VIEW FROM THE POP #8: If money talks, I'd hate to listen
Jack from Alcopop! offers his perspective on working for the majors versus working for indie labels
"That's not easy to find in a corporate world, somebody who cares about music." - Michael Penn, musician
I've often wondered what it would be like working for a major label... The glamour, glitz and money that could come by rubbing shoulders with some of the nations biggest pop stars, bands and fat-checking corporate big-boys. Not to mention the joy of a big old expense account! And pretty much I consistently come to the conclusion that it would probably be a bit of a nightmare...
Of course, I have no real idea. I've been into meetings at a couple of the top guns and read Kill Your Friends by John Niven, a brilliant book part that mixes fact with fiction in mid 90s record label boom time... But a lot of the people who I've spoken to who have made the jump from DIY to major just haven't dug it particularly. You see, while the perks are obvious, the reason almost everyone gets involved with music in the first place is for the sheer love of it – and when working with an artist you love is replaced by working with an artist you think will hit the sales figures, charm the widest demographic possible and somehow stop your behemoth of a label from going out of business... I expect the pressure is on.
Another quote from kill your friends (albeit bastardised slighty as I haven't got the book to hand): In major label A&R you're either coming up or going down... and that's based on the mid 90s when money was flowing and records were selling. One can only imagine the propensity for 'going down' now... "All the money's gone" as Babylon Zoo once sung. Jesus, I bet they cost some careless label a fat wedge of cash post 'Spaceman'...
Just from personal experience too, the culture of the major label – albeit one forced into a seismic shift by a changing musical landscape that favours a more instantly adaptable way of thinking - is one that a number of our bands just don't feel very comfortable with. One band we worked with (who were pretty jam hot at the time) were ushered into an industry festival meeting with coke-fuelled scouts only to be goaded and sneered at by the guys present. Another lot who were going great guns in the DIY scene (breaking into major press coverage and airplay) have all but split up after suffering from being their massive label's last priority.
Another lovable Alcopop band have had similar issues, working with another big company who seem to judge success by revenue alone – and became more and more distant as album sales dwindled. Indeed, their top boss was quick to snap "when are we going to sell more records then" in the one chance I've ever had to speak to him, even though the release was selling well and the buzz was well... Buzzing.
That's not to say that it's all bad at the top. There are awesome, passionate people at all the biggest labels – and throughout the industry... But for anyway who's considering whether to go it alone with DIY, hit the major indies or plump directly for a major... Let me pass on this quote of someone who works for the latter... "Every week I have to go all over the country to see bands I don't like, schmooze cunts I don't like and make sure I'm seen every time." But there is that expense account!
VIEW FROM THE POP #7: Sziget and see
Jack from Alcopop! on Hungary's biggest music festival and the joys of Unicum
"The truth is that existence wants your life to become a festival... Because when you are unhappy, you also throw unhappiness all around." Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
So as I pack my bags and prepare for a big one at The Great Escape, cast off the shackles of winter and pray for one day that won't chuck it down with rain, or at least not threaten to wipe you off the face of the pier with one hearty 'gust of storm'... I realise, festival season is truly upon us again! Awesome.
And thus for the next 5 months, because – lets face it – festival's really do last for almost half the year these days, myriad options will be thrown up damn near every weekend. Whether it's big, expensive corporate giants who shoehorn in all the NME's favourite front-pagers and most recent radar residents, or the more intimate affair you fancy – there's one thing that seems an absolute must... And that's not to give our European chums a wide-berth, making sure to check out some of the truly epic festivals over in foreign climes.
Because for sure, while you could never replace the classic British aceness of the likes of End of the Road festival, where peacocks strut proudly about the site whilst lovingly tended cider buses dispense their wares, or say – Truck – Oxfordshire's finest 36 hour community-based mega party, when it comes to going all out on big gigs, some of the UK's biggest can seem a bit half-arsed when compared with the likes of Sziget Festival in Budapest.
Boasting a length of an internal organ-worrying 6 days (not to mention a tacked on 'day 0' to kick off the festival in style for early revellers), everything about this festival screams value for the UK punter. Setting aside the 50-odd quid cost of actually getting there, where else do festival pints cost a little upwards of a quid, or the cost of a ticket seem really rather reasonable when you look at how many bands you're getting... And some huge names at the moment, what with Iron Maiden, Papa Roach, Monster Magnet, Muse, Yeasayer, The Cribs and The Hives all performing... I could go on.
Whatsmore, the range of artistry visited during Sziget festival is a massive (if a little odd) range... Last time we went we ended up seeing everything from rather awkward Vietnamese water puppetry to worryingly aggressive wet T-Shirt competitions – right through to tradition Jewish dancing at 4am that had spontaneously broken out in a crowded campsite. It seemed to be kicking off at all times, and with the reasonably priced food, cheap Hungarian currency and general glut of entertainment on offer – it really is worth taking a look – like so many other festivals that hammer up (especially Eastern) Europe.
