alexsarll: (bernard)
Had one of my occasional weekends at places outside the usual orbit - gay pop night Duckie on the Saturday, country at Come Down And Meet The Folks on Sunday. The former would be in my usual orbit if only it were as easy getting back from Vauxhall as it is getting down there; I can't recall the last time I went to a club and they didn't play a single dud song. The same cannot altogether be said of Come Down..., but they did adopt one innovation which would be welcome at other gigs: the opening acts do two songs each. Enough to whet the appetite, not enough to bore anyone. I've seen so many support acts who'd have benefitted from being restricted to that sort of teaser.
I did two numbers myself at Bingo Master's Breakout a couple of weeks back, covering GK Chesterton and Alphaville (and even my apophenia struggles to divine a common thread between those two). Ciccone were there as part of their comeback tour; one of the first bands I ever saw in London, quite by chance, long before I could know I'd end up knowing them, walking the other Parkland Walk with one of the core personnel. It all knits together, one way or another. The other show was at the Windmill, whose gents' is not exactly salubrious, but at least no longer reeks of piss. Likewise, returning to the Rhythm Factory for the first time in a decade or thereabouts, I was pleased to find it no longer full of bad drugs (even if they had been replaced by furries and steampunks; nowhere's perfect). These small tidyings-up, I can forgive; I'm not against all renovation, even all gentrification, but when a once-welcoming boozer like the Noble ends up looking like the departure lounge at a shit airport, something's awry. I try not to worry about London, knowing that every generation is convinced it lives at the end of an era - but sometimes, even knowing that, it's hard to resist.

What else? James Ward, formerly of this parish, seems to be attaining mild celebrity with his Adventures in Stationery; I went to the launch, where he was interviewed by fellow ex-LJ star Rhodri, and it ended up altogether too much fun for a Monday. John Watterson aka Fake Thackray is another for the list of tribute acts I've caught lately, though readier than most to play the hits, in so far as Jake Thackray had hits. The X-Wing habit is proving hard to kick, even if my results remain patchy. [livejournal.com profile] tigerpig returned to the other side of the world, her passing marked by events including a noise gig which, perhaps down to the occasion, managed to fit a surprising amount of feeling in amongst those dissonant frequencies. Albeit not quite so emotional a show as Martin Newell's Golden Afternoon; Gershwin's 'Summertime' is one of the first songs I remember, one of the first things to make me feel melancholy, long before I knew the word 'melancholy'. Combine that with Newell's natural affinity for the moment where summer's waving goodbye, turn it into a duet with Lorraine Bowen on that most poignant of days, Sunday...yes. Bless the mad old bastard.
alexsarll: (bernard)
I was getting quite worried about the electoral reform referendum, because at the moment who doesn't want to p1ss on Nick Clegg's chips? But the No campaign's ads are so transparently mendacious and manipulative that I think someone may finally have succeeded in underestimating the British public. Result.

I've finally seen Scott Pilgrim, and it's not bad, is it? Some of the stuff they necessarily lost in the transition from comic to film, I wasn't that sorry to see go - the moping around, the wilderness trek. It lost emotional weight, but it gained energy; the whole story was told with the sugar rush romp feel which in the comics had to be complicated after the first couple of volumes if it weren't to become exhausting. And Michael Cera was a very different Scott (which had been my main objection to seeing the film), but he was still a recognisable one. I was more thrown by the cinema take on Knives (insufficiently psycho) and Envy (insufficiently hot). But on balance I think I prefer the other work to come out of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's temporary split, Paul. It's a charming autobiographical bromance (Early on Pegg and Nick Frost even give themselves lines like "Can you believe it? Us! In America! We've dreamed about this since we were kids!") and a big geeky action comedy all rolled up into one big bag of...joy, I suppose. It's a lot less bittersweet than the Pegg/Wright films, and I don't mind that one bit.

