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Kraftwerk’s fusion of art, beats and electronics has become a template copied by musicians everywhere. Now they plan to take London’s Tate Modern by storm

Kraftwerk 1981 tour

Kraftwerk on their 1981 UK tour. Photograph: Fraser Gray/Rex Features

Back in September 1975, a band played in Britain for the very first time. On stages from Croydon to Bath, from Southport to Yeovil, they wore smart suits and ties and played peculiar instruments. There was no clamour for tickets, no feverish press. This review of a half-full show in Newcastle was par for the course: “Spineless, emotionless sound with no variety, less taste… [and] damn little attempt to pull off anything experimental, artistically satisfying or new,” wrote Keith Ging in theMelody Maker. “For God’s sake,” he railed, “keep the robots out of music.”

Here in the 21st century, Kraftwerk‘s forthcoming gigs at Tate Modernare the hottest tickets around. Back in December, demand for themcrashed the gallery’s website; angry fans who missed out stormed the venue, while thousands raged online. For eight nights in February, Ralf Hütter, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen will play each Kraftwerk album since 1974 in turn – from their fourth, Autobahn, to 2003’s Tour De France Soundtracks – with 3D film versions of their iconic visuals. They will wear neoprene neon suits and stand behind expensive technology. They did the same to rapturous reception in 2012 at New York’s Moma and at the Kunstammlung in their hometown, Düsseldorf, last month.

These are art-event spectaculars to which everyone wants entry because no other band since the Beatles has given so much to pop culture. Kraftwerk’s beats laid the foundations for club music: for hip-hop, synth-pop, techno and house. The sounds they invented have beensampled by hundreds of artists, from Madonna to R.E.M, from Missy Elliott to Fergie. Coldplay and Jay-Z have had hits with their elegant melodies and their image has influenced David Bowie, Daft Punk and Kanye West. We also now live in the kind of world their future-obsessed lyrics predicted: we find Computer Love online, models smile from time to time and Europe Endless exists.

For hardcore followers, the fact that this band named after a power station are playing in one is also irresistible. The band that remaining founder member Hütter always called musikarbeiter – musical workers – will be creating energy themselves, in their own Turbine Hall.

Kraftwerk’s story begins in 1968, in Düsseldorf, a city closer to Belgium, Holland and France than the Iron Curtain. Two young men born just after the end of the second world war meet on a music improvisation course. Ralf Hütter plays keyboards, Florian Schneider the flute; they perform their first gig at the city’s Cream Cheese Club. Playing in Organisation, a progressive, free-form group, they become obsessed with synthesisers, which are newly invented. In 1970, the wealthy Schneider buys one. The same year, they see Gilbert and George in the city’s Kunsthalle: two men wearing suits and ties, claiming to bring art into everyday life. The same year, Hütter and Schneider start bringing everyday life into art and form Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk’s first three albums do not feature in the Tate gigs, but they hold clues to the aesthetic roots of the band. The cover art for Kraftwerk(1970) and Kraftwerk 2 (1972) have pop art traffic cones on their sleeves, suggesting a more industrial take on Warhol’s Velvet Underground banana. Tracks have mechanical titles, such as Spule 4 (Inductor 4) and Wellelange (Wavelength), and then come the songs about Germany. Some, such as Heimatklänge (The Bells of Home), are gentler, but Von Himmel Hoch (From Heaven Above) is provocative. Named after a carol by Bach, it features synthesisers replicating the sounds of warplanes and bombs. It also reveals Kraftwerk trying to make a new national music, rooted in everyday sounds, made by machines that offered a new future.

Next came Autobahn, named after another German invention. In spring 1975, a radio edit of its 22-minute title track became an international hit. Its synthesisers mimicked fast traffic and car horns; its celebration of driving clicked with western audiences. Soon after, Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos joined the band on electronic percussion, as did the new smart aesthetic on stage. Electronic music suddenly had its John, Paul, George and Ringo, although they looked and sounded very different to the rock bands of the time.

It’s hard to appreciate how alien Kraftwerk appeared back then. The first advert for Autobahn in the black-and-white NME looks particularly shocking: a bright blue sign from the future, under a feature on country music divorcees. At the time, the song was dismissed as a gimmick by the press – but not by fans who made it a No 11 hit.

Then came the xenophobia. The war was still a recent, scorching cultural memory, so perhaps it’s not a surprise that a Barry Miles live review was headlined “This is what your fathers fought to save you from”. The NMEreprinted a feature by US critic Lester Bangs, in which Hütter was asked if Kraftwerk was “the final solution” for music. The image with the piece was even more tasteless: a press shot superimposed on to a Nuremberg rally.

It’s not that Kraftwerk didn’t flirt with sinister ideas. Radio-Activity (1975) began with the sound of a geiger counter, evoking nuclear dread. But their music also played with double meanings and humour. Ohm Sweet Ohm (say it out loud) took central European pop into the realm of technology, while Radio-Activity‘s title track hinted at the utopian possibilities of the wireless. (It also says much that the 1991 remix of this song mentioned power stations Sellafield and Chernobyl in negative terms.) Throughout the melodies and methods, their vocal lines and lyrics, there is a touching innocence and simplicity.

