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lucdarling asked: mods vs. rockers - what side are you on, and why?

Forgive me, but in addition to answering your question, I’m going to co-opt it into a quick breakdown of mod and rocker subcultures, because triforce-of-brixton asked me to explain even though I am incredibly unqualified, and so I thought I might kill two birds with one stone.

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Update: I think we’re done for now – and wow, I did not expect to go for six hours – but everyone seemed to enjoy it, so I’ll definitely be doing it again, and I’ll definitely let you guys know when it happens.  Thank you for stopping by!

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lucdarling asked: Would you make a mixtape that highlights the variations in the ska genre?

Sure, I can do that!  Although I’m not sure “I was a teenage rudeboy” really qualifies me to make educated commentary on the evolution of ska.  Still, though, it would be great if more people were familiar with what’s out there and where it came from and what it generated.

Here’s the mixtape; feel free to skip the commentary if you’d like.

Let’s talk ska, as a concept in its entirety, for a second.  It came from a fusion of Jamaican traditional music with American dance, rhythm and blues, and jazz of the 1950s.  It evolved as rock’n’roll began to take over the American market, because the heart of the Jamaican music scene was dance, and the new American music was aimed at middle-class white people and didn’t much lend itself to dancing.  As a result, the “sound system,” a stack of turntables and speakers generally hosted in the bed of someone’s truck and travelling around to create mobile street parties, became popular in Jamaica as DJs tried to keep the waning rhythm and blues scene alive.

Eventually, there weren’t enough new records coming in from America to satisfy the locals, so sound system operators began producing their own limited-edition cuts (usually just enough for them to play on their own machines), and eventually the American sound gave way to local fusion music.  Traditionally Caribbean sounds like offbeat guitar, notes on the upstroke and walking bass merged with attempts at copying the rhythm and blues shuffle, and what came out of that was the first wave of ska.

That lasted for about a decade, but as American music evolved past rock’n’roll, so did ska – into rocksteady, a slower, more rhythmic sound with more ornamentation, and reggae, even slower and with more syncopation.  It’s practically impossible to disentangle ska from rocksteady from reggae, and so you’ll often (unfortunately) find it all grouped under the reggae label.  It’s worth exploring the differences!

2-tone, the next wave of ska and decisively the one that first got me hooked, didn’t arise until the late 1970s and started in England (chiefly Coventry) at about the same time as the punk scene was getting underway.  The music was a fusion of everything from ska to punk to mod to pop, and the subculture had its own mode of dress (tonic suits, ties, loafers, pork-pie hats).  2-tone bands were crazy prolific during the time they reigned supreme and are still some of the most popular and best-known ska out there.

In the 1980s, ska took off in the rest of the world, notably continental Europe and Asia, and kicked off the third wave, a more punk sound than anything had ever been before it; that spread to Australia, South America and, eventually, the United States.  At that point, “ska-with-punk-leanings” gave way to actual ska punk, and paved the way for other punk fusion bands in the 1990s.  The underground ska and punk scene exploded; several hotbeds of ska-core arose in America (most notably in New York and California), Canada became a notable producer of third-wave ska (particularly out of Montreal), and the revitalized genre enjoyed nearly a decade’s popularity before being beaten out by other styles of music (some of which, like punk and pop punk, it had helped to launch).

The underground scene is still pretty big if you know where to look.  Better yet, a lot of the bands that created and changed the face of ska, including plenty of the ones on this mixtape, are still together and touring.  Ska is some of the best live music out there; it’s always worth going if you have the chance to attend.  (If you do go, be aware of skanking  it’s a particular style of dance that arose along with the genesis of ska itself in Jamaica in the 1960s, and it can get pretty hardcore, especially at more punk-oriented shows.  Know the dance, know pit etiquette, and stay safe!)

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lucdarling asked: FIVE THINGS (music things) not in any way whatsoever related to Manchester.

You made this challenging.  I’m going to make it even moreso.  I’m going to give you five music things not in any way related to Englandwhich will result in a playlist the likes of which this blog has never seen!

Here goes.

1. La Gachette/Charge 69

La Gachette are a Quebecois street punk band; Charge 69 are a French street punk band.  I used to listen to and love La Gachette when I was younger, they’ve been around for about fifteen years, but I hadn’t heard of Charge 69 until I found this split EP the two bands released together in 2007.  I’ve always wanted to see La Gachette live.  Maybe one day I’ll have the chance.

