Friday, 30 December 2011

Death Grips Like No Other Record of 2011

Before we begin let's make one thing clear: 99% of people who click on the video below will take a serious dislike to what they see and hear. That's not because the clip is offensive in any way. It's more because what they witness will strike them as a sensory assault. It is music video that is designed to disorientate and perturb the listener. Its minimalism and Spartan beats disturb rather than entertain. In a year where Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday was awarded 'Favourite Rap/ Hip-Hop Album and Artist' at the American Music Awards, it's no surprise that the video underneath might not conform to what most people consider a tolerable image of US urban music.

You've probably never seen or heard anything like Death Grips' Guillotine, and because of that reason, it is understandable why you may overwhelmingly hate it.

Death Grips started life 12 months ago in Sacramento, California as a team effort between its members, led by founder producer Flatlander, prolific drummer Zach Hill, vocal contributor Mexican Girl and main rapper MC Ride. The union of these core members produced a creatively combustible and sonically combative mixtape aptly named Ex-Military. The record progressively captured the attention of listeners and journalists around the world, with everyone from NBC to The Guardian writing features on how spectacular its thirteen tracks are. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that Ex-Military is an album that will register as something that is perhaps too nihilistic to be appreciated in its own era, but may, in time, be viewed as an essential record for the volatile epoch it was creatively forged in.

Death Grips seems the ultimate panacea to the bloated and derivative nature of current American hip-hop. It also puts to shame the repetitive and shapeless British urban 'grime' scene that is popular in our country. The Death Grips mixtape is not at all concerned with the acquisition of women or wealth―motifs that typify much of the rap products populating Billboard's charts. Nor is the record a singularly monotonous rant the way most of Eminem's work is, nor does it incorporate the juvenile frivolity of say Odd Future's output. Rather more, Ex-Military is thematically charged with aggressive diatribes against injustice, materialism and greed. In fact, when members of Death Grips were asked about anything specific influencing their work, the group simply responded by saying "Poverty and Bass." This thematic hook serves Ex-Military very well and the results are both tinged with abject nihilism and meaningful satire. It serves as a reminder of how music can, even in the age of mass-produced sanitised pop confections, remain a medium with a message.

Death Grips has taken its anti-establishment agenda to the next level by experimenting with the sales methodology for Ex-Military. While the mixtape can be purchased from Amazon for £6.99, it can be just as easily downloaded from the band's website for free. It is this very egalitarian nature of Death Grips distribution methods that further enhances the irregular and mischievous nature of the group.

Ex-Military―for the 1% that gets it―is  arguably the best album of 2011. Ever since its low-key release last spring, Ex-Military has become a countercultural tour de force. It's an album that powerfully emanates a startling energy, rebooting the rap genre in ways we never thought possible. Ex-Military presents a slew of wondrous and weird production techniques that will have listeners detecting new layers of sound every time they spin it. Its kinetic and cantankerous attitude makes Ex-Military a perfect case study of how to make a rap record that both honours the genres that inspired it, and advance it in directions that haven't yet been envisaged by hip-hop's more established peers.

Music critics across the length and breadth of America have engaged in lengthy and detailed analysis regarding the unique nature of Death Grips' sound, using scientific and metaphysical analogies in an effort to try and make sense of its leftfield aggressive splendour. Even the British music press, which typically avoids American rap music, has also devoted column inches to deciphering Death Grips' matchless industrial scale experimental sounds.

Death Grips is a brilliant remainder of the omnivorous and exploratory nature of American popular music. It's a solid memento of how the US instigated and founded some of the most important music trends the world has seen. Although genres like punk, techno, house and rock 'n roll may have been better developed and crafted in European territories, their origins are distinctly grounded in US music culture, forcing the rest of us to acknowledge that America, despite some of its artistic faults, is actually a truly pioneering and innovative source of groundbreaking composition styles.

Ex-Military is a demanding record that requires the listener to actively engage with its hostile beats and violent lyrical content. It is an uncompromising piece of work that will repel more than it will attract, but that is part of its endurance test. It does not exist to simplify complex ideas or water down its maleficent undertones. It seeks to unrest the listener and alters their expectations of what contemporary hip-hop can be. The masses will abjure Death Grips anti-society mantra, but there are many who will not be able to get enough of it.

Death Grips are a group that can, if it wanted to, become the most important movement in modern American music. Upon hearing Ex-Military you should have no doubt that these guys are the real deal: the kind of rappers that devour white guys with guitars for breakfast, lunch and dinner―only to regurgitate them and consume them all over again.

This is a seriously important record and this blogger cannot recommend it highly enough. It is superior stuff indeed. Depending on where your own personal taste in music stands, Ex-Military may be the greatest or worst thing you've heard all year.

Both viewpoints are understandable, though only one is acceptable.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs’ Garden

When you decide to give yourself a stage name as gargantuan as Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, people are going to have big expectations.

Orlando Higginbottom's essentially one-man dance project kicked off a few years back but has now gone global having been commissioned by Lady GaGa('s people) to remix Marry the Night, as well as getting Nokia to use his track Garden for its high profile Lumia mobile phone adverts.

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs makes the kind of music that indie guitar kids feel comfortable dancing to. It's entertaining but hardly revolutionary. Higginbottom is probably better known for his onstage dinosaur costumes and opulent feathered headwear than his mixing skills, but one gets the sense that the music he makes is designed to function as lucrative background noise for the commercials put out by major corporations.

'Tis really not the season for such obdurate cynicism.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

A Shameful Situation

While watching Roland Emmerich's latest film Anonymous, the first thing that hits you is just how atypical it is. Emmerich may not be known for helming revisionist prestige pictures but his handling of this particular Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare's authorship is a world away from the movies he's best known for.

