Saturday, 7 December 2013

A great read about Nelson Mandela on ThinkProgress.org

The subtle media whitewash of Nelson Mandela from political firebrand to cuddly, smiling Uncle happened well before his death. I remember a few years back (maybe it was his 90th birthday) watching a show with celebrities offering trite, gushing tributes to Mandela. I particularly recall David Beckham appearing and rattling on about Mandela's strength and how he was an inspiration to us all in utterly vague terms. I don't mean to rag on Beckham in particular, but I expressed interest at the time if he knew the first thing about the politics of Mandela, because he, or the show, certainly didn't relay anything of substance in that regard. The media's cultural inertia just told the UK that he was an innocent man who got put away for ages and was dead stoic and old and grinned a lot on telly. And that's about it. And while we've got the Tories and right wing media championing him along with the rest, it's good to remind ourselves of the opinions he did have that challenged the right. And if we consolidate them alongside the image of the smiley, benevolent elder statesman we were presented it might help us understand the importance of his contemporary political observations...

 Six Things Nelson Mandela Believed That Most People Won’t Talk About

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Daley Dozen.

It's been another one of those days on Facebook and Twitter. It might appear like my psyche is currently entirely reserved for disdain towards the everyday trends that pop up on our social networks, but if you'll just indulge me this one more then I promise I'll leave it alone for a few weeks.

As far as Facebook goes, today's treatment of the news about Tom Daley coming out has been great as far as I can see it. There have been a lot of sarcastic tweets with people spelling out how his sexuality is of no consequence to them and quite a few congratulatory tweets lauding Tom for leading the way for other sports personalities. Of course, converse to the observations on my last blog (which I won't mention again today...) that's exactly what you'd expect of the circle of friends of the faux-punk, lily-livered liberal that I've been repeatedly assured I am over the last few days. If someone posts homophobic, or indeed overtly racist or misogynistic things, I'll generally just un-friend them. But of course, I know this behaviour exists. I see and hear it across the internet and across real life.

We all know it's there.

Do we really need 'best of's?'

Tom Daley, winner of today's internet.
Is it just me that is getting suspicious of these blogs that make compilations of the 20 worst tweets then post them to Tumblr as an example of all the bad things that are being said? I'm sure this phenomenon started well-meaning enough. First time I was really aware of it was the litany of disgusting tweets supporting the boys in the Steubenville High School rape case showcased on a webpage. The tweets were truly disturbing and a worthwhile window into a culture that castigates victims of rape if the social circumstances are convenient enough. It was eye-opening. But from there these tweet compilations moved into other territory such as sexist responses to Miley twerking to teenage idiot girls tweeting how they'd still like to shag Chris Brown after all the bad things he did. I clicked through one today, offering to lift the lid on all the awful things the UK public had to say about Tom Daley and was left feeling slightly confused about the practicalities of a list that basically comprised of a Twitter search for the words 'Daley' and 'fag'. And I was also left feeling slightly had.

Because you click and look at them don't you? It's a bit like rubbernecking at a car crash. If a car crash was a faceless pillock using text speak to present their bigoted worldview on their phone while they wait for a bus. But these aren't the kind of people who are going to be overly concerned about appearing on a Tumblr list of this sort. Quite the contrary. If someone's throwing the word 'fag' about on Twitter, chances are they're only going to be too happy to appear on that kind of a wall of shame. And I know, because I've just ten minutes looking at people attacking them on Twitter and they're just laughing at then AND getting retweeted by other bigots to boot. Whatever we're doing, it isn't working.

Maybe I'm getting cynical in my old age but now I can't work out whether the people who make these lists are genuine... or just going for clicks, publicity and the chance of some filthy lucre for their own website in the name of social consciousness. Maybe a bit of both? I think we're just sharing them on our Facebooks without even wondering about the motives of those who have compiled them. And even if the motives are sound, I think they are, judging by today's response, misguided.

All those saying homophobic things on social media about Tom Daley deserve to be called out. The culture of Facebook and Twitter and other sites should be muscular in its disapproval and express outrage and anger at these outmoded schools of thought. I absolutely support the idea that this behaviour should be challenged and social media is a place where that's not only appropriate, it's the right thing to do. But whereas a criticism or challenge from someone you know, follow or speak to online might make you change your mind, a mass social attack from a faceless group of vengeful strangers who have seen your post displayed on another stranger's blog is likely to be much less persuasive. Frankly, they'll probably just tell you to fuck off.

We don't need webpages re-presenting this dirge on a list to know it goes on, furthering the oxygen of publicity and attention these daftpots crave. And so, I'm not clicking any of these bloody 'look at all the shit things they said on Twitter' lists any more.

Until The Sunlight Comes...

Barney x

p.s. Don't ask for a link to the list. For obvious reasons!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

...And Justice For All!


With the verdict of the Ian Watkins of Lost Prophets trial causing waves across cyberspace over the last couple of days, social media has put me in mind of an upturned rock unleashing an army of angry, confused ants. On her Facebook, Laila K described the day as 'intolerable' and I felt much the same. Yesterday, I was moved to have a mini-rant about the concept of 'prison justice' and was alerted to Enter Shikari Rou's BLOG, appealing for calm and the refreshingly sensible suggestion that this could be a chance to understand the pathology of the criminal rather than spilling his blood in a public execution. While I can empathise with the social media outpourings of anger and vengeance, Rou’s angle on the situation is one that I lean towards.

What really started chapping my arse across the day (and the topic of this short blog) was the proliferation of those 'prison justice' Tweets and Facebook posts. You know the ones. They move from the speculative; 'ah well, he'll get raped up the arse in jail', to the hopeful; 'I hope he gets raped up the arse in jail' to the downright jubilant; 'FUCK HIM! DIRTY PERV! He's gonna get cut into pieces then raped up the arse in jail'.

