Above, the hologram cover of UB44, their last good album
I thought I’d write a post sticking up for UB40—right after I duck from all the bottles whizzing past my head—and link to their insanely great Rockpalast gig from 1981.
Many of you reading this, especially most of the serious reggae fans among our audience, probably consider UB40 to be something akin to the Hootie of reggae, and to a certain extent, that’s a pretty fair assessment. What’s popular—UB40 are the most popular reggae group ever, selling over 70 million albums—isn’t necessarily any good, and frankly I personally don’t have any time for anything they’ve put out for three decades, BUT... they weren’t always known for turning out bland reggae for white folks. People with really good taste in music—even a lot of reggae heads—actually loved UB40 back then, as difficult as this might be to remember. Not to mention that they were much loved by Crass punks. Oh yes they were…
In the early 1980s, I lived in the South London area of Brixton, specifically off Railton Road, the so-called “Front Line,” in a neighborhood known at that time for rioting, anarchist squatters, and hundreds of out-of-work dreads, loitering, smoking three-paper joints, drinking, kicking soccer balls and openly selling weed on this huge concrete basketball court.
The above described scene was immortalized in the Eddie Grant songs “Living On the Front Line” and “Electric Avenue,” the latter being a street that crosses the former. If you were a white kid walking down Railton Road in 1983, you were more likely than one of the rastas to have your pockets searched by London police under the “suss laws.” It was simply assumed (with good reason) that if you were in that vicinity, then you were probably there buying some hash. It got to the point where I had to take the long walk home from the tube station to avoid an unpleasant interaction with the cops. I probably had to empty my pockets half a dozen times.
In any case, to set that scene, reggae in general, but UB40 in particular was normally what was heard being blasted out of the buzzing, blown-out speakers that my West Indian neighbors would so thoughtfully put in their windows. I’m telling you that they were as ubiquitous as those Cher or Kylie megahits were in gay neighborhoods. UB40 records were even played at blues parties. Their early singles and first three albums were an intrinsic part of the soundtrack of daily life in Brixton thirty years ago, as weird or as hard to believe as that might sound today.
UB40 were not, I repeat, not really regarded so much as a “pop” band then, but more like “heavy”—if somewhat doom-laden—socially-conscious, reverb-drenched psychedelic dubmeisters. The group’s name referred to the UB40 card then issued to the armies of unemployed who were “signing on” to collect benefit in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain (Their first album was called Singing Off). Indeed, their early material was dark and bleak, taking on topics like racism (”King” and “Tyler”), being nothing more than a number or a statistic to the government (”One in Ten”), famine (”Food For Thought,” the first single on a totally independent record label to crack the top 10 of the UK singles chart) and Thatcherism (”Madam Medusa”). They also came up with skankin’ stonkers like their smokin’ “Reefer Madness” instrumental and I’m sorry, but that song is simply fucking irresistible, I don’t care how big of a rock snob you are.
If I am honest, I will tell you that although I knew that UB40 were a racially integrated reggae band, I’m sure I would have thought they were more than a little bit goofy had I known that a short-haired white guy was the front-man. Truth is, I had no idea that Ali Campbell wasn’t black. You certainly can’t tell from his voice and the decidedly minimalist album covers gave no hint at what they looked like—not that it was a secret, they were on TOTP, of course. Being white is hardly something to hold against the man or his music, my point is, to use George Michael’s phrase, you should listen without prejudice to the first three UB40 albums and you might hear something you really dig. There’s some great music hiding in plain sight that you probably missed out on because, well, it’s UB40.
I will say it again, there’s no Hootie factor whatsoever to early UB40. Hell, there’s not much indication at all of the shiny, happy crowd-pleasing direction they would take—a considerable U-turn creatively, to be sure—on their fourth album, the gazillion selling megahit, Labour of Love in 1983.
Below, a phenomenal 120-minute long set from Germany’s Rockpalast TV show dating back to 1981.
