Tag Archives: Music

Festival alert! | Elefest 2013 (4-6 Oct 2013)

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Hailing, as I do, from Streatham, I’m always pleased to see artistic attempts to reframe, develop and provide counternarratives to traditional ideas about oft-misrepresented areas of London.

So I’m especially happy to report the return, this week, of the Elefest festival of arts and culture focusing on the Elephant and Castle, South-East London. There’s plenty of great multidisciplinary stuff going on, and though it’s not particularly imaginative on my part, I’d thought I’d simply repurpose the event’s punchy press release here on PPH. All the info you could possibly need on Elefest is below, but if I had to pick a highlight, it would be the special screening of Perry Henzell’s classic Jamaican drama The Harder They Come followed by a DJ set by the inimitable Don Letts at the Hotel Elephant.

Press Release

Elefest is the Elephant & Castle Festival. It is a celebration of one of the best-known but misunderstood parts of London. Elefest is now in its 11th year, and the area once known as the “Piccadilly of the South” is once again on the verge of massive change. Elefest’s programme celebrates the past, present and future of the Elephant and Castle. It mixes home-grown with national and international talent and some that are in-between.

Over the past 11 years Elefest has brought to the area a wide variety of live events, set up a solar-powered cinema on the Heygate Estate, curated photographic exhibitions in the subways of the Elephant & Castle, and showcased emerging artists that have gone on to hit the spotlight (including Paloma Faith).

This year Elefest is bigger, better and bolder than ever. For the 2013 edition, Elefest is bringing top class entertainment to the Elephant & Castle and surrounding areas with three major pop-up cinema and music events:Noise of Art (DJ Ben Osborne, DJ Justin Robertson, Coldcut, The People Pile – feat. RSC actor Nathaniel Parker) presenting their live film/dance/electronica remix of classic British horror film The Wicker Man; an anniversary screening of ’70s cult movie The Harder They Come with a special DJ set by punk/reggae legend Don Letts; and a screening of award-winning British thriller London to Brighton plus Q&A with international film star Johnny Harris (born and bred at the Elephant & Castle).

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The StockMKT will be returning to Elefest with their traders offering food and artisanal products over the festival weekend in a bespoke new indoor venue on Newington Causeway set up in conjunction with Hotel Elephant Gallery, where there will also be popup ping pong offered by PuPP and live bands.

For the second year running Elefest is also hosting the UK Skateboarding Film Festival for a day of live shows and music acts headlined by British Beatbox Champion Reeps One – a performer of such incredible vocal ability that he has been the subject of a scientific study by UCL.

Events including an Elephant & Castle Subway Murals tour with the artist David Bratby, a talk about the local history with Stephen Humphrey accompanied by a slideshow on glorious 35mm film at Perronet House, a free screening at The Electric Elephant Café and Gallery, an interactive art installation in the E&C Shopping Centre, a Treasure Hunt and a Guerrilla Gardening event will showcase the urban landscape of the E&C and some fantastic new venues.

We are linking up with Corsica Studios for a special closing night party (headline acts: Smoke Fairies and a special appearance fromSaint Saviour and guests), as well as The Cinema Museum, The London College of Communication and South Bank University to establish a new creative hub for South London at the Elephant and Castle roundabout.

Lots of the events are free of charge, which means you can just turn up. But for the full programme, click hereAnd for more information, you can contact Irene Musumeci at irene@elefest.org or on 07855 201 725.

Screening Announcement | PPH Presents The Warriors

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For the fifth edition of our ongoing series of special events, Permanent Plastic Helmet is delighted to present a rare, 35mm screening of Walter Hill’s classic action adventure The Warriors. The time and place? 21:00 on Monday 15 July 2013 at south London’s lovely Clapham Picturehouse.

This gaudy urban odyssey follows the eponymous Coney Island gang on their perilous journey home after they’ve been falsely accused of the murder of a major gang boss. Blessed with stunning cinematography, a host of superb New York locations, and a pumping soundtrack, The Warriors is one of the best American films of the 1970s.

