Mixed Media

BBC Radio 1 Celebrates 40 Years of White People

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 4:34 PM EDT

Macca on Radio 1
The BBC's venerable pop-music outlet, Radio 1, turns 40 years old later this month, and to celebrate, the network is featuring ten days of special shows hosted by major figures in music. The series, called "Radio 1 Legends," kicks off on September 17th with Sir Paul McCartney, then continues with more guest DJs:

Dave Grohl (9/18)
Gwen Stefani (9/19)
Paul Weller (9/20)
Paul Oakenfold (9/21)
Noel Gallagher (9/24)
Debbie Harry (9/25)
Arctic Monkeys (9/26)
Ozzy Osbourne (9/27)
Norman Cook (9/28)

Okay, first of all, of course dance music is central to Radio 1's history, but Oakey and Fatboy Slim?! Were, um, Rob Da Bank and Jive Bunny not available? Secondly, I know I just posted about the trouble with demanding social realism from our art, and I also know this is the BBC, but I'll go out on a limb and say that non-whites have made some contributions to music in the last 40 years. Perhaps one of them could have been included?

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New iPods Have WiFi! Somebody Give Me $399!

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 4:09 PM EDT

iPod Touch Well, there was no big announcement of The Beatles coming to iTunes, but this is pretty cool: Steve Jobs just announced a new line of iPods that are basically iPhones without the phone complication. The "iPod Touch" will have the same full-screen touch interface as the iPhone, and will be able to connect to iTunes via WiFi. This may seem a little silly, but I have to admit whenever I travel and see a record store in an airport, I think, "why can't I just walk in there and aim my iPod at a thingy and grab a new song?" Well, now, basically, I can—if I just spend $299 for an 8GB model or $399 for a 16GB.

Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics, here on the Riff. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive. Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out (except the homophobia part). Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos. Reports Variety:

Just as his colleagues on other committees have summoned TV execs to be grilled on sexual or violent content, Rush wants to hear from the leaders of companies purveying rap music. The intent is to examine commercial practices behind the music's most controversial content.

"I want to talk to executives at these conglomerates who've never taken a public position on what they produce," Rush said. "But it's been surprisingly very difficult to get them to commit to appearing."

Witnesses include toppers Philippe Dauman of Viacom, Doug Morris of Universal Music Group and Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music Group... So far, only one artist has committed to appearing—Master P, who began his career as a gangsta rapper but has since focused on positive messages and images in his music.

Hey, they've even got a catchy title, to distract from that whole First Amendment problem:

Currently titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degradation," the hearing is intended to address "what is certainly a timely issue and one that won't go away," Rush said. ...Rush stressed that this is "not an anti-artist hearing, or antimusic or antiyouth hearing." He said he's hoping for voluntary—not regulatory—solutions. "I respect the First Amendment, but rights without responsibility is anarchy, and that's much of what we have now. It's time for responsible people to stand up and accept responsibility."

I'd been wondering what to call this rights-without-responsibility feeling I've been having. Hooray, it's anarchy! And any sentence that begins "I respect the First Amendment, but..." is gonna be an awesome sentence.

In all seriousness, it's mostly just sad that this hearing will do nothing to illuminate the troubling issue of offensive art versus free speech, or of representation of offense versus actual offense, issues that have vexed us for a while. If we rely on the media to represent ourselves and our interests, then it's easy to want art to portray our ideal society, not our real society, or a negative fantasy. The problem is, not everyone has the same ideals, and if the government is involved—even assuring us they're "hoping" not to use "regulatory solutions"—the effect is one of intimidation and censorship. Furthermore, why hip-hop is being singled out seems far more nefarious than some offensive lyrics. God forbid our elected officials might focus on making real efforts against poverty and inequality that might lead to social changes and less-offensive art.

Hooray for Beard Team USA!

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:19 PM EDT
beard180.gif

If you are, like me, devastated that you missed the World Beard and Moustache Championships in England last weekend, despair no longer: You can find pictures on Time's website. The sideburns freestyle competitor alone makes it worth a look.

In case you're wondering, which you obviously are, how Beard Team USA did, they made our country proud and picked up a few awards. You can read about it on their blog. (Yes, really.)

New(-ish) Music: Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:29 AM EDT

Because of the holiday weekend and a jaunt to DJ down in LA, I thought I'd take a week off from the Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things. But don't fret, Riff readers, I've still got lots to say about new music, I'll just post about it randomly.

Keep Reachin' Up
My first exposure to Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators was via their single, "If This Ain't Love." At first it's easy to lump the track into the current neo-soul trend with Amy Winehouse and her backing-band-sharing compadre Sharon Jones. With Willis' silky-smooth voice and the jazzy backing track (not to mention the retro album cover), "Love" seems like a straightforward throwback at first listen; but closer attention shows there's more going on here.

"If This Ain't Love"

The track's minor-seventh piano chords and unexpected melodic twists are unabashedly modern, and the flute solo at the end verges on psychedelia. This is retro, but set entirely in the present.

Klaxons Win Mercury Prize

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 6:06 PM EDT

Klaxons
In a surprise upset, London-based trio The Klaxons have won the Mercury Music Prize for best British album of the year, moments ago at a ceremony in their hometown. The band were dubbed "new rave" by snarky critics who took their often sci-fi or mystical references (and somewhat danceable beats) as a sign of the return of ecstasy and glowsticks, I guess. However, the band's debut album, Myths of the Near Future, is actually far more complex and textured than such a description might imply. "Gravity's Rainbow" is an intense, bass-led track reminiscent of Bloc Party, while "Golden Skans" is more acoustic, with its falsetto refrain of "ooh-ee-oohs," although just as urgent. It's a very good album, but the best one from a British artist this year? Well, sorry, Bat For Lashes!

