and big room Carl Craig remix just about saved the day.
42. Lapalux – Midnight Peelers / On Repeat
Superbly low-slung slow-jamz from Brainfeeder’s perennially underrated Essex lad.
41. Bicep – Just / Dahlia
This was the year the Belfast duo broker free of their blog house beginnings and became bona-fide DJ/producers on the circuit. The tracks that propelled them that way were a bit different from previous fare though, one all tense breakbeats, the other a Balearic piano classic.
40. Julio Bashmore – Holding On
His long-awaited debut album turned out to be a bit of a let down – at least when compared with the promise of previous EPs – but of the new stuff, this big old disco looper was the cream of the crop.
39. Akase – Rust (Midland mix)
Harry Agius remixing Harry Agius and Robbie Redway. This one’s dead simple: building drums, vocal snippets, a delicious drop, followed by warm pads and a bassline to die for. Bravo.
38. Drew Lustman – Time Machine / Watch A Man Die
‘The Crystal Castle’ was far from a perfect album, but it did have a few moments worthy of the rundown. These couple of jungle-break heavy badboys are them.
37. Rodion – Solenoid
Officially this one dropped in December 2014, but it took me well into this year to pick up on it via a mid-set Shazam somewhere-or-other. It stakes a place on the list a year later because it’s a hypnotically simple earworm of a track.
36. Battles – Dot Net / Dot Com
Despite losing frontman Tyondai Braxton, the trio carried on jamming this year, the result being more heavy drums and catchy distorted guitar riffs; who needs a singer anyway?
35. Young Fathers – 27
This young team just keep on producing the goods. Fresh from their Mercury Music Prize, the boys got to work on the follow-up album, which was full of energetic songs like this.
34. Seven Davis Jnr – Sunday Morning
Ninja Tune’s new signing produced the goods with his debut album – a diverse mix of cosmic influences that never forgot about the fun and funk of the dancefloor – as demonstrated with this jackin’ little tune.
33. Everything Everything – Get To Heaven / Distant Past
Much like that other band named after a mid-90s dance track, The Sunshine Underground, these chaps haven’t quite made it to the big time yet, but so long as they keep making interesting music like this, that’s fine by me.
32. Rival Consoles – Afterglow / Recovery
This was the year I discovered the music of Ryan Lee West, via brilliant third album ‘Howl’ and the ‘Sonne’ EP that preceded it. These two were my personal highlights of both, each displaying his talent for manipulating machines to make beautiful noises.
31. Ratatat – Cream On Chrome / Magnifique
These chaps don’t ever stray too far from that distinctive synth sound they’ve made their own, but seem to keep on coming up with sufficiently interesting variations on that theme.
30. DJ Koze – XTC / Knee On Belly
One of the finest double A sides of the year, these two have the capacity to floor a dancefloor, but for very different reasons. One is a chopped up funk workout, while the other is an end-of-the-night meditation on the club drug of choice.
29. Toro Y Moi – Spell It Out
While the new album was a tad disappointing, Chazwick showed he still knows how to make catchy pop music with this soulful summer jam.
28. Floating Points – Peroration Six / Nespole
You could choose pretty much any track from this album, but the first and last were the one’s that stuck with me the longest. Nice bit of interpretive dance in the music video as well.
27. Lauer – ESC / Gammelan
A couple of my favourite tracks from one of my favourite albums. Happy house music for sunny summer days.
26. Eagles of Death Metal – Silverlake (K.S.F.O.M)
The residents of LA’s hippest neighbourhood get taken down by Josh Home’s wit and Jesse Hughes’ terrific guitar licks – here’s hoping ISIS won’t stop these guys from being brilliant.
25. The Holydrug Couple – Atlantic Postcard
Sounds like vintage Air, but this dreamy psychedelia is actually from a Chilean duo. Shout out to the ever-eclectic Justin Robertson for dropping the track into his Ransom Note mix a couple of months ago.
24. Jaga Jazzist – Oban (Todd Terje mix)
It wouldn’t be a top tracks countdown without at least one Terje remix. This is a big Norwegian cosmic jazz workout: nine minutes of ebbs and flows, drums and strings, foot-tapping and hands-in-the-air.
23. !!! – Freedom ’15
Hard to pick a winner from this record – one of several this year where a band really doubled down on their love of dance music – but this funky nugget, where Nic Offer gets divas Yolanda Harris Dancy and Taletha Mano along for the ride, is probably the pick of the bunch.
22. Flash Atkins – Acid House Creator
As dropped by Andy Weatherall in his superb Resident Advisor podcast earlier this year, then rinsed by me for the rest of the summer whenever I needed to get pumped for a night out.
21. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Necessary Evil
Another of those albums where I struggle to select just one favourite, but at a push I’d say this weird and wonderful cut really lodged itself in my head recently.