1. Present Arms
4. Food For Thought
5. Earth Dies Screaming
6. Don’t Let It Pass You By
7. Lamb’s Bread
8. Silent Witness
10 One In Ten
11 Madam Medusa
12 Don’t Slow Down
13 Dr. X
14 Burden Of Shame
15 Signing Off
I can still remember where I was the first time I heard Daft Punk’s “Da Funk.” It was the summer of 1996 and my brother had taped a 1995-end-of-the-year-round-up show by Annie Nightingale off BBC Radio 1. Well, I say “first” but actually it was the second, as I had previously heard it in a dj mix, but at that point I had no way of knowing what it was. Thankfully Ms Nightingale was forthcoming with information, meaning I could track the tune down myself (in a shop and by word of mouth, remember the days?)
To say that “Da Funk” blew my mind is a bit of an under-statement. As a piece of music it referenced both the genres I was loving the most at the time, house music and hip-hop, but far from being some tawdry “hip-house” jam, “Da Funk” was the perfect summation of the best elements of both genres without compromising either. Everything about the record was perfect, including the feeling of “what the fuck was THAT?!” I got after hearing it. A year later Daft Punk released Homework, and it became the record that, more than any other, defined the late 90s for a whole generation of kids who were sick to death of grunge and Britpop and looking for something new and exciting that wasn’t about the past.
So there you have it. My Daft Punk background. I was there the first time round, and young enough for it to be absolutely MY thing. Does that make me an old fart now? Does that make my opinion on Random Access Memories, Daft Punk’s new album and the most hyped music product ever since the last most hyped music product ever, irrelevant?
Answer in the comments if you like, but to be honest, I don’t really care. Having grown up with Daft Punk, and had them make an immense influence on my own music production and song writing, I feel a personal connection to what they do that makes a review of their new album more than just another Internet commentariat bleating along with the herd (though I can’t stop anyone from shooting it down by calling it that).
So in as brief a nutshell as I can possibly put together, here is my review of Random Access Memories: potentially amazing production let down by really lacklustre songs. Now you know what I think. Feel free to ignore the rest of this piece if you want. For the rest of you, here are my gripes…
Daft Punk “Random Access Memories” full album stream:
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
“We’re getting closer to a world where technology takes care of the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so that you can get on with what makes you happiest… living and loving. It’s an exciting time to be at Google.”
These are the concluding lines of a recent announcement by the CEO of Google, Larry Page. It sounds great: technology will make our lives easier and we don’t have to work hard anymore. The machines, or rather ‘technology,’ they say will run our world. But…
I think we’e in the middle of an unfolding horror story!
It can’t simply be some bizarre coincidence, can it, that as we scale ever higher peaks of technological innovation, the USA is going through its worst recession in 97 years? The story is not too different in Europe and most of the rest of the world; there must be something seriously wrong somewhere. Stands to reason, right?
Plenty of words have been written on the topic of machines taking away jobs from humans, and the twin threat of outsourcing, but this time things are different, really different. They are so different that…
I have no hesitation in saying that the world is on the verge of screwing itself in a spectacular fashion!
Here is the proof…
The invisible robots
As a kid I used to imagine a future where robots would do things for us. That day has arrived but these robots don’t look like anything I imagined they would as a child. They don’t have arms or legs, they are computers and smartphones with the Internet acting as their brains. The talk about machines replacing humans is an age old story and we have managed pretty well so far, but this time things are different for two reasons: Distribution and Convergence!
Since the Industrial Revolution, even before, machines have replaced human jobs but they never had this ability to multiply and spread across the global with almost zero additional costs through the Internet. Take the case of the mailman vs email or traditional books vs Kindle books. In the later case, it costs next to nothing to distribute something that used to take time and effort, printing, warehousing, shipping and retail outlets in the past. Time and effort that was spent by real people doing real jobs which are simply not necessary anymore.
From bank clerks to airline ticketing attendants, there are many classes of jobs that are going extinct. Read this article: A look at jobs replaced by technology. Where do all these people go now?
But isn’t capitalism, to a certain extent supposed to be “destructive”? Isn’t that where innovation comes from? In the battle between man and machine there is an old argument that goes instead of a candle we now have light bulbs and in place of a horse and carriage we have cars, so “disruption” is good. But now we are faced with a new problem: Convergence.