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Preview New Sigur Ros Documentary

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 5:06 PM EDT

Iceland is pretty
While Boing Boing might call me inhuman for this, I'm annoyed by Icelandic quartet Sigur Ros. I can't explain it: I'm a huge fan of abstract, soundscape-y music, from The Cocteau Twins to Godspeed You Black Emperor! Plus, I've been fascinated with Iceland in general since hearing about that town that beat the volcano when I was a kid. For a while, I really tried to like Sigur Ros (pronounced "See-hur Roce," with the lightest of trills on the final "r" in "Sigur"), since everyone I know likes them. One night a few years back I attended their show at the Warfield here in San Francisco, and after a while found myself feeling annoyed and uncomfortable. I couldn't figure out why, until it hit me: I just don't like this music. The willfully obscure vocals and odd instrumentation masked treacly melodies and hackneyed emotional builds, like a Hallmark card foisted on an unsuspecting hipster public. Finally, after one too many falsetto "ya-yooee-yoos" from lead singer Jon Birgisson, I walked out.

So I'm a skeptic when it comes to Heima, the new film the band is producing that features live performances at different venues across Iceland. However, the trailer is breathtaking, at least visually (a still is pictured above). The band are featured in odd locations, including in front of a small town church, in the middle of a field, and what appears to be an abandoned factory, often with small audiences of what looks like regular Icelandic families; these performances are intercut with stunning shots of Iceland's stark natural beauty. Heima will hit your local multiplex (or, uh, not) when it's released this fall along with a compilation album from the band. Will I be converted? Or do I even deserve to see it after expressing such blasphemy?

Watch the trailer here.

Winehouse Shows Up For Mercury Prize Ceremony

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 3:44 PM EDT

Winehouse
Gigwise is reporting that troubled singer Amy Winehouse has arrived at the Grosvenor Hotel in London for the Mercury Music Prize ceremony, set to begin in just a few hours. Her arrival is fueling speculation that she is tapped to win the award, given out for best British album of the year. Her appearance was far from assured; in fact, NME reported a few hours ago that Winehouse would be pulling out of the ceremony, only to pull the story and instead post an article about the singer's arrival and soundcheck.

As we noted earlier, Winehouse's personal issues and alleged drug use caused London bookies to knock down her odds at winning the annual prize; she had been considered the front-runner. While newcomer Bat For Lashes' haunting Fur and Gold is now the current favorite at 7/4 odds, rumors are apparently circulating that Winehouse, who flew into the UK just yesterday, changed plans to be at the ceremony in anticipation of a win.

NME writers are, understandably, pulling for so-called "Nu Ravers" The Klaxons, and solo electronic artist Maps remains a dark horse with his dreamy album We Can Create. 21-year-old singer Jamie T is also considered a strong contender, with oddsmakers placing him just behind Bat For Lashes. Personally, I highly enjoy Winehouse, The Klaxons, Maps, and fellow-nominees Arctic Monkeys, but Bat For Lashes is my fave too, if only for the trick-riding bunnies in her video.

That clip and some other nominees' videos after the jump; stay tuned to the Riff where we'll post the winner when it's announced.

Led Zeppelin Reunion Gig For Real?

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 12:53 PM EDT

Zep
Reunion fever continues this week, as fans debate whether the legendary English rockers will come back together for a performance this fall. Tickets for a supposed Zeppelin show at the O2 Arena (housed in the former Millenium Dome in London) are being advertised by Premier Entertainments, but the band have offered no confirmation, and promoter Harvey Goldsmith says he's concerned people are being "fleeced." He released a statement saying that there are "at least four events being advertised which I suspect either don't exist or where no tickets are on sale or indeed dates finalized." The vague language is giving fans hope that the remaining members of Led Zeppelin, who disbanded after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, will perform together for the first time since a gig at Atlantic Records' 40th birthday celebrations in 1988. The tickets from Premier Entertainments have no official date apparently advertised the show's date as November 26th and come packaged with hotel accommodations, prices starting at £269. That's $541 at current exchange rates. You know, you could see Wolfmother 15 times for that kind of money.

Friday a Wry Day for Music News

| Fri Aug. 31, 2007 2:15 PM EDT

R.E.M.

  • R.E.M. are putting the finishing touches on their new album with producer Jacknife Lee, their first since 2004. "Working rehearsal" shows in Dublin pointed towards a more straightforward, guitar-based sound on the new material, which Mike Mills confirmed to Billboard magazine, saying the band is using fewer overdubs and keyboards. The as-yet-unnamed album is set for release in 2008.
  • U2 are totally copying them! Their new album, also their first since 2004, is being rehearsed, according to producer Daniel Lanois, and set for a 2008 release as well. Lanois said Brian Eno is also involved in both writing and producing the material; some of the band's best albums, including The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby, were produced by this duo, although their most recent album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, was mainly produced by Steve Lillywhite.
  • Will Apple announce the arrival of the Beatles catalog to the iTunes music service on Wednesday, September 5th, at their "special event" in San Francisco? The ads say "The Beat Goes On," and Ringo's solo work was added to iTunes today.
  • The sad Amy Winehouse saga gets slightly sadder: Bookmaker Ladbrokes has lowered the singer's odds to win the UK Mercury Music Prize, for which she was the frontrunner. Bat For Lashes' Fur and Gold is now the favorite, with 9-4 odds, compared to Winehouse's 11-4.