What We Started (2017)

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WHAT WE STARTED (2017)
RATING: ★★★
DIRECTORS: Bert Marcus, Cyrus Saidi
STARRING: Carl Cox, Martin Garrix, Pete Tong
CERTIFICATE: 12A
RUNNING TIME: 94 mins
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: US

A documentary about dance music feels like a contradiction in terms; to document what is an intuitive, primal, physical activity risks robbing its essence. That said, the form’s history is as colourful and politically charged as the well-worn, hoary old saga of rock, and co-directors Bert Marcus and Cyrus Saidi give a decent, star-witness-studded account of the evolution of sexually-liberating New York disco to the more consumer-led EDM (electronic dance music) of today. Fresh footage of fiftysomething Carl Cox working a crowd over a ten-hour all-nighter in Ibiza is contrasted with 18-year-old, laptop-enabled Dutch bedroom wizard Martin Garrix inarticulately awed by a dance festival’s tens of thousands whom he will coax into ecstasy with EDM’s signature move, the pause and climactic “drop”. What We Started pays respect to pioneers Paul Oakenfold, Louis Vega and Pete Tong, and teases old-school opprobrium from them as they accuse today’s “superstar DJs” of lacking their hard-won turntable skills in a USB-stick age. Does the technology matter? The jury’s out in what is two-sided account. But the granddads certainly have better war stories to tell.

 

 

NB: We are experiencing technical problems at Radio Times and are unable to post this review. So I’m putting it up here for the time being.

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2015: the year in music

CarolFoalsWhatWentDownHoneymoonLanaDRsleafordmodskeymarketsRoughnecks+RoustaboutsYoungFatherswhitemenJohn_GrantGreyTicklesBlackPressureKendrickLamarToPimpaButterflyAdele25WolfHallsoundtrackjamiexxBlurMagicWmaccabeesmarkstoproveitSurfaceTensionimageJHotChipWhyMakeSense

Well, I surprise myself. (And at my age, that’s a surprise in itself.) I have a solid 15 albums, all released this year, worthy of compiling into an end-of-year list. I will put them in qualitative order, despite the iniquity of doing so – I purchased three of these albums in the last couple of days, keen to catch up, so while the majority have had a really meaningful run around my head in the car (we drove from London to Cork in October, there and back, and many points inbetween, with a battery of CDs to guide us), on foot and on public transport, Adele, Kendrick Lamar and John Grant have some catching up to do. What the hell. Here goes.

1. Sleaford Mods Key Markets Harbinger
2. Adele 25 XL
3. Young Fathers Black Men Are White Men Too Big Dada
4. Carter Burwell Carol Varese Sarabande
5. Foals What Went Down Transgressive
6. Jamie xx In Colour Young Turks
7. Debbie Wiseman Wolf Hall Silva Screen
8. John Grant Grey Tickles, Black Pressure Bella Union
9. The Maccabees Marks To Prove It Fiction
10. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly Interscope
11. Pete Williams Roughnecks + Roustabouts Basehart
12. Rob St. John Surface Tension Rob St. John
13. Hot Chip Why Make Sense? Domino
14. Lana Del Rey Honeymoon Interscope
15. Blur The Magic Whip Parlophone

Sleaford Mods have been my lifesaver this year. I am at an age where I don’t expect to have my head turned by new artists (or newer artists, if you got there before me, and I rather expect you did). But this pair of East Midlands fortysomethings with their bendy vowels sounded as good as they read on paper. Good to get in at the ground floor with their eighth album – and I promise to dig backwards forthwith – but I’ve found it difficult not to play Key Markets through my ears. The only problem with it is that it demands your full attention. It’s not background music. So I’m reading less on public transport. And hearing the word “coont” a lot more.

I don’t discover music or artistes any more. How could I? I come to them at my own speed, and pay for the pleasure. I am no longer someone record companies or pluggers send records to. Why would they? (Actually, the quality indie reissues house 3Loop do, and I appreciate their loyalty.) This means I have entered a state of grace. I am a 6 Music listener, a Guardian music section reader and viewer of the BBC’s scant musical output (Later … With Jools Holland, Glastonbury, essentially) and these three institutions continue to direct me to a physical record shop on a physical high street. Not every month. Often in mini-binges, to catch up (and the prospect of a driving holiday in Ireland caused a phenomenal influx in late September).

