FEATURE: Beat the Monday Blues: Songs to Energise the New Working Week

FEATURE:

 

 

Beat the Monday Blues

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ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash

Songs to Energise the New Working Week

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EVERY Monday morning is a slog…

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and it can be hard getting inspired to face work and the rigours of the week! Maybe it is the thought of the weekend or a daily ritual that gets you through that tough Monday – we all have our ways of coping and enduring. I do think music can create positive vibes and give the boost needed to get through the cruelty of Monday. I have inspired a short playlist of songs to give that lift of energy, keep the sunshine hot and ensure you have enough energy to make it through Tuesday. Have a listen to these tunes; take a little from each of them and, hopefully, they will give you the ammunition to make Monday…

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A good day.

FEATURE: What Attitude Problem?! Are Modern Artists Fighting Against the Bland?

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What Attitude Problem?!

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IN THIS PHOTO: IDLES/PHOTO CREDIT: Pooneh Ghana for DIY

Are Modern Artists Fighting Against the Bland?

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I wonder whether there is personality and spark…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

in the modern music scene. Following the death of Aretha Franklin and what she gave to music; I asked whether there are modern artists and will we ever see someone who has that true gift to elevate about the average and stand the test of time. After writing that, I got to thinking about modern music and the characters that stand out. I chose IDLES as the cover stars because, right now, they are promoting their album, Joy as an Act of Resistance. It is their second effort and will be released on 31st of this month and a lot of attention has been swirling around the Bristol band. Their music is mixing the attitude and physicality of Punk but the subject matter is much deeper and more profound. The band are striking against toxic masculinity and values that have actually been passed through society for decades. There was a time – and it still happens now – where a certain way of living and expressing was seen as ‘manly’ and normal. It involves bottling things and being tough; being hard, lary and keeping emotions down. IDLES want to speak out against that and show how stupid that way of life is. They manage to perform music that has spit and plenty of grunt without subscribing to that notion a band needs to be all about sex, violence and promoting bad messages. They have vulnerability and sensitivity but mix that with youthful, everyday and relatable subjects.

Not only is their music and lyrics packed with depth, humour and intelligence but the band seem like the genuine deal. It has been many years since Punk died and there are very few modern bands that match the energy and inspiration of the past masters. Whilst few of the Punk bands of the 1970s talked about anything emotive or vulnerable; their music and electric spirit captured a mood and there was that rebellion – the ability to ignore crowds and strike a chord. A lot of modern bands are producing music that fits into the mainstream and does not really stand out. Aside from bands like IDLES and Goat Girl; Shame and Wolf Alice; I wonder how many groups have genuine personality, depth and resonance. It has been years since artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson ignited the scene and compelled people with their personality and incredible music. There was something at once edgy and revealing that stood them out and means, this many years down the line, we think of them and keep them in the mind. Modern Pop and R&B has some inspiring artists but I am rarely compelled by what I hear on the radio and T.V. Those genuine personalities and characters are fewer than they used to be and I wonder whether we are too spoiled and less concerned with vigour and true depth – too distracted and involved in technology to look up.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT: Luigi & Iango for Harper's Bazaar

Maybe there is a definition difference between ‘edgy’ and ‘soulful’. This article, where the author recounts experiences of the 1990s compared to today seems to back my general thoughts:

Compare how people partied back then to how people party now, you'd think the '90s partying was conservative. Let's not forget American Pie of all great things, creating the word "MILF" as well. Things were peachy in retrospect; the driving force was teenage angst and that's how great the '90s were. We could afford to have the countries main musical reflection be because of teenagers being teenagers, not because we had war or the country was in a major economic slope. Nirvana, Offspring, Pearl Jam, Sublime all appealed to the rebelling youth emotionally, and because you could smoke to them all. As baffled as I am, things were entirely great, plus I was born. America was a Triple-A economic powerhouse, eventually being led by Bill Clinton leading just the very beginning of what would dramatically change the next generation; the technological evolution”.

I would not go as far to say modern music is boring and lacks soul but it seems like there are few artists talking about things that matter today in a meaningful and interesting manner. There are artists fighting against the Government and evil in the world but most artists tend to speak from the heart and write in many familiar and safe ways.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Perhaps we will never see true icons and decades-enduring artists emerge but I wonder whether music has lost its fun, edge and force. Alongside the promising R&B/Pop artists and new bands; how often do you listen to a song or see an artist play and are genuinely moved and stunned? I started my looking at IDLES because you can never accuse them of being boring. There is so much to their work and they have so much heart and soul to go alongside the brilliant songs and sweat. Bands, once the reliable source of rebel, fascination and drama, have become a little restrained. There is invention and great albums being released but the sense of cool and swagger seems to have gone. Maybe it is still here but seems less real and exciting as it did years ago. It is a strange time where we have all sorts of artists, sounds and options available. The industry is as varied as it has ever been but there is not much brightness and boldness among the beige and lacklustre. It goes back to my feature regarding icons and whether the market encourages artists to make a difference and speak out. I listen to a lot of music but I rarely see interviews (or listen to them) and are hooked by what is being said; listening to songs and feeling here is a hero/heroine that is saying something new and compelling. The only real idol we have – who has been performing since the 1990s – is Beyoncé, I would say, and that seems rather sad.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Pillai for L'Officiel (2011)

Like Aretha Franklin; Beyoncé is more than an artist who performs her songs and that is it: she is an activist and modern-day figure who wants to inspire generations and, as such, is fascinating to watch. I love a lot of her R&B peers and, whilst I think their music has edge and firepower; I am not overly-drawn to the person behind the songs. Do a quick Internet search – asking questions around music’s lost cool, magic ad substance – and there are articles that look at older artists and what is coming through now. I understand how hard it is being unique and saying something real and fitting into the modern scene. So many artists have to compromise and watch what they say. Mainstream artists of the past had to follow rules and watch what they say but you did get those genuine articles who whipped up a storm and caused eyebrows to raise. Can you see that happening in the modern market? Music is always interesting and meaningful but there are far fewer characters and creators putting genuine enticing and enigmatic albums; we do not have many bands that can get the eyes widened and linger long in the memory. I wonder why there are few willing to take risks and turn their noses against the rather controlled, conservative and conventional music scene.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

I think we owe it to those musical pioneers and icons to look at modern music and encourage free spirit and excitement. I am being rather harsh on modern music and I know full well there are exceptional writers and performers who are doing wonderful things. Aside from the odd band and solo artist; so little of today’s market and offering blows my mind and get my standing up, excited by what is coming from the speaker. IDLES are a small example of a band that can have fun and genuinely rally against the ordinary but deliver a potent and emotional truth. The music world has so many brilliant artists doing great things but I think a lot are holding themselves back and not exploring their full potential because they fear commercial backlash and criticism. We are becoming safer and more scared to be bold and create these fantastic and original artists – talking about politics, sex and modern life in a very fascinating and new way. Maybe it is impossible to reverse reality and modern music so we can please everyone and set the world alight. Music has changed vastly over the years and, like it or not, what we hear now is how much will sound and fare for many years to come. I can accept that but long to discover artists who break rules and the mould and stick their tongue out – where have all the pioneers, big personalities and rebels gone?! I have not lost all hope but, as I listen to older music more than what is coming out now, I yearn to see the day when we see something interesting and inspirational…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Unsplash

BACK in the music industry.

FEATURE: The Second Summer of Love: Thirty Years On: Its Controversy and Headiness – and Whether a Third Summer of Love Is Possible

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The Second Summer of Love: Thirty Years On

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IN THIS PHOTO: Spectrum in Jubilee Gardens (6th June, 1988)/PHOTO CREDIT: Time Out/Getty Images

Its Controversy and Headiness – and Whether a Third Summer of Love Is Possible

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IT seems each Summer of Love…

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IN THIS PHOTO: A crowd of hippies during the Summer of Love in 1967/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

involves a degree of excess and controversy! Not many of us were alive in the 1960s when there was that viewpoint of hippies joining together and a certain amount of 'experimentation' and free love ruling the scene. Artists like The Beatles, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), seemed to soundtrack something extraordinary and unusual – a unity and community that we do not often associate with the modern world. It may sound idealistic to suggest that Summer of Love as all perfect and countercultural. There was some violence and the drug-taking courted enough media focus. Against warfare and political tensions; it seemed like there was that hunger and desperation for a more peaceful and ‘relaxed’ lifestyle. Maybe it was a bit of a dream and ambition that did not properly define what the 1960s was all about. I only hear about the 1960s’ Summer of Love through photos and archive footage but I am always supportive of any movement, however brief, that provides chance for people to bond and detach from the starkness of the world. The music coming from that time was as experimental and blissful as the substances that were being ingested; the recklessness and lack of consequences. It may seem like I am bagging that time but the colour, music and spirit that was in the air captured something.

The spirit and sense of freedom being exposed and explored helped lead, through a few decades of separation, a second Summer of Love. It happened in 1998 and was a little different to the 1960s’ version. The 1980s’ incarnation has different music and drugs of choice. I keep coming back to that subject of drugs but, as I shall explore, it, again, became the centre of the media’s attention. Maybe acid was the ruling muse then – whereas pot and acid, in combination, was dominant in the 1960s – but the music was the biggest difference. A lot of celebrations will happen next week that look back at that time when, once more, the nation was together and something incredible was in the air. Whereas the Summer of Love extended to America back in the 1960s; the raves and Acid music (House and Dance, too) seemed to be a particularly British thing. Britpop was years away and, after during a time when Margaret Thatcher was in charge and there as so much division around. If you are foreign to how the 1988-started movement captured the nation; here is a rundown from Mixmag:

In 1988 a seismic change occurred in British society. It was caused not by a violent insurrection, demonstrations in Trafalgar Square or shadowy forces manipulating social media. The source of this bloodless revolution was a bunch of records from Chicago, Detroit and New York, a love drug called ecstasy and a load of potty youngsters doing the St Vitus Dance.

The hippie original may have been way back in ’67, but dance music’s Summer of Love was 30 years ago, an explosion whose shockwaves are still now rippling out across the world. It changed the fashion, the drugs, the clubs, the politics and the high times.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Danny Rampling at Shoom, 1988/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

“…The music of that period became known as acid house, but it’s a shorthand for wildly divergent sounds that range from funky pop records played by Alfredo in Amnesia to Detroit techno, Chicago house, New York garage and even hip hop. In 1988 this music combined with a powerful new narcotic to create arguably the most far-reaching and long lasting youth cult we’ve ever seen. It was the year that British youth discovered how to turn on, tune in and drop one.

Suddenly, all previous certainties melted away like a pill dissolving on the tongue. A new era was afoot. It was all about giving it a go and not giving a fuck. Gas fitters became DJs, aircraft personnel became record label owners, bank managers jacked it in to run clubs. Everyone was an impresario, everyone knew someone who’d made a tune. Qualifications? Fuck ’em. All you needed was the gift of the gab and a set of decks”.

To be a part of this new movement and scene; you did not need any qualifications and expertise. The somewhat grey and ordinary scene of 1988 – when music was not at its peak – was causing a lot of youngsters to feel isolated and purposeless. Suddenly, there was this wave of mind-opening music and spaces where everyone could congregate and lose themselves. The soundtrack – which I shall explore later – seemed to open doors and change things. I was a child in 1988 but was already aware there was not a lot to get excited about during that period. Each city had its clan of D.J.s who were bringing music to the people. Liverpool had Andy Carroll and Mike Knowler; there was Graeme Park in Nottingham and Nightmares on Wax in Leeds. London has Colin Faver and Eddie Richards whereas clubs like Asylum became hotbeds for this new expression and freedom. We look back at the 1960s and drugs that were circulated during the first Summer of Love. Whereas a lot of club experiences before 1988 involved hostility and drunken recklessness; ecstasy came in and seemed to change everything – something Mixmag reflects on in their article

There was another magical ingredient that had turned house music from a fad to a phenomenon: ecstasy. “Ecstasy was the accelerator,” says writer Matthew Collin. “Ecstasy was the drug that bound people together. It didn’t create the music, but it did help to create a community around it. And it gave it that passionate intensity. Of course, there would have been an electronic dance music culture without it, but it definitely wouldn’t have happened in the same way.” Once they’d been thrown together, it seemed as blindingly obvious as two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Swindells and Gavin Watson

There was confusion as to the extent of drug-taking behaviour; many were actually taking acid as it was cheaper and more available than E. The new Summer of Love was disconnected with Margaret Thatcher’s Britain and gave a voice to a generation that felt like they were being ignored and shunned. Thatcher did not speak for them and represent Britain how they viewed it. These D.J.s, clubs and songs seemed to emancipate the masses and, as with any great movement, create a wedge. There were the conservative and stuffy clans that turned their noses up and felt the new Summer of Love was all about drugs and disregard for the authorities. There were iconic spots coming up that have lived in the memory and we still talk about today:

In Manchester the resident DJ at The Haçienda’s Friday night, Mike Pickering, had been playing house since the first releases on Trax in 1985. By 1988 he had built the night into one of the strongest in the city. Then ecstasy arrived. “We were going to The Haçienda before it all kicked off,” recalls clubber Catherine Obi. “And then we walked in one weekend in our normal club outfits – black tights, DMs, MA1 bomber jackets – but people were all in T-shirts, sweating. I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Within a month we’d had our first pill and we were just loving it. It was very, very strange how quickly it switched. It was like mass hysteria. But that was what was so good about it. All of a sudden it was like, ‘oh my god, look – everyone’s in it together! One nation under a groove’”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I will talk about the legacy of the 1980s’ Summer of Love but the scene was always threatened. U.K. laws made after-hours clubbing challenging and there was the fear that police raids and surveillance would compromise the fun and longevity. A lot of clubs were sprouting around the M25 and there was easy access to the countryside and city. It was easy for people to drive to raves and become part of something exceptional. The intensity of the raves and parties meant the scene died down when the 1990s came around; it was harder to license big parties and the media scandalisation created moral panic and Government uproar. The media’s uproar and the obsessive tabloid coverage meant the Summer of Love would close down. Writing in 1998, The Independent spoke with Adamski about his experiences and what defined the times:

Adamski was one of the first to perform house music live. "NRG" was a top 20 hit in 1989; 1990 saw his collaboration with singer Seal, "Killer", reach number one. His new album, `Adamski's Thing', is released on 27 October. His daughter Bluebell sings on one of the tracks.

"Acid house suited me: I loved partying, l loved taking drugs, I loved music that sounded good when I was on drugs. Some gay friends took me to Ibiza in 1988. And I popped my first E there. From then on it was wild, hedonistic. My hits provided me with a lot of disposable income and fuelled the drug-taking. I'd spend a few hundred quid every weekend. I went to Thailand, Goa, Glastonbury ... potentially spiritual places, but all I can remember was being off my nuts. I'd mix everything with E: acid, charlie, vodka. I would shag everyone in sight, male or female. My seven-year-old daughter, Bluebell, is a love child from that era. I met her mum at a boat party. We bonded over chemicals. [They split up in 1991 and Bluebell lives with Adam]”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The Summer of Love was a revolution and revelation for those who were in boring jobs and wanted to break free. The struggling economy and a Government run by Margaret Thatcher was not designed for a lot of youths who were ignored and not part of her plans. The great music and legendary D.J.s provided a temple and safe space for those who wanted to be with their tribe and feel loved. That almost-spiritual connection between person and the music was, in many ways, aided and heightened by drugs. Maybe we associated E and acid with that time and feel it is the reason why things came to a halt. Were it not for a certain ‘inspiration’ one could argue we would not have seen such media coverage. That coverage brought the Summer of Love to the majority and showed there was this new movement who did not want to be part of the Thatcher-ruled Britain.  Whether you see that as good or bad; one cannot deny the necessity and influence of the Summer of Love that happened in the 1980s. I shall leave it to Mixmag to talk about the legacy of the movement:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

But the Summer of Love was in no way a failure. It changed our views on sexuality, race and class. As Genesis promoter Wayne Anthony says: “It would have taken decades and decades of awareness campaigns to bring us all together. MDMA did more for multiculturalism than anything the government has ever done.” Acid house influenced advertising, film-making and art. It worried governments so much they introduced legislation to control it. It terrified breweries to the point where they introduced hilariously lurid alcopops to tempt kids back to booze. It transformed city centres and ushered in a new era of late-night licensing. It changed the way pop music was consumed. It changed pop itself.

What happened yesterday is what has allowed us to make today better, and the future bright. The values of the Summer of Love continue to influence a generation of young clubbers who are actively engaged in club politics, from the rights of transgender dancers to safe spaces for women, and whose activism has also been instrumental in the mushrooming of female DJs on our scene – nowadays some festivals have a 50/50 gender booking policy. Unthinkable in 1988”.

There are good and bad parts of the Summer of Love – much like the original in the 1960s – and it would be unfair to say it was a fad or ill-conceived revolt.

It was less about rebelling against boredom as it was creating a platform and space for those who felt isolated and lost. The music and innovators that came out during that time have influenced music today and I feel, like 1967 and 1988, there is a need for something in the air. The nation, again, is under a Tory rule and there is more isolation and division, arguably, then those two time periods. Music, now, does not have a singular movement of life-force that defines the time and unites people. There is this division and segregation; so many loose threads of scenes that have not woven themselves into a cohesive and colourful whole. The drug laws and rules would be huge and strict but you need not have a scene that is defined by drugs. Maybe it would be hard to have that much fun if it were not for stimulants and excess. You could have alcohol and some fun but it is important not to create a movement where the law and Government are clamping in from the very off! There are great D.J.s who could fuse elements of the two Summer of Loves and create new and exciting music. We have great clubs out there and I feel 2018 or 2019 would be a perfect backdrop. There is a lot more music and variety now than back in 1988 and the options are open for artists and D.J.s to create their own soundtracks.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Swindells

I feel there is more dissent and stress circulating than any other time in recent times. The mainstream does not have a Britpop-like force that will unify us and bring something joyful. The bliss and reaction we need will come from the underground and the clubs. Whether a third Summer of Love involves House music or something retro; a modern reworking of Dance or something completely new – there is a chance to mix things up and go wild. That wildness can be through creativity and music but there is always going to be the risk of drugs and drink playing a part. I am not condoning it but it is arguable the other two Summer of Loves would not have spread and caught on like wildfire were it not for substance. Everyone feels the strain of modern-day Britain and I think something accessible could be created so music lovers of all tastes could unite and enjoy. We often look to the mainstream for that massive inspiration but I feel, when it comes to something blissful and pure, there is not the talent and mindset available to initiate such grandeur and credibility. As we celebrate the 1988 Summer of Love and all it gave to music, good and bad, it makes me think, thirty years down the line, it is a prime time for…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Smith/Rex/Shutterstoc

A third incarnation.

FEATURE: The #WHPowerList: Bringing the Influence of Women to the Next Generation

FEATURE:

 

 

The #WHPowerList

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IMAGE CREDIT: BBC

Bringing the Influence of Women to the Next Generation

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I am never too far from the subject of women in music…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Woman's Hour's Jane Garvey (who has interviewed various female artists/musical figures about their experiences)/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

and ensuring I do all I can to promote their fine work. Not only do I publish regular all-female playlists and scathing looks at sexism in music – I am committed to being one of few male journalists tackling the subject regularly and asking what more can be done. It seems to me, a lot of the time, men are not talking with other men about the gulfs and issues that have plagued the music industry since time began! The exposure and availability of social media mean we are all aware of problems around gender rights but I wonder whether enough is being done (by men) to ask why attitudes pervade and, for no reason whatsoever, all the fantastic female talent across the music industry has to fight harder than the men. Maybe it is an ingrained attitude that suggests music and the arts is really a ‘man’s domain’. I have been compelled by Woman’s Hour’s Power List 2018 that seeks to define and highlight the most important and powerful women in music. Whether you feel artists like Florence Welch or D.J.s Jo Whiley are the most influential; producers like Catherine Marks or great female journalists in the mainstream – it is a chance to have your say and get involved. What, then, is the concrete and foundations of the Power List?

The Woman’s Hour 2018 Power List will recognise the Top 40 most successful women having an impact on the music we’re all listening to – whether that’s on radio, vinyl or streaming services.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: BBC

This won’t be a list of who’s sold the most records, or who’s making the most money. We're seeking out women who are demonstrating power in the industry, innovators and ground-breakers supporting and championing the work of other women or changing the industry from within – making it more equal, diverse and creative and an even more exciting business to work in”.

It is impressive and overdue such a commemoration and time for activism has come about. I hope the results and build-up around the Power List will prick some ears and, as ever, highlight the sexism and divides in music. I am always writing about the topic but feel my (meagre) voice is not capable of projecting real gravitas and impetus. The women judging this year’s Power List include columnist Jasmine Dotiwala and producer Catherine Marks; singer-songwriter Kate Nash and radio presenter Tina Daheley. It is an exciting and expert panel who will be able to look through the nominations and pick the most influential and powerful women in music. Power, essentially, does not have to mean business acumen and financial stock: a political voice or constantly intrepid songwriter is just as striking; producers and journalists who champion women’s music or muscle alongside the men in the industry are worthy of nomination. It is amazing that, in 2018, we are still four years off music festivals pledging a fifty-fifty gender split in terms of performers.

I will come onto festivals later but there have been a couple of changes. This year’s events like the Cambridge Folk Festival have given larger spotlight for women; in America, the 2018 Philadelphia Folk Fest has become the first to provide that desired balance:

Keychange, led by the PRS Foundation and supported by the Creative Europe program of the European Union, is an international campaign which invests in emerging female talent by encouraging music festivals to sign up to a 50/50 gender balance pledge by 2022.

Nordell said the Philadelphia Folksong Society sort of bent the pledge’s rules for this year’s festival — by going over the 50/50 margin. The lineup is made up of 55 percent women acts, and all of the headliners (Patty GriffinValerie June and Wynonna Judd), are women.

“The Philadelphia Folk Festival is all about coming together and appreciating music and one another,” Nordell  (Justin Nordell, executive director of the Philadelphia Folksong Society) said. “It is open to anyone of any particular race, creed, beliefs or what have you”.

It is amazing to think we have to highlight festivals when they provide equal footing for men and women – given the sheer scope and ability of women in the industry. There are a number of reasons why I feel the Woman’s Hour Power List needs greater oxygen...

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IN THIS IMAGE: The judges for the Power List 2018/IMAGE CREDIT: BBC

I still think there are those gender divides: women are fighting and promoting rights for women but how many men are getting involved and joining the fight?! I do not think there is deliberate segregation; a time for actual unity and productive discussion is paramount. When talking about the Power List; BBC Radio 3 presenter Suzy Klein had her say:

Music is pretty far behind lots of other businesses and industries. I think less than half of people in the music business work in a place where there’s any kind of equality drive, which is far lower than other sectors.” She added: “I think progress has been happening but at a slightly Jurassic pace. Some of the things, like Marin Alsop conducting The Last Night of the Proms obviously helps. It shouldn’t be a big deal…but for that to have only happened in the 21st century! Come on!”

