The Top 10 Teenage Albums meme


So this has been doing the rounds around the internet recently: ten albums that mattered to you the most in your teenage years.

My teenage years, as defined by the meme, fall between 1991 and 1997, which is not an all too shabby period to have grown up to. I mean, it starts with Nevermind and ends with OK Computer: what more could you ask for? It’s certainly the last time music was any good, if you ask me, but then, that’s what everyone says about the music from their youth.

It was also a period of transformation from tapes to CD, so these first albums I’ve consciously listened to were also the first CDs I ever bought… although by the end I would switch again, to downloading mp3s (1998 – Audiogalaxy!) I admit, my memory being what it is, I had to google a bit to find out when the albums I remember best were released, and it turned out that some of my all-time favourites either haven’t been around until 1998 or were already released before 1991, so don’t fall into this meme’s remit. With this in mind, here’s the list (I’d say feel free to add your favourites in the comments, but nobody ever comments on this blog 😉 :

  • Sting – Soul Cages (1991)

A toss up between this and George Michael’s “Listen Without Prejudice“: two final pop albums of the 1980s, released the same year as Nevermind, both marking a change in the air. A definite ending of an era in music.

  • Bjork – Debut (1993)

    This is such a powerful album, still! There’s not a single song here that’s not a timeless work of genius. Not much to say, except that, through Post and Homogenic, Bjork was always a key presence in my soundtrack all through the 90s.

  • Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dreams (1993)

    Like most people, I missed Smashing Pumpkins first album, and only heard of them when they released “Today” video, but it was only when I started exploring their back catalogue after Mellon Collie that I got hooked up on Siamese Dreams. As you can tell from this and the next few selections, 1994-96 was definitely the culmination of my Emo Teenage phase.

  • Nirvana – Unplugged (1993)

No, I wasn’t that unaware of contemporary music to not notice the fucking Nirvana until 1993. It’s just that, somehow, I was more of a Pearl Jam kid for the first couple of years. It wasn’t until In Utero that I began switching my allegiance, and of course, Unplugged was the one that finally made me see the light – just a little bit too late.

  • Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)

 

Yeah, it doesn’t really get any happier, does it? This is the “Hurt” one. For a moment this was my most-listened to album of all time. I actually had this in a double CD, with “Further Down the Spiral” remixes, most of which I vastly preferred to the original. This version of Piggy is from the remix album:

 

  •  Body Count – Born Dead (1994)

Ice-T‘s Body Count was a gateway drug to hip-hop for all the white kids hooked on grunge and metal. If you liked Rage Against the Machine or Atari Teenage Riot (and who didn’t?), Body Count was the next thing to bang your head to. And then you’d start to wonder, what else did this guy record? Wait, you mean there’s more?

  • Tricky & co. – Nearly God (1996)

The ultimate trip-hop album, and possibly the weirdest thing to listen to in the mid-90s. I was deep, deep into trip-hop at the time, but this one was definitely my favourite one of the lot. A bizarre project led by Tricky off of Massive Attack, but with co-singers like Terry Hall of the Specials, Siouxie Sioux or Alison Moyet. Trippy and dark as fuck.

  • Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)

The greatest album of the 90s? Yeah, I believe so. 2nd most acclaimed of the decade after Nevermind, apparently (and no other than these two in top 30 of all time). Nothing was ever the same after OK Computer. This is where the 90s end the 2000s begin in music.

  • Yoko Kanno – Vision of Escaflowne OST (1996)

1996-97 is when I start to listen to anime soundtracks and J-Pop/J-Rock, downloaded from primitive early internet. By chance, it’s also the time when some of the best anime soundtracks of all time become available: Kenji Kawai‘s Ghost in the Shell and Yoko Kanno’s Vision of Escaflowne. Later on, I’ll start discovering the classical influences behind this music, while Yoko Kanno would go on to produce the masterpiece that was Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, but at the time, as far as I was concerned, this was as good as music got:

  • Genesis – Selling England by the Pound (1974)

I have to mention this one, or my story of the 90s music wouldn’t be complete: it’s also the time when I was introduced (by my then gf) to progressive rock, in the form of the first four Genesis albums (FGtR doesn’t count!). Unlike our relationship, this was the love affair that would last for the rest of my life.

