Tag Archives: Music

New Music Monday

I realised today that I don’t often post about music on my blog which is really weird, considering that I listen to music pretty much every day and that me and my husband plan most holidays around gigs both here and abroad. So I figured I would do well to start sharing some of my favourite music.

Starting off with an artist I literally discovered 2 days ago, one of those cool things that happen on twitter , where you see something by chance, follow the trail and discover something new.

Just one of (there are many) favourite artists Olafur Arnalds replying to someone (the tweet quote doesn’t really work that well), I thought Aerocity had an intriguing name (ok I was also curious about this person who doesn’t own a record player) and followed his bio discovering his bandcamp page where I grabbed a free track download of Stranger (see below) which I loved so much I  then bought the Escapism EP as well.

I will say, his style reminds me of Olafur Arnalds stuff a fair bit, maybe that’s why I like it. Self described as neo-classical glitch, I can’t say fairer than that, lots of strings too… I’m a sucker for violins and stuff that like that. I’ve listened to it all evening, which seemed to go perfectly with the sun setting. I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic like that too.

let me know what you think of it in the comments?

Record Store Day in Oxford (and music shopping in Oxford)

Tomorrow (April 22nd) is the tenth anniversary of Record Store Day, I think I first heard about in 2012 or 2013 and if you’ve never heard of it, quite simply put it’s a day designed to encourage people to shop at independent music shops. They do this by getting hundreds of artists on board to release special and limited edition records (but also sometimes CDs and tapes make it) that can only be bought in Independent record shops or in their own words

A Record Store Day participating store is defined as a physical retailer whose product line consists of at least 50% music whose company is not publicly owned. In other words, we’re dealing with real, live, physical, indie record stores – not online retailers or large corporations.

So if you live in Oxford there’s a couple of choices in the form of Truck store and Blackwell’s Music. There is also Rapture (sister store to Truck) but that’s out in Witney, so if you’re visiting Oxford city centre for the day, these are your options and I’ll give you the run down having visited both in 2015 specifically for RSD (In 2016 I was in Newcastle for the weekend, and yes I checked out a few stores there and came back with a few extra records for my collection), although I’ve shopped in both quite a few times over the past couple of years (when i’m not buying directly from artists or bandcamp).

Truck Store, 101 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1HU

Probably the more well known for RSD, and yes the same Truck who run Truck Festival – the queues here start early, we arrived around half 7 one morning, the shop opening at 8am – we were kept warm with their in house coffee shop taking orders down the line (it was a really cold April morning) and got in the store around 10am. I’m not really familiar with the many possible formats for running a record store day event, but Truck allow a handful of people in the store at a time to browse. This means if a group of people decide to browse for half an hour, tough you’re stuck outside, as far as I remember there wasn’t a particularly logical order to the RSD stock, so it meant literally looking through everything they had for RSD to see if they had what we wanted (yes for 1, no for 2 others). My previous experiences back in Manchester with Piccadilly Records were vastly different (people start queuing the evening before for a start, in fact as I write this people have already been queuing for several hours), they provide people in the queue with a photocopied list of what they have in stock, when items sell out it’s shouted down the queue, so if you’re queuing for that one illusive item and it’s gone, you don’t have to waste another few hours in line only to be disappointed. Another thing I like is that they also hold all the RSD stock behind the counter, so you have to go in and ask to buy/look at it – this leaves the rest of the store free for customers browsing for non-RSD items (and yes there were plenty) and also helps the queue go faster.

Queues outside Truck store 2015

Blackwell’s Music Shop: 51 Broad St, Oxford OX1 3BQ

Your second option in Oxford, Blackwell’s music :  I’ve not been here first thing on RSD, but it doesn’t strike me as somewhere that would generate large queues, and it doesn’t seem to get any press. So last year my husband sauntered down to Blackwell’s at lunchtime and picked up what he wanted, no queuing or fuss. The year before after queuing at Truck, then going to warm up and have breakfast at Tick Tock, we decided to swing by Broad street and found that the sold out items from Truck were here in stock. Obviously they don’t stock a huge range, but they do a fairly wide range of genres and we’ve picked up AIR and Jesus and Mary Chain here along with some RSD slip-mats. The staff are really friendly and it’s a proper music shop in that it sells sheet music, instruments and some pretty cheeky music inspired gifts (a Chopin board anyone?), they can also order stuff in for you.