You see, Emmerich makes overblown spectacles costing hundreds of millions of dollars to produce. He makes movies in which stuff gets blown up and things are thrown at the screen. It's the kind of cinema the entire world flocks to, especially boisterous young men.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Roland Emmerich's output has less to do with his films and more to do with who he is. Emmerich is an openly gay filmmaker, yet his movies appeal to the most homophobic heartlands of America. The guy knows what fanboys respond best to and he creates movies catering to their tastes. If anything, Emmerich is a filmmaker who comes from a minority community but makes films for the masses. His sexuality is overlooked because he creates entertainment that generates serious revenue. Working in an industry where profit is everything, Emmerich is a bonafide money-maker.

Emmerich's sexuality could be an issue to some patrons but as long as he doesn't imbue his material with detectable homoerotic undertones, both audiences and financiers are cool with such an arrangement. I suppose the same principal applies to all jobbing filmmakers, but it's questionable whether race plays a more detrimental role in such a situation.

British artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen is a hulking big black guy from London. Unlike the usual effete privately educated toffs that work as directors in the British film industry, McQueen is a different thing. He went to an ordinary comprehensive school and was raised in an average Afro-Carrabin family. His main passion in life was football but his creative talents set him on a different path altogether. After graduating from art school, McQueen got into experimental filmmaking which has led him to make two award-winning movies.

McQueen's latest film Shame has sparked equal amount of praise and controversy on account of its exploration of sexual addiction. Much like his previous film Hunger, a dramatisation of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, Shame also stars Michael Fassbender and deals with the existential plight of Caucasian people dealing with psychologically extreme predicaments.

McQueen is a proud British black man but his art is not limited to that. He wants to tell stories that transcend race, culture and geography. But one can argue that someone like McQueen has a moral responsibility to champion the position of minority groups in Britain when it comes to opportunities for making films.

The video below is taken from an interview McQueen gave to the Hollywood Reporter where he, along with some other leading directors tipped for awards' recognition in 2011, talks about the nature of filmmaking in today's industry. McQueen addresses the lamentable lack of recognition and opportunities black people encounter in a largely unrepresentative American film industry. The inevitable question about race puts his peers on edge, but McQueen admirably admonishes a deeply unfair system that fails to include the wide range diverse social experiences that constitute modern America.

Shame may be a film that is set in New York, but it was made by a British team and stars British actors playing American characters. Whether it's a British or American film is up for question, but McQueen really should look closer to home before he rebukes the discriminate nature of current US cinema.

Britain is a real mixture of people. It's a rampantly multicultural country, yet if you watch most British cinema or television then you'll find that the lack of opportunities McQueen is berating America for is even worse here in Britain.

British cinema has been steeped in an obsession with its history and antiquated ideals. The most exportable properties coming from the UK tend to be period pictures set in the world of Austen, Brontë, royalty and pre-war history. Everything from Downton Abbey to The King's Speech is a product of this formula of filmmaking and Britain has done extremely well out of it. The international market responds favourably to such material and it makes enough money to justify its existence. These films and programmes sell around the world and, in turn, enable Britain to have a successful home industry.

The big question for me is if this tradition of geriatric coffee-table filmmaking actually providing an authentic picture of modern Britain? It is understandable why in period pictures they don't hire ethnic actors, principally on grounds of verisimilitude, but that risks actors of colour facing limited opportunities. In that sense, Britain's preoccupation with period cinema is actually suppressing opportunity, not enhancing it.

It's very important to have a UK film director like Steve McQueen. If anything, McQueen's presence in the British film industry is symbolic of its potential plurality. One has to celebrate the actuality that a black filmmaker like McQueen is afforded the opportunity to make films about non-black people, yet still project his unique style and sensibilities through the art he creates. This is the reverse of say Spike Lee who took 15-years before he was given the chance to make a film that wasn't exclusively about African-American characters (Summer of Sam). Perhaps in that sense Britain is ahead of America as it hires the best artists to tell a story regardless of ethnicity.

But if that's the case then why are there not more black directors like McQueen working in the British film industry? Why haven't more ethnically diverse writers and artists gone to the top of producers' wishlists?

You can argue that it has everything to do with opportunities and as long as Britain remains locked its creatively myopic mindset then black people will not get the necessary chances to make their mark on British cinema.

Going back to the Hollywood Reporter video, it's noticeable how sheepish American filmmakers are when it comes to answering why their movies never tell stories other than the experiences of white middle-class America. That's a shame because a capable filmmaker should always want to be challenged and take on material that is not necessarily in their comfort zone. For example, although Alexander Payne's The Descendants is a film adaptation of a book, surely there are equally good novels dealing with similar themes in contemporary African-American literature. If not, then the impetus should be on the filmmaker to perhaps think outside of the box and try something different with the source material. (For example, in 1936 Orson Wells directed a stage version of Hamlet with an entirely African-American cast. It was rapturously well-received and rethought Shakespeare in totally groundbreaking ways.) A similar argument can be applied to original story ideas like Jason Reitman's Young Adult, a comedy about a 30-something woman struggling to get to grips with adulthood, which could have easily been reworked with an African-American protagonist in the lead role.

Likewise, McQueen's Shame deals with a white man's nymphomania, but there are novels like Zane's Addicted that have told the experience of sexual addiction from the point of view of an African-American character. If McQueen was seriously committed to furthering back representations then couldn't he have adapted that story into a film? Then again, film distributors are more focused on content that speaks the largest audience base, thus movies with a multiethnic perspective are less likely to secure widespread distribution.

This is a seriously complex area of debate and I may have bitten off more than I can chew. True filmmakers are visionaries, not conformists. McQueen, Payne, Reitman et al will never make a story just to please a specific demographic if the narrative doesn't require it.

There are many different voices coming out of Britain and America. All filmmakers, regardless of their backgrounds, have a responsibility to push boundaries and create work that depicts the gauntlet of experiences occurring in a multicultural society.

