Slovenia’s KONTRADIKSHN: Hope, Cynicism, And The Eternal Drama

Thanks to technology,  the world is a smaller place today than ever before. A couple years ago I had a chance that wouldn’t have been available even 10 years ago, to report on a band called Karmakoma from Slovenia, a place many people hadn’t heard of (until in 2016 when they asked “where?” regarding U.S. first lady Melania Trump).  I loved the experience, and now I find myself with the extraordinary luck to report on another band from Slovenia – the electro-rock trio Kontradikshn, who are friends and stagemates with Karmakoma.

Kontradikshn’s debut album, Reframing, features intense, powerful electronic music worthy of attention. It’s industrial electronic rock, with an energetic sound that is at times macho, other times quirky, with aggressive synth riffs, pulsing synth bass, techno break beats, and fiery vocals. Kontradikshn is essentially a rock band with progressive drum n’ bass leanings that uses synths instead of guitars (at least in the studio), to create an effusive, passionate mix that’s as irresistible as it is danceable.

According to all sources, they’re a powerhouse trio live – their setup features the efforts of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Petar Stojanović and guitarist/bass synthesist/computer whiz Matej Plešej, lots of live and sequenced synths, as well as live drums by Anže Kump that drive the beat. Their on stage setup features prominent use of the electric guitar, including amplification by the notorious Marshall Stack, while computer support is provided by a MacBook Pro sending and receiving MIDI data to and from Ableton Live.

“Music was forever a part of my life. Although no one in my family was a musician, they kinda liked the idea of me playing an instrument. So I started playing clarinet when I was 7 years old. A bit of music school and orchestra until I was 13 or so.” Petar Stojanović 

Doubt and Discovery

Since their 2010 debut playing clubs in and around Slovenia, their reputation grew and in 2016 they completed a tour through a number of former Yugoslavian states. The group has enjoyed radio airplay on Slovenian National Radio Program 2, including of the single “Memory Dump” as well as frequent airplay on smaller stations. Currently Kontradikshn is touring Slovenia and beyond, promoting the new disc. And wherever they go, they bring a party and lots of noise. These guys like to have fun.

Themes of cynicism are present on the album, but the underlying theme is one of hope, along with the irony you might expect from self-aware artists living in the shadow of political change.

From “Neverland”:

Slow down, think for a bit
World ain’t moving so fast, just listen.
Don’t you dare, leave her alone.
‘Cause you know how it feels in the dark, now.
Sit down boy, take a sip
Universe doesn’t need another prick like me
Work hard, do good
But be good to yourself (in the morning).

Stojanović’s life changed dramatically at the age of 11, when his father passed away. Friends, family and music were available to help ease the pain and doubt. Channeling the forces of loss and change in his life, Stojanović  found inspiration and hope in the study of various instruments, and found that the way out, as they say, is through.

“Music was forever a part of my life,” he says. “Although no one in my family was a musician, they kinda liked the idea of me playing an instrument. So I started playing clarinet when I was 7 years old. A bit of music school and orchestra until I was 13 or so. Then I quit the whole classical thing and went for the guitar – yeah, the guitar and a bit of piano. Started my first band when I was 15 and played in numerous bands until now. Then I quit university and concentrated only on making music and music production. Kinda went my way, rebellious in a way.”

In the song “027” Stojanović, who is 27, gets confessional:

Holding on, wanting my special line,
That keeps me back on track.
Keep it on, realizing, life is never ending,
So let’s keep sharing, baby.
When I hit the bottom, I miss that peak.
Must confess, that it makes me weak.

A journey of self-discovery is a frequent theme of rock artists (usually spread out over several albums) and it’s true here, as Stojanović  wrestles with hedonism to seek relief from pessimism. Yet the album’s elements of hope and faith in human nature and in oneself and the importance of friendship dominate.

From “Free”

Inside of me, there’s a storm again
So I seek for release
Inside of me, I still believe,
That inside of me there’s no shame ‘cause I feel again
Inside of me the only one that lives, Inside of me.

That storm inside of Stojanović comes across in a very definite way, lyrically, vocally, and melodically. One particularly intense moment comes at the end of Evacuation, when the vocals and lyrics veer into decidedly frightening Trent Reznor territory. Stojanović’s favorite synth is another indicator. “My favorite piece of gear is actually an analog mono-synth (the Novation Bass Station II) that arpeggios and bass-lines are played on. And tweaking its filter section really gets the grit.”

An Emerging Kontradikshn

The members grew up in a medium-sized suburb of about 20,000 people on the outskirts of Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, not too far from the similar suburb where Karmakoma’s members were raised. In 2010, Stojanović and Plešej, friends since the age of 15 (they’re both 27 in 2017) formed a few bands until they settled on the current name and approach, playing 20 shows or so. With the addition of Kump as a permanent member on live drums, things began to get serious.

