Once were independents…

When did we stop talking about what it means to be independent?

David Renshaw from NME declared 2012 The year that Pop jumped into bed with Indie – referencing this year’s album by Ke$sha on Sony, where Arctic Monkeys and The Black Keys appear alongside the pop chantuese. He also cites P!nk borrowing from Modest Mouse, or Robbie Williams lifting samples from Todd Terje. His thesis concludes that Indie provides a fecund ground for pop satellites to delve into and mine for hitherto unrecognised beauty – a trend symptomatic of the increasing ease with which we access music – everything is everything.

But are these actually lines of division? If so, where are those lines? The term Indie comes from Independent – from an era where indie wasn’t merely a style, but a stance –  a decision. Bands were independent when they weren’t signed to a major label – they stood outside the establishment and offered… an independent perspective.

Ok. I get it – everything is blurry now – The Weeknd release work for free, and Radiohead ditch their label to release independently. The Arctic Monkeys are on Domino – one of the longest running independent record labels left standing. The Modest Mouse release in question was funded by Epic, a division of Sony.

However, and increasingly, references to ‘Indie’ eschew question of earnings and profile.

The Black Keys? I understand they have an independent sound – or did – but they have licensed works to over three hundred advertisements, films and television shows. Instead of raising questions about what it means to call them independent, we take the style and the attitude as the genuine indicators. This is most clearly demonstrated in an interview with Q Studio, where Auerbach and Carney discuss the issue – in some discomfort – trumpeting again the story of turning down an offer for 200 000 pounds for a Mayonnaise commercial, alongside declarations they now have no problem with exploiting their work – as much as possible – through advertising.

There is a place for commercial sound – a place for artists who choose not to take endorsements and talk through overt forms of commercial exploitation. A place for musicians to have cache, make money, and a place for bands struggling to be relevant despite the marketplace, difficulties of staying afloat, gaining promotion or making an impact without finances.

Arguing that Pop has jumped into bed with Indie – as if indie just means guys with scraggly beards and cute geeky chicks who don’t talk to you in the library… loses an important way of talking about artists who make music ‘in spite of’… who won’t get a call from Ke$sha or placement with Victoria’s Secret – who provide more than just a source of creativity to steal from – but offer counter culture, questions from the edges and options beyond marketing, hype and money making.

Does an artist who refuses to take the cash simply because it is offered, who works hard in spite of the difficulties of having to pay the rent, who endures hardship that foregoes easy marketplace answers… Does that offer us, as a society, anything important?

If so, we should have a name for it.

Me and Elton vs Pnau

So I may well be stretching the notion of six degrees of separation, but with fellow Sydney Siders Pnau making a swell with their gorgeous reworkings of Elton John’s songs, I was reminded of the track Pete Mayes mixed from my 2008 album When you get down to it. He’s a lovely guy and he kept it pretty simple and understated, as the desk mix suggested it should be. He used one of those crazy Publison Infernal Machines on the vocal, and got an effortless breeziness to the Beach Boys tribute vocals at the end. I often forget I made this track, but the lyric has stayed with me:

A story that you told me, about how love could hold me when you get down, when you get down to it…

Anyway – you can see them talking with elton about the music here:

Elton and Pnau talk about making Elton vs Pnau

And you can see listen to Down to it here:

Down to it, from When you get down to it

So yeah, tenuous, but nice to be reminded of a lovely producer and nice to revisit a song… Enjoy

Small constellations

this is how to let go

stretch your fingers out

open your hand

move it away from the object

Tom Kazas: this is how

So begins melbn pixis – a lesson of the tyrannies of distance, a meditation on the absences that haunt us, the reminder simple things are easily forgotten. Tom Kazas writes crisply and keeps the ‘extended player’ (ep) format tight at four songs and just on seventeen minutes.

The cues here are as much David Sylvian and Brian Eno as the former The Moffs front man’s career – careening reverbs crash into waves of tremelo, the sparkling joy of release in the opening track this is how gives way to the muted solo of Ithaca Is. Perhaps Kazas avoids ‘looking back / for it does not exist’ – but the ghosts are still there, somewhat transformed on the long sea journey back to Ithaca – shuddering, broken symphonies and refracted rays from the sunlight pop that made the The Moffs hit ‘Another day in the sun’ so enduring.