20. Mark Ronson – Feel Right
Nobody does pop music better than Ronson. His Uptown Special project saw him plundering the best bits of music history again, but when his imitations are this entertaining, you won’t see me complaining.
19. New Order – Singularity / Tutti Frutti
Brilliant to have them back and on such blistering form. The album is full of tracks like this, ably demonstrating what’s made them one of this country’s most-loved bands.
18. Kendrik Lamar – i
Officially this one came out at the end of last year, but I didn’t include it in my 2014 list and it turned out to be my favourite from his second album. Upbeat and soulful, this is how I prefer him.
17. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow – Bunsen Burner
Soundtracking the pivotal scene in the superb film Ex Machina, this electronic instrumental absolutely floored me first time round and still gives me the shivers every time I hear it.
16. Django Django – Reflections
A strong second album from the Djangos was capped by this happy little number, driven along by a catchy piano line, soaring saxophone and Vincent Neff’s fine falsetto.
15. Hælos – Earth Not Above
I caught them supporting TV On The Radio in London earlier in the year, and while they’ve got a way to go before emulating the success of The XX – who they so clearly want to be – this is certainly a strong start.
14. Maribou State – Wallflower
Probably the highest complement I can pay this group and this track, is that they and it sound a lot like Bonobo at his best.
13. Kelpe – Doubles of Everything
A fairly peripheral producer on my radar, Kel McKeown really caught my attention with a fine fifth album; this being one of many great songs contained within.
12. Foals – What Went Down
While this year’s album wasn’t half as good as the last one, the title track was a beauty. Exactly the kind of song that lets them be such a great live band and Yannis such a good frontman.
11. Lindstrom – Home Tonight (Fort Romeau mix)
The young deep house pretender meets the old cosmic disco don, with predictably brilliant results. I was dying to hear someone play this unfairly slept-on eight minute monster on a big outdoor rig.
10. STS & RJD2 – Doin’ It Right
Philadelphia’s finest combine for a head boppin’, horn tootin’, drum rollin’ joint that proved – if it was ever in doubt – that Ramble Jon Krohn is one of the finest hip hop producers out there.
9. Hot Chip – Started Right (Joe Goddard mix)
My appreciation of Hot Chip has waned at roughly the same pace that my appreciation for Joe Goddard’s remix work has grown. This version beefs up the beats and gives the whole affair a delightfully dreamy disco daze.
8. Chvrches – Leave a Trace (Four Tet mix)
As I’ve already mentioned, Kieran Hebden turned in a variety of superb studio work this year, but this reworking of a distinctly average pop song takes the biscuit; taking Lauren Mayberry’s strong vocal and stretching it out over nearly seven minutes of tenderly building melodies. It certainly enraptured the room when Damian Lazarus finished his set with it at ADE.
7. Andy Cooper – Bring It To Me
Probably the least cool rapper I’ve ever seen, but also one of the best. Andy C is a lanky white bloke and one third of the criminally under-appreciated Ugly Duckling. With that group stagnating somewhat, he stuck out a free EP this year, proving he’s still got that fun and funky, quick-spittin’ thing going on.
6. Throwing Snow – Lumen / Paint By Numbers
Either side of this EP is a winner for me – the chopped beats and wonky synths of Lumen or the solid 4/4 and warm pads of Paint By Numbers. Why it didn’t chart higher elsewhere is beyond me.
5. Frankey & Sandrino – Acamar
Just like the next one, this is all about the simplicity. A languid rhythm and a hypnotic hook is all Innervisions needed to guarantee another year near the top of everyone’s end of year charts.
4. Fort Romeau – Not A Word / All I Want
Both these tracks are all about the art of subtly building a groove; something Mike Greene is proving himself to be an expert at. Deep house as it should be.
3. KiNK – Pocket Piano (Breakbeat mix)
The most perfect pastiche of early 90s dance music I’ve heard – and there’s been a fair few knocking about over the last few years – this makes me want to be dancing shirtless in a field at 5am with the sun coming up.
2. Leftfield – Universal Everything
It was amazing to be able to see Leftfield play live a few years back, but I was always worried that without Paul Daley, any new production work might struggle to maintain their legacy. Thankfully this first single from the album proved that the other half still has enough ammunition. A proper propulsive weapon of a track, which I would love to hear on a big system sometime soon.
1. Tame Impala – Let It Happen (original and Soulwax mix)
This one still gives me the feelings in December, more than six months after I fell in love with it. From a foundation of that solid beat and melody it just builds and builds, Kevin Parker’s angelic vocal countering the silky synth work.
