The best blues, 1942

This is not Klak’s Store. But this could be what it looked like.

‘I don’t know where Son [House] took me. Down dusty roads, along a railroad track, into the back of an ageing country grocery store that smelt of liquorice and dill pickles and snuff. Of all of my times with the blues this was the best one, better than Leadbelly, better than Josh White, Son Terry, and all the rest of them. There was a harmonica player who howled and whined through his instrument like a hound dog on a hot trail. There was a mandolin player who did not pick his instrument delicately, but trailed cascades of blue-silver chords that lit up the harmonica’s chase like the hot moonlight of Southern midsummer nights. A second guitarist picked bass-string obbligato to the big country feet that whoomped out the rhythm and turned the whole frame building into a huge African drum. At the centre of all this was Son House, a man transformed, no longer the quiet affable person I had met, but possessed by the song, as Gypsies in Spain are possessed, gone blind with music and poetry.’
Alan Lomax, The Land Where The Blues Began

Fiddling Joe Martin played mandolin, Leroy Jones played harmonica, and, to my surprise, William Brown turned up to play second guitar.

Band names by semantic complexity 

Looking at the Splendour in the Grass line-up this year, I realised that my favourite bands were the ones with the longest names. And that that’s usually the case. Bigsound 2016 provided me with an excellent opportunity to test my theory : over 150 bands, the peak of Australia’s indie – pop – rock – metal buzz. So after a conversation with Sky De Jersey, I sorted all the bands by length and complexity of their name, and set out for a week in Fortitude Valley, Bris Vague Arse, to find out how often the music and the stage show and the vibe fit the name.

Executive summary

Complex names correlate strongly with lots of band members (although the converse is not true). Semantic complexity of name does not correlate with sophistication of lyric. There is a tendency for bands with interesting names to look and act interesting, but it’s not a guarantee. Lots of bands with boring names were not boring, but lots of them were. There was quite a low correlation between bands named after their singer/songwriter and the honesty or vulnerability of the songs and performance. 

CKP and Chloe Gunn, silhouetted against These New South Whales

The full list is at the bottom of this post, but first I give you my reviews of the bands with the craziest names, and a few special mentions from the “boring” sections ( thanks to Naomi Crain for helping me think about it). 

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (5 boys)  : this was interesting. The longest band name in the festival (but still shorter than some of my favourite bands). They were a really great Aussie pub rock band, who couldn’t decide what sort of guitar they each play a different sort. Rod Begbie could have been in this band, it was a bit like that aperture band, and the songs were had all his style of references. It was Paul Kelly and the Hoodoo Gurus and Mondo Rock,and we loved it. But I suspect that when they were choosing band names they got down to the last two, couldn’t decide, and just stuck them together. Either “rolling blackouts” or “coastal fever” would have been very appropriate names for this band, but all four words made me expect something more unusual, darker, weirder, less predictable.

West Thebarton Brothel Party (7 boys)  : acca dacca with 5 guitars. Loud shouty pub rock, one drummer, one singer, four electric guitars, and an electric bass who sometimes played guitar. Unserious and fun, and the boys from hideous sun demon were there. The name suited the band perfectly, and while I’ve never visited West Thebarton I imagine the madam there would be very happy to have them around. 

In Each Hand A Cutlass (4 or 5 boys and a girl)  : really great music, in a style which was perfected in the late seventies by the last wave of great rock bands. They looked slick, their musicianship was great, but they did not live up to their bombastic name. I never thought anybody was going to leave the stage to vanquish an enemy, and none of the instruments were wielded like weapons. 

These New South Whales : i didn’t see them. And I didn’t go to their pisstake panel session. I regret both of those omissions. They’re a hilarious Spinal Tap / Flight of the Conchords type band who sound great and star in their own video series. The name is good. Very good. 

Hideous Sun Demon (3 boys) : way too heavy for me. Interesting, for metal, but still metal. The name is interesting in an Indy-pop context, but all heavy bands have much better names than bearded hipster minimalist names so it’s not a fair comparison. 

Verge Collection : didn’t see em

Raised by Eagles : very nice complex folk. I would have been much less likely to see them if the band was just called “Luke Richardson”, and I think they are providing a great example to all the “I just sing under my own name” kids of how much a simple, unique, interesting name can make a set of honest thoughtfully written beautifully played songs more memorable. 

Tinpan Orange (2 boys and a girl) : haven’t seen them play for years, despite stopping for a chat at every second festival I’m at.

Unity Floors : didn’t see em

Coda Conduct : didn’t see em (but it’s a great name)

Special mentions

Sampa the Great : this was a good name. Her name is Sampa. She is great. She knows she’s great. Her band was huge, soul, R&B, all the business. Great show, great name. 