For me, personally, the reason I am keen to undress the debate and reveal the women making a big impact in music is because of the past and current influence they have on me. I am a big radio fan and can see the imbalance that seems inexplicable. I am a listener of BBC Radio 6 Music and see, aside from a racial imbalance, there is a big majority of men on the station. The women on the station, including Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs, are among the most passionate voices. They are keen to promote new musicians, have that deep love for what they do and, if anything, are more striking and resonant than their male peers – the fact there are no female drivetime presenters on the station is worrying.

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IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 1 D.J. Annie Mac/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The same goes for BBC Radio 2. I love the likes of Claudia Winkleman and Sara Cox and, the latter, especially, gives me such a buzz and sense of warmth. Cox is the only reason I really tune into the station. She presents a 1980s music show and always leaves a much greater impression than anyone on the station – her bonhomie, witty and connection with the listener leads me to believe she would be perfect for primetime BBC Radio 2. I am a massive fan of Annie Mac and have been listening to her for years. In terms of sheer passion and the knowledge she has…there is nobody like her. I cannot think of a more skilled and essential D.J. in music right now. I have voted for her in the Woman’s Hour poll and know Mac speaks out against sexism and the role of women in music. Jo Whiley, when talking about the Woman’s Power List had her views where we need to make improvements:

Education is where it should all start really, that message should be put out there straight away. If girls want to work in any different area of the music industry, they should be told which colleges to go to, to start really young and be tenacious.” She is hopeful the Power List will achieve some change in this direction. She says: “I want my daughter to think she could head up a record label sometime or she could be a music producer in the studio. That’s what I want young girls to aspire to, not just to be on Pop Idol”.

I think education, or lack thereof, is a big issue. A lot of musical education involves paying for tuition and something that happens a little later in life. We ingrain useless information into children and give them lessons they are not going to carry through life. I feel sex education needs to be modernised and a little bolder; a General Studies course that talks about racism, politics and everyday subjects – music definitely needs to be a mandatory core.

The fact we have just celebrated Madonna’s sixtieth birthday and mourned the loss of Aretha Franklin shows how much respect those women hold. Both are very different but they are icons who have shaped music. I feel children coming through school need to know about them and their peers; producers and D.J.s who have changed the game; businesswomen and spokespeople who have asked for change and are electioneering on a daily basis. I would not be as interested in music and its awe-inspiring power were it not for women. Kate Bush is an idol and someone I am endlessly fascinated by; Björk is one of those musicians who continues to change music and innovate over twenty years after her debut album. I can rattle off countless names (of female artists) who have inspired me and the current flock who warrant great respect. The same goes for women in every corner of the industry – not only recording artists and those we see on stage. We go through our days and listen to music but do we really think about what happens behind the scenes and the gap between male and female artists? Mabel, daughter of Neneh Cherry and Cameron McVey feels a safe space for female artists is the business is a good step:

I would love to start some kind of safe space where females can collaborate, like a studio, where you can do what you want and experiment.” She described it as a “liberating moment” when she realised another woman’s success did not mean her downfall”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Musician and songwriter Jorja Smith/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We never really celebrate women in music the same way as we do with men. We all know about the rich, stadium-filling male artists who get admiration and are seen as the biggest in the game. They have all the money and they get the majority of the press attention. The access of online music sites means we are seeing more female-made songs and news articles getting out there. Internet radio stations are spreading the love and, as great as that is, is it translating into industry change and genuine pledges?! A lot of female-fronted bands, like Wolf Alice and Chvrches, find interviewers treat them differently (to their male support) and see them as a curiosity. Look a festival floors and line-ups and it is still male-heavy. I am happy there are small changes happening and greater discussion happening. I think a lot of the mandates and promises are far too weak and insincere. Festivals, here, have pledged to create a gender balance by 2022 – why does it take four years to do something so simple?! The talent is out there waiting to go and I am baffled why these changes cannot happen next year! Rising British talent like Stefflon Don and Jorja Smith have talked about finding confidence and what it is like being a woman in music. Look at the way a woman writes and how she articulates her emotions compared to that of a man. I get something very primal, pure and long-lasting regarding female songwriting. We know most of the chart hits out there today are written and produced by men – this is something that needs to change.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

There is a lot more to talk about but we all know the truth: there is a huge way to go before there was equality and parity. I have written extensively on the subject of gender rights and would like nothing more than celebrate women’s rights and music on Woman’s Hour or a similar format. I feel there are not enough men coming through and do struggle to figure out why. The Power List is a rare chance to put women in the spotlight and look at the vast array of inspiring and strong creatives who are relatively unsung and making an enormous contribution. Head over to https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0695d4c and have a look and listen to all the great videos and article about the Power List 2018. I am eager to hear the results and what happens once they are out there in the ether. I hope there is a rolling of the ball that leads to genuine change and greater involvement from men – not hiding away and assuming they do not need to alter their attitudes. Radio 1Xtra’s Jasmin Evans is among the selection of women who are giving their experiences and calling for greater understanding. It seems strange for a bloke to wade in so heavily but music is not one of those industries that is about gender and we are unsure how to integrate women in.

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IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 2 D.J.Jo Whiley/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I often think of the army and how many women are held back from the frontline. The musical trenches and frontline are full of women striking and shooting hard and showing immense strength. If we deny their voices or assume it is the men who hold the most power and prestige then that will do irrevocable damage. Look at the Power List page and there are email addresses and Twitter handles where you can cast your voice and vote and talk about the women in music you want to see honoured. We have a long way to go but, if we have yearly polls and events like this, it will make a big difference and pass positive messages to the next generation. The lack of education regarding music and gender roles is something I hope is overturned and addressed. I have a (very) long list of the women, through time, that has led me to where I am now. We would all be so much poorer and emptier were it not for the women in music and all they have given – and all they continue to do. From behind mixing desks and inside studios; D.J.s and producers pushing great music to hungry ears to those artists campaigning and delighting the masses…we need to bring these stories and humans to the forefront. Maybe a fifty-fifty music society is a way off – if we can ever achieve that – but I am confident, with great vocalisation and intent, we can all help to create a fairer and more even business. Let’s get that ball rolling and let’s get it…

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IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 1Xtra D.J. Yasmin Evans/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

ROLLING now!

FEATURE: Minority Retort: Why Stormzy’s Humble Gesture Has Brought the Issue of Racial Imbalance in Music to My Mind

FEATURE:

 

 

Minority Retort

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IN THIS PHOTO: Stormzy/PHOTO CREDIT: Rankin for HUNGER

Why Stormzy’s Humble Gesture Has Brought the Issue of Racial Imbalance in Music to My Mind

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IT may seem like a weak link…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

but there is a connection between Grime artist Stormzy funding two scholarships for two black British students going to Cambridge University and the subject of race in music. I have discussed racism in music before but it seems the subject is not going anywhere. Before I move on; here is an overview of Stormzy’s generous gesture:

Stormzy has announced that he is funding two scholarships for black British students to go to Cambridge University.

The grime artist will pay the students’ tuition fees as well as a maintenance grant for up to four years of an undergraduate course.

Speaking on Thursday at his former school, the Harris City Academy in Croydon, south London, where A-level students were opening their results, Stormzy told BBC Breakfast: “If you’re academically brilliant don’t think because you come from a certain community that studying at one of the highest education institutions in the world isn’t possible.”

The 25-year-old, who won best album at this year’s Ivor Novello awards, has previously been praised for tackling social injustice, including advocating on behalf of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. He is funding two places this year and two next year.

The move comes amid concerns about lack of diversity at the Oxbridge universities. Figures published in June showed some Cambridge colleges admitted no black students or accepted as few as one a year between 2012 and 2016”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: A Cambridge University college/PHOTO CREDITVadim/Getty Images

It is amazing to think that, after doing such a thing, some are labelling him racist – why not do the same for struggling white students? The issue with universities likes Cambridge is the lack of diversity. Stormzy is not trying to attack Cambridge or give black students a boost over everyone else. The university has said they are committed to reversing the racial imbalance and, whilst there is not a bias, I wonder whether black students from poorer backgrounds are being overlooked. If they are brilliant and academically gifted; they are, often, not able to afford tuition and survive there. There are white students in the same position but look at the lack of black faces at Cambridge and one has to ask why that is. It is certainly not anything to do with a lack of academic prowess or any sort of imbalance in schools. Stormzy has made this gesture but I hope the big universities do a lot more and make it more affordable for students from less-well-off backgrounds to go to the top universities. It is typical to see people talk of racism when a black artist does something good. Stormzy is not excluding anyone or favouring black students over anyone else – he wants more parity and equality in the education system. I listened to all the reactions and news stories around this and got to thinking about music and race.

I am going to be addressing women in music and the need for change later but, looking out at the world, and I wonder whether a lack of attention for black students is mirrored by a disadvantage and sense of discrimination in music. Racism in music is no new things: you only need to look at the MTV days when artists like Michael Jackson were being denied access because of the colour of their skin. Many might argue him changing his skin colour was a reaction to being blocked and denied. Things have come far in music but I still get the sense the industry is white and set up for those from a wealthier background. The mainstream is filled with artists who are either middle-class or white (or both). We are seeing fewer faces from working-class backgrounds and minority artists are marginalised. The old term ‘urban’ seems to be a lazy word for any music made by a black artist. Do we need to get out of the headspace that there is such thing as ‘black music’. In the same way female-made music is a gender and not a genre; black music is diverse, exceptional and as strong as anything else. Music T.V. has essentially vanished but I feel there is that need to put white faces on magazines and screens. Look at artists like Stormzy and I think of the Grime and Rap scene here and how it is diminishing.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nicki Minaj/PHOTO CREDIT: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Maybe there isn’t the talent out there but I feel radio is still too geared towards the Pop and Rock markets. Hollywood is always having to answer accusations of racism – and rightly so! – but music is not being given the same kicking and demand for change. Look at music videos or which artists get the most say and there is a definite racial divide. This article, written two years ago, boils things down:

To put it simply: When Britney Spears got naked and covered herself in sequins for Toxic, she was nominated for Best Music Video. When Emily Ratajkowski got naked next to Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines, he was nominated for Best Music Video. When Miley Cyrus stripped off and broke a million health and safety rules by riding a piece of construction equipment, she wasn’t just nominated for Best Music Video of the Year – she won it. All of the above videos have been controversial, but they were acknowledged by the industry for their impact nevertheless.

But as soon as Nicki Minaj – whose black body deviates from Caucasian beauty standards – dares to own her own culture and dance in a similarly provocative fashion, it’s glossed over and relegated to sideline categories of ‘female’ and ‘hip hop’. Meanwhile, white artists who adopt black culture as their own continue to reap professional awards. And it’s time to stop pretending that that’s OK”.

There is that assumption there is a distinct sound associated with black artists. Look at Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak. Check out Kamasi Washington and Beyoncé. Listen to Cardi B and Rihanna; listen to Stormzy and Dizzee Rascal and then have a flick through Childish Gambino and Leon Bridges. Can you say there is anything familiar or similar between those artists?! Although there are fewer black artists in certain genres – Country and Rock, for example – that is the fault of the industry and old attitudes. Not enough is being done to promote black artists and shake this idealised view of the mainstream/what is desirable. Although there are some names from black music being given props and attention in the mainstream – the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé – that would ignore wider truths. How many music awards do you see being handed to black artists? How many of the end-of-year best albums are from black musicians? One could say that is a simple case of lacking talent (in the case of black artists) but I look at award ceremonies and see how it geared towards celebrating white artists. This article charts the last few years and how few opportunities are being given the black artists:

As many know, 2013 marked an interesting year for the Music Industry, as it was the first time in the history of the US Billboard 100 Chart that no Black Artist landed a №1 Single as Lead Artist. And with the U.S. being the World Leader in terms of Music Market Share, it was a no brainer that that statistic was also reflective of the state of Black Music by Black Artists internationally in various ways, and has been for quite some time (particularly in the UK, 1 of the World’s Top 4 Music Markets).

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IN THIS PHOTO: Rhiannon Giddens - one of very few black Bluegrass players - performing at the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Dwyer/AP

“…Three years following that, along comes the #BritsSoWhite “controversy”, which came after it was announced that no Black British Artists were nominated for a 2016 BRIT Award, despite the commercial success many of them achieved between the 2014–2015 Eligibility Period (e.g. Krept & Konan Top 10 Single and #2 Debut Album, Fleur East Top 10 Debut Single, Skepta Top 40 Single, Stormzy Two Top 20 Singles, Kwabs Top 40 Debut Album).

Moving on to the bottom line of this all, the reality of the Music Business today is that Black Artists are tired of “asking” to be accepted into the Mainstream arena. They are tired of the fact that we are still living in an era where their accolades are celebrated as being “the first Black Artist to achieve xyz”, whilst their White counterparts continue to accomplish the same achievements on a constant basis. They are tired of being completely overshadowed by Artists of other Cultures who have built their success off of performing Urban Music. For example, in 2015 60% of the Top 10 Best Selling Artists globally for that year are widely considered either Soul or Urban, yet only 2 of them were ‘of colour’ (unsurprisingly landing 9th and 10th place). See anything wrong with this picture?”

Labels and big record companies are full of white faces; music festivals are placing white artists in headline slots and many are ignoring the sheer volume of fantastic music from black artists.

I am hearing of black artists tempted into a music career afraid they will be shunned and given little focus if they attempt it. Look out at the mainstream now and you there are divides. Whilst Cardi B, Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar and giving voice to black musicians and showing what weight they have; they are a minority against the bland and endless sea of white artists. You go to major music venues and look at the music media. The same way there is a majority share for men (against women); there are far more white employees and faces. Even when you look at national averages – the number of black people in a nation compared to other races – and there is a lot to answer for. Small improvements are coming in but it is not down to the artists themselves to push things forward and fight. The sheer talent of black faces in the mainstream is impressive but think of the artists in the underground; those wanting to go into journalism and recording studios and are things necessarily better than years ago?! A lot of journalists are not familiar with the culture and background of genres like R&B and Rap; there is that dogged desire to stick to worn and fatigued genres like Pop and Rock – will we ever get to a time when black artists are put on the same footing as everyone else?

I grew up listened to amazing black artists like Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson; Nina Simone and Public Enemy. I was a big fan of musicians like Stevie Wonder and De La Soul and the girl groups like Destiny’s Child and En Vogue. Some of the most political, eye-opening and immediate albums of the past few years have been made by black artists. Priscilla Renea has attacked clear racism in Country music; Kendrick Lamar has lobbied for greater respect of black Rap artists and showing them proper respect; the Grammy Awards have been accused, almost every year, of ignoring black artists when it comes to the major prizes. Maybe the use of the N-word in Rap is turning some off and causing controversy/censorship but it a minor barrier that blocks a larger ill. By studying black music and the traditions being kept alive by artists; we are not only experiencing wonderful songs but learning about different cultures and experiences that few of us talk about. I am a big fan of Hip-Hop and Rap and, through its pioneers, can chart the struggle black artists have faced and how civil rights have played a big role in the rise and vitality of the genre. The voice and reality of a black artist like Nicki Minaj is vastly different to that of someone like Taylor Swift. That may be a simple argument but, if we place divides and do not address racism then the music industry will stay as it is now – artists and fans promoting black music rather than those in the industry.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kendrick Lamar/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Stormzy was interviewed last year and talked about race and how certain genres have been poisoned by stereotypes and misconceptions:

 “Of course, he knows more than he’s letting on, and his observation – of labels not understanding underground scenes and not knowing what to do with black artists – makes his position political by its very existence. British police and politics have been continually distant from underground black music scenes, and particularly grime throughout the mid-2000s, which saw symbols of “urban menace” like hoodies and tracksuits increasingly demonised. (Hoodies were famously banned in Kent’s Bluewater shopping centre in 2005.)  Now when you see artists like Stormzy appearing on front covers in full tracksuits, it takes on a renewed politics. He talks about a story that gained huge momentum last year after he tweeted about it – a London nightclub, DSTRKT, turning away women who were deemed too “dark-skinned” to enter. It gets a mention on the album on “First Things First” (“Fuck DSTRKT”) atop clipped basslines and eerie productions as he spits, “If it weren’t me you wouldn’t let my ni**as in the club”.

There are a lot of successful and pioneering black artists ready to come through and shake the music scene up. One sees endless talent and possibility but one wonders how long it will take until there is genuine equality and open-mindedness. From big award ceremonies and mainstream marketing to the artists celebrated and highlighted for praise – we have a long way to go before things are as balanced as they should be. Stormzy and other black artists know the problems in music and, with resilience, determination and pure intent they are ready to…

MAKE big changes.

FEATURE: The August Playlist: Vol. 3: (Everything I Do) I Do It Fuh You

FEATURE:

 

The August Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sir Paul McCartney/PHOTO CREDIT: MJ Kim  

Vol. 3: (Everything I Do) I Do It Fuh You

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THIS is one of those busy…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Maggie Rogers/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

and rich weeks where all sorts of brilliant music is out! Not only has Paul McCartney released another single from his forthcoming record, Egypt Station; we have cuts from IDLES, Maggie Rogers and Stefflon Don – I have included a song from the late, great Aretha Franklin.

It has been a big and emotional week in music where we have celebrated and mourned. I hope this week’s hot new releases raise the spirits and get you in a good frame of mind to attack the approaching week.

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Paul McCartney Fuh You

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IDLES Great

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PHOTO CREDIT: Atlantic Records

Aretha Franklin Respect

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Cat Power (ft. Lana Del Rey) Woman

Drenge Outside

Stefflon Don Jellio

PHOTO CREDIT: Bernhard Wimmer

Petrol Girls Sister

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White DenimFine Slime

The Lemon Twigs The Fire

Pale Waves Black

whenyoung Dreams

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Eliza Shaddad This Is My Cue

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Maggie Rogers Give a Little

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Nicki Minaj Ganja Burn

PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Salacuse

The 1975 TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME

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PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Schmelling

6LACK Nonchalant

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Ailbhe Reddy Shame

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Bishop Briggs Baby

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Christine and the Queens 5 Dollars

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Jess Glynne All I Am

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The Kooks Chicken Bone

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MNEK Crazy World

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Rina Sawayama Cherry

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Sabrina Claudio Creation

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Tash Sultana Free Mind

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Tom Speight Want You

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Saradjola

YONAKA Teach Me to Fight

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Ariana Grande R.E.M

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PHOTO CREDIT: Eliot Lee Hazel

Death Cab for Cutie Autumn Love

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Mitski Remember My Name

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Slaves Photo Opportunity

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. XXIII)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Stefflon Don/PHOTO CREDIT: Gareth Cattermole/MTV EMAs 2017/Getty Images for MTV

An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. XXIII)

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I wanted to follow the last instalment of this feature…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Bishop Briggs/PHOTO CREDIT: Jabari Jacobs

fairly quickly so that there is a bumper of female-led music to get you into the weekend. There are some brand-new releases alongside some songs that have been out a little while. It is a mix of Pop, R&B; some Rap and a few other genres sprinkled in there. Hopefully, there will be something in there that will take your fancy and show music from women right now is not a genre – it’s a gender. We are all aware there is sexism and less attention paid to female artists so it is good to be able to celebrate them and show the wealth of talent around. Sit back and enjoy another rundown of female talent that should get you prepped and pumped…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jess Glynne

FOR the weekend.

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Gettt Images/Artists

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Yummy Pearl GoodNite

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Tana MongeauW

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AadaeJust Found Out

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Bishop BriggsBaby

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Ellie Schmidly - Blossom & Bone

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PHOTO CREDIT: Elliot Kennedy for CRACK

Stefflon Don – Precious Heavy

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PHOTO CREDITMichael Vallera

Circuit Des Yeux (ft. Moon Bros.)Souer de Race

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Sarah ReevesAlways Been You

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PHOTO CREDIT: Louise Thomas for The Line of Best Fit

Annabel AllumFear Naught

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Leanne Robinson - Last Time (Change Your Mind)

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PHOTO CREDITGeorge Ogilvie

Bess AtwellSwimming Pool

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Say Lou LouGolden Child

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Josie MoonCall Me

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Na7halie Sade - Gravy

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LeyeT - Let Me Know

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Lucy MasonHigh and Dry

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Hannah GraceOh River

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Kate LomasDrink 2 U

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Jess GlynneAll I Am

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Gabbie Hanna - Honestly

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PHOTO CREDITSara Laufer

Daisy the Great - Company

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Jarina De Marco - Bilingual

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Britty Lovers Get Bored

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Lele Pons - Celoso

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. XXII)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Red Velvet

An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. XXII)

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MY mind has shifted from looking at Aretha Franklin…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Nonku Phiri

and her amazing legacy. I am not compelled to look at the best new female artists and songs that should bring back the sun and heat. There is a mixture of summer-tuned sizzlers and some cooler, more relaxing tracks that display the contrasts of the summer months. The autumn is almost upon us so, before I alter this feature; I felt it only right to put together another list of great female tracks/female-led offerings that will get your Friday kicking and get the weekend started earliest. Take a listen to the newest list of offerings and I hope they keep the spirit of summer…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Emily Magpie

IN your blood.

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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PHOTO CREDIT: @ro.creativ

Basement Revolver Heavy Eyes

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Natalie EvansEmpty Rooms & Aeroplanes

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Georgia Fearn Master of Jazz

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Lauren Faith Just a Little

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Nonku Phiri - Sîfó  

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Lil Debbie Loaded

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PowpigConcerned

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Birch femme.two

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Lady SanityBullseye

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PHOTO CREDITThea Brooks Music

Vanessa MariaParty Next Door

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Vök- Autopilot

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LeadleyLike I Did

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Jaguar JonzeYou Got Left Behind

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FADE – Fall in Love

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Red VelvetMosquito

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Amy StroupThrill of It

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PHOTO CREDITLukas Gansterer

Mavi Phoenix Ibiza

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tor Hills

Natalie WilliamsExtraordinary

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Rebecca & FionaNeed You

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Stela ColeLucky Day

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Emily MagpieLast Train

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PHOTO CREDIT: Carlos Avila

Neenah Sun Tzu

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SimiI Dun Care

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Saweetie - ANTI

FEATURE: The Soul Chronicles: Aretha Franklin and Her Incredible Legacy

FEATURE:

 

 

The Soul Chronicles

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IN THIS PHOTO: Aretha  Franklin in 1987/PHOTO CREDIT: Norman Parkinson Archive/Iconic Images/Getty Images

Aretha Franklin and Her Incredible Legacy

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IT is axiomatic to say…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Aretha Franklin in 1967/PHOTO CREDIT: Atlantic Records

Aretha Franklin influenced music and changed things – do we really know how far that influence spreads and how she managed to push things forward?! Many of us associate Franklin with one song, Respect. It has become her anthem and a song that seems to speak for women and black musicians around the world; people in their homes and those looking to get respect and attention. It transformed and transcended its roots and potential. Although she has an illustrious and stocked back catalogue; I have always drawn myself to that song and, I don’t know – it seems to hold a power that no other track does. Writing yesterday; The New York Times looked at the song and how it became an anthem:

Ms. Franklin’s respect lasts for two minutes and 28 seconds. That’s all — basically a round of boxing. Nothing that’s over so soon should give you that much strength. But that was Aretha Franklin: a quick trip to the emotional gym. Obviously, she was far more than that. We’re never going to have an artist with a career as long, absurdly bountiful, nourishing and constantly surprising as hers. We’re unlikely to see another superstar as abundantly steeped in real self-confidence — at so many different stages of life, in as many musical genres.

