Infected By London Grammar / High Contrast

I was never a raver in the proper late ’80s / ’90s sense. That scene was so bound-up with drug culture and since I’m straight edge, a lot of it left me cold. But I have been clubbing since 1982 and in those three+ decades, there have been moments of sublime, hyperreal dance floor epiphany.

Sometimes, on a certain night at a certain time, the DJ puts a certain song on and everything comes together. The strangers on the floor aren’t strangers any more, we all look at each other and we know that we are all in this moment together. A shiver passes through us. We may be old/young, male/female, gay/straight, black/white but in that few minutes, there is not an erasure of those identities but a transcendence of them.

This Monday night, just three nights ago, that happened with the High Contrast remix of London Grammar’s ‘Strong.’

I’d heard the original version of the song a few times and liked it but it hadn’t stuck. Kind of reminded me of Florence or the XX. It was ok but there wasn’t a way in for me beyond that. It didn’t connect with me.

But this Monday, DJ Tom Hughes dropped the remix of ‘Strong’ at exactly the perfect time. DJing is primarily about two things: knowing your music and knowing how to read a crowd. It’s no good knowing how to read a crowd if you only have three tunes to play them. That’s going to be a short set/career. Similarly, there are plenty of DJs who are amazing in their bedrooms but given a break in an actual club, they stiff the floor because they have no understanding of the dialectic between DJ and audience. It is always a negotiation. The greatest DJs know how to give us enough of what we know and are comfortable with to keep us on the floor and then slide in the new stuff, the difficult stuff that they know we might initially baulk at but will love a month for now. That’s how Tom DJs.

When the first beats of ‘Strong’ came on and then Hannah Reid’s plaintive, complaintive, rich, dark sigh came in, everything came together. High Contrast’s new framework brings out aspects of the song that had been previously shaded. As the beat built and then kicked in, I looked around the dancefloor and everyone was doing the same face. Fashion, pulling, cliques, cool dance moves were all rendered irrelevant before the beat and the bass and Reid’s soaring, cartwheeling vocals. We just smiled at each other and danced, happy to be alive and there and in that perfect moment.

The sugary frosting on the cupcake is the countermelodies that High Contrast has added to ‘Strong.’ Much like Skrillex’ additions to Benni Benassi’s ‘Cinema,’ these unlock the song for us, they let us in. Now, if I listen to the original, I can’t help but hear the remix melodies.

As I’ve written this, I’ve had the remix on loop. Occasionally, I’ll listen to the original and I do love that too ~ now. I have been infected by ‘Strong’ because of a perfect storm of factors: the original song received a thoughtful, musical remix from High Contrast and then a great DJ knew just when to drop it in his set.

How could I resist that? Who would be immune to such a convergence of talented, brilliant vectors.

London Grammar, High Contrast, DJ Tom Hughes ~ I salute you!

Infected By The Story So Far

This was a slow-burner of an infection, with an incubation time of months. Sneaky TSSF!

At the start of the year, I bought The Story So Far’s album, ‘Under Soil And Dirt’ from Emusic. It came out in 2011 and I’d seen a couple of good reviews, plus mates who always have good ears were telling me I should check them out. I’d actually missed them at Slam Dunk 2011 due to the inevitable gig clashes of big festivals.

So, downloaded, listened and… cool. Tuneful pop punk, quite old-school in places. The singer had a great voice, on the edge of losing it but perfectly so. That’s as far as it went, I liked it but wasn’t obsessed.

But then… it crept up on me. I’d done a pop punk playlist in iTunes and just dropped in everything I’d recently bought: We Are The In Crowd, This Time Next Year, Man Overboard, A Loss For Words and The Story So Far. I listened to it while doing my clubbing pics in Lightroom. And, every now and then, this song came on:

It’s the end lyrics that get me, the “I’m trying hard, real hard not to lose my temper.” I found myself humming that bit when I was tidying up. Or walking round town. Or when I was getting angry at some stupid shit I’ve done, which was quite fucking often.

Slowly, the meme of the song infected me.