Kira Puru : kira was as fascinating as she’s always been. Her name always has to be in the title, there is no mistaking her. Her current band was fantastic, like they always are. But like Sampa, she needs more words, a bigger name… And i really miss the bruisy-ness of The Bruise. 

William Crighton :like Kira, he needs more to his name. He’s a big man with a strong voice and a manly name, so that’s all good. But his band have a strong identity too, and he’s not just a boy singing about his own experience. He sometimes plays as a band under a name (which I’ve forgotten), but I think William Crighton and the barbed wire or the empty dam red river would be even better.

LUCIANBLOMKAMP : an acoustic /electronic live solo show. Keyboards, drums, violin, samples, beats, and vocals. They were his own songs, it was a very personal project, but it was a much more striking thing than just Lucian. Sticking both his names together and putting them in caps was a good decision.

Simona Castricum: i thought this was a boring name, because I just thought it was a girls name. But I walked past the press club, heard some quality electronica, and looked inside to find a transgender person ripping live beats, synth drums, and netball skirt dance moves. Once I decoded “Castricum” it made total sense.

Kira Puru and her three bandmates

The list

And here’s the complete list of Bigsound Bands 2016, sorted by name length then into categories of semantic complexity (with edits thanks to Emily Collins and Luke Jaaniste).

— very interesting —

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever ^
West Thebarton Brothel Party ^
In Each Hand A Cutlass ^
These New South Whales
Hideous Sun Demon ^
Verge Collection
Raised by Eagles ^
Tinpan Orange
Unity Floors
Coda Conduct

— interesting —

Tiny Little Houses
Japanese Wallpaper
I Heart Hiroshima
The Outdoor Type
The Gooch Palms
Totally Unicorn
Heads of Charm
Confidence Man
A.B. Original
Totally Mild
Hollow World
DZ Deathrays
Braille Face
Hot Spoke
Rat & Co
Oh Pep! ^
Mid Ayr

— slightly interesting —

Tracy McNeil & The GoodLife
The Belligerents ^
Broadway Sounds
Simona Castricum
Teeth & Tongue ^
Shining Bird
King Social
Ecca Vandal **
Young Tapz
Vera Blue **
Ivan Ooze
Ribongia ^
Good Boy ^
B Wise

— boring but with spelling mistakes or punctuation —


— boring (just a noun (even if it is a compound noun)) —

Terrible Truths
Sampa The Great ^
The Ruminaters
Mosquito Coast
Thigh Master
The Laurels
Dorsal Fins
Loose Tooth
Middle Kids
Polish Club
Mere Women
Wet Lips

— boring (just someone’s name) —

Luke Daniel Peacock
William Crighton ^
Daniel Champagne
Missy Lancaster
Gabriella Cohen
Prateek Kuhad
Leanne Tennant
Leah Senior ^
Kyle Lionhart
Harmony James
Gideon Bensen ^
Clairy Browne
Bec Sandridge
Andrew Tuttle
Ainslie Wills
Tia Gostelow
Tash Sultana
Sarah Connor
Rainbow Chan
Mel Parsons ^
Allan Smithy
Yumi Zouma
Tkay Maidza
Ryan Downey
Empat Lima
Rolls Bayce
Alice Night *
Jack Grace
Alex Lahey ^
Mike Noga
Kira Puru ^
Alice Ivy
Gawurra ^
Catherine Satour ^

— meaningless to me —


* unless there is nobody called alice in the band and it’s a reference to nighttime in alice springs

** unless that’s actually just their name

^ means I know I saw the band


I’ve had an idea this week, which i’m quite excited about but i’m pretty sure i won’t actually do anything about.
I want to run a small (weekly/monthly) night, folk club style, where baroque music is played. It might be called Classical Club!, or something. It might be in a rock type venue with a bar (the Red Rattler?) or a BYO style warehouse (Lamps?). The important thing is that it’s the opposite to a normal classical gig:
– the musicians are on the floor, or close to it… not on a high beautifully lit stage
– the audience can eat and drink and walk around while the music is on, although they’d be encouraged not to
– the music that comes on when the instruments finish is from now
– it’s acoustic, it’s chamber repertoire, maybe small opera
– the musicians wear normal clothes
– there’s a support act. amateurs, or students. but the main act is professional
– its not expensive. less than $20 at the door, i think. and there are no guarantees
– there’s no seniors discount. this is about next century, not last century

Colours of Ostrava 2014 : an Australian far from home

You can think of Colours as Bluesfest in Mt Isa. The programming (in 2014 at least, apparently they had lost some city funding) was very like bluesfest: two massive stages with big international acts, half a dozen much smaller stages featuring local Czech bands, competition winners, or dance bands. Not much grass or trees, lots of asphalt and gravel (I wore shoes the whole time), and the whole thing surrounded, towered over, dominated by what was the biggest coal mine / iron smelter in the country.
The first day was pretty disappointing. We had trouble finding the camping area (don’t be tricked into camping at the castle!); after a stupid amount of time walking and catching taxis we eventually arrived at the festival, discovered that the only interesting thing on in the first afternoon was also the only thing you had to book a ticket for, and it was booked out. Didn’t really work out the festival layout properly, went home and didn’t realise till the next day that we had missed a couple of bands we wanted to see. Silly us.
That day was rescued though by three great mainstage bands. Shaka Ponk, Les Tambours Du Bronx, and oh dear i’ve forgotten the other one, but i remember the long walk home being saved by remembering how great those three bands were.