Join us in the bar from 8pm for food, drink and a playlist of classic soul. The film will be preceded by a prize giveaway and an introduction by film critic Ashley Clark (Sight & Sound, Little White Lies). Come out to play!

You can, and absolutely should, buy tickets here. To get yourself in the mood, watch the trailer below:

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet | review

Cinema’s power often lies in a very direct form of emotiveness, with the immediacy of the image being the perfect foil for a good story. But the simplicity with which this directness operates requires a fine balance. It’s all too easy to mishandle the power at one’s disposal, to bludgeon an audience’s goodwill into pained submission under a hail of grandstanding sentiment. This is especially true in the ‘Life Story’ genre. Documentaries and acted biopics which bear this scary moniker often come generously ladled with words and phrases like ‘inspiring’ and ‘heart-warming’ as directors amp up every aspect of tragedy and triumph in human life, screaming ‘FEEL!’ at the audience as though we were already cold in our seats, vacant and resigned at this still-early stage in the emotional evolution of the human beast. In most cases, ‘vomit-inducing’ would be more of an accurate description of these films.

Great credit, then, to Jesse Vile, director of Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet who has made a film which impacts in a meaningful way whilst keeping any potential melodrama or sensationalism firmly outside of the frame. Jason Becker isn’t manipulative, it isn’t preachy, and most importantly it isn’t patronising. Jason Becker isn’t dead yet, and he doesn’t want your sympathy.

In 1989, small-town teenager Becker, a ridiculously talented guitarist, was about to make the step up from barely-known prodigy to big time player. David Lee Roth, whose band had launched the careers of first Eddie Van Halen and then Steve Vai – the established Best Guitarists in the World in the ‘shredder’ mould – had heard Becker playing and wanted him to feature on a new album and a tour. This was literally ‘it’ – and nothing more than a culmination of years of obsessive practice combined with a natural talent in a nurturing family environment, although these are the kind of dreams we hardly dare hope for even in our wildest moments. The album was recorded and the band were hitting the studio in preparation for the next stage. Around this time what had begun as a twinge in Jason’s leg was causing him serious discomfort. On the advice of his parents he went to the doctor, who diagnosed him with ALS – a wasting disease – an extremely rare condition for someone of his age, and totally incurable.

As a reviewer you try to be as neutral as possible during screenings, but sometimes you get caught up, and from there it’s almost impossible to imagine blankly critiquing things like form and narrative. In this sense the film must, therefore, be a success – removing this reviewer from the relative ease and safety of his objectiveness. So far as this is a piece of cinema, it has some cute directorial touches, but Vile is both wise and modest enough to keep his presence to a minimum. If there’s a message, it’s one that comes naturally from the material, not from some superficial slants, artificial crescendos of emotion or sensationalism. Becker’s story changed, it deviated from what might have been expected – and many times – but it’s clear from the film that all changes are navigable with good people behind you.

Having made a point of the film’s emotional neutrality, I haven’t tried so hard not to cry in a film since watching Bambi as a child, unsure as I was at the time whether it was allowed in the cinema or not. As with then, the effort gave me a massive headache. But it wasn’t that what I was watching made me sad. The film’s emotional impact sits in that quiet hinterland between sadness and joy – the one where you’re experiencing the sense of being. It’s neither a happy experience nor an unhappy one, but it’s more than both – an experience of fullness and potential. A man who created his opus while paralysed? A great achievement – but here’s the thing – it’s also not. It’s entirely normal when viewed in the context of Becker’s life. What this film highlights –the incredible thing – is that all of life is within anyone’s grasp if they just have the confidence to take it in hand – to commit to it. Life can’t be this simple, so we think. And truly, you don’t know what myriad complexities have been simplified, what disparate threads have been unified for the purposes of effective cinema. But what this film suggests is that there aren’t any, and if there are they’re unimportant. While it’s common practice now to view life ‘realistically’ as a series of inherently meaningless events swinging, by our selfish imposition of our worth upon them, between the twin states of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’, one can also approach it from a far simpler outlook: we’re alive right now, and that’s what really matters. Is there not incredible hope in that?

