Archive: video

In my previous article about the post-Bahrain backlash, I noted that I thought the main reason why people felt that the race was boring was down to something fully within Bernie Ecclestone’s control. It is the most important thing to the vast majority of fans, although in the rush to blame the presence of heavy fuel loads or front wings or whatever personal hobby-horse they have, many people have forgotten about the television coverage.

FOM feed the world

Nowadays, the “world feed” carried by every broadcaster for almost every race is produced by FOM, run by Bernie Ecclestone. (The only exceptions at the moment are the Monaco and Japanese Grands Prix, where the world feed is produced by Télé Monte Carlo and Fuji Television respectively.) This is generally a very good thing.

Until a few years ago, races were covered by local broadcasters, meaning that the quality of the coverage could vary quite wildly from race to race. I always remember the Japanese Grand Prix being particularly bad because so much time was spent on board with a below-average Japanese driver trundling around doing very little.

This situation was not helped by the fact that the quality of this standard feed was deliberately stunted while Bernie Ecclestone attempted to launch a premium digital television service, F1 Digital+. “Bernievision”, as it was called, was a very good product.

There were lots of innovations that improved the quality of the coverage, including some smart systems that could detect when an overtaking manoeuvre or a crash was about to happen. You can see this in action here, when the coverage automatically cuts to the on-board camera of Jacques Villeneuve just before he crashes into Ralf Schumacher during the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

Unfortunately, the main problem with F1 Digital+ was that it was ahead of its time. The adventure began in 1996, at an impossibly early stage of the development of interactive television. There were teething problems in the early days, including an incredible clanger at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, where the “superior” product managed to completely miss the biggest crash in F1 history! But they learned over time and there were innovations aplenty. With the broadcasters struggling to make any money with it, the service was closed down in 2002.

Since then, the technology on which F1 Digital+ was based has been used on the standard world feed, which FOM have gradually taken over from the host broadcasters. This has brought about a noticeable improvement in the quality of coverage since 2004. Broadly, the pictures have been better. Incidents have been caught live more regularly, and replays have been shown quickly. The information displayed on the on-screen graphics has also improved considerably.

But after reaching a peak in quality three or four years ago, FOM’s coverage has stagnated. Many times, innovations have been brought to the coverage, only to be used sparingly, and eventually disappear.

For instance, whatever happened to the tyre temperature indicators that were used once or twice a few years ago? Why do we no longer often see the graphics comparing the telemetry of two drivers racing side-by-side? What has happened to the thermal images?

Why don’t FOM buy some of those awesome super slo-mo cameras instead of just using the ones in Germany? Why is line comparison only ever used during practice, and even then not very often? Why isn’t more use made of the graphics that show the position of drivers on a map of the circuit?

The poor usability of FOM’s new graphics

Things are not totally stagnant at FOM though. At Bahrain, they unleashed a new set of graphics. It has to be said straight away that they are very good looking, and with a few tweaks will work very well. However, at the moment there are some major flaws with them.

The font appears to be a version of DIN. This is a bold, clear and readable font.

However, FOM have made a mistake by choosing to display the drivers’ names in all uppercase. It is known that all-uppercase is more difficult to read. Often readers look at the shape of words rather than the individual letters. This is much more difficult when capital letters are all the same height and many are roughly square-shaped. It is thought that it may even increase the amount of time spent reading by as much as 20 per cent.

Then there is the odd slanting of the lower-third graphics. I see what they are trying to do, by echoing the slant of the Formula 1 logo. But while it looks stylish, it is pretty painful if you want to actually try and read it!

Example of FOM's new graphics

As you can see, unlike a normal table, the text is not aligned to allow for easy comparison of figures down the column. Instead, you have to read down and to the left. Slanting is one thing, but if you are going to slant one way, slant towards the right! We read from left to right. Effectively reading from right to left (and then switching back to left to right to actually read the information!) is completely counter-intuitive. I know Bernie Ecclestone is keen to take Formula 1 to new markets in Asia, but making us read from right to left really is going a step too far!

The graphics also animate on rather extravagantly. This is particularly irritating with the graphics that update as each driver crosses the line. Each driver’s name and time now takes a while to animate on. But when cars are passing through so quickly, this is vital reading time lost. The new graphics really are a bad case of style over substance.

Example (a rare one) of FOM's tower graphics There was also a large outcry over the fact that the ‘tower’ graphics — which display a list of positions down the left hand side of the screen — appear to have been done away with. Although the tower made a couple of appearances during the race, it really is much more useful during qualifying, where positions change much more rapidly.

During the commentary, Jonathan Legard mentioned that the BBC had received plenty of complaints about the disappearance of the tower, although the content of the world feed is beyond the BBC’s control. For commentators to start bemoaning the poor quality of the world feed once again shows how much of a backward step FOM have taken lately.

On the plus side, there were a couple of interesting new additions as a result of the renewed emphasis on the speed of pitstops. The pitstop time graphic now shows the length of time spent in the pitlane as well as the amount of time spent stationary. However, the stationary time displays only after the driver has exited the pitlane. Why not reveal this first?

They also get the thumbs up for finally switching the lap counter so that it counts up rather than down. I generally like the new graphics, but they have some major flaws just now. With a bit of tweaking, it will look great and work well. But I do wonder what FOM were thinking of when they made some of these decisions.

Too much action was missed

But, of course, the design of the graphics is small beer compared with the actual pictures themselves — and it is here that I think FOM are particularly letting themselves down just now. A few years ago I was amazed at how much action they caught live. Today, I find myself with difficult believing how little action they catch — and how few replays they show.

For instance, what actually happened to Karun Chandhok? We know he binned it, but how? All FOM showed us was his slightly smashed-up car. A replay of the event was never shown. Did their cameras completely miss it?

Moreover, the BBC’s post-race ‘forum’ showed several replays from the on-board channels that brought to light much more action than FOM showed us. Nico Hülkenberg’s first lap was rather eventful, but FOM showed very little of it.

Another on-board shot, not shown on the world feed, revealed how Felipe Massa squeezed Lewis Hamilton early on in the lap. This was totally missed by FOM, and caught all viewers, and even apparently the pundits, by surprise when the BBC showed it later.

And why were viewers never given the full story of the mêlée caused in the midfield as a result of Mark Webber’s blue smoke on lap 1? And, for that matter, why was so little attention paid to the recoveries by Adrian Sutil and Robert Kubica, who made their way back up through the field following that lap 1 incident?

I have to admit that I am baffled. The race was allegedly “boring”, so there was plenty of time to show replays of interesting incidents, but clearly the opportunity was passed up. Why?

The whole style of FOM’s product has become rather stale, clinical and formulaic as well. While a few years ago the feed contained interesting shots of the cars and the circuit. Now there is a greater emphasis on wide shots of the venue. While these shots are attractive, they do not showcase the race.

The coverage of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a prime example. There were so many wide shots that it was often difficult to pick out the cars. It felt like most of the time was spent looking at the giant sparkly hotel that looks a bit like a rude sex toy rather than the race itself. And the final lap lunge by Jenson Button on Mark Webber was missed by the cameras!

