On Djs, Beats 1, and Talking Over Songs

I hadn’t heard Zane Lowe, as I mentioned before. So when Apple Music launched, with its Beats 1 streaming radio service, for which Zane is the flagship DJ, I was interested to check him out.

A number of sources had led me to the belief that Zane, at Radio One, had effectively been the new John Peel. Nobody can live up to that claim, I suspect, but to me it meant that he must have a particular set of talents and abilities:

  • plays music of their own choice, free from playlists mandated by the station management;
  • actively seeks out new music;
  • communicates their enthusiasm to the listener;
  • plays the tracks in full, without talking over the beginning or end.

I’ve now heard Zane on Beats 1 a couple of times, and he certainly fulfils the first three of those criteria. But he fails dramatically on the fourth.

The thing with Peelie was, he played the track. He respected it, gave it space to succeed or fail on its own merit. Certainly he’d say, “This is the new one from so-and-so, and I think it’s great,” or whatever; but then he’d let you hear the record. The actual record. All of it. The whole thing.1

Zane does not do that.

No, I’m afraid he talks over the records. And not just over instrumental intros or “chasing the fade,” either. I’ve heard him popping up right in the middle of a song with a word or two.

One of the people who spoke highly of Zane was Myke Hurley of Relay FM, the podcast network. In particular I had heard him talking on the Upgrade podcast about what a good guy Zane was.

So when I heard Mr Lowe talking over the tracks, I tweeted with the #AskUpgrade tag, which is one of their feedback mechanisms:

They read out my question on the next episode, 45, I think. Make said I sounded “very angry”, which I wasn’t — just disappointed. And then we exchanged a few tweets:

And that’s about where we left it. I don’t think I got across my main point very well (140 characters is hard sometimes). But I’ve expressed it clearly enough up top there, I think.

Beats One is still interesting, and Apple Music has many interesting features. But I’m still looking for a DJ that knows how to treat records right.

  1. Sometimes that was true even when “record” equalled “album”. []
books, Books 2015, sf

Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler (Books 2015, 7)

The next book in the Patternist series after Wild Seed, which I wrote about before. I would describe it as the sequel to the other one, except that it turns out that they were written out of sequence.

This perhaps explains why the character of Anyanwu, who, as you’ll recall, I felt was slightly disappointing in the first book, is completely sidelined and, indeed, thrown away, in this one.

The other reason is that the focus has moved on to a new generation of Doro’s descendants. We are in mid to late 20th-century America, and his breeding programme is finally beginning to pay off. More spectacularly than he had ever imagined, it seems, as some of his telepaths — who up until now have not been able to bear being near each other — form a kind of group or meld they call the Pattern.

This makes them able to both work and live together, and increases their power and effectiveness enormously.

Things ensue. It’s good, but still feels kind of weak to me. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t that compelling.

Also I thought I had read this one, years ago, but none of it was even the slightest bit familiar to me, so I guess not.

books, Books 2015, music

Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York that Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes (Books 2015, 6)

I started reading this last year — probably late summer or early autumn — in part as preparation for our trip to New York, though in part because I’d have wanted to anyway.

The trip to New York is over now. I finished the book a day or two before we left, and I’m not sure in the end that it made much difference to the trip — though it did mean I knew one or two things that the guy who lead our East Village rock & punk walking tour told us, and I was able to answer at least one of his questions: who might own a bar called “Manitoba’s”? The answer being “Handsome” Dick Manitoba of the Dictators.

But we’re here to talk about the book. The five years in question are 1973-1977, inclusive. They saw the tail end of the hippy era turning into glam, the growth of both punk and disco, and the early years of hip-hop. And that’s just in what we might call “rock” or “pop” in the most general sense. New York in those years also saw the growth of minimalism, with people like Steve Reich and Phillip Glass (both of whom I’ve seen live, incidentally); a burgeoning jazz scene; and the development of salsa and other latin-derived forms.

Hermes goes into great detail about all of these. He was a teenager in Queens at the start of the time (and in fact still a teenager at its end), and it’s clear that he lived for music. He went on, I discover, to write for Rolling Stone and others.

It’s a fantastic book, full of both scholarly detail and fannish anecdote, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in any of those genres, or in New York’s history or that of music.