I've just logged in this morning and, for my sins, read a thread on the profile of a Facebook 'friend' (note, someone I don't really 'know') and seen more air fist-pumping with an arbitrary, and frankly terrifying, confidence that Watkin's will get his just deserts. And those desserts will not be served to him through a hatch on a plastic tray. Those deserts will not be delivered by a trial of his peers. They will not be reached through measured, supervised reflection on his crimes, using cutting-edge psychoanalysis and rehabilitation techniques. Oh no. Deserts will be provided by the lumpen fists of a hero from Salford serving twenty-five years for violent criminal affray. Let joy be unconfined!

The comfort that so many people clearly have with this scenario bothers me. There seems to be an accepted consensus that there are these terrific people in jail that are put there for no other reason than to punish wrongdoers for the good of society. It's a fine concept until you consider that someone has to do the abusing. Far be it from me to split hairs about the relative evils between child abuse and blind, ugly, violence involving strangers and the elderly but, by golly, someone has to. 


Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are loads of great blokes in jail. Top dudes you’d well have a pint with. Benefit cheats, weed dealers, chainstore shoplifters, the Irish, that kind of thing. But, and this is just a hunch,  I reckon the ones given nonce-bashing duty tend to be the ones that are a bit handy with their fists, like. The kind of blokes that beat a stranger into a vegetative state because they looked at their girlfriend sideways in some bar called Rios in a seaside town. I have about as much faith in these men administering society’s justice as I do in Boris Johnson re-distributing the nation’s wealth. 

To me, whilst not as taboo within our Sarah’s Law Society, beating a man's brains into the ground is just as perverse as urinating on a girl. And, yes, the details of what went on in those infamous videos with Watkins go far beyond the pale. But nothing can be bad enough that it's going to make me sleep any easier knowing that Big Barry from Bournemouth’s got it covered. I don't want to give anyone the idea that I'm lying awake at night wringing my hands over the injustice of Jeffrey Dahmer’s prison decimation at the hands of some Peckerwood with facial tattoos. But neither am I looking on that as any real kind of justice and I’m certainly not foaming at the mouth and cheering the idea on, slapping my hands together shouting “and that's the end of that chapta!"
It'll be rate. Let Barry deal with it.
The violent criminal that kills a paedophile does it behind the same cowardly smokescreen of self-righteousness and self-loathing that castigates ‘grasses’ and ‘rats’ within that culture. It’s not justice. It’s a self-serving excuse for more violence and sociopathic behaviour that put them there in the first place. To cheer it on is ugly, pig-headed and, yes, perverse and it demonstrates an elementary misunderstanding on the nature, and proliferation, of violence within our society. You’re cheering fighting fire with fire.  If someone in jail for something as nefarious as beating a stranger to death kills a paedophile, that's simply not something a healthy society celebrates.  End of.

So please stop it, internet.

Yours

Barney x

Friday, 30 August 2013

Syria Hysteria or How Gary Got His Gun and Learned To Stop Worrying About Miley Cyrus.

For the last few days I've been somewhat-guiltily avoiding the coverage of the Syria situation, making do with stolen earfuls from Radio 4 in the morning before switching over to something less weighty. After the nuclear weekend of Reading and Leeds, it’s taken this old dog a few days to get back into the swing of things so I've been distracting myself with my newly-acquired Netflix and being earth-shatteringly un-fussed about Miley Cyrus looking a bit daft on the telly. But last night's defeat of David Cameron in the House of Commons, and today's fallout from that, has shaken me out of my Twerk-induced reverie and I've spent the past couple of hours catching up on the details. I wouldn't feel comfortable waxing lyrical on the specifics of global military responsibility in this particular fray, but I can certainly say that I was as pleased as punch to see the House of Commons voting against our involvement in it.
From what I've seen, the focus of the media analysis tends to be on the back-bench discord rather than the global ramifications of the decision. Today I've heard more talk of the 'high emotions' and red-faces in Parliament and the subsequent implications for the Labour vs Tory punch-up than of high-tech military conflict and the potential deaths of thousands of human beings. Cameron's half-salesman-like, half-pouty synopsis that 'it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action' comes across as oddly like that thing shamed celebrities do when they say 'I apologise to those who were offended'. International War's place in this domestic game of political one-upsmanship is almost farcical, like some dream you’d have on Christmas evening after watching The Thick of it followed by Dr Strangelove then falling into a deep pudding-fueled sleep.

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the War Room!"
But, for a lot of us, this is a big day. One doesn't want to overstate the magnitude of it, but last time the British people didn't want to go to war, at all, we did anyway. We remember the protests on telly, the statistics against the war, the 'sexing up' of documents. Hell, many of us remember marching against our military involvement in America's Crusade ourselves and it didn't change a thing. The worst feeling at that time was the sense of hopelessness, the loss of democracy. If the nation would have been all for it, while you personally against it, it would have been one thing but it was quite another when the Government openly ignored the will of the people and plunged our money and soldiers into a warzone.

Today, not so. Even if the result of the vote was more the positive outcome of a decidedly political spat than a true manifestation of the 'will of the people', today brings a sense of hope. But hope for what? Hopefully it’s that after the lessons of the past decade, our leaders are going to think twice about running our young men and women on global military errands that the populous is against. This brings me nicely to answering a question that I've avoided answering for some time. I could never quite find the words. I could never quite establish a way to write what the song is about without potentially offending people. Without potentially offending soldiers. Which is perhaps why 'Gary Got a Gun' is a song, not a blog, in the first place.