There was another vector at work too – Mosh. Andy Shaw’s Friday pop punk club night is where I spend most Friday nights, dancing for five hours to my fave pop punk tunes. And every time he played ‘Quicksand,’ I got a bit more addicted. It’s one thing listening to a song on your phone or iTunes, solo but when you’re dancing with your mates and a song like ‘Quicksand’ comes on and you all go fucking mental, there’s a new magic there. The collision of music, lyrics and bodies makes something bigger than the sum of the parts.

The infection became critical when I put the album on my iPhone for my emowalks. And then I started getting caught by this song:

‘Roam’ has this amazing guitar chord kick in and the most anthemic, singalong chorus I’ve heard in a good while:

“You have no idea how un-productive it is,
To fall in and out of you as often as I do,
And lately I’ve been feeling grey but today,
I’m alright, no thanks to you.”

My emowalk lasts an hour, sometimes a bit more. And by now, all I’m listening to is this album. TSSF are the perfect soundtrack, I don’t feel like I’m listening to songs so much as listening to my inner thoughts. So much of my current life is frustration, sadness and a crushing, malignant loneliness. I know I’m a fucking idiot for feeling like this but there appears to be nothing I can do about it apart from walking and weight-training till everything hurts and surfing off the resultant beta-endorphins for a while. If I wasn’t straight edge, I’d have drunk myself into oblivion by now. So, even though I’m probably the age of TSSF’s Dads, there’s something here, in these word and chords and fragmented, angry exchanges that both understands and liberates me.

When I listen to this album, I feel less alone, less weird. My passion seems less foolish, my obsession justified and my confusion shared and therefore embraced.

But I don’t want to give you the wrong idea about TSSF – although there’s a lot of anguish, there are shining, celebratory moments where singing along with a lyric can make me feel happy and bulletproof. Like the chorus of ‘Mt. Diablo’:

“And if you cut out scheduled time,
You’ll find peace of mind,
Trust me, it’s worth your weight in gold,
And if you think you’re fine,
Go ahead, follow that line,
At least none of my friends do what they’re told,
By what they’re sold.”

There isn’t a bad track on the whole album, no filler whatsoever. I’ve listened to it so many times now and, like all the best art, I keep finding new turns and twists, new ideas and experiences. The guitar countermelodies dovetail perfectly with the vocal melodies, the drumming pounds the fuck out of me, the bass rolls underneath it all hugely, I cannot fault anything. Not a thing.

I am throughly, hopelessly infected by The Story So Far. They own me, if you cut me today, I would bleed this album.

CODA: It doesn’t look like the infection is going to abate quickly as I’ve just bought tickets to see TSSF when they support NFG at Rock City on the Warped UK Tour. So, if you’re there, look out for a porky Indian bloke singing his fucking heart out. 🙂

Infected By Noah And The Whale

I liked NATW when I first started hearing them. I DJed their pop breakthrough, ‘Five Year’s Time.’ But I didn’t really like what I’d heard of the new album. I thought ‘Life Goes On’ (can’t be arsed to type in all the full stops) was a weird mix of Paul Young’s ‘Common People’ singingly and ‘Copacabana’ thematically.

Then, on Monday, I got infected by ‘Give It All Back.’

I was driving home after dropping my mate Nat at an exam. Driving along Acorn Way to Oakwood, the sun was out and the sky was a cool blue. A song started on Radio One. Then I heard these lyrics:

Oh well the world never seemed bigger
Than the summer of ’98
Living out in the suburbs
Planning my escape
I grew my hair to my shoulders
Formed a band with a couple of friends
And we called ourselves The Devil’s Playhouse
Influences like Bruce and The Band

And we’d sing and play
Simple three chord rock and roll
And miles away
The other kids would just grow old
But we’re making our own way out
Yeah, we’re making our own way out

Well we’d practice every week in my bedroom
While my parents were working in town
And one morning in our school assembly
Played a cover of “Don’t Let Me Down”
The performance was nervous and awkward
But the passion was real and profound
And the kids in the audience laughing
While the band just stared at the ground

