Sunday, 26 June 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- The beauty of Kim Gehrig

Gomez has a new album out.

Who is Gomez you say? Why, Gomez is a British indie rock band from Southport who, in 1998, beat bands like Massive Attack, The Verve and Pulp to win the prestigious Mercury Music Award. The music world was dumbfounded at how a rag-tag bunch of white kids who try and ape the sound of African American blues music beat out better established acts, but they did do, and no one can take that away from them.

The band is not as popular as it once was but continues to release music. Their latest LP is titled Whatever's on your Mind and continues in the tradition that once made them almost famous. Having never been a fan of the band, I couldn't care too much about this new album, but it did get me thinking how much I adored the song and music video for their track See the World, which featured on 2006's How we Operate.

See the World was directed by Kim Gehrig and produced by Noreen Khan. Gehrig's shoot for the video took her around the world, nicely complimenting the song's conceit of broadening one's horizons and experiencing new things. It's a touching vignette, demonstrating how effective the medium of music videos can be when smart young directors are at the helm.

Kim Gehrig is now an award-winning promos director who seems to show a special wisdom and flair sorely lacking in contemporary music video directing. Her witty 2008 video for Wiley's Cash in my Pocket perfectly captured the greed and corporate chicanery fuelling the recession, which is still dragging on after 3 years.

I'm a big fan of Kim Gehrig's work and think she'll one day make cracking feature films if she so chooses to. She's technically savvy and totally inspiring. In her own words: "Great images and storytelling in all forms sparks ideas and gets me thinking."

You said it sister.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Miserable Ugly Rude Ginger Bitch

Nicola Roberts is many things to many people. For some she's a fiery haired porcelain skinned chick from Lincolnshire. To others she is the successful entrepreneur behind the Dainty Doll Company that develops makeup for women with pale skin and vehemently advocates a total ban on sunbeds and minors. For the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom Nicola Roberts is simply one fifth of the world's most successful reality television girl group, Girls Aloud.

Nicola Roberts isn't the most well known member of Girls Aloud. She was often labelled "the ugly one" or "the miserable one" or "the rude ginger bitch" during her time in the group. Radio 1's Chris Moyles, who is no oil painting himself, nastily referred to Ms. Roberts as a "sour faced cow".

While fellow Girls Aloud members like Nadine Coyle, and more infamously Cheryl Cole, have ascended the celebrity runway only to crash and burn (even Kimberly Walsh was sacked from her presenting stint on Xtra Factor), Nicola Roberts has stayed well below the gossip radar, diligently working on her solo material.

This month sees the release of Nicola's first single Beat of my Drum. Her debut album Cinderella's Eyes will hit stores sometime in October 2011 (I wonder what compelled her record label to release it so close to Christmas?) and will reveal the fruits of an LP that took Nicola and staff a year to record.

The reason why I'm talking about Nicola Roberts has less to do with respect and more to do with admiration for how she's gone about structuring her new solo career with aplomb. Cinderella's Eyes features some of the most hippest music producers money can buy. They include Dimitri Tikovoi (Goldfrapp, The Horrors), Diplo (M.I.A), Metronomy (Roots Manuva), as well as Canadian electro-pop mixers Dragonette. The girl has done her homework and if any former member of Girls Aloud has the capability of cracking America, and maybe some equally lucrative territories, then your money should be on Nicola Roberts. (I can imagine Americans reading this post will scream out "over my dead body!")

The snooty UK music press has already bowed to Nicola Roberts genius, with The Guardian and NME falling over backwards to interview the singer about collaborating with so many of the world's most sought after music producing talents; desperately trying to figure out what they all saw in her that the rest of us couldn't.

So how has this girl who was relegated to ginger wallpaper in a manufactured pop band reinvented herself as a credible artist the music press now confidently assumes will generate big success? It has everything to do with placement. Nicola Roberts may be a competent singer the way that most of us are competent at cartwheels but she is by no means an extraordinary talent. What strikes me is that she is an ambitious young woman who took note of credible music zeitgeist trends and put in place a plan of action to create an album that is, in her words, "different to anything else around".

Dimitri Tikovoi (aka: Dimitri From Paris) and Diplo may be too cool for school music producers who'd scoff at the idea of working with manufactured pop figures, but even they have now been caught sneaking into the schoolyard to surreptitiously smooch a blandly ordinary pop princesses like Nicola Roberts. The truth is that both of these superproducers have slyly sold out on previous occasions by producing pop tracks for other generic mainstream performers. Dimitri has produced a few songs for British pop starlet Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and Diplo shamelessly agreed to hand Beyonce use of his Major Lazar track Pon de Floor which she then turned into an absolute pig's ear with Run the World (Girls).

