Tag: Radio 1

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.

That was two weeks ago. Then things in my life intervened (see above). Then someone attacked the place I work, killing a policeman and four others, and injuring dozens more.

I haven’t mentioned I work in Parliament on the blog before because it isn’t relevant to the music or anything else I’m going to write about. I am reluctant to mention it now; because nothing that happened last week was about me and there are families grieving who deserve to have their loved ones at home; who were robbed of their joy by an abominable act. My heart goes out to them and I’m profoundly moved by those who came to help the injured and suffering last week.

But – as this is a music blog – I wanted to say one thing about it. Music is usually my escape from things, the place I go to for joy. Events last week left me wanted to skip music for a little while. I didn’t want to escape from the world; I wanted to come to terms with what had happened so that – like thousands of others who work in Westminster – I could, in some way, accept it and move on.

And here I am. Finding my feet again in the blogging world and hoping you’ll forgive the absence.

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 VANT & Radio 1

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Back in July 2015 I heard my first VANT track; The Answer immediately stood out from a lot of the guitar music around at the time. With it’s extended intro, swagger and politically-charged lyrics I was immediately intrigued by this band I hadn’t previously heard off.

Based purely on the strength of that single I went to see them a couple of weeks later. There was a lot to be impressed by. They had several other cracking tunes in their locker, they were great fun live and – perhaps most strikingly – they connected with the very young fans there in a very special way (including a stage invasion).

I’ve followed them very closely from then on and have seen them twice since; the first was the night after the Bataclan terrorist attack. It was a strange night to go to a gig; the first time I’ve ever checked where the emergency exits are… just in case. Yet all three bands that played that night – FIDLAR, Bully and VANT – paid tribute in their own way, and I was so incredibly pleased I went. It felt like a collective show of defiance; that life will go on.

The last time I saw them was late last year at Scala, at the gig where they filmed the – re-released single – Do You Know Me? video. I was struck that night by how much they’d improved; how they really owned the stage and controlled the pace; a difficult skill for new(er) bands to learn and master.

On Friday they release their debut album – Dumb Blonde – and there’s a tour to go with it in the next few months. Alas they’re playing London on the same night I’m going to see The XX so I thought I’d have to miss out on seeing them again. However I’ve won some tickets to a BBC Introducing gig tonight at the Roundhouse, headlined by VANT, so I’m really looking forward to hearing the new material.

VANT have received a lot of Radio 1 support in the past eighteen months and it’s a reminder of what Radio 1 can do when it is at its best. They had the double whammy of Zane Lowe’s departure – along with a number of producers – and an enforced shift towards  their target audience, which really left them floundering, and they have more often than not responded in the worst possible ways on how to move forward.

Patronising young people and trying to make everything ‘cool’ is not a successful strategy; Radio 1 should remember that generations of young people kept coming back to Radio 1 because it played and supported the best music and employed people who were passionate about music. A quick glance at the daytime ‘DJ’s’ might point to why Radio 1 is struggling.

VANT are a politically charged band that are connecting with young people and Radio 1 has played a massive part in that. So – ahead of Friday’s album release – tonight should be a celebration of their relationship together and hopefully the first of many album release celebrations for the lads ‘from Planet Earth’.