Please don’t be put off if you think this is just going to be a film about a metal guitarist. This is a universal film, an important film, meriting a wider audience than it will probably receive. In his steadfast refusal to patronise his subject, Vile has made the film his subject richly deserves.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet is in cinemas from Friday, and released by Dogwoof. It’s released on DVD on December 3.

Sing Your Song

African-American actor, singer, dancer and activist Harry Belafonte – now 85 years of age – makes a fascinating subject in an expansive documentary which functions for much of its running time as a vibrant slice of American civil rights history.

With a gruff Belafonte also narrating, it comes as no surprise to find that Sing Your Song is hardly a critical piece, and at times tantamount to auto-hagiography. However, such an indulgence can be forgiven when the subject has lived an extraordinary life and has so many amazing stories, freighted with socio-political significance, to tell.

Though his artistic endeavours are paid due attention in the film’s early scene-setting passages, Sing Your Song’s focus is placed firmly on Belafonte the activist. Inspired by the trailblazing black American singer Paul Robeson, Belafonte developed a political consciousness at an early age which further developed when he became the target of racism in the American south, and encountered discrimination as an artist.

Throughout the 1960s, his influential presence is a constant in a tumultuous era which witnessed the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, the Vietnam war and a rapidly changing media landscape.

Distinguished by some exceptional archive footage (both of Belafonte’s performances and of the American Civil Rights movement), propulsive editing and a willingness to investigate the difficulties that activism poses to a healthy family life, Sing Your Song is also notable for its exploration of the putative intersection between celebrity and activism.

We now live in age in which it’s easy to be cynical about celebrity engagement with political causes, but it’s hugely impressive and bracingly refreshing to see Belafonte’s influence on John F. Kennedy, and his closeness with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Furthermore, it’s quite something to see a celebrity advocate coterie comprised of the likes of Belafonte, James Baldwin, Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston.

This always watchable film falters toward the end in its eagerness to document the vast, globe-spanning canvas of Belafonte’s activism at the expense of really drilling down into what makes its inspirational subject tick. The sections devoted to the US civil rights struggle of the 1960s are powerful, detailed and pointed, but as Belafonte travels to Iraq, South Africa, Germany, and even modern-day L.A., it all starts to feel a bit like a vague, extended infomercial with Belafonte in the role of activist Zelig.

Belafonte is heard in a recent conference to stress the importance of “defining the agenda”. Though it’s never a chore to spend time in the company of this one-off figure – and all of this is clearly being done to highlight Belafonte’s worthy causes – similar advice might have been heeded by the filmmakers.

This review originally appeared on Little White Lies online. Sing Your Song is in cinemas now.

Sound It Out: A Eulogy for the Record Store

Contributor Michael Mand takes a wistful look at Jeanie Finlay’s music shop doc Sound It Out.

During my recent review of Michael Dowse’s hockey comedy Goon, I reflected on my youth in North East England and suggested that the local ice rink provided the city’s youth-cultural centrepiece. I was of course referring to those healthy beings who value such vulgar activities as ‘fun’ & the company of others; for the rest of us, there was Volume Records.

For the benefit of younger readers: in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, music was largely available in three formats – vinyl, cassette and the new technology of compact disc – but could be bought from a range of outlets. There were the obvious chain stores (Durham had not one, but two branches of Our Price), non-specialist shops such as Woolworth’s and, in my case, the local newsagent (which sold ex-jukebox singles at 50p a pop); meanwhile, for those who dared enter, there were independent record shops.