This is the work of an Odysseus who has endured the trials of Scylla and Charybdis and found home is not what it was, or is already somewhere else. In a world beguiled by the spectacular, it’s hard to remember that constellations remind us how small we are, how lost we can be, and how sometimes letting things go is the only real way to find our way back.

small constellations from melbn pyxis by Tom kazas

The Moffs Another day in the sun

For lyrics and more info:

The Silver Trail and the Irish pipes

On Saturday night The Silver Trail played at Die Tielnahmerie on The Wrangelstrasse in Kreuzberg. The Silver Trail is an open improvising duo – something I was taught by the kind folks at Free-for-all back in Sydney many years ago… We never quite know what we will play, approaching the instrument with fresh eyes, hands and ears each time.

Die Tielnahmerie is a new little co-operative that has sprung up in the past few months with a rich and eclectic music policy and diverse clientele to match. Joys of the evening included laughing while fellow guitar slinger Christopher Zitterbart struggled to find space for his Mesa Boogie Lonestar amp, AxeFX and pedal system; rushing from the other side of the room between sets to stop a drunk patron from ‘shredding’ on the guitars; and being distracted by a tuneless accompanist (in the next room, no less) playing along to everything on a blues harp in G.

But the beauty of the space is the surprise factor. An attentive audience, gorgeous friends, cheap drinks and a lovely set from an Irish folk band inspired Chris to invite Sasha, the pipe player, to join us. The video is sketchy, but I’m grateful to Ayumi Tanaka for capturing it after the battery on my camera ran out. It’s enough to give you the sense of something special unfolding in front of all of us. I’ve never met an Irish (or uilleann) pipe player, let alone shared the stage with one… Lovely.

You can find out more about The Silver Trail, and hear some of the studio sessions at http://www.facebook.com/TheSilverTrail

Hollywood Burn

Tuesday night found me packed into an alt bau upstairs gallery in Berlin watching the debut of Soda_Jerk’s latest epic Hollywood Burn. The questions here are complex and timely – how – in a ‘post sampling’, ‘post purchasing’, ‘post copyright’ society do we negotiate rights, usage, ownership?

The response is artistic and joyful – a crazy mash up of wildly diverse iconic figures from Hollywood history – Elvis faces down Moses, The Hulk duels with Indiana Jones, and Adam West’s Batman fights off the shark from Jaws – leaving us wondering where ownership resides after the Hollywood star machine foisted new archetypes (carved from old archetypes) on us in order to sell action figures.

Without pirates, there would be no Keith Richards, and without Keith Richards, no Jack Sparrow… the list goes on – a point aptly made in a film which runs for 52 minutes and features a sample list that runs for eight. Even Jesus gets a cameo.

There are too many highlights to list, and while the trailer is below, I’m sure those of you are are willing to spend your time on the high seas will eventually plunder a complete copy. Soda-Jerk (and Sam Smith)’s skilful editing, musical savvy and comprehensive knowledge of pop culture renders Elvis dangerous again and makes Kubrick’s Space Odyssey apes breakdance – a feat appearing effortless and inevitable.

Perhaps this is the way Kubrick intended it to be. Or perhaps it’s just piracy. Either way, I feel better for having seen it. Which is more than I can say for all those episodes of The A team I watched as a kid…


Axel Nystrom

I saw both of your feet on the ridge
In morning air, like pushed out of a dirty syringe
She said: “You know it’s really hard for me to breathe when you’re mine”
I said: “The thicker the air, the thinner the shine”

                                                   Axel Nystrom – The Ridge

I saw Axel play last Friday night – a refreshing voice in a sometimes bewildering techno city. I met him writing his debut album Bricks – heading to a friend’s Neukolln shop-window to sit in the lazy spring warmth and fill books with sparse, fading prose. Nice to hear the album and confirm what I’d suspected from live shows – he wasn’t drifting off to sleep in that sunlight…

A friend from Australia named another voice I’d been chasing – something here of Grant McLennan’s nonchalance and the wistfulness of The Go-Betweens. You can stream the album here:

Axel Nystrom: Bricks

And you can listen to The Go Betweens Love Goes On! here:

The Go-Betweens: Love Goes On!

There is a generous space in honest guitars, melodic pop and a deft turn of phrase. On tracks like From Outside and Bricks, Axel Nystrom has managed to find cracks in the wall of urban cool and gently prise open room for us to learn something new about hearts and heartbreak. And in that realm, it’s always good to have another go-between.

Axel plays live at Fraulein Wild, Berlin