But the victory
For the kids who believe in rock and roll
I know for me
That performance lives, it never grows old
But we’re making our own way out
Yeah we’re making our own way out

Well I’d give it all back just to do it again
Yeah I’d turn back time, be with my friends
Yeah I’d give it all back just to do it again
Turn back time, be with my friends
Yeah I’d give it all back just to do it again
Turn back time and be with my friends
Yeah I’d give it all back just to do it again
Turn back time, be with my friends

By the end of the song, I was crying. Not enough to crash the car but enough to drip onto my coat. I had to buy the album yesterday and since then I think I’ve listened to this song around fifty times. I’m infected by it, it’s hijacked my cells.

In the 2.56 the song lasts, NATW have managed to encapsulate perfectly my life as a musician.

I left school at 16 specifically to join a band. And I did. I played my first gig at 16, in 1982. I wrote my first song then. Yes, it was about a girl at school I was in love with, why are you even asking? And, yes, she was beautiful. I remember looking through the gaps between the buttons on her blouse when she sat next to me, seeing her breasts nestled in her bra. How could I *not* write my first song about her? She wore braces and I loved her lisp even more than her huge, soft eyes.

In the thirty years since I have grown and changed and matured and I have stayed exactly the same. I’m still writing songs about girls I’m hopelessly, stupidly in love with. I still spend a long time looking at their boobs, though I have permission nowadays. And I still have the dreams that NATW put into this song.

When you’re 16 and in your first band with your mates, there is a union, a bond you will never have again. Those first gigs, the drives out to fucking nowhere in crappy cars, not getting paid, arguing about petrol money. The post-gig grub and post-mortem. The stupid pranks boys in bands play on each other. All of those moments which seem so unimportant at the time are the most fleeting, magical things when you remember them.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my life as a musician now and I’m eternally thankful I’m able to do it as my full-time job.

But sometimes, I would give it all back just to do it again.

Infected By Everything Everything

Puppies, you need to read this and this

(Or at least skim them if you already know about basic memetics. Or just can’t be arsed reading a lot.)

Well, here’s my latest infection. It’s the song ‘MY KZ, UR BF’ by the band Everything Everything.

This time the infection set in over the course of the last month. I’d heard the song maybe twice on Radio One but it outrageously hasn’t been heavily playlisted so it didn’t quite catch.

Then I was doing DJing prep for Bzangy Groink and I downloaded it along with a load of other indietastic tunes. In fact, I made a new CDR for my car, consisting of this indieness.


The EE song was second on the CDR. And the whole last week and a bit, I’ve never got past track two. Or back onto track one. All I’ve been listening to, going into town, out of town, to my parents’ house, randomly driving with the lights off in the evening, is this one song. Over and over and over. Track finishes, I skip back and start it again.

Hold on, I’m just going to start it on iTunes… Oh god…

Here are the lyrics:

Lucifer you’re landing, cross-hairs on the kitchen sink
Barb-wire in the bathroom, I can’t make new memories since

Flashbacks to the time, this shell-shocked apartment was the place
I met with your boy, it’s a mortal thing, yeah it’s a mortal thing
“Oh!” he looked at me funny and I, “Oh! Oh!” think our secret’s out and a
“Oh-ooh-oh!” I try to explain
but then munitions rain, and we’re the epicentre

It’s like I’m watching the A4 paper taking over the guillotine,
It’s like I’m watching the A4 paper taking over the guillotine

And I wanna know what happened to your boyfriend, cos he was looking at me like “whoa..!”
Yeah right before the kitchen was a dustbowl, and tossing me the keys and I can’t forget how
everything just coming through the windows, and half the street was under my nails
it’s like we sitting in the Faraday cage, when the lights all failed.