“With previous members, we joined numerous competitions and battles of bands, just to get some gigs and our name out there,” Stojanović  says. “Then we got more and more known and made a tour with Karmakoma. After Anže came into the band,  things got more serious and better. He really brought fresh wind into the band.”

Around the same time the band was formed, Stojanović’ built a recording studio, the same studio where Karmakoma’s debut was recorded. He explains: “I have a small project studio in my home town… recording bands and artists around the country, with which we started to kinda get noticed in our country – like a local scene that (got more and more attention) from other parts of the country. It’s kinda cool to work with different people and feel the cumulative spirit.”

The band’s sound was developed both in the studio and by participating in the robust club scene in and around Slovenia, including at Klub Kocka in Croatia, DemoFest in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ChannelZero venue in Llubjiana, and others. The band’s diverse influences point to a cosmopolitan array of sounds, from Stojanović’s faves: TransAM, Cabaret Voltaire, Skinny Puppy, Turing Machine, Justice, Aphex Twin, to those of Plešej: Korn, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson, to Kump’s influences: early on they were: Korn, Slipknot and Nightwish, and more recently Taylor Swift, Robbie Williams, and Prince. At 20, Kump is the youngest member of the band.

Clearly, Stojanović, Plešej and Kump relish their roles as musicians; perhaps it is easy to overlook the few unfortunate drug references on their debut album. Still, the music is all one needs. For both audience and listener, music can combat depression and apathy; we’ve all experienced the lift in mood a familiar song can bring. Multiply that by 1,000 when hearing a band you admire play live, in an arena with a powerful PA and pulsing lights, along with other fans.

Musical tools are now readily available virtually anywhere. In a world ruled by capital, we are called to make projects of ourselves.  Self cultivation is a reasonable response to the challenges of a world governed by scarcity. In times like these, artists are left to cultivate hope and optimism, in spite of adversity. Even on a relatively dark album like Reframing, Stojanović’s optimism overwhelms.

From the moody and mysterious “108 Hours”:

There’s no absolute value when you feel, and you feel
The eternal drama is here to heal, you. Just say:
‘I am gonna be okay, I’m gonna be okay
It feels, it feels right.’”

There’s no denying that musical technology has been a positive force in giving a voice to artists around the world. Contrary to the dark dystopian view of machines taking over, the sonic art of Kontradikshn demonstrates that in the midst of loss, pain, frustration, nihilism (fill in the blank), electronic musical tools are empowering people. Writing, performing, listening and dancing to music and poetry is healing and cathartic. After all, music is an important feature of the eternal drama.

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The Analog Girl’s Hypnotic “Fantasy” A Darkly Sweet Confection

The Analog Girl welcomes 2017 with an elegantly ethereal new tune. “What You are Showing Me Is A Fantasy” shuns convention with its ABCBB  structure, along with Analog Girl’s trademark delay-drenched synths,  futuristic beats, and mysterious, sultry vocals. It’s a  synthpop lover’s dream, a darkly sweet confection packed with lots of melancholy beauty and a mystique that draws the listener in.

This tripped-out electronic ditty is only the beginning; The Singapore-based singer/songwriter/studio whiz is playing live and just put the finishing touches on her new studio album, “Golden Sugar Crystals,” coming in February. The much anticipated disc is her first in five years, and a follow up to 2011’s “Tonight Your Love.” Far Out!

Check out the official video below:

www.analog-girl.net

https://twitter.com/theanaloggirl

 

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Synthpop Diva Stacey Q Goes Hawaiian On Enchanting New Duet With Scott Larson

Fans of classic ’80s electronic music know Stacey Q for her charming pop hits “Two of Hearts” and “We Connect.” Yet there’s another side to Ms. Q:  Her 1997 release “Boomerang” features backing by a standard rock band, playing a mix of rock, folk and pop . (It’s a great disc, and rare — you can find one on eBay if you’re lucky.)

Fast forward to 2016: Stacey’s love for acoustic music has led to recording sessions with her longtime pal and former flame Scott Larson. The latest is the sweet and lovely “You Are Hawaii To Me,” an enchanting island getaway that’s perfect for lovers of mellow pop and classic rock — and fans of Stacey Q, of course. Four songs by Larson and Q are available for download on iTunes and Google Play. Check ’em out!

