Sunday, 30 December 2007

The Music of 2007

That time of the year has come around again, where the calendar reaches it's end and we need to throw it away and buy a new one, where we have an excuse to get drunk and watch fireworks, and where we draw an arbitrary line in the sand as a period of time to reference events. What an eventful year this has been, we've gotten a new Prime Minister here in Australia and buried the coconut, Bush has become a lame duck as all focus is on the potential candidates for next years election (18 month election campaigns are a total waste), England bombed their Euro 2008 campaign while Pakistan was bombed by Islamic radicals, Australia won the world cup for the third time in the most farcical manner, Al Gore won a peace prize for his slideshow presentation (it was a pretty good slideshow, and he was way more deserving than Mother Theresa), and a heap of stuff more that I probably should be aware of.

In the end the year has left me with a sense of cautious optimism for the future. It's great to see the world coming together and working towards a global solution for tackling climate change, there has been a greater focus on the rights of the individual even in countries where Sharia law persists. No, it's not perfect, yes there is a lot of shit going down, Pakistan is extremely volatile right now, Afghanistan is going bad again while Iraq is still a shambles. But there is hope persisting. It will be interesting to see the impact of Blair's convoy to the Middle East, hoping we can see a Palestinian state in the next few years. But all of this is irrelevant to this blog, I just want to focus on the music of the year.

Top 10

10. Saul Williams - The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust
I've covered the crux of this album in an earlier post. At the risk of repeating myself I'll recap why I believe this is one of the great albums from this year. Saul Williams is at his lyrical best, the production values are amazing, and apart from the Drum and Bass Reznoresque cover of Sunday Bloody Sunday the album really stands out as a classic. Turn it up and listen to how an Industrial god puts most rap producers to shame. Online is the future of album distribution, great to see quality releases like this embrace the format.
Best track: WTF!

9. Electric Wizard - Witchcult Today
A great album to chill the fuck out to. It rivals the sheer crunch that was Melvins - (A) Senile Animal, it's just unbelievably consistent and the album flows seamlessly from beginning to end. Slow grinding riffs are brilliantly layered between fitting drums and solid vocals. It's one of those albums that you can appreciate just as long as you sit down and hear the whole thing.
Best track: Satanic Rites of Drugula

8. The Icarus Line - Black Lives On The Golden Coast
This album took a while to grow on me, in the beginning I was lamenting Aaron North's exit from the band and saying "boo, not as good as Mono", but the more I listened the more I enjoyed the album for what it is. They've done something different and they have done it well. It's more melodic than anything they've released before but that is by no means a bad thing. the album itself is a nice variety, oscillating from intense to laid back compositions, though the only criticism I could muster is sometimes the need for vocals overshadows the rest of the music. Though the lyrics seem quite irrelevant at times and the vocals become another instrument in the bands. Overall a solid release, worth listening to over and over again.
Best track: Slayer

7. Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos
It's always good hearing technically proficient musicians working together, sometimes the precision gets in the way of the music quality, but not on this release. Dream Theater have gotten the balance right. The riff interchange between keyboard and guitar is seamless, reminds me a lot of UK's self-titled album. It's good to see a split track, In The Presence Of Enemies is both a fantastic opener and ender. This is a seminal prog-metal release, 78 minutes of everything that is great about the genre. I look forward to seeing some of these tracks live in a months time.
Best track: Prophets Of War

6. Rosetta - Wake / Lift
No this release is not The Galilean Satellites, the band has progressed their sound into something new. A much more Post-Rock release than their last, though it hasn't stopped this band from sounding as unique as they did 3 years ago. The music is so densely layered and the long winding compositions are so meticulously fine-tuned, it is a delight to sit back and just take in from beginning to end.
Best track: Wake

5. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
I was hotly anticipating this album on the back of the quality of Miss Machine. Despite Chris Pennie defecting to C&C and Brian Bennoit taking a break due to a hand injury, they've come back and done something fantastic again. Greg Puciato has taken a much more expansive role with his vocals, there is actual singing on this release. The album itself is technically brilliant, the interplay between drums and guitar is as sublime as we've come to expect from DEP, and the song writing is more mature than ever. There are parts that are going to piss off the die-hard fans of Calculating Infinity but who cares? This is a wonderful album in it's own right, full of aggression, mathematical precision and sublime musicianship.
Best track: Dead As History

4. Dark Tranquillity - Fiction
This is just an incredibly balanced album, Dark Tranquillity have gotten the balance perfect. Melodic Death Metal at it's finest right here. The interlay between the keyboard and guitar as the melodic instrument is done seamlessly, the interlaced piano transforms the album from solid to fantastic, everything has just fallen into place. Even the lyrics are perfectly fitting for the chaos surrounding them, yet never are overbearing on the sound. The metal release of the year for sure, just listen to Icipher and see for yourselves.
Best track: The Mundane And The Magic

3. Battles - Mirrored
This was a very pleasant discovery of 2007, decided to check them out after they were added to next years Big Day Out line-up. While being a perfect example of avant-garde math-rock, most of all this is a fun album to listen to. The almost chipmunk like vocals fit beautifully over the music, elaborate compositions that you just want to dance poorly out of time to.
Best track: Tonto

2. Deerhunter - Cryptograms
A perfect mix of ambiance, post-punk and noise rock, Deerhunter have created an album truly worthy of being called a masterpiece. It captivates from the first few notes of the intro and leaves you wanting more when Heatherwood finishes. The composition is sublime, each track flows so well into the next and the mix of ambient pieces spacing out the more rock style pieces is done just perfectly. Each listen just begs me to start over again.
Best track: Heatherwood

1. Porcupine Tree - Fear Of A Blank Planet
What can I say? It's been a year of excellent prog releases. And
Porcupine Tree have made the best of all of them. One thing this album does above all others is the focus on songwriting, the intense tracks come from a perfect balance of lyrics and prog styling in a way only Steve Wilson can deliver. It's one of the best concept albums I've heard in years, it really captures the apathy that is the offshoot of modern technology and culture. Sometimes the music is a thing of beauty, the harmonies hit just convey the meaning so precisely. Since it's release in April, it's had the staying power to be played all year despite the stream of other great music out there. And the subsequent EP Nil Recurring completed and complemented this release so well. The best praise I can give it is it's better than In Absentia. Well done Porcupine Tree.
Best track: Anesthetize

Honourable Mentions
So many good albums came out this year, so this list will be a little longer than normal, but all these deserve mention in some form. No particular order to this.