You can see the moment on this video, at 2:30. Also watch out for when the cars out out of shot when Robert Kubica is battling with Sébastien Buemi at around 1:40, so we don’t properly see what Kubica really did.

It is worth noting that the FIA obviously thought that FOM had done such a good job of producing an uber-slick but ultra-dull feed that they awarded the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix an award for the best television coverage. I thought it stuck out as a particularly poor performance from FOM. It was another triumph of style over substance. I guess they were trying to trumpet this new grand prix, when it was widely recognised to be an underwhelming circuit that produced a rather dull race.

When will HD finally come?

I feel as though FOM have almost given up on improving the television product. F1 is supposed to be the most technologically advanced sport in the world, yet it is still not even broadcast in HD. It is probably the last major sport in the world to only offer an SD feed, and before you know it 3D will have come along by the time F1 goes HD.

Fuji Television are prepared to produce an HD feed for the Japanese Grand Prix (although this is only shown in Japan). I also noticed people praising the Japanese GP coverage for its interesting shots and pretty solid coverage. But Fuji were once universally recognised as one of the worst of the host broadcasters back in the bad old days.

Fuji really have upped their game in the past couple of years. It is notable that we can actually now compare Fuji with FOM and say that Fuji may actually be better. Certainly, Fuji provide a welcome breath of fresh air to F1 coverage when every other race is presented using the formulaic approach that has increasingly been taken by FOM.


Screengrabs nicked from stefmeister. If you are as much of a geek as me about both Formula 1 and television presentation, I highly recommend the F1 coverage thread on Digital Spy.

The country lurches back into its usual routine this week. But with the new year comes changes, and a vital part of everyone’s daily life — the radio — will seem very different.

My parents are concerned about what will happen to Radio 2 after the departure of Terry Wogan from breakfast. They were not happy to hear that his replacement will be Chris Evans. My parents originally stopped listening to Radio 1 when Chris Evans took over the Radio 1 breakfast show. (Quite how they tolerated Steve Wright before this is beyond me though.)

I get the feeling that they will stick with Radio 2. Chris Evans is a very different broadcaster to what he was ten or fifteen years ago and has apparently pleased most people with his performances on Radio 2 so far.

While Terry Wogan’s last show was the one that caught all the headlines, the end of two other radio programmes will be far more disruptive to my routine. I was not a listener of Terry Wogan’s, though I don’t suppose I am really part of his target audience.

The end of Adam and Joe

Much bigger news in my world has been the end of Adam and Joe’s programme on BBC 6 Music. They are raising the drawbridge at the Big British Castle for an indefinite period while Joe Cornish focuses on his new career as a film director.

This programme has been a core part of my week for the past two years. It is also unusual because due to its Saturday morning time slot, it has been the only thing that has managed to get me to wake up at a decent hour on a Saturday.

Adam and Joe have an excellent knack of doing a type of humour which is silly but not stupid — a balance that very few manage to strike. This made it ideal listening for the start of the weekend. It was perhaps something to gently lift you out of a mild hangover. The accompanying podcast was also excellent for lifting spirits during your journey into work.

Their gentle humour was mixed with sharp observations on popular culture. Increasingly, towards the end of the programme’s run, listener contributions were a larger part of the programme. Combined with the programme’s elite listening force Black Squadron and the STEPHEN! phenomenon, there was quite a tight-knit community feel to the show.

This was no doubt helped by the fact that it was on BBC 6 Music, jokingly referred to by Adam Buxton as “the secret station”. Even though it was the most popular programme on the station by quite a long way, due to its location in the outer reaches of select DAB sets, Adam and Joe’s was a cosy and understated programme. It is difficult to imagine Adam and Joe’s programme working so well on another, larger radio station.

Adam and Joe’s replacement will be Danny Wallace, who is not quite in the same league. It will leave a huge gap in my Saturday mornings. What else can I listen to? Saturday Live on Radio 4? Sorry, not for me. Jonathan Ross on Radio 2? Possibly. Or will I return to my old ‘default’ radio station, Radio 5 Live, for Danny Baker and Fighting Talk?

Changes at Radio 5 Live

Speaking of Radio 5 Live, that is the source of the other big change to my radio routine. Richard Bacon has vacated the late-night slot to take over from Simon Mayo, who is moving to replace Chris Evans on Drivetime at Radio 2.

I was a fan of Richard Bacon during his first stint on 5 Live in the weekend late-night slot, and he continued to delight when he returned to the station to do weeknights. Given his background, he is surprisingly good at dealing with big issues as well as light-hearted stuff.

He is also unafraid to use humour. It could be so embarrassing (and some would probably say it is), but I think it works well. The interesting bit after 12:30am was entertaining and brave. I can’t think of many other presenters who would get away with completely doing away with news for half an hour every day on Radio 5 Live.

I am greatly regretful that I never managed to get my hands on one of those badges. It was nevertheless an honour and a privilege to listen.

Richard Bacon’s irreverence is what makes him good as a broadcaster, but it’s difficult to see how he can leverage this in his new mid-afternoon slot, one of the most important in 5 Live’s schedule. Most disappointingly, it will be on during the daytime, meaning that I won’t be able to listen to it.

The replacement in the late night slot will be former Daily Sport editor Tony Livesey. I will reserve judgement until I hear the programme. I gather he is actually quite good. But if I don’t take to it, I might take the unusual step of switching to a commercial radio station during weeknights to listen to Iain Lee on Absolute Radio.

Richard Bacon’s move is part of a wider shake-up at Radio 5 Live, which also sees Gabby Logan getting a daily slot. With the day going from the Nicky Campbell Speak You’re Branes hour to Victoria Derbyshire to Gabby Logan, it’s not difficult to see why some people have started to nickname the station Radio 5 Lite.

It’s not quite the quality station I loved just a few years ago. Just now Radio 5 Live seems utterly bereft of ideas, aside from attempting to stealthily change it into a 24/7 Mark Kermode station. At least Up All Night is still good.

If I was being uncharitable, I might suggest that the presenters that remain at the station are the ones who are prepared to make the move to Salford when the station relocates there next year. The logic behind moving a radio station that covers news (most of which happens in London) to Manchester is still beyond me, I have to admit.

On the bright side…

It’s not all bad news on the radio front. In addition to his new daytime Radio 5 Live slot, Richard Bacon has a Saturday afternoon programme on 6 Music. He promises to take some of the jollity of his late night 5 Live show to 6 Music. But who listens to radio at that time? Not me.

I might make space in my Sunday afternoons for 6 Music though. Jarvis Cocker will have a new programme alongside the already-excellent Freak Zone.

But weekend mornings will still be a problem. And I’ll need a new comedy podcast to replace Adam and Joe. Does anyone have any suggestions? (Not Collings and Herrin — I tried it, and it was crap.)

10. The Fiery Furnaces — I’m Going Away

I'm Going Away coverIt wouldn’t be an end-of-year music roundup from me without something related to The Fiery Furnaces appearing on the list. And here it is: I’m Going Away. This is probably the lowest they have appeared in my end-of-year list since I discovered them. Not that I’m Going Away is a poor album (otherwise it wouldn’t be in my top ten). But as The Fiery Furnaces have produced more conventional music, I have found them less interesting. Nevertheless, this album has some great tracks, not least ‘Charmaine Champagne’.

