Free Art. Free Music. Pissed off Musicians.

"I think that's a soup kitchen over there"

There’s an interesting discussion going on in – of all places- Germany. The recent rise of the ‘Pirate Party‘ has created a rather heated confrontation between ‘content creators’ (although they prefer to call themselves authors) and the generation that grew up with all of the content that they ever wanted at their fingertips (whether it is via youtube or via illegal file sharing). The whole long burning discussion has gained some urgency with the success of the Pirate Party in two state parliaments. Their manifesto reads:

“[..]we demand not only legalisation, but the explicit encouragement of non-commercial copying, saving, using and accessing of content.”

Now if I were an artist, I would find that quite offensive. I am happy to admit that I have done my fair share of downloading in the early days of the net (with then advent of Napster) but since Apple and Amazon have made it so easy to get hold of legal content, I am happy to pay my share of for the works of my favourite artists. I have a few friends whose livelihood depends on their fans paying for the years they spent in a studio, and I can understand their fury about the proliferation of their blood, sweat and tears on illegal download sites. The digital environment of course gives you a plethora of choices how to distribute your content. I marvelled at Radiohead’s guts to premiere ‘In Rainbows’ as a ‘pay what you like’ download but their success certainly vindicated their decision, but how many bands can actually buy their toast and jam from schemes like this.


If you encourage the free distribution of any content, then you will have to accept that all artists will have to become part-time artists, as it is unlikely that the vast majority would be able to live off the fees that people would voluntarily pay. With other words, the amazing breadth of art that the internet is currently showcasing would shrivel and become the domain of the amateurs and the wealthy.

I think the ‘pirates’ have a policy gap there.

The international week of the Popper

Hello good people,

inspired by all sorts of brouhaha about punk and the counter culture of the seventies and eighties, let me celebrate this week the German counter-counter culture phenomenon that was the ‘Popper’. No, I don’t mean the ‘attractive but risky’ recreational drug amyl nitrite but the short lived youth culture of the German middle- to upper class that haunted (ok, bored) society in the early eighties. Apart from some selfcongratulatory bullshit in some German qualities there is few material out in the webosphere, so let me enlighten you a bit. According to the lore, the Popper scene spread via osmosis from the affluent suburbs of Hamburg through the rest of the affluent suburbs of the bored German ‘comfortable’ ones. In generously designed detached houses with well-manicured gardens  a new breed of adolescent was being socialised: bored by the general political upheaval within the Republic, driven by long haired, slightly smelly political activists who would march on the weekend, eat muesli and fight the system, some kids chose to spend the evenings and weekends in a sort of civilised cafe society with a strictly enforced dress code. Instead of the knitted jumpers and silly jeans of their more politicised peers they would wear kashmir jumpers, polos shirts and colourful Benetton trousers. Necessary accessories were a Vespa Ciao, Dunhill or Davidoff cigarettes and a if at all possible access to a big wallet (daddy’s would do).

...Dutch can be so uncool.

So after investing numerous hundreds of Marks into the outfit, the aspiring popper was allowed to join his or her peers. Likely to be found in fashionable cafes during the day or in the wine cellar of somebody elses parents, the whole Popper (btw, the name likely to root in ‘Pop Music’. Remember, the leather jacket, motorcycle touting brutes of that area were called ‘Rockers’. Likely due to their affinity to Rock music) thing was mainly about being seen, flaunting dad’s wealth and listening to the right music. Matt Bianco, Sade, The Style Council, early Italo Pop, New Romantics and early synth pop a la Yazoo were very much the music to listen to and on the weekend some poor parent would have to put up with dozens of the little darlings in their houses, moderately but very politely drunk and generally very civilised.

That’s exactly what riled the rest of society: without any typical adolescent intent to rile against the system and quite content to roll with it, Poppers were ridiculed by adults and the rest of their peers for their enforced conformity and lack of interest in anything political. Most wanted to be lawyers or doctors.

These days I am happy to acknowledge to have been one of those precious few Poppers in my little town. Happy to enjoy each others company, happy to ignore the rest of a very angry world around me. I knew life was bound to be getting more complicated very soon, so for a few years I was content to be an apolitical bloke with funny clothes, expensive cigarettes, an underpowered moped and a string of girlfriends with Benetton jumpers.  It could have been much worse. So, to celebrate these few years, I will feature a little piece of Popper world for one week only.

And with ABC’s ‘Poison Arrow’ I hereby declare the international week of the Popper  inaugurated.