* Riverside - Rapid Eye Movement
* Puscifer - V Is For Vagina
* Radiohead - In Rainbows
* Coheed & Cambria - No World For Tomorrow
* Alchemist - Tripsis
* Symphony X - Paradise Lost
* Clutch - Frome Beale Street To Oblivion
* Ministry - The Final Sucker
* The Ocean - Precambrian
* Minus The Bear - Planet Of Ice
* Unkle - War Stories
* Strung Out - Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
* Paradise Lost - In Requiem
* Down - Over The Under
* Queens Of The Stone Age - Era Vulgaris
* Rosetta & Balboa - Project Mercury
* Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
* Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
* Regurgitator - Love And Paranoia
* Arch Enemy - Rise Of The Tyrant
* Daysend - The Warning
* Skinny Puppy - Mythmaker
* 65daysofstatic - The Destruction Of Small Ideas

Just wanted to say a few more things. It's sad to see Ministry go out, been consistenly good for almost 2 decades, The Last Sucker was a fitting end to their recording career. Good to see NIN release something different and while it may not have pleased many hardcore fans, it's good to see Trent try something new. A Nick Oliveri-less QOTSA showed it could still rock, while Billy Corgan didn't quite match it for the Smashing Pumpkins reunion record. Baroness tried to copy Leviathan if it were mixed with a little Neurosis while The Ocean did a better job of staying on the forefront of what is great with modern metal. In terms of Australian music, Regurgitator released their most consistent album in a decade while Alchemist and Daysend showed that the metal scene here is alive and kicking. Radiohead captured the media's imagination with it's gimmicky fight against piracy while capturing Pitchfork's love of the band. Punk died a little more on the inside with Bad Religion's new release, though Strung Out did it's best to try something different. Marilyn Manson has faded into obscurity as his shock rock tactics grow weary and all musicians around him work on other material. And still no democracy in china...

Next year sure is shaping up to follow the spectacular. New Meshuggah, Opeth, Nevermore, The Mars Volta and Cog to name just a few I'm excited about, plus there is sure to be countless others and the second half of Year Zero. Something to look forward to in the new year I suppose.

The Gigs Of '07
2007 was my busiest year for live music ever, 12 live shows and 3 music festivals, it's left me worn out and my credit card maxed out. Still a lot of fun though.

Top 10 Sets
1. Nine Inch Nails (Hordern Pavilion, 16/09)
2. Tool (Sydney Entertainment Centre, 24/01)
3. Nine Inch Nails (Luna Park Big Top, 15/09)
4. Muse (Gold Coast Big Day Out, 21/01)
5. Slayer (Thebarton Theatre, 15/04)
6. The Cure (Sydney Entertainment Centre, 10/08)
7. Isis (The Metro, 03/02)
8. Bad Religion (Hordern Pavilion, 07/11)
9. Cog (Greenroom, 27/11)
10. These Arms Are Snakes (The Metro, 03/02)

Honourable mentions
* Kasabian (Gold Coast Big Day Out, 21/01)
* The Killers (Gold Coast Big Day Out, 21/01)
* NoFX (Manning Bar, 17/02)
* The Bronx (Greenroom, 28/02)
* Mastodon
(Thebarton Theatre, 15/04)
* Regular John (Come Together Festival, 10/06)
* Mammal
(Come Together Festival, 10/06)
* Shihad
(Come Together Festival, 10/06)
* Alchemist (Bar Broadway, 17/08)
* New Pants (Greenroom, 05/10)

Next year I already have 6 gigs lined up, including the prize scalps of Rage Against The Machine and Dream Theater. I've been waiting to see RATM since I was 14, so the teenager in me is going into overdrive. The Big Day Out line-up is great though I can foresee many clashes. And with Tool, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Coheed & Cambria all rumoured for tours within the next six months and a Rosetta tour in June (so stoked they are playing Canberra) I'm already excited about the prospects, maybe even a Helmet show to these parts as well. Though finances will keep me away from V Fest unfortunately, though Smashing Pumpkins, QOTSA & Air are tempting me more than an open bottle of fortified wine.

It's been a great few years for music, and there still are plenty of albums I didn't probably check out due to time. I look forward to the next twelve months and can only wait in wonder to see what the music world can offer me*. Happy new year!

*a legal equivalent to Oink

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Merry Chrifsmas

Rejoice, for it's that time of year again, where everything winds down at the office but everything winds up at home. The time for personal reflection of the years past while frantically organising for that one day in late December where consumerism is mixed so seamlessly with tradition. The cricket is on television and a summer of music festivals is just around the corner. So what is this blog about? Well I want to explore the idea of Christmas and what it really means in our society, also I want to explore a bit of the year that was; at least through the filtered eyes from which I see. Mainly the 2007 election in Australia. Anyway, best get too it.

"Happy Holidays"

It's interesting listening to the debate about this, on one hand we have those who talk about Christmas being a celebration of Jesus and on the other hand being that Christmas is merely an extension of pagan celebrations. And in a way they are both right. Christmas is a tradition that is derived from other celebrations that follow the Winter Solstice. There is a reason for it being December 25th after all, and no that is in all probability not Jesus' birth date. There were many traditions kept from those pagan days that have been amalgamated into Christian folklore like gift giving. But the reason we celebrate Christmas here in Australia is almost exclusively because of our historical ties to England colonialism. Of course with the take-up of capitalism, the influx of multiculturalism and not to mention the localisation as is inevitable with any tradition, which brings me to my point: traditions change.

It seems that in an effort to make society a more hospitable for everyone, there is a push to refrain from calling it Christmas, instead using the generic term "holidays". Personally I don't see the point to this, yes it's a more encompassing term, and yes it still probably does reflect all that encompasses what Christmas has come to be, but there is really no use for it. All you do is piss off the traditionalists and give ammunition to those deluded fools who thing there is a war being waged on Christianity. Not one of those real wars, but a phoney one to confirm in their minds how dangerous secularism is. Christian persecution complex at it's finest. The truth is, the label in the end is quite irrelevant. Of course churches are going to push their message about Jesus, people are going to claim that it's a Christian holiday and we are going to be inundated with the same crappy carols as we frantically push through crowds to find gifts that will probably go unappreciated. The point is that really Christmas is only a label, and it is a label entrenched into society so there is really no point in changing it, the term itself has expanded to be encompassing of multiculturalism.