Volume was one of these shops; a small, dark and musty space, secreted down a narrow street and staffed by the largest array of cultural snobs north of the Royal Opera House. To enter was to brave the judgement of older, cooler men and confront a bewildering array of records, posters and flyers, a cacophony of unfamiliar noise and the stench of both ageing cardboard and bizarrely attired individuals. Friends of mine who worked there attest to the absurdly competitive and superior owner – think Comic Book Guy with a Wearside accent.*

Shane: “There’s nothing like doing 6 solid nights of Quo, one after the other”

“Barry, Dick and I have decided you can’t be a serious person if you own less than 500 records…”

Anyone who has read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity or watched Stephen Frears’ excellent film adaptation will be familiar with the type personified by Rob, who represents all of us downtrodden by the male compulsion to own, to collect, to hoard. There’s an anthropological study to be made of this phenomenon but, for now, Hornby must do, such is his bull’s-eye depiction of these once-hipsters trapped by their obsessions (Rob), geeky music-librarians struggling to socialise outside of their artificial, vinyl environment (Dick) and aggressive record-snobs who can only assess themselves (or others) via a personally approved musical pantheon (Barry).

This is a world in which everything and anything can be safely compartmentalised in All-Time Top Five lists, in-jokes and an obsession with obscure fact and arbitrary opinion. Jack Black’s ostensibly OTT performance will seem entirely natural to anyone who has encountered that type in a shadowy record shop or stained-carpet ROCK pub. The stereotype calcified in Hornby’s book – and its predecessor, the football crazy’s crazy football bible, Fever Pitch – along with the likes of Loaded magazine, reduced us chaps to the status of one-track minded monoliths in the 1990s. Despite this, I believe that there is an emotional richness to the male collector; a wish to surround himself with something meaningful, beautiful and to possess something he might one day leave behind.

“They’re as close to being mad as makes no difference…”

All of which makes it all the stranger that the melancholy yet uplifting documentary Sound It Out (recently released on DVD) should be so sympathetically directed by a lady, specifically Jeanie Finlay. Her film heads twenty miles south of Durham City, to run-down Stockton-upon-Tees, and focuses upon the only remaining independent record store in the town, the eponymous Sound It Out. The shop is run by a real-life ‘Rob’, Tom Butchart, who’s making vinyl’s last stand in an obscure part of the north. This is not a trendy London outlet, not a Rough Trade, or any Portobello Road boutique; the shop is a refuge and supplier to a range of troubled local souls, who look to Tom as a kind of guru.

Finlay is an unobtrusive presence, documenting the irregular comings and goings of the local refugees. There’s a formerly suicidal fan of anything subtitled ‘metal’ who credits the music he finds in Rob’s shop as his salvation;  a pair of local hip hop wannabes, hoping that music might lift them out of the dead end of recession-hit Britain; a now successful London-based female singer-songwriter, back to her hometown for a shop-based show. There’s even room for the random characters from the pub opposite the shop, who occasionally appear to slur questions about songs they have cocked an ear at on the boozer juke.  Each one is treated with complete, interested and non-patronising respect, and sometimes followed home by Finlay to their (usually) celibate flats, in order to further discuss this music thing.

Shane is my favourite; a balding, middle-aged, denim-jacketed yet eloquent oddball who encapsulates the power of the music that we addicts rely on like seatbelts. Shane has seen Status Quo live between 450 and 500 times, yet claims he is “not fanatical” (“there’s nothing like doing 6 solid nights of Quo, one after the other”); he lives alone and has never washed his patch-ridden Quo jacket. Growing up with a physical disability, Shane discovered what those of us with a social disability also identified at some point in our teens: music enables a form of internal, yet real conversation that can’t possibly be matched in the local park or ice rink. Finlay deftly reveals that, in his record collection, Shane has found the comfort he might otherwise have sought in the enriching career or relationship he’s been wrongly denied. As with the depressed metal fan, these are Morrissey’s literal “songs that saved your life”.