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#2016 – summary & playlist


(header image (c) Chris Barker)

Not exactly a New Year‘s Eve party playlist, but then again, it didn’t exactly feel like a party year, for all sorts of reason. Rather than celebrate its passing, we breathe a sigh of relief and hope that 2017 at least won’t get much worse…

gettyimages-591717242_custom-2b1934dac188b7266281132abf838e0c4c8aa8fcIt’s not going to surprise anyone reading this blog how I felt about the political developments since January, and frankly there’s little cause for optimism for the near future. But hey, at least we’re still here (well, most of us), and who knows, maybe 2017 will surprise us. At first, let’s see how long that ceasefire in Syria is going to hold…

KingFor me personally, it was a fairly mixed year. Artistically – very successful, considering I wrote and published two full novels which ended the Year of the Dragon saga, and even found the time for a collection of haiku. I hope to keep this pace up going into next year, although I’ll be starting my new novel from scratch – something I hadn’t done in over five years. AN ENTIRELY NEW BOOK! Every time I realize this, I get terrified at the very thought.

 
KamogawaIn the more mundane part of my life, very little happened. I stayed and worked in London all year, excepting the summer trip to the Hokuriku region of Japan, which was predictably awesome. I changed jobs in the summer, I started listening to comedy podcasts and… that’s about it. This is the first time in a long time that I’ll be spending two consecutive New Year’s Eves in the same place and circumstances. Feels weird!

Haiku2017, though – well, I don’t do New Year resolutions, I do New Year plans, and I have some big plans for this year. Definitely should be more interesting, but for now it’s all secret. I’ll let you know once it all comes to fruition.

wave_250Until then, here’s the playlist. As you’d probably have guessed, it’s a morbid one – a list of all those artists we said goodbye to this year (I include Lemmy, since I’ve learned of his death in the very beginning of 2016). Bowie, Prince and George Michael are the giants that loom large over the list, though as I’ve mentioned before, there are some lesser known names that have made an equally great impact on me – and some others which have been far less noticeable than they deserved in this year’s onslaught.

The passage of time is remorseless, and we are just at the beginning of the age of the dying celebrities. I expect 2017 list will be at least as full of famous names as this year, and 2018, and so on… but 2016 was definitely the first when the mortality of our childhood idols became such an integral part of reality. No matter who else will perish in the future, there will never again be a year like this – the first year of the mass idol death.

Oh well. Here’s to hope, tenacity and Keith Richard’s good health!

The Year the Music Died #ripgreglake


Come share of my breath and my substance
And mingle our streams and our times
In bright infinite moments
Our reasons are lost in our rhymes.

In a year that started with the death of David Bowie, and went downhill from there, I didn’t think anything else would have the power to affect me this much so near the end. We’re still three weeks off, and who knows who else will join the super-group in the sky (Fripp? Wakeman?), but, like the straw on camel’s back, what finally broke for me how horribly awful this year was for all my music heroes was the news of the death of Greg Lake.

Maybe it’s because of the double whammy of Keith Emerson dying in March – you rarely get two sets of #rips under one band’s YouTube videos in one year. Or maybe because Greg Lake was the first actual prog rock singer I’ve listened to consciously – long before I discovered the likes of Genesis and Yes – though back then I didn’t even know his name.

That song was “The Lucky Man” by ELP, taped from a late night radio show to a blue Stilon cassette, and played incessantly until I knew every glissando in Emerson’s mad final Moog solo by heart.

Greg Lake was the Galahad of the prog rock Round Table, with his baby face and an angelic voice. Possibly the only vocalist to match a mellotron’s rising cadence, he was the man without whom King Crimson would probably remain just Robert Fripp’s niche experimental fusion jazz combo – and the history of rock as we know it would never happen. On the 21st Century Schizoid Man he sounded less like the cherubim, and more like a wrathful archangel, come down to fight Satan’s hordes. In those pre-internet days of music copied from radio, it took me a while to realize the same man sang the Schizoid Man and Epitaph. You could always easily recognize Ian Anderson’s shrill or Peter Gabriel’s hoarse bellow, but Lake’s voice was always the most surprising.