Some of our fans in the armed forces have been irked by the song. Some of them have alluded to it in Facbeook posts, others have written candid and interesting arguments and accounts of their military experience. Ex-sqaddie Philip Mudhir sent me a very convincing litany of why soldiers are heroes. So, even if I can't please everyone with this blog, I can at least offer a response to those asking for clarity.

First things first, and sorry to be a pretentious artist, but ultimately the lyrics mean what you take from them. The song is the song and is going to be there a lot longer than this blog. If someone hears 'Gary' as a song that laments the hopelessness and injustice of our government sending young men out to die in wars that the country is against because they don't have that much to do with us, you're probably on the right lines. If you hear it as a pointed finger and a shrug of the shoulders towards the newspapers and TV stations that oppose our country's military actions while glorifying our army you're even nearer where I was coming from. But if you hear it as a direct criticism to those who choose to join the ranks of an army knowing that they will have to obey orders that do not stand up to the scrutiny of their own morals then that's how you hear it. I don't know that I ever meant to say that a soldier isn't a 'hero' but rhyming it with 'amount to zero' on the next line certainly presents that implication. Lyrics, by their nature, are open to interpretation. I only hope that our government's refusal to be drawn into another war last night can put the context of the song somewhat into the past tense and even lend a little credence to the intention behind the song. Hopefully, now I can explain the song's genesis without being perceived as someone who, and I quote, ‘hates soldiers'.




Of course, when writing it, I knew the song would be contentious. It's such a massively contentious subject. But the only part of it that I can say has been actually misconstrued from my original intentions is that 'you amount to zero' line. I'm not saying that I think they amount to zero. I'm saying that with the flimsy justification we went following America into military action over the last dozen years, it's questionable that the lives of soldiers are worth very much more than that to those that are sending them into war. 

And that song's been done a million times, many times much more articulately than I could ever hope to achieve. But that's not where the idea of the song came from. The impetus behind this song was an article in a certain Red Top newspaper that distinguished itself from the other Red Tops post-2001 by centralising itself politically and making its views against the military action in Afghanistan and Iraq clear. While the other tabloids were remaining obsequious to our colonial overlords and contrite in their 'support for our boys', would moving into an anti-war editorial for this newspaper provoke a shift in perspective towards our soldiers? The answer was, of course, no. Far from avoiding the issue, their tone remained at the least, supportive and encouraging, and at the most, celebratory, lionising and downright patronising. And when presented with an interview with the grieving mother of another brave and valiant 19-year-old soldier, decrying his pointless loss of life in a war we didn't even need to be in, I was wary of the editorial tight-rope the paper was balanced upon. We hate the war. We love the soldiers.

This point of view is commonly expressed as 'against the war, for the troops'. I understand that stance. I understand where it comes from. Joining the army shouldn't have to mean that you're sent to do stuff that you are inherently against. Those decisions are not a soldier’s job. But, taken literally, can it be anything other than lip service? I've got to say it... if you're against what the military have been asked to do for the last 12 years, how can you in good conscience encourage someone to join the army? The fact remains that to implicate soldiers as having any responsibility for choosing a line of work where they will have to unquestioningly follow the questionable orders of their superiors is still terribly taboo.


Our brave and heroic boy, whose actions we don't agree with.
Policemen were open to scrutiny. Teachers were, NHS staff were. We all know that priests were. But in the mid-noughties soldiers, as a whole, were still treated in even anti-war papers with a kind of detached reverence. Just like 'the gun thing' in America, people were afraid to go there. If it's Emperor’s New Clothes, I just wanted to be that kid and point at it. I'm not saying that the papers should be attacking and criticising soldiers every single day. I'm saying if they were openly critical of the way our country was using our military, it was somewhat duplicitous to have anti-war editorials on one page then advertisements for 'Be The Best' and talk of being a hero on the next. The caricature of a soldier as an unthinking heroic drone, ready to deploy his orders for a government he devotedly loves, is as insulting to the soldiers themselves as it is to the reader. If discussion about the responsibilities, duties and opinions of soldiers was less controversial, would there be more pressure on the people making the decisions using them as collateral in the courtship of our Special Relationship with the US in situations like Afghanistan? I wasn't talking about soldiers questioning orders; I was talking about bursting the subservient media bubble that existed around the discussion of soldiers. And I was questioning the strong influence that subservience can have on the decisions of young men and women thinking about starting a career in the very organisation the newspaper purported to oppose the behaviour of.

So, hopefully I’ve explained where I was coming from and maybe we can put this to bed. Perhaps, if only for today, our army is once again our army. And hopefully last night signifies a sea-change in the UK, and our spiritual, and literal, compasses can re-align towards endeavours that are less morally suspect or at least more democratic in their scope. Of course soldiers can be heroes, and I believe that the vast majority of them join the army to be heroes, to protect and serve their country. I respect them. I just don't think that a lot of what they've been sent to do over the last 13 years has been, in a moral sense, very heroic and I think as much as anything, that's an injustice to them.

Until The Sunlight Comes...

Barney x
 

Gary Got a Gun (P.Barnes)

Gary got a gun, a camouflage uniform and a journey to a strange land,
Never even saw the eyes of the man whose shot left him bleeding into the sand
Out in the headlines they call him ‘hero’
But if they can send you to war just to settle a score then I’m sorry my friend you amount to zero

It was his life-long dream
Wanted to “Be the Best” like it said on the screen
So it’s straight into the infantry age of 18
6 months later takes a bullet for the team
Shot him down
Insurgent with a gun in an occupied town
Shot him down
And he’s hit in the side hour later he died and he’s homebound

All he ever knew
Was to follow through
Any order they would ask for him to do
Any place that they would choose to send him into.