If that's the case then one can argue that you can't get more radical than an average black guy from London directing a film about a privileged white American man's addiction to shagging.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Duck Sauce’s “Big Bad Wolf”

American-Canadian house group Duck Sauce is a strange breed indeed. The group consists of club legends Armand Van Helden and A-Trak, both big dance producers in their own right having remixed songs for artists as diverse as Tori Amos, Kanye West and Kid Cudi.

Duck Sauce's previous effort was the annoying dance tune Barbara Streisand, which was a monstrous success here in Europe (no accounting for taste in these parts), but its new single Big Bad Wolf has struggled to gain comparable traction.

Truth is, Duck Sauce seem nothing more than a novelty project that peddles out gimmicky house numbers appealing to kids who can't dance and, instead, prefer to drunkenly shout out cheap catchphrases when out clubbing. (You know who you are.)

In an effort to boost Big Bad Woolf's appeal, Duck Sauce has commissioned an absurdly surreal music video which Billboard describes as "the most disturbing [and] frightening video of 2011."

Directed by Keith Schofield, Big Bad Wolf gives a whole new meaning to the concept of being a 'dickhead'. (You know who you are.)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- The Vaccines’ “Wetsuit”

British white guys with guitars love playing at summer music festivals. British white youths love attending summer music festivals. British ethnic minority groups love making fun of white guys who play and frequent summer music festivals.

The Vaccines new music video for Wetsuit is a sun soaked paean to the very Caucasian and middle-class ritual of summer music festivalling.

It was put together by director Poppy de Villeneuve (shamefully middle-class name) who assembled lots of images of music loving kids, and people who are old enough to know better, attending various summer festivals at which The Vaccines were headlining.

Ever since Beyoncé headlined last summer's Glastonbury, minority kids have learnt that erecting tents is no longer the sole exclusivity of white guys. Nay, minority groups are more than capable of slumbering in sleeping bags, just as long as there's a reasonably priced motel within a 3 mile radius on standby in case it gets a bit too much for them.

Wetsuit is, if you like this kind of music, a nice song and video that feels akin to a much needed shot of vitamin D during these depressingly drawn-out winter nights.

The challenge I present is this: How many minority groups can you spy in this video?

(I count two: a fleeting shot of a black guy smiling and a disabled dude crowd surfing in his wheelchair. N.B. people covered in mud and babies don't count.)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Jus†ice’s “Stress”

The Americans are in love with French dance music right now. David Guetta is so popular in the US that he could properly run for Republican Vice President, and Daft Punk can have a major American library named after them if they so wish.

It's a shame that type of veneration isn't extended to French electro-pop duo Jusice, a band that is pretty popular in these parts but neglected elsewhere.

Then again, who can blame the Americans for eschewing Jusice when they put out music videos like Stress, a 6-minute clip that got banned by nearly every broadcaster on account of its violence and poor taste. A God-fearing puritanical province like America probably would have quaked with fear if it ever got an eye-full and ear-load of Stress.

Set in Paris' socially deprived banlieues, Stress has been accused of everything from stereotypical racism to abject realism. It presents a group of delinquent youths―some black, others Muslims―who go around Paris groping women, smashing things in, beating people up, terrorising pensioners and wrecking cars.

Directed by Romain-Gavras, Stress is the type of clip that typifies a post-MTV music video industry. At a time when music video channels are sticking to reality television fare, Stress is the kind of work that transcends ordinary methods of broadcasting. It was, and remains, a viral sensation; a word-of-mouse classic that exists to get attention.

Monday, 7 November 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Toddla T’s ‘Take it Back’

This weekend Barnardo's children's' charity issued a worrying statistic claiming 38% of British adults don't believe that children who get into trouble need to be helped in any way.

The British have never been very comfortable with the idea of childhood. If you're rich enough then you can send your kids away to boarding school, and if you're too poor, then you let them roam the streets in gangs where they can get up to things like underage drinking, shagging and general misbehaviour. I guess you can say that Britain is not a very child-friendly culture. If you really want to be controversial, you can argue Britain does not like its children at all.

Sheffield DJ Toddla T released an album during the height of summer rioting called Watch me Dance. It featured a track titled Take it Back on which Shola Ama and J2K provided the vocals. The video to accompany the song brilliantly taps into the unique way British working-class kids have created their own community which, in the right circumstances, inspires and supports one another without the need of adult intervention. It's a world in which adults are superfluous. At best, grown-ups are nothing more than a pestering inconvenience that just pisses and moans. At worst, adults are a legitimate threat whom needs to be feared.

It's a fun video but there's more subtext to it than you might think. It is saying a lot more about British life than initially meets the eye.

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Midrange Men

There are times when certain thoughts concerning the world of cinema pique one's interest, such as the maligned career trajectory of Joel Schumacher, a guy who directed some seriously good movies like Lost Boys, Falling Down, A Time to Kill, along with not so good films like Batman & Robin, The Number 23 and Town Creek.

This month saw the release of Schumacher's latest film Trespass starring Nicholas Cage and Nicole Kidman. The reviews have been awful and box-office was even worse (it made $18,200 from ten theatres), all this despite a powerhouse cast and director. What's more surprising is that Schumacher released the decent gritty teen drama Twelve last year, from which it seemed the 72-year old director was still capable of making thoroughly cracking films about American adolescence.

Schumacher is simply one of countless midrange directors working in Hollywood. Midrange filmmakers are a uniquely Hollywood phenomena in that they are nothing more than jobbing movie directors who go from project to project without an overriding sense of authorship or signature to any of the work they put out. They are, essentially, a safe pair of hands to shepherd a scripted movie to completion.

The film industry is replete with midrange filmmakers. Some of them like Ron Howard even won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind. Others like Richard Donner have made totally satisfying films like The Goonies and The Omen. There's an ever growing number of midrange directors like Shawn Leavy (Real Steel) and Rob Marshall (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) whom represent the new breed of functional - if uninspired - filmmakers making no frill features that appeal to the masses.