But one thing is for sure if you visit Sziget this year on the trail of festival enlightenment- make sure you try the regions local 'Unicum'... It definitely doesn't taste like mouldy cigarettes ground down into a filthy earthy paste before being injected with mouth rotting levels of foul-tasting alcohol... Honest.
VIEW FROM THE POP #6: Not just Foals Gold
Who gives a fuck about an Oxford Commar – what's the scene like?
"I was a modest, good-humoured boy. It is Oxford that has made me insufferable." – Max Beerbohm
As an Oxford-based label, Alcopop have released a shocking lack of home-based bands (sorry) in our three year history, only ever associating our name with one act (the rather lovely Family Machine) who made their name ‘neath the dreaming spires. And with the city seen as such a bedrock of fresh indie talent in its heyday (can't argue with Supergrass, Radiohead, The Young Knives, 65 Days of Static, Dive Dive et al) – it may be surprising that since the emergence of the energetic Foals there has been very little from Oxford town to write home about.
Sure a number of underground talents have emerged, and in the last couple of years This Town Needs Guns, Jonquil, Little Fish and latterly Stornoway have graced a somewhat larger audience than that confined to the legendary Jericho Tavern. But with a scene considered by many to be somewhat fractured, and touring bands previously giving Oxford a fairly wide berth due to rumours of listless audiences (although there are a handful of promoters turning this round) is the dominance of Oxford as a musical bastion well and truly over?
Well – not so in my opinion, despite the fact that in the last few years Oxford has lost all of its record shops, had its flagship venue fall into the most corporate of hands (hello O2 Academy) and suffered the death of one of its finest indie record label institutions (remember Shifty Disco) – some seeds are springing suggesting that things may be turning round for a city that in recent years has lost so much of its musical heritage. Yes, a proportion of the scene is cliquey, yes, the local music press delights in castigating certain bands who dare to concentrate their efforts outside of the city – but by god, some of the bands that reside here are fine.
Of those previously mentioned, TTNG and Jonquil have salivating fanbases across the country (and further afield), while Stornoway's recent Jools Holland appearance have led to less than secretive local rumblings about the likelihood of them being Oxford's next chart-troublers. Meanwhile, a bubbling undercurrent of quality exists that is just starting to make tentative first steps beyond the city gates. Ute are one such example, carving together a sensational brute of a sound; building up, breaking down – layering their tumultuously beautiful melodies with musicianship and subtlety beyond their years, whilst Phantom Theory unleash some serious noise as a thrash-happy, wall of sound - two piece.
For the miserablists amongst you, Cat Matador stride a majestic path between the shoe-gazing and the suicidal that's actually rather fun, and the rapidly emerging Spring Offensive have drawn no faint praise from the City's favourite acoustic son Richard Walters. Meanwhile, Thin Green Candles delight in wreaking oral havoc with the ears of big beat lovers, and Desert Storm strike a perfect balance between meaty metal and stoner rock.
It may remain in doubt as to whether the next big stars of Oxford are just around the corner, but while I hear the scene is not what it was in its heyday with local clique still dominating ahead of welcoming community (although that's with rose tinted spectacles no doubt) – there are a disparate bunch of superb bands picking their way through the Oxford underground, making the city's undercurrent of talent look an awful lot more rosy. As I write this Foals are storming back to lips all across the UK with new tracks and release promises galore, but who's next...?
I'm not going to sit on the fence with predictions...
By early 2011, expect Stornoway to join them on the upper echelons of the musical elite *, whilst Ute become the favourite band your best mate's never heard of.
Viva Las Oxford!
Jack's not the only one who thinks so - Stornoway have just signed to Matador! - Ed.
VIEW FROM THE POP #5: When Tweet Comes To Shove
Bring Alan McGee vs. Drowned in Sound – Bring on the Twittergeddon!
"It's funny how your dreams change as you're growing old, You don't wanna be a spaceman, You just want the gold" - Oasis
Drowned in Sound has always been a site ripe for courting controversy – and say what you like about Sean Adams and his great successes (running one of the most important music sites within the UK... Nay the world) and/ or failures (Brett Anderson's fairly miserly solo album sales), the frenzied attack last week of Alan McGee on the website, launched primarily on Twitter – really had to be seen to be believed (and you can follow the discussion here on the forums)!
Posting all week from Alan McGee's official (and now sadly deleted) Twitter page, abusive comments flowed in earnest, and prompted a massive debate between Sean Adams and aforementioned Alan – with the full frenzy of the Drowned in Sound 'massive' pitching in on one side or the other..
"@DrownedinSound DROWNEDINSHITE.COM SOUNDS SO FUCKING RIGHT FOR YOU BUNCH OF GEEKY LOSING NO MARKS" he yelled, capitals a go go, before spewing a worryingly mental amount of "ALRIGHT WEE [or BIG] MAN" tweets to twitter-based celebrities, whilst attacking DiS about everything from the integrity of its readers to impending bankruptcy (which Sean, for the record, denied). It must be a hacker, so I and everyone else presumed – but as the tweets kept coming and, with no denial in site from any other McGee related source, it seemed to be all true.