That self-confidence wasn’t evident only in the purses and perms and headdresses and floor-length furs; the buckets and buckets of great recordings; the famous demand that she always be paid before a show, in cash; or the Queen of Soul business — the stuff that keeps her monotonously synonymous with “diva.” It was there in whatever kept her from stopping and continuing to knock us dead. To paraphrase one of Ms. Franklin’s many (many) musical progeny: She slayed. “Respect” became an anthem for us, because it seemed like an anthem for her”.

The article made a salient and interesting point: Do we see Aretha Franklin as a proper, album artist rather than the singer of a famous song like Respect?! Although that track has become a moment of wonder filled with spirituality and personal strength; I wonder how far we look back at Franklin and what she gave to music. I have been listening back at albums like Lady Soul (1968) and how that is almost a greatest hits album. Chain of Fools and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman are terrific but Groovin’ and Come Back Baby are gems in their own right. In the same year as Lady Soul, we saw Aretha Now come forward: Think and I Say a Little Prayer are incredible highlights that have been scorched into the universal memory since their release. On every album, whether spectacular or merely promising; something stood out that other artists do not possess – whether it is an intuitive talent or something she acquired as she became more confident. The article I have just quoted looks at Franklin’s interpretive skills and her adaptability:

It didn’t matter whether it was a Negro spiritual or something by the Beatles. It was all wet clay to her. The Supremes, Frank Sinatra, Leonard Cohen, Adele, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, ? and the Mysterians, C & C Music Factory: She oversaw more gut renovations than a general contractor. In 1979, she took the occasion of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” to allow her backing singer to exclaim that she (and they) were “free at last.” Toward the end of her funked-up, very fun version of Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” from the 1981 album “Love All the Hurt Away,” she tossed in some “beep-beeps” and a couple of lines from “Little Jack Horner” because she knew she could make it work”.

I wonder whether we give her entire career enough adulation and oxygen. Sure, there are those supreme hits like Chain of Fools and Respect but, from her early Gospel recordings to her 1980s collaboration with George Michael (I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) and you have so many different angles and shades. She could take any song and make it her own; fuse with another artist and naturally adapt and shine – how many artists can do that now?! Yesterday, I speculated whether we will ever see an artist who has that natural icon status and gives music so much. Franklin brought religion to her music and it was her spiritual side that gave her music its ethereal, transcendent and almighty force. Whether you believe in God or not; she believed he gave her the gift of that voice and she was not going to waste it. Every album – from 1966’s Soul Sister to 1998’s A Rose Is Still a Rose – uses that voice to its maximum. She was never your everyday warbler who belted songs without thought of nuance and dynamics; she phrased words beautifully to get the most from them. Leaving pauses between certain phrases and bringing in little sighs, laughs and imperious shrugs – touches that infused her music and gave it so special character. Above all, we had a personality who was able to elevate any song to heavenly heights and touch the masses. Almost, in a sense, Franklin was a pastor: an assigned representative of God who was channelling his love through her to the people.

Another New York Times article looks at that religious significance and how she managed a hard trick: mixing the spiritual with the sexual

Aretha Franklin absorbed the entirety of the black American tradition as she moved from church singer to balladeer to the greatest voice in soul music. Yet she would go one sacrilegious step further, and in a thousand double entendres, throaty growls and shouts of ecstasy, inject sexual need into gospel music. In so doing, she made herself the forebear of everyone from Madonna and Beyoncé to Adele. (Ms. Franklin remade Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” I imagine, because the joining of gospel cadences with a cheating lover was surely irresistible to her.) Other musicians, like Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, had mixed the two, but no one blended the sacred and the sexual quite as Ms. Franklin did”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Aretha Franklin at Chicago’s Cook County jail in June 1972/PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

I wanted to focus on her soulfulness and preaching because, strangely, it is something we think of when looking at her music. Artists, now, are less willing to bring religion and faith into their work. Maybe they feel people will ignore them or they simply will not be able to do their god justice. Franklin used fluctuations in volume and pauses to build tension and then exploded into a huge crescendo. Having recorded her first Gospel album at the age of fourteen; she signed to Columbia Records and moved to New York as a teenager. The piano, alongside her voice, was her weapon that she used to make songs of praise ecstatic and tender; tracks of cheating men filled with vengeance, judgement and a sense of confidence – that she was going to be alright and stronger than him. Anything and everything she touched turned to gold. Many see Aretha Franklin as a simple singer; we do not realise her incredible musicianship and interpretative brilliance. This recent article in The Guardian highlights how she used phrasing and melisma to devastating effect in her music:

When it is used most effectively, the melisma exudes sheer visceral power and can ignite existential catharsis. It suggests limitless emotional revelation and spiritual reckoning. Franklin took it to new heights. In her hands, form was also content that put a sly, critical twist on a song. If, lyrically, I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) is at its core a lament about romantic abjection and, startlingly to some, about sexual submission as well (“You’re a no good heartbreaker / You’re a liar and you’re a cheat / And I don’t know why / I let you do these things to me …”), if Franklin sings a tale of love sickness as old as Mamie Smith’s Crazy Blues, the form – how she audibly attacks the song itself – was a pop revelation. Our heroine sounds out the agony of unquenchable desire and couples it with astounding assertiveness. Her labour, her movement, her action become the subject of the song. Drenched in glory, she triumphs over and through the oppressiveness of the lyrics. She made her labouring body a central character in her music”.

I will end by speaking of Franklin’s legacy and artists who have followed her lead. Alongside her unique music and vocal ability; she gave voice to black lives and pushed the civil rights music forward. In the same way as she used religion to heighten her music; Soul became a chronicle of black struggle and the need for freedom and evolution. She wanted love and equality but was not willing to temporise that anger and desire. During years (and decades) when the black vote and voice was being struck against and silenced; she brought her music to the mainstream and delivered a phenomenal rebuke. Rather than attack politicians and criticise; the sheer power and grace her voice possessed not only inspired fellow musicians – and many black artists coming through – but resonated with the people. At a time when there is racial imbalance in music and a long way to go; I feel Franklin’s incredible music and messages will be an essential slogan and accompaniment. From her early Gospel days to recording albums like Amazing Grace (the 1972 hit that is seen as one of her finest); through to her later collaborations and appearances – how can we calculate the worth and impact Franklin made?! In musical terms, she is much more than a song or two: her entire progression and catalogue tells a story and charts the rise and reign of a true queen. Her civil rights importance and musicianship are another aspect; she provided messages of confidence and hope for people out there who were vulnerable or doubtful - urging a sense of togetherness and love in everything she said or performed.

You only need to perform a brief Internet search to see the artists who have been influenced by Aretha Franklin. Her death will spark fresh interest and discovery; new artists finding her music and being struck by her immense gravitas and ability. I hope Franklin’s musicianship and vocal phrasing will resound with artists in the current day. We do not see many who have her affinity for language and projection; can do so much with their voice and make any song, whether Gospel or Soul, sound like their own. Few genuine idols and standout voices have arrived in the past couple of decades – aside from the odd genius like Amy Winehouse. From George Michael and Beyoncé through to the modern breed of Soul singers – it is impossible to say just how many modern artists take something from Franklin (whether it is vocal or political; spirituality or something completely personal).

Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney and Mariah Carey have paid tribute and given their thanks; Cher, Carole King and Justin Timberlake have expressed their gratitude, sadness and love. The affection and respect for Franklin are evident: modern music is so much richer for her presence and we are all the better for having had her in the world. If a soul never dies or dissipates; that means Franklin will always be with us and watching over us. Current artists like Jenifer Hudson, Mariah Carey and Kelly Clarkson have stated how Franklin is an idol they are moved by.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Mariah Carey (photoed with Aretha Franklin) made a moving tribute on social media/PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

I shall wrap things up with a quote/snippet from an article on Pitchfork but feel, given her death; we all need to look back at Franklin’s life and everything she gave to music. There is so much we undervalue and overlook; albums and times of her career that warrant investigation and fresh eyes. She was and is a role model who inspired generations and got into all of our hearts. The fact she is so beloved and people mourn so vividly speaks to her legacy – an artist whose immense voice and soulful potency will never be equalled or bettered. Although she is peerless; I hope modern artists learn from her and recognise how much she has given to us all. Pitchfork assessed her voice and catalogue and distilled it thus:

In listening to Aretha’s best songs—songs that innervate the nervous system and rattle us to our bones—we’re reminded of who we are at the spiritual level and how we are all deeply, and even maybe inconveniently, interconnected as souls. That’s what soul music is, that’s what soul music does—it illuminates the path to our mutual interdependence. Aretha’s feelingful back catalog remains a prescription for how we might find ways to how we might move away from the depressing atomization and fragmentation of modern life into soulful cooperation, getting togetherness, toward a funky “Soul Train” style dance with each other”.

Aretha Franklin’s music gave so much to so many people – each person has a different experience and reason for loving her. For her incredible, world-moving music and that incredible human behind it; the films, the albums and all the immense live performances; the highs and inspirational speeches; the grace, spirituality and immense power…we give thanks and, as many commentators have said when singing their pieces off…

SAY a little prayer.

FEATURE: The Queen of Soul Departs: Where Do We Go Now?! Can Modern Music Produce a True Icon?

FEATURE:

 

 

The Queen of Soul Departs: Where Do We Go Now?!

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Can Modern Music Produce a True Icon?

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WE started this music day…

bidding the Queen of Pop, Madonna, a happy sixtieth birthday but have ended it on a sad note: we have had to say goodbye to the Queen of Soul. Aretha Franklin’s passing has seen an outpouring of memories, upset and disbelief. When the news was announced she was gravely ill, a few days back, we were preparing for the worse. The seventy-six-year-old seemed to rally – friends and family said they’d hope she’d pull through – but it has been announced she has died of pancreatic cancer. I opened the day talking about ageism in music and how icons/older artists are given far less attention than new, young stars. Madonna’s sixtieth is a time for celebration and sharing memories of her but, in another way, it is a sure-fire excuse for radio stations not to play her music. We are all hoping more material comes from her but I wonder how many radio outlets will house her music and gives her the respect deserved. Looking at the life and music of Madonna and Aretha Franklin has given us all to look back at a music world that really doesn’t exist anymore. I felt this type of heavy heart when we lost Prince and David Bowie back in 2016. With each musical loss; we celebrate what that person gave but mourn the fact we will never see the like again...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in 2014/PHOTO CREDIT: Mert Alas for Interview Magazine

It was wonderful casting my eyes back at Madonna’s life and my memories – the giddiness of discovering her in the 1990s and that evocative, media-courting star whose fashion, sexuality and incredible creative spirit has dominated music and changed the Pop scene as we know it. You get a personality with Madonna; a real spirit and unique human who strikes the heart and head in so many different ways. She has not merely got where she is by commercial success and doing the absolute minimum. You can smell the blood, sweat and tears in every music video, album and year of her musical life. Like Kate Bush and other Pop greats; they are compelling, ground-breaking and utterly beguiling. You are never bored and are torn between which songs are best; the fashion choices that stand aside; which controversial remark or wonderful event defines what makes that artist special. Madonna is still full of life but, with less radio play and ageism creating a lot of discrimination, I wonder whether the Queen of Pop will struggle to mix it with the new, critically-lauded breed. Aretha Franklin has departed us but we all look back at her incredible career and all she did. She was a big campaigner for civil rights and, in many ways, did so much to create equality, conversation and awareness. Her religion was a big part of her music and that immensely powerful voice scored some of the most evocative songs ever.

If Madonna changed Pop and spoke out against sexism, ageism and censorship; Aretha Franklin battled racism, hatred and brought so much love to people’s lives. She was and is that peerless icon who brought Soul into the mainstream and created some true anthems. Whether you prefer Think to Respect or like (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman and Chain of Fools best – there are so many gems to choose from! Her classic albums like Lady Soul and I Never Loved a Man the Way That I Loved You defined the 1960s and gave us so much brilliance. It is devastating she is no longer hear – for more than one reason. We will miss that music and the chance of hearing any new Franklin music but it is yet another musical icon that has left. Every time we say goodbye to a decades-surviving star who has enriched lives with the music, personality and memories; it seems like we are so much poorer and darker as a community. Look at the existing icons; everyone from Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones to Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith. Although I am not wishing death on any of them, from Paul Simon and Neil Young through to Roger Daltrey (The Who) and Robert Plant; one thinks their time is always precious.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Dylan in Columbia Studios in 1961/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

That sounds morbid but those artists are in their sixties and seventies and one feels we will all live through the days when they are all gone. There are younger icons in our midst but imagine a day when we have lost every one of those idols and artists who defined the very best music ever. It is tragic to think of a planet with Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell; no Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon or Madonna – how will we cope when we only have their music in the world and not their bodies?! The obvious solution is to foster the new breed of legends who can create new memories, make history and redefine music – we can have a new roster of heroes and heroines and foster them. I look around music and there is a clear divide between these pioneers and geniuses and a bunch of artists who vary from the average to the near-iconic status.  Maybe the likes of PJ Harvey, Damon Albarn and the Gallagher brothers (Liam and Noel of Oasis) will be around for a lot longer but I cannot name anyone like Madonna, Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon who has done so much for music. One can say that is unfair – you need to give music a chance and cannot compare the climate of now with the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

The world is different and developing in terms of innovation, breakthroughs and changes. Now, when so much has been done; how do artists push the game forward and go down in history?! We have lost legends like David Bowie and Aretha Franklin but their legacy and brilliance is being carried by the new generations. The voice and depressing realisation comes when we think of their uniqueness and how much more alluring they are to the current crop. Modern music is more about streaming, promotion and predictability as it is mavericks, game-changers and genuine personalities. One of the reasons I am sad Franklin has died is her warmth and compassion; the immense vocal power she possessed right until the end; the consistent popularity and how she tackled civil rights horrors and spoke out. Her work in The Blues Brothers (1980) is one of my earliest childhood memories (I saw the film a few years after it came out) and it is amazing to think how much she packed into her seven-and-a-bit decades of life! Same goes for your McCartney, Madonna and Mitchell types. They have transformed music, settled in our memories – their music has been passed through the ages and is popular and worthy now as it was when first released. So much modern music is seen as disposable and easily forgettable.

It is hard to stand out and, at a time when there are imbalances, issues and drawbacks in music; I wonder whether we need the young stars to speak out more; do something different or just distinguish themselves from the pack. We do not see anyone who has the quirk and chameleon-like nature of David Bowie; the incredible background and awesome force of Aretha Franklin or the back catalogue and evergreen popularity of the bands of the 1960s. Each time a stalwart and pillar of music history dies or retires, it makes me think: Is music so modern and changed we will see merely great artists but never a true icon?! Will we still be recalling greats bands of today in forty years or have that surviving and compelling musician that brings about universal mourning when they die?! Maybe, given the digitisation of music and the scene changes, it is hard to stand out and go back to a time when genuine personalities could be found in the scene. A couple of years ago, producer Tony Visconti bemoaned modern music and how boring it is:

Guitar Star aims to unearth old fashioned, raw ability. I’m looking for virtuosos like HendrixCobain and Bowie.”

He also took an indirect shot at the inferiority of modern TV talent shows, saying: “There’s no fluffy back story, there’s no ‘I lost my pet dog in 97 and that made me want to play’ nonsense… No one can mistake me for Simon Cowell. It’s the worst time ever in the music industry”.

There are so many wonderful artists now and sub-genres are being created; we are seeing epic albums and brilliant tracks come out all the time and it is very exciting. I want to get to a point, forty years from now, where I can keep hold of the existing icons but have a new photo album of modern-day artist who has lasted that long and stand aside alongside the greats - those I can share with relatives and friends and talk fondly. We see the ‘best albums ever’ lists and most of them pre-date the last decade. We think of a ‘music icon’ and our minds go back even further. There are some modern-day heroes but I think the 1990s was the last decade when we started to make and elevate genuine personalities. I long to see someone with the fashion sense and changes of Madonna or a great band that can challenge The Who or The Beatles and produce album-upon-album of brilliance that lasts the ages. The sad thing is we always look back for quality and reliability. I have to cover new music but am not as attached to artists now as I was when growing up. Look at all these icons and unique personalities and they were living through wars, economic recessions and huge political changes. The Beatles defined the Summer of Love and songwriters like Bob Dylan documented the threat of nuclear war and destruction; Paul Simon defied rules and performed with black South African musicians during apartheid; Joni Mitchell and Madonna reflected the times and either directly confronted them or created a persona and art that managed to distract our minds and create something wonderful.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles in 1967/PHOTO CREDIT: Apple Music/Getty Images

I have been looking at this article and how it charts music’s changes through the decade; what bands of the past were writing about and how their social lives and relationships bled into the music:

In comparison to today's music which is not to say bad, but relatable in a different manner. A manner centered around our social lives or the physical aspect of relationships; partying, drinking, smoking, other substances, sexual relationships, and making money. Classic Groups like The Beatles (the best), Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, all wrote music revolving around love, story telling, growing up/teenaged angst, and definitely drug undertones worthy of mentioning (IE, "Dark Side of The Moon" by Pink Floyd). For instance, clubs are constantly playing "I took a Pill in Ibiza" by Mike Posner. Does that song have any sentimental or actual value to it? Unless you dropped some very intense substance and actually "felt 10 years older," then you have no way to appreciate that song for more than the catchy EDM backing his adjusted vocals. No, I didn't take that damn Pill, and no I am not going to listen to you when I am depressed. We seek out the comfort of previously stated groups; Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, etc.”.

Some good changes have come in – less excess and sexual looseness; better morals and activation through social media – but I wonder whether the way artists promote their music and the role of technology has removed the soul of music and meant it is harder to forge identities, longevity and true spirit:

The generation definitely started in a different way, but as technology came out we became wilder only because everyone posted about what we did. There were still new-age throwback groups like; The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Foo, Ed Sheeran, but things became more wild with Future, Drake, Lana Del Rey, Fetty Wap, Kendrick, A$AP Ferg + Rocky”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

 “… The soul is very absent from recent artists, and it's due to not having any common passion for everyone to relate to. So what'd we do? We embraced music to describe a lifestyle we want to live. It's not a bad thing because it creates new ways of finding friends and enjoying life, but it's just very different without any real backbone. I will be the first person to tell you that I listen to L$D by A$AP Rocky frequently because the meaning behind that song is very emotionally similar to the general idea discussed by the groups of previous generations. Rap is just fun too, along with EDM, and other not necessarily deep genres. The main passion of our peers is just one that isn't the same”.

I wonder whether our comparative lack of socialisation, community and interaction has affected how we view music and how artists are recording. If we are sitting behind screens and less connected with the outside world then it is not going to go into the music and, as such, resonate and affect people decades from now. It is a complex brew but I have that fear the last of the ‘icons’ – whoever that may be – will leave us and we will be sad.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

We will take to social media and provide sympathies and share all those great memories. The following days will be upsetting but, when we return to our normal lives, we will look around and see the new breed – all the legends have gone and one wonders how we will move from there. It is hard to swallow the possibility of a music scene with few greats like Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan; a world where values have changed and longevity is not a possibility – just a series of great artists who are around for years but we never hold them to heart the same way as the musicians we grew up around. Maybe the answer is simple or the real answer is there is no way to counteract reality. In any case, there is extra sadness in my mind thinking about Aretha Franklin and how she is gone. Such a complex, extraordinary and incredible being whose legacy and reputation was forged around more than music – she was a genuine personality who spoke out and gave a voice to so many others; inspired generations and broke down walls. Social media is flooded with condolences for Franklin and, when reading each one of them, I wonder whether we will see any modern-day artist who matches her legacy and status. It is sad to think but, in years to come, we will lose all of the true personalities and legends of music. Can we create modern heroes that last for decades and create such an impact as the icons of old? Thinking about it and I feel that likelihood…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Joni Mitchell (2015)/PHOTO CREDIT: Norman Jean Roy for New York Magazine

IS an impossibility.

FEATURE: “Hey Nineteen, That’s ‘Retha Franklin….” Remembering the Queen of Soul

FEATURE:

 

 

“Hey Nineteen, That’s ‘Retha Franklin….”

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IN THIS PHOTO: Aretha Franklin/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Remembering the Queen of Soul

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I starting typing this piece…

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

when I heard the news that Aretha Franklin was gravely ill in Detroit. It seems fatalistic and a little insensitive but, sadly, one knows where such news leads. The seventy-six-year-old is one of the last true icons in the music world and, hearing the news she seriously ill, did not get me thinking of sadness and mortality: I was thinking about the lyric that inspired the title of this piece: Steely Dan’s Hey Nineteen from their album, Gaucho. In it, the middle-aged protagonist (Donald Fagen) is aghast that ‘Ninteen’ (a teenage suitor) does not know who Aretha Franklin is. Rather than argue and provide a concise history of Soul; by the chorus, he is yearning for her Cuervo Gold and “fine Colombian”. That was not the first time I had heard Franklin’s name being mentioned through song, either directly or indirectly. That Steely Dan song came out in 1980: my discovery of the Queen of Soul must have happened sometime in the 1990s. The first thing that hit me was THAT voice. Her 1967 rendition of Respect (originally released by Otis Redding two years previous) blew away critics and led a rather green Redding to confess her version added new layers to his song. That is the song we associate with her and for good reason.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Seliger/STYLING: Yashua Simmons

It turns Redding’s tale of a desperate man who needs a lifeline and attention from a woman, in Franklin’s hands, is a mandate and anthem for respect and attention. In her version, she is in command and puts in a scintillating performance – transforming a somewhat piteous and defeatist lament of Redding. There are many other reasons why Aretha Franklin is the undisputed Queen of Soul. The album Respect was taken from, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You, is a five-star classic that houses, among other gems, the title-track; Sam Cooke’s Good Times and A Change Is Gonna Come. The way she could turn songs like Think and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and make them distinctly her own is incredible. Great singers, whether they are performed original material or covers/songs written by others inhabit the material and bring fresh perspective to it; they make it their own clothing and create something wonderful. Franklin is one of a small handful of singers, including Elvis Presley, who blows you away with their voice and sheer panache. Set aside the influence Franklin has and her incredible style; you have this powerhouse vocalist who could bring the house down and bring tears to the eyes. I recall watching a video of Franklin performing Carole King’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015 and moving an in-attendance King to tears. It received a standing ovation and showed, in her seventies, she still had that awesome power and command.