2. 091

091 were from Granada, Spain, and managed to release eight albums during the fourteen years they were active.  My favourites are their earlier ones (Cementerio de automóviles and Más de cien lobos), but the link above is to a video compilation of their live album, Último concierto.

3. Ira!

Ira! were a Brazilian rock band influenced by The Jam and The Clash (how could you go wrong?).  They were one of the reasons I wanted to learn Portuguese a while back (I admit I have no idea what any of their lyrics mean) and they’ve got a brilliant drummer.  They’re on the covers compilation I made recently, too, doing a Portuguese version of The Clash’s “Train In Vain.”

4. Ivan Julian

Ivan Julian is ridiculously cool.  One might argue that he’s technically associated with everything and everywhere, but all of his strongest associations are with the American East Coast, so we’re calling it good.  He’s a guitarist, a bassist, a singer, a writer, a producer; he co-founded Richard Hell and the Voidoids, recorded with The Clash, pushed punk and post-punk in America to new heights, and still plays today; he was at Strummerville in January.

5. Garotos Podres

Another Brazilian band, but these guys are a lot more punk than Ira! ever were.  A lot of their songs are rude or outright inflammatory.  It’s great, because they were producing material while Brazil was a military dictatorship under strict censorship laws, so the bureaucrats had to do things like change their lyrics to similar-sounding, inoffensive phrases, because Garotos weren’t about to.  They write really clever things, too, when they aren’t going for shock value.  (At least, as far as I can tell without knowing any real Portuguese.)

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lucdarling asked: Do you want to make me (or the internet) a playlist of music that comes from Sheffield? That'd be great, but no rush since I know you're busy.

Sure!  I’d really love to do that, actually, because Sheffield is fairly overlooked as a music city and a lot of the local bands deserve much more exposure than they get.  (Admittedly, most of the bands I’ve put on the playlist are already defunct, but that doesn’t mean there oughtn’t to be more people listening to them!  Sadly, there are even more bands I’d have liked to include, but they were so obscure or so short-lived that their music isn’t even available in digital download form - try Googling groups like The Extras, 2.3, or 5FD.)

So here’s a playlist of music that comes from Sheffield.  Mild disclaimer, though; this isn’t a recommendation list like most of the mixtapes I put together.  This is a representation list.  It’s got everything from Britpop to ballads, post-punk to prog rock.  Try it out - see what you like!  And if you like anything in particular, feel free to ask me more about it.

Also, a warning: this is fifty tracks’ worth of music, and it was bloody hard to get it down to that and still be representative.  It won’t fit onto a CD.  It’s damn good stuff, though!

You can download it here.

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lucdarling asked: 4. 6. 7.

4. A song that makes me proud of my past: Ten Second Epic, “Home In the Heartland”

These guys are from one of my hometowns; they were handing out flyers for what I think was their first-ever show at a Dropkick Murphys gig I was at and so I’ve literally known them since before they even began playing live.  They used to play a lot of all-ages venues and I’d always go because it was cheap (or free); I guess now they’re kind of a big deal?

6. A record I could listen to again and again: A Certain Ratio, “The Graveyard and the Ballroom”

I love A Certain Ratio a ridiculous amount, every line-up from the 1970s to the present.  This is the first album they ever put out; it came out only on limited-edition cassette in a plastic liner (though it exists on CD now as well).  Their sound changed after this, from a sort of wasteland post-punk groove to the more funk and Madchester sound of the 1980s.  All of their later work is brilliant, but I still love this album.

7. A track to rely on when I’m introducing someone to a favourite band: Joy Division, “Digital”

Thing is, everyone knows the Joy Division sound.  Everyone’s heard "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and has an opinion on it, and most people have heard "Atmosphere" and "She’s Lost Control" as well.  All of the ‘spacious’ stuff, all of the stuff Martin Hannett loved to work with and re-engineer and over-produce.  It’s interesting to see people’s reactions to material that diverges from that.

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lucdarling asked: 5. [reggae] [disco] [big band/swing]

5. A song that makes me love reggae:
Toots and the Maytals, “Funky Kingston”
X-O-Dus, “English Black Boys”
Watty Burnett, “Rainy Night in Portland”

Ahaha, this time you get three, because I can’t decide and technically I don’t have to!  The first one is just because Toots and the Maytals are classic and awesome; the second because I can’t not give the nod to the only reggae act ever to come out of Factory Records; and the third because no one’s ever heard of it and they ought to have.  Lee “Scratch” Perry did a production of it that’s really good (not the one I’ve linked; that’s here) and I’ve a sneaking suspicion Joe Strummer had something to do with that.