 

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From The Bogtrotters to The Beatles: Ed Ward’s “History Of Rock & Roll, Volume One”

It’s a truism that technology can (and should) liberate. The history of rock music demonstrates this axiom quite well, as shown in Ed Ward’s new book “The History of Rock and Roll, Volume One –1920 to 1963” (Flatiron Books, 390 pages, $35). Beginning with folk music and what was called race music, first recorded on phonographic discs in the 1920s, to the birth of the radio and the electric guitar, through the electrifying of the blues, to jukeboxes, early TV broadcasts, and Hollywood films,  the book is packed with info about the personalities that created rock and roll, and the technologies that made the genre possible.

Decades ago, long before techno-pop artists adopted popular music forms, filling stadiums with shows featuring banks of electronics,  laser lights and towers of amplified speakers, a rip-roaring night on the town may have consisted of heading down the road to hear a simple unamplified guitar, banjo or fiddle accompanied by a vocalist. Folk, country and western, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, pop and rock all come into play, across the decades in Ward’s detail-rich book. It’s a page turner, ideally next to your computer, smartphone or tablet (YouTube has pretty much all the tracks he mentions), so you can follow along while listening. All the characters that transformed a diverse array of genres into the world’s (arguably) most influential music genre are presented, and Ward doesn’t disappoint those who prefer their music history served with a side dish of gossip (Colonel Parker was an illegal immigrant, Chuck Berry went to jail for violating the Mann Act, John Lennon was a popper of pep pills, etc.). Oh My! 

Decades ago, long before techno-pop artists adopted popular music forms, filling stadiums with shows featuring banks of electronics, laser lights and towers of amplified speakers, a rip-roaring night on the town may have consisted of heading down the road to hear a simple unamplified guitar, banjo or fiddle accompanied by a vocalist.

As the resident rock and roll historian for NPR’s Fresh Air, Ward’s encyclopedic knowledge serves him well here, and offers up more than mere gossip. Along the way he covers the clubs, the rise of the labels, the record stores, the DJs, the managers, and the stars they created, along with Billboard stats of hundreds of songs making it convenient to listen as you read. There’s an emphasis on the United States, with a few chapters devoted to Britain, which reacted to this uniquely American creation in a variety of interesting ways.

It starts with the music presented in traveling medicine shows, which allowed new sounds to spread from town to town, and eventually, when radio caught on, it spread even faster. When things really start to take off in the ’50s, the book goes deeply into vocal groups, the beginning of Motown, pop groups and rock groups, as well as the role of the electric guitar, mentioning the Fender Stratocaster at least four times (Fullerton shout out!) as well as continuing to follow the second and third careers of those who started out in the ’30s and ’40s. Lots of background info here, along with the wonderful songs that are still staples on oldies stations today (and many others that should be).

Ward’s book ends in January of 1964, just as the Beatles are set to take the United States by storm. Ward spends more than 50 pages on the Beatles and Rolling Stones, and a good number of pages to the beginning of Elvis’ career as well, but only after setting up these pop/rock phenomena in the context of the decades of blues, gospel, and folk artists and others who started it all. Highly recommended.

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Thomas Dolby: The Speed Of Sound

When Thomas Dolby hit MTV and the airwaves in 1982, the world discovered a new kind of electronic artist, someone quite different from the typical synthpop performer selling songs about romance and despair. On his first album, “The Golden Age Of Wireless,” Dolby presented a parallel sci-fi universe of retro technology, youthful idealism and Cold War politics with motifs that were nearly mythological in their grandeur, condensed into masterfully engineered three and four minute pop tunes. I was all of 18 in 1982;  I admit to having been more than a little perplexed by the paradoxes present in his style and image. What to make of his compelling synthesis of past and future, of traditional singer/songwriter tropes intertwined with an honest fascination for humanity’s complex history and faith in our better natures, wrapped up in some of the most ear-pleasing techno pop ever created?

1984’s “The Flat Earth,” Dolby’s second album, confronted listeners with its soulful style, driving home the fact that Dolby’s romantic optimism and willingness to depart from formula put him in a class apart from the hordes of synth-wielding popsters on the radio. Dolby didn’t merely pose with electronic instruments as artwork – for him, technology coupled with our common humanity represented a way forward, the dawning of a new paradigm. With its exploration of jazz and the paradoxically synthetic/acoustic sounds of the Fairlight CMI electronic workstation, the album was a sophisticated departure from the techno pop of the day. 1988’s “Aliens Ate My Buick” delved further into funk-flavored electronica, causing confusion and frustration for record executives and promotion people who found it difficult to categorize and market Dolby’s music.

When I learned a few weeks ago that Dolby’s memoir, “The Speed Of Sound:  Breaking The Barriers Between Music And Technology” (Flatiron Books, 277 pages, $27.99) was due for an October release, I eagerly got my hands on a copy. It’s a gripping read, as Dolby recounts his rather quick journey from working musician to pop superstar, and beyond. It’s not surprising to discover that Dolby is a gifted storyteller, given that from the beginning his albums have been filled with cinematic tunes with stories from imaginary historical narratives.  