Last year, Franklin cancelled a series of gigs on doctor’s orders; she has had health problems through her career but has always managed to make it through. From removing a tumour in 2010 – doctors said it would add fifteen to twenty years to her life – to dropping a lot of weight during a crash diet in 1974; the tough and tenacious artist has always been drawn back to music and the desire to perform. Franklin’s last, proper studio album was 2014 Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics received great reviews and saw her tackle songs from the likes of Dinah Washington and Adele. A Brand New Me, released last year, saw the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra add their qualities to existing Aretha Franklin vocals. Although the reviews were not particularly good; it was another case of people wanting to pay tribute to the Queen of Soul. That was her forty-second studio album and arrived an incredible fifty-eight years after her debut. During that incredible career, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1979); she was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in n 1987; the second woman inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 – so many honours and fantastic achievements! Many see Franklin as the voice of the civil rights movement and a symbol of black equality – at a time when there is still racial inequality around the world, that voice and memory are ever-important and crucial.

Jennifer Hudson is to play Franklin in an upcoming biopic and it will take on a sad tinge given the news we have received. It is hard to say how many singers, politicians and public figures she has inspired and made stronger. You can hear the influence of Franklin in everyone from Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé; Adele and any number of female vocalists whose power and potency recalls the unbelievable spirit of Franklin. Popstars like Mariah Carey have been inspired by Franklin and, look around music, and you will identify so many who owe what they do to her. Soul is one of those genres that is always slightly away from the mainstream but always relevant. During Franklin’s reign, she managed to put it to the forefront and it, in her hands, had the same force and physicality as Punk and Rock. Now, decades after her golden era, I wonder whether artists need to take from her and bring Soul right back to the mainstream. It will not be easy but the fact Franklin captivated the world and affected such change has not been forgotten. I am a big Soul fan and always struggle with the fact it is never given the respect it warrants. R&B and Rap get plenty of focus but what of Soul?! Maybe there is nobody out there who can match Franklin but, following her passing, there will be stars and artists coming through who want to follow in her footsteps.

This article, published in Elle in 2016, looked at the legacy of Aretha Franklin’s Respect, some fifty years after its release. They spoke with various figures who gave their impressions on the song – and what Franklin’s music meant to them:

And Gloria Steinem, a journalist edging toward the crusade that would define her life when "Respect" hit the radio, says, "I always felt that nothing too bad could happen in the world while I was listening to Aretha Franklin. Everything was good, including that I could dance with nobody around. True, there was a line in 'Respect' that made me anxious for both of us: something like, 'I'm about to give you all my money.' But I figured Aretha knew what she was doing, and nobody was going to mess with her. With us".

The interviewer sat with Franklin and asked her about feminism and race relations in the U.S. now (2015):

Franklin thinks feminism is working. "The president of the Kennedy Center is a woman. Women are moving into fabulous positions," she says. The women she's met and admired are a diverse lot: Coretta Scott King, Steinem, Oprah, Barbara Jordan. As for young female singer-songwriters, she's a fan of Alicia Keys, Adele, and Jennifer Hudson; she calls Judy Garland "one of the greatest singers there was."

When I ask Franklin about the presidential race and the current state of race relations, she seems reluctant to offer an opinion, saying instead, rather wistfully, "People are not as nice as they used to be. There used to be a time when we conversed. You don't get a lot of real responses now. They used to be more polite and well-mannered people, generally. It's minimal now." She pauses, and then: "I think it would be a far greater world if people were kinder and more respectful to each other." Respect: There's that word again”.

One of the most poignant interview quotes from recent times is in 2016 when People interviewed her. Franklin was asked which of the current singers should inherit the title of the Queen of Soul. They projected a few names but the reply from Franklin was to-the-point and expected:

Thus, we asked reigning Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin to weigh in on the new school of musical royalty, from Beyonce to Adele to Lady Gaga.

“There’s a lot of great singers out here,” Franklin tells PEOPLE diplomatically while celebrating her 74th birthday at the Ritz Carlton in New York City on Thursday, joined by Clive Davis, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Tamron Hall.

But when asked who she’d want to pass the diva torch to, Franklin’s answer was simply, no one. “I’m here!” she said with a smile. “I’m not going anywhere. This is what I do”.

That may provoke a tear or a wry smile because, however you look at things, her music is always in the world and her brilliance cannot be topped. I do not think there will be anyone who will dare challenge her title and can get anywhere near. Rather than try to equal Aretha Franklin or copy what she does; the legacy and influence will pass through the ages and, as the playlist at the bottom of this feature shows, she has managed to achieve so much brilliance during her six-decade recording career (more if you count the songs she was recording as a child). It is always heartbreaking losing an icon who has followed all of us and enriched our lives. Aretha Franklin was one of the last, great Soul performers and one of those artists who has managed to change music and society. There will be tributes played and sadness but, as Franklin said in that 2014 interview: “I’m here!”. Although she is not with us anymore, that quote above really sticks in the mind. It is true that, no matter how much times passes…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

SHE is not going anywhere!   

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. XXI)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Shygirl/PHOTO CREDIT: Samuel Ibram

An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. XXI)

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IT may be ironic…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Dolls/PHOTO CREDIT: Gabrielle Hall

branding something ‘summer-ready’ when the weather is less than summer-like! The rain here is pissing down and those hot and sweaty days seem far behind us. In the same way that some people do a rain dance; I am hoping these blistering songs from some of the best female artists/female-led bands (from this year or last) in new music banish the bad weather and bring something much more pleasing to our shores. Whatever your tastes and musical preferences; I am sure you will be able to find something suitably arresting, pleasing and satisfying to ensure summer comes back…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Emotional Oranges

IN next to no time.

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Eirini Devitt Marry Me

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PHOTO CREDITTilly May Photography

Yama Warashi Kofun No Uta

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PHOTO CREDITIsha Shah

Petrol Girls Sister

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PHOTO CREDIT: Rosie Mackay

Saltwater Sun Hot Mess

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PHOTO CREDITKeira-Anee Photography

Dolls She Don’t Use Jelly

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 PHOTO CREDITDIY

Dama Scout Milky Milk

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Maya Wolff (ft. Fulgurant) What If We Can

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Bully Guess There

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Wyldest Island Gardens

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Alex Winston Tourist

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whenyoung Dreams

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PHOTO CREDIT: Yiskid

Shygirl Gush

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The Kut Love in the Rush Hour

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Emotional Oranges Personal

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Bella McKendree - Water

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PHOTO CREDITPaige Nelson Photography

The Little Miss Red, White & True

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PHOTO CREDIT: Hayley Stewart

Parallels Catch

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Maddie & Tae Friends Don’t

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Stephanie Quayle - Selfish

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Callaghan Summer Days

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Dorcha Bruiser

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Adwaith - Gartref

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Confidence Man Out the Window

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Natalie Evans In Trees

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LUCIA - Summertime

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After London - Dreams

FEATURE: Dorain Gray in Headphones: Ageism in the Music Industry – and Why Artists of a ‘Certain Age’ Are Essential

FEATURE:

 

 

Dorain Gray in Headphones

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IN THIS IMAGE: Madonna/IMAGE CREDIT: Meltendo

Ageism in the Music Industry – and Why Artists of a ‘Certain Age’ Are Essential

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THIS is the last piece I will write…

relating to Madonna but, as she is celebrating her sixtieth birthday today; I have been thinking about age and how still, this far down the line, it is an obsession in society! Growing older is a process we all have to face and it is nothing to be fearful of. One of the reasons why Madonna springs to mind is because she is embracing her years and finding vim and vigour in her sixties – she is already embracing the new milestone and determined not to be silenced and overlooked! This piece from The Independent looks at some of the stars that are still rocking and rolling in their sixties and seventies:

But there is one area where the older woman is suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly thriving – rock music. Madonna celebrates her 60th birthday on Saturday. Kate Bush has just celebrated hers. In fact, they are the spring chickens. Suzi Quatro, 68, and Patti Smith, 71, are not just still rocking, they are still snarling. Cher at 72 pops up with a delightful cameo in the Mamma Mia! movie. The queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, is still recording at 76.

Who’d have thought it? Look back to the 1960s and there were precious few women at all in pop music, let alone older ones. In the UK, Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithfull and a handful of others carried the fight to the mass of male groups (the word boyband had yet to be invented)”.

It seems amazing that there are segregations and partitions depending on your age and stage of life. Radio stations, especially, brand to particular audiences. If you are a young, trendy chart star then you can go to BBC Radio 1 and all the youthful stations in the capital; you might have a better time of things, age-wise, if you are on BBC Radio 6 Music but BBC Radio 2 is for a more mature listener/musician – those who have been ignored by the younger brands. There are very few stations broad enough to play music based on merit and reputation. I wonder, when Madonna’s new album comes out, she will be in the mind of stations that cater to teens and adolescents. It seems shocking she would be sidelined and turned away because she does not fit into the demographic of a particular station – regardless of the fact she has been cranking out gold for over thirty-five years. Look at icons like Paul McCartney, Cher and Kate Bush. The first two are releasing new material very soon and you know they will be resigned to stations where their feel and tones are more comfortable with a set audience. In other words, they are not hip and cutting enough to nestle with the ‘cool’ listeners. Kate Bush, especially, has shown how one can have stamina and huge gravitas the older you get.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush during her Before the Dawn show (2014)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Her twenty-two date-run of concerts a few years back showed she has the energy and ambition of much younger artists. People were not concerned how she looked or how old she was: the reason they went was to listen to those hits and see her do what she does best! We are becoming mired in this ageist mentality where there is a distinct shelf-life of popularity and relevance. Artists do not become spent and archaic once they pass fifty, say. Madonna is launching new material soon and you can bet the material will be as edgy, raucous and sexy as anything out there. Her videos are likely to be as controversial and eye-catching as the likes of Human Nature, Erotica and Like a Prayer. It is very rare, when looking at the music press and stations, you see those more mature and middle-aged artists adorning features. Unless they are a huge name – and even then it is not a guarantee! – you struggle to see anyone past their thirties. Why do we associate the good and desired with young faces and an irrelevant coolness?! It is complex when you transition from the studio to the stage because there is a definite need for stamina and energy. A lot of ageing artists mix chat with music but there are those who have incredible endurance – as able to produce a captivating and energised show as any young artist.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT@Madonna

The Independent’s article looked at women and how, because they live longer than men, there is that additional staying power in music:

Jonathan Morrish, a long-time senior executive at Sony record company, and now a music industry PR consultant, says: “Women generally live longer than men, so it should come as no surprise that so many as they get older seem to flourish creatively with their music and on stage. None of this is easy. I know from the many artists that I have worked with you need tenacity. So perhaps it’s the staying power they had to show at the beginning of their careers, perhaps a savvy emotional intelligence – whatever it is, I admire and welcome it. And applaud them”.

Is the issue and sense of discrimination confined to female artists?! We associate the ageing men with something laddish, legendary and cheeky. We all still lust after The Rolling Stones; love a bit of Macca swagger and go nuts for the old legends who can still give us attitude, Rock and rebellion. Women, on the other hand, are subject to the critique of those who feel, when they acquire wrinkles and lines, they are destined for the scrapheap! Madonna, as many are noting, is as fresh and relevant now as she was in her twenties. She is maturing in many ways but is as feisty and creatively primal as her beginnings.

In fact, in this article from earlier in the year, she tackled ageism head-on:

"Why should only men be allowed to be adventurous, sexual, curious, and get to have all the fun until the day they leave this earth?" she asks.

"What I am going through now is ageism, with people putting me down or giving me a hard time because I date younger men or do things that are considered to be only the domain of younger women," explains Madonna.

The 59-year-old musician plans to keep fighting against ageism.

"Ten to 20 years from now, it's going to be normal," Madonna says of how she lives her life. "People are going to shut up."

The singer says that "by standing up to men" it's only a matter of time until certain behaviours won't be dubbed "ageist".

Does society still place double standards when it comes to men and women? Maybe beauty magazines and that ideal of ‘perfection’ (being young) clouds and poisons how we perceive women of a certain age. Lola Blanc, writing back in 2015 proved how many women, even in their twenties, are fearing ageism and being marginalised :

There's a part of me that's terrified to write this. I'm a singer and a songwriter, and as a female who's not yet a household name, I can't help but feel the familiar, deep-seated fear that being open about this fact will lead to my professional demise. I'm fighting it. Here goes: I'm 27.

I've felt a sense of urgency since I can remember. I can feel it now, I could feel it ten years ago, and I felt it even as a kid. It looms just ahead at every moment, threatening me with its sinister little whisper: You are getting older”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sir Paul McCartney/PHOTO CREDIT: MJ Kim

I am in my thirties but feel, career-wise, there is a distinct cut-off point where one has to accept they might not be able to achieve their dreams. The media seems to idealise the young and look for the fresh-faced and infused. Madonna and her peers are fighting against those who view the older man/woman as culturally irrelevant and dusty. I write about ageism last year but am compelled to revise the subject given the fact, at sixty, Madonna is flying a flag for the mature woman who is as vibrant and essential as any artist out there. Everyone from P!nk, Sheryl Crow and Kylie Minogue have spoken up recently and said the same thing: they have faced ageism and judgement but they are golden as popular as ever. I feel we devalue artists who get to a certain point in their career. They are more essential than the new breed because they have proved their staying power. The business is unpredictable and it gets harder and harder to forge a long and enduring career. You need talent and strength but it takes personality and resilience to endure as long as the likes of Madonna, Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell. There is a definite split between male and female artists but I wonder whether there is another divide between new and established artists.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sheryl Crow/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Those epic stars that are still in the public eye have proved their worth and survived market trends, changes and mortality to emerge hungry and inventive. Rather than limit these artists to certain radio stations and feel they are ‘too old’ to be seen as beautiful and fashionable; learning from them and embracing their longevity should happen. The fact their new music might not be as cutting, iconic and unexpected as their classic hits is no reason to relegate them and feel they are resigned to a rather early grave. Big artists are feeling the pinch but I rarely get submissions from middle-aged and older acts. X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger spoke of ageism and suggesting streaming is a viable outlet for artists struggling to get their music played on the radio:

“…However, while she did say that she feels it’s “harder with age” to get your songs played on the radio, she does think streaming services have offered a second chance to pop stars.

Nicole claimed: “What’s so great is that we have streaming. That is awesome because once you have a hit, streaming breaks all the boundaries of appearance and age”.

I wonder whether artists starting out in the fifties and sixties feel they are never going to be taken seriously and struggle against younger competition. The industry has always been more attracted to those bands who can kick and smash for a couple of hours; new acts who can sit on a magazine cover and have that radio-wide appeal – what happens to those who are a bit more ‘mature’?

Back to the mainstream and this article, written in 2016, brought in facts and figures to illustrate the ageism and restrictions of the charts:

This week Sia became the first woman aged over 40 to top the US charts since Madonna achieved the feat 16 years ago.

With her hit Cheap Thrills, Adelaide’s Sia is breaking the glass ceiling for women over 40 (she turns 41 in December) as radio and the pop charts are dominated by females in their teens or 20s.

Artists over 40, especially women, face difficulties trying to compete on today’s pop charts and commercial radio playlists.

A look at the 100 most played songs on Australian radio last year is a sobering indication of this ageism against women.

Paul McCartney, now 74, was the oldest act by far, but he merely performed on the number one hit Four Five Seconds, with Kanye West and Rihanna handling the vocals.

The next oldest was French dance producer David Guetta, 47, when his song Hey Mama was a hit last year, but again the vocals came from Nicki Minaj.

The most-played oldest acts on Australian radio last year were all men: rapper Nelly (41), Robin Thicke (39), Kanye West (39), John Legend (37), Diplo (37) and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine (37) joining him.

The most-played women on Australian radio last year? Taylor Swift (26), Ellie Goulding (29), Rihanna (28), Meghan Trainor (22), Selena Gomez (24) and Adele (28), and, of course, Sia (40)”.

Tina Arena, in the same article, reacted to Madonna’s assumptions regarding music and radio – when you are out of your twenties then you are passed aside and replaced:

Madonna is absolutely right. Totally,” Arena told News Corp last year. “It affects a lot of women. It shouldn’t just be young women on radio. Women in their 40s have philosophical things to say that need to be heard.

“The music industry or radio doesn’t see it as viable and I think that’s a huge mistake. I think there’s a real generation of people that are ignored. I’m just doing what a 40-plus woman in the music industry would be doing. I’m doing my job. My job is to write a record that hopefully women of my age and younger will be bothered to listen to.

“I still believe people like to listen to new music, no matter their age, especially if it talks to them and their lives”.

There is a lot of pressure around body image and a certain sexiness. Is a man or woman in their fifties going to be viewed as desirable and cover-worthy?! Many music videos are using sex and youth to sell; younger generations are spending less time with the established pioneers and obsessed with what is funky and trending. Those icons like Madonna have opened doors and changed the industry. They have managed to push music as far as it has come and has added so much through the years. The fact these stars have contributed so much does not guarantee them continued success and celebration. Many say the middle-aged and older stars are not producing music as good and inspiring as when they were young. That is a subject measure and I feel artists need to not only embrace their age but accept that a certain sound is not suitable at a certain point. The Pop legends of old cannot keep that same sound as they did in the 1970s and 1980s – they need to move with the times but that does not mean they are bad or inferior. Artists coming through, of a particular age, are scared of being ignored right from the off. If there is more pressure and discrimination placed on the shoulder of women; it seems new artists, regardless of age, have to work so much harder (than younger peers) to get heard. Streaming services go some way but artists depend on radio, journalists and fans to get their work out there.

Age is such a stupid barrier that needs to come down. We are not seeing music as an equal market and judging people in terms of merit. More and more, artists past the age of twenty or thirty have to accept that they are going to be consigned to a certain radio station or seen as past-it. These attitudes are killing careers and causing divisions. If the iconic artists we all grew up around prove anything is they have more endurance and meaning than any young artist on the current scene. These newcomers are unlikely to survive for years and have that same allure and memorability. It is probably wise to look at the sixty-year-old Madonna as proof of a star who is ageing but does not see age as a barrier – she is filling Instagram with birthday snaps and is determined to kick against those who query her contemporary value. In this article; Madonna shared her opinions regarding age as a ‘sin’:

I mean, who made those rules? Who says? I’m going to keep fighting it,” she said.

“10 to 20 years from now, it’s going to be normal. People are going to shut up”.

The Pop Queen is still on the throne thirty-six years after her debut single and will continue to rule for decades to come – even death cannot dethrone her! We need to get out of the ageism trap and stop putting people into certain brackets. Women, especially, in music have a hard time getting focus and respect when they start to age. If we keep pushing wonderful artists aside based on their age then we risk making the industry a much poorer, divided…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

AND depressing place.

FEATURE: Express Yourself: Madonna at Sixty: Her Finest Songs

FEATURE:

 

 

Express Yourself

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna on the T.V. programme, Saturday Show, in 1984/PHOTO CREDIT: Rex

Madonna at Sixty: Her Finest Songs

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THIS time tomorrow…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)/PHOTO CREDIT: Rex

will see the Queen of Pop enter her seventh decade of life and it will be a big moment! If she were unhappy about turning sixty – and not willing to make a fuss – then I would feel guilty for publishing so much. In contrast, she is looking forward and planning a big shindig. It will be great to see her embrace her birthday. The music industry places emphasis on age and being ‘mature’ – signals that, once you get to a certain point, you need to slow it all down and be a bit quiet. In honour of the Pop legend turning sixty; I have selected her very best songs. Have a look at these tracks and maybe you disagree with the selection; you might have some personal opinions or want to cast your own vote. It is hard to narrow down the brilliance of her music but I hope, in this piece, I have gone some way to…

IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna performing on the Blond Ambition Tour (1990) in Tokyo, Japan/PHOTO CREDIT: Rex

HIGHLIGHTING the cream of the crop.

SINGLE COVER ART: Getty Images

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Borderline

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Released: 15th February, 1984

Album: Madonna (1983)

Trivia: The song became Madonna’s first top-ten in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and charted for thirty weeks. Borderline has been covered by the likes of The Flaming Lips and Duffy and the music video for the song is considered one of her finest and most enduring.

Like a Virgin

Released: 31st October, 1984

Album: Like a Virgin (1984)

Trivia: Like a Virgin was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly and was inspired by Steinberg’s time living in his father's Coachella Valley vineyard. Steinberg stated it was not intended for Madonna when he wrote it – it was based on his personal experiences. Producer Nile Rodgers did not want Madonna to record the song as he felt it was bubble-gum and there was no good hook (he grew to like the song!). Family organisations wanted the video and song banned because they felt Madonna was unsavoury and was promoting sex without marriage.  The song is listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll – a satisfying middle-finger to those who snubbed and criticised the track!

Material Girl

Released: 23rd January, 1985

Album: Like a Virgin (1984)

Trivia: The music video was a mimicry of Marilyn Monroe’s performance of the song Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend from the 1953 film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Everyone from Britney Spears and Haylie Duff have covered the song and, despite it being considered one of her most iconic songs; Rikky Rooksby, in the book, The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna, called it a “pungent satire on the Regan/Thatcher young-guns-go-for-it era” and stated that Pop music and irony do not mix!

Papa Don’t Preach

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Released: 11th June, 1986

Album: True Blue (1986)

Trivia: The music video saw Madonna adopt a complete makeover. She got rid of the heavy jewellery and thrift store looks of previous shoots/videos and sported a more toned physique, cropped hair and a look that was described as a mixture of tomboy and Shirley MacLaine. The song hit the Billboard Hot 100 at number-forty-two and, within eight weeks of release, it had reached the top – making it Madonna’s fourth number-one single in the U.S.

La Isla Bonita

Released: 25th February, 1987

Album: True Blue (1986)

Trivia: Madonna co-wrote the song with Patrick Leonard. It was Madonna’s first single to incorporate Latino influences and the lyrics are a tribute to a beautiful island – Madonna has said it was a tribute to the beauty of Latinos. It became her fourth number-one in the U.K. and set the record for the most number-ones for a female artist. In the music video, Madonna plays two characters – a young, pious Catholic woman and a glamorous, passionate Latina.

Like a Prayer

Released: 3rd March, 1989

Album: Like a Prayer (1989)

Trivia: Although its video turned heads and caused some controversy, the song debuted the Billboard Hot 100 at number-thirty-eight and impressed critics who noted Madonna’s growing confidence and move from a more-simple Pop artist to someone able to fuse sweet-sounding elements with raw, sexual lyrics - a mixture of the sacred and profane. Like a Prayer has been featured during five of Madonna’s concert tours, most recently on the Rebel Heart Tour in 2015-2016.

Express Yourself

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Released: 9th May, 1989

Album: Like a Prayer (1989)

Trivia: The video for the song was directed by David Fincher and was inspired by the Fritz Lang classic, Metropolis (1927). The video’s budget was $5 million which made it the most expensive video ever at that time – it is currently the third-mostexpensive of all time. Madonna’s inspiration behind the song was to express what you feel and not hiding it because, if you do not let it out, you will regret it. No matter how sexually confident you are in a relationship she said, there is that power struggle and compromise (that quote is attributed to the author Mick St. Michael).

