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Musings

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,…

So far I’ve only received one entry, so I figured I’d get the word out to more people.

Write something about music, send it to newemailssuck@gmail.com, and if it’s good I’ll put it up on the staff blog.  Deadline is July 1st and if I don’t get anything else by then, then I guess I’m a huge failure and this was a terrible idea.  Bye!

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

Recently I found myself attending a Defiance, Ohio and Mischief Brew show, whom are two rising underground folk-punk bands.  Their following is small, yet loyal, and shows are intense, intimate, and certainly passionate.  While Defiance, Ohio’s new album Midwestern Minutes does not officially drop until July 6th, they were kind enough to sell copies while touring. Here is the opening track from Midwestern Minutes, “Floodwaters.”

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,…

When New Zealand qualified for the World Cup, I distinctly remember some very proud, vocal gloating from Australians who were looking forward to seeing them getting beaten 4-0 every game. Out of interest, how are the Socceroos getting on with that so far? And how did New Zealand do earlier today? Having said that, there’s no denying that New Zealand are largely attending just to make up the numbers; if they qualify from their group ahead of Italy or Paraguay it will be a shock of the highest order. It’s lucky for me that they’ve qualified, though – partly because they have some pretty great music going on, but mostly because I can now take my one and only opportunity to post a Middlesbrough player.

Look! It’s Chris Killen! And some other guy!

New Zealand’s prime musical export has been indie pop, in various incarnations – Split Enz being the most famous (singer Neil Flynn went on to form Crowded House with some Aussies, the traitor), and The Clean the most influential (as Pavement and Yo La Tengo will only be too happy to tell you). The Chills are probably the pick of the bunch though; certainly, they recorded possibly the greatest single by any NZ indie band in the form of “Pink Frost”, a shoegazey standard with just a hint of peak-era Sonic Youth about it. I’ve never been that keen on the intro, but from the 25 second mark onwards it’s glorious.…

When extrapolated, the idea of the end of music seems extreme, or perhaps even impossible.  But we’re seeing it even now on much smaller scales.

In keeping with geographical metaphors, post-rock was a forest in the late 90s/early 2000s, and it wasn’t just any forest.  It was a rain forest, a pine forest, a rural woodland.  The music encapsulated the feel of all seasons – the beauty of winter, with its snowy treetops; the beauty of autumn, leaves swirling to the ground; the heat and desire of summer.  And beyond that, bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor were able to capture real emotion as well – desperation and fear, love and hope – within thematic albums that told stories without words.  These bands could seemingly put whatever they wanted into their music and make it work, or maybe it was us listeners that made it work, accentuating the music with our own emotions.  Either way, post-rock became one of the first genres that was brought into the spotlight by the Internet generation, through blogs and indie review sites.  It was the next big thing, the next wellspring of musical creativity… until a few years later when it dried up.

Post-rock is a disconcerting example of how we are bringing about the end of music by our fickleness as an audience in this modern Internet age.  Our attention spans are wide when it comes to the amount of music we listen to, but short when it comes to individual albums.  Instead…

So, that Germany lot. Pretty terrifying, eh? After their 4-0 mauling of Davey’sBoys, it feels like the big names of the World Cup have finally arrived (not like these English and American numpties). Attention thus turns to Italy tonight, and their opening game against South American dark horses Paraguay – and one suspects that Italy may have an axe to grind in this one. After all, we know the Italians love to be stylish and love to be good-looking, so how will they react when they realize that Paraguay’s star centre-forward is not just more dashingly handsome than their entire squad, but probably the whole rest of the World Cup combined?

Admit it – you want his babies.

Admittedly, pug-faced thug Gennaro Gattuso does bring the batting average down considerably for the Italians.

Paraguay’s musical scene, like that of several of the other countries this blog will cover, is shaped by the political upheaval in the country’s recent history. Here, that means flirtations with communism, dictatorship, and most damningly, the artistic oppression the country suffered under Alfredo Stroessner’s reign as President. It was only in 1989 that most popular forms of music were allowed to fully blossom in the nation, having been largely shunned (although not banned) since the start of his reign in 1954. Perhaps that history explains why, despite its sunny climate, metal has thrived in the country over the past two decades. Acts like black metallers Sabaoth, thrashers Raw Hide and Corrosion, and the more traditional…

If you’ve got a bit of a fetish for goalkeepers, and were hoping to see some quality displays between the sticks, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to you sincerely, on the behalf of the entire combined populations of England and Algeria. Seriously. Might I suggest you become a Nigeria supporter?