Hütter often namechecked the Bauhaus movement, and liked its internationalism. The band’s songs started to feature words in different languages; they got inspired by James Brown’s funk, and even punk (years later, Hütter admitted that the start of 1977’s Showroom Dummies – “eins-zwei-drei-vier” – came from The Ramones’ “one-two-three-four”). Autobahn’s chorus The (“wi’r fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n”) echoed The Beach Boys’ Fun, Fun, Fun. But a statement of Hütter’s from 1979, pinned to a noticeboard in Chris Petit’s cult film Radio On, reveals how Kraftwerk linked the past and the present. “We are the children of Fritz Lang and Werner von Braun,” it began, naming the film director who fled the Nazis, and the scientist who made the V-2 bomb and the Apollo mission rocket, Saturn V. “We are the link between the 20s and 80s. All change in society passes through a sympathetic collaboration with tape recorders, synthesisers and telephones. Our reality is an electronic reality.”

This forward-thinking spirit had already started to infect pop. David Bowie adored Kraftwerk, writing the track V-2 Schneider for his 1977 albumHeroes (the band would namecheck him back on Trans-Europe Express). African American DJs also found an odd kinship with the Germans. Keen to find a new musical language, they were familiar with the urban sounds Kraftwerk were using; 1978’s The Robots became particularly influential on the dancefloor, and in the burgeoning B-Boy and breakdancing scenes. Afrika Bambaataa fused the melody of Trans-Europe Express and the rhythm of 1981’s Numbers to create Planet Rock, one of hip-hop’s pioneering tracks. Trailblazing electro group Cybotron used a loop from 1977’s Hall of Mirrors; its founder, Juan Atkins, would create techno, and from there came modern dance culture.

Back in Britain, New Order would sample Uranium on Blue Monday, while synth-pop inspired by albums such as 1978’s The Man-Machine would set the decade’s pop mood. Kraftwerk would even get a No 1 single, The Model, in February 1982, four years after its first release. It was if the world was finally catching up with them.

Ever since, using a Kraftwerk sample has been shorthand for credibility. Jay-Z’s 1997 Sunshine sampled The Man-Machine, while Coldplay’s Talk made a melody from Computer World into a stadium-rock riff. Music producer DJ Food, a collector of Kraftwerk cover versions, says the band’s influence can be heard today among the micro-genres that have evolved from dance and R&B. “Hear dubstep producer 6Blocc’s cheeky reinterpretation of Numbers/Computer World 2 disguised under the title,Digits. Or across the pond, juke and footstep producers such as Traxman have shoe-horned Kraftwerk samples into songs such as The Robot. Kraftwerk have been part of the lineage of dance culture since the late 70s – approaching it without them is impossible.”

Once the world started to catch up, Kraftwerk started to slow down. They have only released four studio records since 1983: 1986’s disappointingElectric Cafe, 1991 remix album The Mix, Expo 2000, a single for a German world trade fair, and 2003’s Tour De France Soundtracks. The line-up has also changed radically. Flür and Bartos both left in the late 1980s, Schneider in 2009. Hütter has said little about his co-founder’s departure, except that Schneider hadn’t really been involved for years. The mystery continues.

What Kraftwerk are about now is the souped-up live experience. Playing in galleries, they align themselves with art over pop. Catherine Wood, curator of contemporary art and performance at Tate Modern, has had several meetings with Hütter. He approached her about his idea for the shows in 2010, through German gallery owner Monika Sprüth. Wood was then flown out to Düsseldorf, where she visited Kraftwerk’s Kling Klang studios. This notoriously mysterious space, where outside contact has always been forbidden, even by telephone, was moved 10 miles outside the city four years ago. Inside, Wood found an impeccable, minimalist office and a huge studio, with four robots against a wall, lit in glowing green lights.

“I was struck by how clever Hütter was,” says Wood. “He talked about the seductive nature of music and how it does something to people that art doesn’t do. He also talked about how music creates gods, but art doesn’t.” He seemed in awe of that process, she says, but not affected by it. He then showed her some 3D films for the show, developed by Emil Schult, who has worked on their cover art since the 70s.

The odd thing, Wood continues, is that Tate Modern is not really connected to the music world. In a very practical way, Kraftwerk aren’t either – they rarely do interviews, don’t do TV and never hang out at parties. “But so much modern art is about the machine replacing the human,” she says, such as the work of Gerhard Richter, who recently had a retrospective there. Interestingly, Richter taught in Düsseldorf in the late 60s and early 70s: one of his pupils was Emil Schult.

Hütter also took a tour of the Tate last year, Wood adds. It was a busy day and he made no effort to hide. Nobody ran to shake his hand or even noticed his presence, in huge contrast to the Turbine Hall scenes in December. It’s because Kraftwerk is about much more than one man, or four men. The robots have become part of our music and we have, very happily, become part of their machine.