I fly through the walls, all pieces colliding and I
see Raymond apart, he’s a frowning now, wagging a finger at me
“Boy!” his knees bend the other way and, “Boy! Boy!” are you guys together honey?
“B..b..boy!” Oh but now I can’t find his torso, I guess you’re separated,

It’s like I’m watching the A4 paper taking over the guillotine,
(Monica I just wanna know…)
It’s like I’m watching the A4 paper taking over the guillotine

And I wanna know what happened to your boyfriend, cos he was looking at me like “whoa..!”
Yeah right before the kitchen was a dustbowl, and tossing me the keys and I can’t forget how
everything just coming through the windows, and half the street was under my nails
it’s like we sitting in the Faraday cage, when the lights all failed.

Lucifer you’re landing ([six cars the driveway oh] I do believe it will be business inside)
Cross-hairs on the kitchen sink (it’s a real spanner into my works I think I kicked the bucket)
Baby’s on the bull’s-eye (…do believe it will be business inside..)
I can’t make new memories since, …ries since, …ries since.

And I wanna know what happened to your boyfriend, cos he was looking at me like “whoa..!”
Yeah right before the kitchen was a dustbowl, and tossing me the keys and I can’t forget how
everything just coming through the windows, and half the street was under my nails
it’s like we sitting in the Faraday cage, when the lights all failed.

And now everybody gotta go hungry, and everybody cover up their mouths
And I haven’t seen the body count lately, but looking at your faces it must have been bad!
and if everybody answered their phone calls, but people say the army’s on fire
it’s like we sitting with our parachutes on, but the airport’s gone.

The music is fantastic, twingly and spingly, marimbary and hooting. But the lyrics are what grabbed me. The way EE veer from dense metaphors and elaborate similies to throwing in lines like “cos he was looking at me like “whoa!” is simply beautiful. In sociolinguistic terms, I love the way EE shift register. Thus:

my kz ur bf sociololinguistic register

It’s this playfulness combined with the ambiguity of the lyrics that drew me in, that infected me. I had to play it again and again. I had to look up the lyrics. I had to try and sing along, which is fucking difficult since EE seem to have phrasing that’s madder than XTC multiplied by McCarthy divided by Shooby Taylor. I’m getting there. I’ve got the chorus and intro/mid nailed but the verses are bastard hard.

Another infection vector is that the song reminds me of a mate and intrigue and spies and sodium lights spilling over flour-bombed kitchens. When I told her this, she was puzzled because the song doesn’t actually bear much resemblance to her reality. But in my mind, it fits perfectly, irrefutably! I do like the video I’ve stuck at the top of this post but I would like to have made the video I have in my head. Which is also mad since who gives a fuck what imagery I’ve got in my head?

Of course, I’ve bought the album (which is wonderful). I’ve also bought tickets to go and see them in a fortnight. I’m listening to this one song over and over, trying to get bored of it, hoping to get sick of it. I honestly want to listen to other music now but the bloody song won’t let me go. I don’t want to hear it, I need to hear it.

On Friday night, I went upstairs at Mosh, which I never do on Fridays and the lovely DJ there put it on for me. I danced to it, totally on my own on the dancefloor. It was 11.15 or so and people were wandering up, looking at the mentalist on the dancefloor and wondering what drugs I was on.

None. Just music.

That three minutes thirty-eight seconds was the musical highlight of that night. It was all downhill from there.

This afternoon, I was shopping with my mates Kell and Malc and when we sauntered into River Island, the song was on. Immediately, I had to sing along. I was walking past girls, singing along and I knew they were looking at me like I was a nutter. Which I am.

Music is, obviously, a big part of my life and probably an equally big part of my brain wiring and interaction, if anything I’ve read recently about neuroplasticity is accurate. All those webs are now owned by ‘MY KZ, UR BF.’ I want them back!

Really, I’m protesting falsely. I’m listening to it now and it’s like sweet, sweet audio crack. The sinuous bassline, the ’80s pad chords in the chorus, the offbeat drums. The bursts of distorted vocals and particularly the falsetto sex noises the singer makes.

I am so infected.

Tag. You’re it.

Infected By Saves The Day

Saves The Day

First, it’d be useful if you read this.

Well, it’s happened again.