Due to convergence of technologies, multiple tasks are now doable with but a single device. The smartphone and tablet are effectively destroying the calculator, camera, flashlight, alarm clock, wrist watch, notepad, audio player and multiple other industries. I am not merely talking about the things one can do via the Internet for the scale of disruption is unimaginable. Real people were making those products. They are now not needed anymore. And it’s not merely job loss, the products themselves won’t exist anymore.
And who manufactures these new converged products?
Most probably some company like Foxconn in China where Apple and many other companies build their products at dead cheap rates. Almost none of those manufacturing jobs are in the USA or anyplace in Europe. No wonder the Eurozone is in tatters right now, Greece is at 60% unemployment and Spain has 55% of its youth between the ages of 18 and 25 unemployed right now; forget manufacturing, they might never ever get a job that involves soft skills, all thanks to outsourcing.
Ousted by outsourcing
Outsourcing, while taking away jobs from many, has provided employment to millions in another part of the globe. This led to an increase in earning potential as well as spending capacity for millions who could now aspire to “things” and a lifestyle unimaginable earlier. New doors have opened where none existed earlier. However, there are dangerous pitfalls on this side too. There are already two main patterns one can notice emerging– Obsolescence and Cannibalism.
All the pitfalls of disruptive technology apply here too. You can never say when a particular piece of technology or service will become obsolete. The skills that we learn today might not be needed tomorrow; this applies to software professionals who are dime a dozen out there specializing in skills that could be without economic value tomorrow.
Very few people specialize in “real” skills anymore, right from a commerce graduate to a science student to a mechanical, civil or chemical engineer; all want to become Software-IT Professionals.That’s where the easy moolah is. Those who continue in the pursuit of conventional professions often find themselves in a unique fix, not able to compete with their counterparts in the IT industry in terms of fat paychecks. But there is an even bigger issue in play here, cannibalism.
In the modern world of outsourcing, cannibalism is a rampant practice. No one is eating anyone else alive but everyone is eating away at everyone else’s jobs.
Organizations are always looking at doing things the fastest and cheapest way. They achieve it by employing smarter technology, but where manpower is still essential they are always on the lookout for a cheaper option that can accomplish the same task in a shorter time-frame—the primary reason why outsourcing exists in the first place. Why bothering hiring and paying an experienced hand when a trainee will suffice?
For a country like India, that boasts of a massive youth population that is ready to be employed, the future can be quite unsettling. It is a win-win situation for the bosses, but the same can’t be said for the employees as job security simply does not exist anymore.
So basically, technology and outsourcing are screwing the west and the rest are hell bent on screwing themselves . To put it simply…
The West is already screwed and the rest are hellbent on screwing themselves by cannibalising themselves to obsolescence
So what is the solution?
James Altucher, one of the most exciting writers I have come across online recently, wrote a post on TechCrunch titled “10 reasons why 2013 will be the year you quit your job.” In it Altucher advises his readers to turn into entrepreneurs to save themselves. He makes some terrific points to support his case, but I wonder if it’s realistic to expect that everyone can become an entrepreneur? Someone has to be at the bottom of the foodchain and even if someone dares to do something on his own, the big daddies will give them sleepless nights. Also in an open economy where everyone has equal opportunities, it is the big corporations that have the maximum leverage. Everyone else is just part of the crowd.
Take the case of movies. The top hits today make more money than ever while the bottom is a horror story with the vast majority of films not even finding any avenues of release or exhibition; it is a problem of plenty. It is the same with businesses and tech start ups. The big corps capture the bulk of the market and the smaller fish are in the game only to be hooked or to be eaten by the biggies. No wonder income inequalities are growing wider across the globe between the rich and the rest of us.
The Rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer has never been truer than it is today!
Forgetting for a moment, the poorer countries where wealth inequality is extraordinary and the bottom of the pyramid is unimaginably huge. Instead take the case of America, which in everyone’s opinion is an advanced and wealthy nation. Truth is, top 1% of America’s wealthy elite control 40% of their nation’s wealth. You should check the video below to see the scale of this phenomenon.