Gary got a gun, a camouflage uniform and a journey to a strange land,
Never even saw the eyes of the man whose shot left him bleeding into the sand
Out in the headlines they call him ‘hero’
But if they can send you to war just to settle a score then I’m sorry my friend you amount to zero

And so the story goes
The photos of the troops and our super heroes
But every tribute to the boys it just propagate the lie
Of course he’s fucking brave if you’re sending him to die
Shot him down
A nineteen year old kid with an average background
Shot him down
The story should be “why the hell was he there in the first place?”

All he ever knew
Was to follow through
Any order they would ask for him to do
Anywhere that they would choose to send him into.

Gary got a gun, a camouflage uniform and a journey to a strange land,
Never even saw the eyes of the man whose shot left him bleeding into the sand
Out in the headlines they call him ‘hero’
But if they can send you to war just to settle a score then I’m sorry my friend you amount to zero

And poor old mum
Hangs his photo in the hall
And all the words they printed
They do not help at all

Gary got a gun, a camouflage uniform and a journey to a strange land,
Never even saw the eyes of the man whose shot left him bleeding into the sand
Out in the headlines they call him ‘hero’
But if they can send you to war just to settle a score then I’m sorry my friend you amount to zero

The worth that they gave to your premature grave was zero
If they can send you to war just to settle a score you amount to zero
If they can send you to war just to settle a score you amount to zero
If they can send you to war does it mean any more now they call you hero?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Backing Tracks, Cabinet Backs and kicking the facts about REAL MUSIC.

One of the more bemusing recent internet scandals was over a controversial photograph of Black Veil Brides on the Warped Tour taken from behind their guitar amps. Instead of having the standard black hardwood casing on the back of the cabinet, the cab was open, revealing that there was - gasp - nothing inside. Judging by the response online, the Oz-like unveiling that the amplification onstage isn’t really what’s pumping the music out into the great beyond evidently came to the surprise of many. Like Dorothy’s lament of ‘oh, you’re a very bad man!’, The Brides (as I’m sure they’re known) were inundated by a social legion of latent audio experts with cries of ‘sell outs’, ‘poseurs’ and ‘that’s not how you credibly amplify a guitar signal through a festival PA across a 40,000 cap site’. But unlike Oz, BVB didn’t reply with ‘I’m a Humbug’, instead opting for a pithy Twitter retort that likened their onstage set to the singer’s tattoos… something obviously a part of a show. The truth of the matter is that the revelation that those cabs weren’t being used to do very much at all surprised a grand total of no one who has ever played music on a stage bigger than that of a pub. So far, so internet.

Yesterday a character called J Willgoose Esq of dance-rock duo Public Service Broadcasting was upheld by The Independent newspaper’s online service to, seemingly unwillingly, represent the ‘keep music live’ guard and challenge the use of backing tracks in live music. You can read the article HERE. Maybe the accompanying photograph of him behind a sequencer should ring alarm bells that his technological broadside is being taken way out of context but in the article he decries acts that rely on hidden laptops, stating that 'live music should have an element of risk and an element of danger'. Well, on the subject of risk and danger, he’s presumably never tried running a laptop on a keyboard stand onstage at some of the dives we’ve played. The article proceeds to wildly scrawl big, thick, clumsy lines from his statements, (originally quoted in Q magazine) across to Deadmau5's DJing and then over to Coldplay’s use of sequenced strings. From there the article has been copied and pasted by various internet music sites as a kick-off for discussion about backing tracks in live sets and it’s off to the races for everyone who has ever wanted to bloody the noses of us cheating, no-good laptop-using BASTARDS.

Of course, in reality the difference between enhancing your line-up with the advantages of new technology and ‘playing to backing tracks’ is infinite in its scope. But on the internet, we don’t bother ourselves with such pesky notions as perspective. It’s a lot easier, and more fun, to stick your thumb up or down at the subject, like some cyber-Caesar staring at a gladiator who’s just used a futuristic laser gun to kill a lion. A fairly recent thread on the UK’s leading punk forum about backing tracks uncovered an overwhelmingly negative response to the concept. The trouble with all this discussion it it is indeed the concept that is met with mistrust, rather than the result. In my experience, at a gig most of the audience don’t know, and don’t care, how either an amp or laptop is specifically used in the live context. And yet when confronted with the question ‘do you approve of backing tracks?’, or presented with a funny photo of a hollow cab, the response is to suddenly appropriate the staunch Rock n Roll purism of a 1974 Led Zeppelin roadie. And yes, we’ve all seen the amazing live performances and, true, those lads didn’t need bloody backing tracks or fake amps. But they didn’t need cut scenes where Jimmy Page stopped shagging a 14 year-old long enough to dress as a wizard and climb mountains either but we had to put up with them didn’t we?

Like The Independent's liberal associations around J Willgoose Esq’s original interview, I may be drawing broad lines between these two stories. But while the specifics are different, much of the reactions are not. Underneath Facebook re-productions of the articles in question are a litany of comments decrying ‘cheating’, ‘fake musicians’ and the lack of this, that and the blinking other in music today. While the hankering for the straight-up spirit of Rock n Roll is charming, it’s all slightly misguided. And more often it shows internet commentary at its frothy-mouthed worst, passing absolute, Sword of Damocles judgments over intensely multifaceted topics while on the toilet at work. In 140 characters or less.

There are a number of reasons why the spat dummies over ‘that’ photo are ridiculous. It may well just capture an unorthodox onstage amping set-up that the guitarist or the sound engineer have devised, with all the guitar going through onstage wedges and in-ear monitors. For a whole host of very sensible audio reasons, their amps could be at the side of the stage. In that, frankly very likely, case, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to have a guitarist standing in front of nothing like a kid with a tennis racquet. On the other side of the coin, perhaps the guy from BVB is miming and he can’t play guitar at all. Maybe he prefers to survey the crowd with a cold, steely glare and pick out the bevy of hot rock tottie he’s going to denigrate just seconds after his final fake chord rings silently out from his empty cab. Who knows? Unless everyone’s been keeping their profound expertise in the art of onstage festival audio design from me, there’s no way to conclude the specifics of that guitarist’s set-up from that photo alone. But it’s a perfect photo for anyone with no knowledge of this subject to confirm a prejudice they already had about a particular band being 'fakes'.

