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‘Thunderbolt, Lightning, Arpeggio’ : Bjork’s magical ‘Biophilia’ show reviewed

Some live shows are great, some live shows are awesome, and then there are the live shows that are so good they feel like genuine magickal occurrences - a culmination of sound, vision, venue, performance and atmosphere. Bjork’s Biophilia, which is currently making its international debut with a sold out run at the Manchester International Festival, is definitely one of those. Clichéd terms like “elf-like” have haunted Bjork for years, but when an artist can pull together a show that is this all consuming, this transformative and powerful, there is definitely some truth to those clichés. 

Everything about this show is unique. On a baking hot July afternoon we are ushered into a blacked out, cavernous Victorian warehouse space - in the middle sits a round stage, flanked by instruments, and overhead hangs a neat circle of 8 large screens. At one corner of the stage sits a pipe organ, a harpsichord and new instrument called a “gameleste” (a cross between a gamelan and a celeste). These instruments have been programmed to play themselves, a fact which is relayed to the audience by webcams projecting live onto the screens. In another corner sits a huge, manually operated music box, amplified through two very large gramophone trumpets, and beside it stands two new, purposely built, pendulum operated harps, The thudding bass line for the opening track “Thunderbolt” is provided by a large Tesla coil, which spits sparks of electricity over the crowd’s heads.

Still obsessed with the sounds and textures of modern electronica, Bjork underpins all this bizarre musical automata with sub-bass and electronic drums, played live by percussionist Manu Delago and music director Matt Robertson. Plucked chamber music collides with sliced-and-diced breakbeats, booming 808 bass lines accompany delicate organ pieces. It’s a perfect combination of the past and the future (and which is which is hard to tell). The sound world Bjork has created for this show is extraordinary, but it is the choir that really tips this performance over into something otherworldly. Featuring 26 female Icelandic singers, moments of harmony and discordance float from the stage that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Quite simply, this is a new kind of sacred music.

The much-trumpeted visuals are gorgeous. Animated cells sing and coo while spitting out cuddly-looking viruses. Mushrooms grow and expand in stop-motion, a seal carcass is consumed by underwater worms and starfish, and we zoom through veins and arteries while triggering musical notation á la Audiosurf. Bjork has taken a bit of flack for her use of an iPad in Biophilia, but if this is what the actual apps look like, well that’s fine with me. We keep returning to images of the solar system, of galaxies floating in space. There seems to be a theme of circular motion and symmetry here, a music of the spheres if you will, but for Bjork this works on a microbiological scale, as well as the cosmological. At one point she informs us that the rate at which our fingernails grow is the same as the Mid Altantic Ridge drifts. It’s psychedelic without being druggy. In fact, with the heat, the darkness and the spectacle, this is a show where no extra stimulus is needed.

The music itself is largely new and very good too, but there are some classics from her back catalogue thrown in (namely “Unravel”, “A Hidden Place” and a gorgeous choral version of “Isobel”). The new songs are each prefaced by a voice-over by natural historian David Attenborough, which manages the trick of both commenting on the music and unifying it. The show ends with a rousing, triumphant version of “Earth Intruders”, Bjork in a massive orange wig flanked by the choir who are wearing matching gold and blue tunics. We seem to be inundated with crazily-dressed lady pop at this point in time, but we shouldn’t forget that Bjork is a true pioneer of this, and on this showing she still does it the best. Biophilia is set to tour later this year, and I urge anyone with an interest in music to go to a show - it really is that good. 2011 is only half over but I seriously doubt I’ll see another show to equal it. There is no footage of Biophilia yet, as the audience had been asked not to take pictures or make video recordings of the performance. It is a mark of the kind of respect the crowd has for Bjork that they comply to this request - well for the most part , anyway.

Here is the audience’s reaction to Bjork’s Biophilia after the opening night on Thursday June 30th:

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Tim Buckley brings the magic
01:27 am


Tim Buckley


A song to the Muse. His lover: the song.

“Late Night Line Up” Show (1968).

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Terrific documentary on Rough Trade Records

My Dangerous Mind compatriot Brad Laner posted a link to this wonderful documentary about Rough Trade Records awhile ago. Unfortunately, Laner’s link to the documentary no longer exists. Ah, but luckily, a really fine quality version was recently uploaded to the Web and I just had to share.

