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Time for a breather? Girlfriends and wives the world over are suddenly breathing a sigh of relief this sunny day, as for the first time in three weeks, there isn’t a single World Cup game taking place. For me, that’s a handy opportunity to go back and pick through the wreckage of the teams who’ve already found themselves eliminated and wonder why my predictions were so woeful (considering I’ve already written about Paraguay, Ghana, and Uruguay, and they’re going strong for now). Then again, at least I’m not the only person in England who’s put in a woeful performance this summer!

Fabio Capello reacts to Rooney losing the ball yet again.

Trying to pinpoint one piece of music that completely encapsulates everything about a country is impossible unless you’ve spent a significant portion of your life living there, which is why I haven’t done it yet. England, however, is another matter, so I hereby present to you the single most English piece of music in history. You want camp? You want a pompous and slightly lily-livered sense of pride? You want a romantic view of the rolling hills of the countryside painted by people who’ve never actually lived there? You want a bunch of drunken yobs chanting meaningless crap at each other in large groups? Elgar’s got the goods. Why the hell isn’t this our national anthem?!

So where do we find Englishness specifically in popular music? Well, here’s an interesting, if flawed thought; in a recent…

England, France, and Italy might have already fallen by the wayside, but today is the day that European giants will start to drop out of the World Cup race not via their own incompetence and attitude problems, but because they’ve been beaten by a superior opponent. I hope, at least. It’s Spain vs. Portgual today and I can only hope it’s the first real display of European quality at this tournament; the first one not tainted by the incompetence of the opponents, at least.

I also hope we get to see Ronaldo cry. Just because.

I mean, c’mon. Are you telling me that’s not a beautiful sight?

The most recognisable artist from Portugal amongst Sputnik’s userbase is undoubtedly Moonspell, and for good reason; they’ve proven to be one of the most enduring metal bands in the world, with their latest outing, 2008’s Night Eternal, earning enough acclaim to make you forget that it had been a full 13 years since their debut, the cult classic Wolfheart. This song is from the latter, which is as essential a part of the gothic metal canon as Mandtlion, Bloody Kisses, and Wildhoney.

Portuguese music is probably best known in the wider world for fado, however; a genre with Iberian folk origins that could be linked to blues, in the way that it incorporated African rhythms introduced to local musicians by way of the slave trade and became synonymous with songs of longing and yearning. It’s older, though, with examples dating…

Just a day after England’s abject humiliation, is it time to kiss goodbye to my favourite team of this entire tournament? I spent a good two months telling anybody who would listen to keep an eye out for Chile, and their frankly outrageous 3-1-3-3 formation this summer, and with two victories, countless shots on goal, and a dominant, if ultimately fruitless performance against European champions Spain, they haven’t let me down. Today, though, they face Brazil. It’ll be a battle between two very different ideologies – Brazil’s solid pragmatism against Chile’s practically suicidal commitment to getting men forward at any cost. Chile could very well pull off a shock, but this is a World Cup. You can’t bet against Brazil. It’s the law. Still, at least Chile can come out of the tournament saying that they, along with Germany, can boast one of the two most exciting young talents to emerge at the tournament.

Arise Sir Sanchez!

The one single figure that probably encapsulates the history of Chilean popular music more than anybody is Victor Jara. A crucial part of the folky and politically charged Nueva Canción movement, which was the first and still biggest genre of popular music associated with Chile, he would perhaps still be held in such high regard even if he were still alive, but his death – in a hostage situation at the hands of General Pinochet’s armies during a military coup, no less – cemented his legend. As a member of the Chilean…

I’m going to totally honest with you about why South Korea are getting their day in this blog now, the day after being eliminated from the competition by a rampant Uruguay side. The whole point from here on out, really, was to try to second-guess each game as it came, posting up each country just before they get knocked out whenever possible. It’s been such a unpredictable World Cup, though, that I’ve ended up with France, Italy, Denmark, and Switzerland flying back to Europe before I’ve even thought about them, while Uruguay, Japan, Paraguay, and Slovakia have made a fool of me for getting them out of the way so quickly. Honestly, I thought South Korea would win against Uruguay yesterday. And honestly, there is not a hope in hell you will get me to try to predict the winner of either of today’s games. No way.

So instead, here’s a write-up of South Korea, a country that is the exact opposite of North Korea in more ways than just the obvious.

I mean, would Kim Jong Il allow this? WOULD HE?!?