9. Bibio — Ambivalence Avenue

Ambivalence Avenue coverI had not taken much notice of Bibio in the past, but after hearing some clips from Ambivalence Avenue I decided to give it a shot. I was not disappointed. The influence of Boards of Canada is at times painfully obvious. But into the childlike nostalgic sepia-toned mix is thrown more folk-based influences, IDM, hip-hop and funk. And it all feels like it fits well. My favourite track is ‘Haikuesque (When She Laughs)’, even though it clearly owes so much to Boards of Canada.

8. Tortoise — Beacons of Ancestorship

Beacons of Ancestorship coverI could not wait for this to come out, yet at the same time I was apprehensive about the results. Beacons of Ancestorship is Tortoise’s first proper album since 2003′s It’s All Around You. Even that was a bit of a let-down, and the bits of material they have released in the intervening period (*cough* not looking at any particular collaborations with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, you understand) have been poor.

But Beacons of Ancestorship, if not exactly up to the, ahem, Standards of their classic albums, is by no means a let-down. It’s just that you get the sense that nowadays Tortoise operate comfortably within their boundaries, rather than challenging them as they did in the past. What can’t be taken away, however, is the fact that this video for ‘Prepare Your Coffin’ is awesome.

7. Doves — Kingdom of Rust

Kingdom of Rust coverYou might rightly think, “Blimey, Doves. That’s that band that gets worse after every album.” Maybe so, but the fact that they do this and yet their latest album, Kingdom of Rust, is still brilliant demonstrates just how good a band Doves are. The first single worried me somewhat as it seemed like Doves by numbers. But it has grown on me, and the reset of the album shows a good development in the band’s sound, with a harder edge in some parts and a krautrocky and electronic vibe in others. The highlight is ’10:03′.

6. Dirty Projectors — Bitte Orca

Bitte Orca (Limited Edition) coverDirty Projectors is an odd band, because they are one of the very few acts that I have ever managed to see live (when they supported Battles a couple of years ago). As a live act they were pretty impressive — the singing was incredible. When you hear Bitte Orca, it might sound suspiciously like the vocals are not real. But they definitely are.

Dirty Projectors are clearly going places. The band has doubled in size since I saw them, and Bitte Orca has been critically acclaimed. And for good reason. The band has a very distinctive sound and almost every song is good. This is ‘Useful Chamber’.

5. Animal Collective — Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion coverAnimal Collective have been the darlings of the music press this year. While they don’t quite justify all of the hype, their album Merriweather Post Pavilion certainly deserves to be recognised as one of the best of the year. They have done a good job of crafting a poppier and more accessible sound while maintaining their experimental roots. This is ‘Summertime Clothes’.

4. Graham Coxon — The Spinning Top

The Spinning Top coverAfter spending his past few albums apparently trying to make more mainstream albums, Graham Coxon went back to basics with The Spinning Top. It reminds me of his earliest albums, which is no bad thing. There is a wonderfully natural and gentle sound to this album and right from the first listen I knew I was going to love it. Here is the marvellous ‘Brave the Storm’.

3. Tyondai Braxton — Central Market

Central Market coverTyondai Braxton is a pivotal member of the experimental electronic / rock band Battles. I think Battles is just about the best band going right now, and I was hugely looking forward to Tyondai Braxton’s solo effort, Central Market. It was not quite what I was expecting, but I was not disappointed. This is the sound of an artist truly pushing himself and exploring musical areas in a way that musicians should do more often.

Orchestral arrangements, crunching guitar loops, sweeping electronic effects and kazoos are fearlessly mixed together. As with his work with Battles, there are sometimes childish melodies — the sort of thing kids might hum in the playground. It would annoy you if it didn’t work so well. Despite the amazing scope of this album, I have chosen to feature one of the more conventional songs, ‘J. City’, because it is so irresistibly awesome.

2. Grizzly Bear — Veckatimest

Veckatimest coverGrizzly Bear is one of those bands that just gets better and better. Each album is an improvement on the last, and I can’t wait to hear what they can create in the future. They have a wonderful natural sound to them, which means that even though they are often described as an experimental rock band, they are nevertheless accessible. They just write great songs. ‘Two Weeks’ is an instant chamber pop classic.

1. Broadcast and The Focus Group — Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

Broadcast & the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age coverThis is a true meeting of minds. Broadcast are already well established as a great band with an interesting take on bringing the past to the present in weird and wonderful ways. The Focus Group is Julian House, who has designed artwork for Broadcast for several years and is now one of the chief figureheads of the ‘hauntology’ genre, as co-founder of the incredible Ghost Box record label.

It has to be said that this album sounds like ten parts The Focus Group to one part Broadcast. (Who knows what Broadcast’s new material will be like? A new album is due in 2010, and perhaps it is heavily influenced by the happening hauntology sound.)

Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age presents a wonderful dreamworld collage of sound. Influenced by creepy 1970s B-movies and low-budget science fiction, psychedelia and folk music. Equally childlike and scary, this is the most different-sounding, yet oddly familiar-sounding, release of the year. I am sure that in years to come it will be viewed as the crowning glory of this strange and intriguing new genre. This is ‘I See, So I See So’.

It is the end of the year. I like music. That can only mean one thing: a run-down of the music I have bought this year, arranged into vague order of how much I enjoyed them.

In this twentieth anniversary year of Warp Records, it has been a stonking year for the label in my view. After some pretty disappointing years, 2009 was the year they showed that there is life in the label yet.

This year I also reached further into the past, while continuing to buy contemporary releases. Old soundtracks and music inspired by the past are heavily featured in this list.

Here is part one of my list, spanning from number 20 to number 11.

Links are to Spotify where available.

20. Andrew Bird — Noble Beast

Noble Beast coverI would not normally have made this purchase. But I decided to experiment with asking for recommendations using Twitter. Noble Beast was the first suggestion I received, and I’m glad I followed it because it is a rather pleasant album. I particularly enjoyed ‘Not a Robot, But a Ghost’.

Original article about Noble Beast

19. Hudson Mohawke — Butter

Butter coverI am not yet sure what I make of Butter. If the garish cover wasn’t enough to put you off, the music is in many ways equally garish. Yet there is something enticing about the sound of this album, which mixes out-there electronic sounds with the pop-funk sensibilities of OutKast. This track, ‘Rising 5‘, is available to download on the Warp Records website.

18. Jarvis Cocker — “Further Complications.”

Further Complications coverThis should have been a fine album by a national treasure. Certainly, Jarvis Cocker’s first solo album was decent enough. As it transpires, though, “Further Complications.” is merely an okay album with some strangely messy-sounding production. It does, however, have a few great moments. I particularly love the closing track, ‘You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)‘.

17. Squarepusher — Solo Electric Bass 1

Solo Electric Bass 1 coverWhile Squarepusher is best known for being an electronic music maverick, he has become an increasingly notable bass guitar player. At last, this other side of his musical talents has been showcased on a full CD, Solo Electric Bass 1. While it may be a bit too noodly and self-indulgent for some, and there is no doubt that it is a pretty dense listening experience, there are plenty of moments to enjoy and savour. Such as this piece, ‘seb-1.03′.