Jimmy Page, yesterday
The cabs are up there to create a strong onstage visual. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Rock n Roll is about that. And if that’s not punk, tell The Ramones to stop dressing like each other. It’s just part of the show. You can argue it’s giving the crowd value for money. From the coolest indie band to the grandest metal band through the whole spectrum of Rock n Roll, there’s more dummy Marshall cabs onstage than there are MySpace Band Profiles gathering dust in cyberspace. Hell, we’ve done it ourselves. It’s only because these particular cabs have no back on them that anyone on the outside is let into that little secret. If the issue is that every cab in the vicinity of a band has to be projecting live, pure, old-fashioned MUSIC then what about those bands playing in front of their silent amps in their videos hey?! Like every band ever! Fakes!!! WHO ARE WE TRYING TO KID!?!?

The upshot of this whole thing is that the photo struck a nerve with people and sums up a lot of feelings about that band’s reliance on image over music. The photo was taken by the drummer from The Bronx, a tremendous band and one with a lot of credibility. He took this image and used it to illustrate that he didn’t have a lot of respect for BVB, and possibly to make a statement about the booking of that particular tour, for reasons we can probably guess. Fair enough. But, judging by the resultant online uproar, I didn’t perceive that many of the commentators fully understood the context of what was being said with the image. And I disagree with that in principle because it’s a tabloid tactic to twist an image into something else because that’s what you want it to represent. Ultimately, I’m uneasy with the fallout of that photo, as straight-forward as the intentions may have been behind it.

To put it another way, if you want to rag on that band, don’t rag on their dummy amps, rag on the fact that the shameless painted buggers charge their daft fans for the pleasure of meeting their greedy arses. But that’s another blog.

I cry foul of the reaction to this photo because it feeds into this na├»ve and, frankly silly, notion that the only way to be credible as a band is to go up there, stripped down and ‘do it live’. It’s a lazy exercise in limiting the parameters of what you appreciate in a live performance so that anything that falls outside that becomes somehow substandard. It’s exactly the same mentality as people that call out DJs for ‘playing other people’s records’ because they’ve never considered the fact that the art form is ‘playing other people’s records’ in a way that connects with people and works a dancefloor into a frenzy and the myriad of other intangibles that goes into the art of being a DJ. And further down the spiral, it’s the same mentality as people that decry all electronica, pop, dance music, or whatever isn’t played by white people with guitars, as ‘not real music’. It’s a limited way of looking at music that begins and ends with what you can be bothered to understand. And that leads me neatly into my issues with the inferences thrown up by The Independent via the comments of J Willgoose Esq.

Of course, from the article we don’t know to what exact extent J Willgoose Esq is knocking backing tracks. He might very well hear Sonic Boom Six play live and go ‘oh no, THAT’s OK, I was talking about those OTHER backing tracks’. But that’s the problem with where the article takes his discourse. The resultant broad discussion about the subject means that without calling specific bands out, it’s akin to saying that all bands with double-bass pedals are cheats because they should be able to do it with one foot. And it makes bands like mine feel slightly ‘got at’ for using loops and samples as part of our live show. And with articles like this, that perception is only going to get worse. With the sum of the article being ‘guitar good, laptop bad’ we fall upon the ire of the internet musical commentators who turn off their Cream albums long enough to scream that using backing tracks over their pure, white, unpolluted live music is, and I quote, ‘boring and cowardly’, before moving on to the next round of Candy Crush Saga.

J Willgoose Esq, about to kick a sequencer off the stage.
That's not to say that there aren't bands who use backing tracks to prop up a bad performance. But they're just bad bands, like there have always been bad bands, with an iPod running in the background. And the crowd will pick up on that, whether they know why or not. An obvious backing track is just another symptom of an overall lack of quality rather than the cause of the problem. And it's the band's job to make the tracks work. Last year I saw a show by the pop side-project of a leading post-hardcore band's singer, whose set came across as uninspired and insipid and was panned by the magazines and punters alike. The set was shackled to glaring, pre-produced tracks. The reliance on the tracks was just one aspect of the larger problem of a badly-conceived live show that lacked any onstage spark and utilised a skeleton crew of a band that looked like they didn't want to be there in the first place. Meticulously-produced audio pumping out into the room or not, listening to the grumbling fans leaving Sound Control in Manchester with disappointed faces, the fact that the band had misused backing tracks was just one of the complaints about an overall lacklustre product.

J Willgoose Esq rightly posits that 'there should also be room for improvisation, even if only in small measures. How else are you supposed to be able to tell a good performance from a bad one?' The thing is, the aforementioned pop band were the exception that proves the rule. I’ve rarely seen a band so dominated by backing tracks that there isn’t room for improvisation, in small measures or not. Certainly the mammoth productions and tremendously talented backing bands of most leading pop acts don’t fall into that category. And for any act out there simply miming to pre-recorded backings - maybe some Pop Idol also-ran that’s playing a few shopping centres - I’d credit the crowd with enough intelligence to be completely turned off, without even necessarily knowing, or caring, why. Conversely, if a band like The Streets or Enter Shikari or Hadouken! or Skindred even Sonic Boom Sodding Six, use backing tracks in a way that’s fun and inventive and enhances the show then the crowd forget all about all the ‘cheating’ going on and enjoy the show. As long as we don’t talk about it. It’s kind of like an audio Fight Club.