In ELP, Lake brought poetic calmness and medieval whimsy to counter Emerson’s feral virtuosity. Like Galahad and Percival, with Palmer’s help, they searched for prog rock’s Holy Grail, and, admittedly, got lost along the way in the end – but before they did, they produced some of the finest music this side of the Beatles, like this little Yes-like ditty from the Trilogy album:

2016 was a bitch of a year, and considering nobody’s getting any younger, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better going forward. Eventually everyone we knew and thought great will die – such is the passage of time… At least their work remains with us forever.

Confusion will be my Epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh.
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.

DOMÓWKA — Poland’s postapocalyptic answer to Hygge


Or, how to party like it’s 1984

By the end of this terrible year of 2016, the world is fully in the embrace of Hygge-mania. Books, blogs, youtube videos, newspaper articles, all espouse the virtues of the Danish concept of frilly cosiness, pillow-hugging friendliness and cake and cocoa by candlelight. And what’s not to like about the idea of cutting yourself from the all the evils of the outside, and shielding yourself with blankets and woollen jumpers from the encroaching darkness?

Except Hygge is an illusion. An aspirational lie. It only works if everything else works — if you live in a nice, well-organized country like Denmark, surrounded by beautiful Scandinavian people, your candle-lit life supported by a generous welfare state. This isn’t how most of us live — and, the way things are going, the Hygge concept will grow further and further away from reality, another unachievable ideal, made only to stress us out and feel miserable, like being thin or feeling good about the party you voted for.

There is another way. If you want to borrow a way of life from another people used to dealing with cold, dark winters, a way of life that is easier to achieve and more suitable to how things are in this post-Brexit, post-Trump, look no further than to the Slavs — in particular, the Poles.

In the coldest nights of serfdom, Partition, Communism, and post-Communist chaos, the Poles have developed ways to cope with both the harsh weather and the harsh political climate. In the centre of this way of life stands the concept of DOMÓWKA (pron. Domoovka) — literally “House Party”, but not the kind you would imagine. Here, in a few steps, is how you can try to replicate this concept at your own home, when everything goes to hell and the nuclear winter makes global warming a distant memory.

1) SETTING

 

It’s a house party, so of course everything happens in a house — but forget a three-bedroom villa in the suburbs. The closer your house is to a council estate flat, the better (an actual estate flat is ideal). And it doesn’t matter how big or small the flat is — all that matters is that you have a kitchen and a dining room, for this is where most of your Domówka will take place.

For reasons lost in the midst of time, the kitchen is the heart of Domówka. It could be the atavistic longing to be near the fireplace — replaced here by the four-hob oven — or it could be the vicinity of the fridge, but no matter where the guests are when the party starts, eventually all the conversation gravitates towards the kitchen. It makes sense when you think about it — the kitchen is cozy, easily heated, provides access to supplies and fresh water, and often has the best acoustics in the house outside bathroom.

Lighting should be subdued — a night-light is enough. Dimmer switch is decadence. Of course, candles are best — not only because they provide coziness, but also because when the power runs out in the middle of the party, due to the crumbling infrastructure unable to deal with the freezing cold, you won’t even notice.

2) DRINK

 

You probably guessed already that the drink of choice here is vodka — Polish or Russian only, none of that fake French stuff. Only the heat of vodka can truly stir the hearts, loosen the tongues, and beat the cold of a northern winter out of one’s bones. Vodka drank straight, ice-cold — so cold, preferably, that it oozes out of the bottle like oil. This can only be achieved with enough preparation, so only applies to the first batch (see Restocking).

Any other alcohol — beer or wine — is to be used only in the form of “liquid tapas” — variously known as Zapojka or Zapitka — to cleanse the palate between vodka shots.

Soft drinks are fine — the cheaper, the better, though Coca-Cola is still a classic stalwart from the days when it represented the “evil West” and an opposition to whatever regime ruled the country. Mixing vodka with the above is fine if you’re feeling fancy, though only when used as Zapojka/Zapitka.

The only acceptable hot drink is tea — strong, black, with a slice of lemon, drunk from a glass. Have plenty of it ready. Biscuits are optional — home-made cake is obligatory.