Vogue

Released: 27th March, 1990

Album: I'm Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy (1990)

Trivia: Vogue is considered, musically and stylistically, a career highlight. The song remains one of Madonna’s biggest international hits and has topped the charts in over thirty countries. It became the world’s best-selling single of 1990 and sold over six-million copies. The video was directed by David Fincher and takes stylistic inspiration from the 1920s and 1930s. The video won three gongs at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards and is seen as one of the greatest music videos ever.

Justify My Love

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Released: 30th October, 1990

Album: The Immaculate Collection (1990)/B-side of Express Yourself

Trivia: Musically, Justify My Love is a Trip-Hop-inspired track with mid-tempo settings and instrumentation. The lyrics look, primarily, at sex and romance. Critics were mixed when the song was released but Justify My Love has been seen by contemporary critics as one of her very best. The track became Madonna’s ninth number-one and reached the top-ten in several countries.

Erotica

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Released: 29th September, 1992

Album: Erotica (1992)

Trivia: Like Justify My Love; Erotica experiments with Spoken Word and it (Erotica) is an ode to S&M – Madonna used the pseudonym, ‘Dita’.  In the song (and video), she asks her lover to be passive whilst making love to her and leads him to explore the boundaries of pleasure and pain.

Rain

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Released: 5th August, 1993

Album: Erotica (1992)

Trivia: Rain was written and produced together by Madonna and Shep Pettibone. Madonna wanted the song for a musical adaptation of the 1939 film, Wuthering Heights, to be directed by Alek Keshishian. The video premiered on 21st June, 1993 on MTV and won two categories for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards. It was ranked number-seventy on SLANT Magazine’s 100 Greatest Music Videos.

Take a Bow

Released: 6th December, 1994

Album: Bedtime Stories (1994)

Trivia: Produced by Madonna and Babyface; the song became Madonna’s eleventh number-one and received favourable reviews from critics – impressed by the poetic, soulful lyrics and mature sound. Take a Bow was backed by a full orchestra and it was the first time Babyface had worked with a live orchestra (per Madonna’s suggestion). The pentatonic strings give the song an impression of Chinese or Japanese Opera.

Human Nature

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Released: 6th June, 1995

Album: Bedtime Stories (1994)

Trivia: A reaction to the pressure Madonna was getting regarding sexual content in her music; Human Nature is a shit against critics and their rather conservative attitude. It sees her at her most confident and brash as she counteracts fussy and ridiculous critisisms with an excepptional vocal peerforemance.

Frozen

Released: 23rd February, 1998

Album: Ray of Light (1998)

Trivia: The first single from the critically-celebrated album, Ray of Light; Frozen is seen as a huge creative leap and masterpiece by critics. The video was directed by Chris Cunningham in the Californian desert and (the video) portrayed Madonna as a witch-like figure who shapeshifts into a flock of birds and a black dog. The song has been covered by artists such as Talisman and Thy Disease.

Ray of Light

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Released: 6th May, 1998

Album: Ray of Light (1998)

Trivia: Another track from the Ray of Light album that gained massive critical love; the music video was directed by Jonas Åkerlund – who had previously directed the controversial Smack My Bitch Up video (The Prodigy). Madonna insisted the video should be edited in Los Angeles as, during the Frozen video, she had a number of back-and-forths with director Chris Cunningham (who was in London during the process) – something she was not keen to repeat.

The Power of Good-Bye

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Released: 22nd September, 1998

Album: Ray of Light (1998)

Trivia: The Power of Good-Bye received acclaim from critics who recognised the track as one of Ray of Light’s best cuts. They praised Madonna going in an instrumental and Electronic direction and praised the strong and nuanced vocals. The song attained commercial success across Europe and reached the top-ten in charts of over nine nations.

Music

Released: 21st August, 2000

Album: Music (2000)

Trivia:

Music was inspired by a Sting concert Madonna attended and was written and produced by her with Mirwais Ahmadzai. It is a Disco/Electro-Funk song in the static key of G minor and Madonna’s vocals are electronically manipulated in the track – the lyrics have political and social undertones. The video sees Madonna and her friends enjoying themselves in a limousine driven by Ali G. Critics noted the use of American image in the video – especially with Madonna’s cowboy imagery and clothing.

What It Feels Like for a Girl

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Released: 17th April, 2001

Album: Music (2000)

Trivia: The song opens with a Spoken Word sample by actress Charlotte Gainsbourg – taken from the 1993 film, The Cement Garden. The music video was directed by her then-husband Guy Ritchie and premiered on 22nd March, 2001. It features Madonna on a reckless crime spree – causing MTV to ban the video before the 9.00 P.M. watershed.

Hung Up

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Released: 17th October, 2005

Album: Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005)

Trivia: The famous ABBA (instrumental) sample we hear on Hung Up is from their hit, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight). Many critics felt Madonna has suffered a creative slump during her 2003 album, American Life, and were back on-board with this song. The music video is a tribute to John Travolta and his dancing films - whilst the song became Madonna’s thirty-sixth top-ten song.

Bitch I’m Madonna

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Released: 15th June, 2015

Album: Rebel Heart (2015)

Trivia: Although the song sees a fair few co-writers in the mix (including SOPHIE and Maureen McDonald); Bitch I'm Madonna talks of Madonna having fun because of who she is – not really caring about age, limitations and opinions. Many critics were offended by the usage of the word ‘bitch’. Madonna shot back and was annoyed. She realised that word could be taken out of context and offensive but, in her song, it was a more affectionate and harmless term.

FEATURE: The Immaculate Collection: Madonna at Sixty: Her Six Best Studio Albums

FEATURE:

 

 

The Immaculate Collection

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna/@EllenVUnwerth

Madonna at Sixty: Her Six Best Studio Albums

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OTHER articles might stretch the premise…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in a photo from the Ray of Light sessions (1998)/PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest/Getty Images

to her entire catalogue but I felt, as most people will want the very finest from Madonna, I’d whittle things down to the best six studio albums! There is talk of another record, her fourteenth studio album, coming either this year or next – reason to prick the ears and keep the eyes open! Her work post-Ray of Light (1998) has split critics. There has been a lot of love for some albums but others, like MDNA and Rebel Heart, have been less celebrated. As the Queen of Pop prepares hits sixty, I select the six albums you should add to your vinyl collection (if not done so already). I am not including The Immaculate Collection (as it is a best-of album) but am pretty sure, in these six albums, you will find the icon at her most engaging, impressive and alive. Have a look/listen, get down to your local record shop and be sure to snap up…

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A sextet of Madonna’s vinyl-gold.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images

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Number-Six: Erotica

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Release Date: 20th October, 1992

Labels: Maverick, Sire, Warner Bros.

Critical Review:

“Erotica’s irrefutable unsexiness probably says more about the sex=death mentality of the early ’90s than any other musical document of its time. This is not Madonna at her creative zenith. This is Madonna at her most important, at her most relevant. Pettibone’s beats might be time-stamped with the sound of a genre that ruled a decade of one-hitters before being replaced by commercialized hip-hop, and Madonna’s voice might sound nasal and remote, but no one else in the mainstream at that time dared to talk about sex, love, and death with such frankness and fearlessness, and, intentional or not (probably not), the fact that she sounds like she has a cold only adds to the claustrophobic stuffiness of the record

SLANT (2007)

Reasons to Explore:

Erotica is (at that point) the most varied, exciting and adventurous collection of songs from Madonna. Released simultaneously with her coffee table book, Sex, it is the once-restrained star explore sex and romance in daring and bold ways. Songs range from confessional to celebratory; a feast of sounds and tones that took her music to another level. It is ground-breaking in the sense (to that point) a female artist had not been as revealing and honest regarding her fantasies and sexual experiences.

Key Tracks: Erotica; Deeper and Deeper; Words; Rain

Number-Five: Like a Virgin

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Release Date: 12th November, 1984

Labels: Sire, Warner Bros.

Critical Review:

Though not as innovative as her debut, the album stands as one of the most definitive pop artifacts from the indulgent Reagan Era. The mid-tempo ballad “Shoo-Bee-Doo” and a soulful cover of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” proved Madonna could churn out more than just novelty hits, while the sugary “Angel” and the irresistible “Dress You Up” contributed to the singer’s record-breaking list of consecutive Top 5 hits (16 in all). The retro-infused “Stay” and the percussive “Over and Over” are the album’s hidden gems; a frenetic remix of the latter resurfaced on 1987’s You Can Dance”.

SLANT (2001)

Reasons to Explore:

Material Girl and Like a Virgin are two of the defining hits of the 1980s. They are incredible Pop songs but, perhaps, do not best represent an artist who was looking to take greater control of her material. Madonna wanted to be the record's producer but the label, feeling she was not ready, gave her the freedom to choose a producer - she chose Nile Rodgers. Madonna's increasing artistic control (she wrote six songs on the album; five have Steve Bray as a co-writer) led to songs that are smart, sexy and hypnotic. Sharper and more engaging than any of her peers at that time; Like a Virgin is a stunning, if flawed, record. We all know the anthems and incredible singles from the record: parts of our childhood that, thirty-four years after their release, sound fresh, nuanced and essential. It goes to show that, at that time, Madonna could truly do no wrong!

Key Tracks: Material Girl; Angel; Like a Virgin; Pretender

Number-Four: Confessions on a Dance Floor

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Release Date: 9th November, 2005

Label: Warner Bros.

Critical Review:

It may be a return to core values, but there's still a bravery about Confessions on a Dancefloor. It revels in the delights of wilfully plastic dance pop in an era when lesser dance-pop artists - from Rachel Stevens to Price's protege Juliet - are having a desperately thin time of it. It homages the DJ mix album, a format long devalued by computer-generated cash-in compilations. It flies in fashion's face with a swaggering hint of only-I-can-do-this: "If you don't like my attitude," she suggests on I Love New York, "then you can eff-off." Dancing queens of every variety should be delighted

The Guardian (2005)

Reasons to Explore:

2003’s American Life was a concept album about the American Dream and materialism. A fascinating album that saw the artist push in new directions but not one that united critics. After a gold run that included Ray of Light (1998) and Music (2000); there was pressure to regain footing following a minor slump. Confessions on a Dance Floor is a total reinvention and move from the rebellious and revolutionary figure that adorns American Life’s cover to the Disco-dwelling, colourful heroine of its follow-up. Tracks like Hung Up (sampling ABBA’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) show the Queen of Pop renewed and refreshed; completely free and intoxicated by the material. Madonna co-writes every track but, whilst there are other cooks in the kitchen, the true star and single voice is that of Madonna.

Key Tracks: Hung Up; Sorry; I Love New York; Push

Number-Three: True Blue

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Release Date: 30th June, 1986

Labels: Sire, Warner Bros.

Critical Review:

“…Her real trick here, however, is transcending her status as a dance-pop diva by consciously recalling classic girl group pop ("True Blue," "Jimmy Jimmy") to snag the critics, while deepening the dance grooves ("Open Your Heart," "Where's the Party"), touching on Latin rhythms ("La Isla Bonita"), making a plea for world peace ("Love Makes the World Go Round"), and delivering a tremendous ballad that rewrites the rules of adult contemporary crossover ("Live to Tell"). It's even harder to have the entire album play as an organic, cohesive work. Certainly, there's some calculation behind the entire thing, but what matters is the end result, one of the great dance-pop albums, a record that demonstrates Madonna's true skills as a songwriter, record-maker, provocateur, and entertainer through its wide reach, accomplishment, and sheer sense of fun. [A deluxe reissue featured two additional remixes: "True Blue (The Color Mix)" and an extended mix of "La Isla Bonita."]”.

 – AllMusic (2009)

Reasons to Explore:

Following her previous album, Like a Virgin (1984), she could have repeated herself and rode that wave. Instead, True Blue is a vision of work, life; love and dreams that balance heartache and sorrows – many of the songs were inspired by her then-husband Sean Penn. By incorporating Classical music (to win older listeners) and addressing subjects such as teen pregnancy; Madonna was maturing as an artist and her voice was stronger than ever. There is an open and often heavy heart but, at all times, the heroine shows a sense of fun that won critics and saw Madonna go from the Popstar to the Icon – True Blue is an album that has influenced legions of musicians with its melodic Pop and incredible potency.

Key Tracks: Papa Don’t Preach; Open Your Heart; True Blue; La Isla Bonita

Number-Two: Ray of Light

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Release Date: 22nd February, 1998

Labels: Maverick, Warner Bros.

Critical Review:

“…Instead, Ray of Light sums up the best we can expect from Madonna at this late date: overly arty, occasionally catchy, confused, secondhand, infuriating and great fun in spite of herself. She doesn't seem to have a clear idea of what she wants to say about motherhood, other than that it's the sort of intense experience that happens to a special person like Madonna. But that's all it takes to get her emotions going, and passionate peaks like "Drowned World" and "Little Star" remind you that for all the years Madonna has spent chasing art, class and fashion, the reason we still care about her eccentricities is the emotion in her music; all her desperately chic decor can't hide her rock & roll heart”.

Rolling Stone (2009)

Reasons to Explore:

Her first studio album in four years; Ray of Light is the most radical and (oddly) natural musical shift from Madonna. She began working on the album after giving birth to her first child and, with producers Babyface, Patrick Leonard and William Orbit, it was the longest recording process of her career – a combination of experimentation and hardware issues! Madonna’s first foray into Electronic and Dance territory; she naturally blends Trip-Hop, Ambient and Middle Eastern music – her vocal breadth and range was fuller than at any other time.

Madonna’s new-found following of Kabbalah, Hinduism and Buddhism – combined with her daily Ashtanga Yoga routines – made Ray of Light a dizzying and world-uniting collection. Victorious, adventurous and utterly transfixing; Ray of Light is seen as one of the greatest albums of all time; it is an award-winning, chart-ruling and monumental record that brought Electronic music into the mainstream and inspired the likes of Fatboy Slim (and many others since).

Key Tracks: Ray of Light; Candy Perfume Girl; Nothing Really Matters; Frozen

Number-One: Like a Prayer

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Release Date: 21st March, 1989

Labels: Sire, Warner Bros.

Critical Review:

So maybe Madonna’s protests that Like a Prayer wasn’t autobiographical were a bit of a ruse—or just another way to keep the minds of America’s pop-watchers thinking about her music as she gave them an album where she was less afraid to show her flaws, more willing to try on new personas that had bits of her selves attached. After all, as she told The New York Times in 1989, “What I do is total commercialism, but it’s also art.” Like a Prayer straddles those two ideals with gusto, with even its less satisfying moments adding to the heat given off by the MTV era’s brightest star”.

Pitchfork (2017)

Reasons to Explore:

Although I confess this is not my favourite Madonna album (Ray of Light) album, it is the strongest and finest – in the same way that I prefer Rubber Soul but acknowledge Revolver is the best Beatles album. Critics see the record as confessional as Madonna talks about her father, mother and bonds with her family (Madonna dedicated the album to her mother who died when she (Madonna) was young). Dance, Funk and Gospel explode and crackle on a record that stays close to the heart but pushes boundaries.

The Pop sheen and upbeat tone of Express Yourself is a call for empowerment and liberation; Like a Prayer’s video drew from Madonna’s Catholic upbringing and caused tongues to wag in 1989 – a spectacular and decade-defining video that finally saw Madonna received near-universal acclaim. There are few better ways to end the eighties than Like a Prayer! The record sees Madonna transform from a Popstar to a bona fide artist - a perfect balance between chirpy Pop and the more serious tone that would define her later work. Daring lyrics and incredible maturity meant more people were talking about the material rather than the image. It was the moment Madonna proved she had no equals – quite a feat considering her debut album only arrived six years previous!

Key Tracks: Like a Prayer; Express Yourself; Cherish; Oh Father

FEATURE: Out of the Closet and Into the Darkness: Queercore’s Glorious Punk Revolution – and Why a Reframed and Repurposed Movement Is Needed

FEATURE:

 

 

Out of the Closet and Into the Darkness

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IN THIS PHOTO: A promotional shot for the 2017 documentary, Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution/PHOTO CREDIT: Alice Wheeler

Queercore’s Glorious Punk Revolution – and Why a Reframed and Repurposed Movement Is Needed

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MOMENTS after writing a piece about Madonna…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Riot Grrrl leaders and Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution contributors, Bikini Kill/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I looked back on what I wrote and a specific paragraph: the Pop legend’s role in bringing gay culture and rights the surface. During the 1980s, there was a lot of ignorance and intolerance of the LG.B.T.Q. (or L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.) community and, although there still is, many were not allowed express themselves – I often interpret her songs Express Yourself and Human Nature as wider narratives that bring in the gay community and breaks down numerous barriers. My experience of the gay community and fringes of the Queercore movement is peripheral and academic. Being a straight guy, my motive is to highlight equality and the need to fight against judgement – my approach is more academic and research-based rather than personal. That said, I am interested in how artists from the gay/L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community have fared and been interpreted through the decades. I will conclude by looking at downsides to the Queercore movement and why there needs to be a fresh movement. Right now, I get to thinking about Punk and how explosive it was. The 1970s was an exceptional decade for music that boasted brilliant bands like the Sex Pistols, Ramones and The Clash. The best of British and American were telling their stories and rebelling against authority, conventions and The System. Whilst some see Punk as fleeting and rather weak-willed – in the sense that it did not survive far past the decade – its effects and legacy is still being felt today.

We have a much broader idea of what ‘Punk’ is and how far it extends. Post-Punk bands like IDLES and Shame are splicing Alternative strands; there are great Garage-Punk bands coming out of the U.S. and British stalwarts like Parquet Courts make a glorious noise! I feel there needs to be a revolution against a rather clean and safe musical core that is being infantilised and homogenised by record labels, market demands and a general sense of fear. At a time when there is a lot of inspection regarding sexism, sexual assault (against female artists) and the discipline of the music industry; is it possible to have a mass Punk movement that unifies straight and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists?! I smell the yearning and scent of desire but it seems like a long way off – we have a lot to sort and organise in an industry that, like film, is suffering with its reputation a little. Punk, back in the 1970s and 1980s, was always about something masculine, straight and ‘normal’. One would find very little for the gay and alternative artist who wanted to talk about their experiences. One had female Punk bands and representatives but there was little vocalisation regarding the experiences of those who, at the time, were somewhat marginalised and outside of society’s acceptable circle.

There is still a lot of division and segregation when it comes to the gay community and assimilation into the mainstream – especially when it comes to ethnicity! In my piece about Hungama a club-night in London that is a safe space for expression for everyone, not just those in the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community, but is a place where the Asian community can feel safe and accepted – I looked at the Asian community and members of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community and how there is a feeling of alienation, isolation and loneliness:

There is a thriving and bustling Asian community in Brick Lane and the surrounding areas – I wonder whether we think too much as to why there is a larger Asian population in certain parts of London?! In any case; race and diversity are important areas we all need to address. I wonder, at a time when the nation is divided, the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. Asian population feels more divided and ignored than most”.

I will explore improvements, racial integration and a new movement later but, right now, a look back at Queercore’s foundations:

Beginning in the mid-1980s, most notably in Toronto but with origins elsewhere, an underground culture was formed by a revolutionary group of self-proclaimed “queers” who were less concerned about mainstream acceptance of their sexuality and more geared toward creating unconventional spaces where they could be themselves. Places where, essentially, one could be gay without liking stereotypical “gay things.”

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

...Queer Nation, which was birthed in 1990 as a militant response to LGBTQ prejudice, demanded equal rights for gays and lesbians, which, like other LGBTQ activist groups, could eventually be viewed as an assimilation into mainstream society, and thus, capitalism. This was an ideology that queercore wanted to distance itself from.

But by the ‘80s, punk had changed to a more hardcore sound and the once inclusive counter-culture suddenly became filled with homophobia, sexism and “macho punks”.

That impression and abiding mandate of Punk (something rather manly and ill-inclusive in terms of sexuality) led to a need for change and revolution. Artists who formed the Queercore movement were displaying a comparative Punk spirit built around expression, liberation and not giving a damn. If some saw the positive advertisement and promotion of S.T.D.s, multiple sexual partners and explicit sexual language as offensive and not in the spirit of true Punk; it gave its players and fans a space and style they could embrace and feel safe in. The documentary, Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution, was released last year and charts the movement’s growth and aftermath. This article looks at the documentary and its messages:

The documentary is called Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution, and it stars queer directors Bruce La Bruce and John Waters; female musicians Beth Ditto, Kim Gordon and Peaches; queer performers Genesis P-Orridge, Justin Bond and Jayne County and many others.

Two queer creatives in specific —G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce – helped lay the groundwork for the Queercore scene through their zine J.D., a publication which sought to expose the “bourgeois-ification of the gay movement and the problematic sexual politics of punk” by sharing their own work and that of other disenfranchised queer creatives.

The politics in Queercore dictated that there was no primary or pure way of expressing gender or sexuality — whether that meant building your identity around a fetish, being proud of having STDs, having many lovers, wanting to teach gay sexual health in schools, not caring about the gender of your preferred genitals or getting married to yourself and masturbating until death”.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

The Queercore spirit remains today: we query whether Pride parades should allow corporate profiteers and police forces with a history of racism and L.G.B.T.Q.(I.A.) discrimination in their ranks. Modern festivals like Another Country and Gay Bi Gay Gay highlight local Queercore bands but it seems like the spirit and potent cocktail has dissipated and faded somewhat. Curran Jacob Nault, in a dissertation about the Punk/Queercore movement, looked at the ‘queer’ elements that were existent in the original Punk movement:

Respected punk photographer Lee Black Childers has also commented upon the “queerness” of the NY punk scene, asserting that, in the initial years of punk, “gay people made up most of the audience” (qtd. in Savage, 139). While this is anecdotal evidence and these may be overstatements on the part of Fields and Childers, they still suggest that early punk subculture was not as hetero- or a-sexual as may be initially assumed.26 It should also be mentioned that the term “punk” itself has queer origins. As John Robb explains its etymology: The word "punk" originally meant a prostitute, moldy wood or fungus. By [January 1976, when New York-based] Punk magazine took its name, it had gone on to mean a person who takes it up the ass in prison, a loser or a form of Sixties garage rock'n'roll. (150)”.