I’ve raved about the castle camp to too many friends, and i’m not going to do it again here. suffice it to say that the campsite is not in the castle, it’s in the castle grounds a long way from the castle. and the castle grounds are a very long way from the festival, half an hour’s walk if you find the directions, and hour or more if you don’t. one morning we walked along a highway for a while before climbing down onto the train tracks and walking across a derelict bridge.  It’s possible that on the last day we worked out the quickest way in, but i can’t be sure because we never walked the same way twice.

OKA was the first Australian band up, playing the Fresh stage… On the first full day of the festival. They were the most distinctly Australian act, with their didgeridoo and first nations politics.
There were lots of Czech bands, some traditional, some jazz, and some very current indie pop. The range of cultures from the rest of the world was pretty broad.
Angelique Kidjo always preaches her African heritage like no one since Fela Kuti. OKA and A Tribe Called Red brought very distinctive first nations cultures, and one of my favourite discoveries of the festival was a funky African four-piece from Belleville in Paris whose show was completely in French – a language I’m not sure any of the punters knew.

Chet Faker brought his Portland styles to the Fresh stage – the most industrial environment, tucked away in a corner of the festival underneath hundreds of meters of rusting towers and pipes.  He attracted the biggest audience I saw at that stage, overflowing way out onto the surrounding food and souvenir stalls, nearly half the audience was watching him on the screen.

On the last day of the festival, Graveyard Train played the first show of their tour to a mid – afternoon crowd on one of the smaller stages which quickly filled up with three or four hundred screaming whistling singing Czechs. The friends from our campsite all came with high expectations (thanks to us) and had them exceeded. Bo climbed around the side of the stage, leering at the crowd from the massive “Colours” backdrop. One Day We Will Be Dead struck a chord with the black – humoured Czechs and Poles, I even saw some of them laughing. They were the only band I saw sell merch from stage after their show, and they looked like they made some good money and a few friends by the time the crowd dried up.

They were immediately followed by John Butler on the biggest stage right next door. He had his Austin accent on, and, well, it was a huge gravel stage on a hot sunny afternoon and I didn’t need to hear more than ten minutes of bombastic blues so I moved on.

working in music

3 steps to success in the music industry

1. realise that you can’t do it for the money.

there really isn’t enough money. find another job, or become independantly wealthy, but don’t plan to pay your mortgage by playing the saxophone or managing a band.
be careful with the money. don’t spend more than you earn, don’t lose track of it (or lose it), be clear with everyone about what you expect to earn and what you actually earn. it’s important, in this hand-to-mouth job, to make sure that everyone knows what to expect and gets paid what they are due.
there are lots of benefits – fantastic people and travel and parties and things you can’t buy with money. but there isn’t much money.
if you don’t love the music you’re playing (or mixing, or supporting), find a job that will pay you by the hour.

2. be organised.

Super organised. most bands can walk on stage with an instrument in their hand and play for an hour. but a great performance takes an hour of sound check, a change of clothes, a set list, instruments in tune, and for the whole night to run on time so that the audience doesn’t get bored and the last band gets to play their full set.  For the music to start and finish when the audience expects it to may have taken days of work by a dozen people.
and to support all of that, a rehearsal and a good looking merch desk and spare leads and batteries and a meal and a drink and a good nights’ sleep.
it takes a big team to put on a great night of music – a three band bill could include 15 musicians, 2 or more sound/tech supports, a couple of managers, people to run the door and the merch. you could easily be sharing $500 worth of door takings between 20 people.

3. love the music

the art is the only thing. everything has to serve the song. and if you don’t love the song, you’ll end up worrying more about something else – the food or the transport or the colour of the bass players shirt – and the music will suffer.
if i’m working with a band, i have to want to see them 200 times. because how am i going to convince 200 people to come to the show if it don’t like it that much myself. and actually, i probably will see the band 200 times.