The War On Semantics
A few years ago I was boarding while going to university. One of the people I lived with was probably the closest thing we have to a Fundamentalist Christian in Australia. He complained that people who aren't Christian shouldn't be allowed to celebrate Easter or Christmas, they are just taking advantage of Christian tradition as an excuse to have days off work. While initially I dismissed it as the lunatic ravings of a broken man, it made me think about what Christmas and Easter really mean in these cultures. So now, I think it was the lunatic ravings of a broken man who couldn't separate religion from culture. And I think that in it's essence is the problem. Culturally we have come on in leaps and bounds, and the holiday has changed to reflect that. You're more likely to find a family at the beach having a BBQ in between a game of cricket and swimming than seeing them in silent prayer at a church. Throwing back a few beers and discussing how the Aussies will fare in the Boxing Day test with friends and family while the kids have toys is a much more fitting image than sitting around a table saying grace. But that is just the essence of what I am saying, the reality is very different from the idealist fantasy of respect. We don't need to change the label "Christmas" because Christmas changed for us.

Santa is a more central figure in Christmas preparations than Jesus. Walking through a busy crowded centre reaffirmed just that. Crosses were few and far between while there were children with "I *heart* Santa" shirts on. Being the salvation of mankind pales in comparison to being a fat man bearing toys, or Australia is a Godless country doomed to eternal damnation thanks to the greed of children... If I'm going to hell, I'm blaming that 6 year old girl ;) But to get serious again, Santa is pretty much the ultimate embodiment of Christmas. He transcends cultures, religions and countries. And even though an obese man wearing fur clothing is going to burn up in Australia, he is the perfect symbol for the interfaith multicultural holiday that Christmas is now.

There was a recent article in the times lashing out at Richard Dawkins that I found quite disturbing. It was just one long ad hominem blasting someone for actually taking part in the cultural side without believing in the spiritual side to Christianity, the absurdity can be summed up with the following quote

"But if you loudly and repeatedly make a career of denying any possibility at all of the reality of God, how honest is it to sing?"
It's a terrible way to try and undermine a persons point of view. Hypocrisy comes from doing something you preach against. Dawkins is a supporter of the cultural aspect of the Church, anyone who actually reads the God Delusion can see how Dawkins regards religion itself as an important part of our culture. Taking away the supernatural side and being upset at the child abuse and intolerance does not mean that it's all bad. Such an absolutist view, an all or nothing approach that really is trying to reinforce that Christmas is a Christian holiday rather than a cultural one.

In the end, Christmas means a different thing to everybody. For some, it's a celebration of the deity they attribute their life's worth too, for others it's an excuse to drink and spend time with mates. For me personally, it's a day I can spend with my family and just be content with life in general. The consumerism annoys me, though I do like to both give and receive gifts, but the less time spent pushing through crowds the better.

Ruddslide '07
The election result came as a significant but pleasant surprise. It's great to see Howard finally gone and I hope that Rudd can restore some of the international parity that was lost under the Howard years. Though that remains to be seen, but there is an encouraging start with the ratification of Kyoto and the beginning steps to apologising to the Indigenous population for past injustices. It's going to be an interesting ride over the next three years, my hope is that Rudd doesn't screw everything up.

The election itself was quite an interesting spectacle, after the crushing Labor received under Mark Latham, it was going to take a minor miracle for them to win. In the end, the victory was severe enough to force the Liberal party to change their policies when it comes to the environment and work choices, but not enough to restore balance in the senate. Come July 01, the Liberals will lose their majority, but the balance of power now either rests with bipartisan support or a combination of the Greens, Family First and an Independent. Pretty daunting and it will probably ensure that nothing radical will be able to get pushed into law. There is always the chance of a Double Dissolution if the senate is too hostile.

The one sad thing about the election result is the final death-call for the Democrats. I was a huge fan of this party, and it's sad to see a moderate influence on the senate cut away to nothing. It is sad to see voters abandon the party in droves, those on the left disenchanted by the introduction of the GST and those on the right who saw the in-fighting as far too destabilising. My hope is that people will realise what they are missing and the party makes a comeback in 2010, though it's more a fools hope than anything else. Democrats, you will be missed.

Howard's legacy is an interesting one, there is a healthy dose of xenophobia and racism in there. Workchoices and the Environment really hurt him, standing blindly behind the US as the globe warms wasn't the smartest choice, nor was taking away workers rights. But I want to take a moment and single out a few good things he did:
* Gun Control - The Port Arthur Massacre was a national tragedy, something that shocked a nation. And it was a Prime Minister just 6 weeks into the job who decided to place tough restrictions on gun control. It brought the ire of some, especially followers of his own party, but he stuck to it and now Australia has a strong gun control policy.
* East Timor - It was a great step in Australian diplomacy that we stepped into East Timor and ensured the peaceful transition to independence for the former Indonesian state.

Well I've kind of run out of steam and out of time if I want to get this posted before December 25th. So Merry Chrifsmas to all.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Bad Religon and the Punk Product

In an attempt to move this blog away from just being about music and concerts, I'm trying now to add a bit of social insight as a means of somehow legitimising this blog as more than "I saw xxxxxxx". As with my last entry about the new Saul Williams CD turning into a rant against the music industry, I want to use this gig review to express the whole irony of the Punk subculture. But first, the music...

1. Bad Religion / Strung Out / Mid Youth Crisis @ Hordern 07/11/2007
After a 3.5 hour bus-ride from Canberra and a frantic search for accommodation, I made my way through Surrey Hills to the venue at Moore Park. Settled at the Fox and Lion beforehand for a few pre-gig drinks, and after accidentally being served Tooheys New instead of Extra Dry, I've resolved never to drink New again. Terrible terrible stuff. Made my way to the gig and picked up some reasonably priced merch ($35 a shirt) before heading in just in time to see Mid Youth Crisis.