Those of you that idolize and worship everything Nippon – c’mon, admit it, there’s a lot of you – may be surprised to learn of the cultural sway South Korea has in the Far East; in fact, there is a large cult following of South Korean cultural artefacts in Japan not unlike America’s cult following of Japanese trends. For that reason alone, it seems counter-intuitive to delve…

Landon Donovan’s tears were a bit much, but fair play, America – you won the group, and you sent England spiralling into an absolutely horrific World Cup knockout run that, from what I can see, will see us playing Germany, then Argentina, then Brazil, then Spain (providing we win even one of those games). Your attentions, on the other hand, can now turn to Ghana. You lucky, lucky bastards.

Actually, that’s pretty harsh on the best African team at the tournament – they looked impressive against Germany even in defeat, and they’ve certainly got the ability and the organisation to cause all manner of problems. They’ll basically have a home crowd, too – Africa expects. This game, my friends, could be an absolute doozey. So as the sides are pretty evenly matched, I think it’s only fair that my incredibly effeminate picture of Landon Donovan is also matched. With that in mind….

….here’s Stephen Appiah.

The major genre in Ghana is highlife, a blissed-out, jazz-influenced sound that is also one of the definitive genres for the entire continent, with a proud, storied history of over 100 years. There’s no shortage of big names – Sir Victor Uwaifo, Bobby Benson, Dr. Victor Olaiya, even some very early Fela Kuti – but for now we’ll focus on E.T. Mensah, a flautist, saxophonist, organist, and trumpeter who has achieved some international notoriety recently with a series of re-issues celebrating both his life and music, and that of West Africa in general. …

And so we reach the mid-way point, both for this series and for the World Cup itself. Today sees the end of the group stages and the final confirmation of which 16 teams are left to duke it out for the next two weeks – Honduras are unlikely to be one of them, and it’s hard to know exactly what to say about them other than that. So little attention is paid to them that one ITV correspondant referred to them as a South American country – without meaning to be too denegrating, they’re probably the most nondescript country involved in the whole tournament, and that’s no small accomplishment in a competition boasting the presence of both Slovenia AND Slovakia. All this despite an astonishing bit of governmental wrangling that got seemingly everybody in the world commenting as recently as last year, too. If it had happened in Mexico, Cuba, or even Costa Rica, rest assured you’d have heard a lot more about it; the international media just didn’t seem to care when it happened in a country nobody really knew anything about. Ditto the tragic murder of Edwin Palacios, brother of three of the current Honduran national team.

In keeping with all of that, Honduran music hasn’t produced any stars, certainly not ones who’ve found fame outside the country’s borders, so it’s hard to know where to start. If we’re just talking quality, though, then I can highly recommend one Aurelio Martinez, a man with, in addition…

All of a sudden, it’s starting to look a little worrying for Africa in the World Cup – South Africa’s bravery and spirit hasn’t seen them through, Portugal’s embarrassing demolition of North Korea have made Ivory Coast very unlikely to qualify, and Algeria and Nigeria simply weren’t good enough. Ghana’s qualification yesterday makes them the continent’s only representatives, then; the subject of today’s blog, Cameroon, were the first team to be eliminated from the competition after two disappointing defeats to Japan and Denmark. If only today offered an easy chance to restore pride; instead, they’ve got to play Holland. Gadzooks.

Perhaps it’s time to start planning for the future, then?

When asking for a list of genres Cameroon brought to the world, you probably wouldn’t expect ‘disco’ to be one of the answers. And yet, it was Cameroon’s own Manu Dibango that conjured up Soul Makossa, the album – and song – most frequently credited with sparking the disco craze. A rare venture into the Billboard charts by an African musician, it became one of the most sampled, referenced, and copied songs of the era – Michael Jackson fans especially may recognise the opening vocal refrain. The album itself is well worth having, incidentally – it’s a brilliant funk record, fleet-footed and melodic throughout.

That song shares its name – or at least the ‘makossa’ bit – with one of Cameroon’s most popular genres of music. The other – a more danceable, off-kilter affair that hasn’t found…

Oh dear. As an Englishman I’ve clearly got enough to worry about myself without casting pity on other nations, but Australia haven’t really had the greatest World Cup, have they? Not only were they torn to shreds by Germany in their opening fixture, and not only have they collected two red cards to key players already, but they’ve also has to suffer an embarrassing rift between journalist Michael Cockerill and the permanently injured Harry Kewell, which has left Kewell looking just a little stupid (Cokerill asked Kewell to ‘actually DO something’ against Ghana, and Kewell promptly got himself sent off for a senseless handball), and left Lucas Neill reduced to announcing that actually, they’re not whingers and bottlers. What’s more, after New Zealand’s heroics against Italy, the Socceroos now face the very real prospect of going out of the tournament having been outplayed and outscored by their bitterest rivals. Still, some tunes might help, eh?