STARS ON KRAFTWERK

JUAN ATKINS
Musician; father of techno
I liked Kraftwerk from the first time I heard them on Showroom Dummies; the first single I bought was The Robots. Their music was totally synthesised, really pure, very melodic and very funky, and that was hard to do with early electronics. They also listened to James Brown a lot, and you can hear that. I was inspired by the precision and the tightness of their sound… they were a cog that changed the direction of things. Without them, electronic music would be totally different. There probably wouldn’t even be dance music. 

Read more about how Kraftwerk legacy remains here: http://bit.ly/13pCu3M

 

written by jude rogers for guardian.com

 

Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars. Image: Warner Bros

Nearly six years after the cancellation of the whip-smart television show about a teenage private eye in a California town deeply divided by class (and murder!), the Kickstarter for the Veronica Marsmovie ends later today, after breaking fundraising records and taking in over $5 million on the crowdfunding platform. The tremendous success of the Kickstarter, launched a month ago by creator Rob Thomas and actress Kristen Bell, has even inspired talk that this could change the way films get made — particularly for properties with devoted followings willing to put their money where their fandom is.

So what are the implications of Kickstarter resurrection and fan-funded film? What could this mean for other beloved (but cancelled) series like Freaks and Geeks or Chuck? And what happened to Veronica and her father after the cliffhanger at the end of Season 3? Wired talked to Thomas to find out or read more the interview here: http://bit.ly/ZprzQt

Wired: Do you think the success of your Kickstarter could be the start of a new business model for film? How do you see it working for other people who aspire to make movies?

Rob Thomas: I think it will be an important pioneer for a certain type of film. I’m not convinced that this will revolutionize how most movies get made, but I think there’s an opportunity now for projects that are similar to ours – that have some bit of public support behind it before they launch on Kickstarter… For something like Veronica Mars, where there’s a bit of a cult following and people are really emotionally invested in it, I do think this is a new avenue. There is no other way that this movie was going to get made.

Warner Bros owns the title Veronica Mars. I don’t… The lowest-priced movie Warner Bros tends to makes is a $30 million, and it goes up from there. They make Lord of the Rings. They don’t make theVeronica Mars movie, typically. So trying to convince Warner Bros to make a $30 million Veronica Marsmovie just wasn’t going to happen, for understandable reasons. When I took this project in, I didn’t take it in through their feature division. I’m making the movie with Warner Bros Digital; they do a lot of the smaller budget [projects]. I think we’re only going to be their second movie with a theatrical release; they typically do things straight to digital and digital download.

With this model, it’s almost a marketing device, a way to judge if there was enough interest in a movie this size. For a Friday Night Lights movie or a Freaks and Geek movie or a Chuck movie, I think it could be a possibility. I think this opens up a door. What I’m interested in as a writer is [if] a writer optioned a book and brought on an actor with some name value – if that combination could raise the money on Kickstarter to make a movie.

Wired: What would you think about Kickstarting a totally new movie project from scratch that didn’t have that preexisting recognition?

Rob Thomas: It would be so gutsy to do that. I started as a novelist, and I have novels. So I wonder, what if I took one of my books and maybe attached – not Kristen Bell … but an actor with that sort of renown and said, “We’re going to try and make this [movie] for $1.5 million dollars.” That would be such an interesting experiment. And I may try it. No one learns as much as when they do anything the first time, and I feel like I’ve learned so much that I have this knowledge that very few people in the world do about running a really big Kickstarter project. And if I never do it again, it’s wasted knowledge. But it’s also a lot of work. Having gotten TV shows on the air, that’s so much less work that trying to get theVeronica Mars movie made.

Wired: How does the financial model of the movie work, and how is the money being allocated?

Rob Thomas: It’s all going to the budget of the movie. We get to make a bigger movie the more money we make … The back end of the movie is divvied up like any other movie that gets made. The stars of the show will get a piece of the back end; the producer will get a piece of the back end. Clearly Warner Bros will own a big part of it. And I hope Warner Bros does well on it, because if not, they won’t make any more of these. I think there’s a scenario where everybody wins: where Kristen and I get to make the movie we’ve been hoping to make; where fans get to see the movie; and where Warner Bros makes money on it as well.

Wired: So in terms of the film’s plot, what’s happened to Veronica since the last time that we saw her at the end of Season 3?

Rob Thomas: Not only that was the last time she worked a case, but she left Neptune shortly there after. She ruins her father’s career as an officer of the law, and he gets indicted.

Wired: No!

Rob Thomas: Yes. Veronica transfers to Stanford, graduates, and goes to Columbia Law School.  And as we pick up the movie, it’s sort of like Tom Cruise at the beginning of The Firm. She’s finished law school, is waiting to take the bar, and interviewing with law firms. But then something happens in Neptune that pulls her back, and makes her metaphorically pick up her magnifying glass again.

Wired: A lot of Veronica’s appeal came from this sense that she was an underdog, but presumably in the adult world she’s getting recognition for her talents in ways that she didn’t from her cliquey high school classmates. Has her character outgrown that underdog status, or is that something you wanted to continue in the film?

Rob Thomas: It was certainly what I was working towards at the end of season 3. If we’d had a season 4, I wanted to get Veronica back into an underdog state. I think we liked Veronica best as a pariah of sorts.