3) FOOD

 

Speaking of cake, the food is not to be forgotten. Zakaski or Zagryzki(Zakuski in Russian), which is a Slavic variety of mezze, is a culinary art in its own right. The prevalent taste sensation is sourness, and fattiness, both helping to beat the side-effects of all that vodka. So sour-pickled gherkins, of course, and pickled herrings in oil or sour cream, and pickled mushrooms… Then lots of mayo — on eggs, in vegetable salad, on cured meats. If you want a more Eastern experience, have some salo — cured pork fat. If you’re feeling adventurous, put things in aspic, though since that requires a lot of preparation it’s becoming less and less popular.

Pickled and fatty foods, cured meat and cheese, are all things that keep well, which is another plus in our dystopian future — you can even stock the leftovers from one Domówka to another.

4) CONVERSATION

 

We’ve secured the location, drink, and food — but what are we going to do at this strange party? Not dance, obviously. Talk — but what about?

The conversation topics at a Domówka are deep and tough — the deeper and tougher the better. You can’t be whimsical when you’re downing shots of vodka — this isn’t your auntie’s sherry soiree. Football scores is at light as it gets, at first — but then we’re moving on to the real stuff: politics, history, religion.

It used to be that in the West topics like politics and history were a taboo in polite company. This is a privilege the Poles, and most of their Slavic brethren, never had — and, in recent years, it’s become obvious that it’s the only conversation worth having, anywhere. What else can you talk about when Trump is president, when Putin marches through Syria, when Farage’s grin is plastered all over your TV screens? And politics is steeped in history — you have to understand the past to explain the present. Poles like to think of themselves as experts in every subject, but history is everyone’s true hobby. So as the vodka flows, the conversation will flow from recent elections, to the Communist era, to 19th century oppression, all the way to the arrival of first Christians on Polish soil who, depending on your worldview, are either to blame or to credit for everything that’s happening currently.

These conversations are such a crucial part of the Polish soul, that they are even mentioned in poetry — Poland’s chief poet, Adam Mickiewicz, coined the term “Polish Nightly Conversations” in 19th century, which had since entered the vernacular.

5) MUSIC

At any party, choice of music is important — at the Domówka, no less so. What music is best for vodka and pickles? The answer may not be obvious to you, but it’s obvious to any Pole: shanties, folk and poetry.

Here’s another old Polish term: “sung poetry”, also known as “gentle music” or “author song”. It’s a pan-slavic phenomenon, originating with Soviet Bards – a mixture of French chanson, Russian poetry, Celtic folk and scouting songs. Leonard Cohen, Vladimir Vysotski, Jacques Brel are the godfathers of this music genre. Sombre, serious, flowing, often, again, with political overtones. Born as a form of escapism back in the Communist era, the songs tell of a gentler, imaginary land, of nice, decent people, freedom and fresh, unpolluted air. Shanties and Celtic folk stem from the same need of escape — when all else around you is dreary, cold and dark, sometimes all you have left is to imagine yourself on a tallship off the coast of Ireland. (nb. the popularity of these songs goes a long way to explain why, after joining the EU, so many Poles flooded Ireland — it was as if suddenly Neverland turned out real.)

If your Domówka is going well, at some point in the proceedings, one of you might want to pick up a guitar and start making ready for a sing-along. This may be a good point to pause the party for Restocking.

6) RESTOCKING

 

A key moment in every Domówka is when the vodka runs out. It is considered bad form to have “enough” alcohol to last all night — it suggests you imagine your guests drunkards, which they most certainly are not.

This is not a moment to despair. On the contrary, a pause is necessary for the party to continue in peace. What you need to do is mount an expedition to restock the fridge. In the old days, this meant finding out a neighbour stocking a private stash of alcohol, often contraband or home-made, in a melina (private speak-easy). These days, you need to seek out a 24h off-licence or, even better, a petrol station.

The restocking expedition is an essential reset button. It’s a chance to cool heads heated up in the middle of a political argument; an opportunity to let the cold wind freeze the alcohol from your veins; a moment to appreciate the quiet of the winter night, look out to stars and realize the insignificance of our problems in comparison with the vastness of the universe. Without this pause, the guests at Domówka would soon degenerate into drunken, slurring stupor.

