From Suburbium to Elysium: Pet Shop Boys live in Berlin

Hau 1, Berlin, September 5, 2012

 

Olympicmania may been the pill that caused Pet Shop Boys to finally, after thirty odd (or rather, queer) years to overdose on their own Englishness. How else to explain that, after rushing around on a go-kart wearing dunce hats for The Queen’s pleasure, they’ve chosen Berlin as the city for the live debut of tracks from this year’s Elysium (EMI), and one wonders if that title isn’t providing a deliberate distance from Mount Olympus itself? Neil Tennant’s lyrics have always privileged the shops of suburban hairdressers over the chariots of the gods, and human feats of self-deception over the superhuman suspension of mortal barriers. The preferred sport of Pet Shop Boys is, of course, distanced observation, with Chris Lowe’s keyboards often providing a satiric mirror of the Eurohits of the day similar to Tennant’s lachrymose irony. They’re what the Kraftwerk Robots would be if imagined by Arthur Craven.

The formula, on display and livestreamed globally, during this Electronic Beats-sponsored 45 minute event, has not changed much over three decades, though the new record is more lyrically direct than usual. But then, it hasn’t had to. Like their electropop brethren Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys can still ride the charts in certain countries as they’re carried to the cusp of their Sixties, while guitar rockers usually have to give up breaking radio at around age 42 or so. Thank you, Asia! That’s no joke – the record, released in Japan the day of the concert, had already hit the top five. Tennant was proud.

Still, as is common with the aging and beloved, their last few tours have resembled victory laps, feeling more like tributes than performances. Tonight was an exception. Playing to a small room (which included a surprising amount of hippies, including one fellow in a Uriah Heep shirt) and focusing on the most sincere album of their career (if not as directly political as Fundamental), the duo was relaxed, appearing as ur-versions of themselves: Lowe in a leather get-up somewhere between Batman and Prometheus, and Tennant – who increasingly resembles Brian Eno – in a smartly tailored double-breasted suit. With his close crop, he would make a great Blofeld to oppose Daniel Craig.

Elysium has been tarred as a pop star’s memento mori (the flip side of the victory lap), and its title certainly doesn’t harm that analysis. But while the work is undoubtably melancholic – this is a Pet Shop Boys album, after all – Tennant’s attitude on the record is better described as peevish, perhaps even bitchy. There’s a ‘Don’t You Know Who I Am?’ song (‘Invisible’), a ‘Don’t Look at Me That Way’ song (‘Face Like That’), a ‘Stop Asking for My Old Songs’ song (‘Your Early Stuff’) and a ‘My Songs are Better than Your Songs’ song (‘Ego Music’). Oh yes, and a ‘We’re All Gonna Die’ song (‘Hold On,’ based, in the manner of Serge Gainsbourg, on a Handel melody).

Tennant’s performance tonight was a wonder of how certain showbiz gestures can undermine assumed meaning. ‘Hold On,’ which manages to mix global apocalypse with small English cognitions of life-at-a-distance, is ostensibly an optimistic paean but, of course, it is not, and his miniature camp gestures, turning to the sky as he sang ‘Skies so dark today’ were classic (not just classical) Tennant. During the opening number and the release’s most ambiguous work, ‘Face Like That,’ Tennant would act out the song, waving his arms or screwing a face. Which would suggest either a certain sincerity, or theater – which in camp, is another form in sincerity. All while Lowe pawed his Korg in the manner of a LOLcat.

The overall feel was more clubbish and uptempo than the source material, and not particularly elegiac. They also employed two sets of backing singers, each member pre-taped, isolated by video screen; their lighting and directed lack of emotion made them resemble Tim & Eric characters. Their musical effect could just have easily been duplicated by Lowe’s keyboard.

The encore was a morbid cover of the Robin Gibb showcase, ‘I Started a Joke.’ Perfectly suited for Tennant’s nasal range, his attitude pushed it from the mawkish into the arch. ‘You’re a winner,’ Tennant sings, on their Olympic-featured single, to us and the Queen. Adding, ‘Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.’ Pet Shop Boys have never been interested in the victors as much as the spoils and the spoiled. The Olympics shall not be returning to London for a long, long time.

 

Photo: Monique Wüstenhagen

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Interview: Adrian Sherwood

Adrian Sherwood has been running his label On-U Sound for 31 years. Quite a feat in itself, but made that much greater by his steadfast refusal to submit his vision to corporate dilution. While this may have led to mainstream indifference, he’s one of the most respected innovators in dub music, working with everyone from Lee “Scratch” Perry and The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, to a whole new generation of producers including The Bug and Pinch. His new album Survival & Resistance is out now through On-U Sounds. Photo: Luci Lux

 

The title of your new album Survival & Resistance sounds like a political statement. Is this album an extension of the protest songs from the sixties?
The album is an instrumental album, it’s only got two actual songs and I wrote or co-wrote the lyrics for both. ‘Trapped Here’, the Ghetto Priest track, is basically saying there’s no point trusting in capitalism, and the second track ‘We Flick the Switch’ is about the god of money, the god of mammon, so they’re both vaguely relevant to money masters. The name of the album fits the history of On-U Sound because I’ve resisted taking the path of becoming a career producer. The name comes from a book about the struggle of the Palestinian people.

