Tuesday, March 22, 2011

(In a Texan drawl) Good JOB!

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0, hurrah!
Listening: new Battles song, 'Ice Cream'
Hair Day: Quiff, hairsprayed to the max
What I can see from my window no. 11: Battersea Power Station

Off with the furs and on with the bikinis (well, in spirit anyway….)! We had arrived in balmy Austin for the world’s biggest music expo, South By South West. We were put up by Kathy and Ron, who had nervously signed up for the SXSW Housing scheme for the first time, and probably expected four slobbering Yorkshire youths trashing their telly and vomiting in the sink. Ha, they were probably disappointed to get three house-trained classical girls in their early thirties…
We were there to represent our label, Nonclassical, for Gabriel’s showcase at the brilliantly central Velveeta Room, located right in the thick of the noisy action on 6th Street. I was sadly fever-ridden and mucus-addled and was gulping single malt between songs, but we did a ‘good JOB!’ as EVERYONE in Texas says and certainly went down pretty well. The rest of the gig was without a hint of bias (ha), easily the best music I heard at the festival, which was swamped with thrashy MOR rock and jingly-jangly guitar boys. Matt Haimovitz and Uccello were an all-cello quartet performing relicks of classic big band tunes with wood-thumping funkiness. The Calder Quartet can be added to the Kronos, Ethel and the Elysians in leading the charge for contemporary string quartet repertoire; Sissy-Eared Molly Coddles had a touch of the DOLLYman in their off-kilter chamber songs (though some were more successful than others), and Graham Reynolds, an Austin-based composer presented his rampantly driving triple concerto, with his white spinet and nine strings crammed onto the tiny stage. My favourite act was a curio before this, a composer whose name I didn’t catch who performed a sort of phlegmatically-hallucinating-Tom-Waits act; every cough and splutter would erupt onto crazy glisses in the strings, and he ended by caressing the piano and proudly displaying his a half-torn suit. Hilarious.
Bloody hell, there’s so much music at SXSW. You walk down 6th Street or Red River, the two main drags, and slightly distorted yowlings bleed from every bar, shoe shop and cafĂ© as you munch your jalapeno hot dog with sauerkraut in the 84-degree heat. More fun were many of the buskers on the corners, with Anna’s favourite being a trio of girls with ukeleles, and Memphis’ Star and Micey, whose sunny-strummed loveliness was topped by the guitarist’s mid-song backflip. As fun as watching the buskers was the constant tattoo-watch; it was as if the Great Tattoo God had gathered his most willing converts to one town and liberally splattered them with a cornucopia of inky imagery: Hello Kitty, Where The Wild Things Are, Peter Pan, owls, birds, spiders, flowers, names, poems, hamburgers and milkshakes (hhm), it was all there. It made me want to get indelibly blitzed from head to toe in bluebirds and dolphins and roses right away.

I SHOULD have caught James Blake, Emmylou Harris, Wu-Tang Clan, Sam Amidon and many more. But tearing round after Gabriel and our US record label cohorts Megan from Naxos and the boys from indie classical label Innova, or strolling more sedately the day after our gig, we simply dipped in and out of many a band. I got madly excited by Glasser, filling the rafters of the Central Presbyterian Church with her ice-cool voice in an opening unaccompanied folk song, but quickly got bored as it turned into a droney electro-bore. We hung around the British Music Embassy’s day parties quite a lot, and caught the likes of Jonquil, Dinosaur Pile-Up, thrash-thugs Pulled Apart By Horses (who in classic Brits-abroad style, were still drunk from the night before and apparently vomited copiously into the audience upon finishing, ha ha) and Little Comets, who were jingly-jangly guitar boys in the best sense, a sort of Geordie Vampire Weekend.
Outside of the Nonclassical night, there were two main highlights:

New Musical Crush no 1: Paper Bird
   Recommended to us by a Denver-based hipster DJ, our female trio radar was turned on full whack when we heard there were three singing girls in this band for said DJ’s afternoon party. And right scrumptious they were too, harmonies as sweet as mountain air, on top of quirky arrangements with trombone and rhythm section, irregular time signatures and handclaps lending them a touch of the Dirty Projectors-meets-Sufjan Stevens. Super-lovely.

New Musical Crush no. 2: David Thomas Broughton
   I had been meaning to catch DTB for a long time, hearing of his prowess with a loop station, but I wasn’t quite prepared for his highly-strung physical and gadget-theatre! On top of some cool experimental looping of his guitar and Antony Hegarty-like vocals, he bashed the mic against his head and the drum kit behind him, posed very strangely with elbows akimbo, used a Dictaphone and played rape alarms which he then attempted to eat. Irresistibly magnetic and bonkers, Sarah and I caught him afterwards to swoon, swap CDs and (hurrah!) agree that juice and he must collaborate sometime.
A lovely last day was ended with a stroll to SXSW’s unofficial fringe up on Congress, a dream-road of indie boutiques and thrift stores. We bumped into my ex-student (erk!) and many a Sound of 2011 star Jamie Woon, who was preparing to play his 5th gig at SXSW; so fab to see him becoming a star with his gorgeous brand of indie soulfulness. We were taken to Magnolia for a gluttonous night of blueberry pancakes drenched in maple syrup by our new Texan Mom And Dad; Kathy and Ron’s arty and supremely liberal vibe, dust-dry humour and ridiculous generosity was an invaluable part of our Texas trip. And now we plan to build on this and go back to unleash the anarchic a cappella Brit-sounds, in New York, in Chicago, in San Francisco; anywhere that'll have us...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Juicy Big Apple (US Trip Part 1)

Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 0, hurrah!
Watching: last episode of 'Being Human'
Hair Day: quiffy
What I can see from my window no. 10: fluffy cloudscape and plane wings

Following the PRSF/Bird’s Eye View Film Festival’s Big Feminist Push at their South Bank WOW launch (where I chatted to the likes of Gaggle’s new drummer, Sam Lee of Magpie’s Nest, Claire from CHROMA, the Consortium 5 girls and Claudia Molitor, and was interviewed by a BBC blogger), it was a high-tail to the US for juice’s Big American Adventure!

