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June 09, 2005

A few additional thoughts to bear in mind…

Writing about Life, Top Banana and Everything. from Juicy's Blog

Listen up, y'all!

I was going to post this as part of the discussion on my last entry but thought there were some key points in here which I didn't want lost in the ensuing banter, so here goes…

In various recent debates about Top Banana and the music in the Union in general it has been suggested that our job as DJs is not to educate the audience, but rather to simply give them what they want (a suggestion which usually rankles us, since "what they want" is usually an extremely limited selection of tunes, most of which are what the French refer to as "Le Toss". But hey, as has been rightly pointed out, these records have their place so let's not pass too many value judgements here).


"Can't... hold...own... against...good... music..."

However, an interesting point to consider is that yes, we can rest of course on our laurels and pander to the masses by refusing to exert our own tastes on them, but think about this: on the first night of the academic year, I put on a then relatively little-known record I absolutely loved called Mr. Brightside by The Killers, and only a handful of people knew it while most others looked on in bewilderment and/or disgust. Convinced of the fact that this was a song which a lot of people had the potential to like, I kept plugging it relentlessly at every major Union event I DJ-ed over the course of the year (Freshers Ball, Skool Dayz, End-of-Term parties, Baby B, Top B) until eventually everyone decided that this was in fact their new favourite song of all-time (watch it top the Top B Top 40 vote with flying colours when the poll goes up soon…)

Now I'm not saying that I'm solely responsible for bringing this track to Warwick's attention, as chances are when Somebody Told Me became such a big hit many more people would have come across it through buying the album (or, as is unfortunately more likely here, scamming it off DC++... or in fact just downloading the one track, lest we forget the blank-faced reaction to All These Things That I've Done a couple of weeks later).

Of course, let's also not get into the irony that Brightside (essentially a misunderstood and deeply melancholic song about sexual jealousy) has now become the new Chesney and we're getting a bit bored of playing it, but still – unless people in positions of influence (and no, I'm not claiming mine to be one particularly but, as has been demonstrated by some of the records we've helped break into Top B, we do hold some sway over things here) take the time to help push these things, most people aren't going to bother investigating them of their own accord. Look at the way Chris Evans singlehandedly broke Ocean Colour Scene, for example – there was a band with clear mass appeal who simply weren't getting the support they needed until someone in a prominent position stood up and said "I like this, and I think you might too".

Many people have accused me of musical elitism in the past, but what has often frustrated me is that a great deal of the lesser-known bands I like ARE in fact extremely accessible and WOULD have the ability to cross over into mainstream consciousness if both the media and the public were just a little more dilligent in helping to identify and support them. The recent Head Automatica single Beating Heart Baby is a great example of this - although quite spiky in its articulation, it's a very poppy tune which went down well when we started playing it in the Union and is now requested regularly (though whether most people would know what it is when it comes on is still debatable). Look at what happened when we played One Way by The Levellers at Top B the other night - when I was at school this was literally the biggest song of the night at our discos, and has one of the most hollerable choruses in the history of popular music ("There's only one way of life, and that's your own, your own, your own" - I mean come on, if you can't pick that up then there's something seriously wrong with you!) When we put it on, literally only four people recognised it; however, rather than just submit and take it off, I persevered with it until the end, by which time a considerable amount more people were dancing away and found themselves quite enjoying it. Indeed, as James astutely pointed out in his comments on the previous topic: YOU DON'T HAVE TO KNOW WHAT A SONG IS TO BE ABLE TO ENJOY IT. How did you react when you first heard Mr. Brightside? Did you honestly say "This record's shit because I've never heard it before" and dismiss it forever? (Although let's not forget the legendary first play of Britney's Toxic at Top B a couple of years back, which was greeted with hoots of derision and strenuous objections from basically everyone…)

This is why we find it annoying that people are so close-minded towards anything remotely different at Union events: it's because oftentimes there are much better things out there that we think you'll like if you just give them a chance - but of course many people aren't even prepared to do this, mostly due to simple complacency, ignorance and/or laziness. With this attitude, how are you ever going to embrace anything new? It's always frustrated me that bands like Fountains of Wayne and The Lemonheads - both of whom make, or have made, very accessible and catchy pop songs of an exceptionally high standard - have previously met with only limited success due to underexposure. However, what narks me more than anything is when a great band with the clear potential for mainstream appeal (Silver Sun, for example, though obviously they've persevered in the face of adversity and recently put out a new album after several years in the wilderness) just get completely overlooked and are forced to break up, which deprives the rest of us of their work. When their music means so much to you as a fan, I just find it such a fucking shame, and so hopefully you'll forgive my anger at those people whose ignorance breeds this kind of apathy and robs genuinely great musicians of their ability to get heard.