Musicians : Don’t tell me to quit my job

At a festival recently a musician said (from stage) something about all the tired people working their lives away at jobs that they hate.
Now i’ve used that rhetoric before, and i understand that within their own community artists need to justify their own decision to do what they love at great cost.
But for the first time, it stung me. I thought “but i don’t hate my job”.  And i realised that the room was full of people who have chosen long careers, become experts at what they do, well-paid and respected, and some of them as passionate about their desk jobs as any musician is about their music (we were in Canberra, in case you’re wondering).
Dear musicians : tell yourselves that it was worth quitting your job. Sing songs about it. But don’t disrespect your audience by telling them they are wasting their lives.


I know that he is a hopeless pimp of his own talent, and sometimes a desperate one.
But when I hear him singing with someone else I like (his duet with Inga Liljeström this week), I think both : oh that’s really nice” and “they must be doing well to get Mikel”
Smoke and mirrors. Attitude above everything. It works even when you can see through it.

Australian summer festivals 2013-14

I went to Woodford, Cygnet, and Illawarra folk festivals, then the Blue Mountains, Port Fairy, and The National. All “folk festivals”, although they define folk the way Miles Davis did – it’s music for folk, not for martians or lizards.

My favourite musics from the hot days of January were Dubmarine, Lucie Thorne and Hamish Stuart, and Afenginn (especially the Cygnet church concert).  Then Pokey LaFarge, Jon Cleary, Archie Roach at Port Fairy (with the full band), and Dubmarine again.

The most audacious punter was the girl at The Basement who, during The Crooked Fiddle Band’s set, picked up the setlist from in front of Mark and added a song. That’s the way to make a request! and they played it!!

The best travel experiences were both with Afenginn – in Tasmania Alexandra (our billet) took us bareback horseriding in the river, and in Newcastle Josh from The Vanishing Shapes lent us his board to go surfing at Bar Beach.

Port Fairy easily had the best lineup – locals i know and love played excellent sets (The Band Who Knew Too Much, Things Of Stone and Wood, Archie Roach), touring bands exceeded my expectations (The Good Lovelies, Pokey LaFarge, Jon Cleary), and most hours of the day i had to choose between three bands i was desperate to hear.

I started this post at the end of January, and now it’s the start of May.  The next Australian festival is in October, but my next one will be Colours of Ostrava in Czech.

Woodford 2013 (/14)

day 1
Nocturnl, possibly the heaviest band at the festival – playing to a very small crowd, in the indigenous tent, with Campbell the swaggie bouncing on his toes in front of the speaker stack.

The Hi – tops brass band, with a completely unexpected rapper, playing arrangements of songs I’ve only ever heard on teenagers phones.

Day 2
The guy with the head torch and the ipad asking two teenagers in front of him to sit down cos he was trying to watch the joni Mitchell song circle. Oh look, he’s got a compact camera now. But who am I to talk, I’m writing a blog post on my phone.

The Cazzman of Dubmarine is surely the best front man of any band in Australia. I can think of half a dozen people who can sing and dance and exude energy like him, but the others have names you already know, like Keith Richards.

Day 3
The act of the day was the storm, beginning with the sunset double rainbow where the second rainbow had an infinite number of smaller rainbows attached. I watched the lightning approach behind The Crooked Fiddle Band, then enjoyed the thunder backstage with a storm chasing stage manager and Barry Morgan. Then sheltered from the actual downpour with Andrew Winton, and walked up to the amphitheatre where Beth Orton got all happy about the loveliness and dumped her whole set list and played requests.

I finished the day way too late with Michelle Xen & the Neon Wild. It’s the band Betty Musgrave would have if she had a band.

Day 4
After a late night and a morning of wandering the festival alone I got all teary with Clare Bowditch (her joy and sadness always do it for me) and Mo Kenny, and even Darren Hanlon got me with his nostalgic song.
Sam Amidon played some really old songs really nicely. And he introduced his drummer by saying “he’s a fount of musical knowledge, like in the car he introduced me to Led Zeppelin, you know that ensemble, and The Grateful Dead, an ensemble who existed just for jamming – I love that idea. And Chet Baker, do you know the song”… I forget the song name, but he proceeded to sing the chorus and then the whole scat solo.

I never thought about how much the elements appear in Bob Marley’s songs until I stood in the misting rain beside the thing that’s going to burn at the end of the festival listening to julian Marley the songs. So much rain, so much fire.


Day 5, new years eve.
The day you realise that lots of things have happened for the last time. The day you decide that doesn’t matter, and spend more slow time talking to friends around the lake.

The Deep Blue Orchestra lived up to their press release – choreography, costumes, lots of popular favourites… And, reprising the last party at the Morrow (my #1 gig of the 2013) , they played You’re The Voice.

