Think back to our first post and you’ll find some of the artists we thought were some of the highlights of Harrow’s music course. We got Ben Gilbert to take a listen and give a professional take on Westminster’s artists. We asked Ben to be honest about his first impressions and that’s what we got! Check out Ben’s background in Jak’s post about our interview with him.
Ben getting a taste of Westminster’s finest (photo by: Jak Cooper)
A very interesting voice, he’s got some real talent. I was a little worried about the production at first but then a more James Blake inspired beat emereged. I would say the synth line doesn’t really work but overall it’s impressive and quite promising.
I’m a little less keen on this one. Gomez spring to mind. There’s a very authentic ‘old skool’ theme which seems a bit old fashioned to me. He’s got a nice voice but I’m worried they don’t have anything that will make them stand out.
For the past two weeks you’ve taken our word of what to look for in everything Harrow-based. Today we’re in the presence of an expert. Ben Gilbert has seen the music industry grow from behind the scenes as a journalist. From the now extinct Melody Maker to Yahoo’s online department, he’s seen it all. He’s spent an hour with Marilyn Manson, eight minutes with Beyonce and now 10 minutes with Messi Music! Ben has made it in the industry without strumming a chord. Though his career peaked after the birth of true online music journalism, his experience in the field is both illuminating and far-reaching.
Tastemaker: Ben Gilbert (photo by: Jak Cooper)
Ben started out as a hack, investigating and writing up local news stories for the East Anglia Daily Times. He developed an interest in sports, before becoming fixated on the lifestyles of musicians. Having a passion for journalism from a young age, Ben quickly began working freelance for Select magazine (running from 1990-2000, crashing with the decline of Britpop) and spent a short 6-month term writing for infamous Melody Maker, which also folded at the turn of the century. Perhaps this closure of paper press was a hint at the direction of the music industry, and the careers of critics like Ben - online.
After a brief stint at an online CD sales firm, a move that Ben said was “not exactly what I wanted to do”, but “started me off”. This jump into the online world was one that led to greater things for Ben, whose next foray into music journalism was at Dotmusic - the prolific online publication for music fans and industry professionals alike. He views the review industry as a place where personal style flourishes, believing you can work with a “creativty in reviews that is missing from news writing.” His work at Dotmusic, reviewing new musical efforts and giving in-depth interviews with musicians of the time like Marilyn Manson (at the height of his post-Columbine massacre infamy) began shortly before the website changed ownership hands to BT, and subsequently to Yahoo in 2003. He has truly made his way up the career ladder at his time with Yahoo, going from freelance to reviews editor, to being fully contracted and in control of a group of ten industry professionals - subbing and publishing their work. Not bad for a former local hack!
He believes he has worked in most areas of the non-musician music publishing industry - reviewing, interviewing, features and now editorial. Of the ten contracted writers Ben uses, he says none are without decent track record - most with many years of experience within their respective fields. He expressed appreciation that the industry is harder to break these days, what with the advent of the blogosphere combined with the current economical climate. Enthusiasm, passion and a flair for writing are all the demands of the day, as well as an online presence more-or-less self-established. Websites like Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound dominate the modern music press, with an influential pen that can make or break an act. Just ask Arcade Fire. Such prolific websites are only going to employ those with real passion, extensive knowledge and the ability to persuade their readers to give something a listen. So get blogging.
Finally, Ben gave us his views on what’s hot tipped for mainstream success for the rest of 2011. As a pundit for the BBC’s 'Sound of 2011' preview, Ben selected James Blake and The Vaccines are promising contenders for our ears in 2011. Blake and the indie quartet rated second and third respectively in the countdown, losing out only to Essex born sensationJessie J - so his influential opinions are obviously counting for something. More so than yours, so perhaps it’s time to start putting your views out there, making a name for yourself and perhaps one day you’ll be considered a tastemaker with words worth listening to. Influential stuff. Kind of.
Music journalist Ben Gilbert today revealed that he beleives his work is an artform.
"It’s an artform. the way you write… you need a gift for artful writing. It’s not like writing standard news."
Speaking to a group of aspiring journalists, Gilbert ran through a variety of issues surrounding music critique, from convergence culture to Pitchfork.
"Music has lost alot of its mystique. Back in the 60’s there was a Velvet Undergroud gig at Andy Warhol’s warehouse - one of the legendary rock ‘n’ roll moments, but it didn’t get recorded so only the few people who were there actually know about it. Nowadays, you have LCD Soundsystem playing their last gig and the footage goes up on Pitchfork the very next day."
Gilbert currently blogs for Yahoo music following stints at magazine ’Select’, ’The Express’ and ‘Dotmusic.com.’