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The big change in listening in 2015 has been Classic FM, who took me on in March. On a weekly basis this year I’ve been helping to curate a two-hour show of orchestral movie music and it’s been an education, as well as an excuse to play scores I already love. I’ve included two new, full scores in my Top 15, Carol and Wolf Hall, as I’ve listened to both as albums and returned to them again and again. The bulk of my iPod year has been taken up with classical music, and my savage breast is all the calmer for it.

And a final note about Kendrick Lamar. It was 6 Music and Alexis Petridis who between them led me to this artist and what turns out to be his third LP, and his second million-seller. Who knew? I bought the album – the “album of the year” for many critics – having only heard two tracks, and while slightly disappointed by the amount of “motherfuckers” on it, it’s clearly a work of uncommon invention and pluralism, and is a friend of jazz. I’ll need to try harder to get into it, as I really don’t like the interludes, but there’s something going on here, I’m just late to the party. As always.

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Oh, and a nice little link between two very disparate LPs: Rob St John’s delightfully immersive multimedia experience Surface Tension is based on recordings taken along the River Lea in London (it’s an elementally London record); Adele’s 25, which may have sold one or two more copies than Rob’s but they’re not really competing for the same audience, contains a lovely, gospelly song called River Lea. You have to look for connections, but they are always there. Buy both.

Music 2013: Where are we now?

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Ah, music. A whole calendar year without once stepping in front of the mic at 6 Music has seriously affected the equilibrium of my musical clearing house. Though I seem to have been jettisoned by the network, my DJ’s pigeonhole was not sealed up, so some new music still got through, thanks to an assortment of kindly pluggers and expectant artists and managers, all of whom were sending me records in good faith that I might play them on the radio. This was not to be. (My only success in this regard was composing a piece celebrating 80s indie for Front Row on Radio 4, which allowed me to play short bursts of classics like Candy Skin by the Fire Engines and Don’t Come Back by the Marine Girls on national radio, not to mention plug Cherry Red’s historic Scared To Get Happy compilation.) Still, it means I have heard some new music in 2013, although not much. As I have discovered to music’s cost, there’s nothing like having a radio show to focus, organise and refresh your musical tastes. (I still miss the good influence of Josie Long and it’s been two years now!)

My exile from 6 Music has nonetheless pushed me back into the real world, where albums must be purchased. This really concentrates the mind. It makes your purchases more conservative. You buy records by artists you already like – Arcade Fire, My Bloody Valentine, a resurgent David Bowie – although I’d lately lost my faith in Arctic Monkeys and hadn’t even sought out their new album AM for old times’ sake, but then I saw them storm it on Later and I put my money on the counter. So that’s how it works. I won’t order my Top 10 albums, as in earning a place here, they are all winners. I am on friendly terms with three of these artists. Luckily, they have all made records I like this year.

My Bloody Valentine m b v (m b v)
David Bowie The Next Day (ISO/Columbia)
Arcade Fire Reflektor (Sonovox)
Jon Hopkins Immunity (Domino)
Various Artists Scared To Get Happy (Cherry Red)
Kitchens Of Distinction Folly (3Loop)
Billy Bragg Tooth & Nail (Bragg Central)
Jim Bob What I Think About When I Think About You (The Ten Forty Sound)
Chris T-T and The Hoodrats The Bear (Xtra Mile)
Arctic Monkeys AM (Domino)

RSJ-SEVENinch-Alouise_sleeveWonderStuffGetUp

I accept that the modern music scene is based on tracks, but I shall continue to call them songs, as I pretty much hate the modern world. A few songs have filtered through and found purchase and these are them.

Rob St John and the Coven Choir Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey/Shallow Brown (Song By Toad)
Steve Mason Fight Them Back (Double Six)*
Cud Louise
Daft Punk Get Lucky (Daft Life/Columbia)
Cloud Boat Wanderlust (Apollo)
This Many Boyfriends Tina Weymouth (Angular)
Low Plastic Cup (Sub Pop)*
The Wonder Stuff Get Up! (IRL)**

*These singles both came out at the very end of 2012, but I didn’t hear either until 2013, and I think they were on albums released in 2013, so fuck off.
**I think this one did, as well.