Midrange filmmakers are essential to the Hollywood machine because they know how to create corporate-friendly movies that demand little intelligence from the audience, yet, in their own right, these guys are actually very smart people who are more than capable of imbuing their movies with greater intelligence if their taskmasters demand it from them. (Roland Emmerich's prestigious Shakespearean conspiracy drama Anonymous is the antithesis of his past 'event' flicks like 2012, Independence Day and Godzilla.)

Midrange filmmakers know exactly what the studio requires and will make the film according to their bespoke specifications. If the studio tells them to lose a scene or post-convert their finished product into a 3D mess, they won't put up much of a fight and will do exactly what the shareholders require.

What's more, midrange filmmakers aren't as expensive as say an A-list director like David Fincher who asked Twentieth Century Fox for $10 million just to sign on to helm its pricy adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (this despite the project's original midrange director McG agreeing to slash his $8 million quote to a palatably $4 million), nor are midrange directors a risky bet as say someone like Spike Jonze, whose auteur crafting of Where the Wild Things Are resulted in an expensively esoteric kids film that left a big hole in Warner Bros. pockets.

Midrange directors constantly fall in and out of favour with studio executives. For example, Martin Brest was the toast of Hollywood when he made stuff like Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run and Scent of a Woman. His reliable direction meant that Universal allowed him to make the $90 million bloated melodrama Meet Joe Black and assured him they would consent to his 3 hour cut of the film being the definitive version. The movie was a spectacular flop, grossing less than half its budget on release. (The studio later re-cut the film to ribbons but it was still unsuccessful.)

Brest made a comeback in 2003 and directed the $75 million J-Lo and Ben Affleck starrer Gigli. The film killed the careers of everyone involved, with J-Lo and Affleck only now being given a second chance in different guises. Brest, on the other hand, was never to be allowed to make another movie again.

Midrange directors are also good if you're thinking of launching a lucrative film franchise. That's why Warner Bros. hired Chris Columbus to helm the first few Harry Potter flicks. They knew that Columbus' track record with family films was accredited by past successes like Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. The studio knew he was the person to lay the efficient, if hardly daring, foundation on which more leftfield directors could come along and experiment with. Even if the choice of appointing a risky director resulted in a less profitable instalments (aka: Prisoner of Azkaban), the studio could always return to the franchise's reliable core and start afresh.

It was because of Columbus' midrange reliability that Fox went to him to launch its Percy Jackson franchise. Last week the studio announced it has greenlit the film's sequel Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Sea of Monsters, though there is no indication if Columbus will return to direct. I suppose now that the groundwork has been capably established by Columbus, a more interesting and less expensive director can immediately come on board and carry on with the franchise.

The key thing to remember as a movie buff is that you cannot trust a midrange director. They are like the husband you figured was reliable and then you catch him going back to his philandering ways. That's why a director like Brad Silberling, who started out making crap like Casper, seemed to have changed his frivolous habits by helming more introspective projects Like City of Angels and Moonlight Mile, only to then start making inane rubbish like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Land of Lost Things. Even Ron Howard went from the critically acclaimed Frost/ Nixon to the insipid pile of junk called The Dilemma.

There is also the strange case of dynamic new directors who come on to the filmmaking scene with startlingly original voices, only to somehow lose their way in the system and become directors for hire.

Take for instance John Singelton whose debut feature Boyz N the Hood clinched him a best director Oscar nomination and enabled him to go on to make personal movies like Poetic Justice and Higher Learning. Something has definitely gone wrong in his career because his last few movies have been things like 2 Fast 2 Furious and Taylor Lautner's latest abs-bearing vehicle Abduction.

There are even high-minded arthouse filmmakers like David Gordon Green who began his career making poetically cinematic films like George Washington and Undertow, but has now metamorphosed into a midrange blunder. Green made the decision to migrate from Little Rock to Hollywood and, rather bizarrely, his last few films have been inane comedies like Pineapple Express, Your Highness and the upcoming Jonah Hill comedy The Sitter.

Even promising European directors are not immune to midrange banality once they relocate to Hollywood. German-Swiss filmmaker Marc Forster exploded on the directing scene a decade ago with the emotionally raw drama Monster's Ball. After a couple of interesting films, he has made nothing but average filler, including a poorly received Bond film. Forster's next movie will be the very expensive Brad Pitt zombie invasion epic World War Z, which is about a million miles away from where he started.

As you may be able to gather, it's not so much commercial American movies that are interesting; it's the peculiar processes upholding the system that fascinate me. Jobbing directors and the studios that hire them are reading from the same hymn sheet, both more committed to pandering to formula as opposed to shaking things up. Both seek stability and fortune, committed to reproducing the wheel rather than reinventing it.

It's a flawed system that seems to reward stupidity. Hollywood is so desperate for generic ideas that Warner Bros. paid social networker James Erwin good money to option his high-concept pitch Rome, Sweet Rome after he posted a thread on saying: "What if a unit of current U.S. Marines are suddenly transported back to ancient Rome and forced to do battle with the Roman legions?"

Erwin (aka: Prufrock451) is now an overnight millionaire thanks to a stroke befuddling fortitude and creatively bereft studio thinking, but do you expect anything more from Hollywood movies? Should you?

Joel Schumacher may be on a mission to only manufacture soulless Hollywood products (I can imagine he's busy negotiating a deal to come on board Rome, Sweet Rome), but Schumacher is a seasoned professional who can, sporadically, make really impressive films. He'll do whatever keeps him in a job, and in these vocationally volatile days, everyone can relate to that type of thinking.

Friday, 28 October 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- R.E.M.’s ‘We All Go Back To Where We Belong’

If you grew up during the '90s then you'll have been a little bit downbeat over last month's announcement that American alternative group R.E.M. are to disband after 31-years together. In truth, R.E.M. are a band that hip kids of the '80s will say rightfully belonged to them, but it was actually in the '90s that they acquired global success, evolving from artsy indie rockers to full on stadium gods.