Otherwise, I've largely been thinking about how strange time is (mainly while drinking). There was a Nuisance, of course, and the usual glimmer of surprise that in 2011 the night I attend most frequently plays the same music I was hearing when I first started clubbing. But also seeing Circulus, and being slightly disappointed that a band who come across so temporally alien on record would engage in such standard band-on-stage-at-small-venue activity as making suggestions to the soundman about the monitor mix. They shouldn't even admit they know what the monitors are, dammit! But then, they should probably be playing an enchanted glade somewhere rather than a venue sponsored by an energy drink, and in that case how would they power the instruments? It doesn't quite work, but on headphones on a country walk you can pretend that it does, so long as you don't think too hard about the headphones. Which all tied into [livejournal.com profile] al_ewing's latest (and best) book, Gods of Manhattan. It's set in a shared steampunk universe but, being a smart man working in a near-exhausted genre, Al pushes and prods at the boundaries, having realised that "The only rule is no electricity" and even that can be subverted. The main story is great pulp fun - the serial numbers have been filed off, but essentially it's Zorro vs the Shadow vs Doc Savage (except also Superman and living in a menage a trois) in a retro-futurist dream of New York. But the setting is almost better than the story, simply for the way it mixes so many odd little bits of our culture into the new context, and while being funny also makes emotional sense. And within that you've got the beautiful idea that the people in the alternate reality are themselves dreaming of our reality - the ageing Warhol makes models of impossible devices like miniature telephones, too small for steam to ever power, in a movement that's been called 'dreampunk'.

*Though even back in Derby - where you soon realise that Royston Vasey is an accurate portrayal of the county - we seldom had anyone quite so creepy as the guy in the red blazer in. Cross Louie Spence with a new ad campaign for Rohypnol, then picture the result breakdancing to My Life Story...
alexsarll: (bill)
Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland was one of the most impressive comics achievements of recent years. Unusually, it was an actual 'graphic novel' in format terms - but not in content (being part memoir, part psychogeographical carnival, and all wonderful). It was the sort of thing a non-comics reader could appreciate, and many did - broadsheet reviews, massive bookshop sales, all that. So I was somewhat puzzled when I heard that he'd be following it with an anthropomorphic animal story. This is an area of comics I've never really got - and given it's the area which shades all too easily into the fearful land of the furries, I'm OK with that. I don't mind if a story features a funny animal character for a reason, you understand - just handwave 'genetic engineering' and I'm happy. And obviously something cartoony is fine. But if I'm meant to take a story seriously and it's been cast from Sylvanian Families, I just have a disconnect. This is not to judge the form, because I know other people get the same problem with, say, science fiction - and so long as they don't start making canon judgments based on that, leave it as a personal preference, that's fine (nobody's complaining if you only fancy blondes, so long as you don't then start muttering about Aryan supremacy).
But, even knowing Grandville was unlikely to be my favourite thing Talbot had ever done, I still wanted to read it at some point, and fortunately I found one in Tottenham library (to which I took a small detour on my way back from yesterday's walk, of which more anon). After all, it's a steampunk murder mystery and, with the astonishing Luther Arkwright, Talbot was one of the progenitors of steampunk. He draws good valve.
The problem with this, though, is that steampunk settings often don't make much sense. Certainly not this one, where Napoleon conquered Britain; two centuries later, France grudgingly granted Britain independence after ongoing terrorist campaigns. Well, maybe. But while what we see of British country life is an idealised version of British country life, this free Britain is now supposedly a Socialist Republic. The hero's sidekick talks like Bertie Wooster, but apparently he's doing so in French, the English language now being strictly a parochial and rural argot. I don't feel like these elements match up at all. And, of course, this whole society is populated with talking animals. OK, there are a few humans - 'doughfaces' - but uniquely among all the various species, they don't have citizenship. Why? There's no other evidence of a caste system. And in this land where pigs and dogs are people, we also hear mention of bacon, see a man (or rather, crocodile in top hat) walking his pet dog. I can accept that Mickey Mouse is friends with Goody but owns Pluto - but that was a whimsical world, not the setting for a thriller (and besides, I always preferred Warner Brothers cartoons).
The real icing on this cake, though, is that the crime our heroic badger cop is investigating is a thinly-veiled stand-in for a 9/11 conspiracy theory. A version whose transposition to this nonsensical world handily includes a few changes which make it less of a self-evident farrago of paranoid, puerile idiocies (it comes before an election rather than soon after, for one).
So: a world which makes no sense either on a (pseudo)scientific or narrative level, depicted in a form which makes no sense, apparently promoting a conspiracy theory which makes no sense. Scattered around the background are versions of several famous paintings reimagined for this animal world, and well-done as they are, they're reminiscent of nothing so much as those dogs playing snooker. Which is a sadly accurate summary of the feel of this whole thing. What a waste.
alexsarll: (Default)
Finally seen No Country For Old Men and...well, OK, it's not actively awful like most films which win loads of Oscars lately, but I don't quite understand the fuss. But then, The Big Lebowski aside, I never did quite get the Coens - they make films I watch once and enjoy, but then feel no urge ever to revisit. I will concede that, in Anton Chigurh, the film has one mesmerising performance, and that its reluctance to go for one of the standard thriller resolutions is commendable. I'll further admit that their sense of whimsy does a lot to leaven the relentless, slightly monotonous bleakness which put me off Cormac McCarthy when I tried to read another of his - this is as much a film about bad service and dumb questions as heists gone wrong. But at no stage was I either as gripped, or as amused, as I was watching Psychoville. At no stage did I find myself thinking that yes, this is what film-making is about, which I felt plenty during last week's Ghostbusters marathon (and how had I never twigged before that the Warden from Oz = Winston the black Ghostbuster, aka Ernie Hudson?).
Also: while finding that No Country For Old Men link above, I learned that next year will see a Clash of the Titans remake. As much as I hate moaning about remakes - so predictable, so lacking in historical sense, so selective in its examples - I do feel fairly confident that this one deserves to be stopped by rampaging stop-motion monsters.