Day 6, new years day
I began to day listening to a woman with a beautiful operatic voice singing Gaelic, accompanying herself on the harp. Then stumbled into the end of an indigenous song circle, and heard a Tibetan monk, a Western desert man, an island woman, three Cape York boys, and two Gambians jam together, each in their own language.
Then Taikoz, the most successful translation of a traditional art form to the kids I’ve ever seen. It’s the muscles and the somersaults.

Finished the set, the night, and the festival with the Crooked Fiddle Band until 2am at The Grande. Keeping the wasted revellers from sleeping.

Things surprising
I didn’t see any naked people, on or off stage. A couple of people got close, and I didn’t get to the Hot Brown Honey Burlesque (so rude that two people wouldn’t tell me what happened and one guy would only say that he had to jack off afterwards)

On day 5 my nephew Josh (aged 15) pointed out that we had been with all these thousands of people for a week and he hadn’t seen any violence. His life is harder than mine. And when I thanked him at the end of the week for being so cool and easy to hang out with he said “well that’s not how I am to myself, I’m hard to be with, always complaining and whinging inside my own head.”

I didn’t go to ANY circuses. That was just dumb. Bad planning. I did see three of the freak show freaks and a few vaudeville acts, but I should have dumped someone for the circus.

I joined the game. Got Frogo’s card. My first task was to write a poem about leaves, but the great gloom arrived before I got to tell it. Here’s the poem:
She offers me gifts, then she leaves.
I tell him I’ll wait, but I leave.
You can do some harm with stones and sticks,
But you cause real pain with leaves.

from Sydney to SXSW, 2013

This is my long-form thinking about three weeks in America. I’m on a plane high above Vanuatu. It’s 9am in LA and 3am in Sydney. I’ve watched a movie and had a sleep.

I have only been to the USA once, and it was a family holiday when i was 15. Cathy hasn’t been ever – she says that SXSW is the first thing that’s made her want to go there since she grew out of Disneyland.
So we got to have dozens of conversations of the form:

american: Is this your first time at South By?
us: This is my first time in the whole continent.
american: Well welcome to Texas! (and then, sometimes, they buy you a beer)

We went for South By South West, is a massive digital/film/music conference/festival/party which takes over the city of Austin every year. It’s huge, and I expected it to be overwhelming, and it was. We asked all our friends where else in America should we visit, and of the 100 suggestions we decided to spend a few days each in Seattle and Portland.

busker : hey i’ve never busked in Portland before, where are the good places?
me: i dunno, i’ve only been here a couple of hours.  You’re my first busker
busker [wandering off down the street]: wow, i was somebody’s first something!

Going to America and visiting Austin, Seattle, and Portland is a bit like going to Australia and visiting Newtown, St Kilda, and Brunswick. So we felt very much at home. Sometimes we’d be surprised when our barista had an American accent.

The best things from SXSW

The big speeches at the digital festival were surprisingly excellent. I knew Stephen Wolfram was going to be fantastic:

is it possible that the end result of all the computational advances we have ever made is just to create something which isn’t that different from lots of things which already exist
[Stephen Wolfram dissing the science of artificial intelligence]

And I knew Bruce Sterling would be great, but i didn’t expect him to be so crazy:

The Russians used to want to blow up Stanford. Instead they sent Sergey Brinn

But i didn’t expect to be so enthralled by the guy from The Oatmeal, or the guy from Buzzfeed, or so many of the programmers and musicians and writers who just had good things worth saying.

My favourite Big Idea

Peer-to-peer insurance. A German guy who is reducing the cost of insurance by getting small groups of people who trust each other to self-insure for small claims and buy a group policy for big items. So the insurance company has much fewer small claims and overheads, and each member has lower premiums.

My favourite busker

There were hundreds of buskers. Mostly looking hopeful but being ignored.
Liam Woodworth-Cook
Liam Woodworth-Cook was my actual favourite. “Will type you poeams. Give me a subject. We’ll see how it rolls” – and he wrote me an excellent poem, which he made up while chatting to me and other passers by.

The John Brothers Piano Company busking on the street with their clarinet and... umm... piano.But for traditional music-with-a-hat-out busking, the John Brothers Piano Company were easy winners. They found the piano after they arrived in Austin, dragged it around town all week, and left it behind when they departed.

My favourite party

The party situation was strange.  Lots of big parties with free beer (usually terrible beer), with lots of impossible-to-join guest lists.  The German music industry put on some great food and beers, the closing night of the Interactive festival was amazing, beer o-clock in the trade hall was a revelation…

But the party i most looked forward to, which was everything i hoped for, was the ShareThis party with Big Sam’s Funky Nation. A big loud funky new orleans dance band which was all i ever wanted from american music.

My favourite concert

We went to see Pokey LaFarge, whose old-timey jazz was as authentic, young, and perfect as anything i’ve ever heard.  and i’ve heard a lot.  but a lot of them weren’t from the american mid-west, and a lot of them weren’t great musicians AND great entertainers with great bands and new original music that brung the old styles together in perfect ways.  he and his band were really good.