16. Harmonic 313 — When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence

When Machines Exceed Human IntelligenceMark Pritchard transmogrified from his similar-sounding Harmonic 33 to Harmonic 313 with When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence. The projects’ two sounds are radically different, although approached from the same perspective: creating a sound that is heavily influenced by electronic music of the past. Harmonic 33 brought library music to life. Harmonic 313 turns to the dystopian 1980s, with a worry that artificial intelligence will one day become too intelligent and usurp the human race. Here is the closing track, ‘Quadrant 3′.

15. Clark — Totems Flare

Totems Flare coverI am still not sure that Clark is fulfilling the potential he promised with the 2001 release of Clarence Park, which I still think is his best album. However, with Totems Flare he has taken yet another step in the right direction. While earlier material was too heavily indebted to other artists, Clark has really begun to carve out his own sound. The major innovation in Totems Flare is the increased use of vocals, as demonstrated on my favourite track on the album, ‘Rainbow Voodoo’.

14. Belbury Poly — From an Ancient Star

From an Ancient Star coverJim Jupp is the celebrated co-founder of the Ghost Box record label, which specialises in releasing a particular type of music (sometimes known as ‘hauntology’) which is heavily influenced by psychedelic and folk music of the 1960s and 1970s, library music, public information films, programmes for schools… with a dark twist. Although I prefer some of the other artists on Ghost Box, Jim Jupp’s Belbury Poly project is still one to keep an eye on. From an Ancient Star represents a progression in the Belbury Poly sound. This is ‘Adventures in a Miniature Landscape’.

13. Edward Williams — Life on Earth

Life on Earth coverAnyone who has an interest in vintage soundtracks or music for television will adore the soundtrack to Life on Earth, the seminal 1979 nature documentary series. It is beautiful and haunting, with a gentle and entrancing use of electronics. It was released this year after a series of coincidences, beginning with one of the 100 privately-pressed records being found in a charity shop. The quality of the recording is not great, meaning that you have to peer a bit to hear it. But this just adds to its charm.

12. Roj — The Transactional Dharma of Roj

The Transactional Dharma of Roj coverFormer Broadcast keyboardist Roj Stevens this year released his début solo album, a masterful foray into the mysterious. Roj has created a curious and slightly creepy album — just as you would expect from a Ghost Box release. Imagine eastern spiritual vibes being interrupted by imaginary transmissions from fictitious Soviet stations.

11. Jonny Trunk — Scrapbook

Scrapbook coverJonny Trunk, of the eponymous record label that specialises in “music, nostalgia and sex”, this year released a collection of snippets of music that he has worked on in his spare time. Purposefully, it has not been carefully packaged. It is called Scrapbook for that reason. The tracks retain their working titles, and are sequenced in alphabetical order. But despite the apparently slapdash nature of the release, there is something magical and charming about this album. Just as you would expect from Jonny Trunk, it is equal parts nostalgia, humour and brilliance. One highlight that encapsulates this is ‘Hawks‘.

This is the final selection of my overview of twenty interesting Warp albums from the record label’s twenty years. To read the other parts of this series, please check the table of contents on the right.

Jamie Lidell — Multiply

Multiply coverJamie Lidell is clearly a very talented person. His voice is incredible, but perhaps more incredible is the fact that in his earlier career he contrived to hide it. His work as part of Super_Collider (along with Cristian Vogel) and his début album Muddlin Gear were dark, murky, electronic affairs. Although Jamie Lidell sang from time to time, he didn’t show it off.

With Multiply his sunnier persona was unleashed. Instead of the dark and glitchy music of his earlier material, Multiply is very clearly influenced by soul and funk.

But this album is anything but conventional and boring. Jamie Lidell’s considerable skills as an experimental and electronic musician are fully utilised too. This gives Multiply a great crossover appeal. This is on the brighter side of the border that separates pop from experimental music. But clearly there was no way to stop him from pushing the boat out a little bit. This makes Multiply equally enjoyable for those who like to tap their feed and those who like to stroke their chin.

Here is the odd video for the song that effectively introduced me to Jamie Lidell, ‘The City’:

Boards of Canada — Geogaddi

Geogaddi coverWhile most favour Boards of Canada’s earlier album Music Has the Right to Children, for me it’s all about Geogaddi. To me, this album is endlessly fascinating, and always an intense listen.

Geogaddi is the darkest of Boards of Canada’s albums. Their other material is known most for its innocent, childlike and nostalgic qualities. Geogaddi retains an element of that, but with a dark undercurrent running throughout.

The music is more complex and multi-layered. Hidden messages are peppered throughout, and some tracks reveal more about themselves when played in reverse. There are hidden references to religion, the occult, mathematics and numerology. Some even say it is a satanic album. (As a joke, the album lasts 66 minutes and 6 seconds — a silent track, ‘Magic Window’, was inserted at the end.)

Whether Boards of Canada were trying to send some sort of message by planting these references is doubtful. Such references are few and far between on Music Has the Right to Children, and absolutely non-existent on the follow-up album The Campfire Headphase. I think the references were planted in Geogaddi to create a talking point and nothing more.

It certainly got fans talking. This webpage lists a full selection of mysterious messages and trivia about the album, even with a track-by-track breakdown.

Needless to say, leaving aside the hidden messages, the music itself is fantastic. Geogaddi is an unsettling album to listen to, but nonetheless hugely enjoyable and an intense experience.

One of my highlights is ‘Gyroscope’, which manages to fuse great music with one of my other interests as it incorporates samples of a numbers station. This is a fan-made video for the track.

Prefuse 73 — One Word Extinguisher

One Word Extinguisher coverWith One Word Extinguisher, Prefuse 73 effortlessly fused experimental electronic music with energetic hip-hop to create a unique-sounding album. The album is jam-packed with ideas — perhaps too many of them. An idea is allowed to develop just as far as it will go and no more, making this an album of many, mainly short tracks.

The music is also quite diverse, fusing many of Prefuse 73′s musical interests, spanning hip-hop, IDM / glitch, rock music and perhaps even a little bit of jazz. As such, the album is a fantastically colourful and diverse journey. There is not much chance to catch your breath.

There are also plenty of collaborations on this album. While he went a bit overboard with the concept in the following album, Surrounded by Silence, on this album the right balance is struck. I particularly like ‘Dave’s Bonus Beats’, containing drumming by David Lebleu from post-rock group The Mercury Program. The track comes complete with the answerphone message sent to Scott Herren to confirm that the drum track had been sent, adding a personal layer to the music.

During this period, Scott Herren was clearly at his creative peak. Very soon after the release of One Word Extinguisher came the accompanying Extinguished, a distinct album made of the “out-takes” from One Word Extinguisher! For a collection of out-takes, Extinguished is surprisingly good — indeed, almost as good as the original album.

At the same time as the material released as Prefuse 73, Scott Herren was also churning out quality albums as Savath & Savalas, a project more focussed on folk and Spanish-influenced music. Sadly, his subsequent material has not been nearly as good. In contrast to the exciting explorations of his earlier music, Scott Herren began to use the same recognisable formulas over and over. I have since lost interest in Prefuse 73.