Other places for record shopping in Oxford

The Last Book Shop Jericho, 25 Walton St, Oxford OX1 2HQ

As well as being one of my favourite book shops in Oxford, the Last Book Shop also has a second hand record section (top of the stairs that go down to the second hand book section), it’s proper crate digging, whether you find a gem or not is anyone’s guess but prices are sensible. They also sell coffee, cake, the aforementioned books – new books are £3 each or 2 for £5, large second hand section in the basement.

Gloucester Green Market, 78 The Heyes, Oxford OX1 2BU (map address)

Open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays – I think Saturday is the best day for records and music although there are stalls on a Thursday selling old records, the guy who is there on a Saturday has a really good selection spanning plenty of genres – also the whole market is a good place to shop for vintage, handmade, quirky stuff.

Fopp, 96-97 Gloucester St, Oxford OX1 2DF

OK not independent (well not anymore), the recently opened Oxford branch is conveniently located on Gloucester Green Market so you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone if you visit on a Saturday. Good range of vinyl as well as CDs, DVDs, books and good prices, as they’re now owned by HMV they can afford to be more competitive. For me Fopp fills certain gaps that Truck leaves in terms of range but is by no means comprehensive for my tastes. Side note it has a very good foreign DVD range, particularly Nordic/Scandi noir Tv series.

Charity shops

Oxford has a plethora of charity shops, really I’ve never seen anything like it in a city so small. I pretty much only visit them for books, but plenty sell records, obviously this is another crate digging expedition to find anything worth while – and the Oxfam shops here are very switched on so you won’t necessarily snag a ‘bargain’. In fact some prices are just ridiculous, one ‘vintage’ shop that shall remain nameless had a box of ‘vinyls’ (yes really) priced from £5, for items that wouldn’t sell at a record fair for 50p!

Weekend in Luxembourg

This week has been one of good omens, or coincidences, which ever you prefer. At the weekend me and the husband were discussing some of our favourite trips, and Luxembourg came back into the conversation – we travelled there for a gig just under 2 years ago to see DJ Shadow. We’ve made city breaks for gigs a bit of thing now, but especially since moving to Oxford where a lot of bigger bands don’t play, particularly non-UK based bands: they’ll often play London and Manchester and sometimes Glasgow. Travelling to London started becoming an unwelcome expense – not just the travel, which sometimes included a horribly basic hotel or having to get a late night coach home that takes 2hrs, but also drinks being incredibly overpriced (£5 for a very bland lager sir, single vodka and redbull that’ll be £9 madam etc..). So we made a concious decision to start travelling, to gigs especially to cities we’ve not visited before and bonus if the venue is just that side of smaller and more intimate.

DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist at den Atelier

DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist at den Atelier

So that is how Luxembourg came about initially, it also helped that at the time I had a fair amount of nectar points that can be exchanged for easyjet flights making the weekend even cheaper. We saw DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist in den Atelier, a really cool intimate venue where you could pretty much see the stage from anywhere, it felt like the crowd was probably only 500 people, but according to their website they can accommodate up to 1200, but it felt like seeing them in a small club.

So the day after we’d been talking about how nice Luxembourg was, another favourite band Interpol* announced a European tour, with UK dates in Manchester and London. So we checked out where else they were playing and narrowed it down to Copenhagen and Luxembourg (both weekend dates). After a quick search it was clear that Luxembourg was going to be the cheapest option by far, so to cut this rambling short: exactly 2 years to the day we saw Interpol play in Amsterdam, we booked tickets to see them in Luxembourg. Also the same day a blog post about Luxembourg came up on my feed, so it felt like all the signs were there.

So two years later, I’m going to tell you about my favourite things in Luxembourg, as it seems I never bothered to blog at the time!