And he was playing at Esther’s Follies, which was an amazing place – crazy and beautiful and the sound and the stage and the vibe were all right.  Even at midnight, even on 7th avenue, even in the middle of the big week of South By, it was a really enjoyable place to be (i was going to put a link to their website but it doesn’t do the joint justice.  just go there).

And after they had finished bathing us in the sounds of their beautiful voices and instruments, we walked back out to the bar… and saw… out the back window… across the courtyard… over the fence… A MASSIVE THREE STORY HIGH LIVE PROJECTION OF L L Cool J, who was playing in the carpark on the corner.  You couldn’t get in unless you won a ticket from a packet of chips.  but you could see and hear him from blocks away, his massive face leaning down at you from the side of a tower specially build to advertise chips and LL Cool J.

it was one of the many crazy contrasts which hit you every day as you walked around this town full of everybody trying to be everything more than everyone else.

My favourite pub

The BlackHeart on Rainey st.
BlackheartRainey St is a short suburband st on the edge of Austin where all 30 old weatherboard houses have been turned into bars. It’s a crazy idea, but it works. On our first day we found The Blackheart. On our second day cathy wanted to go back there instead of trying another bar, and the bouncer, the bartender, and one of the barflys all greeted us with hugs. So we went there nearly every day for two weeks.

My favourite people in texas

The light in AustinMicha and Birta, from the Cargo record label. Unfortunately I didn’t meet any Texans I liked more than these two Germans. But that’s what SXSW is all about, bringing a massive community of culture professionals together to bump their arty geeky rock and roll heads together and go home cooler, smarter, and more famous.  When Cathy realised how many people were fighting each other to get one of the cool US labels to listen to them, she decided to talk to the europeans instead.  cos europe and australia are a long way away, but meeting in the middle is fun.


A couple of months later :
transcending the content and privileging the culture

The more i tell the story, the more i realise that as South By grew from a small music conference to a nexus of massive conferences about everything, it stopped actually being about the things.  It’s really a conference about culture.  In the digital conference i didn’t learn how to do a single new thing (but i learnt a lot about the history and the future of New Things).  The film conference seemed to be more about the film-makers than the films they made.  The music conference was about the connections and the relationships and the venues and the parties and the people and the strategies – the music was just a platform.  And i think that’s how it’s grown so big – by transcending the content and privileging the culture (see, that’s the sort of sentence you make after south by).

balkan gypsy punk roma etno gyprock

I don’t know how to name this genre.
i’m trying to work out what it should be, or even just what these bands have in common
all i know that i love all of them for the same reason:

The Crooked Fiddle Band – “Chainsaw Folk”, Sydney

Alimaailman Vasarat – “the hammers of the underworld”, Helsinki

The Barons Of Tang – “Gypsy Death Core”, Melbourne

RotFront – “Emigrantski Raggamuffin Collectif”, Berlin

The WooHoo Revue – Melbourne

Budzillus – “Gypsy Punk”, Berlin

Leningrad – “punk-ska”, St Petersberg?

Vulgargrad – “Kings of Russian criminal sound”, Melbourne

Afenginn – “Bastard Etno”, Denmark

The Cat Empire – Melbourne

What do they have in common?

  • mostly instrumental
  • lots of brass
  • very composed
  • eastern european musical roots
  • rock/metal/punk influences

Harry Angus [the Cat Empire] says of his band:

The jazz/reggae/funk/latin/gypsy/hip hop tag grew longer and longer, but it was an apt description. The band would jump from one genre to the next, many times within a single song, it didn’t matter what it was, as long as people were dancing.

For over a decade now, and through various recordings, The Cat Empire have carved themselves out a unique place in the musical firmament, as a band with no guitars, with no easily definable style and no corresponding haircut, but a band that can step onto any stage in the world and make the crowd move. More than move, in fact. Make the crowd lose themselves in a frenzy.

 Afenginn says:

The group is inquisitive, playful and imaginative and takes an anarchic approach to traditional musical structures. Their compositions range from lyrical, picturesque and programme music-like pieces to jagged up-tempo numbers in odd time signatures, always with the special rhythmic and melodic finesse which characterises Afenginn. Their own term for the band’s musical style is “Bastard Ethno”.

Stakula says:

In the Alamaailman Vasarat music you can find traces of tango, klezmer, jazz, psychobilly, cabaret, circus music, new age, progressive avant-garde and heaviest of heavy metal.

It is fairly typical to hear the band sail between creepy “Christmas-songs-for-the-poor”-type melancholic Finnish melodies to hot desert mirages of Ancient Persia just to engage an up-tempo Klezmer-wedding when you least expect it!