Michael Moorcock interview in which we learn that he doesn't read SF, and feels something of the same rage towards the steampunk he helped birth as his mate Alan Moore does towards the grim'n'gritty trend in comics. Bless the old curmudgeon. If nothing else it got me to dig out some more of his End of Time stories - possibly my favourite of his work, given they concern near-omnipotent immortals heavily inspired by the 1890s, who live out Earth's twilight in a round of parties and fads. My people, in other words.

I've already bemoaned the cancellation of Captain Britain and MI:13, but the new issue suggests that it's not even going to go out with its standards intact. By which I mean no slur on the writing or the art, but someone in lettering and/or editorial has let through a 'your' for a 'you're', a 'corps' for 'corpse' and a couple of other, lesser infelicities. Poor show. Phonogram, on the other hand, came through with my favourite issue so far of the second series, because after sweet little Penny and normal Marc, now we have an issue devoted to the first series' Emily Aster, a vain, damaged and in many ways quite annoying young woman. ie, just the kind of person who it's great to have around because she keeps you on your toes - and doubly so in fiction where she's can't really cut loose on you. I'm also left intrigued as to whether, for instance, we'll ever find out what that townie girl was doing at an indie night like Never On A Sunday. Although, I do slightly dispute Emily's test for whether a club's indie (is she more likely to hear a record which sold eight copies in 1977 than whatever's Number One now?). The rules are: if the flyer lists bands - whatever those bands are - then it's an indie club. If it lists DJs, it's a dance club. And if it lists drinks promotions, it's a pop club.
alexsarll: (magnus)
I like climbing things. If you've ever been in a park with me, you probably already know that. And while I find all the fuss made about 'parkour' deeply naff, if I'm walking alongside a low wall, I'll as likely as not hop up and walk along it instead. This goes for the middle of the day and sober as much as the evening drunk; it's not a big deal so much as 'why not?'. Similarly, if I'm walking alongside a slope I usually try that thing of running at it and then along it where you don't fall off so long as you keep going.
Last night, I got overambitious and thought I could do this with a vertical wall. While wearing shoes with pretty much no grip. It may come as no surprise to you, dear readers, that I failed, resulting in an ungainly sprawl. But as I attempted it, I was so sure I could do it, the sort of certainty which really ought to be its own guarantee, if the world were as susceptible to will and confidence as they say it is.

Five Thoughts On The Popularity Of Steampunk.

As much as I love Bill Murray, I'd always put off seeing Groundhog Day because it is a film in which he finds love with Andie Macdowell, and (except in the grossly underrated Hudson Hawk), I loathe Andie Macdowell. Watching the film, though, it becomes clear that we're not seeing every iteration of Bill Murray's looped day. As such, it becomes easier to reconcile yourself to the horrific idea that he can only escape by romancing the vile woman. Clearly he has already killed her in every manner for which Puxsatawny can supply the materials - only to find himself waking up on the same morning. Similarly, he has also slept with every other inhabitant of the town, including the groundhog - and still not escaped. From which it becomes clear that even though she's unaccountably the hardest work of them all, even though the idea is repugnant beyond all measure, the malign forces which have trapped Murray will only be satisfied with the most abject act imaginable - he has to get with Macdowell.
So yes, he may wake up next to her, smiling. But it is the smile of a broken man. He has now known the true horror of the cosmos, the depths to which the secret rulers of the world will drive a man. The only question is which comes first for him now - catatonic insanity, or one final, mercifully-permanent suicide.

