Friday, January 27, 2012

Here's a review of mine about the current Barbican OMA/Progress exhibition.
After attending it, I've been interested to read this report about the Saudi Arabian government's plans to build a new skyscraper that will dwarf even the world's current tallest. Yes, that'll be the Burj Khalifa (picture above) in Dubai, UAE, which seems to point a finger into the sky, asking the question: what will happen to these Towers of Babel, unthinkably tall in medieval times, when the oil begins to run out and the swirling sands threaten to blot them out? By some estimations, there are some countries in the middle East (Oman, for one), where it's calculated that the oil reserves will dry in as soon as thirty years. It's this unthinkable possibility, combined with global warming, which suggests a deeply bleak future a hundred years hence. Think about everything in your life that runs on oil, and now imagine a life without it...looks like that research into into alternative sources of energy isn't such a bad idea after all.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Happy New Year’s all. Apologies for the lack of posts, due alternatively to a busy Christmas period and having to move and assemble furniture around. The anti-capitalist protestors are still camped out near me in Moorgate, somehow encapsulating a tumultuous 12 months of protests and direct action, while we’ve seen crisis after crisis hit the European economy, at the same time as London rents go through the roof and jobs are cut by the thousands. But I’ve been through that already.
Sometimes it makes you want to burrow into a hole and revisit your childhood and adolescence, with for me includes a commodity fast becoming something of a cult collector’s item: the cassette tape. As the format has slowly became obsolete over the last ten years, the medium has contrarily found a resurgence in the noise and black metal scenes, while underground record shops such as Second Layer in London have seen a roaring trade in the format.
There's something still tangibly great about tapes. I’m old enough to remember cherishing the art of the mix-tape, with the creation of unique, warped artwork part of the fun (of course, iTunes pretty much does it for you now with CD playlists). A younger generation growing up now are unlikely to feel such nostalgia for the format, of course. OurPrice and HMV in those days would stock a large section of cassette tape releases (along with blank tapes, naturally), while Rough Trade in Covent Garden had racks and racks of obscure underground releases in the format.
I was reminded of the era of cassette tapes recently when I found this link online to Pussy Galore’s legendary track-for-track postmodern deconstruction of The Rolling Stone’s Exile On Main Street. This bizarre concept was only released on cassette tape in 1986, and has quickly become a collector’s item. This being Pussy Galore, the album isn’t a strict, note-for-note cover. Instead, it feels like what would happen if the Stones had crossed paths with Faust, with weird industrial noises, sped-up tape, distorted interludes, and radio static (not to mention obligatory profanity by band members between songs) among the shambolically-played guitar riffs. It feels kind of exciting to hear something that’s been such a ‘forbidden’ collector’s item for so long (even if some of it veers on the unlistenable), and reminds me of the mystique of that pre-internet era where part of the thrill was tracking down ultra-limited releases.
Which leads to the next impossible-to-get-hold-of release that should be put on the internet: the first album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor (or Godspeed You Black Emperor! as they were known then), released in 1994 and entitled All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling – limited to only 33 copies on cassette tape, and damn near impossible to get hold of. Copies nowadays, naturally, must be like gold dust (though not, presumably, as hard to get hold of as the Merzbow album which came in a car, so you had to buy the car to get the album; indeed, the album in question was actually soldered into the car's engine, so that Merzbow's signature ear-splitting power electronics would come on automatically after turning on the ignition. So it's fair to say that there weren't many copies of the car/album hybrid lying around when that was released - though I seem to remember Rough Trade claiming they had the car, album soldered in and all, in stock held somewhere...but I digress). In contrast to the subsequent Godspeed albums (which generally contain three to four tracks, each clocking in at 15-30 minutes), this one has forty-two ‘songs’ (who knows what they sound like), including a charming tribute to Quebec’s finest chanteuse entitled ‘Perfumed Pink Corpses From The Lips of Ms. Celine Dion’. Now this is something I would genuinely love to hear – though, given that so few people have heard it, theoretically anyone could upload music to the Net claiming that it’s the album.