Whatever the mood or style, the main elements in all Alamaailman Vasarat compositions are a strong visual image and powerful melodic content, preparing the listener for an unforgettable musical journey to places yet explored, strangely distant but at the same time curiously familiar. True world music!

Julian from the Barons says:

Mixing Klezmer and Balkan feels with punk, bent folk music and whatever’s lying around the kitchen… With an arsenal of instruments such as bass clarinet, accordion, banjo and double bass, the band is redefining the limits of both “punk” and “world” music.

Vulgargrad say of themselves

Defying description one thing is for sure, they might sing in Russian but they are a foot-stomping, power-punching music experience not to be missed. Elements of Gypsy, perestroika punk, rhumba, jazz and pop

A review of the WooHoo Revue

the Woohoo sound is a frenzied blur of Balkan, gypsy, swing and jazz. You know the kind of sound I´m shooting at; the kind that makes you dance by kicking your legs about haphazardly and spinning until you can feel your brain burning. The band managed to sap the entire populace of the NSC of energy, beating them senseless with their whirling tango tunes.

Oliver Sacks on rhythm

Rhythm turns listeners into participants, makes listening active and motoric, and synchronises the brains and minds (and, since emotion is always intertwined with music, the “hearts”) of all who participate. It is very difficult to remain detached, to resist being drawn into the rhythm of chanting or dancing.

[Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks ch.20]

Marilyn and Virginia

i was listening to the counting crows.  this bit:

I was born on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay
But Maryland and Virginia have faded away
And I keep thinking tomorrow is coming today
So I am endlessly waiting

but what i heard was "Marilyn and Virginia had faded away", and i thought
wow, he's making some sort of nostalgic link between Marilyn Munroe and
Virginia Woolf. maybe between those two lie all the dead women of the
western world? maybe he felt that he was born after the smartest and sexiest
women had already died?  maybe America and England were in decline since
before he even got started?

it was a good moment, until i googled the lyrics and found out he meant
something much more mundane.

Mezz Mezzrow on Drums

(Mezz is on a big rave about where jazz went wrong … )

And then, to make things worse, along came an invention called the sock cymbal or highhat cymbal, and that was the end. This cymbal is played by the drummer with his left foot, as though he didn’t already have enough to do, what with his bass and snare drums and the cowbell and the woodblock and the rachet and the two or three Chinese and Turkish cymbals that real jazz drummers use. The result is a sort of topheavy effect, um-CHING, um-CHING, um-CHING for a beat instead of the steady tempo of the New Orleans drummers, and that strangles the rhythm so necessary to jazz. Now the tendency for the swing drummer is to play cymbal solos all the way through, fighting all the other musicians instead of helping to build them up. An offbeat ring comes out of his sock cymbal because the human body just isn’t constructed to do so many things all together – and that delayed CHING makes all the horn players fall into a kind of hesitation style, waiting for the drummer’s lagging cymbal beat before they can come up with their own notes. And they have to overblow their instruments, fighting to be heard above the drummer’s loud metallic hum; trumpets and clarinets go way up into their upper registers and become shrill and squealing, losing the rounded soulful tone of New Orleans music. Your improvisation, if you’re allowed any, isn’t built from a rich harmonic pattern any more, but centers around that clanging cymbal beat. Arrangers have to keep the sock cymbal in mind, and they build their orchestrations around it insted of using free chordal progressions, and all the New Orleans color is lost. When people with sensitive ears get apoplexy over the terrible din of so much modern swing and jump, they ought to remember that it’s not jazz they’re so horrified at. It’s the corruption of jazz that was brought about by the wrong, egocentric use of the piano, the individualistic sock cymbal, the modern-classical influence, and the terrible mechanization of today’s arrangements.

[ from Really the Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow

[barney says:

Whoa… and I thought jazz’s identity went south when Kenny G came along…
BUT then again, Imagine saying to any drummer now, “you have to play without that hi-hat cymbal”,
they’d have a fit!! They wouldn’t know what to do.
I’m with mezz, hi hats along with the other million things that happened after that. the internet for one.
I cant wait to be a grumpy old man and write a book of my own………

-> here’s another quote from Mezz, about the beauty of improvising with another human