The idea of adding to the general chorus of syrupy pop chatter and unrequited love songs filled me with loathing. I was determined to go full-on with my own peculiar brand of dieselpunk music and visuals; and if I couldn’t crack the big time, I would go down behind enemy lines in a blaze of glory.” Thomas Dolby

It turns out that Dolby’s early style and content choices were based on solid convictions and instinct.

He writes: “If I’d stopped for a second to reflect on the fact that my obsessions with science fiction, ham radio and the Cold War might prove a little unsuitable for the delicate pop sensibilities of the mass record-buying public, I’d have chosen a different path. I could have written catchy songs about jealousy and teenage angst, I might have joined the ranks of the smiley poster-boy singers of the early 1980s, got my hair cut at Antenna and bought my clothes on South Molton Street. But when I turned on BBC Radio 1, or watched Top of the Pops, there was nothing, absolutely zero that appealed to me. The idea of adding to the general chorus of syrupy pop chatter and unrequited love songs filled me with loathing. I was determined to go full-on with my own peculiar brand of dieselpunk music and visuals; and if I couldn’t crack the big time, I would go down behind enemy lines in a blaze of glory.”

The anecdote-packed narrative tells the tale of Dolby’s brief time at the top of the charts, followed by his increasing disillusionment with the recording industry and his subsequent ventures into producing, film scoring, and the world of Silicon Valley startups. Dolby’s public image has always been carefully cultivated, so it is quite revealing, after 35 years to encounter the actual person behind the boy genius image. What is surprising is that he is more or less an ordinary fellow, albeit one gifted in the arts, and apparently business as well. It turns out that the same ear for musical innovation guided his forays into the tech world, where Dolby had a hand in transforming the way music is heard on the internet and cell phones.

Dolby writes: “In 1994, investment started to pour into small Internet start-ups from San Francisco to San Jose. If you were an eager young entrepreneur with a germ of an idea, you could take several meetings in a week with angel investors and VCs. Anyone who could sketch out a plan for world domination on the back of a paper napkin was a strong contender for an infusion of cash. A hundred and fifty years after the first hungry speculators poured into the Bay Area, the new Gold Rush had begun.”

Yet Dolby did much more than merely sketch plans on a napkin. In the early days of the Internet, Dolby’s company Headspace Inc., with their Beatnik Audio Engine, allowed web browsers to play back audio with ease, thanks to code that made it possible to compress large audio files. This technology was soon bundled into the Sun Java Platform, found on virtually every PC. Headspace (now Beatnik Inc.) followed up on this success by creating a version of the Beatnik Audio Engine that eventually ended up on billions of cell phones. Yet ever the perfectionist,  Dolby was somewhat unsatisfied with the way things turned out.

“When I was on the charts with ‘Blinded Me with Science,’” he writes, “I was known as a sonic innovator, the man who put warmth and humanity into synthesized music. I was embarrassed that now I was the guy people would blame for the global ringtone plague. Had I unleashed a monster? I couldn’t wait for phone power and storage to increase so we could improve the way ringtones sounded. I badly needed Moore’s Law to kick in.”

And indeed, Moore’s Law did kick in – the powerful smartphone we have today was only a few years away. Meanwhile, despite his Silicon Valley successes, at the beginning of the 21st century, Dolby couldn’t ignore his hunger to create new music. Longing for his childhood homeland, Dolby left Northern California with his wife and three children, settling again in England. Always the innovator, he set up a state of the art recording studio in a restored 1930s lifeboat, and got down to the work of once again creating stunning electronic music. 2011’s “Map To The Floating City” is his most recent musical endeavor.

“The Speed Of Sound” is recommended for anyone who enjoys a good music industry story, and though the final third of the book recounts Dolby’s adventures in Silicon Valley, it’s loaded with entertaining and humorous details, as he brushes elbows with some of the leading figures in the computer revolution.

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Gilles Snowcat’s Resurrected Rarities A Treat For “Awaken” Fans

Here’s an October Surprise that’s a refreshing break from the annoying circus that the American political scene has become recently.  Gilles Snowcat reveals more of his gonzo past in a triplet of lo-fi MP3 releases from the early to mid-90s, including Awaken’s “Numb,”  “Blurp,” and the Gilles Snowcat solo tape “Zéro Sur Dix : Encore Raté.” Gilles calls them “something between official albums and demo tapes.” Fans of Awaken and of avant-garde pop, art rock oldies and lo-fi electronica might want to check them out.

