V&A Dundee

Being a Dundee boy, and loving my home city as I do, I think it’s very interesting to watch as the 6 short listed designs for the proposed V & A building, which it is proposed will grace the Dundee waterfront, go under the microscope of both the general public and those who work within the built environment field.  Firstly, let’s face facts; this is a fantastic opportunity for the city, to not only achieve a building of real iconic status but also to help improve the general attractiveness of the waterfront area and the allure of the city as a place to visit.

When I was young, growing up in the city, it has to be said that Dundee was not a very attractive place to live or visit.  Architecture of the 1960s, I’m thinking of the old Overgate in particular, as well as neglect had really created an unpleasant built environment.  However, by the time I left Dundee, when I was 24, the city had slowly but surely made itself over and become a very enjoyable place to live indeed.  Now, when I return, I am always impressed with the steps that the city has taken to shake off its (unfair) negative image and to establish itself as a place where people would want to live and work and visit.   The plans to reconnect the central area and the waterfront are essential, in my view, to truly achieving a central area of real value.  The connecting of the city centre to such attractions as the Discovery and Unicorn, as well as the new V & A building should not be underestimated.  Having spent time in many European cities, Dundee really has the perfect setting and the potential to be an amazing city with a waterfront of outstanding quality.  The people are brilliant and, slowly but surely, the city is becoming a much lovelier place.

So the proposed V & A building, the opportunity to create an iconic landmark on the Dundee waterfront, should be embraced and welcomed.  In fact, the waterfront – lets not talk about Thatcher or the Hilton/Olympia or even Tesco – really has been one of the biggest let downs in the city.  A missed opportunity if you ask me but, again, another part of the city where the image is being addressed bit by bit, piece by piece.

For me, personally, there are a number of things that are important about the building which is selected as the winner.  Firstly, the building needs to be functional.  It needs to respond to the requirements of the users and it needs to provide facilities worthy of a world class facility.  Secondly, the building needs to be iconic.  It really needs to be something that inspires.  That people can associate with Dundee instantly and that acts as an image of the city.  Perhaps a bit like the way the Sydney Opera House does, or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Chrysler building in New York.  At the same time, the building must not detract from the setting of the city.  Let’s face it, crossing the Tay Bridge from Fife to Dundee can be quite a stunning experience (once the multis are gone anyways!).  Stephen Fry was right when he said the city is situated in one of the best locations in the world, so the building needs to respond to its setting.  How it interacts with the city skyline and the river will be essential to achieving something of real beauty and worth.

Architecture is the most accessible of all art forms, so ultimately the people of the city will all have to live with the building that is built.  Everyone has an opinion, but let’s not forget that the Eiffel Tower was hated by the Parisians when first built, the Usher Hall was criticised by the people of Edinburgh when first built and I’m sure there are many other buildings across the world, which now stand as landmarks but divide opinion.  I will be fascinated to see who wins the competition.  Personally, I like the Kengo Kuma design best as it seems to tick all the right boxes in my head, but like I said, it’s all subjective really.  It will be interesting to see what the city ends up with and whether it is as successful as I truly hope it will be.  If you are interested, check out the 6 shortlisted designs here.  Enjoy.

Clem Leek – Holly Lane

Holly Lane starts with the chime of a clock bell followed by the ticking of a clock.   This ticking remains constant through album opener ‘Mystery Moor’ creating a tension and eerieness that is a recurring feature of this record.  It’s one of the best starts to a record that I’ve heard in a long time.  The way the ticking keeps the pace of the track whilst adding to the haunting undertone is quite, quite superb.

I have read many good things about Clem Leek in the past but other than his EP ‘Snow Tales’ I’ve had no real reference point for his music.  So in many ways, I am coming at this record with fresh ears and an open mind.  His rise to stardom in the world of minimal ambient music has been quite rapid and this his debut long player, after a number of EPs, should see him firmly established as one of the country’s most talented ambient musicians.

The record, as I mentioned before, is packed with tension.  At times it’s hard going.  It’s quite an intense piece of music from start to finish.  However, Clem Leek breaks this tension beautifully with a number of perfectly located tracks, such as the  sublime ‘At The Mercy Of The Waves’, a welcome soothing relief after the intense opening track, and the ambient floating guitar of ‘Smugglers Top’ has a similar impact later on in the record.  These are such beautiful pauses in the music which allude to the work of the likes of Johann Johannsson.  In fact, there is a similar tone and feel to this record as there is to Johannsson’s recent record ‘And In The Endless Pause…’  Not that Clem Leek is not his own artist, just that his work reminds me of Johannsson’s, which is no bad thing, believe me.

‘The Burnt Home’ is a stunning closer.  Strings swell and swell and swell before coming to a genlte close.  A fine finish to a fine debut album.  Hibernate Recordings continue to impress with their roster.  Clem Leek certainly impresses with this offering.  Please check out his work here.  Hibernate here.  Enjoy.