… We thought we’d make him chuckle before he died. Image courtesy of FunnyChill.com
Ay up, my fellow Messi Monday-ites. In case you’ve been shunning reality recently and didn’t know, it’s April Fools’ Day. To mark the occasion, we’ve decided to cast our elastic eyes over the biggest jokes in music…
5.) Justin Bieber
"…yeah man, i’m looking really coolly into the distance because I like thinkin about the deep stuff y’know? Like God and girls and clothes. Admittedly I don’t know much about politics but whatever they have in Korea is bad." Image courtesy of quicktiger.net
In a recent Rolling Stone interview (yeah they’ve definitley gone downhill recently) Bieber showcased his comedic ignorance on several issues, most worryingly on abortion; “I really don’t believe in abortion, It’s like killing a baby.”
That’s fair enough I suppose, but how about in cases of rape? “Um. Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason.”
Yep, America’s biggest teen idol is a bible bashing nutter. Rape is part of God’s big plan apparantly. I suppose most of America already has a pretty skewed view on abortion but what you’ve got to remember is that “Bieber Fever” (recently proved as being an STD) is becoming just as prevalent here in the UK.
The Yanks are really getting quite subtle with their propaganda aren’t they?
4.) Record Companies
Notice the absence of rain. He’s using the umbrella as a shield due to the unfortunate fact that everywhere this CEO goes, people throw feaces at him. Image courtesy of Life.com
They’ve always been bastards, but now the boot is on the other foot and it’s our time to avenge all of the pocket money they’ve happily stole from impressionable teenagers’ pockets over the years. For decades, these guys must have been rubbing their hands in frezied glee and laughing manically as they watched us pay for every unjustified price hike in albums and tours.
How times have changed. The record companies are nowadays crying in the corner of the room, seeing their profits drop faster than the Bismark, as peer to peer file sharing and free streaming sites dig their teeth in.
"Oh what’s that Howard Stringer, you can’t afford a second mansion? Man, that’s a shame.” Who’s laughing now eh?
Two words: Terry Wogan.
Terry, you have the nicest face in the world. Image courtesy of solarnavigator.net
The legend-super-human-brilliant-man exposed Eurovision for what it truly was with his brilliant irreverent commentary. It was half British self-depreciative irony and half scathing political satire from one of the most amiable chaps you could ever meet.
I’m actually happy the UK are always shit at Eurovision, because otherwise i’d have missed out on many years of uncontrallable laughter sat infront of the TV listening to Sir Terry’s tounge-in-cheek quips.
2.) Phil Collins
Sorry mate, we just can’t take you seriously. Image courtesy of weddingbandsandmusicians.co.uk
Poor Phil. He’s just one big joke in many people’s eyes. It must be hard spending a life-time devoting yourself to art that you really beleive in whilst the rest of the world just sits back and chuckles at it.
I feel sorry for the man and do actually love that song where the drums kick in really funkily. Except it always makes me think of Gorillas these days…
My sympathy however, is not enough to save Phil from being number two on this list. The guy is bald and takes himself rather too seriously for Messi Music’s liking. He should have stuck with the drumming.
1.) Rebecca Black
HA! Image courtesy of The Guardian
Many people I know get incredibly riled by this girl. They’d have her burnt at the stake and then burn her ashes to make god damn sure she was no more.
But why all this hate? She’s the biggest joke in music and everybody knows it. My thirteen year old female cousin (Rebecca’s key target demographic) even said she was “a pile of shit”, when I asked her what she thought of the meme.
You don’t have to buy her single so why chastise the few people who do? It’s their choice and in the meantime, we can all lie back and bask in the warming rays of their ignorance.
Maaaad props, by the way, to the Ark Music Factory who dreamt up this ingenious way of robbing rich kids’ parents. They get paid ridiculous amounts of money to create a little fake dreamworld for deluded teens such as Rebecca. I’ve got no idea how they can keep a straight face whilst they’re doing it.
There may be another way… image courtesy of The Independent
Alright, shoot me, this post has little to do with music. What it has plenty to do with however, is Westminster students who’ve decided to perform an action of great importance. It’s something, I feel, which we don’t do enough here at Westminster. We’re all, me included, too busy getting shit-faced and scraping exams.
So what’s going down? A small group of ’minster first years are heading into Harrow next Thursday to perform a sit in at an Arcadia owned shop, most probably Topshop. We aim to kick up a bit of a racket against Arcadia’s shakey tax record.
