Thursday, October 26, 2006

Welcome To The Machine

I was talking to my lovely girlfriend the other night about work. The reason was because for the first time in months I had to actually do something important and discuss some things with an engineer from IBM. In other words, I had to have my "game" face on.

I was telling her a story about IBM and that most of the people I have met and worked with from the company over the years are complete boffins. They are trained and conditioned to just look at things in a totally different way than normal people. That is how they solve difficult problems.

About 4.5 years ago, I was working for a bank that had just moved to a new location. Working in IT I was able to witness and take part in the logistics behind moving millions of euro of hardware and reconfiguring it in the new building. Needless to say we had quite a few teething problems during the first few months and were frequently visited by engineers from IBM to assist us. I was very friendly with all of them but one in particular, John, spent a lot of time in the bank and we would often discuss the problems that had occurred and their solutions.

One day, we were having difficulty with a machine that we referred to as "the robot". It was a very big piece of kit that was used to store and manage the tapes that were used to back up all of the bank's customer data every night. The robot consisted of several large storage units that contained rows and rows of slots where the tapes were kept. The tapes were about the same size and shape of 8-track cartridges and the robot could hold about 850 of them. It also contained a sliding platform with an "arm" attached that could move up & down, side to side and was used to retrieve tapes from and place them into their proper slots. We would use a console to issue commands, telling the machine what action to perform but the real brains behind it was a laptop computer that the engineers used to ascertain what the problems were and fix them.

On this particular day John was having a difficult time. He was normally very relaxed and methodical while he was working. He took his time to examine things and was very rarely ever wrong with his assessments. However, after spending some time reviewing the message logs & diagnostic tools he couldn't figure out what was wrong with the robot. I approached him to ask how things were going and he just said that he didn't know. He then told me that he was going to go have a cup of tea, sit down and do some thinking.

He returned about 30 minutes later and told me that he had the solution. He then asked if he could have a small sheet of computer paper. I found some for him and followed him into the computer room very curious about what he was going to do.

He explained to me that there were no error messages in the laptop logs but there was something that was preventing the arm from moving properly inside the machine. After giving it some consideration, he realised that the laser, which was mounted on top of the arm, used to scan the tapes and identify their unique ID number was being disrupted. He then remembered that the machine was situated near a window and it was a particularly bright day with a lot of natural light coming through the window. He proceeded to place the sheet of computer paper on top of the robot (which had a glass panel that stretched across the entire top of the machine), rebooted the laptop, issued the start command and the arm started to move!

I was very impressed and asked John how he figured that out. He turned to me with a slight grin on his face and replied in a serious tone, "I just reflected on the situation and thought like the machine would for a while."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Right Time, Wrong Speed

"Are teenage dreams so hard to beat?
Everytime she walks down the street
Another girl in the neighbourhood
Wish she was mine, she looks so good"

Today is the two year anniversary of the untimely passing of John Peel. Everyone knows that he DJed on Radio 1 for over 35 years, was the first British DJ to play reggae & punk, and consistently championed cutting edge music until the day he died.

But did you know?:

01. His real name was John Robert Parker Ravenscroft.

02. He was one of the original DJs on BBC Radio 1 in 1967 and the only one still on air at the time of his death in October 2004.

03. His housemaster at Shrewsbury School once wrote:
"Perhaps it's possible that John can form some kind of nightmarish career out of his enthusiasm for unlistenable records and his delight in writing long and facetious essays."

04. He began working for a radio station in Dallas in 1961 and when Beatlemania struck the US he got a job as an official Beatles correspondent since he was from Burton, near Liverpool.

05. After JFK was shot, he passed himself off as a reporter for the Liverpool Echo in order to attend the arraignment of Lee Harvey Oswald and can be seen in the background of several photos taken in the police station.

06. His first program was called The Perfumed Garden which he hosted from 12am - 2am while working on the pirate station Radio London in 1967. This program is also when he first began using the name John Peel as suggested by his secretary.

07. In 1976 he was the first DJ to play Bob Dylan's album Desire despite the fact that Capital Radio had struck a deal with CBS to be the first. He played the album in full with a reggae song in between sides while he turned the record over.

08. He was renowned for playing records at the wrong speed (sometimes intentionally) and leaving very long gaps between songs on air when he became distracted by something else in the studio.

09. John was a regular presenter of Top Of The Pops between 1982 - 1987 and was noted for his caustic remarks. Once after playing the George Michael & Aretha Franklin song "I Knew You Were Waiting" he said "You know, Aretha Franklin can make any old rubbish sound good, and I think she just has."