“It was rather MacGyverish, to put all those instruments into a basic analog 4 tracks,” Gilles recalls. “I think it was the average Tascam, but I’m not even sure. Then the masters were done on DAT, if anyone remembers DAT now. There was also the mighty ATARI and some synths, including a wonderful hybrid monster by Korg, the DSS-1. Some booze to do the vocals, but since then I changed the brand of my whiskey and the results are slightly better.” (Note: these new releases are taken from cassettes, as the masters have since been misplaced).

 What sets them apart is a growing freedom, in terms of interaction with musicians,” Gilles explains. “Actually I upgraded my status: on 1993’s “Numb” I was a leader, and on 1995’s “Blurp” I had reached the level of dictator.

Vintage synths and a variety of other instruments interplay, documenting late nights that became early morning episodes, along with inebriated vocals and that unique Snowcat perspective. It doesn’t get any more authentic than this.

Apparently the tapes, considered sequentially, tell a story of the rise to power of the curious, rockin’ creature known as Gilles Snowcat. “What sets them apart is a growing freedom, in terms of interaction with musicians,” Gilles explains. “Actually I upgraded my status: on 1993’s Numb I was a leader, and on 1995’s Blurp I had reached the level of dictator.”

Missing from the set is 1993’s “Phase 2: Scrappy”, slated to be digitized soon (it came out between “Numb” and. “Zéro Sur Dix”).  Still, there’s a lot here for Snowcat fans. Unrestrained and uncensored, this triplet of pure pop-punk-psychedelic delights is available exclusively to members of Gilles Snowcat’s Secret Club (it’s free to join).  Click on the link below to find out more.

Gilles Snowcat Secret Club Exclusive: Re-released Awaken Relics 

www.gilles-snowcat.com

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Remembering Stefan Oberthaler

The most exciting part of writing about music has been the chance to connect with creative people from other places. In 2011 Stefan Oberthaler replied to a post I made on a Yahoo music group, as I was looking for artists to interview. From the beginning I knew I had found a gem of a musician. Aside from his location in Vienna, home of the great composers, his training at the Mozarteum and his passionate embrace of electronic music, it was his warm, welcoming nature that encouraged me the most. I found him witty and generous, sharing his music with me, and always available to discuss it in depth. I eagerly awaited each new release, including his innovative nu jazz CD Journeyman and an array of esoteric electronic releases that challenge the idea of easy categorization.

“Music is a language from face to face, from soul to soul.” Stefan Oberthaler

In early 2015 he told me he was ill. I offered what encouragement I could via email, then decided to wait until I heard from him. In this instant internet age, one might think I could get info on his condition, though it wasn’t until May 2016 that I found the sad news of his passing. F*** cancer, as they say. Devastating.

During the several years that he and I corresponded, he presented me with advance releases of several songs. With the tune Robomanic in 2014, he sent along photos of his work process, including pics of his written manuscripts and a photo of his digital process as well. I present them here.

oberthaler_manuscript1 oberthaler_manuscript2Bildschirmfoto_2014_robomanic

Oberthaler put it best when he told me:”Music is a language from face to face, from soul to soul.” Stefan, I’ll miss your brilliant, traditional-meets-postmodern approach to electronic music, the friendly email discussions that you were always available for, and your deep knowledge of seemingly all genres of music, from today’s electronic music to the jazz and classical that educated and inspired you. There is no way now to thank you for all of the great memories listening to and writing about your music; I hope you know how much I appreciated all of it. I’m sure you’re making great music up there in the stars, with the incredible band being assembled in the heavens.

(Note: Some of the links in earlier articles are now down. But I found Stefan’s musical files (some previews) on Soundcloud, here: Stefan Oberthaler aka Keyminator, at Soundcloud.)

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Tom Cridland: How Rock And Roll Inspired Me To Create The World’s Leading Sustainable Fashion Brand

By Tom Cridland

I’ve always loved rock ’n’ roll music since I can remember. The first song I ever recall listening to was “My Blue Heaven” by Fats Domino. My Dad worked all week and, when my brother and I were little, we always used to really look forward to him being at home on Saturdays, so on that morning we always used to interrupt his lie in and wake him up so he could cook us breakfast. I have memories of us jumping around in the living room to that tune after our bacon, Coco Pops or pain au chocolat! Listening to music on family car journeys from when I was very young also had a huge effect on me. My brother and I used to love The Beach Boys (though he’s become more of a Drake fan these days), which my Dad put on for us on the school run.