7) TRUST

What happens at Domówka, stays at Domówka.

Domówka is a one-night carnival, a place and time when established rules and relationships are suspended. There’s no other way. With the amounts of alcohol drunk, with the sea of existential despair that needs venting, nobody can be held responsible for their actions. Whether it’s an ideological argument gone sour, or a sneaky, desperate tryst in the bathroom, all is forgiven in the morning — or whenever the headache passes. The one thing that is not tolerated at the Domówka is violence: this is where the line is drawn. Violence is for the enemies, there’s no place for it among friends.

This concept of trust makes Domówka what it truly is — a way to survive the unsurvivable, to escape the unescapable.

8) ŁAPU-CAPU

 

(pron. Wapu-Tzapu) This is another important Polish concept, one that requires a whole separate article, or a book, and one which stands at the heart of Polish aesthetics, much as wabi-sabi stands at the heart of the Japanese one. Another similar word is “prowizorka”, or doing something as a shoddy, makeshift, temporary one-off: a concept crucial in a land through which foreign armies have marched for centuries, burning and pillaging everything in their path. Like the Japanese wood and paper houses, everything in Poland is made not to withstand the pressures of history, but to yield to them, and be easily replaced. The less attention to detail, the more make-shift the solution, the better. As the old Polish saying goes, “prowizorka holds out the longest”.

In Domówka terms, this means — don’t sweat it. Don’t prepare too hard. In the end, it’s the mood that matters, not how nice the mayo is spread on your eggs. As long as you have enough alcohol, and enough friends to drink it with, all else will come on its own. Life in our incoming dystopia will be hard enough without having to worry about things like precision and sturdiness. Embrace the Łapu-capu — it may be the only way to survive what’s coming.

5 J-Pop songs I can’t stop humming this week (and neither will you)


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – these past few years have been the best to be fan of Japanese music. Not only is the access something we couldn’t have dreamt of in the past: the music can be obtained through a myriad of ways – YouTube, iTunes, Amazon MP3, Spotify – you can even get a Niconico account these days without living in Japan! – but the quality of the offerings is as high as it was in the best of times. The indie artists are producing a hit after hit, no matter what genre or style you’re after, and they are all great.

In a music culture that’s so focused on neat melody as J-Pop/J-Rock, it’s a given that all the good songs will be perfectly hummable, but sometimes a song comes along that eats its way into your brain and stays there for days, taking over all your vital functions. Recently, I keep stumbling upon dozens of such songs – and here are five that seem to have the strongest hold on my synapses.

5. Gesu no Kiwami Otome – Momoe

“Gesu…” is a new project of Enon Kawatami, lead singer of Indigo La End. His other band is a more mainstream melodic rock production, also with plenty of great songs (truly, the only reason they’re not on this list too is to avoid repetition) – but “Gesu…” is something else. Part jazz, part hip-hop, part crazy bass riffs, and lots of toe-tapping, head-banging funk. “Momoe” is my favourite song of theirs so far, but also one that, sadly, doesn’t have an official video, so here’s some Japanese guy shredding the bass in his basement like a Boss.

4. tofubeats feat. ONOMATOPEDAIJIN – Suisei

Kobe-born Tofubeats (I’ve mentioned him before) is a one-man Japan’s answer to Daft Punk. Like the robot-headed Frenchmen, he uses his autotuned voice as one of the instruments, invites an eclectic mix of talents from all over the music world to assist him, and is generally the king of funk. Not all his songs are hummable – not all are even listenable for long, to be honest – but when he gets things right, he gets things right. “Suisei” is, as far as I can tell, a harrowing tale of trying to be cool young adult in Tokyo… “Cutie” and “Zipper” are fashion magazines read by trendy Shinjuku girls. This is all irrelevant, as the video is shot in Kobe 🙂

If you’re not a fan of autotune, and prefer soft female voice instead, there’s also a version sung by Seira Kariya (the infectiously cheerful girl in the video below).

3. Kana-Boon – Naimononedari

Kana-Boon is, unfortunately, not available on Spotify, and is in general not as popular and well-known as other bands on the list – and, frankly, most of their songs are pretty generic, ska-influenced power-pop, Asian KFG-style; they may be considered a one-hit wonder, but that one hit – and the accompanying brilliant video – is more than enough for the Kana-boon to appear on this list beside their more popular competition.