The most galling facet of the anti-backing tracks mentality is that it misses out a whole aspect of music that has come into play with the availability of software like Ableton Live which allows synched backing tracks to be accessible to all bands, not just those with elaborate stage sets and multitudes of expensive equipment, as was the case not too many years ago. This technology allows bands to be creative, adventurous and integrated with their use of backing tracks from day one. Lest we forget, when acoustic guitars were first amplified, members of the music community saw that amplification itself as cheating. Yes, there were Luddites that would see me climbing onto the stage with anything less than a double bass projecting out notes with my bare, swollen digits as fraudulent. Absurd, but no more absurd than the notion that all use of backing tracks onstage is dragging the music away from a position of honesty. Seeing backing tracks as ‘cheating’ robs one of the opportunity to appreciate backing tracks, samples, loops and electronic elements being used in a way that is as interesting and inspired as any guitar solo. Listening to James talk to Skindred for hours on end about the specifics of their set-up is enough to convince even the most ardent skeptic that this is a very involved process indeed. Fucking ragga-metal FRAUDS that they are.

Ask yourself where the music on the backing tracks comes from. You don’t walk out of the studio and get presented with a burnt disc with 'cheat mode' written on it in Sharpie and hand it to the soundman. Integrating tracks into your set takes time and skill. We work for hours in rehearsals on our arrangements like any band, but for us, the instrument of the laptop is another layer in that process. Making the performance emulate what is there on record, but still allowing for the 'live band' sound to come through, is a major factor of that development. Playing along with the drums to a click is no mean feat in itself but creating triggered loop points within songs which allow for improvisation and formulating segues is every bit as demanding as it is having a bass, guitar and drums vamp on a blues riff for a few bars while the vocalist talks. In fact, I’ll go there. It’s WAY more demanding than that. That’s well easy! And that’s the total and utter Billy Bollocks of the whole debate. For any band using backing tracks in the way we do, it is more involved, demanding, and dare I say it, difficult than it was when we didn’t use them. And the bottom line is that our current music, and lots of other music that dares to deviate from the bass, drums, guitar archetype, wasn’t written to be heard ‘stripped down’. Far from running scared from that exposure, we were thinking bigger. As big as technology allows.

Sonic Boom Six, today, in their magic backing tracks factory, preparing to cheat the music world.
As a final case in point, Coldplay is a band named in the article as a band who have come under fire for their use of backing tracks. Like them or not, Coldplay is a band that can play. And SING. No matter what’s added, you’re going to be able to hear the performances of the incredibly talented principle four musicians, without a great deal of trouble, which Chris never meant to cause you, of course. And I for one would rather hear that accompanied by all the grandeur that the live arena and technology allows, and all the creative elbow-room that entails. If I wanted to hear them, or us, or any decent band stripped down and ‘real’, then there are always the acoustic performances. If the crowd are singing along at the show I think most of them agree. But attack them for using backing tracks on a blog and a lot of that same crowd might grit their teeth and bang out things like ‘cheating’, ‘boring’ and ‘cowardly’ before watching Charlie Bit My Finger.

People talk about backing tracks, and dummy amps, and equate them with ‘faking it’. People harp on about technology reducing the art of live pop and rock music. I think the opposite is true. Music technology is increasing the scope of live music performance. Music technology can enhance production of the live experience in the largest arena and the smallest toilet venue, as long as artists and sound engineers are willing to be inventive and creative with it. I give the crowd credit. If the music is stifled by the technology, they’re gonna hear it. If it adds to the music, they’re gonna cheer it beyond all the lip service we give what we consider ‘real’. That’s the bottom line. That’s the art. Bear in mind that The Beatles apparently stopped playing live because they could no longer emulate the sounds that they could create in the studio. It's hard to picture them making that argument today. The scope that this technology presents us with is only as limited as our imaginations and this should be celebrated and embraced. It should be appreciated at the very least. Keith Richards said ‘Rock n Roll is music for the neck down’ and that’s certainly the philosophy I endorse. Appreciate a band on the basis of what’s presented to you out in the crowd, not from a stolen photo behind the curtain. And, whatever you do, don’t read the comments section.

Until The Sunlight Comes...

Barney x

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Alright then!

Understatement time. I thought it was about time I got back on here and started blogging again. To be fair, this spark of activity is coinciding with a general call to action in our lives as a band that's been going on over the last few weeks. Crucially, this has centered around formal discussions about writing new material and the whole host of intangibles, ideas and questions that throws up. To a certain extent, you put a record out and then go into a sense of creative stasis as you observe and absorb how that lovingly crafted slice of Rock n Roll has been received by the world. Now we're moving onto our last single from the album, it's about time to stop resting on the 'Sonic Boom Six' laurels and all the changes and developments that has entailed and creatively start to look forward.

That's not to say that the last few months haven't been welcome. We've played the odd festival, had some fun times and it's been cool to be at home to have a stable life and be able to eat right and exercise (the first things that fall by the wayside as soon as you jump into the Pirate Ship). But the last few weeks have been exciting with meetings, plans and talk of diversifying within, and beyond, the remit of the band. Specifically for me, that's gonna involve getting a proper start on DJing, (something I've really just played about with in the past) and making more of a go of things with my writing, a side-effect of which paying more attention to this blog is theoretically the start of.

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We've also had some recent opportunities to use the band for a few more altruistic ventures. We played a great charity show in Leicester for Oxjam this weekend and spent last Wednesday lending ourselves to make a video with the people at OMG Cameras Everywhere, who provide kids with free resources, training and opportunity to direct, produce, shoot and edit music videos. A couple of weeks back we visited the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit in Birmingham to play a few acoustic songs and meet some of the guys in the unit. We've got some footage and interviews from that coming up for those interested. These experiences have been fulfilling and put us back in touch with why we started the band in the first place and provided us with a chance to keep those flames of idealism burning, albeit in a different time and context. This idea of reflecting and looking back on why we do this on the practical level has a direct synchronicity with our recent discussions on why we do what we do on a musical level. And so, to the main point of this blog... thinking about the future.

