Relevant Parties is my new podcast about independent record labels

Photograph by Schiko

It’s been a relief to have something meaty to work on over this cancelled summer, and finally I can unveil Carhartt WIP presents Relevant Parties, AKA I’ve got a new podcast! And, as a massive bonus, I’ve got a new head shot – see above, courtesy of Schiko. As Lauren Martin pointed out, I look “hard,” which is what I’ve been trying to convey the whole time TBH.

So: Relevant Parties is a monthly show dedicated to the work of groundbreaking independent record labels. The original plan was for me to rock up at the HQ of every label with a sick analog camera and a bag full of microphones, but COVID-19 put paid to the glamorous stuff. We just did it all on Zoom (and saved a zillion tons of carbon, which I’d been fretting about anyway).

The first series contains six episodes, kicking off with Stones Throw Records – a truly “indie” label if ever there was one. I spoke at length with Peanut Butter Wolf about the rap, funk, jazz, punk and, uh, absolute batshit eccentricity that went into making his LA label one of the most unique musical portals this century. We talked about the greats of course – Madlib, Dilla, Doom – but we also got deep into his upbringing in the Bay Area and his taste for off-the-wall artists doing their own thing, like dear old Gary Wilson. He was also enjoyably honest about the uncomfortable experience of having a hit record that you don’t even like.

The second episode is with Ninja Tune founders Jonathan More and Matt Black AKA Coldcut, who paint a picture of London in the ’80s and ’90s, from rare groove and Reckless Records to weeknights at Blue Note and the rise of sampling technology. Just talking about the good ol’ days took up most of the episode, but it was such a fascinating, fast-changing period for electronic music, and those two really did shape it more than most.

You can find Relevant Parties in your usual podcast aisle, and we’ve made a Spotify playlist with tons of tracks from each label. Listen on SoundCloud or just use your noodle on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, etc.

The gig-less economy: what could a post-pandemic dance music scene look like?

The shutdown of club culture this year has got me thinking more deeply about what the hell all of this is for, and how we could go about creating and funding our community out of reach of the slimy hands of Big Tech. Collective ownership, co-ops, worker alliances and the need to own our own physical space all cropped up in my conversations with industry thinkers – there’s a lot for us to chew on. Read the full feature on DJ Mag

It’s been four months since COVID-19 sent dancers into deep freeze. With no sign of a vaccine, the suspicion is that clubs will stay closed until spring 2021 — a shutdown leaving thousands of musicians and industry workers without an income. But beyond the urgent need to support those affected, the pandemic has forced us to confront a broken system. It’s time to sift through the wreckage. How can we rebuild?

As was obvious long before COVID-19 hit, the music industry is dangerously dependent on live events. Shows are the most common source of income for professional musicians, despite record-high streaming revenues, and ticket sales trickle down to everyone else: bookers, venues, event staff, journalists. That’s why, when COVID-19 arrived in Europe, the mere prospect of a cancelled festival season caused such drastic and lasting damage.

The roots of this malaise are well known: as streaming replaced music ownership in the last decade, the collapse in record sales left artists reliant on performance fees. It’s not that there’s no money left in music — the three major labels now generate over $1 million an hour from streaming — but most of the wealth created by artists is pocketed by the tech companies that control how we listen to music.

Read the full feature on DJ Mag

A. G. Cook – 7G review

Or, “I knew I was right about PC Music…”

The PC Music philosophy boils down to two things. One: Normal people can be pop stars. Two: Avoid the middle ground at all costs. Pop music becomes extreme music in the hands of PC Music’s chief architect, A. G. Cook, whose penchant for artifice has yielded concepts like QT, the fictional pop star with a fictional energy drink to promote. So it comes as a surprise that on his debut solo album, A. G. Cook strips away the glossy packaging. On 7G—a 49-track collection of songs, sketches, cover versions, and studio experiments—he hands us the keys to the studio and invites us to take a look around.

Read the full review on Pitchfork

Good vibrations: how Bandcamp became the heroes of streaming

Photograph: Richard Morgenstein

The rise of Bandcamp is a rare bright spot in the music industry at the moment, so it was cheering to speak to founder Ethan Diamond about how he built an actual Silicon Valley unicorn– a slow-burn, small-scale success. Read the full feature over at The Guardian

When Ethan Diamond founded Bandcamp in 2008, he imagined it an alternative to MySpace: an easy-to-use website where bands could interact with fans and sell music. Bandcamp would take care of the fiddly stuff – transcoding music into different formats, payments, analytics – and take a 15% cut of every sale. Five thousand miles away from Oakland, California, another startup millionaire was launching his own music service in Stockholm, one that would give listeners access to everything ever recorded. Spotify would be “better than piracy”, thought its 23-year-old creator, Daniel Ek.

In the decade afterwards, the music industry remade itself in Spotify’s image. Streaming services – including YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer and Tidal – signalled that the era of ownership was over. Who would want dusty vinyl or external hard drives if they could have all the music they wanted on their phone or laptop for a low subscription price? The result of this shift, as musicians from Taylor Swift to Thom Yorke to Joanna Newsom have complained, has been paltry payouts for artists and a consolidation of power among tech companies. Spotify has rarely turned a net profit, but it has 130 million paid subscribers and managed to scrape together $100m for a recent deal to host podcaster Joe Rogan exclusively.

Meanwhile, Bandcamp has become the rarest of Silicon Valley stories: a slow-burn success. The early years of the site were defined by outsiderdom – video game soundtracks, internet-born genres such as vaporwave and seapunk, music for the “furries” subculture of people who dress as animals – and you can still find pretty much anything, from pirate metal to eco-grime. As well as downloads, about half of Bandcamp’s sales are for physical items – vinyl, CDs, cassettes, T-shirts, posters, USB sticks, even MiniDiscs. “The growth of the company has been almost comically steady. For 11 years it’s a line like this,” says Diamond, holding his hand out at a gentle incline. “This year will be the first year where there’s a noticeable change in the growth rate, and that is because of the pandemic and the awareness that has been raised around the need for fans to directly support artists.”