The Beautiful And Damned is not the club it was with Dickon at the helm, and you can take that in the broadest sense. The night as I knew it was a pub where strange and wonderful things happened, with dancing; now it's more a show. It has found itself a new audience who seem happy with that, but one gets the unhappy impression that certain elements here are that little bit too keen on The Mighty Boosh; I can forgive the compere introducing Martin White & his Mysterious Fax Machine, if only because that does sound like an act I'd like to see, but when he fluffs the name of the night (that pesky second 'the' creeps in, which is so easily done but entirely destroys the point of the phrase)...I can only take so much cheerful incompetence.
Martin White & his Mysterious Fax Machiney Fax Machine Orchestra, who seem still to have more members every time I see them, are worth the trip nonetheless; I especially enjoy their new Bond theme, undoubtedly the best song called 'Quantum of Solace' to be released this year by a man named White.
alexsarll: (magneto)
Am just returned from my stint as a member of Bill Drummond's The17. Given the whole point of the exercise is to stand apart from recorded music, it would seem unfair to record it here, but to all of you - and especially those who already expressed an interest but whom I couldn't handle herding - I strongly recommed you get in touch and get involved.

Luxembourg did their usual thing of playing their best when the odds were against them, but their set aside, Friday night was not great. So I very much needed the steampunk extravaganza* of Saturday's White Mischief. Such costumes! Moustaches Dali would envy, the goggles of gentlemen engineers, brass-bound jetpacks, silverware become radar dishes, armoured waistcoats. The fairer sex seemed mainly to go for variations on the theme of corsetry, which was as historically justified as it was welcome. Oh, and there was one cove dressed as a giant panda, who provided a handy locational reference if one was trying to find anyone in the British Sea Power crowd. And this was quite the best I've seen BSP, surfing the edge of chaos, dropkicking owls and scaling the balcony, and somehow projecting such concentrated sonic power that the next day, I felt like I must have spent at least some of the evening getting kicked in the midsection. Kunta Kinte also clicked for me, far more so than at the previous White Mischief (and on the whole, the Scala was definitely a much happier venue for the night than Conway Hall**). But to speak only of the headliners would be to misrepresent the wonder of the night - because it was a night, an event, not just a concert with trappings and frills. One could wander happily past dancers and skin-harpists and time-travelling pirates, or stop and stare. It felt, as too few nights feel, like the sort of club one sees in films, the party at the mad nobleman's palace.

There were a lot of poppies about last week; more than the last couple of years, I'm sure. Perhaps it was that ad campaign that did it (although personally I found the poppy ghosts bloody terrifying), but society at large seems to have remembereed that acknowledging a debt of honour to the dead and wounded is not the same thing as expressing an opinion on any particular war. I've even seen them worn unselfconsciously at gigs and clubs, which for the few years previous had seemed very much a Statement. And today, promptly, they're all gone - not dragging on shabbily and gauchely as they sometimes do. Perhaps it helped that the 11th fell on the Sunday this year?
(Odd though it may seem, I think the best piece I've seen on Remembrance Sunday this year was a retrospective on Amiga classic Cannon Fodder. Oh, and while we're on remembrance - I've never read more than the odd article or quote of Norman Mailer, and was always rather put off by his Dave Sim-approved comments on women writers. But this wonderfully honest and non-hagiographic appreciation by Christopher Hitchens makes me reconsider my failure to investigate further, cliche though it is to get into the work of the newly dead)

My contribution to Blog A Penguin Classic, a review of their edition of Henry V, is now online at their site; my initial grand plans were undermined when I spotted the character limit, but that may have been for the best.

Who drinks so much they don't realise they need to pee? And if they do, how come they don't just wet themselves? That always seems to work for the street drinker community. Granted, I am aware of one previous case of someone bursting their bladder rather than letting it out, but that was one of my less illustrious ancestors, who couldn't bear the idea of going for a wee on a train. So yes, OK, the unyielding will of the overly decorous leading to a burst bladder, fair enough. But the debaucheries of Binge Drink Britain (TM)? I find that improbable.

*What music does a steampunk night play? Well, I dressed myself up to the second Dresden Dolls album, and two of the DJs aired tracks from it, so that would be the short answer.
**Which has given me the seeds of a theory on the incompatibility of humanism and burlesque.

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