One thing I love about punk music is the do-it-yourself attitude. No artwork, no special effects, and the standard lighting at the venue seemed out of place. Immediately as this band started they impressed me. Very intense, yet still had a strong focus on songwriting. As they started the 2nd track, I was worried that they would be just another punk band who found a sound then stuck to it, but no MYC were very diverse in their song structure and tone while staying true to their punk roots. There seemed to be a great enthusiasm for the 3rd billed band, and as the crowd slowly swelled, no booing heard or chants for them to get off the stage. 30 minutes seemed like a good set time, no feelings of being sold short, and apart from the vocalists slight self-gratification on-stage, a pleasure to watch.

Strung Out have released the most impressive punk album of the year to date, its refreshing to hear Punk bands that do something different with the genre. The set was a mix of new and old, and again it was well received. The circle pit expanded as people rushed while Blackhawks Over Los Angeles was played. Like MYC, the sound during the first few songs was very average. Thankfully it did improve and the last 30 minutes of their 40 minute slot sounded quite great. I can see why they have a great reputation as a live act. It was a good mix of new and old tracks, made me want to explore their back catalogue. The highlight of the set was The Calling, it sounded even better live than on CD. A 40 minute set seemed about right for them, and again they were very much a crowd pleaser, and there were quite a lot of patrons wearing their merch. All in all, I had my fun jumping around to the opening acts, so I made my way to the mixing desk so Bad Religion would sound as good as possible - The Hordern isn't the best venue in Sydney for sound, I figure being as close to the mixing desk as possible is the best way to go.

Bad Religion were absolutely fantastic live, an unforgettable punk experience. It would certainly be up there with the best performances I've seen ever, let alone out of punk bands. Even without the demigod Brett Gurewitz playing, they still put on one amazing punk show. Starting with Fuck Armageddon... This Is Hell began the almost seamless 90 minute tirade of raw punk energy. The set was a good mix of new and old, though the lack of material from The Empire Strikes First made me disappointed there wasn't a tour to support the album. The highlights from the set for me included Social Suicide, Los Angeles Is Burning, New Dark Ages, 21st Century Digital Boy and American Jesus - that seemed to be a crowd favourite as a whole.

The production was slightly more than most punk acts I've seen, though that isn't to say much. Other than the venue lighting, there was one huge piece of artwork hanging up behind them. It looked cool, especially with some of the lighting used. But like other punk acts, they used the traditional method of keeping the crowd entertained... by interacting with them. Crowd interaction is something that really has been lost in recent years by bands, its good to see one genre where talking to the crowd, telling jokes and actually trying to be entertaining isn't lost. There are a couple of bands in the metal community who do this as well, like Opeth for example, but it is a lost art nevertheless and after watching an alternative rock / punk / metal festival earlier this year (Come Together) with bands that just stood still and played there songs, it sang volumes about how little emphasis the recording age has put on performance. It's just lucky that Punk Rock has nowhere near the aggression and intensity on an overly produced CD than they do playing live. Each instrument was striving to dominate the sound yet never threatening the cohesion and tightness that the band has. I wasn't impressed with New Maps Of Hell when it came out, but live the tracks just come to life.

Overall a great show, and it will stay in my memory for a long time to come as one of the best concerts I've ever been to. It was my last major act of the year (barring a last minute dash to see Clutch in December) and it was good to finish on such a high. Bad Religion have been a band I've been wanting to see live for a year, so all I need now is a new Pennywise tour to round out the teenage punk in me.

2. The Punk Product
Okay, I know the whole "punk" movement is already shrouded in irony, but surely at one stage it must have meant something. Back in the late 70s where brightly colouring your Mohawk hair while wearing clothes that were a big "FUCK YOU" to the establishment seemed to actually mean something. You were an eyesore, the opposite of what was acceptable, you were a big zit on the arse of high society and you got in peoples faces. What happened?!? It seems as though some people haven't evolved from that statement and are hoping that people will still get offended by a big middle finger on a denim jacket...

We are a desensitised culture, what was shocking yesterday is meh today. Forget this whole PC culture we keep on being told we live in, what surprises and shocks us is very little anymore. Partly this is thanks to the media, partly the Internet, partly that we learn to tolerate what we get used to so outrageous social trends lose their shock value really quickly. Dressing up like Vivian from The Young Ones is now a punk cliché. The clothing has stayed, but the attitude has gone, now the clothes are a mark of identity with the punk culture rather than a rebellion against society.

It seems as though the one thing that keeps the punk movement together is that air of rebellion. Even if that rebellion is a myth, there is a certain attraction especially to teenagers looking towards an outlet with which to vent their frustration. Personally I think for the most part the movement is quite harmless compared to other subcultures like emo or goth, and punk is really developing a social conscience, and I find that amazing how conservatives will do what they can to marginalise the message of punk music. Anti-authority is a huge selling product, and while authority continues in it's attempt to suppress certain lifestyles, they are going to continue to manufacture dissent. Maybe that is the plan, maybe it's all part of the idea of keeping capitalism flowing. I guess the only true anti-authoritarians in this society are those who reject and do not practice modern consumerism. And there aren't really that many people who do.

In the end, there were a few people dressed as punks, using the concert like a beacon to show off their identity, but now that identity is becoming quite irrelevant. The punks of the late 70s / 80s in the vein of Vivian from the young ones are still around. Not too many people who were alive at that stage, but it is still there. Do they wear it as a means of irony in this post-modern environment? I don't think so, more so it seems like mark of symbolism to the anti-establishment movement. The 90s punks still are the same people, now in their mid 20s, now wearing jeans with a Rancid band shirt only partly covering up their tattoos. While the modern punk seems to try and go for shock value again, with lip-rings becoming passé, they've gone the route of earlobe stretching. To see a 17 year old do it seems foolish enough, to see a man in his mid 30s with them is downright funny. You don't look rebellious, you just look idiotic!