Read the full feature over at The Guardian

The 100 greatest UK No 1s: The Prodigy – Firestarter

It starts with a riff: not a distorted guitar but a contorted squeal from a twisted fairground. It’s a riff nonetheless, the instantly sticky sign of an unstoppable hit single. Firestarter was one of the biggest pop-cultural events of 1996 and by the end of the year the Prodigy were one of the world’s biggest bands. The Essex four-piece’s first No 1 was a flashpoint of teen angst, TV infamy, moral panic and tabloid outrage, carried aloft by big-beat pyrotechnics and a lethal barrage of lyrical vitriol. “Ban This Sick Fire Record,” squawked the Mail on Sunday – but it was much too late.

The Prodigy were already a dominant force in pop. All but one of their singles since 1991 had made the Top 15, including 1991’s Charly, the cartoon-sampling hit that famously “killed rave”, according to clubbers’ bible Mixmag. Liam Howlett, the band’s musical engine, was bored with cranking out rave hits to a formula and started experimenting with elements of hip-hop and rock on their second album, Music for the Jilted Generation. Now the Prodigy were ready to reintroduce themselves as stadium-sized heroes with The Fat of the Land, taking dance music deep into the moshpit while promoting dancer-cum-hypeman Keith Flint to songwriter and vocalist. As an opening salvo, Firestarter was flamboyant, surreal, terrifying – and, like all the best pop songs, totally novel.

Read the rest and see the full 100 picks on the Guardian

Moby disappears on All Visible Objects

All Visible Objects is the first we’ve heard from Moby since the publication of Then It Fell Apart, his second memoir, in 2019. An extension of his first, 2016’s Porcelain, which recounted his rise to fame in New York’s rave scene in the 1990s, Then It Fell Apart walks us through the debauched decade after Play, providing all the dirty details: mind-blowing amounts of vodka, ecstasy, and cocaine; threesomes, foursomes, and failed relationships; dinner with Bowie and beef with Eminem; penthouse palaces and suicidal ideation. Through flashbacks to his childhood, Moby also considers the roots of his malaise in his poverty-stricken upbringing as a compulsive masturbator and sanctimonious Christian prone to colossal panic attacks.

Read the full review on Pitchfork

Helena Hauff is going stir crazy

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When Helena Hauff picks up the phone, she’s in the middle of a daily conversation that has united us all during These Troubled Times: what are we having for dinner? Several weeks deep into lockdown, in her hometown of Hamburg, and the electro connoisseur is contemplating giving up DJing to work in a restaurant, having used the time to unlock a hitherto unknown passion for Italian cooking. “I’ve made fish with polenta and red peppers. I’m gonna to make some gnocchi tonight. I make my own pizza,” she says. ​“That’s pretty much the only thing I do.”

To which the obvious response is: of course Hauff cooks Italian! Classic yet unpretentious, rich in historical and regional quirks yet fundamentally simple. And all dependent on the best quality ingredients – in Hauff’s case, substitute a glug of Ligurian olive oil for a sharp sting of a ​’90s electro rarity.

Equally at home on a massive festival stage or in a pitch-black basement, Hauff has grafted her way to the upper ranks of the underground since appearing on club radars in the early 2010s. As a resident at Hamburg rave-shack Golden Pudel, she gained a reputation for her deep-digging taste and out-of-time, punkish aura: drinking whisky, smoking cigs and, as legend has it, living off white bread and cheese to afford a Roland drum machine. She wasn’t even online, and her monochrome press shots, all leather jackets and kohl-rimmed stares, gave off an aura of untouchable cool. (That’s soon dispelled in conversation, when she turns out to be a right laugh).

Read the full interview on The Face

Lorenzo Senni becomes a grandmaster

To promote Scacco Matto, his first album for Warp Records, Lorenzo Senni challenged his fans to a virtual game of chess. With a penchant for deconstruction and a back catalog defined by monochrome palettes of icy sawtooth waves, the Italian electronic musician does seem like the kind of guy who’d be handy at the game. The rules are fixed but the outcome is unpredictable; within extremely narrow parameters, players can display flair, cunning, and subterfuge.

Scacco Matto, which is Italian for checkmate, is the product of self-imposed limits and rules. The writing process was a back-and-forth volley, according to Senni, with every action followed by a reaction, as he deliberately countered his own moves in a knotty one-player game. The basic material remains familiar—gated synth tones arranged in taut melodies and spindly arpeggios—but Senni has found a new flamboyance in these astoundingly ornate, often song-like pieces.

Read the full review on Pitchfork

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s lockdown listening

As told to me  – read the full piece in The Guardian

I live in Los Angeles with my husband in a quiet neighbourhood that looks out on the Verdugo Hills. One of our best friends lives right behind us, so we have daily balcony conversations with them; I’m very grateful for that.

When I’m doing handstands, that’s the time for taking in other people’s music. I do a hand-balancing class almost every day, and I feel comfortable holding a handstand. Right now, my best is a minute and a half. It’s a symbol to me of the impossible, my own therapy practice about trying to break through mental constructs; there are some things I feel confident in and some things where it feels as if there’s so far to go still. In the last two years, I went through a lot of health struggles and was burned out from touring. I struggled with depression, chemical imbalances, mental fog, ulcers – a whole slew of things. Through lots of different practices those all got healed, but any time I had depression, if I just got upside down it was like an instant fix.