10. He was named DJ of the year 11 times by Melody Maker.

11. In 2002, the BBC conducted a vote to discover the 100 Greatest Britons of all time. Peel was voted 43rd.

12. He once auctioned a kidney stone for charity minutes after passing it while DJing at a student party.

13. In 1990 he appeared on the BBC Radio program Desert Island Discs. He chose songs by Roy Orbison, The Fall, Rachmaninoff & of course 'Teenage Kicks' by The Undertones (his favourite record of all-time).

14. He had a box of 142 singles that he claimed he would have carried away if his house was on fire. Of all the songs that he chose on Desert Island Discs, only Teenage Kicks was said to be in that box.

15. You can read more about him and listen to some of his broadcasts on the Radio 1 website.

RIP John

Friday, October 20, 2006

Music Sounds Better With A Laptop

Bia Bar, Lower Stephens Green, D2, Soul Food World Beats.

So, the lads in Remedy have decided to change musical directions. Well, actually they have only really changed lanes. They used to run a night called Soul Food in Bia Bar on Thursdays and now they are calling it Soul Food World Beats.

I was fortunate enough to play 2 gigs during the 'old' Soul Food days and last night was my first monthly appearance at Soul Food World Beats.

Bia is a great bar. The lighting is very warm (mostly red), the atmosphere is chilled out and the staff are quite attentive. It is a bar that I really enjoy playing in because nearly anything goes with the music.

Normally when I play in a bar on a regular basis I try and find a core group of tunes (usually about 5-10) that just define the place. Songs that match the atmosphere and feel like a big warm hug when you hear them. I haven't found those tunes yet for Bia but I'm starting to get a feel for the place. In order to find those tunes I need to experiment and play a lot of different types of music. Watch the crowd, look for a reaction, a smile, a nod or a foot tapping. During the first 2 gigs I pretty much stuck to the menu - funk & soul.

But last night I decided to have a bit of fun. I have secured a regular, monthly slot at SFWB and figured it was time to begin asserting myself a little bit. The great thing about music is that it can say many different things on many different levels. Some DJs just play music but good ones play music for a reason. I play music sometimes because I want to share it. I want to introduce people to a song that they have never heard of or would never be able to find. Sometimes I want to evoke an emotional response. Sometimes I want to remind people of a song they haven't heard in years. And sometimes a song is just so damn funky it just has to be played out. Whatever the reason may be, the music I play is always saying something.

I must admit that I was quite nervous last night before I started playing. I think because it was a slightly new music policy and I always need a few gigs to get my bearings. Find my way around musically. See what works and what doesn't. The fact that I didn't set up properly and only had silence when I pressed play didn't help my mood. Then when I got the music going I sort of fucked up and didn't choose a very good first song. Actually it wasn't a bad song (Jungle Music by The Specials and Rico) but it just didn't grab anyone's attention. It was also a bit too 'fast' to start off with since the tempo was in the mid 130s. Tempo is a funny thing. It is very subtle but very very noticeable if you make a mistake (for example playing a song with 100 bpm and then playing one right after at 130 bpm). But it can be used to your advantage if you know how. Staying with a steady tempo and progressing slowly (about 5 bpm every song) lets you play really diverse music back to back without sounding like a car wreck.

So, I got off on the wrong foot. The manager even came over and reminded me that people were still eating. In other words - keep it chilled for a bit. But I got back on track and quickly settled in. I changed directions a few times without derailing and much to everyone's surprise and delight played Thriller by Michael Jackson (it is Halloween next week). I also dropped Waterfall by The Roses because it was requested. Even though neither of those 2 songs have anything to do with World Beats everyone loved them. And they worked.

The full setlist for the night was:

01. Jungle Music - The Specials & Rico
02. Light My Fire - Astrud Gilberto
03. Breakfast Club Di Milano - Giacomo Bondi
04. Teenage Kicks - Nouvelle Vague
05. Pass The Dutchie - Musical Youth
06. Spanish Joint (Ritual Session) - D'Angelo
07. Lady (Acoustique) - Modjo
08. T Plays It Cool - Marvin Gaye
09. A Vida Em Seus Metodos Diz Calma - Di Melo
10. See-Line Woman - Nina Simone
11. Daytripper - Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66
12. Crik Crak - The Lovers
13. Hide Me (Al Usher Dance Remix) - Grandadbob
14. Exploration - Karminsky Experience Inc
15. Funk da Virada - Antonio Pinto / Ed Cortes
16. 54-46 (Was My Number) - Toots & The Maytals
17. Whine & Grine / Stand Down Margaret - The Beat
18. One Nation Under A Groove - Chaka Demus & Pliers
19. Spanish Grease - Willie Bobo
20. Guanabara - Dom Salvador & Banda Abolicao
21. Emotional Rescue - Freedom Dub
22. Thriller - Michael Jackson
23. To Be In Love - Tito Puente & India
24. Brazil 2030 (St Barth Mix) - Oscar
25. Call Me (Dlugosch Edit) - Dino
26. Rude Boy Rock - Lionrock
27. Waterfall (12" Remix) - Stone Roses
28. Police & Thieves - The Clash
29. Vida de Otario - Antonio Pinto / Ed Cortes
30. Don't Joke With A Hungry Man (Part 2) - Quantic Soul ft Spanky Wilson
31. At the Speakeasy - Speedometer
32. Hit The Road Jack (Pena Estrada) - Mo' Horizons
33. Summer Sun (Markus Enochson Remix) - Koop
34. I'm Coming Out - Diana Ross
35. Fry Chicken In Your Hotpants - Clarence Foster & The Internal Revenue



Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gormandizing & Number Crunching

Since my last post about CBGB, I have been thinking about the fact that I am probably a gormandizer (of music). I devour it. I live it, breathe it, collect it and obsess over it. I am always looking for a new tune - something that I haven't heard before. Searching every music shop, every new release rack, every bargain bin, every second-hand store. Reading music websites, searching lists of latest releases and checking out every magazine article about music that I can get my hands on.

And when I'm not doing all of that I am usually looking for something that I remember hearing as a kid that I have not been able to find since. The 'lost' song that maybe was on the radio recently or that I heard in a bar or at a gig. The song that I was reminded of by another song that I may have just come across. The song that someone mentioned and I decided that I just had to go and find.

Just consider the following list of numbers to illustrate my point:

3 - weeks since my last gig
4 - iPods that I own
5 - hours (approximately) that I spent compiling / recording my last demo CD (1 month ago)
17 - times I have played Billie Jean at a gig
19 - Miles Davis albums that I own
71 - gigs that I have played to date
92 - days (approximately) that I spent compiling / recording my first demo CD (during the months of Nov 2001, Dec 2001 & Jan 2002)
116 - songs I played at my longest gig ever
647 - GBs that I have to fill with music
1,332 - albums (in mp3 format) currently on one of my hard drives
11,743 - songs currently on my laptop hard drive

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The infamous music club CBGB that opened in The Bowery in December 1973 will be closing it's doors on 30 October 2006. Sadly, after 33 years the New York City nightclub is shutting because the lease has expired and the owner, Hilly Kristal, has been presented with an eviction notice.

The full name of the club is CBGB OMFUG which, according to the owner stands for Country Bluegrass Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers. Although the word gormandizer is usually used to describe someone who can not stop eating, in this case it refers to an eater of music.

Despite the fact that the club was originally meant to feature CBGB music & poetry, 5 months after opening it began to attract unsigned bands playing original music and quickly became the birthplace of American punk.

Televsion were the first band to obtain a residency in CBGB and shortly after they started playing in March of 1974 other "street acts" followed such as Patti Smith, The Stillettoes (featuring Debbie Harry from Blondie) and of course the Ramones.

These bands as well as Talking Heads and numerous hardcore punk bands found a home in CBGB because it was the only venue in New York that had one rule for unsigned bands: all original music and no covers.

Now that the club is facing closure, Kristal claims to be looking at another venue in Manhattan but has been rumored to already have made a deal to open the club again in 2008 in Vegas!

In the meantime, he is said to be preparing to take every single possible thing he can carry out the door with him when he shuts the place down. Whether he intends to just open another club with the original furnishings or try to sell them all on eBay remains to be seen. Either way October 30 will be a sad day and the end of an incredibly important piece of music history.

Bands such as The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads owe their careers to CBGB but other bands that played there through the years include:

The B-52s
Beastie Boys
The Clash
Elvis Costello
The Dandy Warhols
Green Day
Guns 'n' Roses
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
The Libertines
Pearl Jam
The Police
Smashing Pumpkins
The Strokes
They Might Be Giants

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Digital Kicks 006

Well, dear readers Digital Kicks is back again after a brief hiatus for a sixth installment and can be found here.

This edition like the previous few was compiled and recorded at my desk in work. Now, you may be wondering - why wasn't I working? It just so happens that with my current workload and my multi-tasking abilities I can do both!

If you believe that, let me tell you about...

This month I have decided to take a bit more time with this sixth edition and tell you a little about each of the songs and where I actually found them or more accurately where I heard them.