A minor crossover of my readings of the last half-year or so: we hear of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers’ trip to London, and how he gave Viv Albertine heroin, as also described in more vivid detail in Viv’s book.


Drive-By Brucellosis

The day after I post linking to Patterson Hood’s NYT piece, I get an email from Amazon recommending a Drive-By Truckers album. I assumed it was a new one.

Not too spooky — I doubt their bots are reading my blog. It’s nothing more than the fact that I’ve bought DBT albums from Amazon before. Only the timing was surprising — plus the fact that I had no idea that the album was coming out. Though further research shows that it’s not actually a new album, making Amazon’s prompt slightly more suspect again.

Anyway the interesting thing about this album — The Fine Print: A Collection Of Oddities And Rarities 2003-2008 — is that it contains a track called ‘Play it All Night Long’. I’m assuming that this must be a cover of Warren Zevon’s song of the same name.

Now, that song is a dissection of DBT’s beloved Lynyrd Skynyrd. Or at least it uses “that dead band’s song” as part of its critique of the South. For DBT to cover it must be an example of “the duality of the southern thing,” of which they speak extensively on Southern Rock Opera.

Of course, large parts of that album are about Skynyrd, so covering a song that is also partly about them isn’t much of a stretch. Thing is, Zevon’s song is less than positive about the South as a whole, or Skynyrd by implication. Not, of course, that the DBTs are entirely positive about the South; that duality again.

‘Play it All Night Long’ is also the only known song — known by me, at least — to contain the word “brucellosis”.

books, Books 2015, sf

Wild Seed by Octavia E Butler (books, 2015, 5)

Halfway through the year and only five books in? This is shocking behaviour!

I’m glad I read this, and I sort of enjoyed it, but I wasn’t entirely happy with it.

There are two main characters, both of whom appear to be functionally immortal, though with different mechanisms for keeping them alive. The shapeshifting, self-healing (and healer of others) Anyanwu is an African woman in the seventeenth century when we meet her. She is already two or three hundred years old.

The male immortal, Doro, is even older. For perhaps thousands of years he has survived by stealing bodies. His consciousness hops from his current one to another when the latter threatens him, or just when he chooses it. The personality of his destination body is of course destroyed in the hop, and the body he leaves also dies. Anyanwu is attracted to his power and the fact that they are apparently the only such long-lived people on Earth, but is repelled by the mechanism of his survival.

As she is by his long-term (really long-term) project to try to breed people with special abilities — many of the subjects of which are, or may be, distant descendants of her, or of his original people (most of whom he killed in panic when he first “died” and found himself in a new body).

I was annoyed at Anyanwu as a character at times, by the way she didn’t resist Doro when he had her do things she didn’t want to do. But he is an expert manipulator and is willing to threaten her kids to bend her to his will. And I guess that cleverly evokes the reality of women’s situation often in history, and certainly at that time.

This is the start of the Seed to Harvest series, and I’m keen to see where it goes.


The Phantom Menace

Just who (or what) is the menacing phantom?

Following on from my On things never seen post, yesterday was Father's Day, and we watched The Phantom Menace.

It is not as bad – not nearly as bad – as nearly everyone makes out.

It starts badly, oddly enough. Not just the dull scroll about the Trade Federation, but then you have the Japanese-sounding guys in charge of the blockade and invasion, who are voiced by people who seemingly can't act. Their dialogue is frankly embarrassing.

But much of it is fine. Sure, there are holes in the logic, places where it doesn't exactly make sense; but what film doesn't have instances like that?

Even – and I realise I'm committing a kind of geek sacrilege as I write this – even Jar-Jar Binks isn't that annoying. Could the plot have worked without him, or with him not being a comedic figure? Of course. But having him as he is, does no harm.

But hey: I liked Wesley Crusher, too.

And that's about as much as I'm going to say about it for now.

links, politics

The Tories want to reintroduce the Lord Chamberlain

From The Guardian:

David Cameron has backed plans to give Ofcom stronger powers to prevent the broadcast of “extremist messages” despite concerns from one of his own cabinet ministers that this could amount to state censorship.

The prime minister appeared to support Theresa May, the home secretary, after the Guardian revealed a split in the cabinet over her counter-extremism measures.

Let’s return to the days when creations had to be authorised by a state censor, says Cameron.