Pop to Sound It Out and that Jesus Jones badge could be yours

“I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films – these things matter…”

The near-anachronistic milieu evinced by Sound It Out got me thinking about how we consume music today. In my youth, the modern capacity to access music would have seemed a crazy sci-fi dream. Reduced to scouting for music in Volume-type stores or record fairs (my original vinyl copy of The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder cost me £4.50 from a church charity sale in Crewe), or to taping the Top Forty from a crackling Radio One, the idea that virtually every record ever made could be available at one’s fingertips would have appeared magical. However, even as I take advantage of technology in consuming music, I can’t help but feel that this ease of access in some ways devalues the music itself. MP3 players have traduced the role of the album –  a cohesive whole which rewarded time spent with it – in favour of single tracks, shuffles and the downloading/deleting of unloved digital files. Gone also is the artwork, the craving for liner notes – for information. I own a much loved picture book which details in glorious colour every sleeve of every record released on the Factory label; such tactile pleasures don’t exist with the iPod.

Of course, the ability to download music, or find thousands of tracks on Spotify or YouTube, has wonderful benefits, opening up a whole world of sound from across the decades. However, this sea change in the way we consume music is sounding a death knell for the record collector’s Mecca: shops like Sound it Out.

“Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music…?”

Tom seems more balanced and far happier than High Fidelity’s Rob, but is still a fanatic at heart . It’s easy to sense the desolation that will be felt if and when his one man crawl against the tide comes to an end; at one point, Tom explains that for him, records are “all about emotions & memories”. In many ways, Sound It Out also holds just these things for so many of his dwindling disciples.

As a piece of documentary film, Sound It Out has much in common with the music it celebrates. It is engrossing and heart warming, but it is also deeply sad and reveals many truths about the present in which we live which far transcend the obscure world of the independent record shop it enthusiastically profiles. Tom’s assistant, previously made redundant by a mainstream record outlet, expresses his fear that he may soon be out of a job again, and suddenly a film about a subset of people takes on a wider resonance, reflecting the changing times and providing an account of the decay of towns like Stockton, as businesses collapse and shops stand empty or are changed into bargain outlets.

On a recent return visit to Durham, I passed the narrow side street where Volume Records used to be. There, in its place, now hides a discount electrical goods store. In the ancient market place, even the likes of Our Price and Woolworths are now a Haagen Dazs ice cream outlet and a Tesco supermarket, standing incongruously amid the cobblestones. Around the statue teenagers, as ever, gather in groups, MP3 players in their pockets, headphones covering their ears.

Sound It Out is out now on DVD, released by Dogwoof. Extras include: filmmaker and cast interviews, Jeanie Finlay’s first short documentary film Love Takes and another music themed short docu by Tim Mattia – The Chapman Family is not a Cult. Also included are additional music videos and trailers.

*Though, to be fair, Volume’s Führer would be kind enough to gift certain of us outdated window displays, leading to the decoration of our sixth form common room with an entire wall of Teenage Fanclub album covers, a life size cardboard cut-out of the members of James and large posters hyping records by Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Therapy? and Cypress Hill.

Shut Up And Play The Hits – first trailer released for LCD Soundsystem doc.

As anyone’s who’s heard me bang on about Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense will know, I love a good music documentary. So you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered about this new doc covering the final moments of one of my favourite bands of the last 10 years: LCD Soundsystem. The film will debut at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival (Jan 19-29) alongside other exciting new releases including Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer and Sheldon Candis’ first feature LUV.

Here’s hoping it makes it to the inaugural UK iteration of the festival, which runs from 26-29 April at London’s O2 arena. The programme will be announced in March.

Over to the press release for more on Shut Up And Play The Hits:

“On April 2nd 2011, LCD Soundsystem played its final show at Madison Square Garden. LCD frontman James Murphy had made the conscious decision to disband one of the most celebrated and influential bands of its generation at the peak of its popularity, ensuring that the band would go out on top with the biggest and most ambitious concert of its career. The instantly sold out, near four-hour extravaganza did just that, moving the thousands in attendance to tears of joy and grief, with NEW YORK magazine calling the event “a marvel of pure craft” and TIME magazine lamenting “we may never dance again.”  SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS is both a narrative film documenting this once in a life time performance and an intimate portrait of James Murphy as he navigates the lead-up to the show, the day after, and the personal and professional ramifications of his decision.”