The argument back then among young music aficionados was whether R.E.M. was the biggest band in the word, or was it U2? Now neither group can lay claim to that title. They're too old and extraneous for mainstream commercial radio, and both have suffered diminishing album returns in recent years.

R.E.M. knew they were becoming increasingly irrelevant to the music scene, and U2 front-man Bono has confessed concern over his band's ability to survive in the current market.

R.E.M. has arguably done the right thing by calling it a day. The last song to be released is poignantly titled We all go Back to where we Belong and features a navel-gazing video starring Kirsten Dunst who narcissistically stands in front of the camera while trying to look cute and adorable.

After Dunst's past decisions to star in cringe-inducing music videos like Savage Garden's I Knew I Loved You, R.E.M. really should've known better than to have commissioned this one.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- The Curious Case of Cher Lloyd

The Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author Søren Aabye Kierkegaard said: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."

With that in mind, let us try and prognosticate, in reverse order of course, the key life events of former X Factor pop starlet Cher Lloyd.
  • 2020 – Cher Lloyd dies in a south London crackhouse.

  • 2017 – Cher Lloyd is admitted to a mental asylum because of her strange protestations about how Simon Cowell used to drink the virginal blood of female X Factor contestants.

  • 2016 – Cher Lloyd is forced to relocate to a council house in Lambeth, London where tabloid newspapers report she has developed a dependency on glue sniffing and kleptomania.

  • 2015 – Cher Lloyd gives birth to a son on a realty show called Washed-up Celebrity Maternity Ward. The kid is given up for adoption.

  • 2014 – Cher Lloyd enters rehab but is kicked out after her cheque bounces. Efforts to resurrect her singing career fail as the music scene shifts from ersatz R&B to white guys with guitars again.

  • 2013 – In an effort to convince Americans she is the British female equivalent of Eminem, Cher Lloyd moves to the US. No one is persuaded and Lloyd is deported by Immigration Services.

  • 2012 – Cher Lloyd is dropped from Simon Cowell's record label SyCo.

  • 2011 – Simon Cowell, detecting the scent of easy money, signs Cher Lloyd to his label and puts out the insanely catchy hit single Swagger Jagger. Cowell pays Mike Posner big money to feature on Lloyd's follow up track With UR Love.

  • 2010 – Cher Lloyd auditions for the X Factor but reinvents herself as a watered-down urban vocalist. She performs Keri Hilson's version of Turn My Swag On and is put through to the live shows under the tutelage of seasoned pro Cheryl Cole. She makes it to the finals but doesn't win.

  • 2009 - Cher Lloyd auditions for the second time on X Factor and sings a bland balled and is told to fuck off.

  • 2008 – Cher Lloyd auditions for the first time on X Factor and sings a bland balled and is told to fuck off.

  • 1993 – Cher Lloyd is born.

Monday, 17 October 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Riz MC’s “Get On It”

British Asian kids in music don't mess around.

Unlike their Caucasian counterparts who get record contracts because of familial contacts (I'm looking at you Pixie Lott and Elly Jackson), or in contrast to their black peers who lose recording deals because of criminal acts (I'm thinking about you Patrick Waite of Musical Youth), British Asian singers and artists are told from an early age of how important it is to knuckle down and get an education before they do anything as ludicrous as pursuing a career in music.

Jay Sean (Kamaljit Singh Jhooti to his mum) was studying medicine at Barts London before getting a US #1 single with Down, Saira Hussain was a university postgraduate with a stable job at the BBC before deciding to launch her experimental band Trickbaby, while Natasha Khan was a school teacher prior reinventing herself as the award winning Bat For Lashes.

Riz MC carries on the tradition of highly qualified desi artists who have gone on to forge careers in music. Riz MC (known as Rizwan Ahmed by his local imam) attended Merchant Taylors' School through a scholarship programme and then graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (which is the same qualification all the leading figures in British life, including our less than brilliant current Prime Minister, David Cameron, possess).

Riz MC is a pretty ubiquitous figure in the British media, doing numerous acting roles in high-end television and cinema projects, while also moonlighting as a hip-hop singer in his spare time. After his début five years ago with the funny Post 9/11 Blues, MC Riz seems to have developed a more serious, if fairly uninspiring sound for his new record Get On It.

Sam Pilling directs the moody video that plays more like an outdated Massive Attack clip assembled together with footage retrieved from the cutting room floor.

Still, with an education that dwarfs mine in every single way imaginable, dare be it for me to question MC Riz's creative decision making.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Bombay Bicycle Club’s “Lights Out, Words Gone”

I love Bombay Bicycle Club's new song Lights Out, Words Gone.

Considering no one in the band is yet 21-years of age, Bombay Bicycle Club has put out three albums since 2009, each LP embodying its own sonic style and tone. That's a pretty big accomplishment to me.

There's a strong chance that Bombay Bicycle Club may turn out to be one of those bands that will be accredited long after they've disbanded as something that was brilliant but largely unrecognised in its time.

Because Lights Out, Words Gone is such a beautifully rendered song―capable of instilling enormous feelings of wellbeing and comfort―it only seems right for it to be accompanied with a splendidly directed music video that compliments its loveliness.

Those who read this blog often will know that Bombay Bicycle Club sucks when it comes to commissioning good music videos. Being obviously chagrined by my past criticisms, the band launched a competition on Genero.TV for budding music video directors to submit their take on the song. 

The winner has now been chosen and, in true Bombay Bicycle style: it sucks. The winning video is perhaps different from your usual MTV fodder but it's still rather boring, especially with its incorporation of Yucatán pensioners slow-dancing in the Mexican sun. (You can check out all the finalist videos by clicking here.)

In truth, pretty much all the submissions are remarkably similar in style, but if you had to choose the best out of an unremarkable crop then I'd have gone for Rob Brandon & Robin Gray's take on the video which is at least more playful and motivating than the winning clip.

