Tag: Brixton Academy

A tribute to Keith Flint

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I don’t quite know how to process this. It has been announced this morning that Keith Flint, the unmistakeable singer in the Prodigy, has passed away.

The Penguin has tears in his eyes. The Prodigy are a band of almost unrivalled brilliance in my mind. One of the greatest live acts in the world; a band who helped to make dance music pre-eminent in the album and singles charts, as well as headlining festivals around the world. The blend of energy, rock, punk, dance – of various forms – and yet more energy appealed to fans of so many types of music.

I remember my mum buying Fat of the Land. It’s never great when your parents are cooler than you – well, one of them at least, my dad stopped following popular culture in 1977 – and whenever she drove home you’d hear her long before you saw her, so loud was the album blaring out. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was a seminal album for lots of people, but for me it was a gateway into a world I never wanted to end.

The first festival I ever went to was Leeds Festival in 2002. The Friday night had three major acts playing, with the Offspring and Guns and Roses either side of the Prodigy. I think about that set every week. The band were struggling at the time, having toured for years and struggling to get on. But for a 16 year old fan seeing them for the first time, it was absolutely magical. The energy. I’ve never seen a crowd bounce in unison for so long. The tunes. The bass. It was unforgettable.

Maxim would scream ‘where the fuck is Leeds?’ and we’d go crazy in response. Keith Flint would swagger around the stage, delivering the words to songs that were now part of our DNA. I don’t know if any manager looking to put a band together would ever think of bringing those three men in the same room; but their chemistry was undeniable. They leave a live crowd reeling, but desperately wanting more. It was absolutely addictive.

Which may explain why I’ve been back to see them so many times. I’ve lost count of the exact number, somewhere around ten. My first solo trip to London in 2004 involved watching them at Brixton Academy. There was the hilarious time they headlined the second stage at V Festival and – according to the rumour that went around – refused to go on stage unless the volume was turned up. The main stage headliners the Scissor Sisters had to apologise for the bass that kept wafting across. That was the gig where I’d said I was going to take it easy; then the riff to Their Law started and I was on the third row by the end of the first song. I’ve had my phone stolen at one of their gigs, and didn’t notice because the crowd were bouncing so much. You always came away with sore ribs and legs, but smiling from ear to ear.

Flint was not the music man. On some Prodigy albums he wasn’t even involved in the recording. But he was the heart and the ethos of the band. The stage got a little more electric when he came on. He embodied the attitude of the band and it was his face that became synonymous with their mainstream success and number 1 singles.

I’m so very sad right now that I won’t get to experience it again. But I’m so very grateful for what he did. He made a young kid from Yorkshire fall in love with whatever he did. And I hope he knows how much I – and so many others – appreciate that.

Ramblings: on blogging, The XX, IDLES and Secret Cinema (Moulin Rouge)

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There were four things I feared when I started Astralpenguins:

  1. I wouldn’t enjoy writing it
  2. People would react negatively to such a weird collection of music
  3. I’d run out of music that I liked and therefore end up plugging music I wasn’t that keen on
  4. I’d run out of time/energy to keep it updated.

Well the fourth of those concerns came about around the middle of March. Work, personal admin and commitments conspired to take my time away. It wasn’t that I didn’t have time to write the blog, it was that I didn’t have time to listen to music at all.

And yet, here I am. On the other side of a strange couple of weeks. I’ve had a blog post in my mind for a fortnight that I don’t really feel is worth writing in full anymore, but it revolved around two gigs I went to – with Gig buddy Matt – on consecutive nights.

The first was seeing The XX at one of their Brixton shows, absolutely smashing it. It was a total pleasure from start to finish watching that band – a band that I’ve loved since I first heard them on the radio around 7 years ago – stand triumphant in front of their hometown crowd.

I have to be honest, I was on such a high from The XX that I feared for the following night’s acts. I even considered not going. But boy am I glad I did. First, some history: one of the ways I check out new bands is from the email lists of various venues I like; they email out a list of acts who are playing soon and then I listen to the music of the bands I haven’t heard of before.

Back in the summer of 2015 I received an email from Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen advertising a band called IDLES. They had one EP on Spotify, and it was – from memory – pretty solid indie rock. Tickets were c. £5 and I thought ‘why not?’ – I even persuaded Gig Buddy Matt to come along. We were in for a surprise…

The band had somewhat changed their sound since that EP, eschewing indie sensibilities for a considerably more brutal punk sound. The audience was sparse – probably around 40 of us – and the band were intimidating. They looked like they’d be cobbled together in some sort of prison rehabilitation programme; all pent-up rage channelled – mostly – through their instruments. The lead singer jumped off the stage and paced around the audience, who visibly recoiled.