The first thing we did was pick up at Luxembourg Card similar to city cards, its actually valid for the whole country, getting you into many attractions and exhibits for free and to be honest is actually a lot cheaper than most other city cards. We picked up a 2 day card and definitely got some good use out of it just with Luxembourg city. It also includes public transport in the price making it super easy to get around and we actually managed to make it to at least 5 attractions over the 48 hours as I recall (would’ve been 6 but the Bock du Casemates is closed in winter).

mirrors with the worrds Rectum Newt Racoon in a large gallery space with a woman in front taking a self portait with wooden crates in the background

Rectum Newt Racoon – Self portrait in front of sculptures by David Altmejd

These included the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (MUDAM) a contemporary art museum where the building itself is as impressive as the art it holds (€7) and the next door fortress Museum Dräi Eechelen (€5), Casino Luxembourg (which is now free, but was I think the standard €5) which was full of typography and graphic design. Not to mention the historical Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg (€5), Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art (€7) and Villa Vauban – Luxembourg City Art Museum (€5) ~ it’s worth noting that some of these venues we probably wouldn’t have bothered going to without the card, and I’m glad we did because they were in stunning buildings with loads of history. It was good to see art and artefacts that were outside of our usual tastes, and of course all these venues meant seeing parts of the city that we might otherwise have ignored due to the comfort of staying within a certain walking radius. If you have the means and will to go further afield there are breweries and swimming pools and other stuff included in your Luxembourg card that is valid up to 3 days, worth noting the days don’t have to be consecutive either – so if you want to spend a day doing museums, a day travelling or doing nothing, then another day doing something then that’s ok – you just fill out the days you actually use the card.

Luxembourg is also home to a what I was going to simply say, a delightful park to walk along that follows the flow of the river, particularly from where we were based close to the Rue Dr Charles Marx, it was a nice walk into the centre via the infamous Adolphe bridge  but as the Luxembourg website says so much more eloquently “Laid out along more romantic lines, the Pétrusse Parks combine steep slopes, strange rock formations and the ruins of fortifications and bastions to form a harmonious unit”

the blue painted metal Adolphe Bridge, viewed from a distance surrounded by green vegetation and trees

Adolphe Bridge, Luxembourg City

Other things to do include the Notre Dame cathedral, maybe not as impressive as it’s Paris counterpart but still a beautiful church, very close to the gold lady war memorial. In the same area is the Place Guillaume II which has a few statues and the surrounding streets are very picturesque.

So after all this we’re very excited to return, particularly as it will be high summer, rather than winter, so we’d  love to hear any more tips of what to do in the comments!

*not just a favourite band, but a band touring their first album, of which several songs were ‘our songs’ early on in our relationship so actually hold a really special place in our hearts

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Airwaves 16 – Days 1-2

Because I really haven’t had the time or energy to blog daily  🙂

Day 1 – Wednesday

A first for us this year was arriving the first day of the festival rather than a day or two before. So it was fairly late Wednesday when we got our wristbands and as a result we didn’t see very many bands, in fact we sort of saw one off venue band – VAR and despite how much I love them, the venue (bar 11) was awful, unless you were 6 foot plus you weren’t going to see anything, and for me there’s nothing more annoying that someone (or 3) shoving past you to get closer, who then puts ear plugs in – seriously go home.

Snorri Helgason & Mr Silla

So we chilled out for a bit then headed to see Snorri Helgason at NASA, or as the other half calls him (and his band) the Snorri Helgason Good Time Band. Really upbeat and with Mr Silla on co-vocals for several songs we loved it. So it turns out that half the band are also in Tilbury (I did not know this until now) who were on just afterwards – strange band, half look like they belong in a 70s metal band and the lead singer with his snap back like he should be in a rap group – but neither of these apply – really amazing uplifting vocals and streaming guitars. But we were totally knackered so left part way through.

Day 2 – Thursday

We started the day really lazily, taking a walk around the harbour and grabbing brunch at Fredrikson Ale House – we highly recommend this place, the portions were huge (think 8 pieces of bacon!) and kept us going until evening. We then headed to Harpa as we’d won tickets to an exclusive session with Mugison, courtesy of Nordic Playlist. With only 30 audience members and a backdrop of Reykjavik through Harpa’s amazing windows it was so cool – we heard a few well known tracks and some new ones from the album released this week, we must remember to get a copy before we leave.