Around the two minute mark it slows somewhat, before the band unleashes another amazing hook. Where the radio edit ends, the real fun starts, as they fanny about with the effects button and insert some soaring strings, before returning to the original riff. If that wasn’t enough, six minutes in there’s one of the sleaziest distorted guitar lines I’ve ever heard.
Then Soulwax go and return to form with a chunky 8 minute rework, which turns my favourite song of the summer into an autumnal dancefloor slayer.
So it would appear Glasgow cultural institution The Arches is no more. I got home today to see a press release to that effect plastered all over my Facebook wall, which sounds pretty terminal.
It reads that the board of directors have decided – following legal advice – to start appointing administrators, following last month’s decision by the Glasgow Licensing Board to curtail the hours of the venue until midnight, effectively preventing the continuation of its club night events.
“Without the income generated by this strand of activity, which generated over 50% of the companies’ annual turnover, The Arches’ business model is untenable,” the statement added.
The chairman of the Arches’ board Gordon Kennedy said he was surprised and disappointed by the Licensing Board’s decision, given the club’s stringent drugs policy and cooperation with the police, adding that he was grateful to the almost 40,000 people who signed the petition to re-instate the licence.
Given it can hold the best part of two and a half thousand people – mostly Weegies no less – it’s almost inevitable that there will be some indiscretions after dark, but it would appear that the death of Regane MacColl, who fell ill after taking a Mortal Kombat-branded pill at a Colours night last February, was the beginning of the end.
On the night of Sunday 29 March, the recently-formed and questionably-led Police Scotland performed a pre-emptive raid, closing the club more than an hour early with several arrests, searching those still waiting in line to rack up some extra drug offences and even nabbing those walking out with drinks still in hand. The council removed The Arches’ late license a few weeks later.
As this piece from the ever-reliable Resident Advisor points out, part of the problem has been that despite various safety initiatives being put in place by The Arches, there is a lack of representation for clubs when faced with authorities that would prefer less rambunctious tenants. Several club owners around the country recently formed the Night Time Industries Association to help do exactly that, but unfortunately it’s come too late to save the biggest and arguably bestist Scottish club, along with many of my favourites where in London.
I’ve written about club closures in both capitals over the years, so won’t delve too deep into those irritating issues here, but rather use this post to do as the title says and remember some of the things that made the place so great.
I started going clubbing in Edinburgh, which had similarly sweaty underground spaces to hear loud music in, but nothing on the same scale as The Arches. So when I went through to Glasgow for university in 2003 I took advantage of the techno renaissance and started making Slam’s monthly Pressure nights a regular appointment.
My first trip to the cavernous space underneath Central Station was actually to see Carl Cox – a man who could sell out the space on his own – and soon after that I got my first taste of breakbeat courtesy of the Plump DJ’s and their Eargasm album tour, but it was the line-ups curated by Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle that really constituted my education.
That was the thing, at Pressure you’d often be surrounded on the dancefloor by people that outside those walls you would actively cross the street to avoid, but in there you could have an in depth conversation about the merits of Jeff Mills’ back catalogue; you just don’t get clued up NEDs anywhere else.
The crowd was almost universally sound, the sound was almost universally excellent and the multi-room line-ups were always such that you had an option between genuinely cutting edge house or techno from emerging talent – it was the first place I saw the likes of Alex Smoke, Ivan Smagghe or Joris Voorn – and legends of the game – Laurent Garnier, Dave Clark and Ritchie Hawtin would always cause road blocks.
While Slam had been pushing the envelope since a year after the club opened in 1991, other nights were just as crucial for shorter periods. Inside Out got some of the biggest names in trance through the door in the late nineties and early noughties, Death Disco was pushing the best electroclash at its height and Colours always filled the place with punters by bringing back old favourites like Sasha and Digweed.
While I’m at it, props need to go out to all the staff that put up with my inebriation over the years, particularly that wonderful big guy who used to man the toilets, handing out chewing gum for a silver coin, dispensing sage advice about women and repeating his catchphrase “wash yo hands, wash yo face”.
If I go on any longer I’m going to make myself all emotional. But suffice to say, I’m pure ragin I’ll never get to throw any shapes on those hallowed dance floors again, so shame on the Glaswegian authorities for shutting down one of the safest places to take drugs and have a dance. The Arches will live long in the distinctly hazy memories of many a Scots man and woman.
In the last few months there’s been confirmation of a new Chemical Brothers album in the works, the release of The Prodigy’s latest work and Leftfield coming back from the dead with their first record in 16 years.
What unites all these groups is that during the nineties they made some of the most ground-breaking, club-shaking, genre-creating music ever. Since then however, it has sadly been a case of diminishing returns.
As each comeback album comes out, it inevitably makes you savour their early work all the more, but with few heirs to the five-way throne, I’ve kept hoping one would genuinely mark a return to form. Unfortunately, having a first full listen to The Prodigy’s new one The Day is My Enemy was the last straw.