Things That I Love Today #88

Bob Servant – The Guardian

This is an article that I read in The Guardian this Saturday past.  Please read it.  It’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time.  Bizarrely, I was actually wondering just the other week what would happen if you took the time to respond to all those SPAM e-mails you get from people trying to rip you off.  Well, Neil Forsyth a lad from Broughty Ferry, just like me, took the time to find out and is publishing a book of his findings.  You can find some of the examples from the book on the link above.  It is very funny indeed.  Enjoy.

Caught In The Wake Forever Signs To mini50

So, yes, here is the good news of today.  Caught In The Wake Forever has agreed to sign to mini50.  First up will be the release of his debut solo ep and hopefully this will be followed by a split 7″ single, both to be released sometime in 2011.  There is no official date for the release of the ep as yet but it will be titled ‘All The Hurt That Hinders Home’.  Here’s a brief biog for those unaware of this wonderful artist:

Caught In The Wake Forever is the solo project of musician & home based recording artist Fraser McGowan.

Having previously released work on London label ‘The Remains Of My Estate’ as lead singer of Paisley based miserablists Small Town Boredom,  at the beginning of 2009 he began working on several instrumental pieces blending a more electronic approach with his already established lo-fi acoustic aesthetics. These new tunes are characterised mainly by the use of rhodes piano & classical guitar surrounded by the subtle warmth of electronics, string machines & dictaphone field recordings.

For more information please visit here

I am delighted to have Fraser sign to mini50.  Everyone already knows how much I admire his work with Small Town Boredom, but I really do LOVE his solo work and hopefully you will too.  A welcome addition to the mini50 roster.  Keep an eye out on the mini50 website for more information on forthcoming releases.

Interview No. 21 – Fieldhead

I first met Paul Elam when he was a touring guitarist for Glissando.  At this point, I was unaware that he was a solo musician in his own right and just assumed that Rich and Ellie were expanding their line up a little.  The truth was that Paul was then, and is now, a solo artist better known as Fieldhead.  His debut record ‘They Shook Hands For Hours’ is a brilliant piece of ambient electronica, which made it’s way onto my top ten records of 2009.  It really is special.  This year saw him release a follow up EP entitled ‘Riser’, which has captured my ears in a similar manner and would be right up there with the best of 2010 to date.  He’s recently made the move from his native Leeds to Vancouver but has kindly found time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions, as I resume the interview series.  You can check out Fieldhead here and buy yourself a copy of Riser on 10″ vinyl here.  DO IT!  Enjoy.

TSP: Riser, your ep from earlier this year is probably my favourite record of 2010 so far. Featuring vocals on each track it’s a little bit of a departure from debut record ‘They Shook Hands For Hours’. Was there a conscious effort on your part to make sure the ep was something different from the album?

PE: It was a conscious effort, but not necessarily a conscious effort to do something different… if that makes any sense. The idea came to me whilst listening to an old Low album and rediscovering how well they use vocals and music together, and how powerful the music was with everything tied together so strongly. It got me thinking that a lot of electronic/ambient music either completely ignores vocals, or adds them on as an afterthought.

TSP: Would you say the introduction of vocals was key to making it different?

PE: Undoubtedly, yes. Pretty much everything I write involves a long drawn out process of finding a central idea and then building the track around it. Changing that central idea from instrumental to vocal did change this in so much as I have tendencies to certain structures and keys, and I was forced out of that by what vocals I was sent.

TSP: The vocalists on the record include Anna-Lynne Williams, Chantal Acda , Anneke Kampman, Elly-May Irving and Esker. I read that each track started with a vocal idea from the singer, which you then built the music around. Is that correct?  And if so, how challenging a process was this for you?

PE: Yup, that’s correct. I asked each of the vocalists to send me some vocal recordings, but as long as they gave me enough to work with I gave them no other guidance. The idea was to concentrate on their individual voices and natural tendencies to certain styles, then for me to build a track from there. I was hoping to have five different starting points but to end up with a relatively consistent whole, and to also avoid the vocals “sitting on top” of the music – I wanted them to be central. I always find writing new music challenging, and I tend to have to make countless attempts at something to find one that will work, and this was very much true of the tracks with Elly, Chantal and Anneke. These three tracks on this EP as all went through weeks of work and editing to find something that would fit, whereas the tracks with Anna-Lynne and Esker were both finished very quickly.

TSP: You’ve recently moved from Leeds to Vancouver. Leeds is well known to have a thriving music scene at the moment but what is the music scene like over there? Any interesting artists you’ve discovered that you’d recommend people check out?

PE: Vancouver is very, very different to Leeds. It’s a much bigger city, and one that feels much more isolated from the rest of the world, so there’s not the same influx of smaller touring bands or links with other cities. Vancouver’s beauty and proximity to real wilderness also means that people seem to spend less time going to shows, so there’s not the same necessity for a live music scene away from the bigger touring bands as Leeds has. This results in a relaxed and sporadic scene and one where there’s much less casual interest in independent, smaller scale music than you would expect. Having said that, the more I’ve looked, the more I’ve come across some excellent music. It just tends to be a little more hidden than I’m used to in Europe, and Vancouver Council’s lack of love for music venues in the city doesn’t help. As for people to check out, Vancouver artists I’ve been enjoying so far are Ora Cogan, Shearing Pinx, connect_icut, Scant Intone, and Loscil.

