Aron and Adb al Malik

It seems everyone ends up in Paris, eventually.  Aron Ottignon was raised in Auckland, New Zealand and I knew him when he was still a prodigious jazz pianist, playing professional gigs around town at an unusually young age.

Since then Aron’s played his way through the scenes in Sydney and London, released a solo album under the name Aronas, and now he’s ended up in Paris, playing with rapper Abd Al Malik.

As well as touring with Abd al Malik, Aron has appeared with the band on French TV shows such as Le Grand Journal, and earlier this year played at the Victoires de la Musique in Lille:

Aron was sneaky enough to film this very performance from his own perspective, on his iPhone…

And, if you’re quick, you can even see his iPhone in the live footage from France 4! :

O’Spada: From Stockholm with Love

In May 2009, I remixed a track by O’Spada, and this Swedish band haven’t looked back since. They’ve now released their first album, Pay Off, a disc that is poised to furnish lounges and clubs around the world. It’s out now on Despotz.

O’Spada‘s debut album is chock-full of spiky, swaggering funk tunes, built around the in-your-face vocals of singer and principal songwriter Julia. Here’s a taste:

If I called their music “bulletproof prog-disco assembled by an unholy alliance of astromech droids and the Daleks “, then I would be guilty of using too many ridiculous metaphors, but I will have come close to describing the O’Spada sound.

The tone of the album tends towards darkness but there are bright moments. The shuffle-time Rainbow (with its ooo-wah vocals) edges towards Motown and provides a respite from the brain-freezing grooves that dominate the rest of the disc.

Most of all, O’Spada comes across as fresh, and rather unlike any other band I know. There’s a Swedish accent in the vocals, jangly rhythm guitar, irony-free slap bass, and ferocious sawtooth synthesizer licks that sound like they’re played by a dude with a Patrick Swayze haircut.

What more could you wish for?

Well, a tour maybe. O’Spada are in London in mid-June to promote the album. If you’re in town make sure you catch them before they’re Bigger than Bieber-Hur.

London city tour dates:

14 Jun Hoxton Bar And Kitchen
15 Jun Dublin Castle
17 Jun St. Pancras International
17 Jun YoYo @ Nottinghill Arts Club
18 Jun Last FM presents… @ Big Chill House
20 Jun The Luxe

Das Wohltemperierte Bieber

I really should write a follow-up on Joseph Stiglitz and ask what the heck happened to his report to Nicolas Sarkozy on redefined GDP measurement. But no, I got distracted by Punky Meadows Justin Bieber arriving in New Zealand this week.

Now I’ve got nothing against Justin Bieber in particular or teenage pop sensations in general. As music critic Graham Reid expressed on his blog today, the kids are going to scream at whatever they want to scream at. too. (Although this footage reaffirms why 13 year-old girls are still the scariest thing on the planet).

No, my point is about Auto-Tune. It’s clear that Mr Bieber can actually sing quite nicely in a radio-friendly monochrome fashion, and even plays the guitar – you can check out all the original YouTube videos if you want, but here’s JB on ITV in the UK back in January:

So why-oh-why do they channel his voice (and all of his right-on offsiders like Ludacris and Usher) through a freaking Auto-Tune on all his songs?

Auto-Tune’s been around for a while now. I wonder if in ten years’ time we’ll regard it as a hopelessly outmoded sonic token of the current decade. Just like all song titles at the moment must include the letters “ft.”, (as if artists are afraid to be heard performing without at least one celebrity friend), singers must warble through Auto-Tune’s digital downpipe in order to satisfy 2010’s well-tempered-robot aesthetic.

“Auto-Tune”, with its Bryl-Creem hyphen and teen-snaring smoothness, is like fins on a Studebaker: the fins serves no practical purpose, but made the car look cooler. Similarly Auto-Tune has become the indispensable appendage to modern pop.

In many ways, not a lot has changed since that shiny atomic age when asbestos was futuristic. In the first 8 bars of Baby compulsorily ft. Ludacris, Justin’s Ooooh-Aaaah resembles the same shoo-wop-doo-widdy nonsense as Da Doo Ron Ron in 1963.

And the rest of the song is based around the same I-VI-IV-V progression that has served so many chart-toppers well – 1964’s Leader of the Pack by the Shangri-Las, and 1961’s Stand By Me by Ben E. King…

I hope Justin Bieber survives the screaming hordes and that he grows up to be happy and fulfilled in whatever he does. Time will tell if his musical career will be durable and interesting.

Maybe one day Justin’ll make an album without Auto-Tune.

And maybe one day I’ll write that follow-up post about Joseph Stiglitz.

La Fonte des Neiges

I only took one photo while I was at Les Deux Alpes, and this is it – the view from my hotel window on Friday afternoon. It was the best weather of my stay: on Saturday and Sunday the clouds rolled in, making skiing well, not impossible, but certainly difficult with 20-metre visibility.

As is traditional when I head to the mountains, I made a video. The 2010 edition is fairly modest compared with the meisterwerks of 2007 (Slovenia and Switzerland). But at the end you do get to see a bunch of clueless skiers traversing a fresh avalanche on Monday afternoon…

The avalanche came down over one of the blue runs, and must have been very recent – soon after we crossed the avalanche, the ski patrol arrived with rescue dogs to check whether anyone had been buried… as the weather warms up, more of these snowslides are likely across the Alps, and the ski patrols are on alert.