They were, in short, rather brilliant. The kind of band you need to see; full of eccentricities and chemistry, yet always bordering on an explosion. They were supported on that night by a 2 piece called John (which, they helpfully point out, is a terrible name for a band, as you can’t find them on Google). I’m delighted we spent the £5 – it’s one of those gigs we still talk about with joy and laughter.

And then late last year, something unexpected happened. Radio 1 started championing IDLES. They were getting radio play, invited in for live lounge performances … it gave them a level of exposure they’d previously lacked. And so they returned to London (Moth Club) a couple of weeks ago – once again supported by the once again excellent but totally un-google-able John) with a considerably bigger crowd.

What hadn’t changed is their spirit. The punk ethos, the chaotic live show, the humour… it was there. They were fantastic. If you haven’t seen them, don’t hesitate. This is a band who have worked incredibly hard to get themselves to this stage, and their live show is, right now, one of music’s most provocative experiences.

There is one other thing I wanted to mention from the past week. My favourite film in the world is Moulin Rouge (closely followed by Die Hard) and at the moment in London an organisation called Secret Cinema are hosting their version of screenings of the film. Essentially Secret Cinema try to recreate the magic and ethos of the film by bringing elements of it to life. My other half bought me tickets for one of their screenings (performances?) for Christmas, and we excitedly went along last Sunday.

I’m loathe to write anything resembling a review of the night, but the top line is that I thought the whole thing was atrocious. Lacking creative direction, artistic merit or a sense of how to add value to something that is already pretty much perfect, it is one of the worst cultural experiences I’ve had in London. I can only suggest – if you are thinking of going – that you avoid it. Better to sit at home and watch the film; it’s better than the second rate am-dram drivel you’ll experience at the Secret Cinema experience, and it’ll save you from shelling out for the ridiculously overpriced tickets, drinks, food and costume.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Back soon – and I promise to stick to music from now on.

Ramblings: on Zak Abel and being back on track

 

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Well the blog is back on track after my week of illness. The A List is done, the Bonus List introduced and the This Week Playlist posted. George posted a review of Cloud Nothings’s Life Without Sound last night and Antonia is back with her At The Movies column later today. Plus there’s a Track of the Day coming up at 0930.

Onto non-blog matters, I’m pretty happy as I’m off to my first gig of the year tonight, seeing Zak Abel at one of his two sold out shows at London’s Scala.

I first heard Zak Abel’s stunning soul voice on Sam Sumthin – which I only found out yesterday was produced by Kaytranada – back in 2015. It’s a voice that’ll please many audiences and belies his young age. Given that he’s a self-taught pianist and guitarist, and was also pretty good at table tennis, he also seems like a pretty determined man.

He also writes cracking pop songs. Say Sumthin was one of the best I’ve heard in years, an instant classic. And he’s followed it up with Everybody Needs Love and Unstable since.

His debut album- Only When We’re Naked – is due out in March and I’m looking forward to hearing some of the new material tonight. This will be my fourth time seeing him live, and every performance has improved on the last. He has an infectious charm on stage, his band are super tight and I fully expect him to be playing much bigger venues soon.

One of the things l’ll keep coming back to on this blog (because it’s something I care a lot about) is supporting young acts – particularly British acts – and the need to ensure they aren’t rushed. A few years ago it became a habit for acts to have a couple of singles or a debut album and to be playing Brixton Academy; it was sad watching them fall flat on their face due to a lack of material and a lack of stage experience.

Zak Abel has done it the proper way. He’s been gigging consistently for the past few years and knows how to work an audience. The first time I saw him was at the Oslo in Hackney, he was the second act on stage with a bill of four; it was perhaps an indication that he was destined for bigger things when half of the audience walked out after he’d finished.

Last year I saw him play the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, where he tore the place up – Drake One Dance cover and all – and was joined on stage for a duet by Paloma Faith. I had the rather strange experience of being stood next to Paloma Faith for a large chunk of that gig; but it does mean I can say with certainty that she was enjoying herself.

To reaffirm that he hasn’t been an overnight success, he was featured on the Radio 1Xtra Hot for 2015 List, a list that also featured Little Simz, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Raury, Stormzy, Lion Babe, which is a pretty strong list. Yet its interesting that you could easily hear his stuff on 1Xtra, Radio 1, Radio 2, XFM or any of the shit big commercial radio stations. He has a sound – and a quality – that could easily see him become Britain’s next big pop export.

So I’m looking forward to tonight very much and in anticipation below is Zak Abel’s new video for Unstable.

Until later,

Mark