Maybe that impression of Punk is a little media-controlled and one-sided: there were elements of queer in the scene but not as overt and populous as Queercore’s movers hoped. The culture grew alongside Riot Grrrl (a feminist Punk movement that started in Washington in the 1990s) and there was a need for those excluded from the mainstream Punk movement to have their voices heard. Riot Grrrl, like Queercore, found its community provocatively and freely expressing their sexual needs and experiences through songs, magazines and underground publications. If Queercore and Riot Grrrl had different sounds and scenes then the core ideal was the same: a chance for equality, being heard and feeling unconstrained. That sense of being cut loose and having a network of support led to some of the most innovative and original music of the time. We know when Queercore came to be but, in reality, was there a need (for Queercore artists) to fight against homophobia in music or perform a brand of music that would not easily sit in the mainstream – a bit of both, it seems:

After the sexual free-for-all that was 1970s glam rock, the pendulum swung back. The 1980s alt-rock landscape was impossibly straight. That’s ironic, since its holy trinity -- R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, and The Smiths -- was made of bands whose frontmen are now respectively queer, out, and sexually nebulous. But in the darker corners of the underground, bands were sprouting up that were defiantly -- and loudly -- gay. The Queercore scene grew out of a generation that bristled against what it saw as the bourgeois trappings of a mainstream gay lifestyle and the macho, hetero hardcore scene that punk -- a movement founded by women, people of color, and gays -- had become. Queercore was a call to arms and storming out of the closet. The literature came before the music. It started out as a loose collective, trading fanzines and letters, and evolved to include dozens of bands, as well as the extraordinary friendships and treacherous rivalries that come along with creative intensity. Here’s an oral history of Queercore, from its inky, Xeroxed beginnings until it rendered itself obsolete”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lynn 'Lynnee' Breedlove/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The article I have quoted above talked to those involved, directly or latterly, with the Queercore experience. Among those who were interviewed was Green Day’s frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong:

I had a feeling Pansy Division would definitely get a mixed reaction. When our crowds were getting more mainstream, we didn’t want to represent the typical Mohawk stereotype. Pansy Division was truly challenging, and their songs are melodic and catchy. I got letters from teenagers saying, after seeing Pansy Division, they had the courage to come out. I saw certain idiots in the crowd yelling “faggots” or throwing shit. But I also saw people dancing and having a good time. Homophobia has no place in the punk scene or the mainstream. I think we share that belief with Pansy Division. Punk rock has been rather queer since the beginning”.

Lynn Breedlove, the queer founding member and singer of San Francisco Dyke-Punk band, Tribe 8, gave her thoughts:

There were rocker queers and disco queers. In high school, I hung with the rockers. We were listening to Journey and Queen. There was no queer music. Freddie Mercury wasn’t even out! But we could tell by looking at him. We would come together at the discos, where we would take our fake IDs and do the hustle. As time progressed, my friends were listening to Black Flag, and I was like, What the fuck is this? It was sarcastic and hilarious, and gay in that it was camp, ironic, and making fun of yourself -- but totally hard-edged and “fuck you”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Pansy Division/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Armstrong’s tales of homophobic exposure and Breedlove sensing a lot of artists about to break free, as it were, give you an idea of why the movement needed to happen and how hard it was for mainstream artists to truly express themselves during the 1980s and 1990s. Queercore bands like Tribe 8, Pansy Division and Excuse 17 provided a platform for a Punk-edged representation of the L.G.B.T.Q. community. In the same way that Riot Grrrls wanted to explore feminine expression and strike against patriarchy; provide a sisterhood and wave that combatted the sexist attitudes in society; Queercore utilised zines and performances as interaction and communication between members of the subculture. The development and accessibility of the Internet (in the 1990s) made it easier to spread messages and interact. Among the best-known Queercore bands of the 1990s were Fifth Column, Pedro and Pansy Division; Queercore events were being set-up in the U.K. and U.S. and it meant the segregation of the gay community – clubs for gay men and ones for gay women – was ended. Women and men could be together and things started to change. The zine, Outpunk, was set up by Matt Wobensmith in 1992 and it became a record label – early recordings from Tribe 8 and Pansy Division were found on compilations. More smaller, boutique labels released Queercore music and, alongside the Riot Grrrl movement, there was this underground network of artists who were making up for lost time!

The 2000s brought new bands to prominence in the U.S. Limp Wrist are a contemporary breed of Punk. Butch Vs Femme formed in 2004 and are a Riot Grrrl-inspired Indie-Punk band that saturate their songs with lyrics of the queer experience. Other bands, like Gravy Train!!! and Hunx and His Punx are continuing the messages and legacy – the former are more explicit with their lyrics and sexual content; the latter are Power-Pop who take from the girl groups of the 1960s. Gay for Johnny Depp and Ben Aqua were among the 2000s players that portrayed a new and updated sound of Queercore; The Shondes (from Brooklyn) mixed Riot Grrrl and Classical with Jewish music. Although many of the more-recent Queercore bands are less Punk-focused; they have mixed in other genres and created a more eclectic, intriguing and accessible palette. Throw into the mix Riot Grrrl/Queercore favourites The Homewreckers and Your Heart Breaks and there was no sign of slowing during the 2000s. The U.K. was seeing a burgeoning and more visible Queercore scene. Groups like Queer Mutiny and Homocrime alongside Corey Orbison, Sleeping States and Little Paper Squares opened eyes to artists who mixed a D.I.Y. aesthetic with Punk sensibilities. Between 2000 and 2009, there was a flux of fantastic Queercore bands that helped bring it more into the mainstream.

Candy Panic Attack, Flamingo 50; Humousexual and Sailor Tongue were among the heroes and heroines and the scene was not focused in London. Unlike a lot of today’s music, there was a more even spread of attention and geography. Bristol and Manchester were big centres of focus; club nights like Riots Not Diets focused on queer-identifying bands; events like Pussy Whipped came to Edinburgh eventually – Leeds, since 2015, has enjoyed and hosted the Queer We Go festival (and Bentfest). Recent exploration of the homology between queer theory and practice has brought new interest and intrigue to the Queercore movement – as has the Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution documentary. Before I move on to a conclusion and recommendations; I found an article that spoke with one of Queercore’s key bands, Pansy Division, in 2016 (to mark the quarter-century of the movement):

After the trauma of the Aids crisis and the homophobia it unleashed, Pansy Division wanted to assert to the rest of the world that being gay can be great. “We thought, if we’re being told that being gay is so wrong and we’re being ostracized for this, let’s point out how well-adjusted and enjoyable our lives are. So it really was a conscious effort to say, ‘We’re not going to be sour about this,’ because that’s exactly what I think they wanted – to show how unhappy it is to be a gay person. We were singing celebratory songs about it instead.” The band’s songs like Twinkie Twinkie Little Star20 Years of Cockand I’m Gonna Be a Slut celebrate not only gay sex, but the joys of being free to be who you are and love whoever you want.

The band’s frenetic music and wild live shows got them signed to punk label Lookout! records, home to bands like Operation Ivy, Rancid, Alkaline Trio and Green Day. They broke through to a wider audience when Green Day invited them to open for them on their Dookie tour in 1994. Suddenly, Pansy Division were blasting San Francisco queer culture at kids from smalltown America who, in those pre-internet days, had never seen anything like them before – or heard such brash lyrics about the mechanics of gay sex”.

Although there is not a massive Queercore presence in the modern time, there are artists talking about L.G.B.Q.T.I.A. experiences and straying from the mostly-white, heterosexual mainstream. FHAT, Christine and the Queens; Daya, Lizzo; Holland and King Princess are among a selection of artists whose lyrics and songs are essential for Pride and queer playlists. Although, too, there are a few Queercore bands around right now; it seems things have stunted and shrunk. One quarter, Em Casalena, talks about race in Queercore. Traditional Punk bands rarely talked of racism and anything beyond the straight and white: Queercore artists, too, have been accused of being too racially secular and, well, racist:

Few queercore artists nowadays have tried to change this and it remains focused on the experiences of white queers rather than the racist, sexist, and anti-queer experiences of anyone outside of that little box. In gay culture outside of queercore, this still permeates communities and dating scenes. One can spend only a few minutes on Grindr before encountering the barring profile description of "No fats, no femmes, no Asians" underneath the flexing chest of an oiled up white gay man”.

I think we need to look back to Queercore’s origins and why it got started. Maybe revitalise Queercore or start a new movement that is more inclusive in terms of race, gender and sizes.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Queercore did integrate male and female artists/fans but there is that feeling that, although a lot of magic and progression happened, there was too much segregation and division – the sort of thing the movement was trying to cut out. Although the spirit and intentions were good, the mission statement and recruitment process was lumbered by a lack of consideration in regards race and the aesthetic. Maybe there was not a conscious effort to exclude non-white artists but you look at the Queercore bands and they are, for the most part, single-gender (few mixed bands) and white. The reason I wrote about Hungama was to show how, in 2018, there are barriers in the gay community and a real lack of total integration. The fact that so many members of the Asian and black communities feel they need their own space speaks volumes. Hungama does not fall into the easy trap of being all-Asian and male: it welcomes every race and person, regardless of sexual orientation, to experience Bollywood charm, brilliant music and something hugely memorable. I urge pioneers and forefathers(mothers) to look at that incentive and take it to heart. There is a much larger L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. network and so many artists/listeners who either struggle to have their voices heard in the mainstream or feel there is very little out there that represents them. Maybe we are years from seeing sexual integration where L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. is as common and accepted as heterosexuality but a way to see that happen sooner rather than later is to spark a reformed and repurposed Queercore movement.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Ryan Lanji, centre, with performers at Hungama/PHOTO CREDITIolo Lewis Edwards 

There is an appetite for Punk in any form: the fact we have very few pure Punk artists and modern music is not willing to truly embrace the genre gives extra impetus. Perhaps a modern movement would not have to be purely Punk. Whether it mixed in other genres or was a Pop/Funk motivation – a distinct genre that would unify races, genders and all sizes from the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community. Ensuring there was a mix of the explicit and rebellious aspects of Queercore – utilising the Internet but never being too obscene and controversial – and a connected network then something positive could form. Many might feel the current climate included L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists and there are no limitations. Whilst radio stations and labels do not ban music that looks against heterosexual ‘norms’; there is still an uneasiness and feeling that it is a bit risqué. Slowly, changes and acceptance is coming through but there is still too much homophobia, judgement and ignorance around. Listen to the brilliant Queercore sounds that have come through the years and I would not be surprised if that generated new ears and minds to follow suit. Whether that will happen now or later down the line, I am not too sure. Whilst Queercore achieved a lot (and still does) and was a brilliant fight against the overly-masculine and closed-minded Punk scene; it is clear that, alongside all the good and positive, there were many problems and limitations…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

THAT affected its durability and sense of inclusiveness.   

FEATURE: Madonna of Bay City: The Icon at Sixty: How the Pop Innovator Has Reshaped and Changed Music Through Fashion, Expression and Campaign

FEATURE:

 

 

Madonna of Bay City

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in a promotional shot for her 1984 album, Like a Virgin/PHOTO CREDIT: Rex Features

The Icon at Sixty: How the Pop Innovator Has Reshaped and Changed Music Through Fashion, Expression and Campaign

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IT seems Madonna is never far from the news…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna on stage in 1984/PHOTO CREDIT: PA Photos

even when she is not releasing any music! The latest bit of Madonna column-inch involves her attending Hamilton (the musical) and being snubbed by its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Madonna, apparently, turned up late and was seen texting through the performance – something that did not best please Miranda! Maybe there was an emergency at home or she was lapsing into boredom. In any case, it seems that part of Madonna has not faded with time; the ability to do what she wants and not be beholden to schedule and protocol! Not that this is a bad thing at all. As I will investigate; her rebellion and speaking out has helped to change music and see her crowned as the Queen of Pop. I am not sure why Madonna attended Hamilton – if her mind was elsewhere – but that is by the by. The legend turns sixty on Thursday and it is a great chance for people to look back at her incredible music and impact. Before I look back at Madonna’s career and study her changing fashions, the way she spoke out for women’s rights and why her personality showed Pop could be so much more than marketing and blandness; it seems she is preparing her fourteenth studio album and it seems like, on the as-yet-untitled album, Nicki Minaj could play a part:

Nothing official has been announced, of course. But should Minaj feature anywhere on this album, it would make the as-yet-untitled release her third Madonna album in a row to guest on. Which is a world record, in terms of pop music.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna pictured this year/PHOTO CREDIT: AFP/Getty Images

Minaj has already featured on two official Madge singles (Give Me All Your Luvin’ and Bitch, I’m Madonna) and performed alongside her at the 2012 Super Bowl. Why not go for a hat trick?

Speaking of tricks, Drake is also rumoured to feature on the new album, according to stories doing the rounds today. Given that he named a song after her and that infamous snog, it’s probably about time”.

It seems like there might be material or something, in some form, from Madonna by the end of this year:

In May, Madonna fansite DrownedMadonna reported that a music video had allegedly been filmed in London by Steven Klein.

Klein is responsible for some of the her more memorable concert backdrop videos and photoshoots, not to mention her 2013 short film SecretProjectRevolution.

So far no music video has yet surfaced. Yesterday, however, Madge posted to her Instagram a hyper-stylized video of her reciting poet Rupi Kaur. The video was shot by none other than Steven Klein.

It begins with Madonna apologizing to, ‘all the women I have called beautiful’.

The lead single for her next album is heavily rumoured to be Beautiful Game, a snippet of which she performed at the Met Gala in May”.

It appears something is brewing and the ever-evolving artist is preparing some fresh material. It will be good to see how she moves from 2015’s Rebel Heart.

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IN THIS IMAGE: The tour poster for Rebel Heart/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

That album, whilst her lowest-selling in twenty years, it did get some great critical feedback and showed, thirty-two years from her debut single, she was capable of surprising and mixing her older and newer ambitions: AllMusic gave their views on Rebel Heart:

These are the anchors of the album, grounding the record when Madonna wanders into slow-churning meditation, unabashed revivals of her '90s adult contemporary mode, casual confession ("I spent sometime as a narcissist"), and defiant celebrations of questionable taste. Undoubtedly, some of this flair would've been excised if the record was a manageable length, but the blessing of the unwieldiness is that it does indeed represent a loosening of Madonna's legendary need for control. Certainly, the ambition remains, along with the hunger to remain on the bleeding edge, but she's allowing her past to mingle with her present, allowing her to seem human yet somewhat grander at the same time”.

It seems like there are positive signs for the near-future. Madonna has said, in recent interviews, how modern music is all the same: endless collaborations and stuff that is vaguely similar to other stuff; a rather wooden and insipid sound that needs shaking up. She resides in Portugal and has been compelled by the music culture there and the authenticity – an original and human sound that, one suspects, she might fuse into her upcoming record. Let us look back and see how Madonna’s iconic styles and her desire to stand aside from the pack marks her as a true icon and leader.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna photoed in 1985 at the American Music Awards/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Image

Vogue, fittingly, has published a piece that looks at Madonna’s changing looks and how, with each album and cycle, she would change it up and produce something stunning. I am no fashion expect – a T-shirt and pair of trainers are as cutting as I get! – but I have always been drawn to Madonna’s iconic make-overs. Today’s music seems to be more about streaming figures and airplay as it does any sense of uniqueness and colour. I cannot name any artist, male or female, that seems that have a distinct style that changes and updates. Can anyone really look out at the music sea and discover something eye-catching and influential among the rather hum-drum and routine?! It is said that Madonna arrived in New York, in the late-1970s, with a dollar or so to her name – one of those urban myths about the aspiring artist… - but was far from the eclectic and electric star she would become. By 1983, when Madonna was released, she was embracing fashion and using it as part of her identity. I was born in that year so was (luckily) not conscious to the high hair, shoulder pads and gaudy make-up that seems to define the 1980s. Madonna, instead, adopted crucifixes, necklaces and lace to create something that was of-the-time but much more ‘her’. Religion and spirituality were part of her aesthetic from the start and, by the time she released Like a Prayer (album) in 1989; that distinct look was on the cover – the star was heavy with beads, rings and jewellery that has a sense of class, religious symbolism and youthful-cool!

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Look at the period between 1983-1985 and you notice a bolder and more experimental Madonna coming through. I will talk about her sexuality and role model speeches in a bit but, in terms of future, the stage and studio Madonna was altering her looks between albums. One can see the blonde and cool star that was introduced to the world in 1982. The look was starting to take shape and, by 1984, Like a Virgin saw her performing in a mini skirt, lace tights and headscarf. A promotional image for the album sees dark red lipstick and jazzy, Punk-like hair (a rather male description) mix with these signature bangles and something edgier. Look at the change between her stage outfit in April of 1984 – the headscarf and floral jacket – to the more spiky and alluring look that we saw upon the arrival of the album. Her famous ‘boy toy’ belt was out for the Like a Virgin video but it is interesting to see how subtle alterations came into her look by 1985. As her albums matured and Madonna was getting more of a creative say; she was breaking from the bright and traditional looks of the 1980s and bringing in crucifixes and gloves; her hair, now, was straighter and it seemed a more ‘mature’ and serious artist was coming through.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) wearing thrift store clothes/PHOTO CREDIT: Shutterstock

Her appearance in Desperately Seeking Susan seemed to define where she was heading; the smoking (literally) heroine and the headscarf; the cool jewellery and mix of New York chic and a distinct Madonna perfume – she had created a signature look that, two years after her debut album, was a bold move forward. If you match the outfits and style of her Material Girl video – part-screen siren, part-innocent and sexy – she was embracing a more thrift shop-born style that showed she was a humble and rooted artist who was more concerned with creating something pure and meaningful – against the glamour, record label-directed fashions and rather boring styles of the time. The period between True Blue (1986) and Like a Prayer (1989) saw new changes and developments. 1987’s Material Girl tour saw her break out a red flamenco dress; power-dressing and flirt came in by 1988; 1989’s Like a Prayer (song) saw her wearing a black slip for the video. There was a definite sense of raunch and confidence appearing by 1989. Her young fans were emulating her looks between 1983 and 1989 but it seems, by this point, Madonna was very much becoming a sexualised and primal woman. Her music was becoming bolder and more expressive and, even though there are differences between the slip of 1989 and her Jean Paul Gaultier corset of the 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour; it signified a move from the girlish and uber-cool Madonna to an artist becoming more daring and revealing than any of her peers. She was never far from the press regarding her sexuality, videos and the latest fashions. In my mind, her changing wardrobe was a way of shaking up music and getting girls and young women to embrace something rebellious and different.

It sounds like a controversial statement but, rather than getting them to dress ahead of their time and cause problems; she wanted them to break away from the boring and reserved: capture something that was new and strange; exciting and womanly. The early-1990s found her embracing the corset and adopting a more controversial look:

The corset became a dominant fashion theme in Madonna's look of the early 1990s. Madonna collaborated with the controversial couturier Jean Paul Gaultier for her 1990 Blonde Ambition world tour. Known for his fetishistic fashions, Gaultier designed Madonna's memorable pink corset with cone bra for her 1990 tour. Not only did Madonna's wearing of exaggerated foundation garments (sometimes worn under menswear-inspired fashions as in the "Vogue" video) toy with accepted notions of femininity, it also launched the trend of underwear as outerwear still prevalent today, seen on celebrities and in street fashions alike”.

From the virginal and street-cool Madonna of the early/mid-1980s; she was turning the provocateur and temptress. The diamond-encrusted Bob Mackie dress she wore for the 1991 Academy Awards was a huge departure from the more casual and affordable fashions she was sporting at the start of her career. Rather than buy from the high-street and take from New York; she was hooking up with designers and pushing convention.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna wearing a Bob Mackie dress to the 1991 Academy Awards/IMAGE/PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Mackie/Getty Images

Religious symbolism and Indian-style costumes were introduced into her 1993 stage show; she was experimenting with flapper-chic and high-glamour during 1984-1985. Even though albums like Erotica and Bedtime Stories looked at sex and embracing the self; that did not mean Madonna fell into the tawdry and media-baiting. There was some revelation and sexiness but was bringing Hollywood glam into the mix. She was inspiring legions of fans – new discoverers and girls who had followed her from the start maturing and developing – and showing the music world you did not need to follow labels (record) and be honed. You could express yourself and not have to follow the beat of the marketing drum. She opened doors and minds and, by 1998’s Ray of Light, another huge change had come in. Inspired by Kabbalah – one of the more divisive aspects of her beliefs/personality – darker clothing and gothic hair replaced the distinct blonde locks. Geisha and Eastern fashion were sitting alongside kimonos (she wore one for the 1999 video, Nothing Really Matters). Consider the difference between the Frozen video (all in black and a rather gothic demeanour) and Nothing Really Matters; her more modest and conventional look in Ray of Light (video) - all from the same album but completely different and unexpected.

The new century saw Madonna dispense with Eastern fashions and mix classic sexiness – inspiring in a woman who was approaching middle-age – and Disco chic. The Confessions on a Dance Floor album (2005) was Madge bringing in another iconic look: bits of 1970s Disco but more proactive, evocative and Madonna. Music (2000) and Ray of Light (1998) were celebrated: Confessions on a Dance Floor was probably the last of her modern records that gained a huge amount of love. Many critics felt Confessions on a Dance Floor was her strongest effort since the early days; a consistent and ever-curious artist looking at Dance, Disco and days gone by. Madonna, even when looking back, was futuristic and herself on the records that followed. Hard Candy (2008) is an ultra-sexy and stirring cover; MDNA (2012) and Rebel Heart (2015) mix bright make-up, alluring looks and a slight revocation of the Like a Virgin look – albeit it a more grown-up and of-the-times.

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

That is a bit of a rush through her career wardrobe and how she transformed from a shy if hungry artist influenced by the street and religion to a sexual and iconic star who mixed high-fashion with allure; to the Eastern mystic and spiritual goddess; right through to a middle-aged icon who proves/proved she is as bold and expressive as anyone in music. In any period, you can see how she leads rather than follows. Madonna has inspired legions of fans – who replicated her looks – and changed their lives. Cresting more confident, colour and style; it was a revolution in the 1980s and, through the 1990s and 2000s, she has managed to be that style icon and pioneer. One expects this to carry on through her sixties: an exciting decade that will bring new music, influences and alterations. Alongside the brilliant looks and fashions; the way Madonna spoke out and up stunned and moved a generation…

A recent article in The Guardian talks about Madonna being bigger than any man out there. The way she spoke out at the Billboard’s Women in Music ceremony – as she collected her Woman of the Year prize – shook and opened eyes. I shall quote from the piece:

When she collected her woman of the year prize at Billboard’s Women in Music awards in 2016, she said she stood before the crowd “as a doormat”. “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.” This is genuine, rightful anger and ferocity. The level of ageism and sexism directed at her is femicidal, even matricidal, visceral loathing. When people say they want Madonna to age gracefully, what they really mean is: become beige, shut up and go into a corner. And she refuses to do that. Instead, she continues to produce brilliant, captivating and thought-provoking work”.

Madonna has, as the piece continues, outlived many of her male peers like Michael Jackson and Prince and is stronger than any collaborator she has worked with. We know William Orbit and Timbaland has worked alongside her but they are producers and writers: Madonna is the central figure, strongest fire and core. More and more female artists are speaking out against abuse and sexism but the way in which Madonna delivers and projects makes an enormous impact.

There is no demure and sense of compromise: she is angry and pissed she and her peers have had to endure decades of imbalance and patronising attitudes. It is the way she has spoken throughout her career and shown she is more than a puppet and shill that goes hand-in-hand with the fantastic and evolving fashions. That strength and defiance, as the article continues, is not reserved to the verbal and psychological:

It is impossible to talk about Madonna without talking about power. She is an athlete. I once read an interview where her trainer said she is so strong that he has to invent new exercises for her because she can’t feel exercises for mere mortals. Her muscularity is not about appearance; it is an indication of her mental strength and resilience. She is indestructible. But she has survived so long not just because of her talent, and not just because of her physical and mental strength. It is also that she is intelligent, professional and always engaged – she has seen the world, brought up children, worked in multiple fields. She is mentally alive and this is what keeps her searching, moving and creating”.