Wired: How do you think fans’ attitudes and expectations about the show have changed since the show ended? Do they’re looking for nostalgia or growth in Veronica and the rest of the cast?

Rob Thomas: I think they’re looking for both. I know there’s something just automatically hook-y about a 17-year-old girl who’s a private eye. There’s less of a hook when it’s a 27-year-old woman. It’s a little more normal, a little more inside-the-box. … You have to make it work as a PI movie. And I understand the cons of nostalgia, but there are some Veronica Mars pleasure zones that I want to hit. If there were a [James] Bond movie and there wasn’t a martini scene – there are just certain things where I’d be cheating the audience if I didn’t include them. But I want it to work as a standalone movie as well for people who have never seen Veronica Mars, and just heard buzz about it and want to check it out finally when it’s a movie. I had never watched Firefly, but I’d heard the buzz so I went and saw the movie. I hope there are plenty of people who will give the Veronica Mars movie that chance.

Wired: One final question for you from Twitter: Any chance that the Party Down crew could cater the Neptune High 10-year reunion?

Rob Thomas: [laughs] There’s no chance. What’s funny is most of the members of the Party Downcrew have already played people on Veronica Mars. Adam Scott was a creepy teacher; Ken Marino is going to be in the movie as Vinnie Van Lowe. Someone like Martin Starr hasn’t been in Veronica Mars, so you might see him – but he won’t be catering it.

 

Not a Downer: Tool's Adam Jones Talks 'Opiate' Reissue, New Material
Tool’s Adam Jones / Photo by Tim Cadiente

The alt-metal guitarist looks back on the band’s first release, and drops some hints about upcoming efforts

“I grew up with double-gatefold vinyl, and I didn’t use the cover for cleaning my pot,” deadpansTool guitarist Adam Jones — who incidentally doesn’t smoke weed — about why album art still matters to him. “The visual element is something we’re losing. I think our society is going into a forced minimalist period and people don’t care.”

The more pressing subject, though, is the limited-edition, art-jacked 21st-anniversary reissue ofOpiate, his band’s swelling, heavy debut release. For an outfit that has gone to painstaking lengths to impress its fans with eye-popping visuals, including the lenticular jewel case for their 1996 album Ænima and stereoscopic goggles for 2006’s 10,000 Days, the group’s guitarist-art director isn’t holding back this time. The reissue will feature new illustrations by Iron Man artist Adi Granov and innovative packaging designed by Mackie Osborne, Jones’s friend (and the wife of Melvins frontman King Buzzo). Tool have prepared five different versions of the artwork for the reissue (out March 26), limited to 5,000 copies total, and each will contain new artwork to view with the 10,000 Days goggles.

When the EP came out in 1992, those genre-defying sounds fit right in with L.A.’s nascent alt-metal scene, which at the time included Jane’s Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, Rollins Band and comedy rockers Green JellöOpiate‘s “Hush” addressed issues of the time like censorship, while the masturbation-themed “Part of Me” foreshadowed future Tool gross-outs like “Stinkfist.” The raw live recording of “Jerk-Off,” which the band recorded at the loft where Green Jellö lived, and the seductively hypnotic title cut revealed the band’s taste for early Swans and hardcore punk. The six-song collection was an extreme sampling of what the band would offer in the coming two decades. Read more here: http://go.spin.com/16Gkgcj

The salt-and-pepper-haired six-stringer, 48, spoke to Kory Grow for spin.com from his home, where he was spending a day “being a bum,” as he recovers from a marathon music-writing session for Tool’s new album.

This is the 21st anniversary edition of Opiate. Why did you skip the 20th?
We talked about doing it when it was the 20-year anniversary, but we were sort of un-serious. Then when the 21st anniversary came up, we considered it. Lately, we’ve been trying to write music and not doing any other projects that distract us.

Why did you decide to update the original release’s artwork?
When we did the art for the original, we did it so fast. The record company was giving us input about what sells and what doesn’t, and we tried to ignore it. It’s nice to update it. It still features the image of the priest from the original. There are more ideas developed around it instead of just this one guy. I feel like Spielberg or Lucas updating their movies. It’s me thanking the fans, giving them something special.

The new artwork features illustrations by Iron Man artist Adi Granov. How did you hook with him?
He sent me a Facebook request, and I accepted it. He’s a huge Tool fan and I’m a huge fan of his artwork. He does this very uncanny perspective that looks like it’s done with a computer but it’s not. Originally we talked about doing comics projects together. I’ve been developing comics ideas, and we’ll get to that when I finish the Tool record and he gets through his big workload. But when the Opiate thing came up, he said he would absolutely do it. I sent him some really quick, crappy sketches, because that’s all you need to push someone like him in the right direction. And he did an amazing job. He’s just the bomb. I can’t wait for our fans to see it and hope everyone appreciates it.

What went through your mind when you listened to Opiate again?
A lot of things. I’m proud of what we did. We worked hard, and it’s this little photograph or postcard from that time. It’s like a time machine.

What songs stood out to you most?
The live tracks, “Cold and Ugly” and “Jerk-Off,” which we don’t play anymore. I kind of miss them. Something else that stood out were the themes of Opiate and the way all the songs lead to [the title track]. It’s more the feeling of the record that hit me. It’s hard to describe.