2. tricot – Last Step

Having opened for the reunited Pixies this year in England, and to rave reviews, tricot are definitely the hottest J-Rock band in years. They are best known for the overwhelming barrage of hard, melodic grunge riffs, math-rock experimentation, jazz-like precision and powerful voice of the lead singer – seriously, there is not a bad song on either of their two records – but in this solo number from their latest album, Ikkyu shows she can give just as haunting performance with nothing but an acoustic guitar and the raging sea behind her.

1. Predawn – Suddenly

If Bob Dylan and Bjork had a baby… well, their sex tape would probably be worth millions. But also, their child would be Miwako Shimizu, better known as Predawn. With a soft, but unwavering, just-accented voice, Predawn would be just another archetypal, folkish, mori “lonely girl with a guitar”, if not for the nigh super-human talent for writing melodies that will stay with you for weeks.

Seriously.

It’s like a tick on your brain.

UK top singles of the 80s


This is just a little something I did to get my mind off all the writing stuff for a while. 10 playlists for 10 years of UK top chart singles.

Or, as I like to call it, the chronicle of steady descent of music quality 🙂 We start with Blondie, Jam and Police. By the time it gets to 1989 it’s obvious the British public just gave up. Three top singles of 1989 were by Jive Bunny fer chris’sakes. We desperately needed Nirvana.

1980: Three hits by Blondie; Specials; Jam; Police. Quality stuff. The last hits of ABBA.

1981: Lennon dies in December 80, dominates the charts for two months. Ultravox Vienna is held off number 1 by Shaddap Your Face. Human League saves the year’s honour by trumping Julio Iglesias.

1982: Come on Eileen smashes the records. Kraftwerk. Town Called Malice. Movie songs begin to overtake the charts.

1983: The first unashamedly all-pop chart of the decade. The heaviest song is Billy Jean… by the end of the year the fad for soft, inane reggae seems to addle everyone’s minds.

1984: The year of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Total dominance: 15 weeks for three songs. Hello and I Just Called To Say I Love You. The year ends with *shudder* Band Aid, foreboding the things to come.

1985: The charts are all over the place, as if Band Aid just exploded throwing shrapnel of sugary pap everywhere. And not a good song in sight.

1986: A bit of respite: some rocky pop from A-Ha, Pet Shop Boys, George Michael goes adult and writes a decent tune. Final Countdown makes everyone bang their heads for the last time.

1987: This is when we were all rickrolled. Very few memorable songs, but those that were memorable stayed with us forever, unfortunately: La Bamba, I wanna dance with somebody…

1988: It’s dancehall all around; nothing here that couldn’t be played in a disco. Stock, Aitken & Waterman expand their Empire of Crap. What’s Enya doing in all this, we will never know.

1989: Annus Horribilis. When Simple Minds is the ‘edgiest’ band of the year, you know you got it bad. Three hit singles from Jive Bunny. Three more from Jason & Kylie. To sum it all up, another Band Aid – one that was so obscure I couldn’t even find it on Spotify. All this from a nation which had Bohemian Rhapsody as No. 1 for 9 straight weeks in 1975… 

Although to be fair, the 1970s No 1s were pretty crappy as well. It seems 1979-1981 were the only decent years for the UK charts.

1994, M6 on the cable, all’s right with the world.


A friend’s post on Google+ today worked on me like a Proust’s madeleine, throwing me out on a YouTube journey in search of the French pop music of 1994.

I don’t really remember what was so special about 1994 in my life. I was in the middle of high school, so not my best period. The details are a little hazy. I did listen to a lot of new music back then, that’s for sure.

It was definitely an important year in music. Nirvana Unplugged and Kurt Cobain’s death, of course. The Britpop Wars reach a climax with “Definitely Maybe” and “Parklife”. Bernard Butler leaves Suede. Bristol Sound begins with “Dummy” and “Protection”. “Ill Communication”, “Return of the Space Cowboy”, “Mellow Gold”. “7 Seconds” starts out fun and manages to turn everyone crazy by the end of the year. “Zombie”. “Lion King”.