5. A song that makes me love disco: Sly and the Family Stone, “Thank You”

Bloody hell.  Okay, I’m going to cheat a little bit on this one and give you proto-disco, because the outside influences on disco are much more interesting than the (somewhat shaky) genre itself.  I could go on for hours about northern soul and Euro-disco (oh, dear God, so this song was popular where I lived in Europe when I was about eight), but anyway.  This totally counts.

5. A song that makes me love swing: Royal Crown Revue, “Zip Gun Bop”

I like this group (and this song) so much that I actually went to the trouble of trying to introduce my mother to them at one point.  That should tell you all you need to know.

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lucdarling asked: 1. 2. 3. (so happy you could burst) 4. 5. [jazz] 6. 7.

1. One of the first songs I really loved: The Who, “Substitute”

I think I knew The Who before I even knew what music was, and I have a vague recollection of hearing this song and just going mad over it.  This is before I knew about punk and post-punk, when “rock” music was anarchy to my young mind, I was maybe four or five years old and absolutely bloody clueless, but at least I liked The Who.

2. A song that showed me the the world outside the Top 40: The Stunt Kites, “Beautiful People”

This one is kind of unfair, because I didn’t know there was a Top 40 until I was much older than most people; that sort of thing didn’t really permeate the public consciousness in most places I lived, so the first place I was exposed to charts was England when I was already about nine.  But here’s a song that never charted, from an EP that never charted, from a band that never charted and won’t ever play together again.

3. A song that makes me so happy I could burst: The Clash, “Train In Vain”

Ah, there are too many of these, but you know what?  I don’t believe there has ever been a happier person anywhere in the world than Mick Jones, nor one better at making other people happy, and The Clash make me happy and Mick makes me happy and this song makes me happy in spite of its subject material (and the fact that Joe Strummer never liked it), so there.

4. A song that makes me proud of my past: Pulp, “Common People”

It’s a weird choice.  I know that.  But Pulp are from Sheffield and I’m damned proud of being a northerner, and hey, let’s face it, I’m always going to be living on the roaches-and-supermarkets level, so why not own that?  Why not be as happy to have that as to have anything else?  My granddad was a miner, yeah, my grandmum worked in a munitions factory, and that’s good, yeah?  It’s good.

5. A song that makes me love jazz: Billy Cobham, “Stratus”

You know, I really wanted to put some cool jazz fusion in here, like, say, Stephen Franke and Noises from the Toolshed; they did this great, obscure album called “Songs For a Platinum Blonde Diner Waitress.”  I couldn’t find links to any of the songs, though, so here’s something else awesome and equally jazz-fusion-y instead.

6. A record I could listen to again and again: The Jam, Setting Sons

This is my favourite album by The Jam.  It’s cool because Bruce Foxton gets a writing credit (which he really ought to have on most of their songs; The Jam used to generate songs sort of organically as a group, but they always credited whoever seeded the idea, and that was almost always Paul), it’s cool because "The Eton Rifles" is a fucking fantastic song, it’s cool because Giles bought me an original pressing for my birthday and I have to fix the bloody turntable now because I need to listen to it.

7. A track to rely on when I’m introducing someone to a favourite band: Madness, “House of Fun”

Everyone knows "Our House," even if they don’t realize they know it until they hear it.  Not enough people know this track, though, and it’s great fun.  I think this might’ve been the first Madness song I ever heard; it’s definitely the first one where I was aware of what I was listening to.  I’d just been into my local record shop and come away with the band’s singles compilation album, but I didn’t listen to it in order, went straight to this track, still remember it today.

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lucdarling asked: PLEASE GIVE ME ALL YOUR JEZ KERR FEELS.

All right, then, let’s talk about Jez Kerr.

I’d say that Jez is the world’s greatest living bassist, and the thing is, that’s pretty much true. I mean, sure, he’s tied for that position with Bruce Foxton and Pino Palladino, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s up there on the top tier, and there’s no one for miles below the three of them. So there’s that, to begin with: Jez Kerr is (one of) the world’s greatest living bassist(s).