I suppose the nub of the argument is this: there comes a point – and this is something that a lot of people tend to forget – when you have to realise that the Union is here to cater for everyone, and not just you. So next time you feel the apparently insatiable urge to come up to one of us and complain that what we're doing is "shit" or that you don't like it, please bear this in mind: THOUGH THE RECORD WE'RE PLAYING MAY NOT BE YOUR FAVOURITE SONG, CHANCES ARE IT IS SOMEONE ELSE'S. As DJs at Warwick's most popular events we aren't out to wreck anyone's night by playing wilfully obscure music, and we're certainly not out to patronise anyone by exerting our own tastes on the masses without any thought for how well it might translate to them (it always flummoxes me when I'm accused of just playing "my" music, as I was when I dropped R.E.M. 's Losing My Religion into Baby B after it trounced all-comers in that week's Pounder vote – believe me, if I played most of the stuff I enjoy listening to you'd see a mass dancefloor exodus of Biblical proportions…)

However, please realise that we do know what we're doing and can keep as many people as possible happy if you just trust us to do our job and open your minds a little from time to time. Regardless of the changes that have been made, pretty much every track we play during peak time has been at least a Top 30 hit at some point, usually higher (go look at the playlists on the Top B forum after signing in here if you don't believe us) - which must mean that some or indeed many of you bought copies of them at some point. Hell, we aren't even doing anything particularly radical with the music at Top B - it strikes me that if you don't know the vast majority of the records played past 10:30pm, there are serious gaps in both your own musical knowledge and your ability to just have a good time. Believe me, we love nothing more than when the dancefloor's heaving and people are having fun, and ultimately this is our aim with any event we DJ (we'd be pretty crummy at our jobs if it wasn't…)

On a different note, to whoever it was who accused me of pitching myself as some kind of Musical High Priest, as a complete atheist I suppose I do see music as some kind of spiritual substitute… But hey, that's a different matter entirely!

As you were…


June 06, 2005

A few timely notes on ATTITUDES TO MUSIC AT WARWICK

Follow-up to Warwick Students Union presents… THE TNC SOUNDSYSTEM from World of Mr Agreeable

Morning all...

As some of you may be aware, on Saturday night we held an event in The Cooler which was radically different from anything else piloted in the Union this year. The original details are posted on the webpage above for anyone who wasn't there or wants to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Now, one common complaint I hear levelled at the Union is that many events are too similar in terms of music crossover – most people would be hard-pushed to tell you the difference in music policy between Top B, Score! and Skool Dayz, for example. Well here we did something completely different, and for the most part what did we get? People complaining that it was… yep, too unlike all these events.

So my question is this: what is the perpetual obsession with "Cheese" at this place (a bracket of music which is - take it from me - extremely limited in its scope), and why is there such a vehement insistence on only hearing the same set of songs played over and over again? If you went out to a club night anywhere else, would people go and complain to the DJs if they weren't playing a non-stop barrage of Britney and Chesney? I'm interested to know if the same people who complained the other night would do the same to the DJs at Delicatessen, or Ramshackle in Birmingham - both of which are nights which incorporate many elements of Saturday's playlist. For the most part, the music you heard the other night was extremely danceable and perfectly standard for an alternative club night OR STUDENTS UNION in any major city (in fact, by many standards it might be considered quite tame in comparison). Why is it that Warwick has such an aversion to it? Does it - oh, dear lord - does it ultimately all come back to this again?

I realise that the event was originally named 'Party Tunes' and that its direction hadn't been fully finalised when this term's issue of Lowdown was published, so I can forgive anyone who read that and thought it was going to be a night of 70s and 80s music (though in case you didn't notice, there are two seperate events which cover these areas about three times a term...) However, the publicity around campus had advertised what the event would be, and this information was readily available to anyone who wanted it.