I wasn’t an old-school Saves The Day fan, I only got into them when I heard ‘Freakish,’ which is off their third album, ‘Stay What You Are.’ That was in 2001 and I’m pretty sure I only noticed that song because I saw the pop vid at the time and it featured some awesome muppets. But the song lodged in my brain. Poppy, yeah!

Roll on a couple of years and I’m doing my normal singalong comps for the car. And, for some reason, I think of ‘Freakish’ and stick it on the comp. I’d played the track while DJing and it just started going round my brain.

Saves The Day

I stuck the CDR in my car. It was chock-full of singalong splendour but I kept just playing ‘Freakish,’ again and again and again and again and again. Track ends, skip to start. The only time I wouldn’t play it is when I had passengers because I didn’t want them to see just how freaky (heh) I’d become.

Soo… I went back to the album. And I fell in love with it. Obviously, at first the infection vectors were the poppiest tracks like ‘At Your Funeral’ and ‘Certain Tragedy.’ But it wasn’t long before I’d be out in town and find myself humming ‘Ghost’ or ‘Jukebox.’

Saves The Day

The last two months, maybe longer, pretty much all I’ve been listening to in my car has been ‘Stay What You Are.’ Going to Mosh at 11pm, driving home after at 3am, going into town, round to see my parents. I’ve become obsessed. Again, the only time it’s not on is when I have passengers.

The infection isn’t just the one album, though. I’ve been listening to all of them far too much. Saves The Day used to be way, way down on my artist list. Now, take a look. They rate higher than Kraftwerk, my fave band of all time and whose music I’ve been listening to for at least twenty years longer than Saves The Day! This is madness.

Today, while I was doing weights, I listened to ‘Under The Boards,’ their last album to date. I love it. These lyrics from ‘Can’t Stay The Same’ in particular got to me:

Go if you wanna go
Don’t wanna lie here while you cry yourself to sleep
And say what you wanna say
Cause I can see by your face that somethings not the same

Hey, hey everything’s okay
I love you more than I can say
But we can’t stay the same

Do what you wanna do
Don’t wanna keep you here holding so tight you can’t breathe
And stay, not a minute stay
Cos I don’t think I wanna live here dying all alone…

How can anyone not relate to those lyrics? If you’ve ever loved and lost, it’s all there. ‘Under The Boards’ has got loads of other similarly poppy and moving songs. That’s the classic Saves The Day trademark: infectious guitar-driven pop backed with lyrics that just pierce your fucking heart, even when you don’t want them to. Whether it’s ‘Get Fucked Up’ or ‘Kaleidoscope,’ they throw stuff at you that you want to dodge but can’t. Conley’s aim is too true, too horribly accurate.

Saves The Day

My life over the past eighteen months has been the lowest of lows I’ve yet experienced. Even though it’s been full of brief, shiny moments with beautiful friends who’ve lifted me higher than I can climb on my own, the general trend has been down. The only thing that’s been able to make it all make sense is Saves The Day. More so than Leonard Cohen, more than Tim Hardin or Michael Nesmith or any of the other songwriters I normally turn to when everything turns to shit, like an alky turns to whisky.

When I’m singing along, I’m lost and I find myself. I need the loudness, I need Conley’s soaring, shredding voice, always on the edge of breaking. I can’t really explain how much his music has given me succour, how much he makes me feel less lonely. Today, I realised I had to write this post as I found myself crying and weight-training and listening to yet more Saves The Day. Is there anything more emo than crying while you’re doing wrist curls?

Saves The Day

So, Saves The Day and songwriter Chris Conley now own me. I stalk him a bit on the net (not excessively, just a bit), I’m waiting for the new album, I’m listening to all their previous albums on infinite repeat. I am infected.

And I hope, if you’ve read this far, that I may have passed on the infection to you too. 🙂

Infected By The Shins

(Please follow this link if you’re not familiar with basic memetic theory.)

I’ve just spent the last hour working out the chords to The Shins’ ‘New Slang’ and singing it over and over till I’m a bit hoarse. I think I’ve just had the memetic equivalent of a horrendous fever which has broken tonight.