In some ways it was hilarious... Comments on the messageboard about how McGee could defend the indefensible (18Wheeler was a name that kept on coming up), and his consistent, crushingly abusive (and often amusing) replies led to many a lol for me, and many others I imagine... But at the heart of the ranting, some worrying trends were emerging...
Alan McGee was considered by many a legend when we were all growing up and gazing in awe at the likes of Oasis, Super Furry Animals, Jesus and Mary Chain and Ed Ball (that one just me then) – but even the most staunch Alan fan can't help but agree his roster has been looking a hell of a lot thinner since the mid 90s (other than The Hives of course). So does it hint at desperation that McGee felt it necessary to bang on about how rich and successful he was? "Come back to me when any of you have made some kind of small success with your shite little lives."
Maybe I'm over-analysing here, and McGee was just trying to have a bit of fun at a site which in truth, has not entirely kind to his recent output. Or perhaps he was just on a massive bender - or the victim of a hack! Sean Adams though seemed rather shocked by the whole affair, speaking of evaporating respect for a former hero, and posting these words about the situation in a recent mail out. "I'd love to say this unprovoked attack came as some surprise, but really all I can think is when they say never meet your idols, that should be updated to include engaging with their growing old disgracefully on Twitter." I can't deny I felt for him.
Alan remains unrepentant – or sarcastic... I'm struggling to follow.... "AS I AM THE BIG MAN ANNUAL HOLIDAYS ARE UPON US I WILL BE BACK AS THE BIG MAN IN AUGUST FOR A WEEK I WASN'T TAKING THE PISS SEAN HONEST BYE". We'll be keeping an eye on it, if this all flairs up again.
Either way, I'm pretty sure Ruth at RockMidgets is up for the next big Twitter feud! Maybe with I, Ludicrous...? [I think we'd both deserve that name by the end of it..! - Ed.]
Follow Jack Pop and Alcopop Records on Twitter at @ilovealcopop
VIEW FROM THE POP #4: A Popping Good Christmas
You can roast your turkeys – these are the real Christmas crackers!
"Hark, the herald angels sing"
So merry December has rolled around again and across the world, lists are being furiously compiled for the best songs of the year, decade and such... I would go for something similar, but as Rock Midgets are putting together a far superior feature – I thought I might put together the greatest Christmas songs ever. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not the tawdry shit that even now is filtering through offices and shops to the great consternation of the right-thinking populous (of which the only saving grace is The Fairytale of New York which is a great, if criminally overplayed, tune) – these are the songs that SHOULD be played this Christmas.
I’ve gone for a top 5 – and here they are, in no particular order:
Malcolm Middleton – We’re all going to die
It may be an obvious concept, subverting Christmas and producing a song about as far away from joy and festive cheer as possible – but the Arab Strap front man deals with it magnificently. With charmingly witty lyrics about as morose as one can get, set to a melodic ditty delighting all and sundry, there were big calls for this to be Christmas number one. Sadly it wasn’t.
Fountains of Wayne - Alien for Christmas
Delightfully whimsical in lyrical content, this is nevertheless as strong as any Fountains of Wayne hit you care to mention. It’s backed with a f**king great B-side which details the torrid tale of an alcoholic supermarket santa who’s hit rock bottom. I want an Alien for Christmas/ I want an Alien this year/ I want a little green guy about 3 feet high/ with 17 eyes, who knows how to fly sings (FOW singer). Just great!
Chris Rea - Driving home for Christmas
Gravelly voiced friend of the old folk, it’s Rea in the ‘one that kids love’ shocker – as this lyrically banal homage to that festive drive home was nonetheless widely recognised as THE best mainstream Xmas track by an assorted drunken gathering in my house last night.. And who am I to disagree? For summing up all the loving excitement, the few minutes of the year you think your family actually are OK and all that festive anticipation – you can’t beat Chris!
Reuben – Christmas is Awesome
It’s rare that a Christmas song is nicely heavy, proffers howling banshee-esque vocals and the lines 2000 years ago a little boy was born, to save the human race/ Well, it's your birthday/so have a party/ We're sorry about all of that nailed to a cross business... And the world is all the poorer for it. So when Reuben bowed out with this classy number, royalist grandmothers cried as the queens speech gave way to three raucous gents telling us lo, Christmas really is awesome!
Luke Leighfield – I’m so confused by Christmas
This song may be a touch preachy at times, but there’s no way Luke is as cuntish as Bono J – and his self-released Christmas single of 2006 is a lush melodic hit, which actually reminds us what Christmas really is all about! Plus you can download it for free which is ever so nice of him.
So have a butchers at these hits when wrapping gifts, gobbling festive treats and staying way on top of the Alcopops...
Happy Christmas everyone... Stay lovely!