Brad’s description of Do It Yourself: The Story Of Rough Trade as “a fascinating glimpse into the history of the seminal indie label/empire” is exactly what it is.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Rough Trade because they released one of my very first 45 rpm records.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Lou Reed: 1989 Rock Against Drugs p.s.a.

Lou Reed and his specialized mullet dispense words of hard-earned street wisdom. You know, for the kids.

Drgz: I stp’d.
U shu’nt strt.


With thanks to Ian Schultz

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Come see Bang Bang and Boom Boom at Fireworks Outlet
06:25 pm


Bang Bang
Boom Boom
Fireworks Outlet

Look for the huge flag in case you get lost.

(via TDW )

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Owls with Funny Expressions on their Faces
04:20 pm



Mildly Diverting‘s Flckr Stream of funny, cute, and just plain lovely photos of owls. See more here.
More funny faced owls, after the jump…
With thanks to the wise and wonderful Steve Duffy

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Eric Clapton’s DIsgusting Racist Tirade

I was only made aware of this speech by Eric Clapton at a 1976 gig in Birmingham, UK, the other day, but It’s truly disgusting. Here’s a relatively short sample (quoted from Rebel Rock by J. Street (1986) and sourced from New Musical Express, Melody Maker, The Guardian and The Times):

Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back.

It goes on for a lot longer than that - the entire speech can be heard in the animated YouTube clip below. The “Enoch” Clapton is referring to is the notorious English politician Enoch Powell who in 1968 made the infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech, also in Brimingham. How Clapton didn’t get crucified at the time in the popular press is beyond me, as is the fact that the rest of the concert continued as normal, with no rioting or no bottling. The activist group Rock Against Racism was set up as a direct response to these remarks. Clapton has never properly apologised  - how does he still get away with receiving so much praise and acclaim? Fuck Eric Clapton.  

Thanks to Joe Spencer for alerting me to this.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Ken Russell
02:01 pm


Ken Russell
Huw Wheldon
Edward Elgar

It’s Ken Russell’s birthday, and to wish the great genius of British cinema many happy returns, here is his classic 1962 film on Edward Elgar.

Originally made for the prestigious BBC arts series Monitor to celebrate the series 100th episode. Commissioned by Arts Editor, Huw Wheldon, Russell’s film was TV’s first dramatized-documentary, “a major milestone in the history of the television documentary, whose impact was such that it was quickly repeated after its initial broadcast on 11 November 1962, an almost unprecedented honor at the time,” as Michael Brooke at Screen Online explains:

Elgar was made under a series of Wheldon-imposed restrictions, notably a ban on dramatisations of the lives of real people. Russell agreed a compromise: although Elgar and his contemporaries would be portrayed by actors, they would never speak and would mostly be filmed in long shot. Russell exploited these limitations brilliantly, the absence of dialogue letting him fill the soundtrack with almost wall-to-wall Elgar, including pieces that had rarely been heard since their composition. Wheldon himself contributed the relatively sparse narration, but the film’s true eloquence comes from the fusion of Elgar’s music and Russell’s images.

Given the film’s lowly origins, its visual fluidity is remarkable: this couldn’t be further removed from a dry historical lecture. When Russell’s camera isn’t swooping and gliding over Elgar’s beloved Malvern Hills, it’s fixating on strangely arresting shots: the sequence covering Lady Elgar’s death begins with tendrils of mist snaking through a silver birch wood, continues with a dark room full of mysteriously shrouded furniture and ends with the bereaved Elgar’s new and obsessive interest in microscopic natural phenomena. Most television dates rapidly, but over forty years on, Elgar is still startlingly fresh and inventive. Even the black-and-white photography looks like a deliberate artistic choice as opposed to a then-universal convention.



Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Watch Neil Hamburger & Firesign Theatre streaming LIVE from the Everything Is Festival!

If you couldn’t make it to Los Angeles this holiday weekend for the INSANE five-day long Everything Is Festival! taking place at Cinefamily, fret not because you can watch today’s festivities live beginning at 2:30 PST.

At 2:30, America’s funnyman Neil Hamburger will be doing his special tribute to Dora Hall, the septuagenarian grandmother who turned entertainer with TV specials and record albums paid for by her rich husband, who owned the Solo cup company. Not to be missed!