Sacred Dancing

Released on Friday, Pina by Wim Wenders is far and away the best film I’ve seen this week – and bear in mind I have also seen the remake of Arthur and The Fast & The Furious 5. It isn’t really very fair to compare it with the other films as it sits apart. It’s a sort of documentary-cum-memorial to the radical German choreographer Pina Bausch by her friend Wenders. They were collaborating on the project – which is ultimately a presentation of four of her dance pieces on film – but she died of cancer in 2009. He saw it through to fruition as a tribute. And a tribute it certainly is. I’m a latecomer to the pleasures of seeing dance performed live, as regular readers will know, but I’ve been thrilled by some of the ballet and modern dance I’ve witnessed over the last couple of years, from the Royal Ballet to Michael Clark, and, judging by the physicality and originality on display in Pina, I’d love to see it live. There’s something sanitising and distancing about seeing it on film. And if that’s sounds elitist, it’s meant only as an objective observation. I’ve seen two theatre plays, live, but in a cinema, in the past six months, and I found both to be compelling and worthwhile – and indeed, some of the camera work and close-ups made the experience more cinematic than theatrical. Make of that what you will. This film makes something physical almost metaphysical, if you’ll excuse the pretence. (I am in arthouse mode.)

The film is in 3D. It’s being sold as the first 3D arthouse movie, but who cares about firsts? Does it enhance the experience of watching modern dance being danced in front of your eyes? Yes it does. For once, the 3D is justified. It’s not a gimmick. Wenders hasn’t necessarily staged bits purely to show the technique off. What he’s done is apply the technique to what’s unfolding in front of him, and used it to clarify the picture, and exaggerate the depth of field. Much of the performance is done on a darkened stage in Wuppertal, in the Ruhr region, where Bausch’s dance company have always been based. She is, or was, I have learned, an elemental choreographer; thus, we see a bare stage on which a shallow river is formed by cascading rain, which runs under a huge rock; in another sequence, the dancers move across a stage entirely carpeted in reddish peat soil, making footprints, clawing into it, and getting all mucky in the process as the dirt mingles with their sweat. This is amazing to watch, even in 2D I should imagine, but the 3D sharpens it all up.

Wenders’ best trick is to relocate some of the routines to the outdoors; that is, a quarry, a river, the central reservation in a traffic intersection in Wuppertal, or inside the carriage of one of the town’s iconic monorail trains (previously seen in black and white in Wenders’ lovely 1974 road movie Alice In The Cities). The colours are beautiful outside, and the dancers seem both out of place in their finery, but also, surreally, part of the landscape. There’s a short sequence where a male dancer jigs about in a precinct while a small dog tries excitedly to bite his legs. It’s just one of many arresting visual moments in a film that’s full of juxtaposition and gags. There’s an astonishing sequence in a river with an artificial hippo that also has to be seen to be believed.

The dancing is very sexualised, especially when two groups, one male, one female, interract across the field of dirt. I loved the long procession, featuring the entire company, all repeating the same seasonal hand gestures as they walk in time, which is pictured above. It’s simple but hypnotic and dazzling. If there’s one problem with the film, it’s the decision to allow the individual dancers to pay tribute to their beloved, inspiring, saint-like Pina by gushing about her to camera. These might have been fine in a South Bank Show, but they interrupt the flow of the film. And it’s a film all about flow. We should be left to interpret and assess Bausch’s ingenuity and invention on our own, without prompting.

It’s showing at the Curzon in London, in 3D, and if it’s anywhere near you, have a look, even if you think that 103 minutes of modern dance is not your thing. Even though seeing it on a screen rather than on a stage makes it a substitute for the real thing, thanks to Wenders’ eye, much of it is utterly cinematic. The other brilliant thing about Bausch’s company is that they span all ages, it’s not just about lithe, borderline-anorexic, tight-buttocked young things as are most ballets, this is about a full picture of life.