 Pon De Floor by Major Lazer
Run The World (Girls) by Beyoncé

One can argue that music producers have to eat too and limiting yourself for credibility's sake is not always the most prudent business decision. Therefore, by selling out, these guys are in fact merely communicating the versatility of their talents―talents that straddle both music experimentation and pop perfection with ease.

It must be pointed out that Nicola Roberts is by no means a certifiable pop star. Sure she was part of a successful group that was well liked by even the most hipster folk but she was hardly the most sellable component of Girls Aloud. There seems to be something noteworthy to Nicola Roberts' collaboration with such an assortment of credible music production talent and that must be to do with her attitude towards both music and the industry. In Rebecca Nicholson's interview with Ms. Roberts in The Guardian, the latter was very clear about how much she felt out of place in Girls Aloud and being thought of as ugly; knowing full well the band's management was less than happy with the public's decision to vote her into the group. Roberts claims that when Girls Aloud parted ways with their first manager, Louis Walsh, the girls looked after themselves, forcing them to learn as much as possible about the vicissitudes of a post-Napster music industry. The knowledge she acquired meant that she knew how best to negotiate with producers to work on Cinderella's Eyes, effectively executive producing her own record.

There is a good deal of goodwill for Nicole Roberts. If her attestations are true then she is a remarkable music fan who rampantly consumes good music and wants to release a record that will not necessarily rely on her celebrity status to sell, which let's face it hasn't worked particularly well for the rest of her old colleagues. Instead she's made an album that looks to promote itself on the basis of quality, which is a risky move in today's music market. The fact is that other than hardcore music aficionados, the consumers that purchase records have no idea who either Diplo or Dimitri Tikovoi are (with Metronomy and Dragonette drawing even bigger blanks). If the goal was to incorporate music producers with star power then Nicola Roberts was better off hiring or Pharrell Williams to put together her record. That's not something she wanted to do. The singer's aim is to create an album that will be remembered for having a semblance of integrity. It can be done. You just have to look at Siobhán Donaghy's post Sugabages career to see how she changed tract and went from singing insignificant pop tunes to writing solo material about personal Catholic guilt and corrosive fame.

Don't expect anything as deep from Nicola Roberts (she's already said her album is a "fun record... everyone can sing and dance along to"). It looks like this self-proclaimed "ugly rude ginger bitch" has something to prove, but there is a strong chance that her ambitions may outreach her grasp. Sometimes it doesn't always pay to be too clever, but other times it can pay off in ways you had never imagined.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

-Music Videos on My Mind- Dr. Don Don’s King of the Stars

Oh, how the simplicity of a cool idea can work wonders, as is evinced by Prad Senanayake's video for Dr. Don Don's King of the Stars.

The video depicts four alien teenagers roaming the suburbs of Melbourne Australia, looking for suitable skate locations to waste time in. The skaters playing aliens are professional skateboarders and close friends, which gives the video a great sense of surreal naturalism.

Australian hip-hop is hardly world renowned, but producer Chasm (brains behind Dr. Dom Dom) has constructed a happy-clappy dance track that perfectly complements these hot summer nights. Some in Australia have compared Don Don to fellow Aussie scratchmasters The Avalanches, but in my opinion the latter were more adventurous in their sampling and arrangements than what Don is.

Still, it's a nice summer tune made all the better with a cracking video to boot.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


Kate Bush doesn't release too many albums anymore. The singer has released eight albums over a 33 year career, releasing only two LPs in the last few decades. Last month saw the release of Bush's first album in 8 years titled Director's Cut, but my question is can this LP be thought of as a new album when none of the songs it features are new? The songs on Director's Cut are not even covers of songs by other artists; they are simply covers of old songs by Kate Bush. Director's Cut consists of 11 reworked or entirely rerecorded songs from Bush's The Sensual World and The Red Shoes albums. Bush's legendary song The Sensual World has been re-titled Flower of the Mountain; now sang by a less youthful Kate Bush―her voice echoing a sense of history and experience, seemingly less pleasurably sensuous than the earlier version, arguably more sombre.

Kate Bush can do anything she likes now; there is no need for her to justify any of her creative decisions. But what strikes those familiar with her work is that Director's Cut is hugely reflective of the times we're living in, though perhaps more self-knowing of this actuality than what other 'creative' mediums like cinema are. The truth is that Kate Bush's Director's Cut is an artistic reboot of her old songs.

Reboots are strange things. They're neither sequels nor remakes, they're new products based on familiar properties that masquerade as fresh material. It's hard to think of many reboots in music but the film world is riddled with them and the situation is about to become more pronounced.