Unfortunately, despite all their hard work, Brandon & Gray's effort didn't become the official Lights Out, Words Gone video, thus it lost out on a £2,500 cash prize which probably would have covered their own costs for making it.

You live and learn guys.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”

One has to be weary of the British press when it comes to overhyping new acts, especially American ones that achieve fame here before they do their own country. Kings of Leon are an example of such an occurrence, as is someone like Quentin Tarantino; both embraced to such an extent by dear old Blighty that Americans had no choice but to take notice of something that had been hanging around their backyards for years.

Now Lana Del Rey is the new addition to the list of American artists who are set to make waves thanks to an overenthusiastic reaction by British music listeners. The BBC, NME and Guardian have run a series of features on Del Rey, hailing her as the next big thing in music. The buzz has been so fierce that US tabloids like EW and Pitchfork have been compelled to also report on her.

Within 6 weeks of posting her debut track Video Games on Youtube, Del Rey has gone from being a minor blogging curiosity to getting her song featured in last week's CW primetime series Ringer.

It seems easy to understand why Del Rey found popularity in the UK before the US, primarily because she has more in common with minimalist British singers like Adele and Birdy than what she does with the current crop of flamboyant mainstream American solo pop princesses. Furthermore, Del Rey is a metaphysics graduate from New York, which always adds credence to singer's credentials as far as the British are concerned.

Del Rey has now moved to London because her growing appreciation here means she will probably gain traction in the rest of Europe too. In truth, her sound is so ineffably American that it's hard to see how she cannot break her own country soon.

The video for Video Games is a fairly ad hoc affair that channels little about the song's themes concerning a young woman's feelings of neglect and insecurity in light of her lover's apathy towards her. It's a heavy subject for a doll-like 24-year old who sings in a voice wiser than her years. Perhaps the evocative resonance of Video Games is why Del Rey managed to sell out a recent London gig within 30 minutes of tickets going on sale.

Is this unwarranted hype, or is Del Rey the real deal? Only time will tell, but she at least seems more relevant to this era of uncertainty and uneasiness than say what Katy Perry or Ke$ha are.

In short, Del Rey seems to be singing about real feelings, a tradition her contemporary mainstream American female singing fraternity is struggling to uphold.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- College (feat. Electric Youth) “A Real Hero”

Despite film critics praising Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's new movie Drive, which stars Ryan Gosling (the only actor of his generation who is adored by both men and women, equally); its pulpy mix of existential solemnity and tonally haphazard scenes of ultra-violence left me weary.

Drive makes a conscious effort to create a modern LA setting that has elements redolent of the 1980s.

From the credit titles, cinematography and music choices, Drive tiptoes on the precipice of period and present, though why it does this is never clear other than a blatant desire to be pretentious.

For all of Drive's faults (of which there are many), one thing you're guaranteed to remember is its inspired use of College and Electric Youth's gorgeous synthpop song A Real Hero.

A Real Hero has a timeless quality, so much so that you'll swear you've heard it countless times before, only it just came out this year.

Winding Refn's front and centre use of A Real Hero is surprising considering neither College nor Electric Youth are signed to a record label, meaning the song has no music video to promote it.

Instead, those who liked Drive, and loved its inclusion of A Real Hero, have created their own music videos for the song.

The internet has a number of bootleg versions effectively packaging and selling A Real Hero at no cost to either the artists or studio. It's a clever move and may set a viral trend for how some independent songs are marketed from now on.

Upon hearing the track I'm sure you will agree that the potential music video possibilities are endless. To me it screams out a thousand Diet Pepsi™ ads, garish neon lights, off-the-shoulder tops and a smiling Molly Ringwald all in one stunning montage.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Sara Bareilles’ “Gonna Get Over You”

What can you say about Sara Bareilles?

Well, she's a singer, she's American, she has brown hair, she's unusually pretty and she has a nose to marvel at... like staring down the barrel of an exquisite shotgun.

As you do, Bareilles decided to approach comic actor Jonah Hill to direct the video for her new song Gonna Get Over You because getting hold of seasoned music video directors in the US remains a pretty tall order.

Gonna Get Over You is a spanking addition to the treasured American sub-genre of pop stars singing and dancing in the aisles of their neighbourhood grocery store, joining the esteemed music video ranks of Nerina Pallot's Everybody's Gone to War and The Mavericks Dance the Night Away.

Blame it on the British psyche, but can you honestly imagine wanting to film your à la mode music video at the local LiDL or in Mr. Singh's overpriced cornershop?

 It'd never happen.

Friday, 23 September 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis”

If two middle-aged black men were seen recklessly driving an unroadworthy car with a bunch of underage Puerto Rican girls in the back seat, the public would rightfully lose their minds and report it to the police.

The situation changes when the men in question are Jay-Z and Kanye West, whose track Otis, taken from their collaborative effort Watch the Throne, came out last month and featured a music video directed by A-list filmmaker Spike Jonze.

Now that the VMA's are over, which Jay-Z's solipsistic wife shamelessly used as a platform to theatrically announce her pregnancy (wouldn't a simple press release have been more graceful?), it's clear that Otis was little more than a vanity project for all those associated with it.

Watch the Throne had moderate success outside of US markets, and even in the US it sold less than half the amount Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV shifted in its first week of sale.

Not to rumour, but is the lucrative trinity of J, K and B (the Lady Macbeth figure in this scenario) losing its sheen, or will the arrival of Jay-Z junior next spring boost revenues for all involved?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- White Man Walking

British white guys with guitars must really like walking.

Seriously, you can't get more rock'n'roll than a moody bastard trying to walk in a straight line while crazy shit happens around him.

Richard Ashcroft did it in The Verve's Bitter Sweet Symphony, and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson walked the streets of New York in One Night Only's Say You Don't Want it.

Massive Attack recruited Shara Nelson to walk the streets of L.A. in Unfinished Sympathy, and Radiohead hired an actor to lie in an unnamed street while angry pedestrians fretted around him in Just.