Nonetheless, One Word Extinguisher remains an excellent album. Here is a track towards the end of the album, ‘Styles That Fade Away With a Collonade Reprise’.

Grizzly Bear — Veckatimest

Veckatimest coverWarp played a blinder by signing Grizzly Bear. Their pre-Warp album, Horn of Plenty, was charming but not particularly special. After signing to Warp, they came up with the wonderful Yellow House which was full of hidden beauty.

This year, with Veckatimest, Grizzly Bear have released an indie-rock / chamber-pop masterpiece which has propelled them onto the cusp of stardom. Every track is a winner. Gently enticing and maturely constructed, I can’t get enough of this album. This album ought to become a rock classic.

Grizzly Bear is easily the greatest triumph of Warp’s recent policy to diversify further from electronic music. I look forward to hearing what they come up with in the future.

Here is the lead single, ‘Two Weeks’:

This the accompanying article to my contribution to this week’s edition of The Pod Delusion. Here you can find videos and links if you want to delve further into the topic.

As you may guess from the title, this article is about motorsport. I do not normally write about motorsport on this website. That is reserved for my motorsport website, vee8. However, I have published it here as it is designed to be of interest to people who do not like motorsport.

You can listen to the full podcast below.


My name is Duncan, and I am a motorsport fan. Is it a bad thing? Am I evil? Do I need to join Petrolheads Anonymous?

This year’s Formula 1 World Championship is coming to an end. The Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships have been wrapped up by Jenson Button and Brawn-Mercedes respectively, and now we have one last race to enjoy before the sport takes a break for the winter.

This has not been an easy year to be an F1 fan. In terms of newsworthy stories, it’s the sport that keeps on giving. But even by F1′s standards, it has been an extraordinary year for scandals.

Bear in mind that in previous years Formula 1 has brought extraordinary enough stories. There was, for instance, the so-called “spying” scandal which led to the sport’s governing body, the FIA, handing the McLaren team a fine of ONE HUNDRED MEELION DOLLARS. Then there was the “German prisoner” sex scandal involving the FIA’s President Max Mosley.

This year cranked up the scandal ever-further. Even in the first race, a major scandal blew up when Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team were caught lying to the race stewards.

It also emerged this year that the Renault team had colluded with its driver Nelsinho Piquet to deliberately crash his car to hand an advantage to his team mate Fernando Alonso in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix. This endangered the life of Piquet and of other drivers and spectators.

In the past year, two major manufacturers — Honda and BMW — have pulled out of the sport, with persistent rumours surrounding the commitment of the other manufacturers. Moreover, almost all of the teams threatened to break away from F1 to set up a rival championship, in protest at the way the sport is governed by Max Mosley and the FIA.

The governance of the sport may change this week, as Max Mosley is stepping down as FIA President. The election to replace him is taking place today, on Friday. This actually may have more widespread implications than many realise.

Even though during last year’s sex scandal Max Mosley was persistently described by the media as “F1 boss”, the job of FIA President goes much further than that. The FIA has significant sway over road safety issues and effectively represents car users on the world stage. If you are a member of the AA, the RAC or even the Camping and Caravanning Club, you are represented by the FIA.

Clearly, this year there has been a lot going on in the world of motorsport. While cynics point out that, for the sport’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, any publicity is good publicity, this all served to further discredit a sport which isn’t exactly the most popular among some. Formula 1 is seen by many as a sport which is dangerous, environmentally unfriendly, the personification of greed — and perhaps even sexist.

No doubt there is an element of truth to some of these accusations. So, how does this sit with me? I am a massive fan of motorsport, but I have liberal political views and a concern for the environment. Do I lack principles? Is F1 a guilty pleasure for me?

I actually see no reason why it should be. Some motorsport fans are unapologetic about their passion, and they see no reason to dress it up as anything but an extravagant bit of fun. But I see motorsport as a positive force that has a lot to contribute to the world.

Yes, Formula 1 is dangerous. This year, one driver, Felipe Massa, had an horrific accident when he was struck on the head while travelling at 170mph by a spring as heavy as a bag of sugar which had fallen off another car and was bouncing around on the circuit. He was lucky to have suffered no long term damage. The spring destroyed his helmet, but if it had hit him at another point he could have lost his sight or even died.

Sadly, one Formula Two driver was not so lucky. Henry Surtees was killed when he was struck on the head by a tyre which was bouncing around on the circuit after it had detached from another car in another accident.

While a ticket to a grand prix states in large letters, “motor sport is dangerous”, such accidents are mercifully rare in top-line motorsport these days. Major injuries are rare, and the last fatality in Formula 1 was in 1994. Believe it or not, more than 2½ times as many people have died while competing in the Great North Run than have died in F1 since 1981, when the Great North Run began.

But this year’s events in motorsport show that complacency should never set in, which is why improvements in safety are always being pushed forward. Perhaps the real scandal though is that, despite the increasingly safe environment that professional racing drivers face, 1.3 million people still die on the world’s roads every year.

F1 technology can play a major role in reducing the number of accidents on public roads, and already has done. In 2007, one F1 driver, Robert Kubica, survived a 75g impact with nothing more than light concussion. The materials that make an F1 car so safe are exotic and expensive, meaning that the opportunities to help make road cars safer using F1 research are a bit limited.

But electronics such as ABS and traction control are commonplace on today’s road cars. Such technologies unquestionably save lives all the time, and their development was helped by early applications in racing cars.

The money that flows through F1, and the high-stakes nature of the competition, make it a great test bed for important technologies that improve our daily lives. F1 is an R&D powerhouse.

There is currently an exhibition in the Science Museum in London called Fast Forward, which showcases twenty instances of F1 technology improving the lives of others.

Included on display are high-tech tyre pressure indicators which alert drivers to a developing puncture before it becomes dangerous. Then there are F1 materials being used to help protect troops in Afghanistan from bullets and explosions. Slip-resistant boots based on F1 tyre technology for people who work in slippery environments, thereby reducing injuries in the workplace, are also on display.

A bit more down to earth is the gadget that can stop your central heating system from becoming clogged up with rust and sludge, thereby reducing energy consumption in the home. Hospitals have even analysed mechanics’ behaviour and procedures during pitstops in order to improve the speed and accuracy of medical teams.

But how about the environmental impact of this gas-guzzling sport? I must say that my view is that rather too much is made of this. That is not to say that Formula 1 does not a significant environmental impact — it does. But emissions from the F1 cars themselves are actually a drop in the ocean. The racing itself does little environmental damage.

What is really damaging is all the travelling that teams, the media and fans must do in order to attend the races. The good news on this front is that F1 is carbon neutral, and has been since 1997. The FIA Foundation, the charity arm of the FIA, has taken into account not only emissions from the F1 cars and the travel of the teams, but also the transport of the fans that attend the races.

But any activity that involves being somewhere requires travel. F1 is a global sport, so there is a lot of global travel involved. But otherwise the sport actually seems rather restrained. In just 17-or-so races, a World Champion driver emerges.

Compare this to another competition, say the English Premier League in football. To come up with a mere national league-winning club, 380 football matches must be played, with all the travel this entails too. In comparison, F1 looks positively restrained.