Then came my obsession with The Beatles and that was when my love of rock ’n’ roll extended to more than just the music but also the back story, the culture, the liner notes of the records, the attitude and, of course the look. It started with their two greatest hits records that are divided into a first with the “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” hits and then a second with their later, more experimental and groundbreaking classics such as “I Am The Walrus” and “Revolution”. My knowledge grew and grew, helped hugely by the wonderful anthology documentary series that was released in the 90s, which I watched again and again. I distinctly remember my Mum buying me “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” as a special treat for doing well at school and being delighted! At one stage one of my best school friends used to take the piss out of me for knowing the year every Beatles record was released and the order of every single track on each of them.

Growing up in a house full of music was a joy. My Mum especially loves the wonderful pop music of the 70s, such as The Bee Gees, James Taylor, Paul Simon, The Eagles and Carole King, and, being in the car with my dad, you could hear something by Van Morrison followed by The Stones or Led Zeppelin followed by the new Groove Armada record he’d decided to check out and then maybe some soul by Marvin Gaye.

Throughout my teens I got into habits I still have today. I organise my iTunes music library in a regimented fashion, with everything neatly labelled and with the album artwork in high res on every record. All my CDs are always in alphabetical order and, a few years ago, I got my parents’ old 70s vinyl collection out, re-ordered it, bought a couple of record players and have been adding some classic contemporary releases to the library, such as Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” or John Grant’s “Pale Green Ghosts.” I use Shazam every day, listen to Beats1, SiriusXM and FM radio and read Rolling Stone and Q, noting down any song I like or record I need to check out in my music notebook.

I listen to all genres regularly: electronic, dance, reggae and hip hop often feature in my playlists, classical less so, but you can be certain that I’ll always be into some rock, pop, soul and blues records. I think it’s important not to be a snob and to admit that, as well as enjoying Muddy Waters, I do occasionally find myself dancing to “High” by Lighthouse Family when I’m doing the dishes.

Since The Beatles, I’ve become a massive fan, in phases, of, first, Eminem, then Nine Inch Nails, Michael Jackson, Metallica, The Eagles and, finally Elton John, the latter becoming my favourite music act of all time, along with the Fab Four (not that I ever refer to them as that unless I’m writing articles). I firmly believe Elton and his band are the best rock ’n’ roll act left on the road today and his drummer, Nigel Olsson, has such a great sound that I felt inspired to finally bother to learn a musical instrument and join a band. He taught himself listening to records in his teens and, hearing that, I realised that it’s never too late and you don’t even need to read!

As part of my “day” job, I run the world’s leading sustainable fashion brand, Tom Cridland, and we are best known for our groundbreaking project, The 30 Year Sweatshirt, an anti-fast fashion campaign in the form of a luxury jumper that is so durably made that we guarantee it to last for three decades.Rock ’n’ roll has influenced me at every turn and we even have a collage of some of my vinyl as the backdrop for our product shots!

Rock ’n’ roll has influenced me at every turn…the rock musicians that I so admire have inspired me to follow my dream to be an entrepreneur and a designer.

The rock musicians that I so admire have inspired me to follow my dream to be an entrepreneur and a designer. Though many of the great rock stars happen to be rich, it is not money that informed their choice of career, it was a genuine love for what they do. That’s why, against the advice of many, I applied for a £6,000 government start-up loan and, with no major business or fashion experience, threw myself head first into creating the Tom Cridland brand.

I couldn’t be happier that I did. We started off trying to create the perfect pair of chinos. We ended up making navy ones for Daniel Craig and Ben Stiller, beige ones for Leonardo DiCaprio and Frankie Valli, pink ones for Rod Stewart and Nile Rodgers, and red ones for Brandon Flowers. Most excitingly though, Nigel Olsson turned out to be our biggest fan and the trousers fit him perfectly. I’m pleased to say he has now become a friend, has a lot of Tom Cridland clothing and we meet up with him a few times every year to go backstage at Elton John shows and for dinner.

Rock ’n’ roll is, in many ways a dying art. There is so much great new music coming out from young artists, such as Sturgill Simpson, Tobias Jesso Jr. and Tame Impala, but one has to wade through layers of excrement to find it. The days of groups of young people picking up actual instruments and travelling around the country in a van playing small pubs and clubs to hone their craft feel like they’re almost over. We may never see the likes of Aretha Franklin or Elvis Presley again. Luckily for me, however, I was born at the tail end of rock’s golden era and I’ve had the privilege of seeing The Eagles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Paul Simon, Sting, Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, Santana, Electric Light Orchestra, Elton John and even The Beach Boys live in concert. And they’ve inspired me to spend the rest of my life doing what I love.

Tom Cridland is founder and CEO of the globally-renowned sustainable fashion brand that bears his name, and more recently, with Deborah Marx, founder of Tom Cridland Public Relations.

www.tomcridland.com
www.twitter.com/thetomcridland

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From Brussels: Talented Trio Brings Music, Mischief

Among the various approaches to achieving creativity, dressing up for the occasion might work. The colorful clothes from British designer Tom Cridland just might be enough to inspire a creative writing session; certainly one’s stage presence will be enhanced. A tight pair of those trousers just might push your vocals into the next octave. And if you spend all of your wages on designer clothes, the resulting poverty could inspire you to write some really sad, beautiful songs. And sad songs say so much.