And here’s a picture of a sport they’re actually good at, too!

Everybody with ears knows about the major Australian acts, so there’s not really much anybody will get out of their videos being posted here, but just for the sake of the people who will undoubtedly complain anyway, here they are: AC/DC, Crowded House, Nick Cave, The Saints, Kylie Minogue, The Go-Betweens, Natalie Imbruglia, Bee Gees, The Avalanches, INXS, The Church, The Triffids, Sia, You Am I, The Vines, Hilltop Hoods, whatever Luke Steele is pretending to be this week, Silverchair, Wolfmother.…

It’s all getting a bit exciting now, isn’t it? Today sees the real meaty end of the tournament kick off, as teams start to drop out of the running altogether; by close of pay on the 25th, we’ll know exactly who will contest the knockout stages and who will be joining the likes of Cameroon in flying home. In Nigeria’s case, it’s do-or-die time – nothing but a victory over South Korea and some help from Argentina against Greece will stop them from becoming the second African nation to drop out of the first African World Cup. Still, if it’s any consolation, they can boast probably the best individual performance of the tournament so far in the shape of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama’s Messi-defying heroics in their opening fixture against Argentina.

Mad respect for the blackest man in Tel Aviv.

The role played by Nigerians in the development of modern Africa’s musical consciousness simply can’t be ignored. While each African nation had its own folk forms – and with Igbo and Yoruba, Nigeria is no exception – it was Nigeria that was the first to embrace new styles and promote hybrid forms, bringing those folk sounds into a contemporary context. Nowhere was this more telling than in the development of Afrobeat, a crucial genre of music pioneering by Nigeria’s most famous son and probably African music’s most beloved figure – the legend that is Fela Kuti. This music – a blend of highlife, pyschedelia, funk, and sociopolitical fire – displays…

And for all intents and purposes, that might as well be this entire blog post done with.

Music is effectively banned in North Korea. That is to say, unless it expressly praises the great leader and talks about how absolutely awesome communism is, it doesn’t get played. At all. On the one hand, it’s terrifying to think that there is actually a country on Earth that gives itself over to the nightmarish visions of George Orwell and Yevgeny Zamyatin. On the other, some of the propaganda music citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are forced to listen to is pretty awesome. It’s difficult to listen to this and not imagine you’re leading an army into battle, isn’t it?

To look for anything beyond that in terms of popular music is a waste of time, quite frankly. Any music with any sort of freedom of expression is either so heavily oppressed that it will never be found by Westerners, or is made by artists who have long relocated to Japan or South Korea, and perhaps cannot really be seen as North Korean any more. This also applied to all the artists that existed in Korea before it split in half – all of them became South Korean, almost by osmosis. Unfortunately, the culture of strict hegemony is the only culture, and somehow, anything that breaks from that isn’t really a part of the original culture any more. For more North Korean music of note, then,…

It’s one of the more overlooked international rivalries in football, but Slovakians must have been absolutely delighted with the way the European qualifying went for this World Cup. Ever since Czechoslovakia split into two nations, the newly-formed Czech Republic have left their new neighbours in the dust in footballing terms – in fact, they were the defeated finalists in their first ever major tournament, in 1996. Yet, in 2010, it was Slovakia themselves, with a little bit of help from Slovenia, that stopped the Czechs from appearing. The two countries remain closely related collaborators in political terms, but regardless, it must have been sweet. In a group that kicked off with two draws and thus remains wide open, they may yet do even better, even if their star player is terrified of his own tattoos.

He also looks a little bit like the chestburster from Alien. Just saying.

Slovakia’s most common contributions to the record collections of music obsessives in America have tended to be progressive rock acts of various description, and while special mention should be given to the jazz fusion of Fermáta, the name that crops up more than any other is Marián Varga. As a solo artist, in collaboration with Pavol Hammel, and as a member of Prúdy and Collegium Musicum, his is a legacy that reverberates throughout Slovakia’s prog rock and art rock movements. Here’s Collegium Musicum, a band whose catalogue is largely built on instrumental rock arrangements of classical pieces, wih a spot of…

I would imagine that of the few of you following this blog intently, most will have been looking forward to this entry more than any other. There is a serious fascination in the Western world when it comes to Japan, to the point where it borders on fetishism – we even have specific derogatory terms for people who are obsessed with anything and everything Japanese. Music may not quite command the same fanbase that anime does, or computer games do, but you still don’t need to look very far to find an excited fan of Dir en Grey, or Mad Capsule Markets, or Nobuo Uematsu.