Maybe that is an apples-and-oranges comparsion. It is just as well, then, that F1 technology also looks set to pave the way towards a green future. Formula 1 has the potential to help greatly reduce energy consumption. Refuelling during races will be banned from next year, shifting the balance more towards fuel consumption rather than raw power.

Another major initiative is the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, or kers, which the FIA finally legalised for this season. Kers is a system which harvests the kinetic energy that is dissipated under braking and would otherwise be wasted, and re-deploys that energy into the powertrain.

This technology has had a rather troubled birth in F1. The systems have been too expensive for teams to develop in the current economic climate, and it looks as though kers may take a back seat for a few years. There is also scepticism over whether kers as it is applied in F1 is actually relevant to road cars.

But one team, Williams, is adamant that its flywheel system will find a large variety of applications in the real world. The team says that its energy recovery system could improve road cars, vehicles used in mining, rail systems and “anything that moves”.

(For more on this, I highly recommend the recording of a Q&A with the Technical Director of Williams, Sam Michael. I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Williams F1 factory earlier this year along with a number of other web journalists and bloggers. The excellent Brits on Pole website has fantastic coverage of the visit.)

Plans continue to gather pace on this front. On Wednesday, the FIA outlined its plans for a green future of F1 (PDF). This includes a plan to make motorsport a competition based more on efficiency than raw power, and a stronger focus on energy recovery technologies.

The FIA also plans to introduce its own carbon neutral scheme, including offsetting its regulatory presence. It may also make carbon offsetting a condition of involvement in a championship.

So there you have it. Motorsport is a force for good in the world. Not bad for something that is hugely enjoyable. My halo is in tact.

I love the Brazilian Grand Prix. It is a unique circuit — not only anti-clockwise, but uniquely short in the same way you might think of Spa-Francorchamps as being uniquely long.

It is also special because it has now comprehensively replaced Suzuka as the proper place to settle a World Championship, particularly due to its useful time slot. It is on prime time on European television. That is another unique aspect of Brazil, due to the lack of North American races this year.

So it was most fitting that Jenson Button managed to seal the deal in Interlagos, even when it seemed further out of his grasp than ever. A disastrous qualifying session sent us off the scent. The only saving grace was that Vettel’s was almost as bad. But his main rival Barrichello was on pole at his home race.

Unfortunately for Barrichello, he never gets any good luck at Interlagos, even when he is doing well. I will never forget the tragedy of his car breaking down in 1999 while he looked like he could win the race driving for Stewart. His bad luck struck again.

After a strong first stint which he led with relatively little challenge, he somehow managed to lose the plot by failing to push hard enough at the start of his second stint, handing the lead to Mark Webber. Later in the race came his tangle with Lewis Hamilton, which resulted in a puncture for Barrichello.

(Apparently Lewis Hamilton can’t go to Interlagos without having an eventful time. Hats off to him for ploughing his way up to a 3rd place finish from 17th on the grid.)

In normal circumstances, therefore, we would normally be talking about Mark Webber’s fabulous win. And Pink Peril was right to point it out in the comments to my previous article. Mark Webber did a great job — the one person who managed to do well in both qualifying and the race.

He certainly had a better weekend than the Red Bull driver who needed it, Vettel. It was suspected that Red Bull would do well thanks to the “testing” Webber was able to do at Suzuka. Sadly we didn’t see much of Webber’s race because the television cameras were more focussed on the Championship protagonists.

As for the Championship winner, Jenson Button, I would say he had the race of his season — possibly even the race of his life. It really is as though his bad qualifying performance gave him the kick up the backside he needed. I read one story today which said that after his poor qualifying, he texted his mum to say, “Don’t worry mum, we’re going to kick some butt.” She replied, “Good, go and kick some butt.”

It was as though a barrier had been passed. Button was no longer defending his lead, as he had been since the start of the season. The tide had turned so far that he now had to attack to win. And attack he did!

His aggressive and ballsy driving was captivating to watch. He was already 9th by the end of lap one. Once the Safety Car period was over, he was ready to line up Romain Grosjean, and in the process took a risk by going round the outside. I thought Grosjean did a solid job when racing side-by-side for two or three corners against Button. Button put a lot of faith in the inexperienced Grosjean not to do something silly. But both came out of the fight looking good.

Within a lap, Button got past Kazuki Nakajima in a rather risky move at the Senna S. Several laps later, also into the Senna S, he finally got past Kamui Kobayashi who was in his first race. After that, as the pitstop strategies shook out, Button found himself looking good.

There has been some criticism of Kobayashi’s driving, particularly weaving in the braking zones. Certainly he pushed it too far later on in the race when he was involved in a high-speed accident with Nakajima. But his defensive driving against Button impressed me and suggests that Kobayashi has promise, even though he wasn’t particularly good in GP2 (like Nakajima).

While there was some decent racing going on for most of the race, the majority of the action came on the first lap which was rather crazy. My theory is that they just decided to do a Wacky Races thing because it was on prime time.

First there was the accident which brought an end to the races of Adrian Sutil, Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Alonso was so placid about it that the BBC’s commentators did not even notice him at first. He just trudged nonchalantly into his lift. I sense that he really has just been going through the motions, awaiting his big chance in a red car before exerting himself once again.

Little wonder Alonso went by unnoticed, because Jarno Trulli was running up to Sutil and gesticulated in quite a threatening manner. I am struggling to remember the last time I saw a driver so angry. It looked like it was going to turn into this sort of moment!

I am struggling to see what Trulli was so worked up about. Maybe Sutil could have left Trulli some more room, but I think Trulli was optimistic trying to overtake him there anyway. And it is not as if Sutil drove into Trulli. In fact, before Trulli loses control of his car you can see Sutil clearly make an attempt to steer away from Trulli to give him more space.

It was a racing incident in my book. But the accident that resulted was quite a high-speed one, which I guess is why Trulli was so rattled.

Then there was the pitlane fire, when Heikki Kovalainen drove off with the fuel hose still attached. It wasn’t Kovalainen’s fault — he was instructed to leave, but the fuel hose was still attached.

I really am confused as to why we get so many more of these incidents these days. I can’t remember ever seeing a driver leaving with his fuel hose still attached until Jenson Button did it at Imola in 2006. Since then there have been several, from Christijan Albers (who was effectively sacked for it), to Massa in Singapore last year and Alguersuari in Singapore this year, to Kovalainen now. And I’m sure there are one or two more that have slipped my mind.

The increasing frequency of these incidents is quite alarming, particularly when so much attention was given to Ferrari’s pit lane incidents in 2008. Surely teams and drivers must be more aware than ever of the possibility, and it is just bizarre that it keeps on happening over and over again now.

Massive, massive kudos to Kimi Räikkönen for driving through the fire which resulted from Kovalainen’s premature pit box exit. The fuel was more or less being sprayed into his face, and flames briefly exploded all around him. Yet he kept his foot down and kept driving.

After the race, he said his eyes were still burning! Yet he plodded on. As far as I’m concerned he could have been blinded by that sort of thing. He must have huge balls. And people say he doesn’t have motivation.