The middle class is almost non-existent now. We might as well rename it the “temporary class.”
We aspire to reach the top, but in reality most of us are just a part of the vast bottom that is feeding the top!
Technology is wonderful, it really does help us to live better lives. It is good that most things are becoming automated, wonderful that we don’t have to work as hard anymore, but here is the catch:
How do we survive in a world where our worth is only determined by our last paycheck?
And if all the jobs are handled by technology, who will give us those checks? We have yet to figure out a way to live in this world without money. Somewhere this cycle of the world’s productive labor and capital going to the 1% has to be broken.
That reminds me of the famous line by Charles Bukowski:
“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so”
How in the hell did we end up here? I wonder too. It is high time we all started to talk about this. A global conversation. Until then, we shall continue to be willing and invisible participants in the mission to screw ourselves and our world over (and to what end? We already know the answer). We have done a pretty great job of it until now. It is high time we figured out newer (and BETTER) ways of living and surviving in this world that are not dependent on us working ourselves to death so that the 1%‘s kids can sit on golden toilet seats and have a servant wipe their asses with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton napkins. In the future we’re heading for, your kid won’t have a pot to piss in.
I hope Google has some ideas for that too. Maybe you have one. Let me know.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
Ken Russell had thought about making a film on Debussy for some time. He was ‘hovering on the feature film fringe,’ having just made his first movie French Dressing, in 1964. But it had sadly flopped and he had returned to work as a producer and director for the BBC’s arts series Monitor.
Making a feature film had encouraged Russell’s ambitions, and he now had a revolutionary idea for a new kind of documentary arts film, but he wasn’t quite sure how best to achieve it. This was when Russell met Melvyn Bragg, a young Northern writer, who was also working in the Monitor office.
At twenty, Bragg had decided to become a writer, but thought ‘quite rightly as it turned out,’ that he wouldn’t be able to make a living from it. So, he got a job, to support his literary ambitions.
‘I got a BBC traineeship when I was twenty-one,’ Bragg told me in 1984. ‘Went into radio, which I liked an awful lot. Worked in Newcastle. Worked in the World Service, Bush House. Then I worked in Broadcasting House, in the Features Department. I was going to stay there—I didn’t like television, except for Monitor—and I said I’d only go into television if I could get an attachment onto Monitor. Eventually, one came up, and I got it.’
Russell wanted to share his idea with Bragg. He met him in a cafe, and told Bragg about Debussy and his plan for a new kind of arts documentary—a film-within-a-film. Together they wrote a script, and Bragg turned it into a screenplay.
‘When I did Debussy, Ken’s first talkie on television, nobody had done that before I did that as a screenplay as a way to make it work. The real problem you’ve got with biopics about people is that there is no structured drama in anybody’s life. You’ve got to make it.
‘What you’ve got are pits, which are very good, all over the fucking shop, and you’ve got to have that bit because [they’re] terrific, and you’ve got to have that bit because there’s hardly any relationship between them. Where, if you write a play, or write a book, there is a relationship because you’ve written it like that. But in people’s lives, something happens there, and 7 years later, something else happens. This enables us to dip in-and-out.’
It was a lunchtime in May, and I was interviewing Bragg in his office, at London Weekend Television, where he worked as editor and presenter of the (now legendary) arts series, The South Bank Show. Bragg sat behind his desk, dressed as usual in a suit (‘Another way to get people to forget about me and concentrate on the person that I am talking to’), eating an apple for his lunch.
Bragg said he thought Russell ‘a very brilliant, eccentric and erratic talent, he can be marvelous.’
The Debussy Film was the first of several highly successful collaborations between Russell and Bragg—as director and writer. A partnership that lasted until The Music Lovers (‘I had a big row with [Ken] on that which is fairly public. I hated it.’) The pair later worked together again on several documentaries for The South Bank Show .
It was also Russell’s first collaboration with actor Oliver Reed, who later described the director as:
Jesus is not Christ, only Russell.