John Howard Goddam

John Howard Goddam

original version by Nina Simone
listen to the mp3
special version for john
(grey lines i haven’t worked out yet)
alabama’s got me so upset
tennessee made me lose my rest
and everybody knows about mississippi goddamn
alabama’s got me so upset
tennessee made me lose my rest
and everybody knows about mississippi goddamn

can’t you see it
can’t you feel it
it’s all in the air
i can’t stand the pressure much longer
somebody say a prayeralabama’s got me so upset
tennessee made me lose my rest
everybody knows about mississippi goddamn

hounds dogs on my tail
schoolchildren sit in jail
black cat cross my path
think every day’s gonna be my last

lord have mercy on this land of mine
we all going to get it in due time
i don’t belong here
i dont belong there
i’ve even stopped believing in prayer

don’t tell me i’ll tell you
me and my people just about do
i’ve been there so i know
they keep on saying “go slow”

well that’s just the trouble
“go slow”
washing the windows
“go slow”
picking the cotton
“go slow”
you’re just plain rotton
“go slow”
you do things gradually
bring more tragedy
why can’t you see it
why dont you feel it
i don’t know
i don’t know

just try to do my very best
stand up be counted with all the rest
cos everybody knows about mississippi goddamn

picket lines
schoolboy cots
they try to say it’s a communist plot
but all i want is equality
for my sisters my brothers my people and me

you lied to me all these years
you told me to wash and clean my ears
and talk real fine just like a lady
and you’d stop calling me sister sadie

but my country is full of lies
we all going to die and die like flies
cos i don’t trust you any more
they keep on saying
“go slow”

well that’s just the trouble
“go slow”
“go slow”
mass participation
“go slow”
“go slow”
do things gradually
“go slow”
will bring more tragedy
why don’t you see it
why don’t you feel it
i don’t know
i don’t know

you don’t have to live next to me
just give me my equality
cos everybody knows about mississippi
everybody knows about michael jackson
everybody knows about margaret thatcher
everybody knows about ronald reagan
everybody knows about michael gee
everybody knows about jesse jackson
everybody knows about mississippi

putney has got me so upset
gladesville made me lose my rest
and everybody knows about bennelong goddamn
putney has got me so upset
gladesville made me lose my rest
and everybody knows about john howard goddamn

can’t you see it
can’t you feel it
it’s all in the air
i can’t stand the pressure much longer
somebody say a prayer

baxter has got me so upset
woomera made me lose my rest
and everybody knows about john howard goddamn

hounds dogs on my tail
schoolchildren sit in jail
black cat cross my path
think every day’s gonna be my last

lord have mercy on this land of mine
we all going to get it in due time
i don’t belong here
i dont belong there
i’ve even stopped believing in prayer

don’t tell me i’ll tell you
me and my people just about do
i’ve been there so i know
they keep on saying “go slow”

well that’s just the trouble
“non core”
no new taxes
“non core”
fair work choices
“non core”
you’re just plain rotton
“non core”
you do things gradually
bring more tragedy
why can’t you see it
why dont you feel it
i don’t know
i don’t know

just try to do my very best
stand up be counted with all the rest
cos everybody knows about john howard goddamn

picket lines
schoolboy cots

they try to say it’s a terrorist plot
but all i want is equality
for indigenous people, refugees and me

you lied to me all these years

you told me to wash and clean my ears
and talk real fine just like a lady
and you’d stop calling me sister sadie

but my country is full of lies

we all going to die and die like flies

cos i don’t trust you any more

they keep on saying
“go slow”

well that’s just the trouble
“go slow”
“go slow”
mass participation
“go slow”
“go slow”
do things gradually
“go slow”
will bring more tragedy
why don’t you see it
why don’t you feel it
i don’t know
i don’t know

i don’t want you on my TV
just give me my equality
cos everybody knows about the wheat board
everybody knows about children overboard
everybody knows about the iraq war
everybody knows about kyoto
everybody knows about land rights
everybody knows about saying sorry
everybody knows about john howard

Mezz Mezzrow on Harmony

I jumped into the harmony pattern like i was born to it, and never left the track for a moment. It was like slipping into a suit made to order for you by a tailor, silk-lined all through. When two musicians hit it off like that right from the start, a fine glow of ease and contentment creeps over them. They’ve reached a perfect understanding through their music; they’re friends, seeing eye to eye. Maybe there’s a parable here for the world. Two guys, complete strangers, face each other, and while one takes off on the lead, the other feeds the accompaniment to him, helping him to render his solo and making the solo richer, spurring him on and encouraging him all the way. One feeds harmony while the other speaks his piece on the horn, telling the world what’s on his mind, supported every inch of the way by his pal. It’s like a congregation backing up the minister’s words with whispered “Amen’s” at the right places. The congregation never stands up and hollers “Shut up! You’re a liar!” while the minister’s preaching – that would be dischord, the whole spell of being together and united in a common feeling would be broken. That’s how it is when you play music with a man you understand and who understands you. You preach to him with your horn and he answers back with his “Amen,” never contradicting you. You speak the same language , back each other up. Your message and his message fit together like pie and ice cream. When that happens, man, you know you’ve got a friend. You get that good feeling. You’re really sent.

Really The Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow

-> here’s another quote from Mezz, about when rhythm sections went wrong