Saturday was intended as an experiment in trialling a different type of club night at the Union with a broader music policy, and to be honest it saddens me that so many people felt the need to complain so relentlessly throughout the evening. Perhaps I'm more open-minded in my approach to music, as I've always taken the view that if I haven't heard something, that's a positive rather than a negative thing. However, just to illustrate what we were up against, here are a selection of the "discussions" we had with various people…

– - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - –

Disgusted Punter: "This music is shit".
Exasperated DJ: "No, it isn't actually – if you opened your mind a bit you might enjoy yourself".
Punter: "But the event's called Party Tunes".
DJ: "No, it's called Party Tunes presents The TNC Soundsystem".
Punter: "What's that then?"
DJ: "This".
Punter: "Oh. Well, can you play some Queen?"
DJ: "No, that's not what this night is about".
Punter: "But you're being paid to play party music!"
DJ: "No, we're being paid to try something different for the night. And besides, this is party music – just one that doesn't fit your narrow definition".
Punter: "Yeah, well, it's shit".
DJ: "Next!"

[Minor point to bear in mind for future reference: going up to a DJ and simply telling him/her that what they're doing is "shit" is hardly likely to endear them to you or your cause].

– - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - –

Punter: "Can't you play some cheese?"
DJ: "No, that's not what the music policy is for tonight".
Punter: "Well what is it then?"
DJ (for the millionth time): "Electroclash, alternative dance, alternative hip-hop, dance-indie, breakbeat, funk and rock'n'roll. Basically just a big mash-up of really cool stuff".
Punter: "But look at the dancefloor, no-one likes this!"
DJ: "Er, are you in fact completely blind?! We've had the dancefloor two-thirds full on what is quite clearly an off-night terms of attendance for a good few hours now".
Punter: "But no-one likes it!"
DJ: "No, you don't like it. You're rather selfishly imposing your own opinion on the people who do".
Punter: "I'm leaving! You've ruined my night!"
DJ: "You'll be missed…"

– - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - –

Punter: "Is this the type of music you're going to be playing all evening?"
DJ: "Yes. That's what this night is. It was billed as such on the publicity".
Punter: "Well I don't like it".
DJ: "Well, er… I'm sorry about that but we're not going to change it just to suit your needs!"
Punter: I'm not enjoying myself".
DJ: "Well, er… leave then!"
Punter: "No. I've paid to get in and I'm going to stay. But I don't like it".
DJ: "So you're just going to sit and complain all night then instead of trying to have a good time? That must be terribly fulfilling for you…"

– - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - –

Punter (at 1am): "What music are you playing tonight?"
DJ: "Er… the stuff we've been playing for the past three hours".
Punter: "Yeah, but what is it? I can't dance to this" .
DJ: "What?! Do you even have ears?! Feet?! A sense of rhythm?!"
Punter: "I think your music's a bit too cool for me".
DJ: "Er… well I'm, er, sorry about that… I… think…"
Punter: "Can't you play some proper dance music?"
DJ: "You what?! This is the fucking Prodigy, and you just heard The Chemical Brothers! Oh of course, forgive me - they've never contributed anything to the arena of dance music…"

– - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - –

And my personal favourite of the night, a lady for whom the concept of self-awareness and/or irony seemed to be notably lacking…

Punter: "Can't you play some good music - like Saturday Night or the Macarena?!" - (then, as the door to the DJ booth closes in her face): "... YMCA?!"

– - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - –

A big thankyou to all those who came along with an open mind and had a good time – especially any of you who wandered over to either ask what certain tracks were or to say they really enjoyed themselves, despite it being not quite what they were expecting. One girl who'd complained bitterly at the start of the night even came up at the end and said that she took it all back and that it was the best night of music she'd heard in the Union all year – which goes to show that you are able to enjoy something a bit different if you're prepared to embrace this "difficult" concept.

As I said to all those punters who wanted to know if the event would be happening again, if you enjoyed it then for god's sake, MAKE SOME NOISE. E-mail Gaz Barker (cvo@sunion.warwick.ac.uk) and tell him to pass the feedback onto the Ents Department so that they know the demand is out there. Despite the inevitable whingers trying to spoil it for everyone, James and I had an absolutely great time doing it as it gave us an opportunity to share with you music which you might not have heard before or perhaps wouldn't normally get to hear at the Union.

And so, in inevitable High Fidelity style, here's the playlist for anyone who's curious…