Reed was a rare talent, who had been slightly over-looked by film producers because of a scar on his face, which he had received on a drunken night out. But Reed was more than just a feared Hell-raiser, he was a brilliant actor who brought an incredibly complex and emotional depth to the role of Debussy.
‘Debussy was an ambiguous character,’ Russell told one of his biographers, John Baxter in 1973.
...and I always let the character of the person or his work dictate the way a film goes. Also, one was a bit critical of artists like Debussy and I thought the time had come to ask questions, and the natural way for me to ask questions was to have a film director [Vladek Sheybal] talking to an actor [Oliver Reed], because an actor always asks questions about the character he’s playing and the director usually had to answer them, or try to, often to keep him happy. And when I found Debussy was friendly with an intellectual named Pierre Louys from whom he derived a lot, it seemed an analogous relationship to that of a film director and an actor. There are some points in the film, I think, where it doesn’t matter if it’s the director talking to the actor or Louys talking to Debussy—passages of intentional ambiguity.
Born in his music and his life, Debussy was a great sensualist. There’s a line of his in the film: “Music should express things that can’t be said,” which simply means to me that music is something which, the moment you talk about it, disintegrates and becomes meaningless. That’s what I mean by sensuality—something that’s felt rather than reasoned.
Ken Russell directing ‘The Debussy Film’ (1965)
While The Debussy Film may at first appear a film that is “felt rather than reasoned,” it has to be understood that every element of it is based on fact, taken from letters and personal details of the main characters. Also, by presenting inter-linking narratives, Russell was able to question, examine and comment on Debussy’s creative life, and the damage it caused him to those he loved.
With Debussy I felt it was important to say something about his music and attitudes to it as well as relevant facts of his life. A good example of this is his relationship with his mistress Gaby, and her inability to understand either him or his art. There’s a scene where the actor playing Debussy goes to a party with his girlfriend (playing Gaby) and puts on a record of Danse Sacre et Danse Profane. He wants to listen to it, to be immersed completely; he sees in it images of art nouveau. But everyone else in the room, instead of carrying on talking, or dancing to it, or giving it half an ear, all become silent and listen to the music with a mixture of duty and piety, which is all too often the case. His girlfriend, who just sees him as being perverse, does a strip-tease to it and ridicules both the man and his music. People are very wary of the heightening of experience, and want to knock it down. It’s fear as much as anything that makes her do the strip dance, fear of something she doesn’t understand and so can only get level with by ridiculing. A lot of people still do that, not just with art but with life.
I wasn’t totally on Debussy’s side; in a sense he had no right to disrupt the party. But artists are dogmatic and pig-headed, and they over-ride people. Most of the people I’ve dealt with in films have quite dispassionately sacrificed someone in their way who understood them. It’s not nice but that’s how it works. The end of the film, the music from his unfinished opera The Fall of the House of Usher, with Debussy alone in the castle and his ghostly mistress—whom he drove to attempted suicide—rising up, was an analogy of the lost romantic ideal he had destroyed by his disregard for people. You can be an egomaniac up to a point but in the end it can destroy you, or your work, or both.
The Debussy Film is Russell developing the style and technique that would make him internationally recognized as one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century. His approach was revolutionary and brilliant, and The Debussy Film changed television and cinematic biography for good. It also revealed another side to Oliver Reed (who is quite brilliant) and Vladek Sheybal, who was usually typecast as KGB agents. The film also contains cameos form artists Duggie Fields and Pauline Boty.
I think it’s safe to say that the music composed (and performed alone) by Jimmy Page and intended for Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, but not used, was/is among the very most sought after Led Zeppelin, or in this case Zep-related, bootleg recordings.
The story has long been a foundation of the Led Zeppelin mythos: Page and the mercurial Magus of Cinema had a falling out, then Anger did his patented “curse” routine very publicly going so far as accusing Page of being a mere “dabbler” in the occult and a rich, lazy junkie. Rock journalists began to wonder if Anger’s curse had worked when a succession of tragic events saw Robert Plant badly injured in a 1975 car accident, Plant’s five-year-old son Karac dying suddenly in 1977 and the death of John Bonham in 1980 that instantly ended Led Zeppelin’s reign as the world’s biggest rock group.