It's all aesthetic though, all of this is skin deep, a mask placed over the real person inside as a means of both standing out and fitting in. The true punks are those who actually rebel against authority rather than just feeding the system it despises. The movement hasn't grown up or out, it's become convoluted and just pushed the message "conformity is only cool if you conform to us". The only true punk left is Casey Chaos from Amen, the rest are either pointing out the ironies of the punk movement - like Fat Mike from NoFX, or are using the punk culture as a means of conveying their message. At the concert, what I saw were men and women (mainly men) who were there to see a band they have grown up listening to and wanting to experience live. And that is what the punk movement has become... for better or worse.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The inevitable rise and liberation of legal MP3s

As us format elitists are seething about Radiohead only releasing their album in 160kbps, two major events have happened recently on this front. OiNK has been shut down, and Trent Reznor has made good on his word by helping Saul Williams release their collaboration on the Internet - in the format of choosing and for only $5 US (or free if you choose)

First off, a quick word about the Radiohead album. Yes I did purchase it, I paid 4 pounds ($10AUD), and I really did enjoy the album. Personally I think its their best since OK Computer. Though I am disappointed in the sense that I "bought" the album in such a low quality. 160kbps might have been okay back on dial-up days, but in the days of Cable and high-speed broadband, I don't get the logic behind it. Especially as the audience they are aiming at are those who can tell the difference and want something more... and this leads me directly to Oink

1. The OiNK Affair
This article sums it all up tbh, its a long but very engaging read, a rant that anyone would be proud of. Oink was great for someone like me, it allowed me to get music I wouldn't normally even dream of hearing at the format of my choosing, there are so many bands that because of OiNK I've gotten into then went and saw them live. Without it, I'm lost when people recommend me new stuff.

Its not that I want to rip artists off, I don't. Though I won't deny the convenience of it all. Every time I buy a CD these days, all I do is rip it and play it through my computer or MP3 device. MP3 may not have the sound quality of CD, but MP3s are far too damn convenient. I have a huge library available at a click of a mouse button. Compared to that CDs seem bulky, archaic devices whose only real purpose anymore seems to be for the car (and even then, MP3 players are fast becoming the standard) and as a collectors item. In a wireless media world, it seems such a waste to take up precious space with CD cases, where a HDD can store thousands upon thousands of albums and be conveniently accessed.

OiNK brought something to the music industry that companies have tried to suppress: choice. It wasn't a collection of overpriced shitty pop discs like most record stores, pretty much anything you wanted was there to grab. Albums that are out of print, rare and esoteric bands that it would cost more in shipping than the album itself to get here. It was all there and at a bitrate that does as much justice as possible to the original release. And the reason all this worked so well is that it was consumer driven - the music fans sharing music with other music fans, who wouldn't want to be a part of that. The product? great music. The currency? sharing with others. But somehow the anti-piracy groups thought people were making a profit out of it and shut it down. But in truth the people who make money out of file sharing are... THE ARTISTS!

That's right, the artists make money out of file sharing. Not directly of course, but as a result of increased concert ticket revenue and merchandise sales. The great thing about filesharing is that it has taken the focus away from creating CDs (then touring in support) back to the performance aspect. While it may not be ideal for the bands themselves, its a huge win for the music loving consumers. This year alone I have seen: Tool, Muse, The Killers, Isis, These Arms Are Snakes, NoFX, Mastodon, Slayer, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails and many more. Most of which I would have never heard if I hadn't had people there to recommend me the music. And there are so many more like me that instead of paying $30 for an artist they haven't heard, they have downloaded the music, then gone and saw the band live and bought the CDs in the end.

Its the corporate entities that have built up their whole business model, the ones who are responsible for frivolous lawsuits against music fans, the ones who populate music stores with that shitty pop and generic metal, they are the ones who lose out. Their whole system is built around the CD. They have the artists tied to insane contracts. Its not about the music for them, its about the profit. And unless they understand the needs of the consumer and the artists and adapt to the global market brought on by the Internet, they will crash and burn... and I'm sure sue a few more music fans for several hundred thousand dollars in the process. Companies suing Youtube and Myspace because they are no longer in control of their product. The reason they aren't in control... CONSUMERS FINALLY HAVE A SAY

Thanks to this global distribution system, us in Australia are realising how much we are being ripped off. Our dollar is good, yet we pay $30 instead of $17 for CDs. We pay $100 instead of $50 for games. TV shows come out here months after they are screened in the US, sometimes put on at ungodly hours or aren't even shown on free-to-air TV. No wonder people in Australia feel cheated by the system. The system expects us to pay more and wait longer for a product thanks to this archaic distribution system. Well fuck that! This is the age of decentralised information. We get the news immediately, newspapers have had to adapt and move to posting articles online. As have magazines, they have become quite irrelevant with most of their content coming out online well before they are published and distributed. The system is moving forward. And now when we are all citizens of a global village, why the regional solutions still stay is beyond me. We didn't even get half of Grindhouse released here before the DVD came out in the US. No Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie period. Location shouldn't be a problem, and the Internet makes it more irrelevant as technology increases.

So bring back Oink. Throw fees on it if need be to help pay the artists who have their music replicated. The consumers now know they can get something better than the shitty pop music that fills record stores, and they can get it so much more conveniently. Adapt or be destroyed.

2. The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust
Normally I'm not a fan of hip-hop, the genre shits me (for lack of a better word), especially the crap on the charts. Saul Williams is an exception to that. And with my all time favourite artist, Trent Reznor, at the helm I was very excited to get my hands on this release.

I've got to say almost everything about this release is great. Saul's lyrics and vocal style are sublime as usual and and the music fits almost perfectly in the background. There are times when the sound drifts towards that of NIN (especially the sounds of Year Zero), but mostly the Reznoreque elements are subtlety interlaced behind the main riffs. A good example is the piano on Convict Colony. There is a big "what the fuck" to the cover of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Not that it sounds terrible, it just doesn't fit with the rest of the album. The first half of the album overall is solid, though a bit unspectacular. Unfortunately some of the time it sounds like Saul is doing an impersonation of Trent when singing, though it's not surprising given the same thing happened on Year Zero. Niggy Tardust has vocals like this, though of the whole album it has my favourite lyrics.

The highlight track for me is WTF! As a song it just fits together so well, great lyrics, fitting music, catchy chorus, and the most complex song structurally on the album. Absolutely love the outro. As the album wears on, the tracks get more and more diverse. Scared Money has a very retro funk feel while Raw is, oddly as the title suggests, stripped back to the bare minimum that constitutes a song. Skin Of A Drum is at times an Industrial Music outcast yet still carries the human touch. The last 30 minutes is a journey through different moods, points and counterpoints, lyrical brilliance coupled with pronounced accompaniment. And it all finishes so strongly with The Ritual.