Coldplay's Chris Martin walked forwards in both Yellow and Fix You, and then decided to walk backwards in The Scientist, ensuring he had all directions of physical movement covered. (He even went all-sideways in Strawberry Swing.)

This year has given us two distressed white guys with guitars walking down a street with mad things occurring around them.

First is Liverpool's The Wombats with Anti-D, an indie tune in which lead singer Matthew Murphy, dressed like a mortician's assistant, walks out of his house looking like a barrel of laughs while a barrage of cheery folk try to make him smile by being hyper-happy.

Next is Scotland's answer to R.E.M. (maybe that's too high a praise), Twin Atlantic's Make a Beast of Myself, in which lead singer Sam McTrusty upgrades the walking experience by strolling down a street in Berlin, causing people to freak out upon seeing him. (I think it may be because he's meant to be conceptually dead or something.)

As you know, the plight of British guitar music is a cause close to my heart, but the current crop of videos is letting the scene down badly.

Neither of the above songs are bad melodies. They are, in fact, good songs with both substance and meaning. Matthew Murphy is obviously singing about his own battles with depression, while Sam McTrusty has a stunningly emotive voice that's rife with anguished feelings.

The videos may be concept-driven but the execution is pretty lousy and that encumbers the overall effect. I think that both songs will have pleased me more if I had heard them on the radio first as opposed to watching them on television.

Walking down a street is all fine and well, but shouldn't we demand more from our white guys with guitars?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Sak Noel’s “Loca People (la gente está muy loca)”

If memory serves me right, there's a passage in Brett Easton Ellis' novel The Rules of Attraction, and most definitely in the movie adaptation, where an American character called Victor says that sex with European girls is basically a numbers game: The logic being if you stand on a street corner of any major European city and consecutively ask every girl you see if she'll 'fuck you', one out of twenty will say yes right there and then.

This seems more like an American (and probably global) fantasy about the loose moral decline of European women, but in some ways it has been exploited by the very people who ought to be denouncing it.

Spanish producer Sak Noel has directed a music video for his dance track Loca People (la gente está muy loca) that mercilessly panders to the perception that all European chicks are promiscuous nymphos.

He must be doing something right because the song and video has charted at pole position across numerous European territories.

Loca People is shameless in pretty much every way, including its annoying catchiness. No doubt it serves as great promotion for the Mediterranean sex tourist board.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- When it Pays to be Rupert Wainwright

There are some big questions in life for which there remain no clear answers, like:

  • Why do lots of Oriental guys always make peace signs when posing for photographs?
  • Why do lots of black guys mispronounce the word 'ask'?
  • Why does only one highly educated British white guy like Rupert Wainwright end up on the FBI's radar for making a rap music video?

You see, Rupert Wainwright is a middle-class bloke born and raised in the leafy Cotswolds.

After graduating from Oxford University, Wainwright tried to earn some money by becoming an actor but couldn't cut it.

Stuck in a rut, Wainwright upped sticks and went to UCLA on a Fulbright scholarship to study film. To make ends meet he started directing music videos.

By this point it was the late-1980s and Wainwright struck gold by getting the gig for directing NWA's title track for their hugely controversial Straight Outta Compton video.

With Straight Outta Compton, the appointment of Wainwright as director was an inspired choice. He knew exactly which buttons to push in order to get Caucasian consumers from middle-America to buy into the forbidden appeal of NWA.

The maelstrom of political hullabaloo that followed ensured NWA's debut album sold in excess of 3 million units, making both the group and Wainwright overnight millionaires.

Wainwright's vision for the Straight Outta Compton gave West Coast rap a visual reference point. He took a seemingly dangerous scene and turned it into an accessible and saleable entity, resulting in 80% of Straight Outta Compton's sales coming from the lucrative suburbs and beyond the boundaries of black neighbourhoods.

Straight Outta Compton's music video was about as shit as everything else in Wainwright's career (he also directed MC Hammer's You Can't Touch This), but the idea that a posh kid from the serene English countryside could be identified as a national threat because of his involvement with a rap group, astounds me.

Straight Outta Compton may epitomise the worst of American gang culture, but perhaps it demonstrates the best in British marketing.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Where Have All the White Guys Gone?

White guys with guitars are in crisis.

The once prevailing species of chart domination is now crawling along the streets of Britain, forlornly congregating outside the decaying doors of record labels, scratching at windows and grunting through letterboxes. They moan like members of the walking dead, seeking a revival of the long gone halcyon days when rock'n'roll music was mainstay in the British charts and insipid urban music was nothing more than an underground niche activity practiced by young offenders.

Times have changed and the smug nature of white guys with guitars has taken a severe beating. Last year saw the number of rock songs in the singles chart fall to its lowest level in half a century, with only three tracks appearing in the top 100 best-selling hits in the UK. The percentage of rock songs plummeted from a lacklustre 13% in 2009 to a despairing 3% in 2010; far behind hip-hop/R'n'B at 47%, pop at 40% and dance 10%.

To add further woe, the most successful rock song of 2010 turned out to be Journey's Don't Stop Believing. This was further indication that the only way to save rock music is to have it filtered through the Glee cast.

So how has it gone so wrong for white guys with guitars? How have they managed to ruin such a great run that's lasted almost 50 years?

15 years ago Britain was in the frenzied grip of a movement known as Britpop. Britpop was seen as a shining moment for the British music industry; a leftfield reaction to the American grunge scene that preceded it and the manufactured pop confections that came after. It was during the Britpop phase we saw bands like Blur, Oasis, Suede, Pulp and countless other guitar groups that cherished both lyricism and melody. Britpop was huge and for the first time in years provided Britain with a cultural backdrop that burrowed its way into film, fashion, journalism, politics and pretty much every aspect of 90s British life. The cornerstone of Britpop's success lay in guitar music and white guys were at the forefront of this mighty force.