It all started so simply…

…last year, like 250,000+ other pop kids, I was enthralled by The Shins album ‘Chutes Too Narrow.’ So, naturally, I went back in time and bought their first album and then back into Flake (Music). The earlier stuff was lovely too but I thought ‘Chutes’ by far the poppiest and most accessible. When I DJed last year, I played songs from that album.


I went to see The Shins and The Stills play in Notts (look here!). I remember they did ‘Kissing The Lipless’ beautifully. They may have done ‘New Slang’ but I’m not sure. But what I do know is that I played it DJing for the first time three days after that gig. Hmmmm…

At first, the symptoms of my memetic plague were mild. I’d occasionally find myself humming the catchy Am – C – F – C intro bit. Nothing too heavy, I can handle that. Then I put the track on a CDR for my car. What the hell is he singing about? Gold teeth? Bakers bleeding into their buns? The opacity of the lyrics hooked me further.

So, like all dark obsessions, I turned to the internet to slake my desire. Up came a gzillion lyrics sites. Dang – they’re even more barmy written down! But hellishly catchy.

I guess the infection bloomed exponentially from that point. I couldn’t escape. I kept humming the intro, the verse, the whole damned song. Going round in my head with those gorgeously simple folk chords chiming. I thought it was calming down but then the bloody TV ad for Garden State featured a snippet of the song! Arrghh!

Last week when I DJed, I played ‘New Slang.’ Tonight, when I DJed, I played ‘New Slang.’ On the way to the Bless and back I listened only to ‘New Slang,’ hitting the back button on my stereo everytime the last tambourine tap sounded. The ‘New Slang’ meme had taken control of my entire musical brain.

Like biological agents, memes aren’t universally infectious. A lot of people I know don’t like The Shins. They could hear ‘New Slang’ and be completely un-affected by something I consider quintessentially poppy. Similarly, a lot of people can’t stand music with simple chords. The whole of the song uses just four chords: Am, C, F, G (maybe five cos I think they chuck in a C7).

I knew before I worked the song out that it’d be chords like that. How? Because that’s what my brain seems to be wired for. Whether they’re played by Erik Satie, Louis Jordan or Kraftwerk, I love those simple, classic pop shapes and progressions. I never tire of them, as long as they’re manipulated inventively. That’s why I love folk music. Whenever I like a song, and then work it out, I find out that the chordal structure is invariably very simple.

Conversely, I’m not a huge fan of post-1937 jazz because complex chords leave me cold. It becomes too muddy for me, too dissonant. I obviously hear a different music than jazz lovers.

So, I have no memetic resistance to simplicity, folk tunes, country songs. I love repetition with slight variations so I also love electronic music (which is handy, since I make it). Whereas, I figure someone whose favourite artists are Mingus and Coltrane probably would find most of the music I love fairly dull and unadventurous. They’re resistant to simple music, much as someone can be resistant to a particular strain of flu.

Of course, I’m leaving out loads of other factors here, like how trendy a band is, whether you fancy them, etc. Those are all memetic infection vectors in their own right.

I suppose this post is quite ironic in that I’ve had many people tell me how irritatingly catchy ‘Your Woman’ was. But now you understand why it had to be: it’s in the nature of my brain/mind itself. When I first heard that trumpet riff, I knew I had to nick it, it was sooo catchy. And yet, it’s just three simple notes. Nothing complex at all, over equally un-adorned chords. Not a diminished or augmented in sight.

Now it’s 4am. The song is still going round my head and I’m tempted to go into my studio and sing it again…

Altogether now:

Gold teeth and a curse for this town…

P.S. Exactly the same thing happened with Nas’ ‘Get Down.’ I must have listened to that song hundreds of times while I was working out all the lyrics, repeating them till they were perfectly in sync with Mr. Jones, line for line. I have no idea who Nicky Bars is but I now know what he pushed in the ’70s. With Nas, his amazing rhythmic timing is the infective meme. You have to replicate it.

P.P.S. In writing this, I’ve just become a carrier for ‘New Slang.’ Some people will read this and go on to check out the song, thus becoming infected themselves. Yes, I have memetic lurgy