Arcadia actually means paradise. Company names are often bullshit aren’t they? Image courtesy of PlusSizeTall.com
I can already hear the ironic snorts of “well that’s never been done before” so I’m gonna delve straight into what we believe will make this event different and significant.
The idea is to not just go into Topman and wreck the place, but to create a kind of festival environment in which we can advertise our cause in a positive, constructive way. Destruction isn’t getting us anywhere, so we’re gonna do the opposite.
Potential Topshop customers will be spoken to, through song, through dance, through pure altruism, in an effort to stop them from mindlessly feeding the tax-dodging devil man Phillip Green (Arcadia’s chief man thing) their pretty polly.
The Devil wears a double chin… Image coutesy of life.com
The concept behind this is that if we can create an effective enough boycott then we can begin to overturn the seemingly undefeatable rich-poor divide. I’ll pass you over to event organiser Adam Armitage for more details:
“You’re probably aware of the UK UNCUT movement going on at the moment to put pressure onto tax dodging businesses to pay back the billions they owe us.
This website is a one stop resource to uncover some dreadful facts about the reality of the cuts being administered to some of the most essential sectors in the social and economic background of the UK.
Our action against this is an experiment in what our community can achieve. The “sit in” is getting a bit of a makeover.
We need to make placards, print out hand outs from the website, get in touch with local newspaper and maybe the radio and bring along a photographer and a musican.
If your down, get in touch, it’s time to stand up”
I’ll repeat that, if your down, get in touch, cause it’s time to stand up (by sitting down). You won’t be able to move for joyful protest.
Monday evening saw a wealth of talent showcased at the Harrow campuses ‘Area 51’ venue as the first year commercial music students performed their assessed pieces to a tidy crowd.
The twist (which made everything altogether more impressive) was the role visual elements played in the performances. The artists weren’t only expected to write songs of a certain set style from contemporary music history - they were also to create visually engaging sets to add to the experience. The atmosphere was relaxed for the evening, which seemed to have been running ahead of schedule and so I missed a couple of performances. There was a real respect for the musicians, with the audience speaking in hushed tones and gathering around the four corners of the room where the artists performed one at a time. It wasn’t your standard gig atmosphere - it felt like people had turned out to appreciate the tremendous amount of work the students had put into their performances. One band, the third and final performance of the evening, were simply dubbed ‘Taxi’. A comfortable jazz rock outfit, the band were sharply dressed for their Vegas-themed performance.
A musical of sorts, with a painfully banal plot of love and loss in Vegas, the story could be overlooked by simply appreciating the musicianship involved. A five-piece of guys, the vocalist performed as a guy with everything to lose in Vegas, not a care in the world - complete with his woman on his arm. The story saw the couple stroll through the streets of Vegas, drinking in the sights, to a comedic dining scene - complete with a table and chairs set out for the actors and a waiter who appeared from the audience. In the end, of course, the hero falls on hard times when he drinks too much liquor and gambles all he has away. His woman sharply exits and he spends the rest of the set crooning about his woes, leading to a bizarrely long lying-on-the-floor session. Nobody’s fault but his own, really. The most beautiful aspect of their set up, in my eyes, was the projection behind the band - turning the usually dull warehouse bar of Area 51 into the streets of Vegas. It looked great, and proved absolutely impossible to photograph. Just use your mind’s eye and take my word for it.
The band were, however, fantastically on-form. The lead guitarist alternated between strings and percussion throughout the set and the drummer sped through some interesting fills. Performing in the ‘musical’ style leaves little room for improvisation, but the performance didn’t feel rigid in the slightest. The band were clearly on top of their game as professional musicians. I can’t see their grade being too low for this one.
Area 51 took on various personas to host the second installment of first year Commercial Music students’ assessments. The invite said to expect more than music, boy did we get it! A layout resembling Jools Holland’s studio led guests on a whistle stop tour of four narratives involving original music, drama and visual delights.
With barely time to settle, the crowd are silenced by mesmerising harmonies seeping from a dimly lit corner of the room. Percussive elements resembling Portico Quartet fused with Ellie Goulding like vocals stunned guests, soothing them into the evening.
Having been hooked, the crowd were lead on the journey of a teenage girl struggling to connect with those around her, outcast by her peers. The musical aspect of this first piece was well crafted, ranging from rock to acapella pieces intertwined with thoughtful dramatic sequences. At times the two aspects felt a little detached, that said both were crucial for a coherent narrative.
Teenage angst turned into the depths of rock n’ roll America for the second performance. A visual projection introduced the rise and fall of an esteemed male lead on a journey of self discovery. It was then weaved tastefully between incredibly well structured musical pieces. This dramatic aspect put other musicians turn actors (cough, Plan B) to shame.