TSP: As well as Fieldhead you also were part of Glissando’s live set up as well as The Declining Winter. Do you feel that being part of those acts helped your own music, and vice versa, or are they completely independent things?

PE: They definitely help. Richard from The Declining Winter was absolutely key in encouraging me to take Fieldhead seriously, and was the reason for me getting the album released by Home Assembly Music. As for Glissando, Rich Knox has also been incredibly supportive, as well as releasing Riser through Gizeh Records. With both Sarah and Elaine (Fieldhead contributors and live violinists) being members of The Declining Winter, it’s fairly clear that there are very strong connections between the bands. Musically I take a lot of inspiration from being able to make music with different people, and think it’s inevitable that spending weeks on end touring with other acts affects how I make music on my own.

TSP: What does the rest of 2010 hold in store for you?  Can we expect a new long player from Fieldhead any time soon?

PE: I’m not completely sure to be honest. There’s a live album coming out soon on Gizeh, which is a way of documenting the series of live shows we played around Europe and Canada earlier this year. Fieldhead live can be quite different to on record, especially with the addition of Sarah and Elaine, so I wanted to do something with the recordings we got from the tours. Beyond that I’ve been working on a few tracks for compilations, a few remixes, and am in the very, very early stages of a couple of collaborations. As for a new album, I’m sure it will come at some point, but no firm plans at the moment. I tend to be heavily influenced by my surroundings, so I feel that I’m still settling in to the geography that I’m living in at the moment before anything takes hold.

TSP: It seems to me that there is a massive market at the moment for the type of music you create.  At the same time, there are many people creating ambient, atmospheric, electronica. How important is it to be able to stand out from the crowd nowadays given the volume of music being made available?

PE: Although there are loads of people doing this, I think that the number is exaggerated due to the ease of recording and releasing. If all you need is a laptop to write, record, produce and release your music, and then if you can use that same laptop to create a website, set up a label and do the artwork it makes it pretty easy to get it out there. And I think this is a good thing. In an ideal world the best music would stand out from the crowd by virtue of its quality, but it’s inevitable that a visible web presence is now at least as important as traditional publicity, promotion and the like. Personally, I’m always drawn to artists and labels who have the confidence to release their music with care, and if something comes out on a nicely designed but simple physical release, I’m more inclined to listen to it.

TSP: Which leads on nicely to music sharing. Obviously the internet has created the ability for an artist to have their music heard on a much wider level.  With this though comes the problem of illegal file sharing etc.  Do you have any particularly strong views on this balancing act? (I know this is a fairly simple question for a fairly complex subject – feel free to not dive into it too much!)

PE: Ah. Music sharing. I’m torn to be honest. On one hand, I do strongly dislike the idea that smaller labels and artists are losing money after putting lots of hard work in to releases, and I also resent the polarisation of release formats that occur in attempt to deal with this – either cheap and impermanent cdr releases, or expensive and overly fancy packaging that is only really attractive to collectors. I also completely agree with the well documented argument that music sharing is undermining the worth of recorded music. On the one hand. On the other, experience would tell me that the technology that allows small artists to reach audiences across the world is inevitably going to lead to people taking music without paying for it.

TSP: What’s on the stereo at the moment?

PE: At this very moment? Conquering Animal Sound – Kammerspiel. Recently? Sun Kil Moon – Tiny Cities, Rachels – Systems / Layers, Brave Timbers – For Every Day You Lost, Flying Lotus – Los Angeles, Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express, J Dilla – Ruff Draft EP, Seaworthy – 1897, Jasper TX – The Black Sun Transmissions.

TSP: Finally, name your top five albums of 2010 so far.

PE: I never really know how to answer these questions, because I never seem to listen to albums as they come out. And if I do come across something recent, I tend to forget about it until months afterwards. And then I catch up on stuff that everybody else was listening to last year… so I’m a bit useless in this respect. Sorry!

Free Samplers

Just a quick note really to tell you people to get yourselves over to Gizeh Records homepage where you can download a free sampler of old and new music currently on the roster.  Well, I say free, but the choice is yours.  You can have the sampler for free, or alternatively, you can choose your price and contribute to the label, which is always nice and helps them fund future releases.  Anyways, the sampler is excellent featuring tracks from artists such as Fieldhead, Sleepingdog, Trespassers William and a previously unreleased track from the forthcoming Conquering Animal Sound record.  So please do check it out.

In addition, get yourselves over to Hibernate Recordings home page and get your grubby paws on their latest label sampler. This features such wonderful artists as Clem Leek, Haruki and Talvihorros.  This is also FREE and really should be something you go and do now.  I am on my work computer but will be downloading both of these later on today when I get a chance.  Fantastic stuff from two fantastic labels.  It really makes me want to put together a mini50 sampler and hopefully this time next year I’ll be in a position to do so with enough acts on the roster to make it interesting and worthwhile.