We've been for a few meetings to consider and discuss where our heads are at and figure out where to go from here musically. One of these meetings was with a very talented producer and song-writer with a proven track record who is interested in working with us and gave us the benefit of a very frank appraisal of where he thinks we are and where he thinks we could be. We don't want to sit there and have smoke blown up our arses, but this was pretty frank stuff, with some very robust, but valued, opinions being thrown about. Discussion centralised on the concept of truly getting in touch with who and what our band, or any band, is all about and writing songs that convey that. And the idea that writing music for a perceived audience, be they a room full of punks or listeners to daytime radio, is ultimately self-defeating. A band should write the music they want to make, and hear and strive to write the best songs possible from that base. It all sounds so simple. The difficult bit is then going out and doing it. The good news is that we're all a little more inspired and motivated to write. We're currently discussing hiring a cottage or holiday home for a week and spending some time together and having fun writing again. Writing music together, for fun, for us. The way it is when you start a band. Not thinking about audience one way or the other but creating an honest expression of what we want to play and want to hear. Maybe there's a way of getting that sense of adventure and fun, that mixtape vibe, that underpins our early stuff and have it exist in the present day with bigger songs and better performances. To hell with conventions and genres and the radio and all those considerations. That shouldn't matter at the writing stage. The art that rings the truest is that which is the honest expression. And if some of the rough corners we've been compelled to file off in the past sound good to us, then we should keep them. As I say, it's where to go from here that's the difficult question and all this pontificating about the macro doesn't actually create the micro. But it's all good dinner for the duchess as no one has said, ever.

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All that's not to say that 'Sonic Boom Six' isn't still alive and kicking. We're currently sorting through lots of awesome treatments for the 'High Cost' video, some of which are great. I'm leaning towards the concept of making the video more velvet glove in terms of getting the message of the song across. The lyrics are explicit as it is, so we don't need to hammer the point home. I'm thinking a visual companion and counterpoint to the song will be better than something that goes to far in making a political statement. There's lots more on these subjects where that came from but I think I'd better save it for another day if I'm gonna be blogging once a week.

Last night we spent the evening doing the first, and only Suicide Bid rehearsal in preparation for our BoomTown Fair set. If the shows without rehearsal have set a precedent for being great, I can only imagine what the reaction's going to be now we've got our shit together, especially at a venue as up-for-it as Boomtown is.

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Alright then, I'll let you get on. Remember PLEASE to keep sending me questions, it really helps with the motivation to keep this blog happening.

Listening this week: Kanye West, Yeezus

First couple of listens left me marveling at the boldness of production but balking at the lyrics. By the third listen, I realised that only lyrics that insanely egotistical and cheeky could measure up to what's going on musically. Tremendous.

Watched this week: The Killer Inside Me (2010)

Micheal Winterbottom's stab at the classic crime novel eschews much of the novel's filthy visit into the mind of a psycho and boils the story down into a solidly-acted murder yarn. The male on female violence is for a strong stomach, but serves to underline the despicably psychotic character of the Casey Affleck character. I feel that the critic who infamously printed "I was so queasy, I had to go and stand outside. I thought I might actually faint" about the experience really needs to get her sense of perspective straight. Worth a watch.

Reading this week: Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Good Omens.

Being a huge Neil Gaiman fan but never anything remotely approaching fandom towards the work of Terry Pratchett, I've always been turned off by the smug Radio 4 tone of this book and have never made it past chapter 3. Like a mountain, this is there to be conquered, but I think I'll have to binge on some very violent, brainless comics afterwards to wash the twee out of my hair. We shall see.

Until The Sunlight Comes... Barney x

Friday, 7 June 2013

Karma is a Video



So, this weekend we worked on the video of 'Karma Is A Bitch' with the guys from Thirskploitation Films. We wanted the video to have the same kind of kinetic energy that's in the track, so I thought immediately of a horror video, with a slasher style. Maybe people being chased and having limbs hacked off shouting "she's gonna getcha!" So we got in touch with Paul Shrimpton whose work I was familiar with from his work with our mates The Autopsy Boys but also the great British horror film 'Inbred' that was filmed in Thirsk. Paul agreed that a horror vid would work great, but he came back with the suggestion of reflecting the 'Karma' theme with a Kung-Fu pastiche video. Being a big fan of Jackie Chan, Sonny Chiba and the Lone Wolf series of films, I could see right away in the synopsis that this was gonna work perfectly. Firstly, it would have the energy to rock alongside the music, and secondly it's a style that, with the right amount of effort and passion, could be brought in on a budget. All the old Kung-Fu films had to employ many techniques to work under time and money constraints so we just had to work cleverly enough that any limitations in our time and money end up looking like the tributes to the style of cinema that they are. And so, we spent three days filming our opus, with full make-up, special effects and stunt doubles. My double was an amazing martial artist, but that's not to say I'm not picking out the splinters from my arms and elbows today! I can't wait for you guys to see it. And, just to re-iterate from a concerned Facebook post, the vid is in no way meant to make fun of Hare Krishnas or have a religious axe to grind. One of our central points of reference was the film 'Mafia vs Ninja' and we simply represent the Hare Krishnas as a bad-ass gang that were all peace and love until they are crossed, and then they stop at nothing to get their revenge! It's done with tongue firmly in cheek, and I'm sure that everyone's going to see the cool intentions behind it. Seeing Laila's role in the video should be enough to make anyone laugh...