You recorded the live songs at Green Jellö’s loft. What was that show like?
It was so strange. We wanted to record some live songs, so we rented a mobile truck, which is so funny these days because you can set up a laptop and do a better job. The mobile truck had all these spidering, webby cables stretching into a two-story loft. It was kind of chaotic. And there were just lots of problems with people who came. They were too drunk. You can hear this total idiot who climbed up into the rafters, and nobody could get to him, and he was heckling us with a bullhorn. So you hear Maynard make the comment about a dreadlocked idiot. [Sighs] Overall, the performances were really good. In the press, I’ve read that it was the first time we ever played, but it wasn’t. We were signed. We were recording Opiate. I think we were hungry and we really wanted to bleed and chew glass to get a good performance captured. I was very happy when I heard what we did.

In past interviews, you’ve said the songs on Opiate were your hardest-hitting tracks at the time. You also seemed a little ambivalent about how that cast Tool as a “metal band.” 
I feel then and now that we are metal. But we’re not traditional cookie-cutter metal, so we’ve always had trouble with people on the marketing side of the fence trying to push our band in different ways. Every time we did interviews back then, journalists wanted to compare us to Biohazard or some other band. And we’d just go, “Well, I think it’s kind of different.” So it’s hard.

The title track has popped up often in your live sets. You’ve collaborated with a lot of people over the years on that song in concert. Do any particular performances stand out?
We’ve always had songs we could pull someone into. We wrote “Bottom” [for Undertow] and asked Henry Rollins to do a little spoken word in the middle. It would have been nice to have someone during the “Opiate” thing. Instead, we’ve had everybody that we’ve possibly run into play drums during the middle of it, or do spoken word, play a solo. Zach De La Rocha did a cool spoken-word section one time. And Heitham Al-Sayed from Senser did a really cool, little Arabic thing one time. We’ve been very fortunate to have our peers and people we really respect come up and contribute.

On that note, what did you think of Limp Bizkit’s “Opiate” cover?
It’s great being appreciated by anybody; be it some band that has much different tastes than yours or a band with a different approach. I heard it once. I thought it was cool.

Since you just finished this Opiate reissue, how does it compare to the Tool record you’re working on now?
We’re older guys now. The band has changed drastically. We’re very distant people now and have our own lives. It’s always been like that. It’s been a collective perspective even from the start, but now it’s much more diverse. And I’m not saying that’s bad. It’s just different. So writing is a different perspective now. It’s taken a little longer. And besides that, we’ve had a couple major setbacks that we’re recovering from. I’m calling March “March Madness” because I’ve been really trying to kick ass and focus on this thing and get it to a point where we’re all happy. I really love those guys. And people grow and they change; it’s just like a relationship. You just have to compromise and respect each other. It’s just like life. It’s like anything else. That’s where it’s at.

 

The album was signed by the Fab Four in 1967, and shattered the previous selling price for such an item.

Even Lucy and her diamonds can’t compete with these riches. A rare, signed copy of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has brought $290,500 at auction, shattering the previous record for such an item.

The item signed by all four members of the legendary band was purchased Saturday by an unnamed buyer from the Midwest. An anonymous seller parted with the album through the Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, which ahead of the bidding estimated the album would sell for $30,000.

The Fab Four are believed to have signed the cover near the June 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s. The previous record for a signed Beatles album cover was the $150,000 paid for a copy of Meet the Beatles. Ahead of the auction, Beatles expert Perry Cox said of the piece: “With my being thoroughly immersed in Beatles collectibles for over 30 years, it takes something extraordinarily special to excite me, but I consider this to be one of the top two items of Beatles memorabilia I’ve ever seen – the other being a signed copy of Meet The Beatles.” The album is a U.K. Parlophone copy with a high gloss cover and gatefold. Read more here: http://bit.ly/10q3nNQ

justin timberlake 20 20 experience

Justin Timberlake’s comeback album, The 20/20 Experience, just shattered all sorts of sales records. According to Billboard, the album moved 968,000 copies in its first week, making for the biggest opening week of 2013. Taylor Swift’s 2012 album Red was the last record to sell as many copies in its opening week.

Not since Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III in June 2008 has a male artist debuted with such numbers. In fact, The 20/20 Experience had the third-biggest debut for a solo male singer ever (!), behind only Usher’s Confessions (2004) and Garth Brooks’ Double Live(1998).

The 20/20 Experience also set an iTunes record for the fattest-selling album worldwide. Read more here: http://bit.ly/Zpi7v2

Yet for all the accolades, Timberlake’s sales number still fell well short of *NSYNC’s album No Strings Attached, which sold nearly 2.5 million copies during its opening week in April 2000.