We then headed to Bryggan Brugghus to see Mr Silla perform off venue as a solo artist, although she was accompanied by her husband on stage. Again, mind blowing vocals, different arrangements of song I know and love. She also tipped us off to another band she was performing with today – Throws, a UK band with one guy from Sheffield and the other who lives in Reykjavik.

So for our evening entertainment we started at the Reykjavik art museum for JFDR, aka Jofridur from Pascal Pinon, Samaris and Gangly. This was her solo stuff and it was a haunting and melodic as Samaris. We then quickly headed off to Hurra for The IllIs, a Slovakian band. I would like to peg them as metal, but they had moments of dreamy pop melodies that were then interrupted with the crashing guitars – they were so energetic and fun. And on their final song one of the guitarists handed his guitar to the guy next to me in the audience so he could rock out, this was hilarious as the guy like me clearly did not know what to do with it! If you ever get the chance to see these guys then do – they really know how to rock a party!

The Ills @ Hurra

We then arrived at Gamla Bio whilst Hannah Lou Clark from the UK was playing, highly popular it would seem, as afterwards the venue practically empty. So we waited for Throws – worth noting Gamla Bio has the BEST free wifi I’ve ever experienced that doesn’t require signing up for something/tedious registration process.

Throws absolutely killed it. They started with a male voice choir of at least 15 members who were all very impressive, then slimmed down to the two of them plus two drummers, who were so energetic I felt sweaty just looking at them, then Mr Silla popped in for a track or two in the middle before finishing back with the choir who some of which were drinking beer at this point! Fab evening, danced loads, smiled even more, went back to our apartment exhausted.

 

Culturenator’s guide to Airwaves

Well why not? Everyone is doing it these days, I feel like the last 2 weeks have been a constant stream of recommendations for bands to see, bars to visit, ad infinitum. This will be our 4th Airwaves (we’ve already decided next year is go), and by no-means do we feel like experts but still I feel like sharing some of our favourite places, bands and tips for making the most of your 5 days of non-stop aural excellence the city of Reykjavik provides.

On venue / off venue – what is it?

Quite simply put on venue is the official Iceland Airwaves schedule, it what you need your wristband to get into. The off-venue program is the plethora of ‘unofficial’ pop up performances that happen in almost anywhere imaginable from hostels, bars, banks, clothing shops to barber shops. These are free and open to anyone and mostly occur during the day. In places such as Lucky Records the off-venue program starts on the Monday, as Airwaves officially starts on the Wednesday.

The essentials

So you can do this the old fashioned way with the paper version of the planner or you can get with the kids, download the official airwaves app and stay plugged into social media. Key people to follow are the airwaves official accounts and the Reykjavik Grapevine – these two will keep you in the loop with schedule  changes (the app will send you 15 minute reminders for any show you mark as wanting to see, as well as push notifications of any cancellations, should they arise) and the latest news related to the festival. The grapevine also publishes a special Airwaves edition (physical newspaper) that is free – pick up from various locations downtown.

Rythmatik @ Iceland Airwaves 06.11.15

Planning

Basically our advice is don’t get too hung up on schedules and planning, as anything could happen – you could stumble upon a band you’ve never heard before then precede to chase after their 10 off venue shows, or a show could be running late because the drummer forgot his kit (it has happened before). You’d have to be one lucky person to not have a single schedule clash for any artist you want to see, and the best made plans can be blown away. But if there’s someone you really want to see, our advice is to get there at least one band before – turning up 15 minutes before they’re due to go onstage may mean you are right at the back with a limited view, that’s if the venue isn’t too full and you can’t get in at all. Also getting there for a band before, that you’ve not heard of is a good way to seek out new music. The off-venue shows can be a different beast, with people so desperate to be down the front for a free, tiny venue show, that even the band struggle to get on to the stage to perform (yup, saw this at one of the hostels on the main street).