No, seriously, the way he plays, he’s got this amazing, bright, over-driven sound (think Bruce Foxton of The Jam, but lighter) and an insane amount of speed and skill (think John Entwistle of The Who, except not dead), and the thing that matters most, I think, is that Jez isn’t just a bassist, he’s a musician. If he isn’t playing, he’s writing, he’s arranging, he’s adapting, he’s recording; Jez doesn’t just play music, he creates it, he is music.

And he’s also the frontman for A Certain Ratio now, so as well as playing bass, he’s the lead singer, and he’s brilliant at that, as well. If you haven’t heard the band’s more recent material, or if you haven’t heard his other band (The Family Bizarre), or if you haven’t heard his solo work… start with his SoundCloud, here, where he uploads original work and covers and tributes whenever the mood strikes him, and they are always gorgeous. Because Jez Kerr.

His current work is just the tip of the iceberg, though. He’s been with A Certain Ratio since the genesis of post-punk and Madchester, since the mid-1970s, when he started as bassist and backing vocalist before moving to the frontman position in the early ’80s. With them, he not only shaped British post-punk and funk, but also the American dance scene; the band became a fixture of New York clubs when they first recorded locally and played live, then later returned to tour with other Manchester bands like New Order. (Actually, the story of A Certain Ratio itself is pretty cool, because essentially, it’s “four talented lads liked the same music, made a band, accidentally acquired a drummer, went from post-punk to funk to dance and Latin and electronic and house and soul and anything they felt like.” Oddly enough, one of the things that set the band apart from their peers when they began was that they all knew how to play their instruments – not a necessary feature of most of the punk and post-punk scene, particularly the bands inspired by the Lesser Free Trade Hall gig.)

He’s also done all kinds of other things – worked at the Post Office, done a degree in music technology, taught (briefly, before deciding he didn’t have the talent or the patience for it), scored television commercials, played all over the world, and scratched out a living any way he could while making music, because he says you can’t make money from music, or, at least, he can’t. “In any case,” he says, “money shouldn’t be what drives you… making music should be about having fun.”

Then again, Jez also says things like “we weren’t technically brilliant” (about A Certain Ratio, and while that may be true in the mean, it’s certainly not true about him), “when you think you know what you’re doing, maybe that’s the time to give up” (and everything Jez does is rooted in that, in the idea that you experiment, you play, you free-fall, you do what you care about, and if the music is any good, it comes from that honesty, not from technical skill), and he’s open and up-front and matter-of-fact. That, I think, is the core of Jez’s character, that he’s always truthful about what he does and why. He admits that he’s been bitter about not making enough money to put food on the table (but also that you acknowledge it and move on, because holding onto that bitterness kills the music); he admits that he’s had times when he was signed to big labels and spending all sorts of money and thinking he was great (but also that those were the times when he was most unhappy, and that figuring out why he wanted to be making music and following that was what saved him); he admits that he’s been in the position of having to fight over money and administrative stuff (but also that he loves the band more than any of that, and that they’ve gotten through all of that together because what matters most to all of them is getting together and making music). He talks about being able to walk into a room and create something good with his bandmates even though they rarely socialize outside the music; he talks about sharing a place with guitarist Peter Terrell and growing close; he talks about being obsessed with sound and experimentation and having a band that’s willing to go the distance for each other, trying out what everyone’s feeling.

But it isn’t only that. It isn’t only the music (and with Jez, the music is everything). It’s that Jez is a real, ordinary person, and just odd enough and just obsessed enough and just mad enough that he’s – not just as a musician, but as a human being – brilliant. Like riding around Manchester on his bicycle because for years it was the only mode of transportation he could afford. Like making ridiculous jokes about photographs and illustrations and the bastions of British culture. Like recording himself playing random music just because he feels like it and then throwing it onto the Internet because why not? Like running his own Twitter (unlike most celebrities out there) and dropping such high-brow comments as, “Got a new kitchen light, feel weird when i go in there”

Jez cares more deeply about his music, about music in general, than just about anyone I’ve ever been lucky enough to encounter. He cares more deeply about what he does and about what he believes in and about his own plain-spoken honesty than anyone you’ll find out there with one-tenth of his talent or one-tenth of his modesty. He’s brilliant, sure, and talented, and all that other stuff, but the best thing about Jez Kerr is that he’s real.

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Because of this ask!

More music, you say?  I can do more music!  Here, have some now, because:

1) This song is awesome, and
2) A Certain Ratio are awesome, and
3) there can never be enough of Simon Topping’s Manc accent.