The song writing capabilities of this group were outstanding. Each piece was incredibly tight while the styles, from classic rock to ska, were used in perfect measure to link into the story. A well executed male vocal was the icing on the cake of a well polished outfit. A climatic piece saw vocal, guitar and drum performances tearing through the audience in well placed emphatic pinnacle of the set. These guys were a personal favorite, seeming the most professional with the strongest sense of narrative.
The third act took a more soulful approach to the task. Their narrative told the story of a legendary Jazz musician whose disappearance was shrouded in mystery. A solid backline held the group together. Tight links between drummer and bassist kept musical aspects tidy. The narrative was told through a band who stumbled upon secrets to unveil the past of the late musician.
This group toyed cleverly with tempo and dynamic to determine the nature of each piece. Spoken word poems to heartfelt performances were all of a high standard. Opting to tell their narrative through dramatic sequences the group pulled it off well and were seamless at points. Setting some scenes during a band practice seemed a slight cop out to begin with but paid off as there was no interruption between music and drama.
The final performances of the evening took a more sinister route, telling the hard hitting truths of prostitution and the subsequent downfalls. Taking a more blunt approach to the narrative aspect, the group littered facts into funk laden riffs. It worked well with these breaks allowing several poignant messages to stand out in their set.
With such a dark subject comes tricky lyrical burdens. Surprisingly though, the final track was the only point when menacing motifs raised their heads through a strong musical performances. Accompanying a soulful vocal trio was a creative band who managed to avoid a predictable dreary outcome, projecting their topic messages through soul ridden major key licks.
Overall it was a massively impressive evening. Despite being primarily musicians, the students pulled off a strong array of performance techniques and applied themselves to every aspect of the evening. I didn’t learn until after, and wouldn’t have guessed on the most part, that the bands had been thrown together rather than choosing who to work with. With this in mind, the commercial musicians did Westminster University proud. A display of raw talent and a handful of creative license filled every inch of the venue, top marks all round!
The Irrepressibles are a chamber pop band from London created and directed by Jamie McDermott. Known in circles as an extremely performance-centric act, McDermott has taken his cast of ten revolving players to numerous prestigious (and eccentric) venues across Europe, including a specially commissioned piece for the V&A gallery and performing whilst floating in the middle of the lake at 2009’s Latitude Festival. The band have recently sold out a three night residency at the Holland Festival six months before the event.
Footage of The Irrepressibles performing across Europe
The band’s studio debut, ‘Mirror Mirror’, was released in 2010 (following an EP/Film package ‘From The Circus to the Sea’) to hugely positive critical acclaim, noting the flamboyant nature of the music - both beautifully orchestrated and inexplicably seductive in the most flirtatious way. McDemott’s impressive range and idiosyncratic vibrato trills display perfectly the baroque-esque undercurrents, pushing the music firmly into its theatrical live counterpart.
The act’s live performances, dubbed ‘spectacles’ by McDermott, are an audiovisual treat for the senses. Working with thematic concepts, McDermott works with fashion and stage designers to create the perfect world for in which his music can flourish - a truly awe-inspiring attention to detail to compliment the already-theatrical songs.
All aside, Jamie is a product of the University of Westminster’s commercial music course - a degree he studied a few years ago. And, as I found out, he’s fiercely proud of his education here at Westminster.
I exchanged emails with him culminating in a conversation about how Westminster shaped him, how he went about forging a career in performance and where he is heading later this year.
Jamie McDermott photo by Socrates Mitsios
Jak Cooper: You studied here at the University of Westminster - can I start off by asking what you studied here?
Jamie McDermott: “I studied Commercial Music, which is all about pop music culture, music sociology, musicology, the music business and creating pop music. There are some incredible lecturers, like Steve Beresford who helped me to see music as a sound of a landscape, of a time, a place, a generation, an experiment - a way into a new world. He helped me to understand that music is far more than just four chords, a beat and something to say. He was an inspiration. So was Helen Reddington, with her songbook module which helped most of those successful album releasing artists of our year generate most of the material for our first albums. Then Shirley Thompson was the one who blossomed in me my live aspirations and encouraged me to explore what has become my concept of music spectacle which has taken me all over the Europe with commissions including ones for the V&A and Paris Quatier Festival, amongst many others. It was an instructive and powerful experience being at Westminster for me, though they should be more supportive of this course with funding. It’s one of the most important courses for music in the country and creates many of its own staff and artists.”
JC: “Was your time as Westminster what you would consider to be successful?”