Others have tried intense cardio workouts, large quantities of caffeine, and other, more sordid approaches that aren’t recommended. Sometimes creativity comes along by unexpected means. Sometimes that means faking it. The much debated line between madness and creativity comes with enough social capital that artists sometimes assume crazed poses just to say they’ve been there (and of course, to drum up record sales). If blessed with resources and good luck, some performers have emerged from a meltdown unscathed, though they often return to the themes of their breakdowns in a theatrical way as a fount of ideas.

Faking aside, that serious mess that Bowie went through in the 70’s was the real deal, certainly painful enough to earn him the title of “tortured artist,” yet fruitful enough that the decade was his most glorious; a large part of the mystique of the massive “Let’s Dance” phenomenon was the vicarious enjoyment of the fact that he survived it and decided that he might as well celebrate. Syd Barrett’s persistent troubles were parlayed into a legend worth a million pounds a year, even up to the time of his death, thanks to his part in the creation of Pink Floyd and the royalties that came with it. Britney Spears’ current Las Vegas run could be titled “From Madness to Millions.” And Kanye West –who knows?

Now, About Those Fellows From Brussels
Point is, real or contrived, musical madness is good for business, a fact that is not lost on the three lads responsible for the innovative new music group Gianax. Named for the members – Gilles Snowcat, Ian Rigillo and Axel Dumont, the debut EP “Pass The Pill” features six tunes: three in their original form as previously released by each artist, and three of them creative permutations of the originals.

The project, which is labeled as avant-garde sound art and features jazz, drum and bass, electronica, and pop, has its origins in a playful interaction among the three talented comrades. It all started when Gilles asked his frequent collaborators Ian and Axel to perform one of his tunes, “Yanagigaura.” As Ian began to work on the song, he realized that its length and melodic complexity was an obstacle to commercial performance.

Origin Story
Ian explains: “By the time we reached the 4th page of ‘Yanagigaura’ during our rehearsal, I had realized that there was no way I would have been able to play this song without having to awkwardly shuffle music on stage. I also felt that an excessive amount of chord changes was getting in the way of the harmonic and melodic beauty of the piece.”

After the temporary experience of cold feet, Ian approached the piece again. “I therefore decided to try and rearrange ‘Yanagigaura’ to make it both more ‘commercial’ and easier to play live and asked Axel if he would help me out.,” Ian explains. “Having his own fully equipped studio and an incredible talent for music recording and producing, Axel was an obvious choice especially since he had shown he also strongly believed in Gilles’ talent for composition. This is basically how Gianax started.”

The object of their work was Gilles’ surreal, romantic homage to one of his favorite Japanese towns. The resulting three minute piece, called the radio edit, exaggerates the absurd poetic imagery of the original. Gilles’ initial reaction to the reworking almost sunk the project from the start. He explains: “’Yanagigaura’” was heavily edited to fit the radio format, which pissed the hell out of me. I didn’t want to be involved in such a butcher work, but the few parts they kept were so wonderfully played and arranged that it wasn’t a clear ‘no’ from me. It eventually became a ‘yes’ and I was in.

As the work continued, a creative tension developed which the group found inspiring. “It was a process of everyone trying to infuriate everyone else, which worked quite well, I have to admit,” Gilles says. To which Axel adds: “We don’t know if we hate each other as much as Pink Floyd’s members do, but we sure like to work together.”

As the work continued, a creative tension developed which the group found inspiring. “It was a process of everyone trying to infuriate everyone else, which worked quite well, I have to admit,” Gilles says. To which Axel adds: “We don’t know if we hate each other as much as Pink Floyd’s members do, but we sure like to work together.”

Judging by the input I got from these guys, they have all the creative chemistry of the Floyd with a bit of Monty Python and possibly the Three Stooges (it is yet to be determined if they will clobber each other with foam rubber implements).

As often is the case when combustible talent comes together in close quarters, the results were incendiary, at least in the short term. Ian explains: “Initially, Gilles was furious at our attempt to chop his 10 minute song in a 3 minute radio edit with absolute disregard of the lyrics, and went so far as to call me a ‘Scottish butcher’ when we first presented him with the new arrangement.” Slowly, however, his artistic ego started kicking in and as we progressed with the recording and discovered all three of us were having a good time together, so we decided to extend the experiment and rearrange one of Axel’s and one of my songs too.” Axel explains the overall concept: “It was more than just a remix, (it was) “a rework, a real creative flow.” he says. This approach led to all new parts being recorded for each tune.