Its great to see an album that gets better at it goes on, most albums put the best tracks first then descend as more and more filler songs pad out what would have been a killer EP into an average LP. But as it is with almost every single NIN album, the strongest tracks are saved until the end. Albums like this are the reason to listen from start to finish, not to take each track individually but rate it as a whole. There must be a lot of hip hop producers out there right now listening to this and feeling quite green that an Industrial musician has managed to produce a hip hop album of this quality.

In the end, this album has showed the abilities and versatility of both Saul Williams And Trent Reznor. It makes me wonder how good the Zack De La Rocha / Trent Reznor album would have sounded. And like the Tapeworm project, I guess only a few people will ever know, though I have a faint glimmer of hope that NIN leaving Interscope will clear up the contractual problems and we'll see an Internet release. After all, there is a huge legion of fans who have showed they are willing to support Internet downloads... provided its not the terrible crap available on iTunes.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Raging Against The Scalpers

Like tens of thousands of you, I sought to buy Rage Against The Machine tickets on Thursday. But unlike most of you, I succeeded. And no, this post is not to brag, or even celebrate seeing the most influential band on my life, its to address the "scalper" issue and every last whining voice blaming the scalpers for missing out.

Know Your Enemy
A quick check to eBay will show several tickets going at incredibly inflated prices. And I'm sure most of you will realise that most of them are joke bids. There is no-one in their right mind who is going to pay $4000 a ticket to see a band (maybe there are some who are truly out of their minds), and the panic about missing out it seems is causing otherwise sane people to still spend several hundred dollars to scalpers just in case its their only chance. But here is the simple truth.

* Scalped tickets made up a very small percentage of the total tickets sold
Its true. There were ~20,000 tickets sold in the space of 5 minutes. And how many of them are up on eBay. Would be surprised if 1,000 of the total will be scalped in the end. If 1,000 tickets are scalped, that is still only 5% of the total number sold and almost everyone you see at the gig will be a legitimate patron who bought the tickets with their hard earned money without dealing with the scalper scum.

* Even without scalpers you still would have missed out
Unless you were the first in line not to receive a ticket or you logged onto Ticketmaster at 9:01, there really would have been no difference in the outcome of your venture. Just one less person to blame for failure. (to those who had tickets online which the system screwed up on, you can blame Ticketmaster)

* The real reason you missed out was because demand far outstripped supply
Its a hard truth to swallow, but its a grim reality you must face. 12,500 tickets to Sydney and 7,500 tickets to Melbourne was no-one near enough to keep everyone satisfied. My guess is the BDO is going to sell out in record time and well so be ready for a shitfight for tickets. RATM are just that popular. There was a reason people camped out for 34 hours you know.

Calm Like A Bomb
For the record I think scalpers are scum. Seeing people who exploit the desperation of others is just a horrendous thing to do. Opportunistic to no end, its akin to rubbing salt into an already gaping wound. As we move into a digital age where the practice becomes easier, more anonymous and incredibly profitable, there is a growing need to stamp out this practice.

I can see why there is such an outrage off scalpers. When they can get away with charging 5 times the cost price, there is going to be that gut-wrenching reaction. Its ripping people off plain and simple. Now in a capitalist society that is fine to do (and I won't delve into the irony of RATM tickets being auctioned off), though there is a reason why it feels so wrong. There is no regulation, there is a huge profit margin - which retail stores could only dream of passing onto the consumer.

Now I'm one of those people who would pay hundreds to see RATM. Love the band, absolutely worship Tom Morello, and if the money went to them, or to a charity, or to any real cause, I'd gladly pay a huge amount. But when 80% of the cost is taken by some retard profiteering of other peoples hard work, there is no satisfaction in it. Anyone who paid a scalper is paying dirty money. And anyone who complains about scalping while purchasing tickets at well above cost price should shut the fuck up because you are the people who are keeping their business afloat.

Take The Power Back
Now here comes my pathetic attempt to act positive and offer some solution, as we all need some hope in these supposedly dark times. So here are my suggestions for ways to stop this scourge on the concert goer. Please try these options before bitching about the practice anonymously on the Internet.

* Complain to your local member
Occasionally we should remember that we live in a democratic society, one where there are rules which we need to abide by. It doesn't have to be "fuck the system" to get the social justice that RATM promotes in its music, because if there is one thing I have learnt from the religious right, its that if you decide to play the game, you can use the system very well. Talk to your local member, complain about how in a time where it was made illegal to scalp ashes tickets that it wasn't made illegal to scalp concert tickets. Complain of eBay profiteering, complain of lack of regulation, complain of people ripping fellow Aussies off. There are 2 levels of government to try, as well as potential candidates looking for your vote in an impending federal election...

* Contact the promoters directly
Not all promoters are evil and there are some who are actively taking a stand against scalping. The people who run the BDO (and are promoting RATM) took a massive stand last year, only for eBay to turn around and sue. So there are promoters on our side. But its not enough for one or two to go at it alone. Alert as many promoters as possible, raise your concerns, make sure they understand how bad the practice is. Tbh, I don't think this method would achieve anything but it needed to be said.

* Place fake bids on eBay
Sounds nice in theory, register an account, put a huge bid to inflate the price beyond anyone buying it, wait for auction to end, scalper relists, process gets repeated, in the end the scalper offers it cheap so you stop harassing them. In reality its a minor distraction and way more effort than its worth. Channel your anger and frustration some other way, something far more useful instead of just trying to band-aid the problem.

* Don't buy from scalpers
Ok, we exhausted all proper channels, now its time for the people power social justice channel all you young RATM idealists have been waiting for. Its a very simple concept really, just don't buy off scalpers unless they sell it at cost price. If people stopped paying a premium on tickets for these whores to sell to you, they could no longer turn tricks for money. If you know anyone who pays a scalper, make sure they know that they are dealing with scum. Avoid them at all costs yourself, even if you miss out to your favourite band, don't pay the premium. Its dirty, that ticket has been tainted with the bad blood. Now if only those anti-piracy ads could be extended to scalping "Scalping causes terrorism"... Nothing like moral panic to stop a practice.

Unfortunately that method requires restraint from everyone, and that is the problem in the first place. So in the end, the is no easy solution, just a series of diversions that may stop the practice. We can't rely on the government to step in and make it all better, bunch of bureaucratic bastards waiting for re-election so they can keep cashing their six-figure salaries. We can't rely on promoters, as they have to work within the confines of the system. We can't rely on each other either, as we keep paying huge amounts for tickets to whores.