The weather

As any Icelander will tell you, the weather is incredibly changeable and can turn on click of your fingers. Wear layers, so that when you get inside you can strip off to cool down – as it will inevitably get really warm inside. Thankfully venues in Iceland are not so strict (as the UK at least) and most don’t require a pat down/bag search which means entry is swift and you don’t have to worry about your multiple layers and 20+ pockets!

The music

There are many ways to find the new bands, here’s a playlist of a few of my favourites / who i’m hoping to see this year – enjoy!

 

Aurora & Xamvolo, Oxford o2 Academy

Tuesday night for me was almost a year in the making. You see, I’d somehow missed seeing Aurora play at Iceland Airwaves last year, I don’t recall whether it was a schedule clash or pure exhaustion, but either way I missed her show and regretted it. Then to rub salt into an already raw wound, I found out she was supporting Of Monsters and Men who I was seeing in later that same month, but not the date I had tickets to. So unsurprisingly when news of a full UK tour came around and by some stroke of luck an Oxford date was announced, I was on it like the proverbial car bonnet and snapped up a ticket. I’d also like to state for the record that my love for Aurora’s music has everything to do with the Running with the wolves EP and nothing to do with that John Lewis advert (I also wasn’t a fan of the song when Oasis were one of my favourite bands).

So on with the support act -21 year old Xamvolo came on dressed in black, cutting a sleek silhouette in amongst the stage smoke and really blew away those cobwebs between my ears. having checked out the video below on youtube I was expecting good things. I was perhaps not expecting a an upbeat jazzy set that had the crowd dare I say, dancing? He has such a powerful voice and stage presence, as well as having a cheeky sense of humour, the crowd really started to warm up.. in his words ‘ I play this jazzy upbeat stuff, then I play … other stuff and played Down’ (also from the Chirality EP like Runner’s High). You can check out more of this stuff on soundcloud I think he will be one to watch in future.

In the swift break between Xamvolo and Aurora I grabbed a beer from the bar – the O2 Academy sells one of the Wychwood ales in an orange bottle – either a ruby or halloween ale, it was dark, malty and a nice respite from the 3 or 4 types of lager they seem to overly promote – hidden in the fridge out of view, would be nice if they promoted it a bit more, or even had a drinks list visible, so I’m just putting it out there!

Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes performing at the Oxford O2 Academy

Aurora @ O2 Oxford Academy 2

On to Aurora, when she enters the stage looking several years younger than her 20 summers the crowd go pretty wild. There’s a good mix of people here- from young kids with parents, to people old enough to be my parents. Stood in front of a backdrop of a woodland scene she immediately starts with Black Water Lilies her voice mesmerising the crowd as she waves her arms around reminiscent of a Hindu goddess. We get treated to almost the whole of All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, as well as the whole of the Running With The Wolves EP. My 2nd favourite track from the latter, In Boxes was particularly drum heavy which I loved – Aurora later told us that any variations to the tracks were down to a new band member Noel (or possibly Noah sorry if I’ve gotten that name wrong.. I couldn’t hear that well) who was ‘very creative’ and bringing new things to the music.

Aurora

Aurora

After several upbeat songs, the stage cleared leaving just Aurora and the guitarist (who may or may not be called Olaf), and sometimes co-writer to perform a new song Animal Soul, where Aurora declared she thought there were several of us audience members with animal souls. It is these sort of whimsical comments that endear her to the crowd instantly, that we all feel like we’re living in her fantastical world with her, just for tonight. After another acoustic track by way of Murder Song, where we’re reminded how dark her world can go we remain fairly mellow with Remain and Runaway (where I muse that I still can’t believe she wrote this when she was 12!). But soon enough the energy is fired back up with I Went Too Far and Running With The Wolves – where the intense, more danceable drum beat was back, reminding me of the remix that’s included on the deluxe album version. And just I was thinking, well the show can’t be over yet, she hasn’t sung Conqueror, Aurora announces that this will be their last song, as the inevitable drum beat starts the crowd cheers and we all start dancing again, then I realise I need to leave and get the bus, to beat the rush. I get on the bus happy and exhausted put my headphones in and relive the last hour and a half, blissfully unaware that there was one more song…

 

full photo set here.