Rules and Results
Ian continues: “To be fair to Gilles, we decided the original composer was to have no power of veto on the arrangement of his song, although he would obviously participate in the recording and he would be allowed to make suggestions.” The extensive performing experience of the three members results in some very satisfying tunes. Ian is an extraordinary guitarist who has dabbled in various forms of jazz in projects including with the group Individual Choice. His tune “Jungle Jazzin’” is fine example of jazz fusion with a jungle music vibe, which, though wild in nature, is relatively subdued compared to the manic departure of the new version by Axel and Gilles, which features weirdly attractive wordless vocalizations by Susant Bista, a Nepalese singer who had recently collaborated with the trio on other projects.

Axel is an expert bassist; his composition on the disc is “Jungle House,” and in its original form it’s a lush, jazzy piece propelled by lilting bass that supports stellar solos on Fender Rhodes, muted trumpet and sultry sax. It’s electro nu jazz at its finest. The permutation by Ian and Gilles is an esoteric adventure into ambient nu jazz with Ian’s fusion-flavored guitar at the center, and drenched with Gilles’ thematic electronic atmospheres and melodies. Sweet stuff indeed.

As for the future, the three would like to take the show on the road. “We’d like to bring the project on stage and get as crazy as we can,” says Axel. Gilles has even more elaborate plans: “Next step is to go on stage under a shape that I still don’t know; we might invite an Amazon tribe to sing, or have some ETs playing Morse code, or release lions from the zoo and bring them on stage with us, and they will eat some members of the audience, which might annoy the guitarist – and doesn’t everyone know that when a guitarist is pissed, the music’s better?”

Finis

Find out more:
Gianax: Pass The Pill. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/gianax

Axel Dumont
Selected Discography:
Currents by Mister Dumont
Kitchen Diaries by Mister Dumont
http://www.misterdumont.com
Ian Rigillo
Selected Discography:
Make Your Choice by Individual Choice
Music Radiates by Jazz House FX
https://www.reverbnation.com/ianrigillo
Gilles Snowcat
Selected Discography:
Early tapes (various tapes, 1988 – 1992)
Phase 2: Scrappy by Awaken (tape LP, 1993)
Tales Of Acid Ice Cream by Awaken (LP, 1996)
Party In Lyceum’s Toilets by Awaken (2LP, 2001)
Wasabi Kiss by Awaken (single, 2003)
As A Start: Cà Phê & Pizza by Awaken (single, 2006)
Beppu Nights by Awaken (EP, 2006)
This Mouth… by Gilles Snowcat (EP, 2008)
Mokomoko Collection by Gilles Snowcat (LP, 2012)
Nama Time! by Gilles Snowcat (live LP, 2015)
www.gilles-snowcat.com

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True Love, Snowcat Style

Write From Love.

Legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim once said : “The only reason to write is from love.You must not write because you think it’s going to be a hit, because it’s expedient, or anything like that. It’s so difficult to write, it’s so difficult to put on a show; better, if you have the privilege of being able to to write it, write it out of passion. ” (From the HBO Documentary, “Six by Sondheim.” 2013)

To ask a set of related questions: How many poets write earnestly about love but remain hungry? (probably millions) How many established songwriters, not feeling love, have made a fortune crafting by-the-numbers songs about love? (too many) Was Donna Summer feeling it when she wrote her influential Giorgio Moroder-produced hit “I Feel Love?” (most definitely, just listen to her performance). see and hear that classic Donna Summer song here.

When in 2008, I took to my ukulele to write what would become the tune “Love, Where To Now?” I was utterly sincere, pondering destiny in a romantic, art pop kind of way. The themes of uncertainty and vulnerability have often resonated with me, and I was happy with the way the song came out. I am equally happy  (you could say ‘in love with’ ) Gilles’ Snowcat’s version, a beautifully understated dub-influenced cover released as an “official bootleg” just in time for Valentine’s Day, as a gift to his fans. Get it at: Push Red For Valentine.

Also included on the single is the melancholy, touching “Maybe I’m Dreaming” by New Zealand-based singer-songwriter Glen Smith.  Gilles explains: “He currently lives in Belgium and I sometimes have a jam with him and other musicians. A few months ago I played some piano live with him and a violin player, on that very song, ‘Maybe I’m Dreaming.’ I thought it was beautiful and wanted to snowcatize it a little.”

Cool stuff.

Hear the original version of  “Maybe I’m Dreaming” at:

 

Find out more about Glen Smith:

Find out more about Gilles Snowcat:

Happy Valentine’s Day, from Synthbeat.com.

 

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