One last thing to mention — Robert Kubica. He finished 2nd, his best result of the season, after starting 8th. He had a great restart when the Safety Car pulled in — he was right on top of Nico Rosberg and passed as soon as he could. I am sorry that Kubica has not been able to show more of his talent this year. I hope Renault can build him the car he deserves.

Next we head to the brand new circuit in Abu Dhabi. The last time the Championship was decided before the final race of the season was in 2005. Then we were treated to one of the best Grands Prix there has ever been, the breathtaking 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. Maybe the same end-of-term atmosphere can spice up Abu Dhabi, which aside from the gimmicky pitlane exit looks like it will be another bland Tilke operation.

The third part of my five-part series looking at 20 interesting albums from the 20 year history of Warp Records. To read other parts of the series, please check the table of contents to the right.

Battles — Mirrored

Mirrored coverBattles are redefining what rock music is. They are pushing the envelope in the same way bands like Tortoise were doing ten or twenty years ago. In fact, I see Battles as the successors to Tortoise at the forefront of mind-bending rock music, filling a gap which was left after Tortoise settled down.

The music on Mirrored is unlike almost anything you’ll hear anywhere else. But the studio output is not even the most impressive thing about Battles. By now all listeners to contemporary music are well used to the technical wizardry that can be found in almost any song.

The amazing thing about Battles, though, is the way they use technology to manipulate their performing in real time when they’re playing live (see, for instance, their performance of ‘Atlas’ on Later with Jools Holland). Their performances are the greatest partnership of man and machine, with a dazzling array of black boxes and gizmos festooned with an army of cables. They have plenty of interesting and unique ways of making sounds.

It is as though they decided to make it all as difficult as possible. But the band is well capable. They are clearly performing on the edge — a small amount away from being a total disaster. But the talent — most notably the experimental maverick Tyondai Braxton, and the intricate and precise drummer John Stainer — is there to keep everything under control.

Strangely, the highlight of Mirrored is the one song they don’t seem to play live, ‘Rainbow’:

Aphex Twin — Selected Ambient Works Volume II

Selected Ambient Works Volume II coverAphex Twin is probably the Warp artist who needs an introduction the least. Indeed, to an extent, he has defined the label. His first Warp album as Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works II, is probably his best.

It certainly stands out from the others in terms of style, with little emphasis on beats and little evidence of the humour that would be present in his later material. Mind you, some people may think he is pulling the listener’s leg with these long-winded and repetitive tracks. I have to confess that I found it a challenging listen at first.

But the fact is that these are beautiful pieces of music, both light and dark. The album is so strong that it probably defines the idea of what ambient music is as much as any Brian Eno album does. It certainly is not mere background music. The emotional intensity ensures that the music is engaging and stands the test of time.

The album is so long that not all of it fits on two CDs, meaning that only those who purchased the vinyl edition have the full version. The US version of the CD also lacks a further track, ‘Hankie’. Whoever owns the rights in the USA seemingly has YouTube under the thumb, so this is the one track that I can actually embed here.

Plone — For Beginner Piano

For Beginner Piano coverThis is a strange one. At first I didn’t like it much, but after a while I began to appreciate its charm. There is a similarity with fellow Birmingham bands Pram and Broadcast, with its fixation on quaint and old-sounding synths and retro electronic music.

For Beginner Piano has a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing about it. In parts, it has a particularly childlike vibe to it. But it is also quite a dark album, aided by the use of slightly creepy-sounding electronic effects. The mixture of childlike and dark is quite a disturbing juxtaposition which is probably what prevented me from taking it too seriously when I first heard it.

However, as time has gone on I have come to really appreciate it as a charming piece of electronic music. It is easy to see why it has become a cult favourite over the years, even providing the inspiration for the open-source Content Management System Plone.

But while For Beginner Piano has become a fan favourite, Plone has also been at the centre of one of the most controversial points of Warp’s history. It is said that Warp refused to release Plone’s second album, with little in the way of explanation. Something purporting to be the lost Plone album has since been leaked. But Plone is no longer a going concern.

Here is one of the more childlike tracks, ‘Plock’:

!!! — Louden Up Now

Louden Up Now coverNever let it be said that Warp is not a label that likes making things difficult. Here is a band with a name that is difficult to pronounce (though ‘chk chk chk’ has become popular) and impossible to find in a record shop (in the A-Z, where does ‘!’ go?). Yet despite this clear act of obfuscation, !!! are in fact one of the most musically accessible bands on the label.

The music is an infectious form of electronic funky rock, forging the sensibilities of punk and dance music. As an eight-piece band, !!! produce a very dense sound which fascinates.

Truth be told, I find much of !!!’s output only a little above average. But I have fallen in love with certain songs of theirs, most notably ‘Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)’, a high-velocity, varied and downright fun piece of music:

Continuing my look at 20 Warp albums from Warp’s 20 years. For other articles in this series, please see the table of contents to the right. Albums are presented in randomised order.

Broadcast — The Noise Made by People

The Noise Made by People coverThis was the first Warp album I ever bought, and it remains a favourite of mine to this day. Broadcast’s music is heavily steeped in 1960s influence, and comparisons with Stereolab are commonplace (and not inaccurate). But they sound anything but derivative.

The Noise Made by People has a dark and slightly creepy aesthetic. Most of the album creeps along at a rather slow pace. Then there are Trish Keenan’s almost robotic vocals. The music itself — largely based on 1960s-style electronic instruments — could almost be transmitted directly from that decade, complete with unsettling background noise.

Put together, this all gives the music a rather otherworldly vibe. It is as though you are listening to a ghostly music that has been trapped in the airwaves since the 1960s and has only just escaped.

Funnily enough, the real life story of the recording of this album is similar to the picture I have just described. It is said that Broadcast struggled with the recording of the album, and it took three years to make. Perhaps this is another reason why it sounds clinical, though it’s all the more captivating for it.

Since The Noise Made by People, Broadcast have reduced in size to become just the core duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill. In turn, the music has become less dense and more raw, and has lost the otherworldly qualities of their earlier material. Although Broadcast is still a good band, I feel that they were definitely at their peak with this album.

This video for ‘Come On Let’s Go’ captures the aesthetic of the album really well:

Tortoise — Standards

Standards coverMany feel that Tortoise were at their strongest in the 1990s. I did not discover them until 2001, so maybe I am biased in that sense. But I think that the band was at the height of its creative powers with Standards.

Quite simply, it was one of the most unique-sounding albums I had ever heard and remains one of my favourite listens to this day. The effortless fusion of punchy rock, cutting-edge electronic music, multi-layered drumming and jazz makes this an extraordinarily bold album that captivates you from start to finish.

If ever there was an album that was definitively not just ‘going through the motions’, it is surely Standards — despite its title. This record documents Tortoise standing on the very edge of what is possible with rock music. I find it impossible to become bored of this album. There is so much going on in so many layers.

Each instrument would be fascinating to listen to on its own (this was proved when the rhythm section of Tortoise released an album of drums and little else called Bumps). Each band member is doing his own thing. And yet, everything here makes a perfect fit.

Nothing Tortoise have produced since then has come close to reaching the standard of Standards. But then again, few albums by any bad do.