The other drama of the holiday was getting caught in the nationwide strike on SNCF on Tuesday. It took me 10 hours to get back to Paris instead of 6, and I stood all the way from Lyon to Paris in the restaurant car of a TGV. However all the passengers were very tolerant of the crowding and the young train crews (it seems it’s the new employees who are left to provide the service minimum during strikes) were having a lot of fun running a TGV all by themselves.

Arriving back in Paris, spring had well-and-truly established itself. The city seemed to have a smell again, and there were birds singing in the still-nude trees on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Arriving back at my apartment, the gardien was clearing the mailboxes as I walked in the front door.

“Bonjour monsieur vous allez bien? Ca commence à faire beau maintenant, hein?”

“Effectivement.”

Beck vs Charlotte Gainsbourg

Beck and Charlotte Gainsbourg seem a strangely appropriate duo: America’s pop wunderkind of the 1990s teaming up with the daughter of one of France’s most famous performing artists.

Heaven Can Wait is the first single off Gainsbourg’s new album Master’s Hand, but it sounds like a Beck song through and through. And the video is completely fabulous:

Although officially it’s on a Charlotte Gainsbourg disc, Heaven Can Wait sounds almost like a return to form for Beck. He’s frankly showing a little of his age in this video, but the music contains some of the hallmarks of his classic period: honky-tonk beat-making, lyrical bricolage and a story of misfits played out under the sun of East Los Angeles.

The video even contains sly visual clues to Beck’s earlier work (and the visual is almost as important as the music with Beck). See if you can spot:

  • The hemp rope guitar strap (from the interior album artwork on Mellow Gold)
  • Guy in a horse mask (a Human Jackass partly made his Odelay tour of 1997 such a gas. Still the best concert I’ve ever seen.)
  • The goat skull that’s another reference to cover of Mellow Gold

(Don’t know if I should confess that Mellow Gold was the first CD I ever bought. Given that the first cassette I bought was Arrested Development’s 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…, I’m not sure if my taste improved. But I do own all of Beck’s albums. Including the pre-Geffen indie obscurities).

Bill Evans Plays Monk

A short musical interlude. Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs wrote a piece today marking the recent birthday of Thelonius Monk: interesting to read the perspectives of a contemporary jazz musician on her relationship to Monk’s music.

She also found some really nice video clips to illustrate her article. I particularly liked this one – the Bill Evans Trio playing Round Midnight in Sweden in 1970. It’s rare to see acoustic jazz of this era filmed in colour, and still in such good condition. Eddie Gomez is the bass player, Marty Morell is on drums.

For an insight into Monk’s life, music and idiosyncrancies, Leslie Gourse’s biography Straight No Chaser is highly recommended.

Le Quatuor: corps à cordes

Muchas apologias. Writing on the blog has been intermittent lately. The last week has been a blur of trains, meetings and sleeping in strange beds. And somewhere among all this I’m pushing towards handing in a thesis at the end of September. Things have been kind of busy.

If anyone wants a clue about what’s going on in Montpellier, read Ed’s blog, because I’m kind of out of the loop.

However, I was introduced to Le Quatuor last week – and thought it was worth sharing: four highly accomplished classical musicians who have turned to physical comedy… well, for laughs.

I think the entire performance on their DVD is funnier as a whole, rather than the few excerpts you can find on YouTube. I’m surprised they aren’t more known outside France: most of the jokes are physical or musical, and their dialogue-based sketches are carried out in a surreal mélange of German, Italian, English, French and Spanish (check out their music lesson sketch).

Rémi Gaillard, Montpellier’s own Buster Keaton

If Montpellier has an internet celebrity, it’s Rémi Gaillard. He’s been making prank videos on the internet for ten years, and his clips have received over 350 million views on Youtube.

Many of his gags are filmed right here in Montpellier. One would have thought the locals would have got used to his antics by now, but Monsieur Gaillard always finds new ways to amuse and annoy: last year he turned the streets of the city into a Nintendo Mario Kart racetrack:

His classic clips include a re-creation of Saving Private Ryan on the beach at Palavas and the arrival of an astronaut on a golf course, but my favourite is when Rémi and friends turn a supermarket into a Pacman maze. (According to the “making of” article, all damage was repaid in full):

There is obviously an anarchist and possibly dadaist streak in Gaillard’s humour,  and his motto “C’est en faisant n’importe quoi qu’on devient n’importe qui” (roughly – “By doing whatever you can become whoever”) suggests that there may be a philosophy behind what he does. There is also money – he was hired last year by Orangina and Nike to make viral videos.

You can find dozens more videos on his site, nimportequi.com. Although his gags are largely harmless, it really is a wonder that Rémi hasn’t ended up in jail yet…

SJD in Glorious Greenscreen

Thought this was worth posting… the video for SJD/Sean Donnelly‘s new single Baby You’re Oh So. A really nice concept, which takes me back to my earliest computer experiences on the neighbour’s Apple IIe in about 1984.

(Hat tip – video found via Andrew Dubber’s tweet.)

Nice to see Sean working with Chris O’Connor on drums these days. I’ve worked with both Tom Atkinson (Sean’s previous drummer) and Chris, both excellent musicians. Among various improv and jazz projects, Chris also plays with Don McGlashan, and probably will lend a more organic sound to Sean’s live set.

Here’s my photo of Chris at the beach in New Zealand a few years back.

Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers

If you compared this performance (from the 1943 film Stormy Weather) to last week’s Eurovision Song Contest, you could make a strong argument for the general decline in the quality of popular music over the past 60 years. But such a comparison is barely valid, and such a conclusion could never be drawn – surely?