I'd be interested in hearing ideas for what can be done, but I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THE REASON WHY YOU MISSED OUT WAS SCALPERS. You missed out plain and simple because there weren't enough tickets to go around. See RATM at the BDO, their set will probably be the same, they aren't The Cure after all.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

NIN @ Sydney, September 2007

Like everyone else, I was absolutely pissed off when Trent postponed the gigs in May, it was going to take a mammoth effort from the band to make up for that delay...

...and boy did they deliver!

Saturday 15/09 @ Luna Park
Luna Park isn't my favourite venue in Sydney, it really has no personality at all, not to mention it can sound terrible if not mixed right. The White Rose Movement really did sound terrible on the night, and it was not helped by the singers microphone technique. Decided to hang outside until Nine Inch Nails graced the stage. It was interesting seeing the crowd and there were a couple of "holy shit" moments, especially the obese goths wearing skirts and showing as much of their huge cleavage as possible, and the 30somethings in fishnet stockings.

Anyway to the show...

Positioned myself right in the middle about halfway back from the stage, turned out to be a great vantage point. Hyperpower was a solid opener, The Beginning Of The End sounded great, and the crowd just went off when Last began. It was a nice moment during March Of The Pigs when Trent apologised "And doesn't it make you feel better? I feel a lot better now, sorry for the delay", the track being as brutal as it was performed on Halo 17.

Apart from the always haunting Something I Can Never Have, the set kept its brutal intensity for the first hour, with strobe lights during Closer adding to the visual mystique. With the conclusion of Gave Up, the metal grid lowered and laptops were brought out for what I can only describe as "Kraftwerk gone wrong". The two Year Zero tracks came off surprisingly well live and the visual backdrop was just intense. Hearing Eraser live was just sublime, its even more intense than on the CD (if that is possible). And what they have done with Only live sounds really cool.

After the screen ascended, the show continued in much the same way as before. The inclusion of Down In It was a great surprise, as was the only two tracks played off The Fragile - No, You Don't! and The Day The World Went Away. Finishing with Hurt was a nice touch and the screen behind him was surreal.

Technical: Technically the show sounded and looked great. Very stripped back production, but still had a lot going for it visually. And aurally, they got every little bit of acoustic they could from the venue. Songs sounded fantastic, they have a real edge live that is missing on the CDs. Aaron North especially has really contributed a hell of a lot to the NIN live sound.

Performance: Performance wise, it seemed a little flat. Apart from Trent's enthusiasm, they all looked quite tired and seemed to be just going through the motions. There was still that energy, just not as much as you would expect from a NIN performance; Jeordie White seemed especially lethargic. Trent talking to the audience was great, talking about the bandmembers futures was a nice thing to do (though I was unaware at the time that this would be their 3rd last show together ever)

So in the end, it was a great show, I rate it on par with their Sydney gig in 05. Last and Eraser made my night and everything else was just icing on an already very sweet cake... Now onto Sunday

Sunday 16/09 @ Hordern
I don't think I've ever seen a band twice in 2 days where the 2nd day was better than the first. Then again, I had never seen NIN live twice... There was something different about the Sunday show, more energy in the performers, a bigger venue and crowd, everything just seemed to click.

Watched White Rose Movement this time, their sound was a lot better than the night before. Didn't blow me away but I did enjoy it on a certain level. They are the kind of band I'd watch during the day at a festival.

Even though the Hordern is essentially a Cowshed with speakers, it is a much nicer venue than the Big Top. Decided to go seated and watch rather than jump around which was a good decision, though I did feel the urge to mosh during a few tracks.

Same opening as last time, Heresy instead of Last was a worthy replacement. The Frail / The Wretched instead of Something I Can Never Have was also a great choice. Ruiner being played after Closer made my night, absolutely love that track. Also had Terrible Lie, Piggy and Reptile to add variation to the Saturday set. And I never thought there would have been a point in my life where I was so happy to hear Starfuckers, Inc. What a great way to finish the show, especially seeing it was here 2 years ago where we fucked up the clapping. Trent exercising his demons perhaps?

During The Day The World Went Away I shed a tear at Aaron North's guitar work as the realisation hit me that I wouldn't be hearing it again.

Technical: It was very much the same as the night before, though early in the performance the keyboards were a little down in the overall mix. Aside from that, no complaints about the visual or audacity of the gig.

Performance: A big improvement on the night before. Aaron and Jeordie were both a lot more energised, Aaron was everywhere, doing his moves. A highlight was him smashing his guitar right at the start of Head Like A Hole, then not being able to get a new one because of his vocal duties. Everything just seemed on about this gig, Josh Freese was at his technical best, and the little I could see of him, he was really putting on a show behind the drums.

Leaving the show I was lost for words. There weren't any adequate superlatives to describe what I had just witnessed. Possibly the best gig experience of my life. Amazing, just amazing.

Saturday: (In order)
The Beginning Of The End
March Of The Pigs
Something I Can Never Have
Closer (The Only Time)
Gave Up
Me I'm Not
The Great Destroyer
The Good Soldier
No, You Don't!
The Day The World Went Away
Dead Souls
Down In It
The Hand That Feeds
Head Like A Hole

Sunday: (In order)
The Beginning Of The End
Terrible Lie
March Of The Pigs
The Frail / The Wretched
Closer (The Only Time)
Gave Up
Me I'm Not
The Great Destroyer
The Good Soldier
No, You Don't!
The Day The World Went Away
The Hand That Feeds
Starfuckers Inc.
Head Like A Hole

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Atheism is a religion... WTF?!?

Atheism is a religion in the same way that starvation is a meal.

Now I know there are some people who will say "but Atheism requires belief in nothing, and belief defines religions", but there is a huge difference between the two. Religion implies so much more than just a personal belief set.

1. Religion is organised thought - ever heard of a single person who has had crazy beliefs having them defined as "religion"? NO! You know why, because religion requires many people sharing an ideal before it becomes valid. And even if those people share that ideal, it still requires organisation, it requires gathering, invoking rituals and procedures. Atheism has none of that. You can't have that with non-belief. And no, the answer is not 42, though it is a much better answer than anything offered by any religions.