Oh yeah, here’s a footballer too.

Japan’s national character suffered a little when Western music crossed the Pacific and took over, which is a real shame; the nation’s folk and classical forms are documented as well as in any country in the world. Clearly nothing I can type into such a short space will sum all of that up, so we’ll focus on just one such form; gagaku, which is perhaps best understood as an equivalent of sorts to European chamber music, traditionally played by small-ish ensembles for the rich and royal in private performaces. It went on to be a big influence on avant-garde Western classical music, informing the drones, the microtonality, the primitivism, and even the electronic textures that permeates the works of composers as famous as LaMonte Young, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Krzysztof Penderecki.

The influence of traditional Japanese…

J’ADORE MEXIQUE! But we won’t talk about them much for now; I’m saving the teams who’ll stay in the competition for later, and Mexico certainly look like being one of those teams, at the expense of France. (Couldn’t happen to a nicer country, honestly.) So instead my attention -as well as the attention of the rest of England – turns to France’s best buddies in the World Cup, Algeria. The ties between the two countries are so strong that it’d been said that there was more celebration in Paris over Algeria’s qualificaton for the tournament than there was for France’s, although the utterly shameful way Les Bleus won their play-off may have someting to do with that. Still, maybe the French feel they owe Algeria a little something – the greatest French footballer of all time was actually an Algerian, of course.

BOOM! Headshot.

Algeria’s musical scene retains those historical ties to France, and Gallic forms of music have always remained popular in the country. Chanson – perhaps the music most associated with the country – is a case in point, and to show that off, here’s Etienne Daho. A truly cosmopolitan artist (born in Algeria, lived and worked in France, now living in London, with a polylingual catalogue), his chanson vocals and melodies find themselves in all sorts of alien contexts, with his synth-heavy production reflecting the influence of both late ’80s sophistipop and the artier end of ’90s European dance music.

Indeed, it’s incredible how…

As the World Cup moves into the second round, it’s going to be interesting to see which of the over-performing minnows will continue to impress. Hosts South Africa have already fluffed their audition, finding themselves on the end of a 3-0 spanking by Uruguay, but it remains to be seen how teams like North Korea will hold up. Greece – champions of Europe as recently as 2004, let’s not forget – will be a special case indeed, because right now, they hold the record as the only team ever to play in the World Cup without scoring a single goal. It’s a deeply unwelome record, of course – it remains to be seen whether they will break that duck against Nigeria today or – welp – Argentina next week.

Don’t worry, it’s not actually Chris de Burgh.

The wunderkind of Greek music is unquestionably Vangelis. For all the movie-score cheese he’s been guilty of (look me in the eye and honestly tell me the theme from “Chariots of Fire” doesn’t make you cringe), he deserves to be regarded alongside Jean Michele-Jarre as one of the lynchpins of a very early form of adult-friendly electronica, and a progenitor of much of the new age and ambient music since. As you probably already know, his crowning achievement is his score for the sci-fi-film-noir epic Blade Runner.

To pick up on Vangelis is a stunning obvious move, though, so let’s look elsewhere….

Like most European countries, Greek has its own

Well, I’m sure we all expected a few countries to get absolutely pounded this year, but by and large – New Zealand, Korea DPR, South Africa – they’ve stood up very, very well for themselves. Attention turned today to Switzlerand, who are actually pretty good, but they’re playing Spain, and Spain are to the average football team what the atomic bomb is to the average handgun. At least, that was the general idea – but Switzlerand only turned around and bloody won, didn’t they? So thanks to the land of cuckoo clocks, Toblerone, and political neutrality for providing us with the defining moment of the World Cup so far.

And what immaculate hair they have too!

It’s Sputnik and it’s Switzerland, so it’s pointless even pretending like I’m going to start anywhere else but with the metal giants of Celtic Frost, Samael, and Coroner. Surely you don’t need me to tell you why a cold European country has got lots of metal, and surely you don’t need me to introduce Celtic Frost, do you? The country’s reputation for metal lives on through Paysage d’Hiver and Darkspace, but these guys are the daddies. They’re Celtic Fucking Frost, you get me?

Similarly dark-minded Swiss music can be found in their once-revered post-punk scene, most notably in the shape of The Young Gods. Part of a lineage that includes Swans (who they are named after) and branches out toward Nine Inch Nails, Devin Townsend, and Fantamos,…

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