First stop: New York, where we performed at a lovely wee gallery in Brooklyn, Zora Arts Space. Our perfect partners for this mini-gig were Toby Twining Music, a new sextet led by the NY-based mostly-experimental-vocal composer. Toby has put this crew together as part of his new album project, Eurydice; juice sandwiched them with some a cappella faves, and the group joyfully throat-growled, hocketed, yodelled and harmonic-whistled their way through the five-piece vocal and ‘cello cuts. Well worth checking out here!

With true US-pedigree hospitality, Toby put the three of us up at his house-sit palace in New Jersey, even though he barely knew us. So we resided happily in the ‘burbs, feeling like three trilling Snow Whites as we were surrounded by a plethora of exotic avian Americana: white-crowned and song sparrows, tufted titmouses (titmice?!), common grackles shiny as paua shells, brown-headed cowbirds, and the classic abstract expressionist red cardinals, which Sarah later immortalised in earring form. Plus a chipmunk, groundhog and a vewwy fwendly wabbit.

We had two days to Do New York after the gig. Here are the highlights:

1) The Primeburger diner just off 5th Avenue, built in 1938 and preserved almost entirely in midcentury modern style, and waiters almost as historic. Wooden-swivel desks, bronze lights, pumpkin pie and two old gents who introduced themselves as ‘Noo Yawk born, Noo Yawk bred’ as they chatted us up. Probably the coolest place EVER.
2)MOMA, an even classier (yes!) Tate Modern, which had our dream special exhibition, ‘Music 3.0’, looking at how the New York music scene in the 80’s and early 90’s had influenced art. Cue revisiting the videos and album art from lots of old faves such as Eric B and Rakim, Run DMC, the Beasties etc, but less familiar stuff like John Zorn, a terrifyingly blood-letting Diamanda Galas video which would make the cast of Twilight eat their own faces off in fear, and a hilariously expletive-filled feminist track by Karen Finley, which I can’t repeat here. No, really. It involves orifices. And horses. And waffles.
3) Food, and lots of it. Magnolia Bakery cupcakes (very SJP in Sex and the City); City Bakery hot chocolate and marshmallows as big as bricks (or as Sarah put it dreamily, ‘a cloud in a cup’); borscht and verynykey at East Village Ukrainian fave Vaselkas; a corner-shack pretzel whilst walking the High-Line, a art-lined walkway recently converted from an old cross-rail; and a peanut butter cookie eaten whilst being bitch-slapped by the Atlantic wind on the Staten Island Ferry as we all shamelessly snapped the original Green Goddess.

4) Talking with Toby about politics, beatboxing as meaningful music, arts funding as we took in the steam from the sidewalks, the yellow cabs, the neck-crick, the Art Deco ubiquity, the modernity, the iron-wrought fire escapes, the greyness, the little dogs in designer coats and the stop-start-run pedestrian crossings… The city as romance!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Hair Envy, Alto Flutes and Fuschia Tights

Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24: 0.2
Watching: 'Winter's Bone' on Film 4 On Demand
Hair Day: Just shaved the side again in crazed stress-release... ahh, that's better...
Things I Can See From My Flat Window No. 9: The London Eye, a blurry deep blue

Had a lovely time at Nonclassical last night, where Gabriel and Rich took over Cargo for a special launch of Tansy Davies' new album, Trobairitz. I missed most of the first duo, Kamama, but caught their last piece, a lovely piece for two players and snare, where one half just hit a drumstick in the air in a constant pulse and the other manipulated snare and his hands to interact with that. Very spare and theatrical.

Playing Tansy's work from the album was an ensemble I haven't come across before, The Azalea Ensemble, all hailing from the Royal Academy or thereabouts. They tackled the jolty, sparsely quirky lines and off-kilter rhythms with fearless panache, and were noticeably committed - it's really nice to see a a group who looked so genuinely into the music. They are potentially a younger, hipper and more Londonish Bang On A Can All Stars. Moving to Cargo and with a slightly higher ticket price meant an attentive crowd, unlike some of the old Macbeth gigs with its distracting clackity pool-playing and brazen glass-bashing. The big-jangle-haired violinist, resplendent in fuschia tights, could even play a sublime set of Sciarrino Caprices to a hypnotised audience. Such gossamer-spun things of loveliness - punctuated by the East London line trains' thunder-bellies, like an duetting pianissimo bass drum part - I never did hear before. Check 'em out:

I had been drafted in to sing one little song, 'Greenhouses', standing in for Anna-juice who has recocrded this and more for the album. It all sailed a little close to the wind - I learnt it that day, rehearsed it briefly with two-thirds of the ensemble, met the alto flute player as we got onto the stage to perform it, that sort of thing... But I enjoyed it, it's the sort of contemporary song that suits me. More exciting than any of this was being introduced by Tansy to her hairdresser. Ha. Tansy's hair was looking so superfly that even being mistaken for her AGAIN somehow didn't ebb my mega hair-envy. I REALLY should have got his number...

Listen to Tansy's podcast for Nonclassical HERE!