(Chris McGrath/Getty Images) and (Danny Martindale/Getty Images)

(Chris McGrath/Getty Images) and (Danny Martindale/Getty Images)

On Saturday, March 23, 2013 at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Britpop wars were finally put to rest when Noel Gallagher, Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon (with modfather Paul Weller on drums) performed Blur’s “Tender” together at the fourth night of the Teenage Cancer Trust benefit concerts, as curated by Gallagher. The event has generated a much-shared photo that is making the Facebook rounds on the pages of people of a certain age, who are reacting with what could only be called glee that is tempered with at least a dash of disbelief. For those not initiated into or too young to remember the halcyon days of Britpop, here’s why it matters just like reported by Courtney E. Smith for radio.com wrote:

To put it in context, Oasis singer/songwriter Noel Gallagher asking Albarn and Coxon to join him on stage for a song is the musical-world’s equivalent of signing a Middle East peace accord. Theirs was the last great feud in the history of British music — unless One Direction and The Wanted agree to really have a go at it, like proper rock stars, for their next promotional cycle. Things went to such extremes in the darkest days of their ‘90s press-driven rivalry that Noel Gallagher told a reporter he hoped Damon Albarn and Blur guitarist Alex James would “catch AIDS and die.” Retracting that comment in 2006 didn’t quite settle the Blur vs. Oasis feud for the media but this single song, or more accurately a single happy face photo during a charity gig, seems to have finally done the trick, a mere 20 years later.

While America in the ‘90s was in the throes of grunge adoration, with the media pitting Nirvana against Pearl Jam in a grudge match that didn’t actually exist (Nirvana vs. Guns N Roses was the real hatefest), across the pond they were celebrating Oasis vs. Blur. The outspoken Gallagaher brothers formed Oasis, which was more of the working man’s band who were devotees to the sound of the Beatles and the hedonistic swagger of the Rolling Stones. They were music industry outsiders, hailing from Manchester in the North of England. In a country where class and caste still matter, the Gallagher brothers are from a family of plumbers with a mother who worked as a lunchlady in the school cafeteria. Noel started in music as a roadie for Inspiral Carpets. Not long after Oasis formed they signed to the indie label Creation, backed by Alan McGee. He was the A&R man behind beloved bands like the Jesus and Mary ChainPrimal Scream and My Bloody Valentine. But the Gallaghers had, and constantly stated, bigger ambitions that were immediately realized when their first album,Definitely Maybe, entered the UK charts at No. 1.

Speaking to MTV in an undated (but clearly shot in the ‘90s) red carpet interview, Gallagher said, “Are you asking me if I’m happy? Listen, I’ve got 87 million pounds in the bank. I’ve got a Rolls Royce. I’ve got three stalkers. I’m about to go on the board at Manchester City [Football Club]. I’m part of the greatest band in the world. Am I happy with that?” Gallagher pauses to creep closer to the lens and begins screaming, “No I’m not! I want more!”

It’s the kind of bloviating the Gallagher brothers were known for the the ‘90s. An interview with Oasis would always generate an off-the-cuff comment about something – be it another band, ill-advised weigh-ins on politics, the Gallagher brother’s mutual hatred, or the Gallagher brothers mutual agreement that they are geniuses and Oasis are the greatest band ever. Their quotes make up dozens of web slide shows. They’re so numerous and free-floating that Wikipedia has a page made up entirely of unattributed things Noel Gallagher is reported to have said, including the underrated gem: “We are the biggest band in Britain of all time, ever. The funny thing is, that f****** mouthing off three years ago about how we were gonna be the biggest band in the world, we actually went and done it.”

But before Oasis, there was Blur. Read more here: Don’t Look Back In Anger: Why The Oasis/Blur Feud Mattered « Radio.com News.

Blur were the polar opposite to Oasis: they were art school students from the University of London who  had been childhood friends, they were all from middle class families and concocted a clever sort of music and lyricism that was more in line with the pretty boy faces of the Kinks but appropriated mod imagery from the Who and they were very, very proud of being clever. They’re the band who refused to recut their second record with Nirvana and Sonic Youth producer Butch Vig to make it appeal more to American audiences in 1993. Their breakthrough 1994 album, Parklife, is widely credited with opening the door to alternative rock radio and press in America for a generation of British indie bands. Albarn himself was never one to shy away from giving a wry media quote, which came in handy when the press-fueled rivalry between Oasis and Blur kicked off.

There was plenty of room on the UK charts for both Blur and Oasis, along with a boatload of other guitar bands, in the ‘90s as the public’s appetite was whetted by their sounds. But the mercurial, mercenary British press couldn’t help setting the two top-selling groups in opposition to each other. But unlike the days of Beatles vs. Stones, these weren’t two groups who socialized together and could make a joke of the black & white roles the press cast them in. If they were on good terms from the start, the so-called “Battle of Britpop” might never have happened.

While most of the NME buying public had already proclaimed themselves to be a fan of either Oasis or Blur, Blur’s camp decided  (in a move that the 2010 documentary No Distance Left To Run would make clear was entirely Albarn’s idea) to take advantage of the media circus, moving the band’s release date for “Country House” to August 14, 1995 – the same day as Oasis’s “Roll With It” was scheduled for stores. With music magazines urging young fans to go out and support the band of their choice in this head-to-head sales competition, the marketing ploy became overhyped and far eclipsed the newsworthiness of the singles themselves – both b to c level moments in the catalogs of the bands. In the end, Blur outsold Oasis by about 50K singles, amid strong objections from the Oasis camp disputing the sportsmanship, unfair advantage of a lower price point and actual barcode fraud in relation to the final tally. Oasis had their feelings further injured when Blur started touring at the same time they did and using a light projection of the number 1 to mark their status.