01. Breakfast Club Di Milano - Giacomo Bondi
So, the mix kicks off with a great piece of lounge music that has a brazilian feel to it (even though it's about Milan). I found this song on a compilation called Breakfast Club: Milan when I was back home in May.

As a fledging DJ, I am always on the lookout for new music. Every day. Every hour. And compilations usually offer the best value for money (as long as they are not mixed). While I was in Pa, I drove to York to visit the Border's shop there and that is where this CD turned up. It was a great discovery as most of the 16 tracks on it are very good quality and I have played several of them out at gigs this past summer.

02. Wonderwall - Paul Anka
Although this was released last year by the lounge legend on an album full of cover versions called Rock Swings, I picked it up elsewhere on a compilation.

Cover tunes are extremely popular at the moment and for me the further they are in style and sound from the original the better. I think Mr. Anka does the Oasis classic serious justice.

03. Rock This Town - The Stray Cats
As part of my quest for new music, I also try to find all the tunes that I listened to and loved as a kid. This track has eluded me for a while but I found it on an 80s compilation back in the States.
It reminds me of MTV's early days and was actually considered New Wave at the time even though it was nothing more than 1950s Rock 'n Roll. I owned the album on cassette when I was 12 years old which also contained the hit Stray Cat Strut.

04. Scrawl - Ned's Atomic Dustbin
What a song! What a group! What a shame it took me 35 years to discover them! Still, better late than never. I lifted the CD this is from called 511 from Paulo a few months ago. They even played it at their gig in London in July. Indeed, nothing was cool that night...

05. Too Late - Tavares
OK. At this point in the mix you are probably rolling your eyes thinking what the hell is he like!? Well, I happen to like cheese. There, I admitted it. I like cheese! Especially when it reminds me of being a kid. My father liked Tavares and one Christmas I gave him their greatest hits on CD. While I was visiting my parents in May, I came across the CD and just had to copy a few of the tracks. Tavares had bigger hits with Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel and a cover of More Than A Woman from Saturday Night Fever but this track is a bit rockier and one of my favourites by them.

06. Seventh Space - Peter Dahou
Another lovely little slab of chill out from the Breakfast Club: Milan CD.

07. Copacabana (At The Copa) - Barry Manilow
More cheese that I picked up from my parents. Actually, my mother. She has no idea but I copied Barry's Greatest Hits from her collection. He was always on in my house during the mid to late 70s and hearing him brings back lots of memories of my family just hanging out together.
Coincidently, he was on The Today Show live when I was home and ALL of the women in the audience loved him. I played this song at several house parties this summer and ALL of the ladies (in their 20s & 30s) loved it! Lads, take note...

08. Rouge - Frontera
This track comes from the compilation Cafe Mambo released earlier this summer. It was compiled (and for once not mixed) by long-time resident DJ Pete Gooding. Sadly, he left Mambo at the end of last summer after 10 years but at least he is still putting out quality compilations.

09. Rally - Phoenix
This french band have been around for about 6 years and although they started out as part of the French filtered disco wave (thanks to Stardust) they actually included some retro rock songs on their first album. This song is from their third album and all along the way they have maintained a high standard of MOR 70s soft rock music. Quite unusual for a group of French lads.

10. The Warning - Hot Chip
I must admit that I wasn't a huge fan of their album when I heard it despite the fact that (for the most part) it is quirky electropop. However, this track stood out and is my favourite from the London group.

11. Breakin'... There's No Stopping Us - Ollie & Jerry
Another gem from the early 80s that I used to love but actually never owned. I found it in America on a cheap compilation of tunes from 80s films. What more could you ask for?

12. Sweet Suffering (DJ Sin Plomo Ambient Mix) - Asheni
Another track from the Breakfast Club: Milan CD. I think I saw DJ Sin Plomo play live when I was in Ibiza this summer. I mean I think because I went to the restaurant called L'Elephant in San Rafael where he is the resident DJ. I just didn't ask him his name when I was there.

The great thing about Ibiza is how music pervades every single aspect of life. Sitting in a lovely restaurant, overlooking Sant Antoni, eating absolutely gorgeous food and listening to quality tunes played live by a DJ. I can't think of many things better in life.

13. I Like The Way - Kaskade
I heard about this group (well, producer) from a couple of different dance compilations. I believe they are American as they record for the OM label based in San Francisco. I got this song from the album called Here And Now (which I also bought in Borders in York). It is all really good, down-tempo, deep house music and suits anytime or place for listening.

14. The 3 R's (The Magic Number) - Jack Johnson
I got this song on a free CD that came with Q magazine. I don't normally buy Q (really) but I can't resist when there is a CD of quality covers by artists you would never expect.