Cheers

Barney x

Thursday, 7 March 2013

I wonder when I hear sonic boom six tracks whether the politics is a gimmick » divine-providence

divine-providence:
Like there seems to be no thinking in it any more just the latest buzz words to resonate with people.
Also having followed them on twitter for a while there is no politics there either. People that actually believe in something campaign for it. I can’t help myself rebloging or talking about…
Thanks for writing the column. Someone DM’d me and asked for my reaction as it’s an open letter. I’ll try and I hope you take my points in the friendly, discussional spirit they are meant in. It’s kind of hard to know where to start.
The obvious one to me is what possible positive effect does having politics as a ‘gimmick’ have on our career? It’s the actually the exact opposite. ‘Virus’ was held off certain radio playlists for being too political. There is no gimmick or bandwagon to jump on, it’s simply something I’m compelled to do because the music that influences and stimulates me is music with a message.
I never said I was a politician, music is my primary influence. Maybe ‘being nicer to each other’ is the most important politics of all, and the only one I know for sure I support. Maybe the politics are vague, and aren’t partisan and because my politics are vague and aren’t militant. And lots of people feel that way too, and I hope that resonates with people. Heaven knows, there’s enough punk bands with big left-wing slogans out there to fill up that demand. What you find vague, I think some people find sincere.

I’ve had numerous fans complaining to me on Twitter when I have done political tweets (especially during the riots) because they didn’t want to hear it. So I shut up after the first day. We worked with the local groups with the clean up effort and took part in the concert afterwards and tried to DO things in that sense rather than rant on about it. Surely posting pictures about what demo you’ve been at or pushing your political opinions down people’s throats is more in danger of being a gimmick?

We have always striven to be a band that puts the message in the lyrics and keeps politics away from the live show in terms of talking about them between songs. We feel that velvet glove approach works. We respect bands that are more militant and we encourage activists to set up stalls on our merch from anything from hunt sabs to anti-facism and they have done in the past and will continue to do so. But we don’t do that ourselves so it’s natural that to reflect that we don’t do it as much on social networks.

A cursory look at our history will confirm that there are numerous causes and charity shows that fall fully in line with all our beliefs that we have supported, a lot, such as Love Music Hate Racism.

Maybe the real problem is that you expect our politics and political involvement to mirror yours. Sorry if they don’t. I’m assuming nothing about you but we’ve stated MANY times that we aren’t socialists, anarchists or even anti-capitalist in the full sense of the term. But we are socially conscious and I think that’s the same for a lot of kids out there and I feel that’s what makes our band interesting.

Thanks for writing the column, it was interesting to read, and I kind of see where you are hypothetically coming from, especially if your political involvement strongly eclipses mine. It might seem frustrating that we don’t do more. But for every one of you there’s gonna be a kid that gets turned off by us pushing the political thing harder, so I’m kind of sat in the position that I’m most comfortable in, which might be fence-sitting of me. I get that. But I frankly think your being unfair on us for the simple reason that the accusation of ‘bogus’ posturing rings hollow when confronted with the fact that there is no commercial or even artistic advantage drawn from writing the kind of lyrics I do in the current media climate. I do it because I’m compelled to it and because I know that there are people out there that dig hearing a point of view that mirrors their own and is unique.

Cheers mate

Barney :)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Tumblr Question Reblog: do you like horror films?! IF SO, which ones :3

Oooh good question!

I don’t just like them, I LOVE THEM. My favourite film of all time is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But I can watch a rubbish horror much easier than I can any other film and even a crappy one (like Freddy vs Jason) I will thoroughly enjoy. I watch a couple of horror films a week at least when I’m at home.

My favourites are the usual suspects really, looking up on the shelf there I can see The Wicker Man, Halloween, The Exorcist, Hellraiser, Nightmare On Elm Street, Evil Dead 2, Suspiria, Night Of The Living Dead which we all know are classics so there’s no point in going on about them.
A couple of films people may not have seen then… a favourite of mine is ‘Witchfinder General’ which stars Vincent Price (the best to ever do it!) as a demented witch hunter in Cromwell’s Britain. It has a weird, tense atmosphere (lots of stories about the goings-on behind camera abound) and is wickedly dark.

Another film from that era (60s & early 70s British folk horror) that is a favourite is a film called ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’ where a group of kids get seduced into devil worship. It’s actually on YouTube HERE so maybe that’s one to watch tonight if you haven’t already!!!

There are lots of decent horrors in the public domain speaking of watching online, including the awesome ‘Dementia 13’ and ‘The House On Haunted Hill’. There is a great List of them on Listverse HERE and a more exhaustive list HERE.
The best site for watching Public Domain horror is Horrorteque.com hands-down! Bookmark that shit!
Another film that is one of my favourites is Werner Herzog’s 1978 version of ‘Nosferatu The Vampire’, starring Klaus Kinski. It was filmed (in English & German!) in 9 days and is a beautiful film. Kinski’s Dracula is a thing to behold. I actually prefer the version where they talk in English because having everyone in their second language gives it an even stranger air than it already has. My girlfriend once hired out a little cinema and me and all my mates watched it projected! It was a great birthday and everyone loved the film.

And finally, a guilty pleasure of mine has to be ‘Deranged’, a completely batshit crazy exploitation version of the Ed Gein story (which inspired Psycho, Texas Chainsaw and… Ed Gein!) starring the wonderfully-named Roberts Blossom as Ezra Cobb. It’s directed by horror make-up great Tom Savini (who also did the interesting Night Of The Living Dead remake). Here’s a wonderful trailer for it, if you like it, it’s actually on YouTube in several parts which are linked off the trailer.

Right then, hope that answers that! That was fun, I like talking about films, so ask away everbody!

Ta!

Barney x