There are always two sides to every story and Page maintains that he had given the project financial support, put Ken up in one of his homes (Aleister Crowley’s Boleskine House in Scotland, no less) and lent him film editing equipment. Moreover, he’d given Anger 23 minutes of amazing music. Anger needed an additional five minutes from Page to complete Lucifer Rising, but it was slow arriving and after a shouting match with Page’s wife, he threw a major hissy, “firing” Page and viciously denouncing him—for years—in the media:
“He’s a multi-millionaire miser. He and Charlotte, that horrible vampire girl – the druggie that got him on heroin – they’re both junkies. They had so many servants, yet they would never offer me a cup of tea or a sandwich. Which is such a mistake on their part because I put the curse of king Midas on them. If you’re greedy and just amass gold you’ll get an illness. So I did turn her and Jimmy Page into statues of gold because they’ve both lost their minds. He can’t write songs anymore.”
It’s not like Jimmy Page wasn’t busy back then (the time period in question roughly corresponds to the time Led Zeppelin IV was being recorded), plus Uncle Ken can go from sweet and utterly charming to homicidal in like two seconds flat. (I’ve met Jimmy Page, as well. He was super-friendly, easygoing. An old school gentleman, informing me as he shook my hand that he had been gifted with not one, but two copies of my Book of Lies occult anthology. I know which side of this tale I come down on: Jimmy’s! Look, I admire and revere the films of Kenneth Anger. I think he’s a truly great artist, touched by genius, even, but he’s fucking nuts...)
Eventually Page’s music escaped in 1981—probably sourced from the magnetic track from an early 23-minute-long “to be continued” print of Lucifer Rising that Anger showed potential investors (I’ve seen this, it’s pretty incredible)—when it hit the bootleg market as “Solo Performances by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant,” a limited edition LP with a green wax seal (I have one of these, it sounds like frying dogshit). Another blue vinyl version was released in a “Kabbalistically numbered limited edition.” Better quality digital versions started making the rounds on torrent trackers around 2005 and last year Jimmy Page released the music he’d composed for Anger’s film via his website on very limited edition red vinyl that sold out instantly.
The music itself is wonderfully perverse: a languid but steadily building Middle Eastern-sounding drone, festooned with evil chanting, tabla, screaming mellotron, a sonically shifting low frequency foreboding ambiance and shimmering 12-string guitar work. It’s a mad, diabolical symphony of beautiful evil; a fascinating piece of unconventional aggressively avant garde music from one of the rock era’s most mysterious living legends.
Although Page’s music was not used, the guitarist does make a cameo appearance in Lucifer Rising bearded and staring at a wreathed portrait of Aleister Crowley while holding an Egyptian stele.
Page does not often talk to journalists about his interest in the occult, but in a 2008 Guitar World interview, he did reveal a few fascinating tidbits about his creative process:
Guitar World: There was always a certain amount of speculation about your occult studies. It may have been subtle, but you weren’t really hiding it.
Page: I was living it. That’s all there is to it. It was my life – that fusion of magick and music.
Guitar World: Your use of symbols was very advanced. The sigil on Led Zeppelin IV and the embroidery on your stage clothes from that time period are good examples on how you left your mark on popular culture. It’s something that major corporations are aggressively pursuing these days: using symbols as a form of branding.
Page: You mean talismanic magick? Yes, I knew what I was doing. There’s no point in saying much about it, because the more you discuss it, the more eccentric you appear to be. But the fact is – as far as I was concerned – it was working, so I used it. But it’s really no different than people who wear ribbons around their wrists: it’s a talismanic approach to something.
Well let me amend that: it’s not exactly the same thing, but it is in the same realm. I’ll leave this subject by saying the four musical elements of Led Zeppelin making a fifth is magick into itself. That’s the alchemical process.
In Rolling Stone’s December 2012 cover story “Jimmy Page Looks Back,” Page said “...there was a request, suggesting that Lucifer Rising should come out again with my music on. I ignored it.”
Below, the unused Jimmy Page score for Lucifer Rising: