Saturday, 12 July 2014

Icelandic Pop

Sigur Ros

Icelandic Pop by Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen - a new title in the Reverb Series for 2015/16 - will examine the evolution and characteristics of Icelandic popular music in the last half century or so. From the dance-hall bands that emerged through the influence of the country’s US Army base in the 1950s, to Iceland’s own 60s beat boom, its later turn to folk- and prog-influenced performers, and the later emergence of punk, hip hop, and hardcore movements. The book will also examine the country’s unusual musical relationship to other parts of the world (to the Anglo-American world, the Nordic countries), the importance of factors such as heritage, language and place on its music and performers, as well as the peculiar aesthetics and distinctive ‘sound’ of Icelandic music.

Icelandic Pop will be essential reading for anyone who has stumbled across artists and performers like The Sugarcubes, Björk, Gus Gus, Sigur Ros, Quarashi, Emiliana Torrini, and Of Monsters and Men in the last twenty years, offering a thought-provoking cultural history of a music scene that continues to attract worldwide interest in its distinctive creative output.

About the Author
Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen began writing about pop music the the Icelandic daily newspaper Morgunblaðið in 1999. His writing on music has also been published in other Icelandic newspapers, music trade and academic journals, books and on various music websites, and he is a member of the Nordic Music Prize Committee.

He has written three books on Icelandic music, Umboðsmaður Íslands: Öll trixin í bókinni ('Iceland’s Manager: All The Tricks In The Book'), 2007, co-authored with Einar Bárðarson; 100 bestu plötur Íslandssögunnar ('The 100 Greatest Icelandic Albums Of All Time'), 2009, co-authored with Jónatan Garðarsson; and a collection of his writing from from the newspaper, Morgunblaðið, entitled, Tónlist ... er tónlist: Greinar 1999 – 2012 ('Music … is music: Articles 1999 – 2012').

Arnar is also currently studying for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland under the supervision of Simon Frith.

Portobello Road

The Times on the music inspired by the area around London's Portobello Road.
Blur with the Westway as backdrop
From Will Hodgkinson (The Times):

"Notting Hill, 2014: a moneyed mecca of pillar-porched townhouses, expensive bistros and, with David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove all living here or nearby, a stucco-fronted seat for the Tory inner circle. For the past 25 years — and even more so since the release of Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill in 1999 — this area of west London, bounded by Notting Hill Gate to the south and Harrow Road to the north, has been a byword for comfortable bohemianism, of stylish living at the heart of the establishment. But it wasn’t always that way.

Few of the tourists traipsing the length of Portobello Road in search of Notting Hill landmarks, like the blue door of the flat that Hugh Grant’s William lived in (it’s gone), the Travel Bookshop that William owned (it’s closed down) and the market he strolled through (it’s still there) could know that this was once a poverty-stricken enclave where the story of British underground music was played out. Marc Bolan, Bob Marley and the Clash lived here and Jimi Hendrix died here at the Samarkand Hotel, Lansdowne Crescent."

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Sunday, 6 July 2014

Joe Boyd's 'White Bicycles'

Back in 2006 Joe Boyd's acclaimed memoir, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, was published. Recently I was trawling through a crate of old minidiscs (whatever happened to the minidisc!?) and I found a recording of a fascinating interview from BBC Radio 3's Mixing It programme (August 2006) - the show is now defunct, of course. This special edition was presented, as always, by Mark Russell and the late Robert Sandall.

 I have dematerialized the the now Jurassic disc into MP3 format and uploaded it for your listening pleasure. The 60 minutes or so are mostly taken up with a discussion of various events and characters, and some readings from White Bicycles. But, there are also snatches of music from some of the artists Boyd worked with, including the Reverend Gary Davis, The Incredible String Band, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, and others. 

MP3: Joe Boyd, Mixing It

A playlist is still up on the BBC website, detailing the tracks played. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Who the hell are NRBQ?

NRBQ, pictured on the sleeve of the Kick Me Hard album - Al Anderson, Terry Adams, Joey Spampinato, and Tom Ardolino.

This could be a question that might have occurred to some of you when - on first hearing the relatively obscure NRBQ - wonder why you are only now discovering one of the greatest unsung rock'n'roll bands ever. So, NRBQ - who the hell are they, and why does it matter? 

"Think of NRBQ as a diner somewhere off the main highway," Creem magazine's Mitchell Cohen wrote in 1983 - "serving up Tex-Mex chili, Kansas City barbeque, Philadelphia cheese steaks, New England clam chowder, Chicago deep-dish pizza, Anchor Steam beer on draft. The gamut of American gastronomy. And every time you drop in, the clientele is whooping it up, clearly delighted with each course. So delighted, in fact, that they're concerned lest this place become too popular ..." 

More to follow soon on why NRBQ matter, but here are two 'rockets' from one hot band, both cover versions - 'Rocket Number 9' (from 1969's NRBQ, original by Sun Ra) and 'Rocket in my Pocket' (from a 1980 TV performance, original by Jimmy Lloyd).

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Heroes: David Bowie and Berlin

Heroes: David Bowie and Berlin, Tobias Rüther (October 2014). When a drug-ravaged David Bowie left Los Angeles for Europe in 1976 after two years that had made him one of the most famous performers in the world, he arrived in Berlin plagued by hallucinations, delusions of persecution, and visions of his new home that seemed to have more to do with it’s past than they did the present. But once in Berlin, a city that had enlivened his childhood dreams, he slowly recovered and embarked upon the writing and recording of a series of albums now regarded as an artistic high point of his career – Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979).

In this book, Tobias Rüther sets the singer’s daily life in Berlin against the city of his imagination – fuelled as it was by his fascination with Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin writings, German Expressionism and the Nazism of the 1930s – as Bowie, along with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, set to work in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, in the famous Hansa Studio.

Robert Fripp, Colin Thurston, David Bowie
and Brian Eno recording ‘Heroes’ in Berlin, 1977
In addition to providing the setting for the most radical albums of his career, in Berlin Bowie collaborated on the albums of fellow exile, Iggy Pop (The Idiot and Lust for Life) and starred in the 1978 movie, Just a Gigolo (set in Post-WWI Germany).

Heroes tells the story of an artist and a city, and reveals Bowie as a foreigner caught in a space of dreams and memory, crafting the future history of music inspired by the city’s past.


Tobias Rüther writes for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Heroes: David Bowie and Berlin was originally published in German as Helden: Bowie und Berlin by Rogner & Bernhard. Readers who would like a preview of what to expect can read Tobias’ article from Standpoint magazine, published in 2008:

'A Foreign Affair: David Bowie in Berlin'


Crises are good for art – political as well as private. Those who balance on the edge of the abyss need to keep their wits about them, looking not only down but ahead.

In the late summer of 1976, the mentally and physically exhausted David Bowie moves to West Berlin. For three years, he lives at 155 Hauptstrasse in Schöneberg, an unobtrusive district in the American Sector. Apartments are in short supply, but Bowie finds a loft with seven large rooms on the first floor of an art nouveau building near Tempelhof Airport. Next door is a gay bar; Marlene Dietrich was born around the corner.

Berlin is really only an episode in the life of the English pop star. But in the life of the divided city this episode has evolved into a myth that is constantly conjured up in articles, films and guided tours: Bowie arrives from Los Angeles, where his dissolute lifestyle had almost robbed him of his sanity and his health. In exile here, at the age of 30 he reaches the maturity he requires to become a fully rounded artist. He paints, he writes, he makes a film with Marlene Dietrich and, in the Hansa Studio right next to the Wall, he produces the most courageous music of his life. In the Berlin albums Low and Heroes of 1977, which he makes together with Brian Eno, he adopts the sound of the electronic avant garde. And, little by little, he falls silent. It is the most radical abandonment of hit-parade music that a superstar has ever ventured. Imagine a Robbie Williams, who has followed in the Sinatra tradition as Bowie once did, bringing out a record in which he no longer sings, but improvises on the synthesiser and celebrates his psychoses and phobias as part of the Cold War. That gives you some idea of David Bowie in Berlin.

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Thursday, 5 June 2014


In Remixology Paul Sullivan explores the evolution of dub – the avant-garde form of reggae. Dub as a set of studio strategies and techniques was among the first forms of popular music to turn the idea of song inside out, and is still far from being fully explored. With a unique grip on dance, electronic and popular music, dub-born notions of remix and re-interpretation set the stage for the music of the twenty-first century.

‘The first whole book dedicated to the story of dub (reggae’s sparser, more wayward, brother), Sullivan takes us on a journey across continents . . . Covers everthing from beginnings in Duke Reid’s backyard right through to London’s myriad influences, François K and the dub-disco, Basic Channel, Mark Stewart and Digital Mystikz. Thorough – and thoroughly good’ – – Mixmag
‘Sullivan is skilled at finding accounts of reggae from its earliest days, and there are several illuminating interviews . . . the book’s detailed, if not exhaustive account of dub’s key junctures, and its later eruptions from London and New York to Berlin and Bristol, provides a solid foundation for a history that’s often haunted by myth and rumour. The footnotes and bibliography alone make for fascinating reading, and it features a strong, probing discussion of UK sound system connections, including Saxon’s influence on fast chat deejays such as Smiley Culture and Asher Senator, and the epochal but unheralded 1987 Soul All Dayer Of The Century Clash’ -– The Wire

This book explores the origins of dub in 1970s Kingston, Jamaica, and traces its evolution as a genre, approach and attitude to music to the present day. Stopping off in the cities where it has made most impact – London, Berlin, Toronto, Bristol and New York — Remixology spans a range of genres, from post-punk to dub-techno, jungle to the now ubiquitous dubstep. Along the way Sullivan speaks with a host of international musicians, DJs and luminaries of the dub world including Scientist, Adrian Sherwood, Channel, U-Roy, Clive Chin, Dennis Bovell, Shut Up And Dance, DJ Spooky, Francois Kevorkian, Mala and Roots Manuva.

This wide-ranging and lucid book follows several parallel threads, including the evolution of the MC, the birth of sound-system culture and the broader story of the post-war Jamaican diaspora itself. One of the few books to be written specifically on dub and its global influence, Remixology is also one of the first to look at the specific relationship between dub and the concept that cuts across all postmodern creative disciplines today: the remix.

Paul Sullivan is a writer and photographer whose work has been published in the Guardian, the Telegraph, and National Geographic. He is the author of many books, including Waking Up in Iceland and Sullivan’s Music Trivia. He lives in Berlin.

Friday, 2 August 2013

'Tango' reviewed, The Herald (20 July 2013)

Immigrants in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century (Project Gutenberg)

A review of Tango: Sex and the Rhythm of the City appeared in The Herald (Glasgow) recently: People of a certain age will remember the tango as comic shorthand for the fiery passion the British were never much good at. But the dance, far from being a bit of saucy fun, is inextricable from the socio-economic conditions from which it evolved during its birth in 1860s’ Argentina, when people from the interior moved en masse to Buenos Aires, joining thousands of European immigrants in the city’s slums and red light districts. Its birth marked the passing of the gaucho into history and his rebirth as a pimp and dancer whose moves were echoes of the complex dynamic between the sexes.

The authors follow the dance through its increased sophistication with the incorporation of the accordion, its subsequent fashionability in Paris, London and New York and its connection with the political turbulence of 20th-century Argentina. Highly informative, and peppered with lyrics to illustrate their points.

More on Tango:
Tango: Sex and the Rhythm of the City by Mike Gonzalez and Marianella Yanes (May 2013)
'Tango Comes Out of the Shadows' (book extract, Reverb blog)
'Tango: Dangerous and Exciting' (Reaktion Books blog)