The sniping continued, with Gallagher making and then apologizing for his infamous AIDS comment. In the 2003 Live Forever Britpop documentary, Albarn summarized the wars in a surly quote, saying, “How did I feel [about it]? I felt stupid and I felt, I just felt very confused. Basically I didn’t really realize that my kind of flippancy was going to have such profound resonance in my life. I changed quite dramatically after that period.”

But that flippancy and the hard-hearted pot shots both bands took at each other in the press were exactly what supremely confident, successful and rich rock stars should do. It is the stuff that rock ‘n roll legends are made of and the emerging American rock bands at the top of the charts in the mid-’90s (think Foo FightersGin Blossoms,Collective SoulStone Temple Pilots) were either faceless or guileless. Coming out of the excess of the Sunset Strip hair metal scene of the ’80s, the rockers of the ’90s were the dullest bunch of drips possible. Nirvana and Pearl Jam fashioned themselves as anti-rock stars, taking the polar opposite pose of the self-indulgent excess of the L.A. scene that dominated before them. With the lone exceptions of the Smashing Pumpkins and Hole, whose singers Billy Corrigan and Courtney Love rarely met a microphone they couldn’t say something petty into, rock music in the ’90s was marked by a parade of dull rock stars with derivative hits. At least Blur and Oasis were willing to go balls to the wall about it.

If anything, Blur and Oasis could be compared to the hip hop wars happening in America. They were not Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., as no one quite took it to the lengths of having a shoot out, but they were ostensibly the Jay-Z and Nas of the rock universe. The posturing and rock star behaviors that had marked stars of the ’60s and ’70s were being taken over by hip hop stars in the ’90s. Blur and Oasis were the last men standing on the “bad behaviors allowed only by rock stars” mountain — to epic proportions we have not seen since.

1996 would bring Oasis their greatest success in the form of their enduring single “Wonderwall” and turning their album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory into the biggest selling British album of the ‘90s. The band who had not considered themselves part of the Britpop movement had cut the definitive, best selling and most critically lauded Britpop album of all time. Both are regarded as the pinnacle of Noel Gallagher’s career.

Blur would see a major overhaul when “Song 2” from their 1997 self-titled album became a world-wide hit and the noose with which the band almost hung itself. While the album was a step away from the British-centric songs that defined their early career, it was also a reinvention.

The song Albarn, Coxon and Gallagher played together is from Blur’s 1999 album, 13 – an ode to Albarn’s failed relationship with Frischmann and one of the best in their catalog. “Tender” is a ballad with the same enduring sing-along quality of “Song 2” for very dour people. That this particular group of people would collaborate on any song is a miracle, but naturally the choice would have to be a song released well beyond the days of their Britpop rivalry.

At this point in their lives, the men of Oasis have gone their separate ways. Noel Gallagher left the group in 2009 and Liam rechristened them Beady Eye. Blur took a well-documented break after their 2003 album Think Tank, with Albarn leaving to create two supergroups: Gorillaz and the Good, the Bad & the Queen. Blur reunited in 2008 and have focused on festival performances, releasing only a few new singles and killing off a recording session for a new album for the time being.

Time heals all wounds. Noel Gallagher has undoubtedly become more tolerant, possibly owing to the removal of Liam the instigator from his life and his arrogance certainly took a backseat after critical and sales reception to Oasis albums tapered off in the 2000′s. Albarn has spiraled off from Britpop into more obscure musical endeavors, with forays into African, world and electronic music under his belt. Neither seem keen to hold on to that Mick Jagger swagger “rock star for life” pose. But for a decade, they were the picture perfect examples of a rock star feud. http://bit.ly/14k8fdQ

 

<p>Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience"</p>

Justin Timberlake’s “The 20/20 Experience

Have you heard of the 800 lb. gorilla? Next week, Justin Timberlake will be the 800,000 lb. gorilla as it looks like “The 20/20 Experience” will sell up to 800,000 copies, making it the fifth biggest debut of the decade.

Sales projections for “20/20” keep increasing. At the beginning of the week, it appeared that his first album in seven years would sell at least 500,000; then the number soared to 750,000 and with two days left until the chart close, it’s at 800,000, according to Hits Daily Double.

At that rate, the title will handily sell more than the rest of the nine titles in Billboard 200 top 10 combined. In fact, no one else looks to even top 50,000 copies.

In addition to Timberlake, the other debuts will be Kacey Musgraves’ excellent “Same Trailer, Different Park” (read our interview with the up-and-comer here) at No. 4, with sales of around 40,000, and an expanded edition of the soundtrack to “Les Miserables” at No. 7.

Otherwise, it looks like Bruno Mars’ “Unorthodox Jukebox” will be at No. 2, Luke Bryan’s “Spring Break…Here To Party” at No. 3 and this week’s No. 1, Bon Jovi’s “What About Now” at No. 5.