Then at 4:30, there will be a special Firesign Theatre mini-film festival with Peter Bergman and Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre, in attendance. Films include the only film visual record of one of their legendary radio shows, Martian Space Party and a new 5.1 surround version of Everything You Know is Wrong.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
New Music: Steven Cossar’s sublime Pioneers Of Anaesthetic

Over the years, the Variety Bar near Charing Cross, Glasgow has been a hotbed for artists and musicians: from painters, such as Steven Campbell, Peter Howson, and Adrian Wiszniewski, to the legendary AC Acoustics (one of John Peel’s favorites), Happy Particles and now, Pioneers of Anaesthetic.

Pioneers Of Anaesthetic is the name by which musician Steven Cossar writes, records and releases his music. Since 2000, Steven has recorded almost 400 songs, which he compiles onto “albums” of 30-40 tracks each, these are then sold or given away at gigs.

“I try not to use the same guitar tuning twice, although there are many identical tone intervals with transposed sets of strings. I have played occasional shows around Glasgow, which typically consist of 2 sets - One written and one written on the spot ; Instant Composition Improv, if you will.”

So successful is Steven’s Instant Composition that many of his audience have asked after shows if he is “actually lying and have pre-written the Improv sets.” For the record, he doesn’t, which makes Steven’s talents all the more exceptional and impressive - “Apparently, the less writing I do… the better.”

“I’d describe the music as short songs for a long attention span. The ideas and melodies are repetitive but usually dissolve quickly enough to (hopefully) warrant repeated listening.

“A recurring structural trait is to leave the flourishes and embellishments out until the last phrase or chorus, so that the song seems like a short glimpse of it’s potential and there is plenty left to the listener’s imagination.

“Lyrically, I rely on home-truthing and coming clean about stuff I’d usually shy away from in ‘real life’.”

It is this that makes Pioneers Of Anaesthetic’s music deliciously addictive, the songs, none of which last much more than 1 minute 30 seconds, are short enough to catch interest, but finish before that interest is sated.

Steven’s interests and influences include Guided By Voices, Red House Painters, and Lou Barlow. He’s also claims he is “Inspired by the approach of the late Hip-Hop producer, J Dilla more than any other artist. His influence on urban and all alternative musics is staggering.”

Over the years, Steven has been a well respected ‘Gun For Hire’ around Glasgow, contributing his musical talents to several bands.

I am a multi-instrumentalist, but have a heavy slant towards guitars and drums. I guess most of the bands I’ve played with never really wanted to commit fully and it’s always been a case of not taking it too seriously.

“I play in Larmousse (City Slang) with Cliff Henderson and David Gow (Sons & Daughters), I’m recording an album with Steven Ward (Empire Builder), I play in Mandrake Shepherd who’ve just completed a 3 song Demo session at my house in the preperation for Studio Album.

“I’m rehearsing a new Band, tentatively called Mussel Memory, with two friends I’ve played with for years, Iban Perez (Tut Vu Vu, Sparkling Shadazz, Rags & Feathers) and Ben Ashton (L Casio Immunitas, Sparkling Shadazz) and we’re incredibly excited by the material we’ve garnered thus far. I’m preparing to release a split 10” and Download with fellow Glasgow Bedroom Savant, BLOOD BLOOD. We have a mutual appreciation for the processes we share and the slightly off-kilter side to each other’s songs.

“I’m also rehearsing a full band version of Pioneers Of Anaesthetc for some shows this Winter. The band will feature Paul Foley (Eva, Vaselines, Mandrake Shepherd), Gordon Farquar (Stapleton, Happy Particles), and Cliff Henderson (Larmousse).”

But all this other fruitful activity won’t mean a lessening of his creative work as Pioneers Of Anaesthetic.

“I am continuing my current exercise in high volumes of output. It’s what I call ‘Quantity Control’.

“The idea is that I limit myself to one hour to write and record each song. I feel that once an initial idea leaves your head, with every passing second - it’s being compromised and re-thought. I just want to try to minimize the interference I have with the imagination’s melody-writing process.

“Quite often, It makes me laugh out loud, as the stuff that comes out is nowhere near what I’d usually shape it into, but that’s got to be healthy.”


  Warp Zoner by Pioneers Of Anaesthetic
Listen to more from Pioneers Of Anaesthetic, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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