JM: "Oh yes. It is an incredible course that is very well balanced and designed by all the lecturers involved. You have to create a single, artwork, promotional plan, etc., all in a short time frame of 4 weeks ready for release. All the content is very relevent and I feel it’s a good stepping-stone to the music industry and how it operates. You have many lecturers with different opinions all battling to show you the different perspectives and sides of the industry."
JC: “Did you perform in or around the area in your time at Westminster? What act were you performing with? What material were you performing?”
JM: "I began The Irrepressibles while at University. I curated a music night in central London featuring acts from the university and I did the same in Harrow. I thought it was important to give money to the artists and so I decided to set this up myself. It was called ‘Of Naked Design’. We began putting it on as a free-to-all arts night, convincing venues to let us use them for free and making the most out of donations. It was a crazy time of building sets and presenting unusual work and videos. It featured some of London’s finest underground performance artists and acts and was when I began to realise my concepts for my own live performances with The Irrepressibles. I had written, and we were performing, ‘My Witness’, ‘Forget The Past’, ‘Splish Splash Sploo’, ‘My Friend Jo’, ‘In Your Eyes’ and other tracks that made it onto my debut album Mirror Mirror all the way back then."
JC: “What was your time immediately after graduation like? Where did you find yourself?What was that time like for you?”
JM: "I was out all guns blazing when I left university. I was ready to make my own life and create the things I wanted to. I became very passionate about creating my own world both visually and musically and challenging how pop music was presented. I’m very happy that my work has even had an influence on more mainstream artists since then, many of which people will know of very well. In the pursuit of this aim I ended up homeless for a period, but when I got my publishing deal everything began to come together…I just had to go to the end of the earth before it did."
JC: “Did you develop the theatrical elements of your stage show in your time at Westminster?”
JM: "Yes. I read a lot about luminaries like the KLF, Vivienne Westwood with Malcolm McLaren, Laurie Anderson and Andy Warhol with the Velvet Underground. I watched films from the library like Querelle by Fassbinder and Dancer in the Dark by Lars Von Trier. I read about Karlheinz Stockhausen thoughts on music, Adorno, and the key book for me "Noise" by Jacques Attali, about the politicalness of music."
The Irrepressibles performing the ‘human music box’ spectacle at the V&A Museum. photo by J.J. Stevens
JC: “Your lyrics are massively introspective - are they all drawn from personal experience or do you sometimes adopt personas for songwriting purposes?”
JM: "Always personal experience. I write without thinking, attempting to express an experience into sound."
JC: “Your track ‘In This Shirt’ has really blown up after the visually stunning PAG video - could you share a little your story behind that song? Either lyrically or how it was written?”
JM: "I wrote it when my partner left me, one-and-a-half years after it happened. It was about finally letting go of him. He then came back to me, and we’ve been together since. Eight years now."
JC: “The University has had a fairly well-known and successful LGBT community in recent years - was this the case when you studied there? Were you actively involved in the society at all?”
JM: "No, I don’t think there was. I’d have been down there like a shot, trying to pull some poor boy."
JC: “Finally - do you have any information regarding the next album you’d be willing to share? Will it feature any reworkings of the songs from your original demo EP?”
JM: "The new album is very, very different to the first. The live shows in which it will be presented are in production at the moment, and there are shows to be announced from June onwards - presenting the new world both visually and musically. It has a different aesthetic and feel and sound. It’s still orchestral, but in a very different way."
The band performing the Mirror Mirror spectacle on Valentine’s night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.
JC: “Are you preparing a new spectacle right now? Any hints you could give us about the aesthetic of it?”
JM: "We are to present the Human Music Box for the Holland Festival over 3 dates at the Concert Hall of the 21st Century. Originally I was commissioned to create this as a baroque fantasy for the V&A museum in 2009. It featured my orchestra as tablaux vivants on each face of the box then choreographed to move inside an world of illusion and fluorescent lighting with me on a central revolve. People queued all the way down the street and I was interviewed by a paper in India all before an album release. That’s a showcase for you! I’ve been asked to re-imagine this for the Holland Festival…I cannot tell you how it will look, but you can imagine the V&A show as a pilot. This will be very different to the first time and hopefully quite something. We will see. It has already sold out six months in advance of the 3 shows which is unheard of for us and is a first for the Holland festival. We are very excited. It will then be touring internationally. Aside from this we have another show premiering in June onwards internationally that will feature the music of the new album. We will leave behind the Mirror Mirror spectacle and album from then on and enter this new world."
The Irrepressibles haven’t played in London since last September - a sell-out show in Kings Cross that I was fortunate enough to witness. Truly visionary stuff, and grown right here at Westminster.