Pink’s “The Truth About Love” climbs several notches to No. 6 on the strength of her well-received concert tour and her new single with fun.s’ Nate Ruess, “///. Rihanna’s “Unapologetic” is at No. 8,  Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” at No. 9, and Imagine Dragons’ “Night Visions” at No. 10, according to Hits Daily Double.

David Bowie’s “The Next Day” which bowed at No. 2 this week, likely drops to No. 11 with sales of 21,000-24,000.

In case you’re wondering, the top two biggest debuts of the decade so far belong to Taylor Swift, followed by Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne. Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/news/justin-timberlakes-the-20-20-experience-dominates-next-weeks-billboard-200#zThmwysDedYuoVgE.99

 

Pixies Surfer Rosa

5

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Pixies‘ second album, “Surfer Rosa,” a seminal LP that has gone down in Rolling Stone history as one of the 500 greatest records of all time. Read more here: http://huff.to/14d0oi8

Every indie rock band of the past two and half decades owes a great deal to the Pixies, the Boston-bred quartet that seamlessly merged psychedelia, noise rock and alternative grunge to create one of the 1980’s most memorable music projects. Formed in the collegiate environment of University of Massachusetts, the band — comprised of Black Francis, Joey Santiago, Kim Deal and David Lovering — predates Nirvana as a catalyst for the immeasurable rock boom of the 1990s.

Like most indie rock bands, the Pixies were not a chart topping force, but their second album, the lyrically named “Surfer Rosa,” earned accolades on its own after its 1988 release. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice dubbed the Steven Albini-produced record “the Amerindie find of the year,” while Kurt Cobain proclaimed it the inspiration for his band’s masterpiece, “Nevermind.”In celebration of the 25th anniversary of “Surfer Rosa,” we’ve put together a slideshow of 10 things you might not have known about the Pixies. Scroll through the slides below and let us know how you are celebrating this holy indie holiday in the comments.

The National have named their new album Trouble Will Find Me.

The Brooklyn-based band’s sixth studio record and the follow-up to 2010′s High Violet is released on May 20 in the UK (May 21 in the US). Scroll down for the tracklisting and artwork.

movies the national mistaken for strangers The National name new album Trouble Will Find Me, reveal tracklist

Frontman Matt Berninger said: “For the past ten years we’d been chasing something, wanting to prove something. And this chase was about trying to disprove our own insecurities.

“After touring High Violet, I think we felt like we’d finally gotten there. Now we could relax – not in terms of our own expectations but we didn’t have to prove our identity any longer.”

Read more here: http://bit.ly/WRRDqW

The tracklisting for Trouble Will Find Me is below:

1. ‘I Should Live in Salt’
2. ‘Demons’
3. ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’
4. ‘Fireproof’
5. ‘Sea of Love’
6. ‘Heavenfaced’
7. ‘This is the Last Time’
8. ‘Graceless’
9. ‘Slipped’
10. ‘I Need My Girl’
11. ‘Humiliation’
12. ‘Pink Rabbits’
13. ‘Hard to Find’

music the national trouble will find me The National name new album Trouble Will Find Me, reveal tracklist

The National: ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ artwork

Trouble Will Find Me was recorded in Rhinebeck, New York and produced by the band.

The National’s new documentary Mistaken for Strangers, directed by Matt’s younger brother Tom, will open this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

The band will play a number of shows this summer, including a homecoming gig at Brooklyn’s Barclays Centre on June 5.

They will also perform at a venue called The National in Richmond, Virginia and are expected to announce UK dates soon.

 

DIIV

Brooklyn dream-poppers DIIV are among the many, many buzzed-about bands playing about 52 shows apiece in Austin this week for SXSW. And they’re probably not the only ones who aren’t happy about this experience. They are, however, probably the most prominent band to come out publicly this year and say how much they hate it, while it’s still going on. Here’s what frontman Zachary Cole Smith posted on Tumblr:

Hi Austin. Fuck SXSW. There… I said it.

Here, the music comes last. 5 minute set-up, no sound check, 15 minute set. The “music” element is all a front, it’s the first thing to be compromised. Corporate money everywhere but in the hands of the artists, at what is really just a glorified corporate networking party. Drunk corporate goons and other industry vampires and cocaine. Everyone is drunk, being cool. “Official” bureaucracy and all their mindless rules. Branding, branding, branding. It’s bullshit… sorry.

-Cole

(via DIIV)

A couple of things here. First: This is an absolutely defensible case to make. Bands don’t magically find huge new audiences from playing SXSW, and the madcap grind of playing all those shows has to be tough on them. There’s a very real chance that Smith is just writing what tons of other bands are thinking. Second: DIIV didn’t necessarily have to play SXSW, and Smith, who doesn’t live in a vacuum, presumably had a pretty good idea what he was getting himself into. That doesn’t invalidate his point, but it might complicate it. I hope he starts having a better time down here, anyway. I’m having fun, but I don’t have to haul equipment anywhere. If Smith gets a moment, I suggest he locate the Korean taco truck; it has a way of improving your day.

http://bit.ly/15UL8VM

 

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