Then everything sputtered and stalled. Guitar bands became interchangeable, producing transposable rhythms and styles, making everything sound depressingly familiar and dull. Added to this was the proliferation of illegal filesharing which effectively destroyed the established hegemony of big record companies. Labels became greatly perturbed and sought safer investments, turning to Svengalis like Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller to provide them with reliable products.

Now the music landscape in Britain has altered in ways we never saw coming. Urban music has metamorphosed into pop music, losing much of its perceived danger. Furthermore, generic pop acts sprung from televised talent shows like X Factor and Pop Idol have become the biggest selling sounds, dominating all the top chart places. More importantly, American pop music has become ever more ubiquitous in the British charts; a far cry from the 1990s when even the biggest US acts failed to chart well in the UK top-40.

Despite the doom and gloom there are some guitar acts still flying the flag for British music, but even they are witnessing diminishing returns.

The Arctic Monkeys are arguably the biggest thing in contemporary British alternative music, but their sales have receded badly. 2009's Humbug sold only a fifth of the amount their 2006 debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Their latest album Suck It and See fared even worse, shifting only 154,000 units worldwide, a far cry from the 360,000 copies their debut amassed in the UK in just its first week of sale.

Arctic Monkeys - The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala

Other guitar acts like The Fratellis, The Rakes, The Twang, The Rascals, The Pigeon Detectives, The Wombats, The View and Hard-Fi have all returned in the last few years with new albums only to see their efforts flop, ultimately convincing some of them to either keep on idly persevering or to get real jobs.

On a cultural note, the death of guitar music certainly bucks the notion that austere times produce more meaningful songs. After all, the economic hardship of the late-1970s produced British bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Joy Division, The Cure and The Smiths.

Despite the British economy suffering its longest period of economic fallout in a generation, there have been no new bands that are creating music that reflects the pained mood the country's feeling. Despite experiencing the worst social riots Britain has seen in a generation there are hardly any songs that echo the brooding unrest and fury the country is obviously feeling.

Even the US recession of the early-1990s gave voice to angry American bands like Mudhoney, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, L7, Riot grrrl, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Dickless and Pearl Jam to name a few. America was caught in a depressive quagmire and was ready to feel miserable about itself, hence why the songs of Paula Abdul and Wilson Phillips were no longer relevant to a new generation of kids growing up during hard times.

I will argue that America is in an even worse state right now yet its charts are dominated by vacuous pop acts like Black Eyed Peas, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry: acts that have nothing to say about what the nation and its people are going through.

To bring it back home, British white guys with guitars are trying to get their act together and launch another assault on the manufactured pop dominion festering at the top. Bands like Joy Formidable, Foals, Everything Everything, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Vaccines, Yuck and Two Door Cinema Club are hanging in the ether, biding their time, waiting for people to bore of decks and embrace electric stringed instruments again. If there's one thing any British music aficionado knows it's that our music press, which is dominated by middle-class Caucasian men, feels uncomfortable writing about black music or unworthy pop acts. They in particular are aching for music consumers to get real and start buying records by bands that reflect the truth, if only to keep them in work.

If You Wanna by The Vaccines

Get Away by Yuck

They may be waiting a while because it's hard to see Britain tiring of pseudo urban culture or reality television pop gods any time soon. The demographics of Britain are seriously changing and ethnic prominence is becoming harder to ignore. It's difficult to see how a bunch of largely affluent white people who yell out their lyrics can reflect the experiences of an increasing young black and Muslim population in Britain. The only way around this is for adolescent minority groups to take an interest in rock music and for radio stations to broadcast their creative output. After all, the lyrics to a song like The Smiths Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now or Pulp's Disco 2000 are relevant to all cultures residing in Britain, yet one cannot think of anyone other than white acts writing such music.

The guitar may be the providence of rich white kids who prefer to dress like they're poor, but British urban music has become increasingly about white kids acting like they're black. Therefore the only way to shake things up is for an elemental act of assimilation whereby guitar music gets some colour and ethnic groups―probably the very ones who have the most interesting observations about modern life in Britain―take arms and reinvent guitar music in fresh, exciting and truly wondrous ways.

If there's one thing I know about Britain it's that we have some of the most amazing bands ever and create brilliant songs that travel globally. Unlike America where angry people have the option to pull out a movie camera and make a film about their experiences, we pick up our guitars and sing about how crap everything is.

Meaningful song writing is in our blood and the guitar is our weapon of choice. It's a shame to lose that.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close”

"European dance music is taking over the world. America loves it more than we do. At the moment there are more resident European DJs in Las Vegas than there are in Ibiza, that's how popular dance music is. I go there twice a month."

So says Scottish music producer Calvin Harris.

In some respects Harris is right. America seems really taken by the kind of Eurotrash dance music they laughed at 20 years ago.

With the success of tracks by LMFAO and everything put out by, Americans seem intent on purchasing nothing but party music.

Calvin Harris' appreciation for all things Americana resulted in him recording the vocals for his new single Feel So Close in some bizarrely affected southern drawl. The accompanying music video directed by Vincent Haycock features Harris venturing out to generic American locations where some funky old redneck does mad things with a lasso, black kids do some predictable jive-dancing in suburban streets and a few young yokels―who can neither lasso nor jive-dance―just stand around looking all-American.

Calvin Harris is a true British success story who began his career stocking shelves in the supermarkets of Dumfries while spending his nights putting together music demos. Thanks to the power of MySpace
 the music industry came to his door armed with contracts and recording deals. Harris is now one of the world's most sought after producers having worked with Kylie Minogue, Kelis and Katy Perry. (He even turned down Lady Gaga early on in her career, accidently deleting her emails thinking it was from someone fraudulently posing as African aristocracy.)

The great thing about being a Brit with a music video like this is that we can always say it was meant to be an ironic statement about American culture.

The great thing about being an American is that you can always say Harris' video is an inspired tribute to the world's most lucrative and, therefore, important music market.

We're all winners!