2. Religion tries to answer the the ultimate question - Religion is an attempt to explain the unexplainable, and in doing that uses metaphysical entities. Atheism does not have a single metaphysical entity, it doesn't not claim to know any answers, it does not give any indication whatsoever as to any possibility of this life or the next.

3. Religion is more than personal philosophy - As much as the religious like to dismiss the non-religious as followers of science (be honest, how many times in a debate have you heard "science is your religion"), they are not the same thing. A theory in science is not the same thing as a theory in religion. Creationism and Evolution may both be called theories, but they aren't comparable. One is based on myth and assertion, the other is based on observation and supporting evidence. Atheism holds no judgement on evolution, but does hold judgement on creationism because creation is just mythic storytelling.

4. Religion installs morality - Whether through a divine eternal judge deciding on the fate of your soul or dogma handed down through mythic storytelling over the centuries, religion tries to install a sense of morality on its population. Atheism reserves no judgement. People who are atheist are free to make up their own mind on abortion, homosexuality, war, etc, there is no paternal influence pushing certain views with the fear of divine retribution for disobedience. There is no morality in atheism, only personal morality.

The obvious question that needs to be answered is: If atheism is not a religion, why are atheists covered by freedom of religion?
Its covered in the same way that someone going to a banquet can refrain from eating the food. Freedom is the freedom not to do something as well as do it. Freedom of speech guarantees the right to silence. The right to bear arms does not make gun ownership mandatory.

Point is, atheism is just a tag to those who choose not to be religious. But at the same time, I'm atheist (reject all religions), agnostic (don't know the answers to the universe) and anti-theistic (I'm against all religions). those there are completely different things, but I fall under all those categories based on religious assessment of my thoughts. I can't be a Jew-Christian-Hindu, religion implies mutual exclusivity. Non-belief is not a belief.

And another question I suppose is: Are atheists moral?
Recently they conducted a poll of US households about which minorities are least trusted. Surprisingly to me, Atheists are the least trusted group, behind Muslims and homosexuals. (not that I have anything against Muslims and gays, I just thought Americans hated them more than atheists given the last election campaign) . The reason I see as why is that the religious, especially the fundamentals, derive their entire belief set from one source, a holy source, that if you don't obey, you will suffer the wrath for disobedience. They follow the bible as an ethical code, and provided you ignore a lot of the dogma, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Though, as I'm sure very few fundamentals would admit, the bible is not their only source for morality. No single person follows the bible cover to cover (thank God for that!), each person picks and chooses what is right. Homosexuality is evil? Leviticus covers that. Stoning someone for taking God's name in vein? Leviticus covers that too. No surprise that the religious-right is quick to refer to Leviticus when homosexuality is on the table, but who among them will cast the first stone (literally) when a child speaks out. Maybe it would serve Fred Phelps better to use his fag-hating followers going church to church killing children who dare defy Yahweh. Certainly a better and more moral use of his time than what he does now. There is a good reason he doesn't though, and that is that stoning blasphemous children is no longer considered moral as a society.

And that random sequitur brings me to my point. Religion does not determine morality, society does as a whole. We as individuals have learnt best how to behave together and work as a whole to ensure our best means to survive. Morality is a group experiment, and as we have seen over the last century, as multiculturalism as increased, our values have changed. And its been by far for the better. Women are no longer regarded as servants to their husbands, capital punishment is no longer acceptable in almost all parts of the world, we have rights and conventions for those captured during war, as a society what we have put into place on a global scale is staggering if you go back just 100 years. As we look at the middle east (or Africa), a place where religious fundamentalism has not been altered by a progressive society, religious rule of laws and ethics not suited post-enlightenment age still are in place. Yet "Christian" societies were as the Islamic societies are now.

Atheism does not install any morality, but consider the following things:
1. Atheism does not install any morality - An important point on its own. Won't see me dying to get 72 virgins.
2. Atheism is grounded in reality - This life is all that matters, because as far as we can tell, this is the only life we have. No acting in this life for the next one, we know that what we do here affects the living - not the dead.

If you are unsure about how an atheist has morality, I suggest you look up secular ethics. Its a fascinating topic, and hopefully leads to a further understanding of atheists in society.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Concert Review: Alchemist "Tripsis" CD launch @ Sydney 17/08/07

Its not often I travel to Sydney to see a local act, but I happened to be in the city at the time, and going was my way of not feeling guilty for missing Alchemist's Canberra gig 2 weeks earlier.

It took me a long time to discover Alchemist, and once again after hearing them, I'm kicking myself for not having got into them earlier. I saw Daysend at Come Together, and was looking forward to seeing them again. For $15, it was always going to be a good value show.

Got to the gig as Five Star Prison Cell, must say from the limited amount I heard of them, they aren't my style. Will check them out more thoroughly if I get a chance in the future. From what was described to me, I feel bad about missing The Veil and will definitely check them out in the future.

were on form and performed a blistering (but brief) set. It was a very similar set to what they performed at Come Together, and it really had the crowd going. Its great to see an Australian Melodic Death Metal band, especially with a vocalist who can do more than just death growl. They were energetic, enthusiastic and technically proficient, and it was unfortunate they were cut off early due to how late the gig was running.

What can I say about Alchemist? I've always praised Shihad for their live sound, but this band was hands down the best live sound I've ever heard an Australian band produce. The set was a good mix of new tracks off their forthcoming album Tripsis, and the highlights from their back catalogue. Chinese Whispers in particular blew me away. I can't help but think that this band would be a lot more well renowned if they had originated in Europe or the US.

They finished with their cover of Eve Of War, and even though there was no encore due to time constraints, the 75 minutes they were on was plenty to keep the fans happy. I've finally found a local act who I will see every possible chance I get.

And with this being an album launch, I have to make mention of Tripsis. I was lucky enough to pick up one of the 15 copies available for sale (so I was told), and after a few listens, this is one of my favourite albums of the year. Its a lot more heavy and focused than their previous few releases, and although it doesn't have the same level of "psychadelia" their last few efforts have contained, its a very streamline and heavy release well worth the purchase. If you are an Aussie Metal fan, support the local scene. If you aren't Australian, track this down, it stands up with the major metal releases of the year (and surpasses almost all in my honest opinion).