Madonna ruffled conservative feathers when she showed her affinity for gay culture and gender roles. She was never a fan of macho men or those who tried to buy her. She was bold and brash when it came to gender roles and celebrated gay culture.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna during her Girlie Tour in 1993/PHOTO CREDIT: Rex Features

At a time when HIV was claiming lives and making the news; some saw that as controversial and irresponsible. Rather than cause a stir, she was giving voice to the gay population and bringing them into popular culture. She did not care whether it meant losing fans or pissing the record label off. She was not your average Popstar who talked about cute boys, being taken out to the cinema and courted – maybe there was some of that in Material Girl but it was a brief flirtation -; she was someone who had independence and was calling the shots. Speaking out against sexism and the crap of the industry; she was waving a flag (colourful and bold) for the rights of those trodden on and overlooked; a confident and unique woman who was never going to be submissive and scared. The media pictured her with various suitors – including her then-husband Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie – but she was always the one that gained the most attention. From the earliest days of her career, she was writing songs and keen to establish herself as a singer-songwriter as opposed a ‘Popstar’. There was that need to speak her own mind and not be controlled. This spilt into her fashion and sexuality. As recently as 2015, Madonna has been outspoken regarding nudity – she rebelled against Instagram’s nudity rules in a controversial snap – and was pictured at various parts of her career wearing very little or nothing at all.

Unlike a lot of controlled Pop artists and no-talent reality T.V. stars; this was not a chance to gain hollow popularity and court media attention. This was part of her personality and who she was as a creative soul. Madonna has attacked ageist interviews and commentators who feel she needs to produce music/videos befitting of someone of her age – never one to take that sort of insult with any patience and calm. Back in 2016, when she collected her award and attacked sexism, she was interviewed about her stance regarding sex and sexism:

The 58-year-old went on to discuss the time period surrounding the release of her album “Erotica” and her book Sex. She recalled being called “a whore and a witch” in the press, and even being compared to Satan. At one point during the speech, she began to tear up.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, isn’t Prince running around with fishnets and high heels and lipstick with his butt hanging out?’ Yes, he was. But he was a man,” she said. “This was the first time I truly understood women do not have the same freedom as men.”

“People say that I’m so controversial,” she added. “I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around”.

Whether you see her confidence, sexual expression and controversy-causing comments as the signs of a good or bad role model, it shows, at every age, she will not be silenced and wants to say what many are not. Madonna has always said how she’d rather live fierce and fast and does not want to be like everyone else. She does not care what anyone else thinks – make of that what you will... – and she always speaks up rather than remaining silent.

That need to be expressive and not be silenced is a reason why many consider her an icon and role model. There are those who argue she sets a bad example but Madonna will not care. To me, she is one of those rare artists who produced endlessly innovative and quality music and mixes that with a voice and style that is her own. She states how modern music is samey and plastic: we need to take more from Madonna and encourage our mainstream artists to take from her. As she turns sixty; I wonder whether those fighting sexism, boredom and a rather bland scene will take a cigarette from Madonna, light it up and stub it in the face of the modern scene – something we need to see! She remains that divisive, extraordinary and quotable star that has not grown quiet with age. Whereas many of her peers are settling and calming their workload; Madonna is preparing new work and getting into the news.

At a time where there is stagnation and sexism continues; she is someone whose opinions and guidance are sorely needed – she has lived through decades of change and imbalance. The fact she is a survivor and constant innovator should be celebrated as much as anything. Even without her fantastic back catalogue...Madonna’s sixtieth is a chance to look at the iconic looks and changes; the way she speaks up and out for the minorities and the judged; the bold and confident star who has managed to change and revolutionise the music world as we know it. Let’s just hope, as she enters her seventh decade of life, we see no…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna at the Met Gala in 2017/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

END in sight.   

FEATURE: Charcoal Angels: The Autistic Spectrum in Music

FEATURE:

 

 

Charcoal Angels

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ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash

The Autistic Spectrum in Music

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ALTHOUGH it is not light reading…

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it is obvious the complexity and prevalence of mental illness in the music industry are rising. Year on year, we are seeing figures come through that chart the climb in mental-health-related cases of suicide and self-harm. High-profile suicides in the industry raise awareness and encourage taking – that can quickly fade and we ask ourselves will there be sufficient help and funding to help tackle the avalanche? This article, published last year, highlights a link between musical ability/creativity and depression:

“‘Can Music Make You Sick?’ is a new study commissioned by Help Musicians UK, which explores the effects of a career in music on musicians’ mental health.

The study, completed by University of Westminster, investigated 2,211 musicians, 71.1% of whom said they had suffered from panic attacks or anxiety, with 68.5% saying they had struggled with depression.

Researchers Sally-Anne Gross and Dr. George Musgrave cited a few major issues including money worries, because of juggling many different jobs and dealing with precarious and unpredictable pay, and poor working conditions.

They also found musicians were more likely to be subject to sexual abuse, bullying and discrimination – as well as antisocial and unsympathetic working environments.

While relationships with family and the support of close friends and partners are highly valued, they are also “open to abuse and feelings of guilt”. Plus, musicians often lack the financial means to seek professional support”.

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These findings are not revelations: we all know how mental illness and its effects are impacting artists and how it can lead to some very serious consequences. Maybe there is a long way to go before there is real solution and calm: doing more research and pledging dedicated and real support for those in need is a good step forward. Many adverts look at cancer and serious illnesses but there is very little out there that puts mental-health under the spotlight. Although we have the statistics and we are seeing worrying trends form; I wonder how much is being done to look at mental-health problems. There are no adverts on national television targeted at those who suffer – let alone musicians and bodies to help them.

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One can do their research but it would be good to put something on the screen/radio that actively acknowledged the statistics and pledges solutions. If depression and anxiety are well-known and written about; perhaps something like autism isn’t. There is a link between the two in many cases but one often feels like it is a rather unsettling and foreign subject. How do you talk with someone about it when they themselves have a hard time communication and understanding emotional nuances?! One of the reasons I am bringing up the subject of depression and autism is to bring my own experiences into play.

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IN THIS PHOTO: My ugly mug/PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Liddicott

I am not autistic myself but have been to the doctor a few times and suspect that I have a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome. It is on the autistic spectrum and is not quite as severe as autism itself. People with Asperger’s syndrome see and hear the world in different ways. They interact with others unlike other people and, because it is invisible, it can be hard broaching the issue and explaining it. Asperger’s syndrome is for life: there is no cure but it, in itself, is not life-limiting and fatal. In my case; I have depression too (ranging from moderate to severe) and Asperger’s syndrome can take different forms. Whilst intelligence is not necessarily lower than anyone else in the population; understanding speech and showing empathy can be quite hard. One might have a limited sense of social interaction and prefer to be hidden away. It is harder to navigate various scenarios and a person might have robotic speech and a monotone delivery. Although I do not share some of the common traits – an obsession with the self and a problem understanding facial gestures – I do struggle with eye contact and talking openly with people. I have an obsession with music that, whilst beneficial for my writing, it can be enriching; it does mean I do and think about very little else – I get caught in routines and do not have any other interests and hobbies apart from music. I have awkward mannerisms and motions and can become obsessed with odd subjects and thoughts.

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There is a lot more to unravel but those are some of the symptoms. I can easily talk on the radio and feel comfortable there but it is a different issue if I were filmed and had to act for the camera. That uneasiness with the self and unpredictability of the situation means I would be too tense and not do it. I will talk about artists who suffer autism/Asperger’s syndrome but it is hard doing anything than what I do. I have very little interest in the ‘real world’ jobs and doing anything other people do. I do jobs for money but, whereas others are concerned with the task at hand and take some pride in it; none of it matters to any real extent. Creativity and doing what I do best is the only things that matter. I also have generalised anxiety disorder which throws a lot of physical symptoms into the pot – clumsiness, balance issues and headache. My memory is shocking so it can be hard recalling details and a slightly stunted set of social skills means relationships are out of the question normally. Sex and relations are never really a possibility or something easy to engineer; maintaining a conversation and interest can be hard. All of this sounds dire but that focus on writing and music has its benefits. I often feel we have a very poor grasp of some artists/creatives and how life is really like for them.

I am jealous of those who could get on stage and perform at gigs; the multitalented who have their own shows and series; the musicians who can get in front of a microphone and perform a hard song without much warm-up. These are scenarios that are out of my grasp and beyond my abilities. Music journalism is a way to express myself without having to fight nerves and self-flagellation but there is always that desire to do something new and expand my horizons…whether that is even possible for me?! Autism is a more pronounced and wide-ranging version of Asperger’s syndrome and can be really severe – to the point someone will not be able to touch someone else or interact with your peers. This article casts a link between creativity and those on the autistic spectrum:

A December 2015 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found a strong link between autism and divergent thinking—the ability to think creatively, out of the box. In other words, developing novel ideas and utilizing creative problem solving may come easy to those with autism.

But anyone who has had the pleasure of knowing a child or adult on the autism spectrum will likely tell you they didn’t need a study to tell them there is a clear link between autism and creative thinking. Some on the spectrum are particularly imaginative, innovative, and inspired, so it only makes sense that a number have gone to achieve superstardom.

You either got it or you don’t, and being on the spectrum isn’t the deciding factor. We set out to find some of the talented musicians who have risen to the height of fame in the industry, in spite of their autism – or maybe thanks to it. The five that made our list have turned the notion of what it means to have a ‘disorder’ on its head”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Days of the New's Travis Meek/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is a complete bag of balls having these limitations as a person but the fact sociability and interaction is hard makes me and others focus on writing and other forms of communication. One of the reasons I am so prolific as a writer is the fact I find it easy to write and often say things on the page I can never say in person. I feel confident I could do radio presentation and interviews with no issues but filming my blog would be a different matter – quite daunting and I would be too self-conscious and critical. Amadeus Mozart suffered traits many would link to autism. He engaged in reckless and dangerous behaviour and struggled with self-control. Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane suffered from autism from childhood. Travis Meeks (guitarist and lead of Days of the New) was misdiagnosed and eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2005. He experimented with drugs and had the feeling he could not do anything right – that misdiagnoses and misunderstanding impacted him heavily. Courtney Love has been diagnosed with autism/Asperger’s syndrome, as has Gary Numan. He conducted an interview earlier this year where he talked about his depression and coping with Asperger’s syndrome:

Yes,' he confirms. ‘I do have Asperger's Syndrome. I find social situations difficult, especially if I have to make small talk. It's hard to read body language or the little nuances that go to make up a conversation.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Gary Numan/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

"Fortunately I have Gemma to help me. Unlike my wife, whose care of our home borders on OCD and would put me to shame, I'm not obsessive in that way. But, in things that interest me, I do tend to fixate and take obsession to the extreme. For example, when I was into planes and air-display flying, I wasn't happy with simply taking part. I had to become a qualified examiner.

"Same thing happened with boats: I simply had to know everything there was to know about them. On the whole, I think having Asperger's has been a good thing. It's given me a slightly different view of the world and I truly believe it helped get me through some hard times. I'd never wish it away”.

Non-musicians like Chris Packham have discussed their experiences and you can definitely see a link between their personalities and mine. My situation is different – a lot of those I have read about suffering it can find and maintain relationships – but there is that feeling of being misunderstood and having to hide things. If Numan has embraced, to an extent, his Asperger’s syndrome; it can be a challenge for others. Pip Brown, better known as Ladyhawke, was diagnosed and feels she is fitting into a world that is the wrong shape for her. She was diagnosed after suffering anxiety and being very self-conscious for a long time. In fact, in an interview of 2008; she talked about revealing her Asperger's syndrome diagnosis and how attention shifted to that: 

"Hardly the stuff of showbusiness legend, and entertainers with Asperger's are few and far between: the actress Daryl Hannah (diagnosed borderline autistic in childhood) is one; Craig Nicholls, frontman of Australian rock group The Vines, is another. Still, everyone loves an against-all-odds story, and here was Brown's.

But it's not the story that the singer wants to be defined by. "I really regret talking about it," she says. "There's a kid with Asperger's who wrote to me on MySpace, saying I was a liar. It was really hurtful. I was like, you have no idea what I've been through. Yeah, I'm a bit weird. I do weird things. I've been really wary since then".

The Sunday Times columnist Camilla Long called Gary Numan out regarding his condition and the fact it was fabricated. She argued he had no formal diagnosis but, the fact he was told by a professional he might have it – whilst suffering traits of the illness – has not been exaggerated. James Taylor and Susan Boyle are other figures who have (or may have) Asperger’s syndrome and it seems there is a long way to go before it is fully understood. People seem to want a certificate or proof everyone has every symptom they say they have or feel, because they cannot see any scars or bruises, there is nothing there. This is the same attitude and sense of ignorance that sufferers of depression have had to carry around. I feel one of the reasons some famous musicians commit suicide is not the inability to talk and feeling weak but that realisation they cannot go back once they do open up. It is hard opening floodgates and having to accept you may have to give up what you love. In many cases, no amount of talking will help things and it is a band-aid – many do not understand that and feel anyone can be saved if they speak or take medication. There is a similar feeling around those on the autistic spectrum.

Not only is it hard to explain and discuss – for obvious reasons – but there is no cure and fix. I have used the word ‘sufferer’ but I should drop it. Many who have autistic traits feel they are living the life their way: no need to feel inferior or carry any sort of burden. It is an illness but one that you have to adapt to. Like depression, everyone’s experience is different. In my case, supplementary to what I have said, I find it impossible to express and feel love. That may sound strange, and may be a personality disorder, but cannot tangibly and emotionally say those words or have that feeling. It is nothing personal but I can express love for inanimate things and music but not people – another reason why a relationship would be extremely hard. I also struggle to feel awake and energised; I am drained all the time and can get anxious with changes and breaking routines. There is a reason why everyone is different and there is an autistic ‘spectrum’. Someone else who is in the public eye and is a huge music fan is Paddy Considine. Back in nine years ago, the actor asked himself: Why am I not a good actor? He was feeling angry a lot and wondered what was wrong with him. Maybe some of that (wrongful) self-depreciation and critique was a lack of confidence or a sense of being outsider:  a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome in 2011 explained a lot. Here, in an interview with Tim Lewis in 2014,

In 2011, Considine was told he had Asperger’s, a diagnosis that made a lot of sense to him. He had felt hypersensitive for a while, often convinced that his wife and three children were somehow in danger. He’d wake up in the morning and want to go straight back to sleep or hide under a table when there was a knock on his front door. Then, last year, a specialist told him that he may in fact have Irlen Syndrome, a difficulty processing light that also has links with autism. Part of the treatment for Irlen is to wear tinted glasses or contact lenses, which Considine recalibrates every 10 months. Where before he struggled to maintain eye contact, now he finds himself considerably more at ease in social situations and on set”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Paddy Considine/PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Fisk for The Observer

In an interview a few years before that; he talked about the diagnose and the aftermath:

Indeed, so good an actor is Considine that if he wasn’t telling me about his condition now, I would never guess he was a sufferer. True, sitting opposite him, the wiry Midlander can seem intense and as nervy as a racehorse. Yet at the same time he is funny, open and warm with no sign of the inability to relate to others that often comes with the condition.

Then again, Asperger syndrome, a lifelong disability that affects three in every 10,000 people – and is more commonly found in males than females – comes with a complex range of symptoms. Although the afflicted often have above-average intelligence (famous sufferers are thought to have included Albert Einstein, Vincent van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci), they can find it hard to make sense of the world, to process information and to relate to other people. They are often unable to read signals that most of us take for granted – facial expressions, say, or body language.

Considine sums it up as “a debilitating sense of detachment” from both the people around him and his surroundings. He struggles on a practical level, too – certain noises, for example, bright lights, and even wallpaper and fabrics can present a problem. In the room where we meet, he looks at the brightly coloured, geometrically striped carpet as if he is a man on the ledge of a skyscraper. “That carpet, for instance, is basically my worst nightmare.

“It’s just too sort of 'there’. Too difficult to ignore. It makes it hard for me to focus on anything else because I get drawn into the colours and the pattern and I get taken off somewhere in my head, other than where I know I ought to be”.

I wanted to bring Considine in because, as an honorary musician and fan, he has spoken at length about it. It helps illustrates and explain what a lot of people in music (and film) are going through. Being so candid and exposing can be a struggle for some but it seems Considine is coping and able to navigate social situations different to when he was first diagnosed. Whereas we have a long way to go to understanding depression and being able to adequately control the current situation; there is a (less prevalent) stream of psychological issues that stem from autism. Far fewer people suffer autism or Asperger’s syndrome but it is a very real thing that can have the same debilitating and life-long issues as depression. In fact, the two seem to go hand-in-hand and many feel like their disorder makes them stronger at what they do. That desire to express yourself in some form and the addiction and narrow focus – all of this can make us better at what we do. The problem with that is social sides of life suffers and there are weaknesses that others do not have. Rather than see a musician/creative on the autistic scale as being outside the circle and in need of cliché bromides (“We’re all a bit autistic, I guess” – “No, we are certainly not!”); appreciating its severity and reality can go a long way to creating harmony and better communication.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Vines' Craig Nicholls (who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I called this piece Charcoal Angels because I feel artists on the autistic spectrum have a lot of grace and beauty but see life – and are seen – in charred and black-and-white terms. It can be hard spreading the wings and there is that feeling of being on the fire and unable to fight the flames – even though we have a lot to give and everything we want to bring from our inside is being blocked or filtered in different ways. There are good sides to Asperger’s syndrome/autism – in the sense of creative excellence and focus – but there are definite roadblocks and issues that make daily life a lot harder and lonelier than many can appreciate. Nobody has to fully comprehend and understand how different life is (with the condition) but accepting its presence and not changing your behaviour – being all hushed or backing off – is a big step. Some of the best and most intense creative minds have some form of autism. If someone out there is going through it or feels they have it then go and see a G.P. and have a chat. It is not a complex diagnosis and, once it happens, you can at least get some form of talk therapy and help. It is not going to be cured by naming it - and realising it is part of who you are takes stigma and anxiety away. Being able to do all of that and carry on with determination and strength is a big accomplishment. You will be more aware of others who are the same as you and, in many ways, look at people and the world differently. Never hide away and feel you are weaker than anyone else. Having Asperger’s syndrome or having autism is a real but manageable condition and it is certainly…

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NOTHING to be ashamed of.   

FEATURE: Spoolin' in the Years: Why, After Fifty-Five Years, the Cassette Still Has Its Place

FEATURE:

 

 

Spoolin' in the Years

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IMAGE CREDIT: Ian Viggers

Why, After Fifty-Five Years, the Cassette Still Has Its Place

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LIFE before the humble cassette tape…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

was a little limited for the music fan. In 1935, AEG unveiled the first reel-to-reel tape recorder under the name ‘Magnetophon’. It was based around the invention of magnetic tape (1928) by Fritz Pfleumer. The instruments were expensive and very difficult to use and were limited to professionals and those who could afford them. Phillips released the cassette tape in 1963 (released in Europe on 30th August) and it was an accessible and affordable alternative to the studio-limited and bulky technology of the time. Both forms of the cassette were available in 1963 – a blank version and pre-recorded option – and was originally intended for dictation machines and, before long, improvements in fidelity led to the Compact Cassette. Although the first in-car cassette player was not introduced until 1968, the boom happened pretty fast and it was a handy and cheaper version of the L.P. The cassette came in during the 1960s but its revolution and rise did not really take place until the 1970s. It was a strange thing to those used to the rather large and distinct vinyl. Boom boxes and cassette decks became the must-have accessory and present for eager music-lovers and those who wanted to hear their music on the move. It is amazing to think what it would have been like to have a cassette in your position in the 1970s and 1980s.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Although the explosion missed bands like The Beatles – they do have their music on cassettes but were a vinyl-released band – many people drooled given the fact they could play their favourite albums in a very compact and affordable player. The Sony Walkman came out in 1979 and, unlike its Discman cousin, was far more stable and reliable. The Discman, in my view, was flawed by one thing: the fact C.D.s would stop and jump when you moved ( a bit of a drawback unless you were stationery all of the time). I was born in 1983 but owned a Sony Walkman. The fact the Walkman was not much larger than the cassette itself meant people could easily keep them in their pockets and there was that discreet and go-anywhere quality. The price was pretty reasonable and, unlike vinyl today, cassettes were priced so that most people could build up an impressive collection soon enough! I remember having a stack of albums in my bedroom. In the 1980s, when I was listening to artists like Michael Jackson and T. Rex, I had two forms of cassette enjoyment. I possessed a great, red tape deck (double, at that!) and could pedal around the neighbourhood on my go-kart with a pal in the driving seat. The sense of emancipation and delight I got from hearing music come from this simple piece of equipment not only floods back to me nearly thirty years after the fact but has inspired my path regarding journalism and music.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

If it were not for the invention of cassettes and the ability to share and play music this way, I doubt I would have gained such an impassioned and huge love. Back in the days when there were music shops and they stocked cassettes; I would collect my pocket money together and go and buy the latest big release. Although the C.D.’s advent and development won my heart during the 1990s; I was still mixing that with cassette listening and, as figures show, the cassette single was enormously popular during the 1990s. One of the downsides to the portability of the cassette was the ease in which one could pinch them! The pocket-sized prize could easily make its way from the shelf to the coat and, before you know it, they had made away with their choice. Retailers and record labels introducers larger packaging and, before long, greater security and vigilance. It was the ease in which one could purchase any album and travel anywhere with it that kick-started the move towards C.D.s and, eventually, the digital birth. The way one could have independence of sexuality, religion and culture through music was nothing short of a revelation. I remember, as a young child and teen, going everywhere with the cassette. I would be able to enjoy listening in the playground and share tapes with friends. We would swap albums and singles and have our earphones in – call someone over and get them to listen to the new Madonna album or Stone Roses single!

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

The decline happened after the late-1980s and C.D.s started to overtake cassettes by 1993. By 2001, only 4% of music sales were cassette-based. Although cassettes were still being used in answerphones and studios – they are still being used in industries like the police service – the C.D. was seen as more durable and expansive. The cassette could typically hold between twenty-three minutes per side; some cassettes could hold as much as thirty minutes. The flaws of the cassette and the changing technology in the C.D. world meant that handover was inevitable. Initially, the rugged nature of the cassette was beneficial to the C.D. – which would skip and jump easily and was a bane for anyone who wanted to use a Discman. Eventually, manufacturers reinforced the C.D. and it became a much more popular and beneficial form. Cassette playback suffered from varying tape speed – it meant the pitch was either too low or high when you were recording in a studio or at home. The dreaded unspooling of the cassette is something we cannot really comprehend today. Although C.D.s can be scratched and smudged easily; it is less difficult to destroy them. Cassettes would be fine but could get dirty easily and it took a while to rewind and forward them. Unlike vinyl and C.D. where you could choose a track and not have to fast-forward or back; cassettes were a bit dim-witted and that spooling issue meant a lot of tapes were being eaten and lost.