Matt Bianco @ Jazz Cafe Camden, 17.9.2010

Pic by Isobel Kellermann

Pic by Isobel Kellermann

The second Matt Bianco concert within a year in London! It’s quite obvious that the band is slowly but surely happy to play in the UK again, and the capacity crowd at the Jazz Cafe was utterly delighted to have their heroes back. It’s quite rare to see Mark Fisher and Mark Reilly smile at the same time, but there they were, beaming like Cheshire Cats, infused by an appreciative audience which went completely mad from the first minute of the gig, singing in happy unison with Reilly, Sim and Foster and spurning on the soloists. The setlist was the by now well rehearsed mix of classics and the recent Hifi Bossanova but with an exciting new take on ‘Half a Minute’, inspired by the recent Joey Negro remix. It’s interesting which of the 11 studio albums don’t make it on the setlist anymore: there were no songs from ‘Rico’, ‘Echoes’, ‘Another Time Another Place’ and ‘Samba in your casa’ which shows a certain negligence of their ‘naughties’ period.  Fortunately they did not drop their best live song, the brillant ‘Lost in You’ which with an extended Salsa section in the middle and Mark Fisher’s long piano solo continues to be the highlight of each show. ‘Fordiebianco’s law’ states that the quality of each Matt Bianco gig can be ascertained by Mark Fisher’s keyboard solo during ‘Lost in You’. If he’s really into it and sparks fly he’s been infused by the audience’s vibe and is obviously enjoying himself, but if it’s a lacklustre affair the gig was obviously not as enjoyable for everybody.

So for Fisher’s performance on a scale of 10, Friday’s was a 24 and the same can be said for the rest of the gig. Which again shows that Fordiebianco’s law is valid. Even Danny White was seen enjoying himself!

Quod erat demostrandum.

It was an absolute joy to see this much loved band play in front of a happy hame crowd, and I can only hope that there will be many more London gigs in the future.

The Style Council. Uncool Geniuses.

"Yes, I know. I didn't know they would allow vegetarian chavs on this picture"

It’s quite astonishing how I was being drawn as a teenager to bands that were terribly uncool in their native Britain. Matt Bianco, after the Saturday Superstore disaster, were suddenly far too embarassing to be listened to, while Paul Weller and Mick Talbot’s Style Council were shunned for their strong opinions on vegetarianism, socialism and pretty much every -ism that was out there. Even though both bands had strong songwriters and arrangers, their respective problems (being called Wanker on air and being outspoken lefties) meant that their respective later albums tanked in the UK. The Style Council disbanded in 1989 while Matt Bianco was a little wiser and just shunned the British market and continued to publish their albums where nobody knew what a Wanker was. So the Style Council’s legacy was always a mixed one. For the majority of young, unruly guitarpop fans, the demise of ‘The Clash” was one of the biggest tragedies ever and they never forgave Weller that he would start dressing like a middle class posh boy (although as the picture on the left shows, he didn’t quite get the look at first) and have strings and percussionist on his records. Or Lenny Henry. Nevertheless, in my (then) native Germany we embraced both bands, blissfully ignorant of the bad press they were getting in the UK. A little bit of ignorance sometimes is a good thing. I of course had no clue that Weller once used to be in a band that was perceived to be the best post punk thing evah(!), but even if I’d known, I couldn’t have cared less. I liked the percussion and the brass on ‘Have you ever had it blue’, the uplifting ‘Shout to the top’ (and completely oblivious to the Socialist undertorrent) and the bleak but groovy ‘It didn’t matter’. Their biggest moment (and ultimatively downfall) nevertheless came with their last album, ‘Confessions Of A Pop Group‘. Well, not quite their last album, but their truly last album was actually not released for 10 years until Polydor decided to let the masses have it in a lovely boxset. Anyway, ‘Confessions of a Pop Group’ was a deeply unusual album that threw the music press into a bit of a tizzy. What was it? Classic? Jazz? Pretentious Tosh? Well, it was one of those concept albums, with each side (remember sides? Side A? Side B? No? Well, then you’re obviously too young to read this blog. Sod off.) featuring a completely different approach to modern music. Side A (the first five tracks on your CD) is devoid of electric instruments (and guitars, as far as I remember) but instead tickles our fancy with a mix of King Singers and Debussy, with some of the Weller’s bleakest lyrics. The other side is full of electro funk. Yup. There’s also one of their funniest songs, the cynical “Life At A Top Peoples Health Farm”, an ode to the perversions of Thatcherite Britain.

As you can tell, I’m a fan.

And if you don’t want to buy it for its brillance, it’s also excellent to read to with a glass of Chablis. Which really tells you what The Style Council was all about. A band that wanted to turn the world into a socialist, vegan paradise but in the end produced music that you would have with cheese, nibbles and a glass of Chardonnay .

I find that ironic.