15. I'm Too Sexy - Right Said Fred
This was on a 90s Number 1s compilation I bought and oh what memories it brought back! It reminds me of my days in college, wandering around Indiana, Pa (usually drunk) and looking for a party. When the song was released it was everywhere - you couldn't get away from it. I remember one night being out with some friends and passing a fraternity house where it was blaring from. We had a good laugh at the brothers because we thought they were totally gay. Of course the next house party we had we played the damn song about 5 times. Why? Because the ladies loved it!

16. Alone - Tennishero
This is a great song that I found on the latest Serve Chilled CD from the Hed Kandi label. I was a bit worried when I heard that the founder of the label, Irish DJ Mark Doyle, left at the end of last year because I thought that the compilations would no longer be any good. But thankfully the lads have kept the quality high and keep releasing great CDs. Serve Chilled was the very first CD ever released on Hed Kandi and this year's edition is every bit as good.

17. Hollaback Girl - Gwen Stefani
I don't know where I got it. I don't know why I like it. But I do. Build a bridge.

18. Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne
A great tune that I stole from a mate of mine. I was never really into Ozzy but you can't help liking this song. A true air guitar classic!

19. I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor - Sugababes
With all the backlash now cast upon the Artic Monkeys I think that it is hilarious (and brilliant) that the Sugababes recorded a cover of this tune. Recently, the original was named the number one all-time student anthem (I didn't realise that there were more students now with louder voices than those of us from the 80s & 90s) but this version isn't too bad. Also found on the free Q magazine CD full of cover tunes.

20. New York Groove - KISS (Ace Frehley)
I don't know what the story is - this song was released by Ace Frehley in the late 70s but credit is given to KISS on the CD. I thought the band had taken a break and all 4 members recorded solo albums that were released around the same time. I think this was actually the only good song of the entire lot and I remember sitting by my radio as a kid waiting to hear it again.

21. Dream Of you - Secret Stealth
Another relaxing tune from the Hed Kandi crowd on Serve Chilled.

22. What's Going On (Instrumental)
When I was in the States, I came across a CD of greatest hits by The Funk Brothers. For those of you who don't know they were the house band for Motown in the 60s and early 70s. They have supposedly played on more number one records than Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones combined! This is the instrumental track for the Marvin Gaye tune which is one of my favourite songs of all time.

Thanks for listening. Until next time...


Monday, October 02, 2006

Racing Clean

According to a recent newspaper article in a Swiss paper Jan Ullrich (and perhaps all the other cyclists implicated in Operation Puerto) are actually racing their bikes clean:

Detergent Enzyme To Mask EPO? Ullrich Named

Urine samples being tested for EPO are supposed to show a certain amount of EPO, which is naturally produced in the body. But what if the sample shows absolutely none? This is happening more and more frequently, according to the Neue Z├╝richer Zeitung, and allegedly some cyclists are using some sort of powder to affect their urine tests. The paper reports that Swiss TV SF1 has identified this powder as protease, an enzyme in laundry detergent which usually works as a stain remover, giving a whole new twist to the term "racing clean". And a familiar big name is mentioned in association with the new problem - Jan Ullrich.

The theory goes this way: The athlete puts a little of the powder in the pockets of his pants. Before urinating, he puts his fingers into it, and urinates over his fingers at the control, so that the enzyme is mixed with his urine in the container. This little amount is sufficient to destroy the protein, and therefore the EPO, in the urine. "Protease is simply easy to use, cheap and available without prescription - and thus an almost perfect aid for the deceptive athlete," says the NZZ.

The process doesn't seem to have become too popular yet. Marial Saugy, director of the Lausanne doping laboratory, said that "less than 10 percent of the samples" showed a zero EPO value. This did not necessarily mean that protease was being used, but the lab is currently testing the enzyme. "We should have legally acceptable evidence within a few months," he said.

Matthias Kamber, head of the antidoping department of the Swiss federal agency for sport, was reportedly the first to identify the problem. He noticed that over the last few months, more than a dozen doping samples containing no EPO at all were delivered. He listed the cases and noticed that some of them matched certain athletes. "That led us to suspect manipulation," he said. After conferring with other experts, he came to the conclusion that protease was involved and turned the matter over the Lausanne lab in spring 2006.

According to SF1, one of the doping samples without EPO belonged to Jan Ullrich and was taken in South Africa in December 2005. The NZZ reported that there were at least two other similar samples form Ullrich according to its sources, and that a link to the evidence uncovered in Operation Puerto was possible: Certain documents uncovered by the Spanish Guardia Civil relating to Ullrich repeatedly used the word "polvos" - powder.