  • Transplants – "Tall Cans In the Air"
  • Gisli – "Go Get 'Em Tiger"
  • MC Lars – "iGeneration"
  • Stompa Phunk – "The Crowd Seems To…"
  • N.E.R.D. – "Lapdance" (Freeform Reform Edit)
  • Tiga – "Hot In Herre"
  • Radiohead – "Idioteque"
  • Bloc Party – "Like Eating Glass"
  • Mclusky – "Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues"
  • The Hives – "A Little More For Little You"
  • Novy vs. Eniac – "Smoke Dis"
  • Alter Ego – "Rocker"
  • Bugz In the Attic – "Booty La La"
  • Peaches – "Set It Off" (Disco Remix)
  • LCD Soundsystem – "Give It Up"
  • The Faint – "Worked Up So Sexual"
  • Le Tigre – "Deceptacon"
  • The Bravery – "An Honest Mistake"
  • Mylo – "Musclecars" (Reform)
  • The Sugarhill Gang – "Apache"
  • Thomas Rusiak feat. Teddybears HTLM - "Hiphopper"
  • Atmosphere – "Trying to Find a Balance"
  • Ignorantz – "Phat Girls"
  • Fallacy & Fusion – "The Ground Breaker"
  • Roots Manuva – "Witness (One Hope)"
  • Blak Twang – "Rotten"
  • Jay-Z – "99 Problems"
  • Dizzee Rascal – "Fix Up, Look Sharp!"
  • Soul Coughing – "Rolling"
  • Alabama 3 – "Woke Up This Morning" (Urban Takeover Mix)
  • Kosheen – "Empty Skies"
  • Audio Bullys – "We Don't Care"
  • Basement Jaxx – "Get Me Off"
  • Felix Da Housecat – "Silver Screen Shower Scene"
  • Green Velvet – "La La Land"
  • Mylo – "Destroy Rock & Roll" (Tom Neville Remix)
  • Mr. T vs. Fat Beats – "How 'Bout This, Sucka?"
  • Kasabian – "Club Foot" (Jagz Kooner Vocal Mix)
  • Bomb the Bass – "Bug Powder Dust"
  • Prodigy – "Hotride" (POJ Remix)
  • The Rakes – "Retreat" (Phones Remix)
  • The Chemical Brothers – "Battle Weapon Number 7"
  • Nirvana – "Lithium" (Medicine 8 Remix)
  • BT feat. M. Doughty – "Never Gonna Come Back Down"
  • Soulwax – "E Talking"
  • Fluke – "Absurd"
  • James Brown – "Get Up (I Feel Like a Sex Machine)"
  • Maceo & The Macks – "Cross the Tracks"
  • Kool & The Gang – "Jungle Boogie"
  • The Killers – "Mr. Brightside" (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Mix)
  • The Chemical Brothers – "In Dust We Trust"
  • The Grid – "Shapes of Sleep"
  • Prodigy – "Smack My Bitch Up"
  • Underworld – "Born Slippy"
  • Josh Wink – "Higher State of Consciousness"
  • Kaiser Chiefs – "I Predict a Riot"
  • The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster – "Mister Mental"
  • The Rolling Stones – "Paint It, Black"
  • Dick Dale & His Del-Tones – "Nitro"
  • Elvis Presley – "Such a Night"
  • Danny & The Juniors – "At the Hop"
  • Vitalic – "La Rock 01"
  • LCD Soundsystem – "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" (Soulwax Shibuya Remix)

November 05, 2004

TOKEN POLITICAL COMMENT: an attempt to come to terms with the U.S. Presidential election

Woe betide that this blog does anything approaching partway serious, but there is something which I feel I must address. The astonishing outburst from several individuals on this very site has only increased my feelings of outrage.

I watched the U.S. Presidential elections with a mixture of anger, astonishment, disgust, dismay, embarrassment and despair. Having seen reason, logic and argument expertly overthrown by the fervor of soundbites and hollow rhetoric in the past few months, I was fully prepared for George W. Bush’s re-election – after all, pandering to his base support (“base” in this case apparently applicable in every sense of the word) carries a terrifying amount of clout in a country which declares itself so overwhelmingly religious. However, after sitting through the BBC’s election-night coverage, I have come to the conclusion that Bush and his administration are not the problem – it’s the small-minded fuckwits who vote for him.

What utterly flummoxes me (though it can probably be explained by the climate of fear generated by the Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks) is how – when many voters state 'Homeland Security' as one of their top priorities – they vote for a man who not only erodes their civil liberties in the pursuit of this security and distorts the extent of the domestic threat, but actively pursues a foreign policy which INCREASES the possibility of an attack on US soil. These people have no real understanding of the issues but react only to emotive rhetoric which seeks to segregate and polarise the nuances into handy McNugget-sized chunks.