This is the video for the attention-grabbing album opener, ‘Seneca’:

Seefeel – Succour

Succour coverI only discovered this album a few years ago — probably over a decade after it was originally released. But I am glad I opted to buy it. The music is from the place where ambient, shoegaze, indie and techno all converge. The allure of Seefeel comes from its mixture of ambient-style drones and textures, techno-influenced minimalist drums and guitars, and the dreamy, processed vocals of singer Sarah Peacock.

Although superficially it feels like a pure techno / IDM album, the use of guitars and live drums was unusual for a Warp release at that time. This is what led Steve Beckett to recently single it out as “the first sacreligious move”.

Musically, Succour is a fabulous success. But if you thought this was the evidence that guitars could happily sit in a techno environment, think again. Apparently due to Mark Clifford’s efforts to push the band in a more electronic direction, the old artistic differences emerged and the band only lasted a few years after the release of Succour.

In a way, I feel as though I have missed out by not experiencing this music when it was first released. It must have been so incredibly exciting, at the cutting edge, when it was released. It would be interesting to hear what this band would come up with today.

Incredibly, Seefeel have recently re-formed. Initially this was for a one-off gig as part of the Warp20 celebrations. But there are now hints that Seefeel have also been in the studio. I can’t wait to hear any results that might come out of this.

Chris Morris — Blue Jam

Blue Jam coverChris Morris, as one of Britain’s most influential satirists, probably needs little introduction. But few may immediately associate him with Warp Records. But Warp has been the outlet for a lot of his material, including the CD releases of the radio series On the Hour and his Bafta-winning short film My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117 among other bits and pieces. Warp Films is also backing his current project, Four Lions.

But his first CD on Warp was a compilation of sketches from his experimental radio programme, Blue Jam (which was later turned into the television series Jam). This was a dark comedy, equal parts disturbing and funny. Unusually, the sketches were surrounded by a constant backdrop of ambient music (much of which was originally released on Warp) from the likes of Aphex Twin. Perhaps even more unusually, the show was originally broadcast on Radio 1. It inhabited a late-night slot which fitted with the programme’s surreal, woozy and nightmarish style.

The series contained a mixture of music and comedy; of the surreal and the disturbing; of sketches and monologues. Most of it was a world away from his previous material, though from time to time Morris would drop in one of his infamous interviews. Here, he flummoxes posthumous Diana biographer Andrew Morton.

This is the first part of a series in which I will take a brief look at 20 albums from the first 20 years of Warp Records. These are not my 20 favourite Warp albums, or the 20 best Warp albums. But they are 20 of the most interesting — a showcase of the breadth and depth of Warp’s output. They are presented in a randomised order.

Red Snapper — Making Bones

Making Bones coverRed Snapper stuck out like a sore thumb on Warp’s roster in the 1990s. While the label was still most famous for its studio-based techno output, Red Snapper are are live-oriented band with a more organic sound. But conventional they are not. Their sound is a heady mix of smoky jazz, funky dance and edgy hip-hop. Although they could be associated with the 1990s trip-hop trend, their music does not sound as dated as some of their contemporaries’.

Making Bones is a thrilling album. From the very first notes — the beefy and wobbly output of Ali Friend’s double bass — you are sucked in. There are high octane tracks like ‘Crease’ and ‘The Tunnel’, the cheeky and playful ‘Bogeyman’, and the more emotional ’4 Dead Monks’.

Red Snapper produced another strong album, Our Aim is to Satisfy Red Snapper, before splitting up in 2002. Happily, last year they re-formed and have already released an EP. They still sound as exciting as they used to.

This video is for one of the singles from Making Bones, ‘Image of You’.

Brothomstates — Claro

Claro coverClaro was one of the very first IDM albums I bought, and to this day it remains one of my very favourites. He recognises that interesting techno music is not just about making it a bit glitchy-sounding or giving it a funny time signature. There are interesting and unusual sounds and complex drumbeats. But it is still very firmly a dance album, very much in the groove.

Although the experimental rhythms and sounds are very exciting, it is the melodic basis of the music that makes Claro so special. The floaty, ambient, slow-moving melodies sound as though they are being carried by an icy wind. Coupled with what some might consider to be the clinical rhythms, this gives the album quite a wintry feel. This wintry vibe is reflected on the album’s cover, which depicts a rather cold-looking beach. It could as well be my local beach in Kirkcaldy for all I know.

But I call this album wintry, not cold. It is certainly not cold in the sense of emotionless. In fact, the album is packed full of emotion. An album true to the promise of Warp’s Artificial Intelligence project, which posited that electronic by no means lacks feeling.

It is cheesy and clichéd to compare other IDM artists to Autechre. But I will do it. I think Claro, and its accompanying EP Qtio, is the closest anyone has come to matching the sheer awesomeness of Autechre’s best output. For me, the greatest shame is that Brothomstates, real name Lassi Nikko, does not appear to be interested in extending his legacy. Claro was released in 2001, but he has not released another album since, only popping up with the one-off ‘Rktic’ single and a solitary split EP with Blamstrain.

Here is a fan-made video for ‘Kava’:

Boom Bip — Seed to Sun

Seed to Sun coverTechnically, this isn’t a Warp album. It was released on Warp’s spin-off hip-hop label, Lex Records (which is now independent of Warp). Seed to Sun was one of the label’s first releases, and arguably remains one of its best.

It presented a fresh, experimental perspective on hip-hop. Boom Bip emerged at the same sort of time as cLOUDDEAD and the Anticon phenomenon, and with a similar outlook. The music is a thrilling fusion of hip-hop, electronic music and alternative rock.

The artwork is fantastic. Like Warp, Lex has a very distinctive visual identity. But while Warp’s was largely shaped by The Designers Republic, Lex opted for the distinctive style of EH Question Mark. All I can say is, this album has the best barcode ever.

This is a collaboration with Dose One, ‘Mannequin Hand Trapdoor I Reminder’:

Squarepusher — Ultravisitor

Ultravisitor coverI was always a little bit iffy about Squarepusher. I wasn’t sure whether I liked him or not. But then Ultravisitor came out, and there was simply no getting away from the fact that Tom Jenkinson is the real deal; a true genius.

Squarepusher’s multi-talent genre-spanning skills were already well known. He has produced excellent albums covering a wide territory. Madcap drum and bass heavily influenced by jazz. Virtuoso bass guitar playing and drumming in addition to his electronic production skills. Then, with Go Plastic, a brief flash of an incredible vision of the a darkly experimental garage music of the future (a precursor to dubstep?).

With Ultravisitor, he moved up a notch by combining all of his skills in all of these genres in one massive album. What Ultravisitor exhibits which his previous albums did not is a heavy prog influence, something which has remained in all of Squarepusher’s subsequent albums.

Something else which makes this album special is the fact that is merges live performances (you can clearly hear the crowd in some tracks) with his studio-based work. This brings the listener into a strange dimension, combining the rawness and intensity of the live performance with the depth and intricacy of the studio output. It is an unusual technique, but strangely it is not unsettling and somehow makes perfect sense. It certainly gives Ultravisitor a unique ambience.

You can hear all of these elements on this incredible track, ‘Tetra-Sync’, probably the best track Squarepusher has made to date.