Last weekend's X-Men: The First Class can be argued to be a reboot of the superhero franchise from which it stems. The academics out there may argue that First Class is not a reboot but a prequel because it's an origins story. Others will argue that First Class is actually a spinoff that takes the story in a new direction with familiar undertones. I will argue that First Class is nothing more than a reboot of a story that has been essentially told already. After all, the film opens with the same Nazi Holocaust sequence that opened the first X-Men movie 11 years ago. The argument here isn't whether the film is any good but rather more to do with the studio behind First Class rebooting the franchise to keep the brand going and capitalise on the public appetite for a familiar product that's a proven cash generator. First Class is a movie that exists to fill in the blanks; its function is to flesh out a backstory that never needed fleshing out. It also reboots a franchise that didn't need rebooting because the X-Men movies of past are relatively recent; too recent to be thought of as old films. The decision to reboot the franchise seems a prudent business judgment more than anything else because now we'll likely see further First Class sequels covering the periods between this film and Bryan Singer's first X-Men flick. The $56 million X-Men: First Class accumulated in America over the weekend, benefitted with a $64 million overseas take (£5.44 million here in the UK), suggests further parts will likely follow.

April saw the release of Scream 4 which was a movie that tried to have its cake and eat it. It was a sequel to a horror movie trilogy that saw its last instalment released over 11 years ago. The film was a legitimate sequel in that it brought about all the surviving protagonists from earlier movies but freshened up proceedings by introducing a slew of younger characters to keep the franchise juicy. Due to the fact that Scream 4 offered little in the way that was fresh and innovative (unlike the original Scream 15 years ago), the film was an attempt to reboot the franchise, taking the framework of a story already known to audiences and reinvigorating it with a crop of new characters that will hopefully make the franchise relevant enough to milk a couple of more sequels out of. Judging by the movie's mediocre performance at the box-office the chance for Scream 5 getting the greenlight looks poor.

he problem with reboots for people like me is that I feel like I've already seen what they have to offer and don't fancy having to sit through something that can't really proffer anything new. There are reboots that make sense like 2008's The Incredible Hulk that was a reboot of Ang Lee's 2003 dull as dishwater Hulk movie, though I will argue even that movie was less to do with correcting creative faults and more to do with keeping a superhero brand afloat so that it continues to be profitable. (The irony is that both of these Hulk adaptations failed to monetarily deliver.)

Some may argue that Casino Royale was an inspired reboot of the James Bond franchise and that rebooting movie brands can pay dividends as it has done with the recent crop of Christopher Nolan directed Batman movies. That's correct to a degree, but James Bond is an empty vessel that lacks a recognisable backstory. 007 is simply a coded identity that gets appropriated with an assortment of different personalities who take on the job and therefore assume the identity. The fact that every 007 is called James Bond is irrelevant as that is merely the moniker the spy adopts to carry out his job. That is very different from say Peter Parker or Clark Kent who have a more defined history. Any reboot of Spiderman or Superman will have to repeat the same backstory, therefore more or less replicate the same beats we've seen countless times already.

There is a more worrying aspect about the current trend of rebooting movie properties and that is to do with the relatively short gaps between the original film and the reboot. Already on the way are reboots to Superman, Spiderman, Tomb Raider and The Fantastic Four. With the exception of Tomb Raider, all of these movie properties saw their last instalments released less than 5 years ago (the last Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life was a historical 8 years ago).

It seems to me that Hollywood believes it cannot afford delaying a movie reboot because that risks it fading from the collective consciousness and in turn may prove to be a less economically viable movie proposition. Even Warner Bros. has gone on record to declare that next year's The Dark Knight Rises may mark the closure of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy but the studio will immediately reboot the franchise with a new cast and director. No doubt they will do the same thing every decade meaning that the same old stories and characters will be rehashed generation after generation. This means that while you saw Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, and now your kids are rocking to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight; your grandkids are almost guaranteed to be enraptured by the same bat themed superhero doing very similar things in a rebooted movie.

As long as there's a public appetite for accepting rebooted movies the Hollywood machine will be more than happy to keep on rebooting. It makes their job easy as they already control the story rights and have to take fewer risks. Therefore, there is no pressing need to commission original stories that carry an increased risk of being unfamiliar. Some reboots can be decent like Star Trek and The Incredible Hulk, but that doesn't mean that I don't want to see fresh characters, ideas and plots in summer tentpole movies. The risk right now is that everything in mainstream cinema is becoming uncomfortably familiar. This risks audiences having to experience a limited creative pool of stories and stock characters. Studios want as much certainty as possible in terms of recognisable constituent parts of a movie and that is why reboots fit the bill as they revitalise a brand without fundamentally altering it. The situation is getting so desperate that it will not surprise me if either the Harry Potter or Twilight franchises are lined up for reboots within the next 10 years.