Time and again during the BBC coverage when asked why they'd voted for their preferred candidate, Kerry supporters sombrely stated their concern for America's position in the world and advocated a more level-headed approach to both foreign and domestic issues. By contrast, supporters of Bush (sorry, "BUUUUUSSSSHHH!", as most of them seemed to holler with one defiant fist in the air) proffered few concrete reasons for their choice of candidate (“Um… I’m a religious man and I think he is too…” / “I don’t trust Kerry. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t trust him”). Now I would be quite content to let them get on with it and drown in their own shit – after all, if they choose to vote for a man whose grasp of one of the basic problems facing many American citizens society today (Health Care) involves a pretty much hands-off approach, let them reap what they’ve sewn next time the hospital bills stack up. Unfortunately, as could be seen from one glance at the red and blue areas on any diagram of Democratic/Republican vote, they represent the views of only half the population, and unfortunately the impact of American policy also echoes around the globe.

However, what troubles me most is the issue of Bush’s prospective nominations for the Supreme Court (a process which is looking ever-more likely to succeed in a Republican-dominated House and Senate) – very soon we could be witnessing a blanket ruling on several basic individual freedoms (sorry – "moral issues") which NO state claiming to be a free society has the right to legislate on.

For the record -

  • Under the Constitution of the United States, it is NOT okay to limit scientific progress on the basis of extremely sketchy and ill-reasoned religious beliefs when the well-being of the rest of the world depends on its outcome (besides, Bush’s views on “the sanctity of human life” really square with his attitude towards the death penalty – and apparently all human lives are sacred as long they don't originate from the Middle East).

  • It is NOT the place of any government to rule what a woman can and can’t do with her body (wake up, morons – if we are talking true individual freedom, the life, security, hopes and dreams of an already-living, fully-formed individual takes precedence over that of an undeveloped human. WHAT IS THE POINT OF BRINGING A CHILD INTO THE WORLD IF THAT CHILD WILL NOT HAVE THE FULLEST OPPORTUNITIES THAT CAN BE AFFORDED TO THEM? If you claim to be "pro-traditional" or pro-family, disagreeing with this statement puts you at complete odds with your beliefs).

  • Likewise, it is NOT the place of any government to rule who a person can and cannot choose to love on the basis of sexuality.

It’s ironic that Republicans constantly bang on about scaling down big government and keeping out of people’s lives when every ideological stance seems intent on setting limits on peoples’ freedom – their logic is selective at best, and fuelled by ignorance and hatred at worst.

I’ve been wandering round feeling furious for the past few days and it is only now that I’m starting to understand why. With this election, America has taken two steps to the right, and very soon we could be witnessing a rescinding of 40 years’ worth of progressive social policy in the name of "moral" convictions which fall at the first hurdle (if God created humans, why did he instill in them the ability to be attracted to someone of the same sex?).

So by all means blame Bush, but don’t think that it is solely his administration which is culpable for the actions of the next 4 years. Blame the zealots who attribute the 9/11 attacks to the pervasive influence of gays, “perverts”, feminists and abortionists (stand up to be counted, Rev. Jerry Falwell). Blame the people who cluelessly attempt to impose abstinence on the will of a confused and horny teenager, and think that oral sex is only now prevalent in schools because Bill Clinton put it there (newsflash: it’s always been there, idiots - that's what teenagers do). Blame any American who views their nation as an organic evolution of God’s will and apply misguided concepts of “America” to an isolationist stance determined to exclude the rest of the world. This is NOT the teaching of Christ, but a warped aberration of his most basic humanitarian principles – but don't worry, keep believing that Jesus loves you all and I'm sure you'll do just fine, morons.

And of course, let’s not neglect those ever-trusty idiots on the left as well – blame the feeble-minded few who refused to see the bigger picture, those who were anti-Bush but refused to vote for Kerry and will now have to live with the consequences of their objection for another 4 years (yes, Kerry was far from ideal, but a vote less for Kerry was tantamount to a vote for Bush, such was the strength of the Republican stronghold).

God knows, the system is far from perfect and not nearly as representative as it ought to be, but it is difficult to criticise the outcome of a free election when a sufficient majority of the popular vote went Bush’s way – if this is the will of the people, then so should it stand. Just as any advocate of free speech is bound to suffer views which they consider reprehensible in the name of upholding the principle, so too must we consider the fact that many Americans consider Bush to represent their best interests. However, what makes the whole affair so thoroughly depressing is the complete lack of reason, common sense and understanding underpinning their decision. In one Ohio bar, they asked a woman why she'd voted for Bush. Her reply?

"Um… because of my husband".

Behind her, a redneck-lookin' fella grinned moronically and held up his fist in jest.

Words utterly failed me. But then what do I know – I’m just another bleeding heart liberal sinner condemned to hell for not loving The Saviour.


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