Liam, Kieth, Maxim and Leeroy made a couple of the finest dance music LPs bar none with Music for the Jilted Generation and Fat of the Land. This meant high expectations for a triumphant return with Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned in 2004, but when it fell flat at least there was THAT live show, full of golden oldies. Four years later they had another crack at it with Invaders Must Die, but admirably trying to avoid too much rave revival meant moving off towards ill-judged dub-step dabbling and walls of angry noise.
Regrettably their new tracks beat the same path. The raw anger is still there – perhaps more so than ever – but gone is the inspiration that channeled it into something productive. I put Liam Howlett up there with the finest producers of his generation, but since their heyday and his brilliant house party staple The Dirtchamber Sessions, he appears to have lost his way somewhat.
There really is very little to redeem this new album. Songs like Wild Frontier and Medicine have glimmers of greatness, but are washed away by the overwhelming racket of proceedings. It’s bloated bloke-step that makes me wish they’d called it a day quite a while ago, and the fact that their average-at-best albums now outnumber the classics means that I’m now unlikely to shell out £30 to see them on tour.
I can only hope that my perennial favourites, The Chemical Brothers, come through with the goods on their eighth album. The problem is, to a lesser extent, they’ve suffered the same fate. While I can find much more to defend on each of their works, it is still the case that every new release makes me appreciate its predecessor that much more.
I didn’t think that much of Come With Us when it came out, but once there was Push The Button as a comparison, it was impossible not to don the rose tinted glasses. So it followed that We Are The Night‘s woeful guest appearances made me reappraise collaborations like Galvanise and The Boxer from the previous record. One can only hope that the superb Hanna soundtrack and return to form of Further are precursors to a renaissance that ruins the theory that this blog seems to be positing.
Again, with Underworld, they had a purple patch that spanned three albums spread across most of that golden decade for dance music. Crucially though, their extended production peak also coincided with Darren Emerson’s time with the group and since he left soon after 1999’s sublime Beaucoup Fish, it’s been a similar story.
Two Months Off seemed like a continuation of their sound, but more recent releases have demonstrated that Rick Smith needs his right hand man back to forge the beezers of old. To be fair to the pair, other than plans for expanding and remastering earlier works, they deserve some credit for pursuing solo project and keeping it to still powerful Underworld live act, since 2007’s Oblivion With Bells.
Orbital’s incredible output was divided more evenly over several decent albums in the run up to the millennium, but since the turn of the century they followed the same path, losing track of the zeitgeist and relying on a legendary live show to keep the faith. They tested this to its limits with that breakup in 2004 – which saw me spend money I didn’t have to attend supposedly their last ever show at the Brixton Academy whilst at university in Glasgow – and subsequent reformation in 2009. Although, such is my love for them, I still went and saw the brothers Hartnoll at Rockness that year.
This made their statement last October that they were “hanging up their iconic torch-glasses and parting ways for the final time” a bit hard to believe, but if they do stay away and let their legacy age like a fine wine, then more power to them.
And so to Leftfield. By now you should have worked out the pattern – they’ve certainly got the couple of incredible records released in the nineties – Leftism / Rhythm and Stealth – check. When they broke up in 2002, I wasn’t best pleased, as I hadn’t gotten round to seeing them perform. But when I heard they were to come back in 2010, my excitement was tempered by the fact it was only Neil Barnes – Paul Daley was sticking to his solo stuff – and because of that, there would be no new material.
The second point was potentially a blessing in disguise, but it did whiff a bit of the age-old rock band ‘need to pay the rent’ comeback tour. Not that it put me off going to see them dominate an otherwise poorly-organised event called LED Festival in London that summer.
The news last week was that Mr Barnes would be putting out a new record, entitled Alternative Light Source, on the 8th of June. It is set to contain collaborations with Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio, Poliça singer Channy Leaneagh and worryingly the Sleaford Mods; responsible for lending their lyrics to the worst of the new Prodigy tracks.
Anyway, I feel like I’ve done enough moaning for one blog, so I’ll leave you with the really rather promising sounds of Leftfield’s new single, Universal Everything.
One more thing actually – a friend pointed out to me last night that Massive Attack should be on the list. I’ve always considered them a bit more downtempo that those above, but to be fair, they have all the same characteristics to their career. I suppose the same could be said for any number of bands, who will peak early and plateau for what seems like too long.
I was also reminded that my growing disappointment could be simply put down to the ‘grumpy old git’ factor. I’ll soon have to face the fact I am just becoming that that chin-stroking muso standing at the back of the gig complaining that its too loud and they were better back in the day. That guy you swear you’ll never become when you’re 18 and pogo-ing around down the front.