To me, it was the year I discovered European music outside MTV’s English-dominated scene. I must’ve been spending a lot of time at home, in Warsaw, watching cable TV. It was the heyday of cable: we had all the European channels, MTV Europe, Viva, TV5, RAI, some Spanish and Portuguese stuff I don’t remember that well… the best of those was M6 – and not just because it had certain late night shows of particular interest to 16-year old boy 😉 but because it showcased the best of French music at the time – and what music that was!

I don’t know enough proper musical terms to tell why French pop music was so different from anything else I knew at the time – whether it was a difference in phrasing, use of different instruments, or simply another tradition – but to my ears it was a shock comparable only to my later discovery of J-Pop. It was also the year after my return from school trip to Paris – my first journey “to the West”, so maybe I was just ready to be enamoured with anything French, whatever it was. That one year, 1994, spawned songs which will remain with me for the rest of my days.

And here are some of them:

Alain Bashung – Ma Petite Enterprise


(“Les lobbies en Libye” is a brilliant bit of lyrics to this day)

Enzo Enzo – Juste quelqu’un de bien


(this was for a long time my favourite song of the first half of the 90s. Here’s a brilliant version with Suzanne Vega)

Kent – Allons z’a la campagne


(the first French song I got most of the lyrics of)

Les Rita Mitsouko – Les Amants


(personal note: the girl in striped shirt looked like my French language teacher at the time 🙂

Mylene Farmer – Que mon cœur lâche


(directed by Luc Besson, in case you’ve wondered. I had no idea what this song was about.)

Mano Solo – Allo Paris


(what a video!)

EDIT: Oh, just remembered another one! Francois Cabrel – La cabane du pecheur

And one more from Cabrel – the most beautiful one:

“The Shadow of Black Wings” OST


There is a lot of music in my books, either implied or outright named. I listen to a lot of music when I write, too. If I wasn’t a writer – and had even a smidgen of talent – my next career choice would have been a musician. So it seems natural that there should be an official soundtrack to my books. And here it is, a Spotify playlist to listen to when reading “The Shadow of Black Wings” – just click the logo below:

Unfortunately, making it a Spotify playlist meant I was limited in my choice of music. If I had my way, the soundtrack to “The Shadow…” would have been made mostly of music of Yoko Kanno, Joe Hisaishi and Hajime Mizoguchi. As such, there is less music that I wanted available for the second part of the book. I was even more surprised to see that Spotify doesn’t have two of my favourite soundtracks, Excalibur and Conan the Barbarian (the original one), and very few Kurosawa soundtracks. But needs must, I suppose. I might one day prepare the alternative list if I find a way to post the songs without breaking all sorts of rules.

There are some spoilers here, so the rest is under the cut.

Continue reading ““The Shadow of Black Wings” OST”

Delia Ann Derbyshire – A Tribute


Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Eleven years and a month ago, Delia Ann Derbyshire died at the age of 64

Delia Ann Derbyshire started out as a working class girl in bombed-out Coventry, soon to grow into a brilliant mathematician in Cambridge – where only one in ten students were female at the time. But it was her decision to specialise in modern music in 1959 which changed her life – and that of millions of people throughout the world up to this day.

Continue reading “Delia Ann Derbyshire – A Tribute”

J-Pop economies of scale


Yasushi Akimoto has learned a lot since his days at Onyanko Club. Like Tsunku, he has created an ever-expanding empire of short-skirted schoolgirls, but the scale of his enterprise is incomparably more vast than anything Hello Project could ever dream of achieving.
AKB48 started out with mere 48 members – by itself a significant number. Now there are clones in Nagoya – SKE48, Osaka – NMB48, Fukuoka – HKT48, an adult clone SDN48, a ‘competition’ clone Nogizaka46.
It has now expanded successfully overseas, something Tsunku failed notably at: there is now JKT48 in Jakarta and TPE48 in Taipei, and a first AKB48 cafe opened in Singapore.
Altogether there are now hundreds of teenage Asian girls prancing around in school uniforms miming catchy tunes on stages all over the Far East. MoMusu may be failing- its latest single failed to top the charts, reaching a mere 2nd place – but the J-pop mega-girlsband dream lives on.