Of Monsters and Men – Beneath The Skin

I know this album has been out going on for 9 months by now (in fact my procrastination skills are so on form, I just found an 8 month old draft… oops), but seeing as I’m not the sort of person who gets advance review copies, there was no way of pushing something out around the time of release. I also believe that these things take time to sink in and be fully absorbed – I can tell you that Crystals, which started out as a firm favourite in the beginning (released almost a year ago this week!), went to being at the bottom of the pile, then back up into my top 3 (maybe). Initially I loved it because it was new,  in terms of UK releases, the newest single in 3 years, then once the entire album was released I preferred other songs as they were newer, but then in late 2015, possibly after seeing it performed live I fell in love with in all over again. The huge swelling drum beats that start the song before Nanna’s vocals win me over every time. It was also used for a Disney film about dinosaurs which I have not seen.

Of Monsters and Men

Black Water was another instant favourite, I used to sing this in my head whilst I was swimming in the summer and found it was good for focusing, except where counting how many laps I was doing was concerned! Also the lyrics felt like they could have been written about the characters in the book series I reading within the supernatural genre which was an unusual twist. Wolves Without Teeth might just be my number one track though, again the drum beat starts up and it could be the rhythm of the beast running – now I’m in training for a 10km race later this year, this track is on my essential playlist as the beat is spot on for me. However Slow Life is a track that took until this year to really gain a place in my heart, I think maybe because it feels to me like a real winter tune, and here in Oxford at least, winter didn’t really kick in until February. The whole feel to the album is a generally more larger, all encompassing sound, the music press would probably say it’s a more ‘grown-up sound’ but that would also imply that the previous album was immature sounding? they haven’t lost their playfulness which is part of why I love them. There’s still plenty of creatures as metaphors à la Dirty Paws.

 

As I mentioned above, I travelled to see OMAM in concert back in November, as now we live in Oxford, a lot of bands don’t play locally, particularly non UK bands (where as in Manchester, most bands if playing outside London will play there as well). We live equilateral travel time from both Bristol and Birmingham so chose Bristol as my husband has never been, and also it was a Friday night rather than midweek which didn’t require time off work which is always a plus.

The gig itself was amazing, even if the venue was not. The band played their socks off, the sound was possibly better than on CD, I don’t know why I’m always amazed by how good Icelandic acts sound live, maybe I’ve seen too many poor bands or bands in bad venues? Or maybe they’re all just so good at what they do… Anyway, the only downside, was missing part of the gig – how did this happen you ask? well the doors opened at 6:30pm, usually gigs open the doors at 7 or 7:30pm with the main band being on stage at 9pm – and either 1 or 2 support acts on, curfew is usually 11pm unless it’s a Sunday – I say usually because me and my husband have collectively being going to gigs in various cities since the 1980’s and this is the only time we’ve come across a gig for all ages that the curfew was 9:30pm, I shit you not! So after finding our hotel, dropping our bags, rushing to find somewhere to eat quickly, then heading to the venue, stupidly thinking we might catch the end of the support act, we walked in part way through King and Lionheart (full set list here) Because as it turns out that in order to maximize profits, the Bristol O2 academy does a club night every Friday opening at 10:30pm – this is not something that is communicated to attendees despite it being highly unusual for a gig venue as speaking to other gig goers who’d also travelled from various cities in the UK they were all equally surprised. The venue was also overcrowded and a potential fire hazard IMO, with staircases that led to fire exits jam packed and impassable, and did I mention some parts of the room you can’t even see the stage?!… but I digress. Of Monsters and Men and their touring band played so amazingly, my favourite part was when Nanna took the drumsticks and started pounding what I think was a Timpani drum with a look of pure mischievousness on her face, before rushing back to get her guitar strapped back on to finish the song! which may or may not have been Crystals… I really hope I get the opportunity to see them play again with this album, but at the moment it seems to be festivals only and no mention of an Airwaves appearance yet (I was praying for last year, as they had two empty tour dates during Airwaves, but I guess everyone needs a break!