I guess with Slovenia currently sitting pretty ahead of both England and USA after Robert Koren’s tame, gentle pass somehow got shovelled into the goal by Farouzi ‘Robert Green in disguise’ Chaouchi, now’s the time to celebrate them.

There’s simply nowhere to start talking about Slovenian music other than Laibach – Slovenia’s most admired musical export by light years, and probably the only musical act from the country that most of the readers will have heard of. Named for the name the Nazis used for their hometown, the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, the band have toyed with Nazi imagery for their entire careers, both adapting the insignia into their own imagery and working extensively with anti-defamation artists and charities. Their most notorious musical moments in English speaking territories are covers – most notably Queen’s “One Vision”, which is sung in German and re-named “Geburt Einer Nation” (The Birth of a Nation, nodding to the famously controversial pro-KKK silent movie by D.W. Griffiths). They’ve been a consistently controversial group themselves, although it hasn’t stopped them from becoming a strong influence on much of the industrial and martial industrial music made since (Rammstein and Rome particularly), and in…

Music used to be something transcendent for me, something that could carry me away to different worlds.  Every album was an adventure with something exciting and stimulating just around the corner, like walking through an expansive forest to find streetlights hanging from the trees or entering my bathroom to see the mirror made of reflective puzzle pieces.  Wondrous and new, music was a planet unto itself that consisted of objects stitched together through the creativity of a collective, notes and melodies becoming the nails and planks while the input of each individual band member was the hammer that connected everything.  For hours I could wander the streets of this new place, listening to different albums without any agenda other than the sheer joy of continual discovery.

Eventually, everything had to be supplemented with music.  Was it storming outside?  I had to listen to an album that complemented the weather.  Was I sad?  I had to listen to sad music.  I feel now that it was a lazy response, one that cheapened the experiences at hand.  Music as a form of escape isn’t inherently purer than doing anything else to avoid problems just because it’s music.  It is counterproductive.  Listening to sad music because I was sad set me up for more sadness, but listening to happy music made me feel like a clown, an idiot, trying to jump-start a good mood based on the sounds hitting my ears, like some slobbering Pavlovian dog.  Music failed me at those times and…

Yes, attempting to blog about the music of the USA on a site like Sputnik is patently ridiculous. I know. That’s one of the reasons I’m getting it out of the way early; the other is to say YOU’RE GOING DOWN AMERICA

Be honest – who’s side do YOU want to be on?

Ahem. So anyway, I suppose the best way to approach this to go back to a time when American music was exactly that – American music, and not some globally-dominant behemoth that just happens to revolve around California for some reason. And to kick that off, I’m resorting to playing personal favourites with comedian, country pioneer, and all-around vaudeville nutcase Uncle Dave Macon. This is the sound of America in its youth, still in thrall to the Appalachian folk music developed by Americans working in tandom with the Irish and Scottish diaspora, yet to discover and assimilate the blues music of the slaves that would lead them to musical world domination. Macon’s vocal delivery was radical for his time, particularly in terms of the music being recorded at the time, and his performing style was no different – more aggressive and raucous than country or folk has been since. And that’s before we consider the knee-slapping sexual innuendos that abound in so many of his songs, puns so well-concealed that half the time it’s not even clear whether or not it’s accidental.

There were many things – World War II,…

Not a bad opening match, all told!

You know, there used to be a time when the words ‘Uruguay’ and ‘World Cup’ went together like ‘Billy Corgan’ and ‘whiny bitch’. They both hosted and won the first one, in 1930, before hopping over the border to Brazil and gazumping them in their final in 1952. All this and two Olympic golds in the ’20s, too. They’re a shadow of their former selves now, though; largely relying on the skills of two gifted frontmen, one of whom looks not entirely unlike Simon Amstell.

So, who’s your favourite McFly?

Not unlike football, Uruguay’s music has tended to be overshadowed by that of its much larger neighbours, Brazil. Yet it had its own version of tropicalia, running concurrently to the Brazilian psychedelic revolutionaries, and the biggest name was in that was Eduardo Mateo. Finding an English-language equivalent for Mateo is difficult; he was an enfant terrible of the nation’s music scene, who was rumoured to struggle with mental health issues, and yet he became arguably the most influential musician the country had ever produced. The below track comes from his 1976 collaboration with Montevido born percussionist Jorge Trasante; a record recorded after both musicians were exiled from the country by the government-imposed period of martial law that ravaged the nation in the mid-’70s.

Before Mateo’s blend of rock, traditional Latin-American folk forms, and psych, though, there was the Uruguayan invasion – which is exactly what it sounds like. After The…

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