Countless times, I finished enjoying a great album or single and, when removing it from the tape player; it would be caught in the mechanism and I’d have inches of tape coming out – you’d wind it back in but find the cassette was too badly damaged or the sound quality was terrible. Although cassettes’ natural flaws and lack of evolutionary possibility; it led to the C.D. and was the first form of musical hardware that was affordable and available to all. Later technologies like the MiniDisc came out – a way of shrinking the cassette and correcting its problems – but never really survived and captured the imagination. One can look at the semi-revival of the cassette because of boutique record labels, hipsters or those mired in a flood of sepia nostalgia. Last year, Forbes reported a boom in sales through the previous year:

While plenty of attention is paid to the fact that vinyl sales continue to rise year after year, wax records are not the only physical format of music sold that is experiencing an implausible and unexpected revival.

According to Billboard, cassette sales rose a whopping 74% in 2016. That percentage means that the growth of tapes is rising at a faster rate than any other medium in music, though that’s not to say the actual number of cassettes sold comes anywhere near to those categories still losing ground.

...Data from Nielsen states that the rise in sales of cassettes still only amounted to a total of 129,000 tapes being sold in the U.S. last year, which is but a tiny fraction of any other format. To compare, there were just over 13 million vinyl records and 200 million albums (combining CDs, vinyl, digital units and, of course, cassettes) sold in the same time period. To further put the 129,000 figure into perspective, that’s about how many copies an album needs to shift in a single week to hit No. 1 during a busy month in the U.S.”.

Digital Music News offered one suggestion why the cassette is enjoying a bit of a comeback:

Indeed, a few modern hit series — including Netflix hit Stranger Things — have released their soundtracks on cassette, spurring the return.   The Marvel Cinematic Universe film and its sequel helped to nourish the once-dead cassette as well.

Hamilton, Prince’s Purple Rain, and Nirvana’s Nevermind have been among the most popular albums that saw an influx in cassette tape sales.

Now, the question is whether those represent quirky one-offs or the beginning of a trend”.

 All of this positivity and 2016/2017 celebration has been given a reality check and a bit of gravity:

In a crystal clear statement to RA, the RIAA’s Cara Duckworth Weiblinger denied any noticeable uptake in sales:

We regularly check with our music label members to see if they are reporting any change in the sales of cassettes, but there hasn’t been for quite some time. It’s such a small number it doesn’t meet the threshold of sales requirements for us to report it (we report sales by category on a scale of millions of dollars and cassettes just haven’t broken that threshold). So there has been no increase in sales of cassettes or a proactive effort to look into tracking this further.

...That said, it is true that more tapes are being sold now than in previous years. One of the world’s last standing tape factories, the National Audio Companyhas reported increased sales of 33% since 2014.

We’ve also seen a whole host of underground cassette labels crop up in recent years, plus major labels have expressed interested in the format with items like Justin Bieber’s Purpose and Kanye West’s Yeezus out on tape”.

It seems cassettes are coming back in the form of new labels and certain soundtracks. It may be a bit limited and minor but it does signal there is a lust for the technology. Maybe it is a way of connecting with the past but I think, in many ways, it is a way of connecting with music. The C.D. seems like that latchkey child that has not really caught on like the older brother but has matured faster than the young sister of the cassette. That said; the C.D. is proving far less popular today than the 1990s. Electronic forms of distribution seem to be overtaking everything and, whilst vinyl and cassette have enjoyed increased sales; the C.D. is struggling to pull in the big sales. I will bring in an article that highlights the benefits of the cassette but, to me, it is the lack of perfection and flaws that make it great. It is not expensive to replace cassettes and I feel the singles market could return if we brought back the cassette to the mainstream.

There is something old-school, pleasurable and simple about having that tape in your hand and being able to play it. Labels are getting back into them and it is a nice way of having a physical product in your hand – more compact and affordable than a C.D. or vinyl. This article was published last year and suggested why newer artists are bonding with the cassette:

For newer, less established artists, tapes are also a lower-risk investment than vinyl: If your debut EP doesn’t sell, you’re not stuck sitting on a heavy box of vinyl that took over a thousand bucks and half a year to produce.

Tapes give musicians an affordable way to sell their work to fans–usually for about five bucks apiece–and help cover their costs on the road in an age when streaming royalty checks will barely fill up the gas tank. They let fans support their favorite artists without the $25 commitment of vinyl or some other trinket emblazoned with the band’s logo. It may seem odd given the scarcity of cassette players in our lives, but if nothing else, a rectangular hunk of plastic can serve as a convenient vehicle for a free digital download of the album. Plus, it’s a souvenir.

“For the fans, there’s a certain coolness about tapes,” says J. Edward Keyes, Bandcamp’s editorial director and a longtime music journalist, who has amassed close to 500 cassettes. “You can’t quite put your finger on it. But they’re sort of fun. They’re weird little tchotchkes.”

Indeed, the appeal of tapes has more to do with collectibility and nostalgia than it does with convenience or sound quality. In fact, the lower audio fidelity of tapes is seldom seen as a disadvantage”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: GPO Brooklyn Portable Boombox Music C.D. Bluetooth Radio Cassette Tape Retro/PHOTO CREDIT: eBay

Since 2013, music retailers have celebrated Cassette Store Day with special released and, with that, creating an offshoot and cousin of Record Store Day. Some claim these days are nothing more than cheesy and money-making excuses; to those who want to pay for music and have something physical (like myself), it is a great way of keeping alive a form of music that is a nice counterpoint and contrast to the rather soulless and unfeeling digital sound. The cassette tape is fifty-five this year and, like all mid-life crisis sufferers, expect it to buy an expensive sports car; have a cheap affair and get its hair highlighted! I expect there will be these rather retro and tragic reissues or the sort of vending machines you see in parts of the world – where you can buy an album or single on the street. Thinking about it, that sounds like a cool idea for the U.K. but I wonder whether the cassette is damaged when it hits the bottom; whether there is genuine music on them – you can sell blank cassettes and charge people – and how stocked they are (do you get much choice?!). I do not feel the music market should all be digital and we need to accept we have passed through the hardware stage and it is digital from here on in. Many people do want to pay for individual releases and may not have a laptop or Internet access.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Some prefer to bond with music in a very real way and not endlessly click and skip through online tracks. The article I just quoted seems to sum up the appeal and enduring brilliance of the cassette tape:

In an age when most music exists on the boundless, only somewhat navigable reservoir of sound called the internet, splintered across streaming services, YouTube embeds, torrents, and message board threads, there’s something to be said for the tangibility and simplicity of physical media. Like reading a book or a paper magazine, listening to vinyl or cassettes pulls us out of the digital ocean for 45 minutes or so and forces us to focus on one thing. What a concept.

As a bonus, Keyes notes, cassettes often look cool. “They usually do such a nice job with the cover art, especially [tape label] Orange Milk,” he says. “They have such a clear aesthetic and design. It kind of makes you want to buy them all and line them all up”.

Maybe the revival will not turn into a bloodied coup but I can feel there is change and a renewed demand for cassettes. On its fifty-fifth birthday; it is a great chance to think about all the cassettes we grew up with and the sensation we got when we clipped it into the tape deck and let it play. Its birthday should not be met with a comb-over and comfy cardigan: get it some proper-good whiskey, a day of hand gliding and top it all off with a great gig in the capital! I am desperate for shops or sellers to put cassettes back on the shelves and give me the option of varying my collection; getting a classic, old-school player and letting memories flood back – rediscover that happy affinity I had back then and provide something tangible and physical. There are no figures to suggest inroads will be made into the mainstream but I would not be shocked to see the long-lasting and legendary cassette come…

SWINGING back strong!    

FEATURE: When Hathor Sleeps: The Strong Female Idols Who Have Inspired Me

FEATURE:

 

 

When Hathor Sleeps

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Pillai for L'Officiel

The Strong Female Idols Who Have Inspired Me

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I am not exactly slack when it comes to…

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IN THIS PHOTO: St. Vincent (one of many modern female artists who compel me)/PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

promoting new female artists and raising a clenched fist against the patriarchy. I find there is an imbalance across music that is not shifting as fast as it should. Radio stations are male-heavy whilst we hear tales of sexism and inequality from gig bookings, festivals through to record labels. I feel the crop of new female artists is incredibly strong and inspiring. I am drawn more to their sound: I find there is more innovation and depth in their sound; something different that digs further and elicits different emotions. From the primal and commanding Hip-Hop artists coming from the U.S.; the more mature and independent Pop artists pushing the genre and dominating; the great Punk and Alternative bands the beautiful Folk artists – there is a wealth of talent coming through that deserve a lot more than they get. Old-school mentalities and habits still rule music. There is that deficit when we see festival line-ups and so many broadcasters promote their men above women. Whilst there is a long way to go to see any real improvements in the industry; I have to look back and explain why classic and modern icons are showing why equality needs to arrive sooner rather than later. Most of my early musical experiences revolved around male bands or whatever was being broadcast on the radio.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush/PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty Images

Even back in the 1990s, there was a lot of men filling the airwaves and making their way up the charts. A lot of the hits were written by men and look at the so-called greatest albums of that decade – you will find a majority male share. Maybe things have always been bad and unbalanced but the music male and female artists produce differs. Their ambitions and dreams might be (roughly) the same but the tones, lyrical perspective and personalities are different. I know problems in today’s music scene are going to take some genuine attack and dedication but I feel looking back at the music from female artists of the past can inform what we do today. Look at those iconic and inspiring artists who either paved a course for change or released world-class albums. I have spent a lot of time this year looking at artists like Kate Bush and Madonna – they are both sixty this year and have influenced generations of songwriters. Whilst Kate Bush captivated my ears when I was a child and sort of formed my first musical crush; her unique sounds and incredible passion stood out from any other music I was listening to. One reason why Bush stands out to me is her independence and sense of ambition. I am a big fan of male artists/bands from the 1970s/1980s but none of them managed to win my heart as readily and easily as Kate Bush.

She remains a heroine of mine and a songwriter whose beguiling talent, physicality and personality have not been equalled. The industry was sexist when she was starting out – although she has said she never encountered it – but her defiance and belief in the music meant she set her own course and went on to create some of the finest work of her time. Whereas a lot of male artists at the time, and when I was growing up, relied on their masculinity or feudal rebellion; Bush’s instinct, artistic flair and incredible maturity stood aside. It was refreshing then and, forty years after her debut, it remains rare and personally inspiring. Madonna, who turns sixty next week, made an impact on me after Kate Bush. I experienced Bush around about 1988/1989 – when she was quite a few albums in – but Madonna arrived in the 1990s. Earlier albums like True Blue and Like a Prayer were being played in the schoolyard and I was finding her musical at a rather interesting time. Although Madonna is determined to make more music today and aghast at the lack of originality and true leaders; by the time I was becoming familiar with her work, she has transitioned from this normal Popstar who was making her way into the world: she was the Queen of Pop and a global superstar.

Maybe Michael Jackson had that same sort of rise, a lot earlier, but his situation and struggle were different. Whilst fellow icons such as Jackson and Prince conquered the world and established themselves as legends of the time; Madonna was fighting against record labels, judgement and a scene that was not ready for her. She battles and speaks out against sexism now but there was a feeling, back then, she was being controlled by record labels. The more she felt belittled and isolated, the more she pushed to become this world-straddling star that stunned the world with her incredible fashion, music and defiance. She remains a global superstar but it is her work during the 1980s and 1990s that hooked me. Going through school, I was constantly being exposed to chart hits, Britpop and whatever band was trending at the time. Musicians, in a way, teach us about ourselves and present a view of the modern world. During a time of change and discovery in my life, I was blown away by a figure who seemed to defy convention and rebelled against those who felt she was inferior and incapable of success. Later albums such as Ray of Light would elevate and renew my interest in her but the sort of songs that came during that earlier period – from Express Yourself, Papa Don’t Preach and Like a Virgin – changed music and spoke to those looking for something different and bold.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/ALL OTHER PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images

I was growing up around a lot of good music but there were few artists that really spoke to me and made a lasting impression. Around the same sort of time I was discovering Madonna and Kate Bush; another side of music was presenting itself. Through childhood discovery and flicking through old vinyl, I was becoming acclimatised to incredible singer-songwriters like Carole King and Joni Mitchell. Both have their own sensation and sound but they each take me somewhere special with their voices. Mitchell is a more ‘acquired’ taste to many: a rougher voice that, whilst capable of beauty and desire, is not as instant. The way she wove pictures and presenting such vivid and incredible songs, again, did something to me and opened my eyes to art and literature. I leapt into albums like Blue and Ladies of the Canyon and was presented with these wonderful stories, sensational poetic verses and a spirit that brought so much character to what she sung. A Joni Mitchell song is an experience and linguistic awakening. Maybe my love of poetry and desire to explore the English language is because of Joni Mitchell and the way her music got into my head. I am a big fan of male songwriters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen but I got a new perspective and quality with Mitchell.

She was/is a more emotive performer and someone writing from a very real and honest place. She has said that, at a point, she was exposed and could hide nothing from the public. Her music, especially on Blue, bled with emotion and seemed to strike harder and more durably than anything I had ever heard. Carole King’s Tapestry is one of those albums that, again, taught me a lot about myself and what I could become. I found her whilst I was in middle school and was instantly seduced by her fantastic voice and incredible grace. It seems like the voice and the different tones are the difference between interest and fascination. I love male artists like Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley; bands such as Radiohead, Blur and Led Zeppelin – most of my favourite music is made by men and that will not change anytime soon. Although the majority of my favourite albums and songs are created by men; the deepest, most memorable and transformative musical memories are from female artists. ABBA, a band who can divide opinion, played a big part when I was growing up. I recall being hooked on their hooky and catchy Pop. Although the hits were penned by Benny and Björn; Anni-Frid and Agnetha were at the front and bringing those songs to life.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Joni Mitchell/PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Robinson

Maybe it was their contrasting voices and the way they could harmonise; perhaps it was their affinity for the music or something intuitive…it introduced me to Europe Pop and, against the radio hits of the day, was another breath of fresh ear and sensational vocal realisation. Most of my ABBA upbringing was after their split up. I was getting into them in the 1990s – their final studio album was 1981’s The Visitors - but those incredible vocals and performances still get into my head and bring me happiness. The 1990s was the decade I was discovering existing stars and finding new ones to love. Whereas we do not really have girl bands anymore; I was drawn to the unity, spirit and sassiness that one could find in the music of En Vogue and TLC. I am also a fan of Destiny’s Child but it is Beyoncé’s leadership and talents that seemed to shine. The reason I liked these female groups was their confidence and the incredible connection between the singers. The fact that they are black seemed to be a part of their music. By that, I mean they were not only fighting against no-good men and cheaters but a society that overlooked women and minorities. I often feel the hardest task for an artist is being a black female solo artist or group.

The fact the greatest girl groups of the 1980s and 1990s managed to create sensational music and break down barriers was a huge thing. There were sexism and limitations placed upon them but these groups managed to carve out their own territory and influence legions of artists coming through. I feel the likes of En Vogue and TLC have done so much to bring women’s music to the forefront and create a sense of identity and place for black artists today. Again, male artists have managed this but I look back at those great girl groups and what they managed to achieve. The songs they created not only became anthems for women everywhere but they spoke to everyone and have remained staples. Think about TLC’s Waterfalls and No Scrubs; En Vogue’s Free Your Mind and Don’t Let Go (Love) and you have classics that people still go nuts over today – I cannot think of any male group of that type who managed to make such an impact. I will end with Beyoncé but a few other female artists that compelled me when I was growing up were Björk, Lauryn Hill and Stevie Nicks. Nicks’ involvement with Fleetwood Mac won my young heart.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Stevie Nicks

Albums like Rumours and Tusk are among my favourites are part of my regular rotation and a big reason for that is Stevie Nicks. Rumours is a record where she struggled to get attention and fairness – given the tensions in the band and the fact Lindsey Buckingham was calling a lot of the shots. Her contributions, like Dreams and Gold Dust Woman are among my highlights. The fact each song has its own skin and seems completely different is a testament to her endless talent and ability. I Don’t Wanna Know is another great Nicks song - and look at Rhiannon and Landslide (from 1975’s Fleetwood Mac). She is one of the best female songwriters of all-time and her voice is an instrument that brings such strength and cinema to the music. She can be flighty and ethereal but incredibly earthy and revealing. There are contrast and balances that made her a favourite of mine when growing up. I have been a fan of Björk since her debut album (Debut) and feel she, like Kate Bush, is unique and impossible to follow. Each of her albums explores new ground and seems to defy logic. Whether exploring nature or womanhood; inventing her own technology or wrestling with personal demons; you always get something electric and scintillating. I have followed Björk since the start and am always stunned by the way she can project and mutate her voice.

You only need listen to a few of her songs and you realise we have someone very special in music. I cannot imagine any other artist, male or female, matching what she does and having such an amazing impact. It is hard to put into words just what Björk does and how her music makes me feel but I adore the way she bends language and can go from ecstatic and rapturous highs to cooing lows and something more unsettled. As a young man/boy looking for music to guide me and show me new sides of the world, again, it was a female artist that did that. Lauryn Hill’s sole solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, was among my first tastes of Hip-Hop. I was familiar with her Fugees work and what she was capable of but was stunned by her command and songwriting talent on the solo album. Gusty songs like Lost Ones were revelations to me. I had not really heard anything as punchy and tough from a female artist. I was listening to this great girl bands but Hill’s spirit and toughness seemed to top them. Doo Wop (That Thing) and Ex-Factor are among my favourite songs of the 1990s and a window into a very inspiration and influential artist.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Bangles

Certain words keep coming up in this piece but it is hard to say how important these artists were. Hill’s brilliant directions and confessions led me back to equally strong and impassioned female artists like Neneh Cherry and Nina Simone. A little earlier still (in the 1980s) I heard The Bangles and their earliest work played a big role in my school life. Maybe it is the beauty in their voices and the emotional effects it uncovers but their music is indelible and transformative. Eternal Flame might not be a critical favourite but it is a song I carried with me and one of my first memories from all of music. A lot of the male bands of that time were coming in rather aggressively or hardly pushing boundaries with their songs. That impatience and desire to uncover something soul-speaking and touching led me to them. If some people feel female bands/girl groups are weaker than male equivalents and produce inferior music; you only need to listen to groups like The Bangles to realise how strong and decades-lasting they are. I will complete with a conclusion and look at the modern artists who are in my thoughts and responsible for my continued interest in female-made music and striking against sexism but, for now, a figure I said I’d mention.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Simone

I love the work Beyoncé created when she was a member of Destiny’s Child and the anthems she was a part of. I have mentioned TLC and En Vogue and, alongside them, Destiny’s Child helped push female music (from black artists) into the mainstream. They addressed sexism and defiance; the losers that played them around and promoted a sense of strength and ability that has sparked a fuse for modern female-made music. Whether you feel Survivor or Say My Name is their best song; you cannot deny the impact they made. I was hearing a lot of crappy boybands in the 1990s and was shocked by the basicness of their material and how hollow it all sounded. Destiny’s Child provided access into Pop and R&B; a shot of spirit and independence that seemed so much more vital and impressive than anything that was being represented in music at the time. Beyoncé was the member of the band I followed and continue to watch with great interest. I love albums like Lemonade (2016) and 4 (2011) but it is her self-titled record (2013) and B’Day (2006) that show her at her peak. Although other people help her write her material; it is the way she puts herself into the music and delivers her messages that have moved me. Beyoncé is alive with sexuality and confidence (like Partition and Blow) whilst B’Day has bangers and bellicose anthems like Ring the Alarm and Green Light.

Both albums are supreme works and the fact they are seven years apart should signal a dip in quality or a changed sound. Every album she puts out seems to unite emotional candour with spirited, gutsy works. Destiny’s Child delivered big and hungry numbers like Lose My Breath but Beyoncé, stepping away from her band, gained new impetus and inspiration. She remains one of those female artists that, like Madonna, has spoken up and affected change. Her live performances are sensational and a transcendent experience. The reason she is important to me is due to her addressment of race and gender rights; equality and female strength. She never preaches and shoves things down our throat but there is never any sense of shyness and hesitation. Her complete authority and personal strength have not only influenced many female artists but a lot of current male musicians. In an R&B/Rap scene where the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z (her husband) hold immense sway; she can hold her own and is inferior in no way! This might be a bit of a whistle-stop tour of female artists through my life but they (the ones I have mentioned) have contributed a great deal and changed me as a person. Opening up my mind to new areas and sides of life; giving me instruction and teaching me more about music than I could ever know. I have a lot of affection for male artists but there is something special, different and more compelling about those strong female artists.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Lana Del Rey/PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Kru

That interest and captivation continue to this very day. Whilst a lot of the artists I have mentioned have been and gone; modern artists such as Solange, Florence Welch (Florence + the Machine); Laura Marling and Lana Del Rey are among my favourites. Solange, like Beyoncé, is talking about big issues and striking a note for female artists; Lana Del Rey marries cinematic soundscapes and gorgeous strings with some of the dreamiest and most striking vocals around. Florence Welch is that enigma and powerhouse whose career keeps getting stronger and she is one of those artists that provoke such fascination and interest. Laura Marling is one of the most consistent songwriters of this age and, still under thirty, she has produced more starling albums that most have in their entire careers. The twenty-eight-year-old has already released six solo albums and not put a foot wrong yet! The great new breed of Pop artists – like Lorde – are inspiring me; the great Hip-Hop coming from the U.S. is alluring; the great female bands like Goat Girl are doing amazing work. I have not even mentioned Amy Winehouse when speaking of those idols and great artists that changed music and brought something new into my life. I did not want to raise this feature and explore the greatest female artists just to fill some time…

I have spoken about the female artists who inspired and affected me growing up – when writing pieces about International Women’s Day and Memory Tapes – but it seems few other male journalists are. I am always keen to promote female artists but I wonder why male journalists and artists are not writing about the female musicians that mean a lot to them. In my case, I have discovered more about music, life and myself through their music than anything male-made. From the natural world and beauty of the human voice (Kate Bush) to independence, sexism and women’s rights (Madonna); racism, sisterhood and female rights (TLC, Beyoncé and En Vogue) to the power of poetry, words and acoustic music (Joni Mitchell and Carole King). I have not been able to name all of the female artists that have compelled and moved but the fact they have opened my eyes and mind, personally and musically, matters a great deal to me. I know I write a lot about female artist and sexism but this is not a rally against inequalities and what more can be done. My current piece is a nod of the head to those, past and present, that have taught me so much and made me a stronger human being. The legends and incredible artists I grew up with have led to contemporary curiosity and a much broader and exciting musical palette. I will, in the coming weeks, highlight the modern female artists that are turning my head but I thought I would discuss and commemorate those incredible female artists whose impact on me…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Pillai for L'Officiel

CANNOT be easily measured.