Were you ever tempted to become, what you call, a career producer?
I am actually very proud of myself. All the time I was running On-U Sound I thought, instead of selling 10,000 or 20,000 units that I was actually very near to people liking it enough to sell 100,000 or 200,000. I’ve taking jobs to put money back into the label all my life. If I’d not run the label I would have become very successful financially but then after the interest dips, what’s left? Instead, I’ve maintained a fanbase since the late seventies who respect the work. The last six albums I released nobody even knew they came out because my business got fucked with the likes of EFA going down, the EMI debacle. Now I’m just rebuilding myself, I’m going with Warp, I’m currently making another new album with dubstep producer Pinch.

You’ve always worked with interesting people rather than fulfilling market interest.
Yes. And I did various remix jobs that had nothing to do with On-U because I thought I could do a good job on whatever I took and also I was getting paid for it. As I said before any money I made went into the label. I’m glad I did the collaborations, but a lot of the times the record companies were making the deals and not even talking to the artists. It’s revealing: Each time I worked with the artists together on the remix or the production it turned out good. But when it was the record companies saying ‘go and do this’ it was less so. I’m happy with where I am now my private life, I’m not rich or anything but I’ve got a nice studio, I’ve got a roof over my head.

It takes a lot of strength to choose your path. Where does it come from?
Fear. I wanted to be able to create my own destiny. It tends to go in patterns, sometimes I would be very busy and other times people don’t want to know you. The tides turn and if you’re any good you can come back again and reinvent yourself.

What inspires you?
Continuity is good. Longstanding relationships in life are good. If you have old friends and you know who your friends are. For me, the oldest working relationships is with Skip McDonald. Working with people like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is an honour because I was a fan of him and now I’ve worked with him now for 27 years and made some good records with him like ‘Time Boom’, ‘Secret Laboratory’ and ‘The Mighty Upsetter’. I still work with Style Scott, the great Jamaican drummer. There’s nobody of my old friends I’m not in touch with. Having said that, I’m trying now, in the next part of my life, to work with new faces because I don’t want to stay on the same page. If you don’t start working with great new producers or musicians you end up staying in the area of nostalgia, and that means death.

On the list of contributors you credit Skip McDonald with ‘tunings’. What did you mean?
Part of the record was cut in Brazil and I had all these Turkish and Brazilian percussion instruments, so we drastically tuned them down – Skip fine-tuning everything as he happens to have very fine ears. I challenge anyone to name the synths used on the album because nearly all of the things that sound like synths – aside from two tracks – are not actually synths. There’s no synths on ‘UR Sound’, there’s no bass either; the part which you think is a b-line is not, it’s tuned down percussion.

Returning to my initial question, I believe you don’t necessarily need words to write a protest song, sometimes the title is enough. Alec Empire once wrote a song called ‘Hetzjagd auf Nazis!’ which was a techno track without any words. When I see the On-U history and the way you’ve survived the last 30 years, resisting the system seems to be a common thread.
The whole record industry was full of people who might as well have been trading pork bellies instead of music. It was controlled by rich people who owned these labels who employed their friends and they bought catalogues. I was told early on by the reggae people to build a catalogue, which I did. The principle is if you get enough catalogue numbers the distributors will deal with you. What the record companies had was these massive catalogues of music from the forties, fifties and sixties and when the CD came along in the eighties they could suddenly reissue every single album of their catalogue, resell anything. It made them so much money, millions of pounds swilling around the record industry. But when it came to getting new artists they’d make their cousin head of A&R and sign anything, spend hundreds of thousands on videos and promoting rubbish. Nobody was looking on artist development and that’s when I went ‘fuck this’. Whenever I had to set my foot into the offices of one of these companies I recall that I wanted to just take drugs and piss on the carpet. I felt that offended.

What was it precisely that offended you that much?

They didn’t want to deal with us because there were too many black people involved. They were rather looking for desperate white kids who wanted to be famous. That was the lure in the eighties: To go and become part of this Babylon system, kissing the arse of some idiot running the record  label who doesn’t even is interested in music. It was unbelievable: In England and America, they would buy and sell shares in the company, rape the company of money and go and buy real estate and golf courses. I was desperate to make our little model where we shared the profits work. I just never managed to get the sales we needed. But I did stick religiously to my guns, and in the end we did survive.

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Stream Air from the Moon

Stream Air from the Moon We are très heureux to share the full album stream of what is the seventh full-length from acclaimed French softronic duo Air. Entitled A Trip to the Moon it is a soundtrack to a remastered re-release of George Melies brilliant Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) movie from 1902. This 14-minute black and white film, which features some innovative animation and very special effects including the well-known image of the spaceship landing in the Moon’s eye (above), sets the bar for the science-fiction genre. The accompanying soundtrack reworked by Air is a cosmic voyage which lasts 31-minutes and features such great guest collaborators as Au Revoir Simone and Beach House‘s Victoria Legrand. Stream it below:

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Miike Snow is not Born To Die

Miike Snow is not Born To Die As reported earlier, Swedish-American indie-pop trio Miike Snow are returning in March with their second LP, Happy To You. Lately the boys have been sharing their gentle rhythmic charms with a series of teasers for the upcoming release. Part of these series is a 22-second video, as well as a fake newspaper called The Tiimes. Click here to check out the wanna-be newspaper, which includes an extra nice Coachella related story, and see if you can smell what the trio is hinting at whilst having a sneak peak below:

UPDATE: Miike Snow is also sharing another brand-new track called ‘Paddling Out’ from the new album:

Paddling Out by miikesnow

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